What is a Mind Map?

British author, speaker, and memory master Tony Buzan defines mind maps as follows:

“A Mind Map is a powerful graphic technique which provides a universal key to unlock the potential of the brain. It harnesses the full range of cortical skills – word, image, number, logic, rhythm, colour and spatial awareness – in a single, uniquely powerful manner. In so doing, it gives you the freedom to roam the infinite expanses of your brain. The Mind Map can be applied to every aspect of life where improved learning and clearer thinking will enhance human performance.”

While I like his definition, I think we can remove the flower pedals and whittle it down to this:

“A mind map is a non-linear outline.”

Why Use Mind Maps?

Compared with lists and linear text, mind maps better reflect the way our brains process, store, and retrieve information. Moreover, they make it easier to organize vocabulary by relationship, category, and hierarchy, and put everything on just one page for easy review.

How to Create a Mind Map

There are three basic steps to creating a mind map:

  • Start with a central topic or idea in the center.
  • Create category nodes around it, connected by branches from the central idea.
  • Add individual items branching off of these category nodes.

How to Get the Most Out of Mind Maps

To get the most out of mind mapping, make sure to:

  • Use only one word per node. This is where many people go astray, adding Twitter-like entries for each bubble. It is difficult to do in the beginning, but training yourself to choose one vivid, concise keyword makes the mind map more effective and efficient.
  • Use only one sheet of paper. One of the biggest advantages of mind maps is consolidating a great deal of information into a single, quickly scannable page.
  • Use images, icons, and colors. Adding a variety of images and colors to your mind map increases retention (our brains like pretty pictures and colors!) and can help make connections between similar words.
  • Have fun! The more fun you have creating and reviewing your mind map, the better the information will stick in your memory. Don’t worry if you look childish; this is one time when doodling is actually constructive!

How can mind maps used in language learning?

Mind maps are extremely useful for three main purposes in language learning:

  • Learning vocabulary.
  • Building a clear context before, during, and after study or tutor sessions.
  • Organizing one’s thoughts before writing.

Using Mind Maps to Learn Vocabulary

When listening to or reading an article, you can make a mind map that includes all previously unknown vocabulary. Put the title of the article in the center of the map, and then fan the words around the center. You can then add one-word definitions, synonyms, antonyms, parts of speech, translations, drawings, etc. depending on your learning preferences.

Using Mind Maps to Work With Tutors

If you are working with your tutor via Skype, for example, you could both view the same mind map. Your mind map can act as both an agenda for the conversation and a visual tool to aid your listening comprehension. After the call, you can refer back to the mind map to quickly review any new language that came up. If meeting a private teacher or tutor face-to-face, you can accomplish the same thing on paper.

Using Mind Maps to Improve Writing

Perhaps the most powerful use of mind maps is organizing your thoughts before you begin writing. Here are some of the writing-specific benefits of mind mapping:

  • Greatly reduced writer’s block in both your native and foreign languages. An initial time investment of 10 to 20 minutes often saves hours of lost time thinking about what to write next and second guessing and changing what you have already written.
  • Keeping focused on both the big picture and relevant details without getting lost in minutiae. If you just start writing paragraphs, it is easy to forget the main idea you presented in the introduction whilst filling out the details of supporting paragraphs. But if you have a mind map to refer back to you, you can quickly and easily check the relevancy of what you are typing.

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