Using colour to learn multiple languages

We all learn in different ways. One line of thinking on the way we learn argues that there are seven different learning styles:

  • Visual (spatial): Learning using pictures, images, and spatial understanding.
  • Aural (auditory-musical): Learning using sounds and music.
  • Verbal (linguistic): Learning using spoken and written words.
  • Physical (kinesthetic): Learning using your body, through your sense of touch and the use of your hands.
  • Logical (mathematical): Learning using a logical approach, with an emphasis on reasoning and systems.
  • Social (interpersonal): Learning as part of a group.
  • Solitary (intrapersonal): Learning on your own.

Each of us learns in a way that blends elements of these learning styles. The topic we’re studying can also impact the learning styles that we use.

Understanding this and using it to our advantage can serve to unlock faster, more efficient learning. This is certainly true of learning languages (along with many other subjects).

Studies have also shown that the use of colour can have a significant impact on how effective learning is and how well we remember. The Influence of Colour on Memory Performance: A Review, published in the Malaysian Journal of Medical Sciences, cites colour as being one of “the most important visual experience to human beings.” Colour links with our cognitive processes, our emotions and our memories.

The psychology of colour is a fascinating (and extensive) topic. Colour can impact our likelihood of reading something, or remembering a piece of information. In addition, it can impact our mood, which can in turn affect the way we learn.

Colour preference changes with age. Younger learners prefer the warmer tones of yellow, orange and red. Older learners lean more towards the cooler colours of green, blue and mauve. The soothing tones of blue can work particularly well in an educational setting, helping students to achieve the calm they need to absorb more information.

When it comes to language learning, we can use colour to our advantage in several ways. Whether the goal is simply learning the basics before a holiday, or attaining fluency with a view to building a career in the professional translation industry, colour can help.

Using colour for single language learning

Tying colour associations with the building blocks of a language is a very personal process. Just as we all blend different elements of the seven learning styles, so too do we have individual emotional responses to different colours. As such, using colour to aid language learning can involve some trial and error. What’s important to remember is that learning can be a joyous and invigorating experience – and a playful approach to the use of colour can contribute to this.

One approach to using colour when it comes to learning a single language is to print vocab lists on different colours of paper. Yellow, red and orange are stimulating colours that demand attention, so make a great basis for longer words that you’re likely to struggle with, or for irregular verbs that require more focus than regular verbs.

You can also use colour to build associations with particular groups of words. A batch of coloured paper or even just a set of coloured pens can work wonders. Write out the days of the week using purple, the months of the year in green, the name of animals in blue and so forth. When you later try and recall a specific word, does your brain make the colour association and thus narrow down your mind to the correct list? Learning five groups of ten words in different colours does more to aid your brain in storing the data than a single-hued list of 50 words.

Using colour for multiple language learning


For those who aspire to be true polyglots and dream of a glittering career in anything from literary translation to international diplomacy, colour can also be an incredibly useful tool. Our minds have the ability to make powerful associations, so why not learn two languages at once, using colour to boost your mental performance? Using one colour for the first language and another for the second can help your brain to quickly distinguish between the two.

Again, playing around with this approach is to find what works best for you is the best way forward. One thing to bear in mind is that using too much colour can over-stimulate the brain. As such, a simple colour system may work best for learning more than one language. Using blue for learning Vietnamese (for example), with lighter and darker shades for nouns and verbs, while using the same approach with green for learning Mandarin is likely to be easier for the brain to get on board with than using multiple colours for each language.

Of course, using colour to aid learning isn’t limited to building associations between particular hues and the language(s) you’re learning. You can also use colour in your local environment to help maximise your brain’s ability to retain information. Repainting and entire room may seem a little too drastic, but the colour of your surroundings can certainly impact your mood and thus your ability to learn efficiently. Calming blues and creative yellows can help to put your mind in the right mood for learning, so updating the space around you to ensure that you’re in the right frame of mind is certainly worth some thought. Appropriately hued pictures and posters can be a cheaper and easier approach than calling in a professional decorator!

Repeated studies have shown that the use of colour can aid memory performance, so if you’re still learning in monochrome then it’s time for a change! There are no hard and fast rules here, so make sure you have fun experimenting with how colour can improve the efficiency with which you learn. Make coloured flash cards, type using coloured fonts… use trial and error to discover what works for you and then set about your language learning with renewed vigour, using your new colour techniques. Happy learning!

Louise Taylor is the content writer of the Tomedes Blog.

About Nathalia

Polyglot Nerd creator, love foreign cultures and learning languages. Speak: English, Portuguese and Spanish. Learning: French
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