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The theory of multiple intelligence and learning styles in foreign language teaching

What is personality? What is its influence on a studying process? These are questions which we ask being instructors. We describe and assess the personalities of the people around us almost every day. Whether we realize it or not, these daily musings on how and why people behave as they do are similar to what personality psychologists do. Why is it important to know students personality traits for teachers? It is so because nowadays we, instructors tend to use an individual approach, which is introduced into many Kazakhstan schools, colleges and universities. We often ask ourselves such questions as: Have we provided the learners with opportunities to speak, listen, read and write? Have we provided the learners with private learning time or time for reflection? Have we helped the learners consider the topic, theme, grammar points of today’s lesson in relation to a larger context? These are not simple questions to ask.

Sometimes we feel that learning material was not absorbed in a way, as we planned. Then comes a moment when we begin asses our work and asses our students. Serious mismatches may occur between the learning styles of students in a class and the teaching style of the instructor. The students could become bored and inattentive in class, do poorly on tests, get discouraged about the course, and may conclude that they are no good at the subject of the course and give up. Teachers could worry too. Confronted by low test grades, unresponsive or hostile classes, poor attendance, and dropouts, they may become overly critical of their students or begin to question their own competence as teachers. But scholars already know that students learn in different ways. This gives us a supposition that knowing how they learn and how their personality traits help or interfere in their progress in study, we can improve our teaching. Instructors have been using observation as a method of experiment for centuries. Sometimes we use it for personality assessment informally, without special tests and surveys.

While our informal assessments of personality tend to focus more on individuals, personality psychologists instead use conceptions of personality that can apply to everyone. Personality research has led to the development of a number of theories that help to explain how and why certain personality traits develop. While there are many different theories of personality, the first step for instructors is to understand exactly what is meant by the term personality. We could say that personality is made up of the characteristic patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that make a person unique. From what Larry A. Hjelle and Daniel J. Ziegler wrote about the features of personality in their book titled "Personality Theories" (1; 73), the following common features may be mentioned:

  1. Most definitions emphasize the importance of individuality or distinctiveness. Personality represents those distinct qualities that make one person stand out from others.
  2. Personality is something abstract based on inferences derived from behavioral observation.
  3. Personality represents an evolving process subject to a variety of internal and external influences, including genetic and biological propensities, social experiences, and changing environmental circumstances.
  4. Personality definitions differ substantially from theorist to theorist. We should add that definitions of personality are not necessarily true or false, but are more or less useful to psychologists in pursuing research, in explaining regularities in human behavior.

Many psychologists studied the term personality. Each definition of personality, or each personality theory, evolves a feature of personality. Sigmund Freud believed that human behavior is determined by irrational, unconscious factors. Maslow believed most of our actions result from reason and free choice. Carl Gustav Jung claimed that people have two types of personality: introvert and extrovert. We suppose it is useful to know what personality is, especially if you are a teacher or a professor.

It may be said that psychologists, psychotherapists or personality theorists can discover many different features of human beings’ personality according to their points of views, or their own professional experiences. In what way we instructors can apply their knowledge to our professional experience and which of the theories are especially useful for us? It is obvious that we should try to find an answer to these questions and that we should produce further research into personality and learning styles.

Personality arises from within the individual and remains fairly consistent throughout life. Most of the personality tests have serious objects including screening for jobs, selection for trainings and admission in particular level of education. Meanwhile, instructors believe that we should apply personality theory to education.

Traditionally, schools have emphasized the development of logical intelligence and linguistic intelligence (mainly reading and writing). In fact, IQ tests (which are used to assess students’ abilities overseas) focus mostly on logical and linguistic intelligence. While many students function well in this environment, there are those who do not. This worries instructors a lot. Dr. Howard Gardner's theory argues that students will be better served by a broader vision of education, wherein teachers use different methodologies, exercises and activities to reach all students, not just those who excel at linguistic and logical intelligence. The theory of multiple intelligences was developed in 1984 by Dr. Howard Gardner (2; 90), professor of education at Harvard University. Gardner's theory argues that intelligence, particularly as it is traditionally defined, does not sufficiently encompass the wide variety of abilities humans display. In his conception, a child who masters multiplication easily is not necessarily more intelligent overall than a child who struggles to do so. The second child may be stronger in another kind of intelligence and therefore 1) may best learn the given material through a different approach, 2) may excel in a field outside of mathematics, or 3) may even be looking at the multiplication process at a fundamentally deeper level, which can result in a seeming slowness that hides a mathematical intelligence that is potentially higher than that of a child who easily memorizes the multiplication table (2; 95).

The application of the multiple intelligence (MI) theory varies widely. It runs the range from a teacher who, when confronted with a student having difficulties, uses a different approach to teach the material, to an entire school using MI as a framework. The most well-known school implementing Gardner's theory is New City School, in St. Louis, Missouri, which has been using the theory since 1988. The school's teachers have produced two books for teachers, Celebrating Multiple Intelligences and Succeeding With Multiple Intelligences and the principal, Thomas Hoerr, has written Becoming a Multiple Intelligences School as well as many articles on the practical applications of the theory. The school has also hosted four conferences, each attracting over 200 educators from around the world and remains a valuable resource for teachers interested in implementing the theory in their own classrooms.

In general, those who apply this theory strive to provide opportunities for their students to use and develop all the different intelligences, not just the few at which they naturally excel. That is why we decided to take the theory of multiple intelligences for the research of the KAFU College students.

According to multiple intelligence theory, there are nine basic types of intelligence (2; 96):

  • Visual-spatial;
  • Verbal-linguistic;
  • Logical-mathematical;
  • Bodily-kinesthetic;
  • Musical-rhythmic;
  • Interpersonal;
  • Intrapersonal;
  • Naturalistic;
  • Existential.

Visual-spatial: this area deals with spatial judgment and the ability to visualize with the mind's eye, so to speak. Careers which suit those with this type of intelligence include artists, designers and architects.

Verbal-linguistic: this area has to do with words, spoken or written. People with high verbal-linguistic intelligence display a facility with words and languages. They are typically good at reading, writing, telling stories and memorizing words along with dates. They tend to learn best by reading, taking notes, listening to lectures, and discussion and debate. They are also frequently skilled at explaining, teaching and oration or persuasive speaking. Those with verbal-linguistic intelligence learn foreign languages very easily as they have high verbal memory and recall, and an ability to understand and manipulate syntax and structure. Careers that suit those with this intelligence include writers, lawyers, philosophers, journalists, politicians, poets, and teachers.

Logical-mathematical: this area has to do with logic, abstractions, reasoning, and numbers. While it is often assumed that those with this intelligence naturally excel in mathematics, chess, computer programming and other logical or numerical activities, a more accurate definition places less emphasis on traditional mathematical ability and more on reasoning capabilities, abstract patterns of recognition, scientific thinking and investigation, and the ability to perform complex calculations.

Bodily-kinesthetic: in theory, people who have bodily-kinesthetic intelligence should learn better by involving muscular movement (e.g. getting up and moving around into the learning experience), and are generally good at physical activities such as sports or dance. They may enjoy acting or performing, and in general they are good at building and making things. They often learn best by doing something physically, rather than by reading or hearing about it. Those with strong bodily-kinesthetic intelligence seem to use what might be termed muscle memory they remember things through their body such as verbal memory.

Musical-rhythmic: This area has to do with rhythm, music, and hearing. Those who have a high level of musical-rhythmic intelligence display greater sensitivity to sounds, rhythms, tones, and music. They normally have good pitch and may even have absolute pitch, and are able to sing, play musical instruments, and compose music. Since there is a strong auditory component to this intelligence, those who are strongest in it may learn best via lecture. Language skills are typically highly developed in those whose base intelligence is musical. In addition, they will sometimes use songs or rhythms to learn. Careers that suit those with this intelligence include instrumentalists, singers, conductors, discjockeys, orators, writers, and composers.

Interpersonal: This area has to do with interaction with others. In theory, people who have a high interpersonal intelligence tend to be extroverts, characterized by their sensitivity to others' moods, feelings, temperaments and motivations, and their ability to cooperate in order to work as part of a group. They communicate effectively and empathize easily with others, and may be either leaders or followers. They typically learn best by working with others and often enjoy discussion and debate. Careers that suit those with this intelligence include sales, politicians, managers, teachers, and social workers.

Intrapersonal: this area has to do with introspective and self-reflective capacities. People with intrapersonal intelligence are intuitive and typically introverted. They are skillful at deciphering their own feelings and motivations. This refers to having a deep understanding of the self; what are your strengths/ weaknesses, what makes you unique, can you predict your own reactions/ emotions. Careers which suit those with this intelligence include philosophers, psychologists, theologians, lawyers, and writers. People with intrapersonal intelligence also prefer to work alone.

Naturalistic: this area has to do with nature, nurturing and relating information to one’s natural surroundings. Careers which suit those with this intelligence include naturalists, farmers, and gardeners.

Existential: this area has to do with philosophical issues of life. They learn best by thinking about analytical questions. Careers which suit those with this intelligence include readers, writers, religious speakers, and especially philosophers.

The specialty taken for the research was “Translators major”, the third course students at the KAFU College. The research was done in order to improve lessons of “Practice of Oral and Written Speech”, due to the fact that the curriculum of this disciple is flexible. The teaching aid is “English File”, UpperIntermediate, Oxford University Press. This book is multi-purpose and is aimed at the development of linguistic skills: oral speech, grammar, vocabulary, written speech, and structure. Instructor can vary all the activities. The theory of multiple intelligence could be a special tool for the instructor in order to vary the tasks effectively. Multiple Intelligence Test was taken as a tool for the research. As the research showed, both groups of students had strong linguistic and musical abilities. That means that the best way to teach these students is via rhythms and melodies and by reading, writing, telling stories, and playing word games.

Knowing what personality types our students are is not quite enough, because they can have different learning styles. The notion of “learning style” is the manner in which a

learner perceives, interacts with, and responds to the learning environment. The components of learning style are the cognitive, affective and physiological elements, all of which may be strongly influenced by a person's cultural background. That means that in order to improve learning style and process of learning on the whole, we, instructors, should do research into personality of our students.

The proposed learning style dimensions may be defined in terms of the answers to the following five questions:

  1. What type of information does the student preferentially perceive: sensory — sights, sounds, physical sensations, or intuitive
  • memories, ideas, insights?
  1. Through which modality is sensory information most effectively perceived: visual
  • pictures, diagrams, graphs, demonstrations, or verbal — written and spoken words and formulas?
  1. How does the student prefer to process information: actively — through engagement in physical activity or discussion, or reflectively — through introspection?
  2. How does the student progress toward understanding: sequentially — in a logical progression of small incremental steps, or globally — in large jumps, holistically?
  3. With which organization of information is the student most comfortable: inductive
  • facts and observations are given, underlying principles are inferred or deductive — principles are given, consequences and applications are deduced?

To be effective language instruction should contain elements that appeal to sensors and other elements that appeal to intuitors. The material presented in every class should be a blend of concrete information (word definitions, grammatical rules) and concepts (syntactical and semantic information, linguistic and cultural background information), with the percentage of each being chosen to fit the level of the course (beginning, intermediate, or advanced) and the age and level of sophistication of the students.

A point no educational psychologist would dispute is that students learn more when information is presented in a variety of modes than when only a single mode is used. The point is supported by a research study carried out several decades ago, which concluded that students retain 10 percent of what they read, 26 percent of what they hear, 30 percent of what they see, 50 percent of what they see and hear, 70 percent of what they say, and 90 percent of what they say as they do something (3; 134). What must be done to achieve effective foreign language learning is to balance instructional methods, somehow structuring the class so that all learning styles are simultaneously — or at least sequentially — accommodated (3; 256).

Awareness of learning style differences can help instructors teach in a manner that effectively reaches most students rather than putting a large subset of them at a disadvantage. If professors teach exclusively in a manner that favors their students' less preferred learning style modes, the students' discomfort level may be great enough to interfere with their learning. On the other hand, if professors teach exclusively in their students' preferred modes, the students may not develop the mental dexterity they need to reach their potential for achievement in school and as professionals. Fortunately, instructors who wish to address a wide variety of learning styles need not make drastic changes in their instructional approach.



  1. Personality theories: Basic Assumptions, Research and Applications BY Larry A. Hjelle and Daniel J. Ziegler McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1976 First Edition
  2. Gardner, "Heteroglossia: A Global Perspective Interdisciplinary Journal of Theory of Post pedagogical Studies (May 1984)
  3. Traub, James (1998, October 26). Multiple intelligence disorder, The New Republic

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