Using neuroscience to upgrade your English communication

Culture cuppa using neuroscience to upgrade your english communication

by Victoria Rennoldson and Gill McKay

When working in international teams it’s important to be able to communicate confidently & effectively in English, whatever the situation or the audience.

What if you could understand the neuroscience & how your brain works to fast track your English communication development?

I was delighted to collaborate recently with Gill McKay, Applied Neuroscience trainer from MyBrain International, on an article to give insights into neuroscience & your natural preferences to accelerate English communication development, plus share some of my practical action-orientated resources.

The article was published in the latest edition of Focus magazine, the network for international people, and I was delighted to be featured in this magazine again.


Moving to a new country for work is exciting, but as with anything in life, it won’t all be plain sailing. As well as adapting yourself to a new culture, there is of course the important issue of communicating confidently in a second language.

In this article we offer a fresh approach to help you fast track your English language learning, to understand what your natural styles are and provide you with practical resources to help you. We share some insights from neuroscience and how you can consciously use your brain to help you confidently learn and practise communicating in English.

We all have a hangover from school days

As adults, whenever we think about learning something new, we are likely taken back to our formal experiences of study – to school, college or university. Remember those regular tests, and the drive to find the right answer? It certainly can feel off-putting to consider stepping back into that world.

Let’s remember however, that now for most of us the goal isn’t to pass an exam, it is more likely to speak confidently and comfortably in a business meeting or presentation.

Goals formed in partnership with ourselves as grown ups help to take ownership of our learning and progress, not just from a theoretical standpoint but for practical application in our work and life.

In thinking about your specific goals for English language learning, start by identifying your communication “gap”. Notice your current challenges and visualise where you want to be in the future. Do you want to be able to write excellent reports, deliver top class presentations, or express your point of view clearly in meetings? Gaining clarity on your goals and desires will start off your learning with positive focus and attention.

Neuroscience 101

Whenever you learn something new, the networks in your brain change. This is called neuroplasticity which enables your brain to operate as a learning machine. Your brain is curious, wants to explore new possibilities and has the capacity to keep learning. But that means you need to step into new experiences and activate new neural pathways.

The more you practise your language learning, the deeper you will carve these neural pathways and the more neurons (brain cells) will be attracted to them. This is why the learning process starts to feel easier as you progress from being a beginner. You are building a habit not just for learning itself, but also for the subject you are studying.

Understanding your learning style from the London road network

The brain is like a road network with superhighways, A roads, B roads and bicycle paths. Different roads for different traffic requirements. Through its development, while they ebb and flow and change with major life events, the preferred routes for information within the brain are laid down as your “super highways”, your “A” and “B” roads and your “bicycle paths”, which in turn determine the blend of processing styles you rely most heavily on during your life.  “Super highways” are easier to access, with strong neural connections so you travel that road most readily.

Your “super highways” and “A” roads represent your preferences for communicating, thinking, learning and processing information. These operate in different parts of the brain where we know more neural activity occurs when you are carrying out different styles of tasks. Individually they are described in 4 categories.

  • Reasoning and logical
  • Spontaneous and ideas oriented
  • Feelings and expressive
  • Specific and detailed

Most people will display preferences for more than one area and it helps to identify your style combination and consider what activities you could select that you would engage with more.

Simply put, working with your preferences is energising and feels less like hard work!

The table offers some practical ideas to engage your learning preferences.


Using your senses for learning

Every experience you have is a combination of sensory inputs and how much attention you pay to each and this information helps you to perceive and understand the world around you. Your senses are the input to all your learning and help you interpret the information in your brain.

As well as our “super highways” of learning preferences, we also develop sensory preferences and we can understand these and how we express our senses using the acronym VAKOG.

Visual – the seeing sense

Auditory – the hearing sense

Kinaesthetic – the touching sense, both physical and emotional

Olfactory – the smelling sense

Gustatory – the tasting sense

Visual, auditory and kinaesthetic are the primary systems for learning and we often develop preferences for more than one. Visual learners enjoy information they can see, so they work well with presentations, charts, pictures, videos and graphs. Auditory learners like information they can hear, interpreting underlying meaning through voice pitch, tone, speed and enjoy debates, talking things over, listening to the radio and podcasts. Kinaesthetic learners, on the other hand, learn best with information they can feel, touch and be active with such as exercises, drawing, practising, practical activities, hands-on learning.

The olfactory and gustatory senses can heighten your learning experience too. You may enjoy the smell of freshly cut flowers or the taste of peppermint tea or a coffee. Your brain may well create positive associations with these tastes and smells that keep you in the learning zone.

The table below offers some practical ideas to engage your sensory preferences.


Learning strategies to leverage key skills

Now that you are aware of your key learning and sensory preferences and how to leverage these for maximising your learning, here are some strategies to boost your specific skills in English.


Reading strategies

Ideally you should plan time to actively read and learn new words rather than just skim reading. Use your sensory and learning preferences to learn new vocabulary, to make sure it is in your active memory:

  • Make a note of the word, its definition in English and the translation into your own language.
  • Write or record your own example sentence using the word.


Watching and listening strategies

Here are two approaches to maximise your learning.

Strategy 1: Active Learning

  • Choose shorter videos/ podcasts/ audio.
  • If video, watch for the first time without subtitles: how much do you understand/ work out from the context? If audio, listen for the main points & ask yourself the same questions.
  • Make notes as you watch/ listen of any new words, pronunciation or spelling you want to check afterwards
  • If video, watch for the second & ideally third time with English subtitles turned on this time.
  • If audio, listen again two further times to see if you understand more each time.


Strategy 2: Absorption

  • If video, put the English subtitles on so you can connect spelling & pronunciation.
  • If audio, you can listen while doing another activity or just relaxing.
  • Sit back and accept you will not understand everything: that is alright!
  • Make a quick note afterwards: what percentage you understood, what you were pleased about understanding and what was still tricky.

Remember to focus on what you do understand, and be patient & kind to yourself when learning.


Speaking strategies: communication agility not fluency

Richard Branson’s quote summarises beautifully the importance of learning from mistakes and practise.

“You don’t learn to walk by following the rules. You learn by doing and falling over”.

It is not about being 100% perfect or fluent, but finding a way to say it and express yourself, even if you cannot think of the perfect word.

Remember this is what will build your English communication confidence.

So don’t worry about the mistakes, the important point is to be flexible, agile in your communication and say something.  And of course to enjoy the journey!


If you want to find out more about what neuroscience can do for you personally in your English communication development, get in touch to set up a discovery call. 


Gill McKay is co-founder of MyBrain International, offering applied neuroscience training to coaches, trainers, HR and business professionals to amplify their results with clients. She is author of the best-selling book “STUCK: Brain Smart Insights for Coaches”. Contact Gill at and at


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