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Learning strategies and styles

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Published: Tue, 25 Apr 2017

Chapter Two

Literature Review

2.1 Learning Strategies

Learning strategies are steps taken by students to enhance their own learning. Strategies are especially important for language learning because they are tools for active, self-directed involvement, which is essential for developing communicative competence. Appropriate language learning strategies result in improved proficiency and greater self-confidence. Throughout history, the best language students have used strategies ranging from naturalistic language practice techniques to analytic, rule-based strategies. Learning strategy workshops are drawing big crowds at language teachers’ conventions. Researchers are identifying, classifying, and evaluating language learning strategies, and these efforts are resulting in a steady stream of articles on the topic.

2.1.1 Definition of Learning Strategies

According to Chamot (1987), “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 and Nam’s (1998) study indicates that “learning strategies is a technical phrase that means any specific conscious action or behavior student takes to improve his or her own learning”. Oxford (1990) considers 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).

The concept of learning strategy is still a fuzzy one and not easy to have a final definition, though it has been over thirty years since researchers began the study of learning strategies. A summary of definitions of language learning strategies taken from the recent literature (Ellis, 1999:531) may help us have an overview of it.

Chapter Two Literature Review 7

Table 2.1 Definitions of Learning Strategies

Source Definitions

Stern (1983)In our view strategy is best reserved for general tendencies or overall characteristics of the approach employed by the language learner, leaving techniques as the term to refer to particular forms of observable learning behavior.

Weinstein and Learning strategies are the behaviors and thought that a learner

Mayer (1986)engages in during learning that are intended to influence the learner’s encoding process.

Rubin (1987)Learning strategies are strategies which contribute to the development of the language system which the learner constructs and affect learning directly.

O’Malley and “the special thoughts or behaviors that individuals use to help them Chamot (1990)comprehend, learn, or retain new information”

Oxford (1990) Foreign or second language (L2) learning strategies are specific actions, behaviors, steps or techniques students use-often consciously-to improve their progress in apprehending, internalizing, and using the L2.

Cohen (1998) Second language learner strategies constitute those processes which are consciously selected by learners and which may result in actions taken to enhance the learning or use of a second or a foreign language, through the storage, retention, recall, and application of information about that language. They encompass both language learning and language use strategies.

Wen Qiufang Learning strategies are actions or measures which the students take in order to (2000) study more efficiently. This definition emphasizes two points: the goal of using learning strategies is the learner’s actions, rather than his/her thought. The action can be either exterior or interior.

According to Ellis (1999), several problems arise form these varied definitions of this linguistic term.

The first problem concerns whether language learning strategies are to be perceived of as behavioral (and therefore observable) or as mental, or as both. Oxford (1990) considers them as essentially behavioral, while Weinstein and Mayer (1986) thinks of them as both behavioral and mental.

The second problem is the precise nature of the behaviors that are to count as learning strategies. Stern (1983) distinguishes strategies as general and more or less deliberate approach’ to learning, for example, an active task approach and techniques as observable forms of language learning behavior evident in particular areas in language learning, such 8 as grammar and vocabulary. Other researchers, however, have used the term “strategy” to refer to the kind of behaviors that Stern calls techniques.

The third problem is whether learning strategies are to be seen as conscious and intentional or as subconscious. Chamot (1987) refers to them as “deliberate actions”. Seliger (1984) defines strategies as basic abstract categories of processing by which information perceived in the outside world is organized and categorized into cognitive structures as part of a conceptual network. However, some researchers consider that what starts out as a conscious “tactic” may involve into a subconscious “strategy”.

The fourth one is about whether learning strategies are seen as having a direct or indirect effect on interlanguage development. Rubin (1987) asserts that the effect is a direct one. But other researchers, such as Stinger, consider it to be more indirect strategy use that provides learners with data, upon which the deep subconscious processes can work.

Finally, there are differences in opinions about what motivates of the use of learning strategies. All the definitions above recognize that they are used in an effort to learn the L2, but Oxford (1989) also suggests that their use can have an affective purpose (i.e. to increase enjoyment).

Although the definition is not always uniform, there are some basic characteristics in the generally accepted view of language learning strategy. Oxford (1990:9) summarizes her view of language learning strategies by listing twelve key features. She states that language learning strategies:

  • contribute to the main goal, communicative competence. • allow learners to become more self-directed.
  • the role of teachers.
  • are problem-oriented.
  • are specific actions taken by the learner.
  • involve many aspects of the learner, not just the cognitive.
  • support learning both directly and indirectly.
  • are not always observable.
  • ari often conscious.
  • can be taught.
  • are flexible.

Chapter Two Literature Review 9 are influenced by a variety of factors.

After identifying the above elements involved in defining language learning strategies. and in order to avoid any confusion caused by different definitions and owing to the research instrument of SILL in this study, Oxford’s definition (1990:8) of learning strategies is adopted throughout the this paper, in which learning strategies are seen as “specific actions, behaviors, steps or techniques students often consciously use to improve their progress in apprehending, internalizing, and using, since this definition fully conveys the excitement or richness of learning strategies”.

2.1.2 Classification of Learning Strategies

Classification of language learning strategies has primarily followed the theory of cognition (Macaro, 2001). Cognition refers to how the brain works for information processing and retrieval. Strategies are used to retrieve and store new information in the brain till this information becomes automatic and such strategies are classified into a system by researchers and educators. Classification of strategies has many advantages. Learning strategies have been classified by many scholars (Wenden and Rubin, 1987; O’Malley et. al, 1985; Oxford, 1990; Stem, 1992; Ellis, 1994, etc.). Strategy subsets enable researchers to describe the correspondence between mental processes and strategic processes (O’Malley and Chamot, 1990). Strategy inventories may also serve as a valuable reference guide for educational instructors in the process of promoting autonomy in the language learner. Oxford’s (1990) Strategy Inventory for Language Learning (SILL) is one such classification system linking groups through a series of self-report assessments and questionnaires. Oxford divides strategies into two major classes: direct and indirect.

Direct strategies refer to subconscious tasks, which are inherently learnt while indirect strategies refer to conscious strategies. These two classes are then subdivided into six sub-groups of memory, cognitive, compensation, social, affective and metacognitive. These subsets are interwoven with each other, creating an occasional overlap in the strategy groups. According to Oxford (1990), direct and indirect strategies and these six strategy categories function as a mutual support network within which various types of strategies enhance second language learning. Oxford’s inventory is designed in a way to suit not only students learning English as a second/foreign language (ESL/EFL) in America but also students of any country. The inventory has already been translated into many languages and used as an effective tool for measuring strategy preferences and 10 developmental stages in strategy usage (Oxford and Burry-Stock, 1995). The inventory also has a well-understood underlying structure for strategy categorization and employs a wide range of strategies, all items of which are checked and rechecked for validity and reliability. However, the SILL categorization system is not without its limitations. SILL has been mainly based on research conducted on either groups of mixed nationalities learning English as a second/foreign language or native speakers of English learning a foreign language in the United States. As a result, Wharton (2000) refers to the dangers of ethnocentric bias and applicability regarding the definition of the good language learning strategies as defined by educators and researchers from the United States alone. Some studies have demonstrated that the most frequently used strategies in a foreign language context in Asia vary considerably from those in the second language context in the United States (Takeuchi et al., 1999; Takeuchi and Wakamoto, 2001). Takeuchi (2003:391) recognizes the importance of distinguishing between common strategies and context-specific (or environmental-unique) ones as “promoting the survival of learners in the environment”. O’Malley and Chamot (1990:99), on the other hand, have differentiated strategies into three categories: cognitive, metacognitive and social/affective. Cognitive strategies are specified as learning steps that learners take to transform new material, for instance, inferring contextual guessing and relating new information to other concepts from memory. Metacognitive strategies involve consciously directing one’s own efforts into the learning task. Social/affective strategies involve interaction with another person or taking control of ones’ own feelings on language learning. Wenden and Rubin (1987) again classifies learning strategies into two categories: cognitive (steps used by learners to process linguistic and socio-linguistic contents) and self-management (planning, monitoring and evaluating), on the basis of their learning functions. Macaro (2001) conceptualizes all language learning strategies as standing in a continuum without a clear line dividing the strategy types into particular areas. Cognitive strategies lie at one end with their inherent, subconscious, automatic tasks and metacognitive/social/affective at the other end with their conscious, evaluative strategies.

Much of this classification research has been conducted in English as second/foreign language (ESLJEFL) settings. Regardless of how they are classified, the exact number of strategies available and how these strategies should be classified still remain open for discussion. A comparative analysis of various kinds of strategy classifications reported so Chapter Two Literature Review 11 far supported the view that O’Malley and Chamot’s (1990) classification of strategies into cognitive, metacognitive and socio/affective strategies as well as Oxford’s six-subset strategy taxonomy are more consistent with use of learners’ strategies than the direct and indirect dimensions (Hsiao and Oxford, 2002). Purdie and Oliver (1999) discuss the potential dangers of applying results of strategy studies with adults and adolescents to child second language learners. Apart from the psychological and sociological differences that exist between adults and children (Purdie and Oliver, 1999), the approach to second language acquisition among child learners has been associated more with first language acquisition (Larsen-Freeman, 1991).

Among them, Oxford’s classification (1990) is the most extensive and detailed one so far. Oxford’s classification system is developed from Rubin’s and overlap with O’Malley’s to a great extent. And in this case study, one of the research questionnaires adopted is Oxford’s Strategy Inventory for Language Learning (SILL). Therefore, the framework of Oxford’s classification of learning strategy (in Table 2.2) will be conducted in the study.

Table 2.2 Oxford’s Classification of Learning Strategies Creating metal linkages

Applying images and sounds Memory Strategies

Reviewing well

Employing action

Direct Strategies Practicing

Cognitive Strategies Receiving and sending messages Creating structure for input and output

Guessing intelligently

Compensation Strategies

Overcoming limitations in speaking and writing

Centering your learning

Metacognitive Strategies Arranging and planning your learning

Evaluating your learning Lowering your anxiety

Indirect Strategies Affective Strategies Encouraging yourself

Taking your emotional temperature Asking question

Social Strategies Cooperating with others

Empathizing with others

(Source: Oxford, 1990:17)

12 dElr#7b~}i~

2.1.3 Researches on Learning Strategies

Learning strategies have been examined by researchers through interviews, questionnaires, diaries, observations and think-aloud protocols. The researches are mainly found in the following three areas: (1) classification of language learning strategies, (e.g. Oxford, 1990; O’Malley and Chamot, 1990; Wenden and Rubin, 1987); (2) variables affecting language learning strategy, (e.g. Nyikos and Oxford, 1993; Oxford and Nyikos, 1989; Oxford, Nyikos, and Ehrman, 1988; Wharton, 2000; Young and Oxford, 1997); and (3) the effect of strategy training on second language learning, (e.g. Kitajima, 1997; Oxford, 1990). All these studies provide insights into understanding the learning process by learners of a second language and are crucial in underpinning a framework for second language acquisition. The first area of research identifies strategies used by learners and classifies them according to a system or taxonomy. The second examines potential variables related to language learning strategies such as age, motivation, gender and learning styles. Finally, the third area & research explores the effect of explicit instruction in strategies to produce better performance.

Research on language learning strategies has been classified into three general categories: studies to define and classify strategies, studies to describe strategies in greater detail and the types of tasks with which the strategies are effective, and studies to validate the influence of strategic processing or learning. O’Malley and Chamot as well as Ellis (1994) note that most of the researches on language learning strategies haves been cross-sectional and correlational in nature.

Early research into language learning strategies was concerned with attempting to establish what good language learning strategies might be. While no explicit claims were made about links between strategies and success, the title of these early articles implied a relationship: “What the Great Language Learner can Teach Us (Rubin, 1975), and What Can We Learn From the Good Languages Learner?” (Stern,1975). Researchers were hoping to identify strategies used by successful learners with the idea that they might be transferred to less successful learners. Notable studies carried out since these early two include Naiman, Frohlich, Stern, and Todescco’s (1978) study, Rubin’s (1981) study and the work done by O’Malley, Chamot, Stewner-Manzanares, Kupper, and Russo (1985).

Much of the work on language learner strategies has been based on the assumption Chapter Two Literature Review 13 that there are “good” learning strategies (Rubin, 1975), but some studies (Naerrsson, 1985; Gillette, 1987) find no difference between high and low-proficiency groups on specific strategies. Consequently, “the total number or variety of strategies employed and the frequency with which any given strategy is used are not necessarily indicators of how successful learners will be on a language task” (Cohen, 1998). In view of these mixed results more studies are still made necessary.

More recently, there have been studies on the benefits of strategy training. The goal of strategy training is to teach students how, when and why strategies can be used to facilitate their efforts at learning and using a foreign language. Strategy training is intended to help students explore ways that they can learn the target language more effectively, as well as to encourage students to self-evaluate and self-direct their learning. The first step in this process is to help learners recognize strategies which they have already used, and then to develop a wide range of strategies, so that they can select appropriate and effective strategies within the context of particular language tasks. A further goal of strategy training is to promote learner autonomy and learner self-direction by allowing students to choose their won strategies and to do so spontaneously, without continued prompting from the language teacher. Learners should be able to monitor and evaluate the relative effectiveness of their strategy use, and more fully develop their problem-solving skills. Strategy training can thus be used to help learners achieve learner autonomy as well as linguistic autonomy. There are mixed reactions to the language strategies training movement in the literature, mainly because there have been few empirical studies to demonstrate that such training has “irrefutable benefits”.

So far in the researches of learning strategies, a number of models for teaching learning strategies in both first and second language contexts have been developed. These international models share many features. All agree on the importance of developing student’ metacognitive understanding of the value of learning strategies and suggest that this is facilitated through teacher demonstration and modeling. All emphasize the importance of providing multiple practice opportunities with the strategies so that students can use them autonomously. All suggest that student should evaluate how well a strategy has worked, choose strategies for a task, and actively transfer strategies to new tasks.

Anyhow, the previous researches all focused on the successful language learners or 14 d~7 r#7 f.(s ~C the common subjects. So far few studies have been carried out for the low achievers in language learning. Thus, the research on low language achievers is quite a new area in the studies of learning strategies and learning styles.

2.2 Learning Styles

Learning style refers to the preferred ways which individuals use to solve problems confronted in their learning. The learners’ learning styles are often not perceived or used consciously. Learning style plays an important role for everyone to learn, to obtain information, to communicate with others. Knowing their own learning styles will help students to improve their language learning proficiency.

2.2.1 Definition of Learning Style

The term “learning style” originates from psychology. It broadly refers to the way in which a learner tries to learn something, based on individual characteristics, used unconsciously and not perceived. Everyone has a learning style, but each person’s is as unique as a signature. Each signature appears to be influenced by both nature and nurture. And Keefe (1979: 4) defines learning style as “characteristic cognitive, affective, and physiological behaviors that serve as relatively stable indicators of how learners perceive, interact with and respond to the learning environment”; “Learning style is a consistent way of functioning that reflects underlying causes of behavior”. This definition is most comprehensive and acceptable.

In 1987, Willing defines learning style as an inherent, pervasive set of characteristics related with how learners prefer to learn or to deal with new information. Reid (1995, 69) defines learning style as “an individual’s natural, habitual, and preferred way(s) of absorbing, processing, and retaining new information and skills, and a pervasive quality in the learning strategy or the learning behavior of an individual”. Oxford & Ehrnan (1991) define the term “learning style” as preferred or habitual patterns of mental functioning and dealing with new information. And Dum and Dunn (1993: 7) define learning styles as a “biological and developmental set of personal characteristics that make the identical instruction effective for some students and infective for others”. To make it simple, language learning styles are the styles used in language learning, are the general Chapter Two Literature Review 15 approaches which students are predominantly disposed to use in order to learn a new language (Ehrman and Oxford, 1995:69), Oxford believes that language learning styles are likely to be a “direct refection of the individual’s overall learning style that is normally applies in most learning or working situations”. And in 1984, Reid generates six kinds of learning styles. At the same time, she provided the Perceptual Learning Style Preference Survey to test the characteristics of learning styles of learners.

And in psychological researches, the personality types influence individuals’ learning preference a lot. Thus, to some extent, the personality types of individuals can be taken as ones’ learning styles. Myers Briggs Type Theory was developed to provide practical application of the theory of psychology types originated by Carl Jung in 1923. It aims to identify individuals’ preferences, their most comfortable ways of behaving, including learning. And now it is used broadly in many areas to identify one’s styles in learning, working, etc. Therefore, in the light of the overview of the definitions of learning styles, we can assume that learning styles are the preference of individuals with respect to how they learn based on one’s own personality types.

2.2.2 Classification of Learning Style

Many researchers have tried different ways to investigate learning styles. Among them, some have used survey to collect data on learners’ stated learning preferences. In 1984, Reid generated six kinds of learning styles and provided the “Perceptual Learning Style Preference Survey”. Reid’s six learning styles are as follows:

  1. Visual learning (e.g. reading and studying charts, learning from seeing words in books, and participating class discussion)
  2. Auditory learning (e.g. listening to lectures or audio tapes, reading aloud and participating class discussions)
  3. Kinesthetic learning (e.g. involving physical responses, role-playing in the classroom, actively participating in activities)
  4. Tactile learning (e.g. hands-on learning as in building models; writing notes or instructions)
  5. Group learning (e.g. learning with others)
  6. Individual learning (e.g. learning alone)

16 ff7r#lj:*bflftii~`

Later Willing (1987) did another survey to investigate the learning styles of 517 adult ESL learners in Australia. According to the collected data, he identified two major dimensions of learning style. One was cognitive and corresponded closely to that of field independence/dependence. The other was more affective in nature. Based on these two dimensions, Willing describes four general learning styles (Table 2.3).

Table 2.3 Willing’s Classification of Learning Styles

General learning style Main characteristics

  1. Concrete learning style Direct means of processing information people-oriented; spontaneous; imaginative; Non-routinized learning
  2. Analytical learning style Focuses on specific problems and proceeds by means of hypothetical-deductive reasoning; prefers logical, didactic presentation
  3. Communicative learning style Fairly independent; highly adaptable and flexible; enjoying taking decisions
  4. Authority-orientated learning style Depends on other people; needs teachers’ directions and explanations; dislikes discovery learning
  5. (Source: Willing, 1987:67)

Then, a more important classification is given by Oxford. Oxford identifies five learning styles in her Style Analysis Survey (SAS) in 1993. She makes the point that each style preference offers significant benefits for learning and that the important thing is for learners to identify the style preferences for that work and to apply them whenever possible. She notes that learners’ “comfortable zone” is their favorite style. The following is a description of the style contrast that appears on the SAS.

  1. The use of physical senses for study and work: visual vs. auditory vs. hands-on
  2. Dealing with other people extroversion vs. introversion
  3. Handling passable: inquisitive- random vs. concrete-sequential
  4. Approaching tasks: closure-oriented vs. open
  5. Dealing with ideas: global vs. analytic

In addition to these prominent classifications, there are still some other classifications given by different scholars. Nelson (1973) distinguishes “referential” and “expressive” learners. And Peter (1977) identifies that some learners are “analytic” (i.e. word-learners processing information through a sequence of stages of acquisition) and some are “gestalt” Chapter Two Literature Review 17

(i.e. sentence-learners who begin with whole sentences which are used to perform function that are important to them). And Reid (1998) goes overview of the classification of learning styles (Table 2.4). It is a full-scale of the main classifications of learning styles of the previous researches.

In L2 learning, learners clearly differ enormously in their preferred approach. But it is hard to say which style is the best. Among them, the classification of learning styles by Myers-Brigs Type Indicator will be conducted as the basic classification of learning styles in the following case study.


Table 2.4 Reid's Overview on the Classification of Learning Styles

Right-and Left brained Learning Styles

Right-Brained Learns more effectively through visual analytic, reflective, self-retaining learning

Left-Brained Learns more effectively throught auditory, global, impulsive, interactive learning The Seven Multiple Intelligence

Verbal/Linguistic Ability with and sensitivity to oral and written words

Musical Sensitivity to rhythm, pitch, and melody

Logical/Mathematical Ability to use numbers effectively and to reason well

Spatial/Visual Sensitivity to form, space, colour, line, and shape

Bodily/Kinaesthetic Ability to use the body to express ideas and feelings

Interpersonal Ability to understand another person's moods and intensions

Intrapersonal Ability to understand oneself one's own strengths and weaknesses

Perceptual Learning Styles

Visual Learns more effectively through the eyes(seeing)

Auditory Learns more effectively through the ear (hearing)

Tactile Learns more effectively through touch (hands-on)

Kinesthetic Learns more effectively through complete body experience

Group Learns more effectively through working with others

Individual Learns more effectively through working alone

Field Independent and Field Dependent (Sensitive) Learning Styles

Field Independent Learns more effectively sequentially, analyzing facts

Field Dependent Learns more effectively in context (holistically) and is sensitive to human relationship>. Analytical and Global Learning Styles

Analytical Learns more effectively individually, sequentially, linearly

Global Learns more effectively through concrete experience and through interaction with other people

Reflective and Impulsive Learning Style

Reflective Learns more effectively when given time to consider options

Impulsive Learns more effectively when able to respond immediately


Kolb Experiential. Learning Model

Converger Learns more effectively when able to perceive abstractly and to process actively

Diverger Learns more effectively when able to perceive concretely and to process reflectively

Assimilator Learns more effectively when able to perceive abstractly and to process reflectively

Accommodator Learns more effectively when able to perceive concretely and to process actively

Myers-Briefs Type Indicator (MBTI)

Extroverted Learns more effectively through concrete experience, contacts with and relationships with others

Introverted Learns more effectively in individual, independent learning situations

Sensing Learns more effectively from reports of observable facts

Intuition Learns more effectively from meaningful experiences

Thinking Learns more effectively from impersonal and logical circumstances

Feeling Learns more effectively from personalized circumstances

Judging Learns more effectively by reflection, deduction, analysis, and process that involve

Perceiving closure

Learns more effectively through negotiation, feeling and inductive processes tha postpone closure

2.2.3 Researches on Learning Styles

There are lots of variable that can affect each learning style. It might be difficult to analyze the overall learning profile of a learner. Therefore, the researchers in this field have mainly focused on learning style’s influence on language development, factors affecting learning styles, and how are learning styles related to language learning strategies. The study of learning styles’ influence on language development and proficiency is perhaps one of the widely conducted studies. Eliot (1995) in studying teaching pronunciation argues that field-independence is found to be a significant predictor of pronunciation accuracy. The potential influence of learning styles is also found out in the researchers made by Oxford et al (1992), and Ehraman and Oxford respectively. However, Griffiths and Sheen (1992) argues that the emb

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