Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Are You Visual or Aural?

Can the way we like to learn also influence the way we write and the kinds of books we like to read?

This interesting concept was suggested to me by Sabrina Jeffries, a NYT bestselling romance writer who recently visited our Monday night writers group (she was in town visiting her agent and critique partner of many years, both of whom are members of the group). She said she was an aural learner, and she thought that’s why she didn’t like putting a lot of visual description in her books and becomes inpatient with writers who do. (She also said where she picked up this interesting concept, but I was so focused on the idea itself that I didn’t hear that part.)

It’s an intriguing idea. I Googled learning styles and discovered that, yes, our preferred learning styles do influence more than just they way we prefer to study. They also affect the way we internally represent experiences, the way we recall information and the words we choose. So it makes sense that they would influence the way we write and whether or not we like James Lee Burke.

There are actually several different approaches to learning:

Visual (spatial): prefers using pictures, images, and spatial understanding.
Aural (auditory-musical): prefers using sound and music.
Verbal (linguistic): prefers using words, both in speech and writing.
Physical (kinesthetic): prefers using body and sense of touch.
Logical (mathematical): prefers using logic, reasoning and systems.
Social (interpersonal): prefers to learn in groups or with other people.
Solitary (intrapersonal): prefers to work alone and use self-study.

Although we usually have a dominant learning technique, most people use a combination of these approaches. The same person can even use different styles in different situations. My kids, for instance, learned better when they could move around (works great for memorizing spelling words at home, but not so good in a classroom situation when everyone is expected to sit down). My daughter also discovered she could remember her French vocab words if she wrote them on colored cards: blue for masculine nouns, pink for feminine. But our styles are not fixed; we can develop our abilities in our less dominant styles. And each of these styles uses a different part of the brain, so the more areas of the brain we use when learning, the better we remember.

I guess my exercise with the colored note cards shows that I’m very visual. My card system also betrays that I’m very logical; I like to diagram things out and classify information. But I’m also highly aural: I remember material I hear in a lecture better than I remember what I read, just as I learn the words of songs or poems I hear very quickly. Unfortunately, I am not at all kinesthetic; when my girls and I were taking Tae Kwan Do, they’d learn our belt pattern the first night and then spend the next three months trying to drill it into my thick head. I’m also a solitary rather than a social learner: no study groups for me.

How about you? How do you think your personal learning style influences your writing or reading?


Steve Malley said...

I long ago made my peace with life as a visual/kinesthetic learner. The act of writing lecture notes in college (and reading them as I wrote) was enough that there was no need to refer back to the notes later. On the other hand, I am completely, utterly unable to retain anything said to me-- source of much frustration...

And yeah, I do think my personal slant influences my reading: I enjoy the deeply kinesthetic fight scenes of John D MacDonald (spacial orientation) and James Lee Burke (internal sensation) to those of, say, Dean Koontz or Ross MacDonald.

And those writers who love their vocabulary and wrod-combinations will always seem just a little bit pale to me next to those who build powerful images, even if it's with simple words.

Great post, thought-provoking!

Charles Gramlich said...

I'm visual, verbal, and solitary. I remember what I read, and less what I hear. And I never ever liked working in groups. Lana is very aural. She loves music.

Sphinx Ink said...

Excellent post. Like Charles, I'm visual, verbal, solitary. I'm not at all aural, and not much kinesthetic.

Members of my various writers groups tease me because I always take notes, but I have to write things down or I'd never remember anything.

(I would have said I'm logical, due to my legal training, but your description relates logical to mathematics, and I'm terrible at math. Of course, legal logic is different from classical logic anyway.)

orannia said...

Very, very interesting. I think I'm visual, verbal and solitary. There is definitely a touch of logical in there, but more for problem-solving that for actual mathematics, which I was never good at...mainly because I needed to understand the 'why'. 'Just because' just doesn't cut the mustard with me *grin*

I wonder if this relates to left or right brain dominance?

Barbara Martin said...

I prefer to read or listen to new information, especially if there is illustration to make the point. Interesting topic. I'm good in groups or solitary.

cs harris said...

Steve, I always took meticulous notes because it forced me to pay attention. And you're right, there's something about the act of writing that reinforces memory

Charles, I'm always amazed by how well you remember books you read years ago.

Sphinx, I think you can be logical without being mathematically inclined.

Orannia, I suspect the l/r brain thing is an important part of this.

Barbara, that's interesting you work well in either groups or alone; most people tend to be one or the other.