TEFL Multiple Intelligences

Howard Gardner?s (1983, 1998) multiple intelligences theory (MIT) postulates the existence of eight intelligences on the basis of ?distinct sets of processing operations applied in (culturally valued) activities?. These are linguistic, logico-mathematical, musical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, naturalist, interpersonal and intrapersonal. According to Berk (2003), MIT is a view of how information-processing skills underlie intelligent behaviour. The information processing perspective basically views the human mind much like a computer; a symbol manipulating system through which information flows and regards cognitive development as a continuous process. Gardner defined intelligence in terms of distinct sets of processing operations that allow individuals to solve problems, create products, and to discover new knowledge in a multitude of activities (Berk, 2003). Therefore, Gardner adamantly rejects the notion of a single, all-encompassing mental ability as some theorists propose (e.g. Carroll, 1993), and strongly advocates instead for the existence of the aforementioned eight independent intelligences.

Gardner acknowledges that if tests were to be conducted to assess all these abilities, factor analysis (a scientific statistical analysis used to group common variables together) should yield low correlations between them (hence ascertaining independence of each factor). Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that damage to a particular section of the adult brain affects only a single ability or intelligence (such as linguistic or spatial) while others remain unaffected. That is, there is a strong possibility that these various proposed aspects of intelligence are indeed independent. (Berk, 2003).

Gardner argues, ?each of the intelligences has a unique biological basis, a distinct course of development, and different expert, or ?end-state? performances? (Berk, 2003; Baron, 2001). At the same time, he argues that a long period of education is critical in turning raw potential into proficiency in a particular area (Torff & Gardner, 1999). This means that values and learning opportunities have a great deal to do with the extent to which EFL learners? potential, be they children or adults, are realized, and the ways in which it is expressed (Berk, 2003).

What does this mean for the EFL learner? What Gardner is trying to say is that to become proficient in any area, such as English, requires a blend of intelligences. Besides relying on linguistic intelligence (sensitivity to sounds, rhythms, and meaning of words and the functions of language) to learn English, an EFL learner calls on interpersonal intelligence to detect and respond appropriately (linguistically i.e. in English, or otherwise) to moods, temperaments, motivations, and intentions of others, bodily- kinesthetic intelligence to express or gesticulate which is also an important part of communicating in English, and also intrapersonal intelligence to discriminate complex inner feelings and use them to guide one?s (appropriate) response in English. Therefore, it is important for the EFL teacher to nurture not only the linguistic aspect, but also other aspects that constitute intelligence, in order to really teach EFL learners how to be proficient in English. However, at the same time, questions have been raised about the veracity of his theory (Berk, 2003). Neurological evidence for the independence of his intelligences is weak. Gardner?s list of abilities has yet to be firmly grounded in research.

Nevertheless, Gardner?s theory highlights several mental abilities and areas that are important and should be considered by all teachers of EFL, and teachers of EFL should be mindful that teaching English is not, according to Gardner, all about just teaching linguistics, but also about teaching various other aspects that are interrelated to and impact upon proficiency in English. (I do not wish for my work to be considered for publication)


Baron, R.A. (2001). Psychology (5th ed.). MA: Pearson.

Berk, L.E. (2003). Child Development. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Carroll, J.B. (1993). Human cognitive abilities: A survey of factor- analytic studies. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of mind. New York: Basic Books.

Gardner, H.E. (1998). Are there additional intelligences? The case of the naturalist,spiritual, and existential intelligences. In J. Kane (Ed.), Educational information and transformation. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Torff, B., & Gardner, H. (1999). The vertical mind- The case for multiple intelligences. In M. Anderson (Ed.), The development of intelligence (pp. 139-159). Hove, UK: Psychology Press.

Author: Samson Rutton

Date of post: 2007-04-18