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I teach English at the HCMC University of Sport. My students are athletes, coaches, and amateurs etc... They have a very good background of sport. They learn and play different kinds of sports at school as well as take part in various types of competition in the country or overseas. English is one of their foreign language disciplines as they can choose other languages like Chinese and Russian. In fact most of the classes are English ones.
The students already graduated from high school where they did learn a general English program for six years. At my school, they only study English for two years. In the first year, they learn American Headway 2. In the second year they study a specific program called English for Sport. The English program has 240 periods divided into four 60-period semesters. There are three periods of ninety minutes per week. Their background knowledge of English is at Pre-intermediate and their ages are from 19 to 22
Students' common results for the first state are quite good (about 80% over average in which 15% is very good, 35% is good). But in the second state, the grade is not as good as the first one (about 65% over average including 5% is very good, 20% is good).
From the reality of teaching and learning and from the results of my Department's students, I wonder is it because they use different language learning strategies? I really want to know to what extent language learners of high and low proficiency use similar or different learning strategies and how these things affect their progress.
To what extent do high and low proficiency students of HCMC University of Sport use similar or different language learning strategies in learning sport terminologies?
1. Learning Styles
1.1Definitions of Language Learning Style
Regarding studies of learning styles, the most serious problem is the confusion of its definitions. In the past two decades, the learning styles has been used in various and sometimes confusing ways in the literature. It is very common to hear different opinions on its definitions based on different findings in this comparatively new research field of learning styles, for each study defines it from particular perspectives. However, there is not an agreed-upon definition of learning styles. Learning styles can be defined in the following ways.
Keefe (1979, cited in Brown, 2002:10) defines learning styles as "the characteristic cognitive, affective and physiological behaviors that serve as relatively stable indicators of how learners perceive, interact with and respond to the learning environment."
Dunn et al. (1978:11) defines learning styles as "the way in which each person absorbs and retains information and/or skills; regardless of how that process is described, it is dramatically different for each person".
Sims & Sims (1990, cited in Reid, 2002) put forward that learning styles are typical ways a person behaves, feels, and processes information in learning situations. Therefore, learning style is demonstrated in that pattern of behavior and performance by which an individual approaches educational experience.
Oxford et al. (1991) briefly defines the learning style as the general approaches students used to learn a new subject or tackle a new problem.
Reid (1995) summarizes definitions of learning styles as internally based characteristics of individuals for the intake or understanding of new information. Essentially learning styles are based upon how a person perceives and processes information to facilitate learning.
1.2 Categories of Learning Styles
Confusion also exists in the literature on categories of learning styles for many same or similar factors researched under the same name. There are three major categories: cognitive styles, sensory learning styles, and personality learning styles (Reid, 1995).
Cognitive Learning Styles
Cognitive learning styles which include field-independent/field-dependent, analytic/global, reflective/impulsive learning styles, and Kolb experiential learning model, belong to the aspects of psychology. Among them researches on field -independent/field-dependent (FI/FD) attract the most attention of SLA domain (Ellis, 1994).
Reid (1995), FI learners tend to be generally more independent, competitive, and self-confident. They see the trees instead of the forest; whereas FD (field-sensitive) learners tend to be generally more socialized and are especially sensitive to human relationships and interactions. They see the forest instead of the trees.
Chapelle (1995) explains that FI/FD refers to how people perceive and memorize information.
According to Reid (1995), if learners can learn more effectively given time to consider options before responding, they are reflective learners; and they are often more accurate language learners; whereas if learners can learn more effectively being able to respond immediately and to take risks, they are impulsive learners; and they are often more fluent language learners.
Sensory Learning Styles
According to Reid (1995), sensory learning styles include two dimensions: perceptual learning styles and environmental learning styles. Perceptual learning styles contain four types of learning styles which are auditory, visual, tactile and kinesthetic styles. Auditory learners prefer studying by listening to conversation, oral instructions, audiotapes, and lecture; visual learners prefer learning with charts, drawings and other graphic information; tactile and kinesthetic learners prefer learning through tangible objects, collages, and flashcards. They prefer lots of movement and like moving around the classroom and having frequent breaks.
Affective/Temperament Learning Styles
Learning styles of this type are based on affect, personality, tolerance of ambiguity and brain hemisphere.
Myer and Briggs (1987, cited in Reid, 1995) report that affective and personality factors influence learners' learning styles a great deal. Mayer-Briggs team tested four dichotomous styles of functioning in their Mayer and Briggs Temperament Styles (MBTI) which include extraversion-introversion, sensing-perception, thinking-feeling, and judging-perceiving.
According to Reid (1995), extroverted and introverted styles belong to extraversion-introversion. Extroverted learners learn much better through real experience, in agreement with the outer societies, and other people relationships; whereas introverted learners learn more efficiently in person, autonomous situations which are more engaged in notions and ideas. Sensing-perception contains sensing and perception styles. Sensing learners learn much better from statements of visible facts and incidents; have a preference of physical, feeling-based input. Conversely, perception learners get more significantly from people's relationships and experiences. In thinking-feeling styles, thinking learners learn much better from unapproachable situations and rational effect; whereas feeling learner learns much better from adapted situations and communal standards. And in judging-perceiving styles, judging learners learn more effectively by analyzing, reflecting, and processing that entail closure; conversely, perceiving learner learns more effectively through feeling, negotiating, and inductive process that delay closure.
Reid (1995) suggests that tolerance of ambiguity styles also belong to the affective/temperament learning styles. Ambiguity-tolerant learners learn more effectively when opportunities for experiment and danger, as well as communication, are in attendance; whereas ambiguity-intolerant learners learn more efficiently when there are less stretchy, less dangerous, more controlled situations.
Reid (1995) also claims that whether the learner is left-brained or right-brained will influence learner's learning styles. Left-brained learners are associated with visual, analytical, thoughtful, independent learning; conversely, right-brained learners are associated with auditory, global/relational, impulsive, interactive learning.
In conclusion, Reid (1987) suggests that students who prefer more learning styles are more successful learners because they have more channels to obtain knowledge. If teachers are aware of this characteristic and try to adopt various teaching styles to match them, most students can learn by using their suitable styles and become more successful language learners.
2. Learning Strategies
2.1. Definition of Learning Strategies
The term language learning strategies has been defined by many researchers and different researchers emphasize different aspects of learning strategies. For example, Chamot (1987: 71), "learning strategies are techniques, approaches, or deliberate actions that students take in order to facilitate the learning and recall of both linguistics and content area information". Oxford (1990: 8) states that "any specific action taken by the learner to make learning easier, faster, more enjoyable, more self-directed, more effective, and more transferable to new situations" is a language learning strategy (LLS). Strategies are the conscious steps of behavior used by language learners to enhance the acquisition, storage, retention, recall and one of new information (Oxford & Ehrman, 1990).
Weinstein and Mayer (1986:315) state that " Learning strategies have learning facilitation as a goal and are intention on the part of the learner, the goal of strategy use is to affect the learner's motivation or affective state, or the way in which the learner selects, acquires, organizes, or integrates new knowledge."
Williams and Burden (2000:216) define learning strategies as "...series of skills used with a particular learning purpose in mind. They involve an ability to monitor the learning situation and respond accordingly and they also mean being able to assess the situation, to plan, to select appropriate skills, to sequence them, to coordinate them, to monitor or assess their effectiveness and to revise the plan when necessary".
Language learning strategies are language specific. And language learning strategies are behavioral and mental actions consciously selected by learners during language learning process.
2.2 Classification of Learning Strategies
Different scholars classify learning strategies from different angles and a large number of
classifications exist. In the following part, the more comprehensive and elaborate classifications
will be discussed, including O'Malley & Chamot's and Oxford's classifications.
2.2.1 O'Malley & Chamot's classification
O'Malley & Chamot's classification is based on information processing theory and draws
on the work of cognitive psychologists who introduces and develops the concepts of declarative
and procedural knowledge. Generally speaking, declarative knowledge can be described as a
kind of factual information which is stored in the mind and is related to the question of "what
they are" and procedural knowledge is about checking rules and is associated with the question
of " how to do".
O'Malley & Chamot's research project provides a rationale and approach in cognitive
theory for discussing learning strategies in second language acquisition. Cognitive theory has
explained adequately how information is stored in memory and what processes are entailed in
learning. It states that learning strategies are stored in people's mind in the form of declarative or
procedural knowledge. In cognitive theory, learning strategies are represented as complex
cognitive skills that follow the same general rules as other forms of procedural knowledge.
Learning strategies begin as declarative knowledge and gradually go through associative, and
autonomous stages with practice and experience. Cook (1993) further explains this by using
Anderson's three developmental stages theory in second language acquisition: firstly, in the
declarative stage, intensive attention is involved to the new language and deliberate efforts are
made to understand the new language; secondly, in the compilation stage, procedural knowledge
is acquired and gradually less conscious attention is needed; thirdly, the automatic processing
like native speakers is finally formed.
O'Malley & Chamot (1990) illustrate learning strategies as mental and socio-affective
processes, emphasizing learner interaction with the language in order to foster acquisition. They
present three categories of learning strategies, including metacognitive, cognitive, and
They point out that metacognitive strategy encompasses executive process that mainly
includes planning, monitoring and evaluating strategies. Planning is the strategy used by learners
for organizing of the written or spoken discourses. Monitoring is the strategy used by learners for
checking one's comprehension during the process of learning. And evaluating is the strategy
used by learners for checking the outcomes of one's own language learning.
Cognitive strategies involve the direct manipulation of materials to be learned. Strategies
concerning cognitive strategy are mental or behavioral aspects. For example, learners can link
new information to previously acquired concepts mentally or physically so that they can group
the learning items in meaningful categories or summarize the important information. Other
frequently used cognitive strategies are resourcing, repetition, grouping, transfer and translation
and so on.
Social/affective strategies are used when learners interact with other persons in order to
assist their learning. For example, learners often ask questions for clarification or use some kinds
of emotional control to promote their learning.
2.2.2 Oxford's classification
Almost at the same time, Oxford (1990) offers more comprehensive and full-scale language
learning classification. Her classification research on language learning strategies has great
influence on second language acquisition. She makes a distinction between what she calls
"direct" and "indirect" strategies and explains the relationship between them by an analogy of a
theatre. Direct strategies consist of memory, cognitive, and compensation strategies. This kind of
strategies deals with the new language and is like the performer in a stage play who works with
the language itself in a variety of specific tasks and situations. Indirect strategies comprise
metacognitive, affective, and social strategies and are compared as the director who takes the
responsibility for the general management of the play.
Firstly, three types of direct strategies are discussed, including memory, cognitive, and
compensation strategies. Memory strategies are learning strategies that help students store and
retrieve new information and mainly include strategies, such as grouping or inference, creating
mental linkages, and applying images and sounds. Cognitive strategies are strategies that enable
learners to understand and produce new language by a variety of different means. Summarizing
and reasoning deductively are examples of cognitive strategies. Additional examples include
practicing, getting and mailing messages, evaluating and rationalizing, and generating structure for input and output. Compensation strategies are strategies that allow learners to use the language despite their large gaps in knowledge base. Guessing intelligently, using synonyms, and overcoming limitations in speaking and writing are included in this type of strategies.
Secondly, indirect strategies include metacognitive strategies, affective strategies and social
strategies. Metacognitive strategies are language learning strategies, such as planning for
language tasks and setting goals that provide a mechanism for individuals to coordinate their
own learning process. Affective strategies are strategies that help learners gain control over
emotions, attitudes, motivations, and values. To lower their anxiety, learners can listen to music
or make positive statements or reward themselves to become high-spirited or try to take their
emotional temperature to concentrate on their learning. Social strategies are strategies that
involve interaction between and among learners. When they have classroom collaborative
activities, learners could use social strategies to help them to obtain information they need, for
example, strategies of asking questions, cooperating with others, and empathizing with others.
The classification of learning strategies is still controversial. Oxford's classificatory system
is different from O'Malley & Chamot's, but there is similarity between them. For example, both
of the two classifications include the category of metacognitive strategy which involves the
process of thinking, planning, monitoring and evaluating.
O'Malley & Chamot's (1990) classification emphasizes more on metacognitive and
cognitive strategies and lesser focus on social/affective strategies. In their classification, they
provide cognitive theories to support the classification of their learning strategies. However,
Oxford's classification is more comprehensive and offers six types of learning strategies with an
emphasis both on direct and indirect functions of strategies. In addition, Oxford's classification
addresses the social and affective components, which are less developed in O'Malley & Chamot's
classification. Moreover, Oxford's classification system can be measured by her widely
recognized Strategy Inventory for Language Learning (SILL). For these reasons, Oxford's
classification system and the accompanying strategy inventory are more acknowledged in the
academic world and are always approved by researchers who are interested in this field.
2.2.3 The Asian Language Learning Styles and Strategies
A number of studies have highlighted the effect of culture on the learning styles of ESL/EFL students. Liu and Littlewood (1997) find that "listening to the teacher" is the most frequent activity in Chinese senior school English classes. They claim that traditional EFL teaching in most Asian countries is dominated by "teacher-centered, book-centered, grammar-translation method and an emphasis on rote memory", which have effected in several figures of typical learning styles, with introverted learning being one of them. Sue and Kirk (1972) find that most Asian students are less independent, more reliant on teachers' information and more compliant to regulations and deadlines, which lead to closure-oriented learning style for them. In addition, these traditional language teaching approaches have effected on several typical learning styles in Asian countries, most students notice knowledge as something to be passed on by the teacher rather than discovered by themselves. Thus, they find it normal to sit in the class listening to their teachers to receive knowledge rather than figure it out. For this reason Asian students are unwilling to show up by stating their opinions or raising questions, especially if this might become aware of expressing public disagreement (Song, 1995).
In general, Asian students are more visual, auditory, and introverted learners as visual learners tend to use strategies involving reading alone, in quite place or pay attention to the blackboards, movies, computer screens and other forms of visual stimulation. Auditory learners often manipulate strategies that encourage conversation in a noisy, social environment with numerous sources of aural stimulation. Introverted learners are often quiet and focus on meaning that seems to relate to their own concern for inner world of feeling.