Spoken language


Teach and/or support learning

How students learn, both generally and within their subject/disciplinary area(s)

What can I do?

  • KISS your words: Keep it simple and specific
  • Describe content with reference to the student (e.g., not 'the diaphragm', 'your diaphragm')
  • Use invitational, collaborative language (e.g., "Let's click the ENTER button") instead of directive language (e.g., “Click ENTER”)

What is this about?

Spoken language is about the way you verbally present information to students. This might be in a face-to-face class like a lecture, a tutorial, or a workshop, or via asynchronous means, such as video-based learning. While the focus of this summary is on oral communication, the findings, conclusions, and application might have relevance to written text too.

What's the evidence say?

Simple language improves a number of student outcomes. Conversational language increased both retention of knowledge (➕➕➕) and transfer to nearby problems (➕➕➕➕). It also increased perceived friendliness (➕➕➕➕) and effective cognitive processing (➕➕➕➕). It did not significantly improve student interest (➕). This was consistent for both 'polite' and 'personal' language.

Simple language connects us with students and reduces their cognitive load.

Students are trying to make sense of what we say. They are trying to integrate it into what they already know. Making language personal helps connect new knowledge to their existing experiences, and making it simple uses less cognitive load. 'Polite' language may be more autonomy supportive—more supportive of students' intrinsic motivation—than directive and commands, which some students may see as controlling.

What's the underlying theory?

Cognitive load theory is a psychological theory that explains how the human cognitive system processes and learns from new information. According to the theory, the cognitive system has a limited capacity to process and remember new information, and the use of complex language can increase the cognitive load on the learner, making it more difficult to learn and understand new concepts. On the other hand, the use of simple language can help reduce cognitive load and facilitate learning by making it easier for the learner to process and understand new information. In the context of higher education, using simple language when presenting new concepts or ideas can help improve learning outcomes by reducing the cognitive load on the learner and making it easier for them to understand and retain new information. Other factors that can affect cognitive load and learning include the learner's prior knowledge, the complexity of the material, and the way it is presented.

Where does the evidence come from?

Findings are from a systematic review of (mostly) randomised trials (➕➕➕➕➕) and findings were robust across domains with (mostly) narrow confidence intervals. There was some indication of publication bias (➖), the variability in effects was unclear (➖), and the review did not assess the risk of bias (➖).


Ginns, P., Martin, A. J., & Marsh, H. W. (2013). Designing Instructional Text in a Conversational Style: A Meta-analysis. Educational Psychology Review, 25(4), 445–472. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-013-9228-0