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Styles are, according to Brown, general characteristics of intellectual functioning that pertain to you as an individual, and that differentiate you from someone else." It can be said that styles are the general approaches for learning a language while strategies are "the specific behaviors or thoughts learners use to enhance their language learning. (Oxford, 2003).
"Learning styles" which are "global or analytic", "auditory or visual" are the general methods learners employ to acquire new languages or other subjects and fields. According to Cornett (1983), they are "the overall patterns that give general direction to learning behavior". Dunn & Griggs (1988) also claimed that "learning style is the biologically and developmentally imposed set of characteristics that make the same teaching method wonderful for some and terrible for others". Moreover, in the view of Keefe (1991, as cited in Brown, 1994), learning styles are considered as "characteristic, cognitive, affective, and psychological behaviors that serves as relatively stable indicators of how learners perceive, interact with and respond to the learning environment". It cannot be denied that there is no particularly perfect style but the most appropriate one for each learner (Ellis, 1994).
Learning strategies are described as "specific actions, behaviors, steps or techniques - such as seeking out conversation partners, or giving oneself encouragement to tackle a difficult language task - used by students to enhance their own learning" (Scarcella & Oxford, 1992). As the learners pick up the most appropriate strategies, they turn out to be of great help for the activeness, consciousness and determination of self-regulation of learning.
There are a lot of researches which have been conducted in recent years to reveal Asian learners' language learning and strategies. However, there are quite few researchers who investigate deeply these issues among Vietnamese learners. As a consequence, this paper is to give a deeper look into this matter to help raise more awareness of its essence in language teaching and learning.
The paper can be divided into three main parts. The first part starts with some terms and the definitions of language learning styles and strategies which are proposed by various linguists in the world. The second part is about those issues of Asian learners while the last one is about those of Vietnamese students.
Research into language learning styles and strategies
Since 1970s, researches of language learning strategies have expanded enormously due to the essential roles. Hence, the scholars have provided various definitions based on their own points of view. Wenden (1987a) claimed that language learning strategies which may help improve language learning can be defined from the aspect of language learning behaviors (learning and practicing the target language), cognitive theory (strategic knowledge of language learning), and the affective view (motivation and attitude). Chamot & O'Malley (1987) and Chamot et al. (1985a) classified language learning strategies into three categories: metacognitive (planning the learning process), cognitive (monitoring the comprehension and production), and social affective (evaluating the learning outcomes). Rigney (1978) and Rubin (1987, p.22) argued that language learning strategies include behaviors, steps and techniques students employ to acquire language because these strategies "contribute to the development of the language system which the leaner constructs and affect learning directly." In addition, Oxford (1990, p.8) expanded the definition and defined it that "Learning Strategies are specific actions taken by the leaner to make learning easier, faster, more enjoyable, more self-directed, more effective, and more transferable to new situations". She also thought that the aspects of cognition, emotion and society may improve students' proficiency and self-confidence in their language learning (Oxford, 1990; Ehrman & Oxford, 1990).
Characteristics of language learning strategies
Scholars use different terminology to define to indicate this issue, such as "learner strategies" (Wenden & Rubin, 1987), "learning strategies" (O'Malley & Chamot, 1990), and "language learning strategies" (Oxford, 1990). Regardless of the variety of using terminology, some basic characteristics compromised among scholars themselves are summarized by Oxford (1990, p9) as follows:
Contribute to the main goal, communicative competence.
Allow learners to become more self-directed
Are problem oriented.
Are specific actions taken by the learners.
Expand the role of teachers.
Involve many aspects of the learner, not just the cognitive.
Support learning both directly and indirectly.
Are not always observable
Are often conscious.
Are influenced by a variety of factors.
It can be seen that the classification of language learning strategies share the same categorization that were claimed by Rubin (1987) (cognitive learning strategies, metacognitive learning strategies, communication strategies and social strategies), O'Malley & Chamot (1990) (metacognitive strategy, cognitive strategies and socioaffective strategies) and Oxford (1990) (direct and indirect strategies).
According to Rubin (1987), cognitive learning strategies involve the learning processes in which direct analysis, transformation and synthesis of materials are demanded. They are "clarification/verification, guessing/inductive inferencing, deductive reasoning, practice, memorization and monitoring" (Rubin, 1987). Whereas, metacognitive learning strategies include the steps of "planning, prioritizing, setting goals and self-management" used to self-direct students' learning. Next, communication strategies aim at the procedure of involving in a conversation and obtaining a meaning of the speaker. In addition, social strategies are used to get learners engaged in lots of chances of practicing their knowledge.
O'Malley et al (1985, pp. 582-584) think that metacognitive strategy includes the planning, considering the process, monitoring the production and evaluating completed activity. On the other hand, while cognitive strategies aim at "repetition, elaboration, contextualization, auditory representation and transfer" (O'Malley, 1985), socioaffective strategies involve personal interaction through "questioning for clarification, cooperation for problem-solving, prephrasing and self-talk".
Oxford (1990) shares lots of things with O'Malley (1985) when covering most of the categories. According to Oxford and Crookall (1989), memory strategies are "techniques specifically tailored to help the learner store new information in memory and retrieve it later". They help leaners to successfully learn vocabulary. Cognitive strategies are "skills that involve manipulation and transformation of the language in some direct way" (Oxford & Crookall, 1989) and used for dealing with received information and analyzing and reasoning. Compensation strategies help learners to apply the target language in the real conversation together with guessing strategies when encountering unknown words. Learners are encouraged to produce the language by themselves by using spoken and written language regardless of the lack of knowledge. On the other hand, metacognitive strategies are "behaviors used for centering, arranging, planning, and evaluating one's learning" and are used to contribute "executive control over the learning process" (Oxford & Crookall, 1989).