How the Learner’s Personality Affects the Way they Learn
In Learning Styles 1-3, we looked at how the mind and the body process language. In this article, we will be concerned with the learner’s personality, i.e. how they handle the feelings that are evoked during the learning process, what kind of motivation the learner brings to the learning task, as well as personal values, beliefs and attitudes related to learning; whether they prefer to work alone or in groups, and the kind of relationship the learner prefers to have with the teacher and other learners. These are all key factors in the learning process. The learner’s personality type as well as these various emotional factors form the affective side of a learner’s total learning style.
There is a close connection between a person’s personality type and their learning style.
Answer the following questions:
- Do you prefer a) group classes (which include student interaction), or b) 1 teacher – 1 student classes?
- Do you prefer a) oral tests, or b) written tests?
- Do you prefer a) practical application, or b) dealing with concepts?
- Do you prefer a) being given an example first, or b) being given the rule first?
- Do you prefer a) social interaction, or b) working by yourself?
- Do you prefer a) being given the rule plus its many variations, or b) being given lots of examples so that you can deduce the rule for yourself?
- Do you prefer a) memorizing lots of facts and details, or b) just grasping the general concepts?
- Do you prefer a) the real, concrete and tangible, or b) meanings, symbols and abstractions?
- Do you prefer a) observing specifics, or b) having flashes of insight?
- With new material, do you prefer a) going step-by-step (according to the textbook or manual), or b) finding your own way?
- Do you tend to be a) generally more skeptical, or b) generally more trusting?
- Do you a) more value firm-mindedness, or b) more value harmony between people?
- Are you a) more objective, or b) more subjective?
- Do you a) prize more highly logical order, or b) warmth in friendships?
- When coming to a decision, do you more a) use objective and impersonal criteria, or b) weigh human values and motives (my own and others)?
- Do you a) work in a steady, orderly way, or b) work in a flexible, more impulsive way?
- Do you prefer a) working on clearly laid out tasks, or b) working on discovery-type tasks?
- When completing a task, is it important to you a) to finish it on time, or b) to remain open longer pending further detail?
- Do you prefer a) formal, structured tasks, or b) informal, problem-solving tasks?
- Are you a) a more goal-oriented type of person, or b) a more open-ended, play-it-by-ear, go-with-the-flow type of person?
What do the different personality types look like?
Many language learners are familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) – an instrument widely used to help people discover the way they tend to take in information, make decisions and relate to people. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator identifies preferences in four areas:
Extroversion vs. Introversion
Extroverts are usually energized by being with people and interacting with them, and can often think best if they can talk over their ideas with other people. Introverts, on the other hand, think best by themselves by processing ideas in their own minds. In the above questionnaire, the more ‘a’ answers you checked off in questions 1-5, the more extrovert you are, and the more ‘b’ answers you checked off, the more introvert you are.
Sensing vs. Intuition
Sensing (or concrete-sequential) types tend to take in information in a sequential way through the use of their five senses, and tend to be interested in the concrete and here & now. Intuitive types are more interested in theories and possibilities, and often make good guesses without going through sequential steps of reasoning it out. In the above questionnaire, the more ‘a’ answers you checked off in questions 6-10, the more ‘sensing’ (concrete-sequential) you are, and the more ‘b’ answers you checked off, the more ‘intuitive’ you are.
Thinking vs. Feeling
Thinking types tend to make decisions more objectively, on logical, impartial grounds. Feeling types, on the other hand, tend to come to a decision more subjectively on the basis of feelings as well as the effect of the decision on personal issues. In the above questionnaire, the more ‘a’ answers you checked off in questions 11-15, the more ‘thinking’ you are, and the more ‘b’ answers you checked off, the more ‘feeling’ you are.
Closed vs. Open
Closure-oriented types (Myers-Briggs uses ‘Judging’) like things to be clear and settled, and strive for closure. Open-ended types (Myers-Briggs uses ‘Perceiving’) like matters to be open-ended for as long as possible. In the above questionnaire, the more ‘a’ answers you checked off in questions 16-20, the more closure-oriented you are, and the more ‘b’ answers you checked off, the more open-ended you are.
How do these 8 types of learners differ in the way they learn the language? What different learning styles do they have?
Our whole personality and emotions are fully involved when learning Chinese. Each of the above eight preferences that goes to make up a psychological type has its assets and liabilities when it comes to language learning.
Extroverts: the extroverted learner learns more effectively through concrete experiences, contacts with the outside world, and relationships with others. They value group interaction and classwork done together with other students. They are willing to take conversational risks, but are dependent on outside stimulation and interaction.
Introverts: the introverted learner learns more effectively in individual, independent situations that are more involved with ideas and concepts. Their strengths are their ability to concentrate on the task in hand as well as their self-sufficiency; however, they need to process ideas before speaking which sometimes leads to avoidance of linguistic risk-taking in conversation.
Sensing (or concrete-sequential) types: the sensing learner learns more effectively from reports of observable facts and happenings; prefers physical, sense-based input. Their great assets are their willingness to work hard in a systematic way, and their attention to details; however, they will be hindered should there be a lack of clear sequence, goals or structure in the language or language course.
Intuitive types: the intuitive learner learns more effectively from flashes of insight, using their imagination, and grasping the general concepts rather than all the details. Their strengths are their ability to guess from the context, structuring their own training, conceptualizing and model-building. However, they can be hindered by inaccuracy and missing important details.
Thinking types: the thinking learner learns more effectively from impersonal circumstances and logical consequences. Their strengths are in their ability to analyze and their self-discipline. However, they can suffer from performance anxiety because their self-esteem is attached to achievement.
Feeling types: the feeling learner learns more effectively from personalized circumstances and social values. They have the advantage of their strong desire to bond with the teacher, resulting in good relations which lead to high self-esteem. However, they can become discouraged if not appreciated, and disrupted by lack of interpersonal harmony.
Closure-oriented types: the closure-oriented learner learns more effectively by reflection, analysis, and processes that involve closure. They have the advantage of systematically working through a task, and wanting to get the job done. However, they suffer from rigidity and intolerance of ambiguity.
Open-ended types: the open-ended learner learns more effectively through negotiation, feeling, and inductive processes that postpone closure. Their strong points are their openness, flexibility and adaptability to change and new experiences. However, they may suffer from laziness and inconsistent pacing over the long haul.
What learning strategies will aid these eight types?
Extroverts: learning together with others will be more effective than studying by yourself – the stimulation received from group work will help you learn and understand new information better.
Introverts: you learn best when you work alone. You think better and internalize information more readily when studying by yourself. You will enjoy using computers for study and review.
Sensing (or concrete-sequential) types: organize your lesson preparation so that you include time for all aspects of the language – grammar, vocabulary, drills and dialogues, plus include time for review.
Intuitive types: don’t get bogged down with the grammar – just get a feel for the main point and move on!
Thinking types: if the grammar explanations or vocabulary definitions are unclear or confusing, get other students to explain them to you. Then make your own summary.
Feeling types: in order to build good relationships with your teachers, invite them round to your home for a meal or go out with them for an evening. Most teachers enjoy socializing with their students and appreciate those who take a personal interest in them.
Closure-oriented types: ask other students to help you set realistic, short-term goals so that you can continually sense progress.
Open-ended types: learning Chinese ought to be fun! However, beware of being too laid back.
Other Emotional Factors
Other emotional factors include: anxiety (high/low), attitude (positive/negative), motivation (strong/weak), self-confidence, persistence and personal sense of responsibility. Each student comes with their own constellation and intensity of emotional factors and all these affect their emotional involvement with the language learning task.
Learning how to learn is an empowering experience, and discovering one’s learning style can lead to an increase in achievement and self-confidence. However, it is important to realize that all styles have their strengths & weaknesses, although many language school programs favor certain types of learners over others. (Reflect back on your college course which probably favored the intrinsically motivated, analytical and independent student.) On the other hand, students should be prepared to expand their learning style repertoire so that they will be more empowered to learn in a variety of learning situations. Bear in mind, too, that you are probably not totally one ‘type’ (e.g. totally analytical or totally intuitive) but somewhere along the continuum between the two. What you should aim for is to strengthen those areas where you are weak.
In order for you to become clearer on your own learning style, apart from the above questionnaires, some other useful ways are:
- Keep a language learning journal, noting ‘good days’ and ‘enjoyable moments’ when you were studying or practicing the language and ask yourself, “What made those days ‘good’ or those moments ‘enjoyable’?”
- Describe your ideal teacher. What does she do which helps you feel relaxed, maintain motivation, help you understand the language, and participate in an active way?
- Write down the names of your favorite and most disliked teachers. Then ask yourself, “What makes them my favorite or most disliked teacher?”, i.e. what do they do that either stimulates and interests you or bores and frustrates you?
- Which section(s) of each (textbook) lesson do you enjoy most? least? Why?
- What ‘turns you on’ when learning Chinese?
- Try experimenting with different learning strategies and see how you feel about them.
References (covering the four articles on Learning Styles)
Learning Styles in the ESL/EFL Classroom by Joy M. Reid (Newbury House)
Workbook for Independent Language Learners by Carol J. Orwig (SIL)
The Impact of Differing Learning Styles on Language Teaching and Facilitation by Herbert C. Purnell (unpublished paper)
Learning Styles 4: pdf file