Colours and lights make for a multimodal experience, just as learning should be. Picture from freeimages.com

Multimodal Learning for Restless Brains

I’m always studying something. It’s something that leads friends and family to think I’m some kind of superlearner.

Oh, I wish that were true.

Firstly, I’m always studying because I enjoy what I choose to study. And despite that fact, in many ways, my natural thinking pattern isn’t particularly conducive to long periods of close study. I get bored easily. I daydream. I’m impatient. I’m always thinking of the next exciting thing to learn, not the one I’m currently trying to grasp.

To be fair on myself, these are pretty universal human traits. Most people reading this will see a little of themselves in there, too! So how did friends and family come to think of my erring brain as a particularly effective learning machine? Largely thanks to a few tricks to get around those anti-focus tendencies. In particular, one big trick.

Multimodality

In pedagogy, multimodal usually refers to multi-sensory learning – including visual, audio, kinaesthetic aspects and so on. But the crux of it is variety, satisfying your brain’s craving for stimulation and novelty. In fact, your different modes don’t have to cover the whole spread of senses. They just need to provide an ample range of media and context to give the restless brain regular scene changes.

One thing that really helps me, for instance, is to have both a hard copy and an electronic copy of a text. I switch from one to the other, reading on multiple devices, and in multiple places. I can dip in and out, ten minutes here, ten minutes, there, and my brain doesn’t even have a chance to get bored. It’s a gem of a trick that works for course materials, reference texts and literature.

Multimodal PlanNing

To get the most out of multimodal learning, it’s best to be organised; the first step is always a plan of exactly what you want to get through.

Right now, I’m ploughing through a mountain of book chapters and papers for two linguistics assignments due soon. I know what I have to read and take notes on, and have a tick-list of the material in Evernote.

But to make sure I get through it, in spite of my natural tendencies, I ensure the material is multimodal. I have my reading in a number of formats – PDFs on my phone, tablet, laptop, hard copies in my bag , audiobooks and video summaries where possible – basically, everything, everywhere. Reading in one format and one place to start with, then picking up in a completely different modality elsewhere, really helps stymie reading fatigue.

And a nice side-effect? The range of environments helps beat the context trap, too, not tying your recall to a single backdrop.

When my essays are submitted, and I’m free to return to my language learning materials, one thing’s certain: it’s going to be multimodal!

An image of someone washing their hands by maripepa m, freeimages.com. Authentic resources on health topics are easy to come by in times of Covid-19.

Language Love in Times of Covid : Authentic Resources in Translation

Authentic resources in the target language are vital exposure to improve your skills. And during a public crisis, it just so happens that topical materials are even easier to come across.

Namely, there is an abundance of brief, to-the-point and free publications on the Covid-19 pandemic right now. You can find them on the sites of official bodies like government health agencies and local authorities. Just like political manifestos and mail-shots, they are a good source of vocabulary if you find yourself talking about these topics in lessons. Certainly, I am finding that the subject crops with dogged regularity in my 2020 conversation classes.

And I have to admit, talking about it – in any language – helps to get my head around it.

So how to source these informational nuggets?

Information Hunting

You can seek out government information material anywhere where there is a sizeable community language presence. Initially, a simple Google search like “Covid-19 posters PDF” plus the country of your choice will more than suffice. After that, you will find yourself clicking through a rabbit warren of links to downloadable PDFs.

And they are there in numbers. In the US, official Spanish resources are extremely widely available. This page of Covid-19 informational materials offers a Spanish option for almost everything. But many other minority languages are represented, especially when there is a large diaspora community in a country. For instance, in Australia, a large Greek community means the same kinds of material are downloadable in Greek. Swahili, too, features quite frequently in US materials, like this Covid-19 poster. In fact, the Centre for Disease Control in America lists a dizzying array of languages on this page (select ‘Filter by Language’)

Authentic resources on Covid-19 in Polish - an NHS poster about washing hands.

Polish NHS poster on fighting Covid-19, downloaded via manchester.gov.uk

The Double Benefit of Authentic Resources in Translation

A key benefit of public information resources is that they are short and snappy. For beginner to intermediate learners, there is a lot to be taken from them without the sense of being overwhelmed by a huge authentic text. 

So why not just go straight to the source, and find materials from the target language country itself?

Well, the big bonus is that these documents are usually just one-to-one translations of the original English documents. That means you have a ready-made cross-reference source to check your comprehension of the target language. Look at them side by side, and compare the vocabulary and structures used, without having to second-guess or scrabble for a dictionary.

For certain, we live in difficult, frightening times. But authentic resources can be a great talking therapy, as well as a language learning boost.

Good luck, and stay safe!