Published 28th January 2019


When our English as a Foreign Language learners step into our classrooms, they often have preconceptions of their abilities to learn English. Some students may consider themselves good at learning languages so they expect to learn English easily. Others may feel they are not so academic so they expect to struggle. These expectations can be our learners’ downfall. We need to help them understand that learning is a skill which we can all master, provided we have the motivation and dedication, regardless of our talents. To help them realise this, here are three neurocognitive strategies which can help their brains learn.

Here are 3 neurocognitive strategies to help learn English

Focused versus diffused thinking

Focused thinking is what we all think we need to learn. It is the time we are concentrating and thinking intently about the subject matter. It is certainly needed to learn information – we can’t learn if we are distracted – but focused thinking actually doesn’t always result in learning. We need to utilise focused thinking in collaboration with diffused thinking.

Diffused thinking is basically daydreaming. It’s the learning that takes place when we are daydreaming or our minds are wandering. In other words, we are not totally focused on the learning matter. In fact though, our minds are still processing any new information we have taken in.

If your students are struggling to concentrate, let them set a timer for themselves. They can focus for 20 minutes and then take a break for 5 minutes. They can repeat this as much as is necessary. This tactic will allow them to concentrate for a time and then recharge their batteries.


Learning is all about creating relationships and making connections between information. In order to be learnt effectively, new information should be related to old information. In this way, the connections between concepts will be solidified. In other words, we don’t learn information in isolation, we learn it in relation to what we already know.

This might mean that the new information can build on known information because it is similar or a logical progression, or perhaps it is totally different and contrasts with what is already known. Linking is one reason translation can be a useful tool in class, if it is used effectively.


There is power in automation. A lot of language is automatic. When we speak, there are many situations where we respond without thinking because we automatically know how to respond. What this means for our classrooms is that we need to drill certain language patterns into our learners.

They need to engage with these language patterns regularly and methodically in order to learn them off by heart. This will help them respond off the cuff when appropriate. This does not mean that all language must be learnt by drilling, only the language that has predictable patterns.

Three simple strategies which can help your students learn. Learning is a process which takes time and effort so if there are any helpful hints we can give to our learners we should hand them out without hesitation.