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Multiple Intelligences in language learning

Multiple Intelligences in language learning

If you have ever heard about several intelligences, then you are introduced to Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences, which he first outlined in his book “Frames of mind” in 1983. This theory has come under a lot of criticism from psychologists and educators who argued that Gardner’s definition of intelligence is too broad and that his eight different “intelligences” simply represent talents, personality traits, and abilities. Gardner’s theory also suffers from a lack of supporting empirical research, which is a very usual case for theories that first challenge our common knowledge.

For now, I find it quite satisfying to believe that ‘talents, personality traits, and abilities’ could freely be called Intelligences. I love this theory because it changed so much for our understanding of education.

You see, before Gardner we believed there is just one type of intelligence, sometimes known as “g” for general intelligence, that only focuses on cognitive abilities. Traditional learning process was organized by teachers as if all learners are the same. Every learner had to excel in the same kind of tasks. Now we know that human beings are multidimensional and proper education needs to see the learner from a holistic perspective.

Today Gardner’s theory is used to realize the strengths that we have and helps us choose a career, or understand in what field we could be more successful. There are many different ways to be intelligent: there is no standard attributes that one must have in order to be considered intelligent.

Gardner also suggests that there may be other “candidate” intelligences—such as spiritual intelligence, existential intelligence, and moral intelligence—but does not believe these meet his original inclusion criteria. (Gardner, 2011)

Each person possesses all eight intelligences. Most people can develop each of these intelligences to an adequate level of competency and have them work together in a complex way. There are many ways to be intelligent within each category (Armstrong, 2008).

Which intelligences can you use for language learning?

The most obvious answer is, of course, Linguistic intelligence (using words). It’s true, Linguistic intelligence usually helps the learners to use foreign languages more effectively but there is no strong correlation between Linguistic intelligence and language learning results.

To be a successful language learner (and a successful communicator) you would need to engage other intelligences, too.


Musical intelligence

First people communicated with singing, music came before language. Maybe this is the reason why using music for learning a language is so effective.
Musical intelligence is the ability to sense rhythm, pitch, and melody. This includes such skills as the ability to vary speed, tempo and rhythm in simple melodies.

When we speak, we also communicate a lot of information through pitch, tempo and intonation (melody). I hope, you have already tried to learn lyrics of your favourite song in the foreign language of your interest and sing along; it is not only fun but also a great way to remember new words and phrases!

What else you can do to engage your Musical intelligence is to play with speed, rhythm and intonation (melody) saying one and the same sentence but in various ways. See if it changes the meaning of your message or the way it can be perceived by others (emotional component). Try to sing some sentences to activate memorization.


Spatial/visual intelligence

is the ability to sense form, space, color, line, and shape. It includes the ability to graphically represent visual or spatial ideas. Mind maps, charts and creative colorful note taking can help you organize your knowledge so that it can be easily extracted from your memory when needed (it significantly improves information retrieval).

The most common and useful idea is to mind-map grammar rules that are hard to understand and remember. You can get creative when learning vocabulary, too! Use different colors for different parts of speech (e.g. nouns are green, verbs are blue) or draw something that associates with the word instead of learning its definition or translation.


Logical/mathematical intelligence

is not only about using numbers well but also the ability to reason effectively, predict and use the principles of cause and effect. It’s an essential skill for successful communicators to be able to convey the meaning correctly as well as find the most important information in context. If you’ve taken language tests in the past, you may remember the exercises where you need to find a few key ideas expressed in other words. That’s how you use your logical/mathematical intelligence.

You can also develop this intelligence by using language learning applications that gamify the process of learning; we learn a language through communication with a computer. Indeed, the future has arrived


Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence

This includes such physical skills as coordination, flexibility, speed, and balance. In language learning it is about using our body to express the ideas and feelings. Additionally, movement increases the flow of oxygen to the brain and improves the learning process.

I use this one a lot, when I work with my clients I use gesturing when speaking, it helps me convey the message. I remember myself preparing for exams in high school, walking there and back in my room. Now I know why I did that!

A fantastic way to use this intelligence is to play out dialogues like an actor in a theater. Have you ever tried it? You can observe actors in movies, what their body language tells you (remember Charlie Chaplin?). You may find a gesture with your hand helpful when you forget words. Or, like me, you might find walking boosts your memory when learning new vocabulary.


Interpersonal intelligence

Working as a group and being cooperative in learning are kinds of interpersonal frames. By using this kind of intelligence we improve listening and speaking. The ability to understand another person’s moods, feelings, motivations, and intentions is the key for successful communication.

You can develop this intelligence by attending speaking clubs, organizing gatherings with friends to practise the language of your choice or, if you are alone, by pretending to have a conversation, simulating a possible conversation that you may engage in later. Your brain, unaware that you’re mimicking the experience, will still prepare you for future real-life conversations.


Intrapersonal Intelligence

The intrapersonal intelligence helps us to understand the internal aspects of the self and to practice self-discipline. It can be related to studies about meta-cognitive knowledge and language learning, where meta-cognitive refers to knowledge about oneself, about the language or the process of learning. That’s where self-coaching takes place!

The ability to understand yourself – your strengths, weaknesses, moods, desires and intentions, how you are similar to or different from others, will help you strengthen your motivation and build better, more sustainable practice.

As a holistic language coach I pay close attention to Intrapersonal frame, my course ‘Mindset matters’ aims to help the learners of English understand themselves, their relationships with English and with the process of learning. I’m convinced that progress is the aftermath of the mindset change, the change that happens from the inside.


Naturalist intelligence

We could choose to widen our perspective and see the whole world and every thing in it as a part of nature. Focusing your attention onto the outer world, observing it, analyzing it, making sense out of it in the language you are learning, through speaking and writing, could be a great and exciting task on its own.

You could do the simplest exercise right now: look around and describe to yourself what you see, what objects there are, how they are related to one another, if you see any animals or people right now, you could describe their behaviour. Very useful language exercise that you could do at any time and it will always be different.


No intelligence exists separately, all people have all of them and you can find the optimal way of learning by combining different intelligences. Learning a language with holistic approach is the most natural need of people to make sense of themselves and the world around them; it’s a necessary process for activating the memory pathways and building new neural connections.

Please, experiment and while having just one linguistic content (like a text or a video, or an idea) see, how you can use different intelligences working with it.

Share in comments which intelligences you are using when learning English (or other languages) and which intelligences you would like to consciously develop and use in the future!

I’ll be glad to answer your questions, dear friend!

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