“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to
climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
We have a lot of faith in our education system from the first day we enter class to the day that we graduate. As a whole, this system is efficient and equal, giving students the same chance to excel so long as they take the same courses and pass the same tests.
This “one-size-fits-all” approach to learning is known as the standardized education system. It teaches students how to absorb information from books so they can repeat it verbatim on tests and presentations. The unfortunate result of this, however, is that students are untrained and unprepared to actually use what they have learned in the real world.
That’s why, despite the hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars most students have spent on language training, the results are often...uninspiring. But what can we really do to change the way we learn when so much of our education has already been predetermined? How can we find new and interesting ways of expressing ourselves when our parents, teachers, and even politicians have told us this is the best way to learn?
Nosce te ipsum.
Latin for “know thyself,” it means that you should pay more attention to yourself rather than what everyone else tells you. Your education should be your own responsibility, not that of textbook writers half a world away.
We start this by (ironically) taking a test. Not a standardized test to know our levels, but to better understand what our unique strengths and weaknesses are. Psychologists provide us with many resources from personality tests to behavioural assessments, but just for today, I would like to introduce you to the concept of multiple intelligences.
Devised in 1983 by Dr Howard Gardner, it replaces the “one-size-fits-all” IQ test with a broader and more open-minded way of mapping out each person’s unique aptitudes. It recognizes that a dancer may have an easier time learning dance steps than a computer program. In turn, the programmer would do better on a calculus test than a writer or an artist.
Before we continue, I suggest that anyone who hasn’t already done so to take a multiple intelligence test online. There are many available, but I the one I use most often is here.
Once you know your specific strengths, it’s easy to find more information online, but my goal is to offer suggestions on how to improve your language learning. The first step is to speak more and write more. I know from first-hand experience how terrifying it can be to put yourself forward when your speech is full of mistakes, but one way to reduce your anxiety is by speaking about things in a way that takes advantage of your strengths.
Let’s jump right in with some examples:
1. VERBAL-LINGUISTIC (WORD SMART)
If you are word smart, try listening to videos of native English speakers and transcribing them word-for-word. Then repeat each phrase out loud before moving onto the next line.
If you want a challenge, find a video of a conversation between two people. Wait until one person has finished a sentence or question and pause the video. Imagine what the next person will say in reply and try to say it yourself. Then unpause the video to see if you’re correct.
2. LOGICAL-MATHEMATICAL (LOGIC SMART)
Since logic smart people like to find out how things work, start by copying down a grammatically correct sentence written by a native English speaker. You can easily find these on news or advertisement sites. Next, break up the sentence into its components (subject, verb, object, conjunction, prepositions, etc.) and label them carefully. Write down the rules for why a verb is written with or without an -s or -ed ending or why it is followed by a certain preposition.
If you want a challenge, try replacing certain verbs and nouns in the sentence with other ones while keeping the same format. (Trust me when I say this is harder than it sounds. I’ve met software engineers who replace every tense with the present simple!)
3. VISUAL-SPATIAL (PICTURE SMART)
If you’re picture smart, you’re very good at imagining shapes and images in your mind. The key is to explain what you see well enough for others to understand. Try to describe what an animal looks like to someone who has never seen it before (eg. “An elephant is tall and wide. It has very rough skin. It has four legs which are as thick as trees.”)
If you want a challenge, play the same game with a friend but do not tell them what the object is (eg. “It is shorter than an adult human. It has four legs and a flat surface. Most of them are brown and hard.”). If your friend can guess what it is, you’ve done a good job!
4. AUDITORY-MUSICAL (MUSIC SMART)
The best way for music smart students to learn is by singing! Listen to songs and repeat them to learn their pronunciation. But it may be difficult to know what some singers are saying since they don’t articulate their words well. For that, you can try different resources online that can make things much easier!
If you want a challenge, read the lyrics of a song and follow along! Practice one song until you can sing it without looking.
5. BODILY-KINESTHETIC (BODY SMART)
People who are body smart have great control over their movements. Take advantage of this by learning how to control your mouth placement when trying to pronounce new words. If you can master how to shape your lips, teeth, tongue, and breath properly, it’s possible to make any sound in any language. Luckily, once you’ve learned that, there are systems like the International Phonetic Alphabet which can help you learn pronunciation much quicker.
If you want a challenge, try learning the Latin-based linguistic terms for mouth parts like velum, palate, and pharynx.
6. INTERPERSONAL (PEOPLE SMART)
Having good interpersonal skills means you’re good at sharing information. The best way for you to learn is by teaching others what you know. Take a topic and have a friend be your student. But don’t just teach from a textbook! Create your own diagrams or Powerpoint slides so that your brain has a chance to “digest” and “reprocess” the information.
If you want a challenge, write out a detailed lesson plan on the topic. This will prepare you to better understand what your student understands.
7. INTRAPERSONAL (SELF SMART)
Since self smart people are good at understanding their emotions, it should be quite easy for them to describe their experiences to others. Start by writing in a diary about past events that had a strong impact on you (eg. “When I was 12, I had my first kiss. I was very nervous but also excited because I was in love. My heart was beating very fast but I could not control my breathing.”).
If you want a challenge, talk to a friend and compare your experiences. Ask them questions like what their first kiss was like or how they felt when attending their first day of school. If your friend is having trouble, support them with possible suggestions.
8. NATURALISTIC (NATURE SMART)
If you are nature smart, you clearly love nature. Try sharing your passion with your friends and family while improving your own speaking skill. Give tours of the outside world and give examples of how everyone can help protect the environment.
If you want a challenge, join a club or organization that shares your passion. Whether it’s a gardening club, animal shelter, or environmental protection agency, having like-minded people around you will naturally (haha!) make you more interested in speaking.
Like I said at the start, everyone has the potential to be a genius, but only if we study and learn through our own rules. If all you’ve done throughout your entire education is follow the book-learning route, you may only be good at memorizing information but not at using it. After all, mastery of a language is not about how many words you know, but how well you apply your limited knowledge to transfer your message.
Discover your intelligence and take advantage of it if you want to learn languages faster. Once you take the first step in that direction, I guarantee that your passion for learning will increase manifold, and along with it, your mastery of the language.