The Role of Styles and Strategies in Second Language Learning
Consider the very different behaviors or strategies that individual students use to learn a new language. Shy, introverted, analytically-oriented Marianne learns Spanish through grammar drills and sentence analysis. Uncomfortable with spontaneous speech in Spanish, she rehearses as much as she can in private. In contrast, sociable, extroverted, globally-oriented Jose from Mexico avoids grammar drills but seeks out social conversation in English, his new language; he is content to get the general meaning without knowing every word.
When intuitive Bill studies Russian, he constantly tries to build a mental model or big picture of the language. He avoids step-by-step language learning. Noriko, attuned more to the senses (movement, sound, sight, and touch) than to intuition, looks for English texts that proceed one step at a time. She uses flashcards, and with her classmates, she initiates "total physical response" exercises that involve all the senses.
Serious Sarah outlines every French lesson, plans her study sessions, does all the exercises in her textbook religiously, and is not happy unless she is on time or ahead of schedule. Playful Michael tells jokes in German and has fun with the language, but has trouble organizing his work, coming to closure, and submitting his assignments on time.
These learners are using different kinds of language learning strategies, or specific actions and behaviors to help them learn. Their strategies differ greatly, at least in part because their general learning styles (overall approaches to learning and the environment) are so varied. Recent research (Ehrman & Oxford, 1988, 1989; Oxford & Ehrman, 1988) suggests that learning style has a significant influence on students' choice of learning strategies, and that both styles and strategies affect learning outcomes.
This Digest briefly summarizes existing research on learning styles and strategies in foreign and second language learning. Readers are urged to go further by consulting the references provided at the end of the Digest.
Reprinted with the permission of the U.S. Department of Education.
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