The Role of Learning Styles in Second Language Acquisition

The question that many scholars are trying to find answers to is “Why one learner is more successful than another? To answer this question, Ellis (as cited in Saville-Troike, 2006) writes about factors that affect second language acquisition (SLA) such as age aptitude, intelligence, cognitive style, attitudes, motivation and personality. Among all these factors, language learning styles also should be taken into account as a factor that promotes a successful second language (L2) learning resulting in learning style stretching which in turn is likely to build an effective learner.

Learning Styles


According to a common definition, learning styles is “an individual’s natural, habitual, and preferred way(s) of absorbing, processing, and retaining new information and skills” (Reid  as cited in Dörnyei & Ryan, 2016). The notion of learning styles is aimed at explaining how and how well people learn in their own selected style and that’s  why effective ways of learning (Dörnyei & Ryan, 2016). Griffiths (as cited in Dörnyei & Ryan, 2016) explains the concept of learning styles in the field of SLA as:

“the potential to greatly enhance learning and to make learning more enjoyable and successful. It is a concept that acknowledges individual differences, rather than seeing all learners as similar. For teachers, it presents an opportunity to offer students methodologies and materials appropriate to their own learning style preferences. For learners, it allows them the freedom to learn in ways which are enjoyable and can help them to become the best that they are capable of”. (p.108)

There are several concepts that should not be confused with a learning style notion such as cognitive styles, learning strategies, personality (Griffiths & Görsev, 2015). Learning styles are usually used in adjective forms (visual, communicative, analytical etc.), whereas learning strategies is explained as an activity that can be chosen by a student in order to learn something (Griffith & Oxford as cited in Griffiths & Görsev, 2015). In fact, learning strategies are usually expressed as gerunds and verbs (remembering, planning etc.). Next notion which should not be confused with learning style is a cognitive style. Dörnyei (as cited in Griffiths & Görsev, 2015) distinguished learning style from cognitive by defining cognitive style as a general term which is aimed at discovering how a learner think and process information, whereas learning styles is are specifically aimed at learning. And next notion which should not be confused with learning style is personality, which is very wide and basic notion that is defined in terms of learner’s personal, emotional, behavioral traits and may show how individuals interact with others (Ehrman as cited in Griffith, n.d.). In contrast with personality, learning style is narrower than personality concept and focuses on ways individual want to learn (Griffith, n.d.). Overall, all concepts can interact and co-exist dynamically with each other (Griffiths & Görsev, 2015). Specifically, for example one learner may process information in a particular way (cognitive style), which in turn can activate a learner to a communicative learning, which may bring him to social strategies by looking for a partner (Griffiths & Görsev, 2015).

Types of Learning Styles

Learning styles occurred in the field of Education in the mid-1975s. Since then number of authors have attempted to classify learning styles. The first classification was made by Dun, Dun and Price in 1975 (Griffiths, n.d.). Around 1975s Kolb investigated and published his types of learning styles and suggested them in two continua: reflective observation vs. active experimentation, and abstract conceptualization vs. concrete experience resulting in four types of learners such as converger, accommodator, assimilator, diverger (Griffiths, n.d.). Furthermore, Gregorc followed the same quadrant model of classifying learning styles as Kolb . Moreover, Gregorc suggested two continua as well: concrete vs. abstract and sequential vs. random, which are also presented in four types (see Griffiths, n.d., p. 154). Further Kolb’s model was continued by Honey and Mumford but they slightly innovated the quadrant model by adding new categories:

“Reflector (likes to be allowed to think things over)

Theorist (likes to be allowed to think through issues and form hypothesis)

Pragmatist (likes to apply new learning to real situations to see if it works)

Activists (likes activities and new experiences).”

                                                                                                                              (Griffiths, n.d., p. 155)

A quadrant model was investigated and produced my number of scholars such as Honey and Mumford (1982), the learning Style Questionnaire Willing (1987) used in a research of immigrants from Australia, the VARK (visual, auditory, reading/writing, kinesthetic) by Fleming and Mills (1992) (Griffiths & Inceçay,2015).

Moving on, Reid’s (1987) classification is the most well-known applications of the styles in terms of language learning. Also, he produced the Perceptual Learning Style Preference Questionnaire (PLSPQ). They are:

“Visual (learning by seeing)

Auditory (learning by hearing)

Tactile (learning by touching)

Kinesthetic (learning by moving)

Individual vs. group preference.”

                                                                                                                             (Griffiths, n.d., p. 157)

Having described all learning styles, there are several questions that occur “is there a better learning style in order to become an effective learner?”. According to Nell (as cited in Griffiths, n.d.), “every learner does have a learning style” (p.159). A qualitative study conducted in English-medium University in Istanbul, Turkey, where 33 students participated in the research, answers this question. The study used a questionnaire the Inventory of language Learning Style (Griffiths, n.d.).  The findings illustrated that there is no evidence that someone’s style is better in achieving successful language learning than others. This may lead us to a conclusion that agrees with Oxford (as cited in Griffiths & Inceçay, 2015) “although the learner might have some strong style tendencies, they are not set in stone” (p.602). In general, therefore, it seems that using different learning styles and maintaining all of them will lead to an effective learning.


Over the years, the learning style has been defined in variety of ways claiming that learning style is to some extent an individual characteristic, but number of authors highlighted that learners should be flexible in order to adapt to different contexts and environment by achieving what is called style-stretching and take benefits from this. Above mentioned studies (exam results) showed that those who maintained different learning styles are more successful students.

Having said about interaction between learning styles and strategies, it is important to mention that considering only learning styles of students and teachers before planning a lesson is not the only one factor that should be taken into account. Learning strategies play a significant role in teaching L2. In fact, there are many researches and methodology books regarding Learning Styles and Learning Strategies written for example by Oxford (2001), Cohen (2004). It is claimed that learning style and strategies can be used together with a success or with a conflict with each other (Oxford, 2001). Overall, awareness of individual’s learning styles is likely to make a learning l2 effective and consideration of students’ learning styles by a teacher will make a lesson more interesting in terms of mixing different styles.


Griffiths, C. (2008). Lessons from Good Language Learners, New-York, the USA: CUP.

Griffiths, C. & Inceçay, G. (2015, April 19). Styles and Style-Stretching: How are They Relate to Successful Learning? Journal of Psycholinguist Research 45, 599–613.

Griffith, C. (n.d.). Psychology for Language Learning. In Mercer S., Ryan S. & Williams M. (Ed.), Learning Styles: Traversing the Quagmire (pp.150-167). Great Britain: Palgrave Macmillan.

Khasinah, S. (2014, May). Factors Influencing Second Language Acquisition. Englisia 2: 256-259.

Oxford, R. (2001, January). Learning Styles and Strategies: An overview Saville-Troike, M. (2006). Introducing Second Language Acquisition. New-York, the USA: Cambridge University Press.

Автор: Ильясова Талшын Аманжоловна

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