The Implications of Learning Styles and Strategies for Language Teaching

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The implications of learning styles and strategies for language teaching


Language learning styles and strategies are among the main factors that help determine how –and how well –our students learn a second or foreign language. A second language is a language studied in a setting where that language is the main vehicle of everyday communication and where abundant input exists in that language. A foreign language is a language studied in an environment where it is not the primary vehicle for daily interaction and where input in that language is restricted. Following the tradition in our field, the term “L2” is used in this paper to refer to either a second or a foreign language. The readers of this book will be primarily in the field of English as a second or foreign language (ESL or EFL), and most of the studies in this chapter were conducted in ESL or EFL settings. However, some of the studies cited here focused on native English speakers learning French, German, Japanese, and other languages foreign to them. Information about language learning styles and strategies is valid regardless of what the learner’s first language is. Learning styles are the general approaches –for example, global or analytic, auditory or visual –that students use in acquiring a new language or in learning any other subject. These styles are the overall patterns that give general direction to learning behavior. Of greatest relevance to this methodology book is this statement: Learning style is the biologically and developmentally imposed set of characteristics that make the same teaching method wonderful for some and terrible for others. Learning strategies are defined 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, p. 63). When the learner consciously chooses strategies that fit his or her learning style and the L2 task at hand, these strategies become a useful toolkit for active, conscious, and purposeful self regulation of learning. Learning strategies can be classified into six groups: cognitive, metacognitive, memory-related, compensatory, affective, and social. Each of these is discussed later in this chapter. Because this chapter contributes to an instructional methodology book, it is important to emphasize that learning styles and strategies of individual students can work together with –or conflict with –a given instructional methodology. If there is harmony between (a) the student (in terms of style and strategy preferences) and (b) the combination of instructional methodology and materials, then the student is likely to perform well, feel confident, and experience low anxiety. If clashes occur between (a) and (b), the student often performs poorly, feels unconfident, and experiences significant anxiety. Sometimes such clashes lead to serious breakdowns in teacher-student interaction. These conflicts may also lead to the dispirited student’s outright rejection of the teaching methodology, the teacher, and the subject matter.

1.Learning Styles

Pedagogical theory and practice have seen a great number of advancements over the past half-century, but perhaps the most significant of these is the recognition by educators that the teaching-learning process must be seen as a single transaction. In other words, if something has not been learned, then it has not been taught. Educators have taken ownership of the process and, in today’s world, they accept that their teaching has not reached its objective, and they have not met their obligation, if all students have not learned the material at hand. This approach to teaching and learning has forced educators to focus on how individual students learn. It has always been recognized, of course, that sensorial experience and activity are the fundamentals of anyone’s learning...
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