Beyond Words: Multimodal Literacy

We all know that the traditional definition of literacy is not sufficient in today’s increasingly technological world. We’re living in a time when we’re bombarded with all sorts of information — it’s not just words on a page anymore. Multimodal literacy is about being savvy with different ways of communicating, like with images, sounds, gestures and more.

Multimodal literacy means you can understand and make sense of information in lots of different forms. This includes looking at pictures, listening to sounds and paying attention to how people move and express themselves.

What are the modes?

The “modes” in multimodal are methods of communicating and expressing meaning. These can include:

  • spatial – arrangement, organization, proximity between people and objects.
  • linguistic – word choice, delivery of spoken or written text (tone), organization into sentences, phrases, paragraphs, etc., coherence of individual words and ideas
  • visual – colour, layout, style, size, perspective
  • gestural – facial expressions, hand gestures, body language, interactions between people
  • audio (also called aural) – music, sound effects, ambient noise/sounds, silence, tone, emphasis and accent of voice in spoken language, volume of sound

These ways of communicating information are combined together in multimodal works. For example, linguistic and visual modes can be used while reading a graphic novel.

Why it matters

One important part of multimodal literacy is analyzing and creating content in different ways. Different ways of communicating can carry different meanings, and we need to be good at using them to get our point across. So, it’s not just about writing a sentence; it’s about putting together words, images, sounds or other elements to say what we mean.

For literacy practitioners, this means helping learners get the hang of this new kind of literacy. Since we’re all surrounded by technology and different ways of communicating, tutors can teach learners how to use words, images and more to understand and share information better.

While the value of the traditional written word has not decreased with time, multimodal literacy is a skill we need in the 21st century. Literacy is about being able to understand and create all kinds of content in a world where information comes in many forms.


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