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Listening strategies, learning style preferences, freshman students

The paper presents a study on the relationship between Iranian EFL freshmen’s learning style preferences and the listening strategies they employ. These 92 freshmen were studying Teaching English as a Foreign Language at a university in south of Esfahan. They were randomly selected from five classes. The adapted version of Listening Strategy and Learning Style Questionnaires were administered to identify the students’ listening strategies and their learning style preferences. The descriptive analysis of the listening strategy questionnaire and learning style preferences indicated that these Iranian EFL freshmen employed meta-cognitive listening strategies such as planning, directed attention and selective attention the most and in terms of learning style preferences they considered themselves as communicative learners. The Pearson Correlation analysis showed that there was a statistically significant association between learning style preferences and listening strategies employed by Iranian EFL freshman university students at p<0.01 level.

Keywords: Listening strategies, learning style preferences, EFL, freshman students

Introduction

Studies on language learning strategies trace back to the past thirty years. Learning strategies are specific mental procedures for collecting, processing, associating, categorizing, practicing, and retrieving information or patterned skills employed by learners for listening, reading, speaking and writing which imply the optimal aim of self-regulated learning in education, by which students choose, arrange the aims of their learning, and evaluate the learning output (Willing, 1988; Oxford, 1990; Liu, 2008). Meanwhile, learning styles are approaches to language learning which refer to information processed in a preferred way in accordance to a learner’s habitual style or characteristics (Liu, 2008). In contrast to learning styles, learning strategies employed by learners can vary according to different tasks and learning contexts. However, learning styles change and develop over time as learners achieve knowledge and get experienced through learning (Cohen, 1998; Riding and Rayner, 1998; Adey, Fairbrother et al., 1999; Chang, 2005).

Learning styles are sometimes predicted by factors such as culture, age, ethnicity, type of tasks, and previous learning (Flowerdew and Miller, 2005). Learners have specific learning styles which let them learn differently when they utilize the same tasks. Some learners prefer learning by utilizing tape-recorder or videotapes, while others prefer learning visually, that is, learning through reading books or graphics (Riazi and Riasati, 2007; Liu, 2008). Learners may sometimes face materials which are not revealed in a form that are suited to their learning styles. Thus, they have to employ strategies which can contribute them to learn perfectly and deal with learning problems. According to Chang (2005), students can learn better from the same tasks if they are able to employ suitable strategies.

Despite the wide range of investigation in the areas of learning strategies and learning styles, there is a lack of research study looking at these factors in relation to specific skills (Macaro, Graham, and Vanderplank, 2007; Liu, 2008). Also very little research has been conducted on the relationship between students’ listening strategy use and their learning style preferences particularly in EFL contexts in Iran. Therefore, this study sought to investigate the listening strategies employed by Iranian EFL freshman university students, their learning styles they preferred and the relationship between the two variables.

Listening Strategies and Learning Styles

Students find learning easier if the learning material matches their learning styles (Ehrman and Leaver, 2003; Chang, 2005). Learners learn more efficiently if the materials are suitable for their learning styles. If they face some materials which are not consistent with their learning styles, they would feel bored and inattentive in classrooms, not perform well on tests, get discouraged about the course, and conclude that they are not good at the subject of the course and stop learning (Felder & Silverman, 1988; Godleski, 1984; Oxford et al., 1991; Smith & Renzulli, 1984; Chang, 2005). When there is a mismatch between learners’ preferred learning styles and the learning materials, students may developing learning strategies to cope with materials which are not initially compatible (Chang, 2005).

In reading tasks, Flowerdew and Miller (2005) argued that students utilize both top-down approach in order to use background knowledge to develop expectations of text meaning and bottom-up approach to analyze each word for its meaning. Contrastively, Tsui and Fullilove (1998) discovered that the participants do better in listening tests when they use more bottom-up approaches. With regard to learning styles and listening strategies, Ehrman and Leaver (2003) asserted that students who are field-independent are able to learn a second language better because they attempt to learn in a holistic way. They force themselves to learn a second language within contexts whereas analytical learners favour bottom-up processes as they have desire to concentrate on detailed information (Chang, 2005). This may also apply to listening strategies used by EFL learners with different learning styles as analytical learners prefer listening strategies that focus on detailed and basic information and intuitive learners prefer to use listening strategies which can contribute them achieve information as a whole (Messick, 1984; Chang, 2005).

Strategies associated with listening skills can be divided into three groups: meta-cognitive (paying attention and self-monitoring), cognitive (taking notes and summarizing), and socio- affective listening strategies (using laughter and taking risks wisely and cooperating with peers and developing culture understanding) (Oxford, 1990; Vandergrift, 1997). Regarding these listening strategies, a few researchers such as Ahmadi and Yamini (2003) aimed to explore the relationship between field-dependence/field-independence and the use of listening comprehension strategies. They investigated 138 Iranian female English major students at the intermediate level at University of Shiraz in Iran. Their findings on the correlation coefficients indicated that meta-cognitive, memory, cognitive and social strategies were significantly related to the cognitive style, whereas affective and compensatory strategies did not show a significant correlation. They also reported that by using t-test they could find that field-independent listeners used meta-cognitive, memory, and cognitive strategies more frequently than their field-dependent counterparts, but field-dependent students made more use of social strategies than field-independent students.

Willing (1988) investigated a group of 517 learners from more than 30 ethnic groups. However, only five ethnic groups were large enough for statistical analysis (Vietnamese, Chinese, Arabic, South Americans, and Polish/Czech speakers) to find the correlation between learning style preferences and biographical variables. A learning style questionnaire included thirty learning style items, fifteen learning strategy items, and a few items considering individual biographical results were employed. The results indicated that there were cultural differences with regard to the learners’ learning style preferences for example, although the mean of the item “I like to study grammar” was lower than expected, all learners from the different cultures reflected that they liked studying grammar. The Arabic learners were the ones who preferred grammar the most because 65% of them ranked this item as the “best” (Willing, 1988). In other words, the findings indicated that authority-oriented and analytical learning styles were highly valued by Vietnamese, Chinese, Arabic, South American, and Polish students (Willing, 1988, p. 130). As a consequence, Willing identified four types of learners. They were concrete learners, analytical learners, communicative learners, and authority-oriented learners. In 1999, Nunan briefly summarized the definition of these four types of learners as: First, Communicative learners who have a desire for a communicative and social learning approach, probably because they feel that this would be most helpful to their needs in relation to language learning. In other words, they like to learn by watching, listening to native speakers, talking to friends in English and watching television in English, using English out of class, learning new words by hearing them, and learning by conversations (Willing, 1988; Nunan, 1999, p. 57). Second, Concrete learners who employ very direct means of taking in and processing information, Third, Authority-oriented learners who are probably not predisposed to actively organize information; would like their teacher to explain everything to them, tend to have their own textbooks, to write everything in a notebook, like to study grammatical rules, learn by reading, and learn new words by looking at them, and fourth, Analytical learners whose cognitive strengths lead them not only to analyze carefully and demonstrate great interest in structures but also to put a great deal of value on revealing their independence by performing these things themselves, autonomously. As a consequence, communicative and concrete learners according to Nunan (1996) cited in Flowerdew and Miller (2005) are probably more inclined to use top-down approaches in their learning and authority-oriented and analytical learners probably utilize more bottom-up approaches to learning. Therefore, according to Oxford (2003), if there is harmony between students in terms of their learning style and strategy preferences and the combination of instructional methodology and materials, then students are likely to perform well, feel confident, and experience low anxiety.

Methodology

3.1 Subjects

A group of 92 (n) out of 120 (N) freshmen university students majoring in Teaching English as a Foreign Language course at a large university in south of Esfahan were randomly chosen based on the sample size table developed by Krojcie and Morgan (1970). They were all females and aged 18. This is to avoid the possibility of students who have more exposure to the language due to their age difference as well as gender to have an impact on the findings of the study. Based on their scores on Oxford Placement Test, their level of English listening proficiency was intermediate.

Instruments

Two instruments were utilized in this study. First, the listening Strategy questionnaire adapted from Vandergrift (Personal Communication) cited in (Archer 2002) and Vandergrift, Goh, Mareschal, and Tafaghodatari (2006). Three more items were added to the questionnaire based on the listening strategy category developed by Vandergrift (1997). The items were modified in order to suit Iranian students’ learning. The questionnaire includes three categories (Meta-cognitive, cognitive, and socio-affective strategies) with 23 items. Items one to eight deal with organization and evaluation of listening (meta-cognitive); items nine to seventeen represent the use of mental processes (cognitive); and items eighteen to twenty three relate learning with others (socio-affective strategy). A five-point Likert-Scale that ranges from one (Strongly Disagree) to five (Strongly Agree) was used to indicate students preferences.

The second instrument was the Learning Style Questionnaire adapted from Willing (1988). This questionnaire was selected as the instrument in this study because, according to Ho (Undated, Retrieved from http://sunzi1.lib.hku.hk/hkjo/view/10/1000157 15 July 2010), it is a rather updated one among the very few questionnaires (Kolb, 1976) that examined learner types, which were of great “Practical usefulness” to teachers (Willing, 1988, p. 67). A list of twenty four items, which were the most related to Iranian students’ learning, were chosen and modified. Items one to six represent communicative Learners. Items seven to twelve represent concrete Learners. Items thirteen to eighteen represent authority-Oriented Learners. Items nineteen to twenty four represent analytical Learners. Both questionnaires were piloted prior to the actual data collection and the reliability Cronbach’s Alpha was 0.857 and 0.836 for listening strategies and learning style questionnaires respectively.

Data analysis

The statistical analysis was conducted utilizing the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) 16.0 for Windows. The descriptive statistics (Means, and Standard deviations) were used to rank order the listening strategy categories and learning style preferences from the most preferred to the least preferred categories. Then, analysis was made to see the relationship between listening strategies that the students employed and their learning style preferences.

Before measuring the relationship between variables, it was necessary to test the normality of the data. One-Sample Kolmogorov-Smirnov test was run to test whether the sample means followed a normal distribution. The results indicated that p-values of variables were not significant at 0.05. The data followed a normal distribution. Therefore, the researcher used the Pearson Correlation analysis to show whether there was a significant relationship between the two variables. The strength of the relationship was interpreted based on Guilford and Fruchter’s (1973) rule of thumb: < 0.20 : slight; almost negligible relationship; 0.20 – 0.40 : low correlation; definite but small relationship; 0.40 – 0.70 :moderate correlation; substantial relationship; 0.70 – 0.90 : high correlation; marked relationship; > 0.90 very high correlation; very dependable relationship.

Results

5.1 Descriptive Analysis of Listening Strategies

In order to find the listening strategies employed by Iranian EFL freshman university students, the descriptive statistics (means and standard deviations) of the listening strategies (meta-cognitive, cognitive, and socio-affective) were computed. Table 1 shows the means and standard deviations of the three distinct categories of listening strategies. The mean value for meta-cognitive strategies which let students learn through planning, monitoring, and evaluating was 3.58 and a standard deviation of 0.40 followed by cognitive listening strategies (Mean=3.47, SD=0.42) and socio-affective listening strategies (Mean=3.41, SD=0.57). This implies that all Iranian EFL freshman university students try to think about the ways in which they can plan, monitor, and evaluate their learning in general and listening in particular.

Table 1 Descriptive Statistics for Listening Strategies

Listening Strategies

N

Mean

SD

Rank Order

Meta-cognitive

92

3.58

0.40

1

Cognitive

92

3.47

0.42

2

Socio-affective

92

3.41

0.57

3

Note: N=Number of subjects

Descriptive Analysis of Learning Styles

In order to achieve a conclusive finding, a descriptive analysis was conducted by calculating the mean and standard deviations for the types of learning style preferences. Table 2 reveals the descriptive statistics of the four types of learning style preferences among Iranian EFL freshman university students. Responses to the statements of Type 1 that is communicative had the highest mean score of 3.33 and a standard deviation of 0.36 followed by concrete learning styles (Mean=3.24, SD=0.36), analytical learning styles (Mean=3.19, SD=0.43), and authority-oriented learning styles (Mean=3.08, SD=0.40). The results indicated that a great number of freshman students considered themselves as communicative learners and tended to interact with native speakers of the target language.

Table 2 Descriptive Statistics for Learning Styles

Learning Styles

N

Mean

SD

Rank Order

Communicative

92

3.33

0.36

1

Concrete

92

3.24

0.36

2

Authority-Oriented

92

3.19

0.43

3

Analytical

92

3.08

0.40

4

Note: N=Number of subjects

The Analysis of the relationship between Listening strategies and Learning Styles

In order to find out whether there was a significant relationship between listening strategies employed by Iranian EFL freshman university students and their learning style preferences, the Pearson correlation method was run, the results displayed that there was a significant moderate positive relationship between the listening strategies employed by Iranian EFL freshman university students and their learning styles preferences.

The results in Table 3 reveal that there was a significant positive relationship between the communicative learning styles and meta-cognitive, cognitive and socio-affective listening strategies with correlation coefficients (r) of 0. 0.554**, 0.504**, 0.310** respectively which were significant at the 0.01 levels. Their percentages of variance being r2=.30, r2=.25 and r2=.9 respectively. This indicates that the correlation coefficient of communicative learning styles and the meta-cognitive, cognitive and socio-affective listening strategies can explain 30%, 25%, and 9% of the variations respectively. This implies that although freshman communicative learners are actively employing all listening strategies while listening to a text, they prefer meta-cognitive listening strategies to cognitive and socio-affective listening strategies. They also have desire for communicative and social learning approach. Learners such as these in this study tend to learn by using top-down strategies (Nunan, 1996).

Table 3 Pearson Correlation Matrix

Learning Styles

Listening Strategies

Meta-cognitive

Cognitive

Communicative

PC (r)

0.554**

0.504**

Sig.

0.000

0.000

r2

30.25%

25%

N

92

92

Concrete

PC (r)

0.541**

0.530**

Sig.

0.000

0.000

r2

29.16%

28%

N

92

92

Authority-Oriented

PC (r)

0.514**

0.563**

Sig.

0.000

0.000

r2

26%

31.36%

N

92

92

Analytical

PC (r)

0.539**

0.624**

Sig.

0.000

0.000

r2

28.09%

38.44%

N

92

92

Total Learning Styles

Total Listening Strategies

PC (r)

0.644**

Sig.

0.000

r2

40.96%

N

92

*. Correlation is significant at the 0.05 level (2-tailed).

**. Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed)

Concrete learning styles were also significantly correlated with meta-cognitive, cognitive, and socio-affective strategies with correlation coefficients (r) of 0.541**, 0,530**, and 0.252* and Coefficient Determinations (r2) of 29%, 28%, and 6% respectively which were significant at the 0.01and 0.05 levels respectively. The correlation coefficients of concrete learning styles and meta-cognitive, cognitive, and socio-affective listening strategies accounts for 29%, 28%, and 6% respectively. A large number of concrete learners similar to communicative learners prefer meta-cognitive listening strategies to cognitive and socio-affective listening strategies. This implies that concrete learners use direct means of processing information and pay attention to the main points in a listening task to achieve a general understanding of what is said (Flowerdew and Miller, 2005). They prefer visual experiences and learn by using their own experiences while learning in general and listening in particular.

The authority-oriented types of learning styles were also significantly correlated with meta-cognitive, cognitive and socio-affective listening strategies with correlation coefficients (r) of 0. 514** (r2=.26, p<0.01) 0.563** (r2=.31, p<0.01) and 0.211* (r2=.04, p<0.05) respectively. The correlation coefficient of authority-oriented and meta-cognitive, cognitive and socio-affective listening strategies accounts for 26%, 31% and 4% of the variations. Authority-Oriented learners preferred cognitive strategies to meta-cognitive and socio-affective listening strategies. This means that authority-oriented learners utilize cognitive strategies to help them monitor learning materials and use specific techniques to a listening task (O’Malley and Chamot, 1990). They tend to use bottom-up strategies which are text based and try to listen for specific details, recognizing cognates, and word-order patterns (O’Malley and Chamot, 1990; Vandergrift, 1997; National Capital Language Resource Center, 2003, 2004).

The analytical type of learning styles had also significant relations with the meta-cognitive (r=0.539**, p<0.01), cognitive (r=0.624**, p<0.01), and socio-affective (r=0.232*, p<0.05) listening strategies. Their percentages of variance being r2 =.28, r2= .38 and r2= .05 respectively. This indicates that the correlation coefficient of analytical type of learning styles and meta-cognitive strategies can explain 28% of the variation and the correlation coefficient of analytical learning styles and cognitive and socio-affective strategies accounts for 38% and 5% of the variations respectively. This means that analytical learners prefer cognitive to meta-cognitive and socio-affective listening strategies. They attempt to get the overall meaning by focusing on general features and try to relate new knowledge to existing knowledge (Flowerdew and Miller, 2005).

In general, Table 3 indicates that there was a statistically moderate positive relationship between the overall listening strategies employed by Iranian EFL freshman university students and the overall learning styles preferences with correlation coefficient ( r) of 0.644** (r2= .40) which was significant at the 0.01 level. The correlation coefficient of the overall listening strategies and the overall learning styles accounts for 40% of the variation.

In addition, scatter-plot was run to show the linear association between listening strategies employed by Iranian EFL freshman university students and their learning style preferences (see Figure 1).

Figure 1 Scatter-plot Diagram between Listening Strategies and Learning Styles

Figure 1 indicates high scores on listening strategy scores corresponding to high scores on the learning styles preferences. This displays that the pattern of the overall scores is close to a straight line. It reveals a positive linear relationship between listening strategies employed by Iranian EFL freshman university students and their learning styles preferences.

Discussions

The main purposes of this study were to identify the listening strategies employed by Iranian EFL freshman university students, learning style preferences and the relationship between the two variables. The results indicated that meta-cognitive listening strategies were mostly employed by freshman university students of this sample. This is in agreement with Vandergrift’s (2003) study. Meta-cognitive listening strategies are important because they regulate and direct the language learning process (O'Malley and Chamot, 1990). The meta-cognitive process engages a listener in a sequence of conscious actions: analysis of the listening task requirements, activation of appropriate listening processes, making predictions of the task, and monitoring and evaluating one’s comprehension (Vandergrift, 2003).

In addition, the descriptive analysis of learning style preferences indicated that freshman university learners of this sample considered themselves as communicative learners. The authority-oriented and analytical learning styles which refer to ‘field-independence’ (Willing, 1988; Liu, 2008) have limitation of interpersonal skills. This means that these types of learners are inclined to the logic tasks and show serious and unemotional characteristics while the communicative and concrete styles which refer to ‘field-dependence’, are used by learners in order to build up their knowledge in a systematic, step-by-step way (Willing, 1988; Flowerdew and Miller, 2005; Liu, 2008).

Meanwhile, the results from the Pearson Correlation analysis revealed that there was a moderate significant positive relationship between listening strategies employed by freshman university students and their learning styles. These students attempted to use both top-down strategies and bottom-up strategies while listening. According to Vandergrift (1997), listeners use their prior knowledge as well as their linguistic knowledge to comprehend messages and utilize the one process or the other depends on their knowledge of the language, familiarity with the topic or the purpose for listening.

Implication

The findings of this study can serve as a strategy-based instruction for lecturers who want to teach their students listening strategies. This study implies that lectures should make their students to identify their own learning styles in order to help them become self-aware learners. Lecturers should also encourage their students to experience their own preferred learning styles. Lecturers should also incorporate learning styles into learning strategy instruction. Listening strategy instruction based on learning styles would provide lecturers with information on the kinds of strategies to be employed to cope with learners’ various learning styles (Jie and Xiaoqing, 2006). Lecturers can also introduce their students to listening strategies by specific learning instruction programs and by integrating listening skill objectives into their regular teaching programs (Flowerdew and Miller, 2005).

Conclusion

This research study attempted to discover the listening strategies employed by freshman university students and the types of learning style preferences as well as the relationship between the two variables. The findings showed that freshmen preferred meta-cognitive listening strategies such as planning, direct attention, selective attention, problem identification, to cognitive and socio-affective listening strategies. In the present research, meta-cognitive processes in listening comprehension is to plan what to listen for, to pay attention to the main points in a listening tasks to achieve a gist, and to pay attention to details , to monitor carefully and to evaluate one’s comprehension. In terms of learning styles, freshmen of this sample considered themselves as communicative learners. More importantly, the findings of this study revealed that there was a statistically moderate significant positive association between listening strategies and learning styles. Learners’ meta-cognitive processing is related to effective learning and is applicable to all learning contexts. Learning style preferences have a significant effect on the listening strategies employed by the students. The findings showed that when the students are aware of their own learning styles, they employ the appropriate strategies to improve their learning in general and listening in particular. Being aware of listening strategies, students can adjust themselves with their own types of learning styles and learn in an effective way. Furthermore, the instrument used to identify listening strategy use and learning style preferences in this study were a Likert scale, which according to Woodrow (2005) may not be appropriate enough to reach at rich and sample specific data.

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