How to activate your memory for language learning

Learning a new language can seem all about memory; how on earth am I going to remember all these new words? Apart from the skills of listening, repeating and practice you can also tryhandwriting and drawing new words. Living in the 21st century the computer keyboard tends to be our “go to method”, but did you know that you can improve your language learning by handwriting new vocabulary?

Studies have shown that using a pen or pencil activates more areas of your brain than a keyboard does.

In a recent study (i) 12 adults and 12 seventh-graders were each asked to write and draw with a digital pen. Each person was also asked to type on a keyboard. While performing these tasks, each volunteer wore a cap that held electrodes next to their head. The results showed that writing turned on memory areas in the brain whereas typing didn’t. Drawing images also turned on parts of the brain involved with learning. These new findings back up other studies showing the benefits of handwriting, 

So how does handwriting compare to using a keyboard when it comes to learning new information?

Take a moment to think about how you write.

First, hand movements; the same movement is required to type each letter on a keyboard. In contrast, when we write, our brain needs to think about and retrieve memories of the shape of each letter. We also need to use our eyes to watch the shapes we’re writing. And we need to control our hands to press a pen to shape the different letters. In short, all these skills use, connect and challenge more areas of the brain.

Now think about how you select information; key words can be interlinked by highlighting and small drawings.

Take your time; handwriting can be a slow process and this slowing down requires you to think more, activate the brain and remember better.

Get creative; handwriting can also mean drawing. You can also make a mind map, linking words together in a meaningful visual map to enhance meaning and memory.

But don’t abandon technology all together; the computer can be a great tool to help with correcting grammar and spelling.

But still put a pen in your hand; have you noticed that when you reread a printed text ideas flow into your brain the minute you pick up a pen, corrections flow and you also see mistakes immediately on the paper that you didn’t see on the screen.

So, on balance it is recommended to take notes by hand, making a mind map, writing a first draft of an essay by hand but then use technology to check the grammar and spelling for the final draft.

It’s the best of both worlds !


Susan Barke 10/06/2021

Buckland Business English