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5. Multi-sensory teaching methods for teaching the English language

5.3 Visual learning style and mnemonic devices

Up until now, I have mostly described language teaching approaches which cater to the typically cognitive students, i.e. non-synaesthetes, yet use certain elements which are present in grapheme-colour synaesthetes’ processing of language. Regarding grapheme-grapheme-colour synaesthetes, Nicolas and Rothen (2013, 5) conclude from their experiments that they have a preference for verbal and vivid imagery style of information processing. With this in consideration, it is very likely that grapheme-colour synaesthetes majorly tend to use the visual style of learning. This means they have better control over visualising objects, can picture words better, utilize imagery to help them learn, and are more colour-oriented (“cf. Visual Learning Style and Strategies for Teachers”

2020, accessed on 14 October 2021).

In another study, Yaro and Ward (2007, 691) find that synaesthetes are generally likely to report having a better memory, and “the advantage for remembering synaesthesia-inducing material may be related to an enhanced ability to remember and perceive

colour”. Therefore, if it is taken into consideration that grapheme-colour synaesthetes have a great tendency to be confronted with visual synaesthesia-inducing material, we can deduce that they also have an advantage in the memory domain. Mankin (2017a) sums it up in the following quote:

29 According to this view, grapheme-colour synaesthetes are accustomed to automatically experiencing synaesthetic colours in response to linguistic input, which makes language more salient, easier to remember, and easier to use. This essentially leads, through lifelong practice, to a preference for visual and verbal styles and better memory for related stimuli. (Mankin 2017a, 7)

A link between mental imagery and memory has also been established and discussed in great detail by Paivio in the 1960s, who as a result introduced the “dual-coding theory” in the field of cognition. Following the premise of the Paired-Associate Learning, he combines verbal information with visual (mental imagery). He explains how verbal information can carry the same visual information – the only difference between them is their processing. With the use of mental imagery associations, the processing of both is elevated, contributing to a better consolidation of the information into memory (cf. Clark and Paivio 1991, 162, 171).

Since learning is an active way of trying to encode data into memory and retain it, there exist many learning strategies to do so. One of the more interesting ones is the use of mnemonic devices or mnemonics, which act as a structured shortcut between two different data inputs.

They deliberately organize information, consequentially making it more efficiently encoded into long-term memory through creating multiple routes of access. Mnemonics made by the students themselves are much more efficient, because they spend more focus on it and therefore data is better encoded into memory than it would be by just adopting the ones a teacher introduces to them. From the point of view of metamemory knowledge (knowing how memory works), mnemonic devices are a fantastic learning strategy, which promotes the learner’s autonomy and creativity, since the students themselves are in charge of creating additional mental images or other connections which are then attached to the data trying to be learned; the livelier or more memorable the images – the better (cf. McCabe 2011, 4; Birsh and Carreker 2018, 110).

As far as mental imagery is concerned, a special sort of mnemonic aid named the keyword method is described in great detail by Atkinson (1975, 821-822) who studied how English speakers remembered foreign language vocabulary with the use of mnemonic devices. These mnemonics were created by the student finding English words which were phonetically similar to the foreign words, or parts of the word, trying to be learned, and then creating mental images

30 which included both words. He provides an example with the Spanish word for “duck” (“pato”) and how it is phonetically similar to the English word “pot”. Combining the English phonetic word equivalent with an image of the Spanish word in a mental image – in Atkinson’s case, as a duck wearing a pot on its head – two links (acoustic and imagery link) are connected, helping with the learning of the new Spanish word.

Another interesting language learning technique is presented by a grapheme-colour synaesthete Prothero (2006) who describes his incorporation of “Emotionally-Compelling Fables” associated with the letters comprising new foreign words during his studying of German. This mnemonic device combines both the letters’ colours and shapes, and their mental images, as long as the final image of the word also elicits an emotional response. The following is Prothero’s description of the German word “Reise” (trip):

A nobleman (“r”) is looking (“e”) through a telescope (“i”) at a river (“s”). The final

“e” is a rope holding a boat to a dock on the river. The man will soon be taking a trip on the boat. He thinks that the trip will be difficult, but exciting and enjoyable.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained. (Prothero 2006, 7)

In this case of the German word “Reise”, Prothero (2006) not only includes the letters’ colours into the mental image, but also the letters’ associations with items on their own. For example, the letter “s” is described by him as: “Clear, smooth or fluid. Can become flowing water, a waterfall, or the clear plastic surface of a table, or surfaces in general”; whereas the letter “r” is “bright red or orange, smooth but with some texture, something like dried paint on a portrait. Tends to be associated with a member of the nobility, dressed in red. Lower in rank than a “p”, but proud of station. Can also be the red of a car or of an apple, etc.” Prothero (2006, 16). Additionally, he also includes an emotional note into the mental image – that of the nobleman’s thoughts on the trip. This increases the chances of the image being better encoded in the learner’s long-term memory; the more pieces of data the word is connected to, the better the access to it in the long run.

Rich et al. (2005) mention one of their synaesthete research subjects (named “RP”) explaining an example how synaesthesia helps them with French vocabulary:

31 I see words in foreign languages in colour too which makes learning a language easier – for example if I know the word for ‘wonderful’ in French is yellow, that immediately eliminates most words and makes remembering the appropriate word easier. (Rich et al. 2005, 67)

Another subject’s synaesthesia in a study by Radvansky (2017, 662) is described as very useful, since it “made his memory traces very rich and detailed, allowing them to endure, be highly structured in memory, and be recalled accurately later.”

To recapitulate, being aware of the workings of memory is a valuable skill not only as a study tool, but also in every-day life. The better you understand the methods how you remember data, the better you can improve them with active effort (Radvansky 2017, 661).Mnemonic aids are a marvellous and amusing way of exploring the memory and imagination. What is more, the creation of one’s own mnemonic devices in combination with one’s coloured alphabet can be a project which the grapheme-colour synaesthete can engage in on one’s own. They will not be forced into making one, and thus there will be no additional pressure on learning the English language. With such an element of autonomy, the students can benefit greatly, because the building and exploration of their learning techniques can become an enjoyable process, giving them also a certain feeling of uniqueness, which is so sought-after in childhood and puberty.

Ultimately, no matter how advantageous grapheme-colour synaesthesia may be, it amounts to nothing if it is not actively practised and understood.