Let’s start with a common question: What’s the best way to learn a new word?

Great question!  But to give you an answer, I’ll need a little more information, because there are actually many questions in that one simple sentence. What exactly do you mean by ‘learn’ it?  Do you mean you want to understand it?  Or speak it?  Read it?  Write it?  All four would be nice!  You process hearing, seeing, writing and speaking in different areas of the brain!!

“Understanding it,” “speaking it” and “reading it” are completely different brain functions.  In fact, if someone has a stroke, one of these abilities can be completely wiped out while the other remains fully intact, leaving someone able to comprehend perfectly and unable to speak, or possibly able to speak but unable to read or write.

We are all so proficient in our native languages, that all these processes seem incredibly simple and linked to one another.  However, when we start participating in a new languacultural world, we become painfully aware of the strenuous tasks our brains go through to hear, read, write and speak.  Let’s take a quick trip inside our brains and check out the different areas it uses to processes different forms of language.

Your brain has a GREAT capacity to understand large amounts of new words and phrases, but we divide it’s focus when we try to read and write or even speak, too soon.  If we try to do two of these thing simultaneously, we weaken the brains ability to focus completely on one process.

Think back to the first day you started to speak in phase 1.  At that point, you understood so many words, but producing those words was probably very difficult.  This is normal and expected. Our speaking ability will always remain a full phase behind our comprehension ability.

Reading is also processed in a different cortex of the brain.  When you hear a word, it goes directly to the auditory cortex of your brain (which is essential to understanding).  Everything you process visually (including words), does not go there!!  Here’s more on that from Greg Thomson, the creator of GPA:

“The brain is wired in a certain way, so that an auditory nerve goes from the ear to the auditory cortex of the brain. The optic nerve doesn’t go there (except maybe if you’re on LSD). The part of your brain that does auditory learning is not in or near the visual cortex!”


When a new word is introduced, you will understand it better if you…

  1.     write it down
  2.     repeat it out loud back to your nurturer
  3.      translate it into English
  4.     listen silently with all your might

If you answered a, b, or c…go back to the beginning of this blog and read it again, and then put an extra JD to the coffee fund.  (Just kidding)  The correct answer is d – LISTEN WITH ALL YOUR MIGHT.

Don’t distract your brain by reading or writing while it’s working hard to hear and understand new words!

GPA is comprehension led, which essentially means we believe understanding should come first.  So in our opinion, the best way to ‘learn’ a new word is to focus on hearing and understanding it first.  We’re obsessed with understanding.  We invite you to join in our obsession.

One of GPA’s most famous slogans is “Not a language to be learned, but a life to be lived”.  Think about the new life that you are living.  How will you get to know it?  How can we enter into the world around us if we can’t understand the people that walk beside us?