How Your Biological Makeup Affects Language Learning

Education survives when what has been learnt has been forgotten.

– B.F. Skinner (1904-1990)

Our language learning styles are one of the factors that determine how well you will learn a foreign language.

Learning Styles

Learning styles are the general approaches that you use when acquiring new skills such as learning a foreign language.  Sensory preferences and biological factors are two learning styles that are associated with how one lives. Learning styles are not set in black or white but are rather grey areas where traits of other learning styles can also co-exist.

Sensory Preference

Sensory preference refers to the physical perceptual learning preferences that you feel most comfortable with applying. These can be broken down into three main categories: visual stimulus, auditory stimulus, and kinesthetic stimulus.

Visual Stimulus

Visual learners like to read and can obtain a great deal of visual stimulus. Lectures, conversations, and oral directions without any visual backup can be very confusing for visual learners. Therefore, video tutorials with transcripts or power-point presentations can work very well. Visual learners will benefit from watching movies or reading books in their target language. If you prefer using this sense then this reflects in the vocabulary you use. For example “I can see where you are coming from with this…” or “I can see what you mean

Recommended duration of study time: 40 – 45 minutes. If watching a movie break for 2-5 minutes every 45 minutes.

Auditory Stimulus

In contrast, auditory learners are comfortable without any visual input and therefore enjoy and profit from, conversations, and oral directions.  They sometimes, however, have difficulty with written work. The approach to start speaking from day one would be really beneficial to auditory learners. If you prefer using this sense then this reflects in the vocabulary you use. For example “I hear what you are saying but…“.

Recommended duration of study time: 20-30 minutes followed by a 5-minute break then another 20-30 minutes.

Tactile and Kinesthetic Stimulus

Tactile and kinesthetic stimulus is for hands-on learners. They benefit from actually doing and require lots of physical movement. These learners feel more comfortable with working with flashcards and tangible objects.  They are very much touch-oriented.  If you prefer using these senses then this may reflect in the vocabulary you use. For example “I feel that I am just not understanding the concept...”

Recommended duration of study time: 20 minutes followed by a 5-minute break then another 20 minutes.

Biological Differences

The biological aspects of learning styles are not focused upon enough. Differences in language learning style can also be related to our biological factors, such as biorhythms,  exercise, location, and sustenance.

Body clock

Biorhythms reveal the times of day when we feel good and can perform at our best. Some learners are morning people, while others do not want to start learning until the afternoon. There are some language learners, like myself that are night owls happily “pulling an all-nighter” of a study session if necessary.


Regular exercise releases the bodies feel-good chemicals and can actually energize the body and stimulate the mind. It helps with the stimulation of new brain cells, so all in all, increasing activity levels is a good idea. It is recommended by doctors to do at least 2, 30-minute aerobic sessions a week. This does include walking.


Location involves the nature of the learning environment. For example; room temperature, lighting, distractions, sound, and even the level of comfort you feel. All of this will impact on your ability to learn new things. Some people thrive on having some background noise, while others need complete silence.


Sustenance refers to the need for food or drinks while learning. I personally prefer to have a coffee when I sit down for a study session, however, some learners feel distracted from their study by food and drink. Remember that if you are dehydrated or hungry you will not be as focused to learn. So I recommend always having a glass of water and ensuring you are not hungry before studying.

In conclusion, I can’t speak for other countries, but here in the UK, the education system seems to be based on one size fits all. However, our biological makeup is different and what works for one person may not work for another!

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