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The Role of Brain-Based Learning and Alternative Methodologies in EFL
by Marjorie Rosenberg
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The last step in the model, Step Seven, Functional Integration, includes the integration of new material in a functional way. For language learners this means being able to use what he or she has learned to reach a particular objective, whether it be making or receiving a telephone call in English, booking a hotel room, asking the way or negotiating with business partners. We can practice this in the classroom in the form of simulations but the responsibility ultimately belongs to the learner who must decide when, where and how he or she is going to put into practice what has been learned.

In addition to this seven-step model, there are several other points to consider in "brain-compatible learning". One very important one deals with the different memory retrieval systems used by the brain. The brain basically stores information either explicitly or implicitly. The Explicit Memory is a short-term one. Information stored in this way is divided into "Semantic" (a word or picture) or "Episodic" (a location). These memories can easily be talked about. They can change, however, depending on the way in which we discuss them and are subject to outside influences. On the other hand, the Implicit Memory is the long-term one. It is divided into "Procedural" (motor skills, sensory, and learned behaviors) and "Reflexive" (triggered feelings, automatic responses). It is here where we find information that we sometimes "don't know we know". These memories are more permanent and less subject to influences from outside, but they not always accessible. The feelings, emotions and movements sometimes have to be moved into our explicit memories in order to be expressed in words. In teaching, we can use multiple pathways to help our learners store information both explicitly and implicitly to guarantee that the information will become encoded in the brain. When we connect movement with words, use grammar games to reinforce structure and meaning, and relate vocabulary to the emotions of our learners, we are presenting for both the implicit and explicit memory retrieval systems.

The next important point deals with novelty and ritual. This goes back to setting up a safe learning atmosphere for our learners and establishing parameters for our lessons. In NLP training we often use anchors for classroom management. This can include a special bell or a song which indicates that it is time to pay attention again (this is an auditory anchor). We can also use a particular OHP transparency with a message to get the learners' attention. (a visual anchor). When we ourselves stand in one place and use a particular tone of voice to indicate that our learners should be listening to us, this is an anchor which incorporates visual, auditory and kinesthetic channels. Other rituals include having specific ways to begin or end a class, setting up for group work, singing together, using different colored paper or pens to code grammar or game worksheets, etc. By creating rituals, we give our learners something that they can fall back on and a place where they can feel comfortable. We also offer them a low stress, no threat learning environment. When that has been established, we can then go on to novelty. This includes the introduction of new material, guest speakers, field trips, projects, etc. Here the learner feels challenged and opportunities for excitement and fun are provided. The brain also releases specific chemicals which it needs to continue to grow and to learn. When we use novelty as a teaching device, we can create curiosity and anticipation in our learners, an optimal learning state.

One last point which I found particularly interesting, concerns the influence on the brain of the sheer volume of words which children (or adults) are exposed to. According to the latest research, children who simply hear more words (less "caretaker" language and more "real" language) from adults around them become fluent in their mother tongues quicker than children who do not have the same amount of "language rich" environment. The implication here for us as language teachers is to also consider moving away from texts that have been too simplified. The brain does not need to know every word in order to make sense of a text. When we can present material using other means of communication (tonality, body language) our learners can make sense of text which they have previously not been exposed to. We generally understand more than we can say but the simple enrichment of the language environment can increase the passive vocabulary of learners and eventually help them to become more fluent speakers with a larger range of vocabulary at their fingertips.

As I reflect back on my experiences with "brain-compatible" learning, I am happy to say that I found many affirmations that my teaching and teacher training has been moving in a "brain-friendly" direction. Superlearning, with its fantasy identities, games and relaxation techniques, certainly fits the model and takes into account the stages of acquisition, elaboration, memory encoding and functional integration. NLP, which stresses the importance of different learning styles, teaches us how to establish and maintain rapport with our learners, and addresses the issue of anchors in classroom management, can contribute a great deal to the field of "brain-friendly" learning. Many of these NLP techniques help us to create a safe and comfortable learning environment and make use of the implicit and explicit memory retrieval systems. Being aware of the possibility of multiple intelligences in our classrooms can help us to understand the neural history of our learners and set up a context for them to be successful. Using cooperative learning groups gives us the chance to incorporate novelty with ritual to help our learners discover their own optimal learning states and make learning fun and successful for all.

Righting the Educational Conveyor Belt, Michael Grinder, Metamorphous Press, 1991
In Your Hands, NLP in ELT, Jane Revell and Susan Norman, Saffire Press, 1997
Dynamic Learning, Robert Dilts and Todd Epstein, Meta Publications, 1995
Superteaching, Eric Jensen, The Brain Store, Inc., 1995
Brain Compatible Strategies, Eric Jensen, Turning Point Publishing, 1997
Multiple Intelligences, the Theory in Practice, Howard Gardner, Basic Books, 1993
Cooperative Language Learning, Carolyn Kessler, Prentice Hall, 1992


Marjorie Rosenberg is an instructor of English at the Pädagogische Akademie des Bundes in der Steiermark. Marjorie also works as a free-lance language trainer for various companies and for the state government of Styria, Austria and a free-lance NLP trainer for both teachers and business people. She is an active presenter and has given talks and workshops on NLP, Cooperative Learning and Learning Styles at conferences in Europe and Canada. In addition, she contributes to various ELT and educational journals. Her book 'Communicative Business Activities' which uses an NLP approach to teaching business English, came out in autumn 2001 and she is currently working in an international team to create a new English text book for the Austrian school system.


Marjorie Rosenberg can be reached at:
Petersgasse 86/4
A-8010 Graz, Austria

Tel and Fax:
+43 316/ 473499

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