Rebecca L. Oxford, Ph.D.
ABSTRACT: In “Language Learning Styles and Strategies,” the author synthesizes research
from various parts of the world on two key variables affecting language learning: styles, i.e.,
the general approaches to learning a language; and strategies, the specific behaviors or
thoughts learners use to enhance theirlanguage learning. These factors influence the student’s
ability to learn in a particular instructional framework.
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 everydaycommunication 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 chapter to refer to either a second or a foreign language.
The readers of this book will be primarily in thefield 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
Learning Styles & Strategies/Oxford, GALA 2003 Page 2
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 andstrategies 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” (Cornett, 1983,
p. 9). Of greatest relevance to thismethodology 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” (Dunn & Griggs, 1988, p. 3).This chapter
explores the following aspects of learning style: sensory preferences, personality types, desired
degree of generality, and biological differences.
Learningstrategies 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, thesestrategies become a useful toolkit for active, conscious, and purposeful selfregulation
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 learningstyles 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
Learning Styles & Strategies/Oxford, GALA 2003 Page 3
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.
Now we move...