Learning Styles and Language Learning Strategies

Dr. B SaysOver time, students will develop their own learning strategies - which includes the ways in which they learn and remember information, how they study for tests and how they make the best use of their learning strengths. Many students may not even be aware that they are using these strategies as it may have become a natural and automatic process for them. There are some strategies, on the other hand, that students may need to be taught, or at least brought to their attention. In this section we will discuss learning styles and strategies and how they they apply to the language classroom.
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Some Questions'

What impact do learning styles and learning strategies have on second language learning?

The strategies a student uses to learn a second language depend greatly on their individual learning style. Some students are outgoing and will experiment freely and frequently while learning a new language. Other students are more introverted, preferring a more individual, private approach to the way they learn and practice the language. The strategies used by an outgoing student may vary significantly when compared with the strategies of a more reserved student.


Webquest: Follow the link or type the following address into your internet browser to reach the home page for OomRoom: www.oomroom.ca

Choose the English ‘Welcome’ button and it will take you to the English home page.

At the bottom of the page you’ll see a heading that says “Featured Resources.” Below it, choose the icon for the “Learning Strategies Launch Centre.” If you don’t see it, click on “See More” until you find the icon.

From the Launch Centre you can use the applications to learn about different learning strategies that can be used in the classroom. Also, the applications have been created for students so that they too can explore and learn about learning strategies and how they can apply them to their own learning.

After reviewing the information in the applications, address the following questions:

  • Think about the kinds of learning strategies you have used in your own learning and how they help you learn.
  • What kind of learning strategies do they suggest will work in a language-learning classroom?
  • How can you integrate these applications and strategies into your classroom?
  • In what ways can these learning strategies influence differentiation in your teaching strategies?

What is the difference between learning styles and learning strategies?

The phrase ‘learning style’ refers to a person’s general approach to learning and is dependent upon that person’s cognitive, affective and behavioral characteristics(Oxford, “The Role of Styles and Strategies in Second Language Learning”, 1989).
     The phrase ‘learning strategies’ refers to the actions and behaviours a person uses to learn (Oxford, 1989.) All learners use strategies to help them succeed, but not all are aware of the strategies they use. As Rebecca Oxford states: “…the most successful learners tend to use learning strategies that are appropriate to the material, to the task, and to their own goals, needs, and stage of learning,” (Oxford, 1989).

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How can the SILL (Strategy Inventory for Language Learning) Survey be useful?

For those students who make use of learning strategies without being aware of it, taking the SILL survey makes these strategies explicit to them and can therefore make these strategies more effective to their learning process. For teachers, having their students take the SILL survey at the start of a language course may help the teacher to understand what strategies are most effective for their students, and adjust their teaching to fit. As well, the results of such a survey can be useful for the teacher to see which strategies are being under-utilized by the students; with this information, the teacher can take the opportunity to teach these strategies to the students.

Who is most likely to use learning strategies most often?

Based on the extensive research on learning strategies (Challot - O'Malley 1994 Rubin) successful second language learners use some common learning strategies effectively.  The high school second language learner has much in common with the "good" language learners described by Rubin (1975), i.e. they
                  1. are willing guessers
                  2. are accurate guessers
                  3. have a strong drive to communicate
                  4. look for patterns in the language
                  5. try to classify language
                  6. analyze language
                  7. take advantage of all practice opportunities
                  8. monitor their own speech
                  9. pay attention to meaning

What types of learning strategies do students use?

According to Naiman, Frohlich, and Todesco (1975) successful second language learners use the following six strategies:
                  1. select language situations that allow one's (learning) preferences to be used
                  2. actively involve themselves in language learning
                  3. see language as both a rule system and a communication tool
                  4. extend and revise one's understanding of the language
                  5. learn to think in the language
                  6. address the affective demands of language learning

Oxford (1989) identifies six broad categories of strategies:
                  1. metacognitive (e.g. self-monitoring, paying attention)
                  2. affective (e.g. self-encouragement, anxiety reduction)
                  3. social (e.g. ask questions, become culturally aware)
                  4. memory (e.g. grouping, imagery, associating)
                  5. cognitive (e.g. reasoning, analyzing, summarizing)
                  6. compensation (e.g. guessing meanings, using synonyms)

The teacher is expected to bring these strategies to the attention of learners regardless of the subject matter.  This includes encouraging students who already exhibit use of these strategies so that others might 'notice' and imitate them.

Watch video A of this language teacher and decide which of Oxford's learning strategies are being taught to the students. How is the strategy taught? How do the students respond to the strategy? Then watch video B to see this teacher's reflection ON action.







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Copyright © Olenka Bilash May 2009 ~ Last Modified June 2009