Many of us would never have thought that brain dominance has anything to do with learning a foreign language. When you think about it, how we use our brain most of the time is not up to us, but instead, is up to our teachers, tutors, and whoever gives us information.
Growing up, you probably sat in one of those foreign language classes in which your teacher stood at the whiteboard, lectured about some grammatical rule that almost made you fall asleep, and then asked you to repeat a pile of mumbo-jumbo words in a target language that sounded like Martian. You ended the day thinking that you’d learned something but, the next day, the teacher gave you an exam and you failed while the kid who sat behind you (who you think never listened) got a good grade.
This usually happens to at least one person in most language classes. The thing is, we all use our brains differently and this includes your foreign language teacher. Your teacher instructs you in the method that he or she feels best, which then becomes what’s “best” for you. Many scientists say that most teachers today appeal to students who are strong in the left side of their brains because they love to teach in an orderly and structured style. But, the fact is, the right side of your brain may be stronger than your left, which means that you probably hate order, structure and love flexibility.
That person who you think never listens in class might get a better grade than you in exams because his/her brain dominance matches the teacher’s teaching style. If you know how your brain worked and adjusted how you learn based on your brain’s dominant side, you could certainly improve on the current results. Doing this could skyrocket your proficiency level in a foreign language; and which means, you’re one step closer to speaking your target language with other native speakers.
Before we get down to analyzing what kind of learning strategies a left-brained or right-brained person should use, we first need to understand what these terms mean. Our brains are divided into two hemispheres, which we call the left brain and the right brain. Both are connected by a thick band of nerves that allow the two sides to share information between each other.
For a simplistic summary: the left brain deals primarily with analyzing texts, logic, and objective information; while the right brain mostly deals with processing pictures, emotions, and imaginative details. We have grown up using both parts of the brain, but almost everyone will possess a dominant side of the brain which he or she uses more than the other. That’s why we call people who are good at left brain activities left-brained and those who are good at right brain activities right-brained.
As a side note, here’s an interesting fact: many people whose native tongues are based on hieroglyphic characters, like Chinese or Korean people, rely on their right brain when using their language. A person who speaks a language like English or Spanish will rely on his/her’s left side of the brain more.
Both the environment we live in and our learning style determines which side of the brain we use more. To see if you are left-brained or right-brained, ask yourself these five questions and choose either the first or second answer that best describes you:
- Do I consider myself a practical person or a creative person?
- Do I like make everything organized or I do not really care?
- Do I like being logical when I speak or I want people to know my feelings when I speak?
- When I first meet someone, do I usually remember his name first or his face first?
- Do I like solving a problem when I am in the middle of it or when I can get to know it in advance?
If you preferred the first answer three or more times, then you are likely a left-brained person. On the other hand, if you preferred the second answer three or more times, then you are likely a right-brained person. Knowing whether you are left-brained or right-brained will allow you to help your brain work at it’s maximum when learning a new language.
A left-brained person enjoys thinking, loves order, and is very good at analysis. If you are left-brained, these strategies will help you learn a new language:
- Ask your italki teacher for a structured lesson plan or plan a structured lesson yourself. Your love for order and structure will impress your teacher!
- Learn to read materials in your foreign language critically. Analyze the author’s choice of words, sentence structure, and punctuation. Try to think about how they contribute to the main idea of the reading material. If you’re a left-brain learner then you will love this analytical exercise.
- Focus more on learning grammar before vocabulary. You should be very good at learning technical information.
- Use logic to learn vocabulary by reading words out loud and then associating them with other words you already know.
- If you are a beginner learning a new language, use your native language to help you learn your target language. Your strong sense of logic will help you connect similarities in your native language to your target language. This tip applies particularly in the beginning as it will speed up your progress early on.
- Use your verbal skills when you are reading or writing in your target language: try to read the words out loud to help you learn.
If, on the other hand, you are crazily creative, impulsive right-brain learner that hates order and is super-duper imaginative, these strategies will help you learn a new language:
- Ask your italki teacher to do roleplays with you. Your imagination will make you a good actor/actress and learner.
- Use your creativity and learn to write diaries and stories in your target language.
- Focus less on the technical aspects of the language such as grammar or phonetics at first. Instead, imitate the way that native speakers speak and use the language; you should be good at finding similarities this way.
- Learn vocabulary by doodling pictures related to the words that you’re learning and associating those doodles with words. Harnessing your imagination will help you learn vocabulary faster.
- Try to “forget” your native language when you are learning a new language, even when you are a beginner. Use your imagination to make yourself go back in time to when you were still a child… speaking in your target language!
- Create presentations or projects in your target language and present them to your teacher. They will be amazed at your artistic skills.
At this point, you should have a basic idea of how to best use your brain to learn a new language by focusing on strategies tailored to fit the way you use your brain. Remember that you do not have to be rigid about this. If you are left-brained, for example, some of the strategies that right-brained people use can also be useful to you. There is no one in this world who is completely left-brained or right-brained!
Tell me in the comments below whether you are left-brained or right-brained, the languages you are learning right now, and the ones you already know. Just for fun, guess and tell me whether you think I am left brained or right brained. If you are perceptive enough while reading this article, you will know.
*disclaimer, some the edits by italki may have skewed the author’s original writing style, apologies.
I hope your language learning journey keeps going well!
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Yuan, Shih. "Recent Language Learning Study Overthrows Right-Brain Dominant Myth." The News Lens International Edition. Ed. Olivia Yang. Trans. Yuan-ling Liang. N.p., 05 Jan. 2016. Web. 05 July 2017.
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