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Dr Georgi Lazanov, a Bulgarian proponent of the accelerated learning affirmed that "human learning is the basic and natual function-easier than breathing and walking" (as cited in Prashnig, 2004). This seems to be right to learning a language as a mother tongue because we were born with the same ability of learning our first language so most of us acquire and learn our first language easily and naturally. However, the expectation is not the same to acquiring and learning a second or foreign language. In my career of English language teaching, I have witnessed a number of students who make very little progress in their language learning whereas the others get improved quickly and conspicuously. Althought most students have received generally equivalent language education at schools or universities, they show differences in proficency and competence in using the target language. So, why are some successful and the others fail to get good achievement in their learning? Why do those students can speak well in the target language but the others can not communicate fluenctly and confidently? Is it because some are smarter than the others? what makes the differences among these students? A number of researches on these matters have indicated that each student prefers different learning styles and their learning styles impact on the trategies they apply to their learning. This results in learning styles as well as learning strategies affecting the students' learning achievement (Ehrman & Oxford, 1988). This discovery confirms Georgi Lazanov's belief that " learning is a matter of attidude not apptitude". The importance of learning styles and stategies have been widely recognized in language learning and more and more research has been done on them .
Definitions of terms.
According to Brown (2000, p. 113).
Style is the term used to refer "consistent and rather enduring tendencies and preferences" an individual has. Styles are "characteristics of intellectual functioning" that make an individual unique. Styles characterized an individual's typical way of thingking and feeling
Strategy is the term used to refer a method of approaching a prolem and an operation used to achieve a particular goal. Different people employed varied strategies to solve their own problems and the strategies they use might not be the same time by time.
A good language learner to Joan Rubin ( 1975, pp. 46-48):
is a willing and accurate guesser. He employs appropriate ways to perceive and process information. He accepts uncertainty and he is flexible and comfortable in applying his ability of guessing to explore for and get the meaning of the communication from the clues that he is offerd in the setting in combination with using his social and linguistic schemata.
has strong motivation to communicate. He is willing to involve himself in communicating by using any means such as circumlocution, gestures, spelling, paraphrasing, creatively forming new words from the original ones....to express his meaning or to get his message across.
is not inhibited. He is willing to make mistake because he believes mistakes are part of language learning process. He learns from his own mistakes by trying to understand them and avoid repeating them.
is prepared to attend to form. While a normal learner tends to percieve what they are taught in the textbooks or lessons in the classroom, a good language learner seeks for something else beyond them. He is "constantly looking for patterns in the language" by analyzing, categorizing and synthesizing it.
practices what he has learned or acquired. He find the opportunities to use the language as soon as possiple not only in class but also outside the classroom.
monitors his own speech and the speech of others. He evaluates his performance by mornitoring his own speech and getting feedback from the listeners. He also mornitors the others' to see how they use the language in comparision with the standards he has been taught.
attends to meaning. He pays attention to not only the forms of speech or grammar but also the meaning of the language by negotiating the meaning of the message in differenct contexts.
Statement about the background of the learners in the research and the research questions
The learners are recent graduates or experienced engineers from different parts of Vietnam recruited to work for projects of Petrovietnam. They have received nearly equivalent English language education at school and at university. However, after graduation they are at different English proficiency levels. Like most of the other Vietnamese students, they can hardly speak English. Some of them even can not read aloud an English reading text fluently. This is the most common problem for English language learners in Vietnam. They are sent to PVMTC to take a special course to improve their technical knowledge and English skills, especially speaking skill, to perform their job together with foreign experts in their field at industrial facilities or in offices. They have five classes a week and each class lasts for four hours. They are extremely motivated because after the course, they are expected to achieve at least 650 marks on TOIEC and to be good at communication in all circumstances in order to be appointed to different appropriate positions at their working place. The learning objectives of the course are obvious and CLT approach is chosen to apply in teaching the students so that they can improve their communicative skills in English.
Before doing the course, the school give them a placement test to categorize their English proficiency levels and put them in the diffirent appropriate classes accordingly. The students have different attitudes and behaviuor to their language learning and so is their learning effectiveness. The high proficiency students usually appear to make better progress, their learning outcome appears better than the low proficiency students, and especially, their speaking skills get improved obviously. So, my study serves to find out the answers to the following questions:
What makes the difference between the students of low and high language proficiency level?
What is the difference of language learning strategy use between EFL students of high and low proficiency levels in learning English speaking in Petrovietnam Manpower Training College (PVMTC) in Vietnam?
What can a teacher do to help these leaners of diffirent learning styles use and combine different types of strategies in their English speaking learning?
Being different from learning styles, language learning strategies can be probably trained to the learners. Hopefully, the finding of the study and its practical implication could help language teachers in their teaching.
Language learning styles
Learning styles are prefered approaches to learning, the environment of a learner and the ways he or she perceives and processes information, the specific ways that an individual "acquires, retains, and retrieves information" (Felder & Henriques, 1995), inherent and pervasive characteristics of a particular individual or a group of people (Willing, 1988), "preferred or habital patterns of mental functioning and dealing with new information" (Ehrman and Oxford, 1990), means of acquiring knowdlege and skills, habits, strategies, regular mental behaviours concerning learning an individual displays (Pritchard, 2008). Or according to Keefe (as cited in Griggs, 1991), learning styles are the "composite of characteristic cognitive, affective, and physiological factors that serve as relatively stable indicators of how a learner perceives, interacts with, and responds to the learning environment".
Different researchers have got different definitions of the learening styles depending on their perception of learning and education psychology. So there are also different dimension of learning styles and more than twenty dimentions of learning styles have been known so far focusing on social, physical, environtmental preference, personality type, cognitive ability. In this paper, I would like mention the two models of learning styles that are relatively related to language learning.
VARK- Visual, Aural, Read-Write and Kinethetic
Neil Fleming (1987) classified learners according to their preference in the ways of getting, retaining and processing the input as well as performing the output.
Visual learners learn through seeing and like using the words that they can visualize their images. In the classroom, they are usually impatient. They tend to interupt the others while they are talking but they are good at talking and persuading.
Auditory learners are really good listeners. They like verbal explanation and information in spoken words. They think in a linear way and they speak slowly.
Read-write learners enjoy writing and reading. They feel more comfortable with any input or output in form of texts.
Kinethetic learners learn through manual operation using senses. They try new things and they learn from the errors they make. They tend to like dealing with real life problems but they are not very risky in making decision.
The Index of Learning Styles
The famous model of Learning Styles developed by Richard Felder and Linda Silverman 1988 devived the learning styles into four dimensions indicating the ways in which the learners perceive the world.
Sensing and intuitive (Perception dimension):
Sensing learners prefer learning the facts. They learn best with certain and real information. They tend to solve problems in a common way and they hate complications.
Intuitive learners prefer discovering posibilities and relationships. They tend to like finding the meaning. Information of conception, creation and theory attract them most. They do not like repeatition.
Active and reflective (Processing dimension)
Active learners prefer doing. They understand well and keep in their mind the given information for long if they are allowed to act, learning. They learn best with the others.
Reflective learners prefer to think, evaluate, analysis the input. They feel more comfortable with learning quietly and individually.
Visual and verbal (Input dimension)
Visual learners deal well with graphs, pictures, and diagrams. They prefer visual representations of information. Â
Verbal learners get inforamation most if it is in both spoken and written words.
Sequential and Global (Understanding dimension)
Sequential learners get the understanding of the information in a linear way and they get the whole input by connecting logically and orderly the segments of it with one another.
Global learners look at the input as the big picture to understand them. They usually work with the whole then its details.
Language learning strategies
Learning strategies are operations, steps, plans, thoughts or behaviors that learners use to help themselves to acquire, retain, regain and use information (Wenden & Rubin, 1987; O'Malley and Chamot, 1990; Weinstein & Mayer, 1986). In other words, learning strategies are characterized as specific actions that learners take to make their languge learning "easier, faster, more enjoyable, more self-directed, more effective and more transferable to new situations" (Oxford, 1989, 1990).
Among the strategy taxonomies developed by varied researchers such as Stern, O' Malley and Oxford, as a teacher, I am particularly interested in the Stratey Inventory for Language Learning (SILL) which was developed by Oxford in 1990 for its importance as a effective tool to determine the strategies that a learner uses in learning English.
In her system, Oxford separates language learning strategies into two general classes direct strategies and indirect strategies. These two classes are divided into six groups: memory, cognitive, compensation, metacognitive, affective and social strategies.
Direct Strategies are employed by learners to deal with the new language.
Memory strategies used for information storage and retention included in four sets: creating mental linkages, applying images and sounds, reviweing well and employing actions.These strategies helps learners remember what they have learned better by putting them together in a logical order, retain and retrieve them by associating them with images and sounds and act them out if it is possible. At the early stage of the language learning or for the learners who are young children, memory strategies are applied most frequently to learn vocabulary.
Cognitive strategies used for analyzing, classifying and combining new information with the learners's prior knowledge comprise of four sets: Practising, receiving and sending messages strategies, analizing, reasoning and creating structure for input and output. Learners employ these strategies as tools to achieve the target language by reapeating verbally or in words to get new information, to complete a complex task needing a lot of thinking like reading comprehension which is closely related to the learners' prior knowlege, to summarize and restructure the target language in useful forms.
Compensation strategies used for reducing the effects of lacking knowledge of the target language included in two sets: guessing intelligently and overcoming limitations in speaking and writing. The learners' insufficiency of vocabulary and grammar can be overcome by guessing, using gestures, adjusting the message....
Indirect Strategies used for genaral management of learning can be used in combination with Direct Strategies to regulate the learning.
Metacognitive strategies used by the learners for the sefl-reflection. They embrace three sets: centering your learning, arranging and planning your learning, evaluating your learning. The strategies aim to drive the learners' attention to particular skill areas of the language to improve, set the goals and objectives, organize their learning by dealing well with tasks to get the best achievement, seek opportunities to prastise and self-evaluate by monioring their learning progress to make sure that they get benefit from their effort.
Affective strategies used for controling learners'emotions, attitudes and motivations. They fall into four sets: lowering your anxiety, encouraging yourself and taking your emotonal temperature. The learners have both positive and negative feelings that may slow down or speed up their learning process. The strategies help them to control their negative feelings to overcome the psychologic difficulty, self-encourage to have themselves engage fully in learning the language and command themselve by sharing their feelings in different ways.
Social strategies used for co-operating with others in learning. These strategies contain three sets: asking questions, co-operating with orthers, empathizing with others. Asking question is the most useful way to get imformation and its meaning. Learning language occurs mostly in communicating with others. So co-operation gives learners the best chance to get involved in the learning environment to learn the language. The trategies help learners enhance cultural understanding and sharing others' feelings and learn the language.
Overview of research on learning styles and strategies
Many researchers's findings have implied the effect of learning strategies and indicate that most language learners unconciously use learning stratergies to enhence their learning and they sometimes may not really realize that they have chosen the most appropriate strategies to utilize and (Chamot & Kupper, 1989). It is also stated that the good learners know well the strategies they use and tend to apply varied but appropriate language strategies and are able to explain the reasons why they use them for different tasks, learning needs and different stages of their learning and that the learning strategy use of the high proficiency learners appear more frequent and wide-ranging (O'Malley & Chamot, 1990). Ming Nuan Yang (2008) finds the same result in her study of language learning strategies used by the students in Chang Gung Institute of Technology in Taiwan. In her study of language learning strategies used by students at different proficiency levels in a university in Taiwan, Ya Ling Wu (2008) confirms that the higher proficency students use more and varied learning strategies, especially cognitive, metacognigive and social strategies than the lower proficiency students do. However, Vann and Abraham (cited in Sawani) found the opposite results in their study of strategy use of ecademic English learners in the USA which showed that the strategy use of the unsuccessful learners are the same as the successful learners'
As we know, language learning strategies can help learners to be more autonomous. Language learning strategies also assisst learners in making choices, initiating learning activities and taking responsibility for their learning. Each strategy have its own significant effect on different language skills. To deal well with English language speaking learning, the learner , as a good language learner, is required to be a risk-taker, to make good use of paraphrasing and circumlocution, to be aware the importance of self-monitoring, and self-evaluation (Chamot & Kupper, 1989). Therefore speaking skills in partcular are usually effected most by compensation, cognitive, metacognitive, social and affective strategies.
One of the biggest problems that the L2 learners face to is the deficiency in vocabulary and grammar of the target language. In the English language speaking classroom, the highly proficient students usuall usually apply compensation strategies which to Oxford (1990) can help learners comprehend and produce messages in the new langguage making up their deficiency in vocabulary and grammar. Applying compensation strategies , the learners appear to become a better language learner because they are getting willing to take risk. For example, they are willing to take risk to learn to speak the language at their expense. They are not afraid of being a fool when making mistakes or using gestures as they are speaking. They become good guessers to understand what people say and become very creative in using the target by paraphrasing or using circumlocution to express their intended messages to get themselves understood. In his study in 2009, Chandra Bose found that the compensation strategies were adopted by engineering students of Tamil Nadu in India while speaking English "to make up for the inability to speak fluently" and Goh and Foong's study on language learning strategy use of Chinese students shows similar results but Yang (2007) found that both high and low proficiency Chinese students in his uninersity used compensation strategies more than other strategies.
Most learners are very "cognitive" when they deal with learning the second language esspecially aldult learners. They love using their mind, cognitive strategies to solve problems. However, O'Malley & Chamot (1990) beleive that cognitive and metacognitive strategies are often used together to support each other and that the appropriate combinations of using these strategies often bring more effectiveness. Cognitive strategies help learners analyse, classify and associate the new information with the prior knowledge and mentally restructure them to make the new one for their own. They provide language functions and structures whereas metacognitve stratergies help learners manage their learning by self reflecting. Rubin (1975) states that a good language learner always look for opportunities to involve in communication and highly aware of their learning. So does a language learner with metacognitive strategies. They monitor their own speaking to learn from the mistake they have made, plan their learning to achieve the goal they have established. These learners are usually reflective learners. Metacognitive strategies are claimed to be used more often by Taiwanese university students ( Yang, 2007) and Chinese students (Bedell, cited in Yang, 2007) than by Puerto Rican, Egyptian, Indonesian and Korean students (Yang, as cited in Yang, 2007).
The affective filter hypothesis of Krashen (1982) concerns the factor of emotions that effect the learners' second language acquisition. It means that the learners with high affective filter will receive less input than the ones with lower affective filter. This is consictent with Oxford (1990) belief that affective strategies can help learners to lower their anxiety, encourage themselves and take their emotional temperature. Affective strategies enable learners to control their emotions and attitude to language learning because the learners can be encourage or decourage in learning a foreign language by being intersed or anxious or bored. Affective strategies are asserted to have sigficient impacts on learners since they assist learners to overcome the anxiety they may have when speaking. That is the reason why the results found in Yang's study of Chinese (Yang, 1993 cited in Yang, 2007) and Taiwanese students' use of learning strategies show that affective strategies were used the least (Yang, 2007). This is explained that Chinese and Taiwanese students in a traiditional English class have few chances to speak.
Learners tend to use social strategies look for oppotunities to engage themseves in communication by asking questions, asking for help, practising the new things they have learn with others and sharing their feelings about learning the target language with others. Learners with social strategies make use of asking questions to achieve understanding, cooperating to increase confidence and to be in competition to expose their better performence than others'and to "develop cultural understanding". Social strategies help learners learn the target language through interacting with others. This is extremely significant in learning speaking. However, the choice of social strategies depends a lot on learners' characteristics and learning styles. The learners with social strategies are usally active learners who are extroverts who tend to open up with others to learn the language (Ehrman and Oxford, 1990).
Most of the studies on language learning styles and strategies in recent decades have stated that learning styles effect the seclection of language learning strategies the learners apply to their language learning. In the other hand, research also indicates that the levels of success and proficiency the learners reach and the frequency and variation of learning strategy use of the learners increase accordingly. These findings are vitally important to language teachers who play a very significant role in part of the successes that their students may enjoy or part of the failure that their students' learning may end in. Learning about the diference of language learning strategy use between the successful, high proficiency learners and unsuccessful, low proficiency learners is necessary to teachers so that they can adapt their teaching styles to match their students' learning styles, train their students the language learning strategies that the successful, high proficiency students utilize in their learning to help them to enhence their learning's effectiveness in the ways that the "good language learner" does.