Do visual learners have more difficulty with language organization than verbal learners?

Visual Learner

Visual learners think in images. Verbal learners think primarily in words. Visual learners see the whole picture all at once allowing them to see things from many perspectives. Verbal learners learn step by step and have a tendency towards analytical thinking. These two types of learning may also impact a child’s organization of language. 

What do I mean by language organization? I am referring to the executive functioning skill of organizing your thoughts, attaching those thoughts to words and sharing those words with others so that they can understand your idea. Therefore when I am talking about language organization I am referring to the relationship between thought and language. 

What is the relationship between language and thought? Aristotle taught that speech symbolized thought. Chomsky believed that the language environment is a key component to language development. Piaget and Vygotsky believed that a complex interaction exists between the child and the environment that is influenced by the child’s social and cognitive development. They believed that as children develop language they are building a symbol system that helps them understand the world. However, while Piaget believed that cognitive development leads to language development, Vygotsky believed language drives the development of thought.

How do these theories of language development impact students who are either visual or verbal learners? Do verbal and visual learners actually have different thought processes? If you think in pictures rather than thinking in words, are your thoughts different? Most importantly, how do these two learning styles affect a child’s ability to express himself both verbally and on written assignments?

Our educational system has embraced a verbal communication curriculum. Most teachers give verbal directions, assign books that are written in text (words) and they require most assessments be completed in written text (words). Take a minute to consider this. If you think in words, then both your input of information from the teacher and books, along with your output (what you write down) are all in your native processing mode (verbal).  If, however, your learning style is visual, when the teacher is talking or you are reading, you must translate those verbal words into pictures; and in order to write an essay you must translate your visual images into words and sequence them to communicate your ideas.

See the chart below to get a better understanding of how visual and verbal (auditory sequential) learners differ.


 Visual-Spatial Learner Chart

Copyright held by Linda Kreger Silverman, August, 1999. From Upside-Down Brilliance: The Visual-Spatial Learner. Denver: DeLeon Publishing. This chart may be reproduced.

The Auditory-Sequential Learner
   The Visual-Spatial Learner
·      Thinks primarily in words
·      Thinks primarily in images
·      Has auditory strengths
·      Has visual strengths
·      Relates well to time
·      Relates well to space
·      Is a step-by-step learner
·      Is a whole-part learner
·      Learns by trial and error
·      Learns concepts all at once
·      Progresses sequentially from easy to difficult material
·      Learns complex concepts easily; Struggles with easy skills
·      Is an analytical thinker
·      Is a good synthesizer
·      Attends well to details
·      Sees the big picture; may miss details
·      Follows oral directions well
·      Reads maps well
·      Does well at arithmetic
·      Is better at math reasoning than computation
·      Learns phonics easily
·      Learns whole words easily
·      Can sound out spelling words
·      Must visualize words to spell them
·      Can write quickly and neatly
·      Much better at keyboarding than handwriting
·      Is well organized
·      Creates unique methods of organization
·      Can show steps of work easily
·      Arrives at correct solutions intuitively
·      Excels at rote memorization
·      Learns best by seeing relationships
·      Has good auditory short-term memory
·      Has good long-term visual memory
·      May need some repetition to reinforce learning
·      Learns concepts permanently; does not learn by drill and repetition
·      Learns well from instructions
·      Develops own methods of problem solving
·      Learns in spite of emotional reactions
·      Is very sensitive to teachers’ attitudes
·      Is comfortable with one right answer
·      Generates unusual solutions to problems
·      Develops fairly evenly
·      Develops quite asynchronously (unevenly)
·      Usually maintains high grades
·      May have very uneven grades
·      Enjoys algebra and chemistry
·      Enjoys geometry and physics
·      Masters other languages in classes
·      Masters other languages through immersion
·      Is academically talented
·      Is creatively, technologically, mechanically, emotionally or spiritually gifted
·      Is an early bloomer
·      Is a late bloomer

Clearly, verbal learners have an easier time in an educational environment built on verbal communication. The issue of language organization, as I’m referring to it, involves the executive functioning skills of organizing and sequencing thoughts. In the chart above, the auditory learner’s skill set assumes that there are no other learning deficits, especially any deficits with executive functioning skills. There are verbal learners who experience difficulty with organization, and therefore may have difficulty with organizing complex verbal language.

The students who are highly visual-spatial learners will need exceptional executive functioning skills to enable them to break down and sequence their ideas in a timely manner. The visual-spatial learner has to both translate pictures to words and sequence words into meaningful sentences, paragraphs and essays.

There is a relationship between visual learners and learning differences such as dyslexia, nonverbal learning disability, attention issues and language processing disorders. Looking at the chart above, you can see how language-based assessments will be more challenging for a visual learner than a verbal learner.


When creating strategies for visual learners it is important for parents and teachers to understand that students with a visual-spatial learning style may take longer than other students to process new verbal information. When you consider the fact that they are translating words to images when taking in new information and translating images to words to share their ideas, it becomes easier to understand why the students need extra time in the classroom. In addition to extra time, teachers can consider ways in which they can modify or enhance their lessons with visual information. When teachers present visual information to the classroom the visual learners will quickly absorb it, while the verbal learners will be busy translating those images into words. Any form of visual support will be helpful to the visual learner. Here are some additional ideas a teacher can incorporate to help students learn better in the classroom.

  •  Before a lecture, provide students with a general outline of the material to be covered.
  •  Write directions with more than two steps on the board.
  • Use flip boards, photos, diagrams, laminated pictures, power point presentations, charts, maps, movies, filmstrips, timelines, mnemonics.
  • Provide access to computer programs that come with your textbook to provide greater visual exposure and practice.
  • Use the computer in the classroom to construct mind maps or webbing of the material.
  • Use concepts maps with key points, boxes, circles, and arrows showing the connections of information. Webbing provides the connections that visual learners must have.
  •  When doing questions and answers in the classroom, allow adequate wait time before calling on students.


It is important to remember that we need diversity in our thinking styles. Each of us has our own strengths and weaknesses that helped create who we are as human beings. As students grow and develop it is important for them to understand themselves, how their brain works and how valuable their type of thinking is.


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