Visualisation #2. Language Learning.

As stated in Visualisation #1, visualisation is no magic wand replacement for the fundamentals of skill development (language teaching and learning are both complex skills): clear goal-setting; motivation; consistent and graded training for gradual improvement; a mindful and honest connection between educator and learner. Nothing of real worth comes free and nor should it.

But visualisation is the extra 1% that can make all the difference. This is especially true in pinch-point moments when stress can hijack all previously-learned information, metaphorically hold a gun to your head, and force knowledge into a distant, blurry background as our heart-rate soars and the brain’s pre-frontal cortex crashes.

If you want to be the best version of yourself at any moment, practise makes perfect. That’s what the skill of visualisation aims to accomplish for any situation.

What do you need? Nothing but your mind. Coming up:

  1. How do I DO visualisation?
  2. Can this be applied to language learning and teaching?

1. How do I DO Visualisation?

A. Mental repetitions and polysensory imagery (see video below)

B. 5 Visualisation Exercises for Beginners (Learning Mind website)

1) Basic visualisation technique

  • Pick a goal. Really focus on picturing it in your mind’s eye, using all five senses.

2) Multi-perspective visualisation

  • Same as 1), but experience it in your mind from multiple angles.

3) Act as if

  • ‘Fake it til you make it’: habits (see link at the end for more on habit formation); posture; words; clothes. Your results will catch up to your mind, if the Law of Attraction is to be believed.

4) Create a dream collage

  • What do you want? What does it look like on a page? It’s the first draft of your future photo album of past memories.

5) Ideal scene

  • Write out what you want. Organise your thoughts. Be specific on the images, sounds, smells, sensations and tastes you experience. (For more on this concept, applied to personality development, see the Future Authoring link at the end).

More details on these five techniques can be found in Kirstey Pursey’s excellent article on Learning Mind, available here.

Screenshot (41)

2. Can this be applied to language teaching and learning?

YES. For both learners (A) and teachers (B).

A. For learners

This is a life skill. As a teacher, if you’re interested in contributing to the development of the whole human and not just the language learner, you should explore a range of topics, with English as the vehicle rather than the final destination.

Suggestions on how to introduce minds to visualisation techniques, borrowed from the Teaching English website (link to the full article at the end):

  • Visualisations can be used for speaking practice as they create a natural information gap.
    • For descriptions. For example, a visualisation of a student’s relative, focusing on personality and physical appearance, can be followed by students describing the relative to a partner. Write the questions from the visualisation on the board as prompts, for example, ‘What’s he/she like? What does he /she look like?’
    • To stimulate speaking. For example, after a visualisation of an airport departure lounge where students hear the conversations of a variety of different people (for example, two strangers who have just met etc), they act out the conversations.
  • For narrating. For example, after a visualisation of a memorable event, students ask each other about the event using the questions from the visualisation. Change the present forms into the past. So ‘What’s the weather like?’ becomes ‘What was the weather like?’
  • They can be used to focus on the layout and content of letters. Students write a letter on their TV screens based on question prompts in the script, for example. ‘Who are you writing to?’ ‘Where are you writing the letter?’ *PET Writing Part 1* (another idea at the end) 
  • They can be used to develop students’ self-confidence. For example, a visualisation of a successful learning event.
  • Students can also write their own scripts, for example, a virtual tour of their country, their house etc.

Next, world-renowned and widely-respected ELT guru Scott Thornbury chose Visualisation for the V in his ‘A to Z of ELT’ blog series. Firstly, for learners, as a way to manage the pinch-point moments for any language user (pinch-points: difficult moments of high tension, such as the two I described in Visualisation #1):

‘Visualization has impacted on language learning too. Jane Arnold (e.g. 1999, 2007) has written extensively on this subject. She recalls that her interest in visualization in language learning was prompted by an account of “an American scholar who, before going to a conference in Europe, eliminated blocks about speaking French and Italian by working with imagery”.  After visualising himself travelling through these countries and speaking fluently to everyone he met “it was found that his fluency improved notably and with his Italian his accuracy did also” (1999, p.269).’

‘Accordingly, visualization has been recommended as a means of bringing into sharp focus one’s ideal self image – the better to realise it. ‘The first step in a motivational intervention… is to help learners to construct their Ideal L2 Self, that is, to create their vision’ (Dörnyei, 2009, p. 33).’

Link to the full article by Scott Thornbury here.

I’ve also created a ‘reading for detailed information’ exercise based on the Thornbury article, with the help of my adult students who contributed several of the questions when we looked at this in class:

Visualisation for Learning_- Questions PDF

Visualisation for Learning_- Answers PDF

B. For Teachers

The reading task in the PDFs above would also be ideal for introducing teachers to the topic of visualisation during a teacher training session.

Moreover, as you will have noticed, the last section of Thornbury’s article is useful for teachers who are suffering from the curse of over-planning. I’ve used Thornbury’s article several times this week with the CELTA teachers I’m currently working with on the 100% online course run by International House Rome.

Faced with didactic and emotional self-harm caused by over-planning in TP6 and TP7 (out of 8), I’ve been using this exact screen shot to get the point across in feedback: LESS IS MORE. Fewer words on the plan, and more mental preparation using visualisation for the pinch-point moments. 

Screenshot (44)

This extract also leads nicely on to the exploration of multiple identities and the ‘ideal teacher self’ that CELTA trainees will be guided towards in the input session with my colleague and friend Gianni Licata.



Thanks for reading!

Interested? Find out more via these links:

Visualisation #1. Start with WHY.

Teaching English article ‘An Introduction to Using Visualisation’: click here.

A more organic ‘planning’ process + a more present, student-centred teacher? Thanks to Adrian Underhill:  Non-Stick Plans: Conversation and Jazz

Future Authoring and personality characteristics (connected to Teaching English idea 5 – creating your ‘ideal scene’): Jordan B. Peterson’s Future Authoring

Habit formation (audio and text): Post-Quarantine? Kick (Start) Your Habits

Identity in language learning: Language: A Case of Awakened Identity

Another PET Writing Part 1 idea: PET Writing Part 1 (2020)? Trump This!

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