handedness and language learning

It’s been a while since I did a language-related post, and if I’m being honest this may be one of my last! I’ll be finished my degree in May, which means no more languages pour moi (no pun intended). I can’t say I’m upset…

For my final year dissertation, I did research on the link between handedness and language learning. I effectively forced people to be (somewhat) ambidextrous for two weeks, and then explored whether or not this had an impact on their ability to require new, foreign vocabulary.

Thus far, the link between handedness and language learning hasn’t been broadly researched; this is a bit of a double-edged sword as it meant that I had a unique topic to investigate, but that finding previous studies upon which I could base my research was challenging.

In spite of this – and in spite of my small sample size – there was a definite link between ambidexterity and more successful language learning. The small sample size is obviously something to be wary of, but all in all the results of the study were promising!

So, next time you’re trying to learn a language, try doing something with your non-dominant hand for five minutes each day for a period of time; it could be something as simple as brushing your teeth or writing your name. The idea is that the ‘forced ambidexterity’ will result in higher levels of interhemispherical activity in the brain, thus bringing about more successful language learning. Sounds a bit wishy-washy, but the theory seems to hold up.

Do you have any unusual language-learning methods? Have you ever had to learn a language in a hurry? Do leave a comment down below!

Love and luck,

Clodagh X

personality and language learning

Today’s post actually comes from an essay I put together a while ago on the impact of personality on language learning. Part of the essay focused on the impact of Introversion and Extraversion on how we learn languages; personally I found it to be an intriguing topic, I hope all of you do too!

Extrovert Language Learners: Extrovert language learners tend to engage in conversation and employ intercommunicative learning strategies when learning a new language. Group work and active environments (i.e. environments with adequate levels of stimuli to keep the extrovert engaged) tend to work best for extrovert language learners. It has also been shown that extroverts tend to use more visual learning strategies than introverts (Ehrman and Oxford, 1988). This tendency towards visual language learning strategies relates to the extrovert’s preference towards external stimuli; “visualization is a way of making connection between elements of outer-world experience and the symbols of which languge is composed” (Ehrman and Oxford, 1988 : 8). Use of interactive materials such as powerpoint presentations and picture-association may therefore be effective for extrovert language learners. Teaching methods that require much interaction and communication would also be effective; extroverts are arguably more suited to an immersive environment due to their tendency to focus on external stimuli in everyday life. Total Physical Response (or TPR) may also suit extrovert language learners due to the emphasis on external stimuli. In an academic setting, an extrovert is more likely to feel comfortable in an environment with plenty of social interaction, such as an oral language class. This isn’t always the case however, and is dependent on the confidence of the extrovert language learner in question.  If, for example, an extrovert scores highly in the Neuroticism element of the Big Five personality inventory, the thought of making mistakes when practicing language aloud may deterr them and make them feel uncomfortable in such a setting. An extrovert’s level of Openness To Experience, another factor of the Big Five personality inventory, may also have an impact on how comfortable or capable they feel in a largely interactive environment. If an extrovert has a relatively low score on the Openness To Experience scale, they will be more conservative in their language learning technique and less inclined to participate in conversations on wide-ranging topics or place themselves in situations where they are surrounded by people outside of their peer group.

Introvert Language Learners: As a result of their internal rather than external focus, introvert language learners benefit more from independent learning strategies. Working alone in a quiet, potentially isolated environment where there is little room for distraction tends to work best for introvert language learners. Introverts also learn language better when they are given a chance to absorb what is being said in relation to context and meaning rather than diving straight into conversation like an extrovert would; this ties in with an extrovert’s aforementioned tendency to be more risk-taking than their introvert counterparts. According to Ehrman and Oxford, “the introvert is defined as being concerned with the inner world of ideas” and “tends to look for meaning and context before acting” (Ehrman and Oxford, 1988 : 8). Although interaction is essential for language learning, introverts may benefit from more passive learning methods; something as simple as overhearing a conversation can enable the introvert language learner to absorb what is being said, piece together grammatical structures and learn new vocabulary. This is in contrast to the extrovert language learner who, by nature, would be more likely to join into the conversation without hesitation than passively listen to it. (Ehrman and Oxford, 1988). Teaching methods such as the Grammar-Translation method may be of benefit to the introvert language learner due to the lack of emphasis on oral language. The structural approach may also be effective given the introvert L2 learner’s tendency to find meaning and build systems in language learning rather than going straight into language practice.

Generally speaking, we all tend towards either introversion or extroversion, even if the distinction is marginal. In some cases, however, it is possible to be classified as an ‘ambivert’. An ambivert, as defined by Mercer in Psychology for Language Learning (2012) is someone who “exhibits the traits of both an introvert and an extrovert” and may value time spent alone or in solitude just as much as spending time around other people (Mercer, 2012 : 248).  An ambivert scores exactly 50:50 (or shows extremely marginal preference) between Introversion and Extraversion. They are therefore lucky in the sense that they can benefit from a wide range of language-learning strategies should they choose to make use of them. They are capable of working both with large groups of people and on their own, can focus on both internal and external stimuli to equal extents and can give equal amounts of attention to the written form of a language versus the spoken form. Depending on other subfactors such as attitudes towards language-learning or motivation for language acquisition, ambiverts can make the most effective language learners due to their capacity to be flexible in their language learning techniques. Contrasting techniques such as the Structural Approach and Total Physical Response could be equally effective for the ambivert depending on the other aforementioned subfactors of the language learner in question.”

Love and luck,

Clodagh X

P.S. – Watch my latest video here!