You’d probably think someone who talks to themselves out loud is a little “off”, but they might actually be on to something. Talking to yourself is a great way to better understand what you’re learning.
Photo by Dan Foy.
But this type of self-talk isn’t chatting about the weather with your other, more interesting, split-personality. No, as Ulrich Boser, author of Learn Better, explains at Harvard Business Review, it’s not so much “having a conversation with yourself” as it is “self-explaining”. As in, talking through everything you’ve learned with yourself as if you’re teaching someone else. We know that teaching others is a great way to firmly grasp a subject, but why not focus on your favourite student: You?
Why does this type of monologuing help? Boser says it slows you down so you construct thoughts more deliberately. That kind of reflection allows you to solidify what you’ve learned and gain more from the experience overall. Questions like, “What do I find confusing?” and, “Do I really know this?” help as well. And talking to yourself allows you to ask “Why?” and answer it as best you can without letting your mind wander. The act of speaking keeps you focused. If you can verbally answer your own difficult questions well, you know that you know what you need to know, you know?
Summarisation is also a powerful tool when learning, and even more so when you do it verbally. It can improve your reading comprehension, and it gives you an opportunity to make important connections you may not have seen before. After a lesson, lecture, meeting or reading session, see if you can explain to yourself out loud what you just learned. It will feel a bit silly at first, but you’ll get over that when you experience the benefits for yourself.