Is your Learning Style Deceiving you?

Learning Styles is a hot topic these days! When you search for the topic in books, over 2,800 resources pop up, most of which are at least 240 pages or more.

So it’s no surprise that the Workshop I give on Learning Styles when applied to foreign languages is usually packed at the book fairs and conventions. The problem is how to discover what style you are. Many of us take surveys and questionnaires (don’t you just love those things? I do.) and then depend on the outcome to dictate how we should learn. Unfortunately, we have a preconceived notion of which “type” we already are, not to mention our children, and often, without meaning to, skew the results by checking the boxes with the “correct” answers for that style.

Let me explain. I had a lady in one workshop who was sure she was a visual learner. She said she must write a list down. No matter what, she has to write those lists down. So, when we looked at the grid that leads each of us through the questions - what are your hobbies, how do you give and receive love, how do you train children to do chores, etc, - she always checked the “reading notes, reading, showing with a picture” cues, that of course would end up with with a “VISUAL LEARNER” outcome.

Then, we did the test we work with in the seminar, in which answers can not be faked. It’s not subjective in any way. In it,  the audience members learn the same phrase translated to three different languages. Each language is taught with a different learning style. So, we sing-song the translation for Spanish, we see and read the pictures and words for German, and we act out the phrases for French. She (and I, too) was concerned, because she had previously studied German for five years, so she assumed that when I asked her to translate from English (to ANY language) she would translate to German, of course! How could learning styles possibly overcome this previous amount of information? So, with that in mind, we plowed through the experiment anyway.

Well, we finished the seminar, and I asked the audience to translate from English the same phrases that we had learn. It had been about 35 minutes since the language lesson. Some were able to speak French, some Spanish, and some German. And our German studying lady? She translated to FRENCH!

We couldn’t believe it. She KNEW parts of the German,  but the words and sound that popped to her mind were in French. She even began doing the motions as she repeated the words. The Visual Learners had all closed their eyes and were seeing the German words and cards in their head; and the Auditory learners were singing the tune as they tried to recall the sounds that went along with the different notes. It was phenomenal. The experiment was a success! We had discovered her style, even outdoing her previous knowledge. Wow!

She didn’t look happy though.

“So…. WHY DO I NEED LISTS?” She demanded, not really talking to anyone, maybe just to herself. She was incredulous at the idea that she’s been treating herself as a visual learner her entire life.
“Well,” I asked, “Do you read the list while you’re at the store? Do you refer to it or see it in your head?”
“Oh no, half the time I forget and leave it at home. I just have to make sure I write it down,” was the reply.


So, because, she doesn’t have trouble sitting still, and doesn’t need to doodle, doesn’t particularly care for sports, and does write lots of lists, we would all assume she’s a visual learner.  She’s been spending hours staring at and visualizing lesson plans for her children, watching movies, memorizing lists, and concentrating on where information and pictures are on pages and in books. This is all of course helpful, but is not the best way for her to learn. Now, as a tactile learner, she knows that taking notes, categorizing and making charts, setting ideas to motion, and talking her plans out while moving the events around on her calendar will keep things much more organized in her head. She doesn’t need to see it, she just needs to do it.

Of course, all these ways of learning work together. But the question is, are you forcing yourself to be a certain learning style, or your child even, simply based on some preconceived notion? Erase those expectations, and start again. Find their best way to learn. It’s a preference that is worth heeding!

Interested in taking the "test" yourself? Learn more in The Key to Learning Everything. Inside you will find a quiz to find your learning style. And when you do realize what learning style you are come back here and comment below to tell us if it was what you have always thought it was.

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