Knowing your learning style to master Chinese

You’re starting to learn Chinese? While smart learners think about their learning plan, very few ever consider their preferred learning style. Why not discover yours in the next 5 minutes?

1. The natural listener

Do you prefer lectures over reading books and articles? You do a good job at following verbal directions? You don’t really need the visual backup to support your learning?

If you are a so-called auditory learner, you learn particularly well by listening. In essence, auditory learners retain information best when it is presented through sound and speech. If you identify with this type, consider listening to dialogues, vocabulary and music. Build your own playlist like I did here and put tracks on repeat (this may seem stupid but it works). Speak or sing along and try to repeat the phrases. Stop when you feel the urge to destroy your playing device. Although some people have argued about mastering tones using Chinese music, repetition really will help you to get the tones and the melody right.

2. The visual learner

Sorry, what did you just say? Can you write that down please?

If you are more of a visual type of learner, you typically process new information by reading, writing and using other visual stimuli. I personally like to write summaries and vocabulary lists, because the visual backup not only helps me to memorize words and sentences I’d otherwise forget in the long run, but also supports my neurotic self to create order out of chaos. The drawing of symbols and pictures is essential in this as well.

Learning Chinese by writing characters and translations
The old-fashioned way of working through a text by writing down characters and definitions

3. Tactile and kinesthetic

Are you more the kind of hands-on learner who benefits from actively doing something? Then you might feel more comfortable with working with flashcards, tangible objects, and other creative means. As a kinesthetic learner you already know that standing up will improve your comprehension and retention. When you stand up, your body is more engaged and connected to the learning process. Investing in a book stand or standing desk may help you concentrate for longer periods of time and remember more of what you read. You may also consider to do some burpees or jumping jacks in between chapters. Combining activity keeps you energized and cements the language you’re studying in your brain. This learning style also includes real communication with natives speakers in an early stage.

4. The intellectual

Last but not least, there is the intellectual learner. As the name suggests as an intellectual learn you learn best the abstract way. You want to first understand the rules and are not afraid to read rather dreary grammar explanations like this:

Chinese, like English, is classified as an SVO (subject–verb–object) language. Transitive verbs precede their objects in typical simple clauses, while the subject precedes the verb. For example: 他 喝 酒。Literal: He drink alcohol. Translated: He drinks alcohol.

Most language teachers would agree that this is the wrong way to approach languages, but it can’t be denied that some learners have a preference for abstract rules and clear definitions.

Not my style?

If you got the feeling that non of the above styles or types matches your particular profile? That’s completely fine, since they are only abstract distinctions to help you orientate where you stand, what your preferences are. Learning Chinese should involve all 4 language skills – speaking, listening, reading and writing -, meaning that you don’t have to stick to any particular style. In the real world, it is all about a mixture of the four learning styles and keeping it balanced. If you like to read, don’t forget to communicate with people. If you are the opposite and prefer learning by conversation and listening, try making notes.

PS. Get some inspiration from a polyglot expert

According to language learning expert Steve Kaufmann, most important of all is knowing what motivates you, what interests you. Note his opinion on different types of learners:

I have never believed that there are “auditory learners”, “visual learners” or other types of learners. I do believe that learners are motivated by different things. It is these different kinds of motivations that need to be researched and better understood.

Steve Kaufmann (lingosteve)
Language learning legend Steve Kaufmann discussing the question if there really are different types of language learners

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