Multisensory language learning

Illustration of a BSL sign

When learning words in a foreign language it can help you to remember them if you associate them with as many things as possible, including different senses.

Words have a visual and spoken form which you can associate with sight and hearing. The movement of your mouth, throat and other speech organs is different and unique for each word, so that gives something else to help you remember them. You could also try associating words with textures, colours, smells and tastes and make each one unique and memorable. If you’re talking about food or drink this is easy to do, and you could do the same for other words referring to physical objects. For abstract concepts, such as freedom, justice or happiness, you could try imagining yourself experiencing these sensations, and for verbs you imagine yourself performing the actions or being in the states.

If you know a sign language or are learning one, you could associate foreign words with equivalent signs. For example, if you know British Sign Language (BSL) and are learning Spanish, you could associate the Spanish words you’re learning with the appropriate BSL signs, or you could even learn the signs in Spanish Sign Language. If you don’t know any sign languages you could still make up your own signs to associate with words. This will help you to remember foreign words without having to translate them into your native language, and the physical memory used for the signs will reinforce the other kinds of memory you use to remember the spoken and written forms of the words. Another advantage of using signs rather than translating into your mother tongue is that you can speak and sign at the same time – if you translate there will be a delay while you think of the word, translate it, then say it.