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Process, style and strategy

Before we look specifically at some styles and strategies of second lan­guage learning, a few words are in order to explain the differences among process, style, and strategy as the terms are used in the literature on second language acquisition. Historically, there has been some confusion in the use of these three terms, and so it is important to carefully define them at the outset.

Process is the most general of the three concepts. All human beings engage in certain universal processes. Just as we all need air, water, and food for our survival, so do all humans of normal intelligence engage in cer­tain levels or types of learning. Human beings universally engage in associ­ation, transfer, generalization, and attrition. We all make stimulus-response connections and are driven by reinforcement. We all possess, in varying proportions, abilities in the seven intelligences. Process is characteristic of every human being.

Styleis a term that refers to consistent and rather enduring tendencies or preferences within an individual. Styles are those general characteristics of intellectual functioning (and personality type, as well) that pertain to you as an individual, and that differentiate you from someone else. For example, you might be more visually oriented, more tolerant of ambiguity, or more reflective than someone else—these would be styles that charac­terize a general pattern in your thinking or feeling.

Strategiesare specific methods of approaching a problem or task, modes of operation for achieving a particular end, planned designs for con­trolling and manipulating certain information. They are contextualized "battle plans" that might vary from moment to moment, or day to day, or year to year. Strategies vary intraindividually; each of us has a number of possible ways to solve a particular problem, and we choose one—or sev­eral in sequence—for a given problem.

As we turn to a study of styles and strategies in second language learning, we can benefit by understanding these "layers of an onion," or points on a continuum, ranging from universal properties of learning to specific intra-individual variations in learning.

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