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June 2020 - Year 22 - Issue 3

ISSN 1755-9715

The Relation Between Culture and Learning Styles

Safa Nasher Saeed obtained a bachelor degree in TEFL from the Lebanese International University, and a master degree in ELT from Istanbul University. She has taught English in different places around the world, presented at multiple conferences in Turkey, and currently works as an English instructor in Manchester/United Kingdom. Email:



This paper talks about a study that has been done to discover if there was any relationship between the learner’s culture and the kind of learner they are. The purpose of the study is to help teachers find basic idea about their students’ learning styles in case there was any relation between cultures and learning styles. The study took place at Fatih University in Istanbul, Turkey and mainly focused on three learning styles which are: visual, auditory and kinesthetic types of learning. Participants were chosen according to the regions they were brought up at NOT to their nationalities. They were asked to fill out a self-assessment questionnaire containing 30 different questions. The questionnaire data were analyzed using Excel and normal charts were designed to show the percentages of the learning styles in each region. Moreover, a number of informal interviews were held with some of the participants to hear their comments on their learning styles. Results showed that cultures affects the way individuals acquire knowledge.

Culture is a hard term to define, but most researchers define culture as the environment where people share the same language, habits, religion, food, arts and music. The term "Culture” can  also mean ‘shared motives, values, beliefs, identities, and interpretations or meanings of significant events that result from common experiences of members of collectives that are transmitted across generations’ (House & Javidan, 2004, p.15). According to Brumann (1999) culture is “The forms of traditional behavior which are characteristic of a given society, or of a group of societies, or of a certain race, or of certain area, or of a certain period of time”.

Each individual has his/her own way of learning and acquiring new information. Researchers call that a “learning style”. According to Curry (1981) learning styles are “characteristic cognitive, effective, and psychosocial behaviors that serve as relatively stable indicators of how learners perceive, interact with, and respond to the learning environment”.

With the 21st century; teachers find their classes filled up with students coming from all over the word with different nationalities and of course, different backgrounds and cultures. In order to make the teaching process easier for the teacher and the students; it is important for teachers to recognize what type of learners their students are.

There are three main cognitive learning styles: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. [Cuyamaca College (2003)].

Visual learning style is associated with pictures and photographs. Visual learners depend on the teacher’s non-verbal cues such as gestures, facial expressions and body language to help them get the meaning. (Ldpride,n.d.).

Auditory learning style classify learners who mainly depend on their ears to understand any given information. They give a lot of attention to the changing tone, speed and pitch and learn best through discussions and listening to verbal lectures. They best understand an idea if they read it out loud rather than reading it silently many times (Ldpride,n.d.)

Kinesthetic learning style describes learners who learn best with “hands-on” approach. They prefer experiments and physical interactions over reading and listening to gain knowledge (Ldpride,n.d.).

To summarize, individuals learning styles are greatly affected by childhood experiences and cultures’ backgrounds.


The study

Discovering the learner’s learning style helps the teacher to facilitate a rich learning environment for students, it’s also important to understand that learners’ culture plays an important role shaping an individual’s learning style. How childhood teaching techniques affect what kind of learners we become.

Research question

Is there a relationship between a person’s culture and the kind of learner they are?


  1. Quantitative: A learning style self-assessment questionnaire (Reid, 1984).
  2. Qualitative: Informal interviews with some of the participants.


The study was conducted in a private university in Istanbul, Turkey, where there are students from different regions and nationalities from all around the globe.


Participants were chosen according to the regions they were brought up at NOT to their nationalities. The total number of participants was 63 (42 males and 21 females) from 6 different regions. They were between 17 to 21 years of age. Participants’ backgrounds and gender are explained in details in table 1 & 2.

Table 1

The total number of participants, gender and where they have been brought up.

















South Africa













Arab participants were from 5 different countries which are: Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Morocco and Lebanon. The reason why all these countries were put together under the same category “Arabs” is that all these countries have a lot in common regarding culture. Arab participants’ backgrounds and gender are explained in details in table 2.

Table 2

The total number of participants being brought up in Arabian countries and their gender. 

Country/ Region








Saudi Arabia

















Data collection

Participants were asked to fill out a questionnaire containing 30 different questions related to different styles of language learning. Every question had 5 different answers to choose from. Strongly Agree, Agree, Undecided, Disagree and Strongly Disagree. Reid (1984)

Data analysis

 The questionnaire data were analyzed using Excel and normal charts were designed to show the percentages of the learning styles in each region.


Results and discussion

As we can see below in table 3, learners’ major learning styles were affected by their cultures and backgrounds.

Table 3

Learning styles’ percentage in each region. It shows participants major learning styles. The styles that obtained the highest amount of points compared to other learning styles.

We can clearly see that some learning styles are noticeably high in some cultures and very low in others. Kinesthetic learning style for instance appeared to be the major style of all the participants who have been brought up in Indonesia. A similar result appeared for participants with Chinese background where auditory learning style appeared to be the major style of all participants. On the other hand, auditory learning style is very low among participants coming from Arabian, South African and British backgrounds. Where in Russia; there wasn’t that big gap between the results as it is in the other culture.

It is important to point out that an individual who has been brought up in a particular place in the world does not necessarily mean that his/her learning style will be the style of the majority of learners coming from the same background.

Moreover; there were 10 questions in the questionnaire that were related to weather a participant is an individual kind of learner or someone who prefers to work in a group. Results are shown in table 4.

Table 4

The percentages of participants who are individual learners and others who are not in all the 5 cultures.

The statements below that were collected during the informal questions that were asked to some of the participants in the study; can explain to some extent why some learning styles are the common styles in some culture and the opposite in others.

Participants from Arabian, Indonesian and British backgrounds were asked about the reason that might be behind kinesthetic learning style being the style of the majority in their cultures. Such answers were:

  • “It is always easier to remember an idea when hands were involved in it. I still can remember most of science classes from primary school because there was always something to do outside the classroom”
  • “I can keep reading one page for several times and still daydreaming and not getting the idea, but this never happens when there is something concrete I can relate to”
  • “I don’t like hearing too many thoughts to explain one idea, it makes me bored and not being able to concentrate. Not to forget the fact that it is always hard to remember what we hear during lectures”

Participants who were brought up in China were asked similar question about what they think the reason of auditory learning style is very high compared to other cultures:

  • “Listening is more efficient than reading. It might takes days to finish one book that deals with one idea, but it will take way less than that when listening to different people who have read several books and giving a beneficial summary about them”
  • “I think it’s easier for me to remember something I heard rather than something I read!”

Lastly, participants coming from Russia and South Africa had different thoughts than participants from the other cultures:

  • “I think that learning through different styles is the best, I prefer reading something in order to organize my thoughts, but I don’t mind hearing someone explaining it to me or getting me involved in an activity as long as it will help me to understand”
  • “Being involved in an experiment is something that is hard to forget, but it’s almost impossible to happen for each topic we learn”


Implications and suggestions

It is highly beneficial for teachers to become familiar with their students’ learning styles as it will help them to facilitate a diverse teaching environment where each learner can get the best of it. Knowing how cultures affect learning styles might help teachers to have an idea about their learners’ preferable way of learning simply by knowing where their students have been brought up.

However; it is important for teachers to realize that each student in their classes is a unique individual that has his/her own identity, way of thinking and analyzing. As Griffiths (2013, p.37-38) explains that individuals interact with each other and with the surrounding environment in special different ways and utilize a mixture of strategies which are all diversified. Which make it important to go back to the point where it was mentioned earlier in this paper that; it would be wrong if a teacher judges a student’s learning style just by knowing where they come from.

This study needs to be carried out with a larger number of participants coming from more different cultures with different ages. Moreover, different questionnaires can also be used and results can be compared together.



Culture affects individuals in many different ways. As it was proved in this paper; it also affects the way individuals acquire knowledge. It could be the kind of experiences individuals faced during childhood or the specific routinely techniques they used to through all the years they have spent in school.

None the less; learning styles have a substantial place in our lives. When a person knows his/her learning style; it becomes easier for them to learn better and faster. Another advantage for an individual to know their learning style is that it makes them better problem solvers. The more successful a person is at solving problems, the better control he/she will have over their own lives (Biggs, 2001).

However; it is very important for teachers to realize how they teach their students is just as important as what they teach them.



House, R. J., Hanges, P. J., Javidan, M., Dorfman, P. W., Gupta, V. (2004) Culture, Leadership, and Organizations: The GLOBE Study of 62 Societies. Sage Publications, Inc.

Curry L. (1981). Learning preferences in continuing medical education. Canadian Med Assoc J, 124, 535–6.

Brumann, C (1999) Current Anthropology. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press.
Brumann, C (1999) Writing for culture: Why a successful concept should not be discarded. Current Anthropology 40.

Cuyamaca College. (2003, July 3). Visual learning. Retrieved from:
Landsberger, J. (n.d.) Study guides and strategies: Visual/spatial learning. Retrieved from:
Wong, L. (2006). Essential study skills (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

LdPride, n.d. (2009). What are learning styles? Retrieved from:

Reid, J. (1984). Explanation of learning styles was adapted from the C.I.T.E. Learning Styles Instrument, Murdoch Teacher Center, Wichita, Kansas 67208.

Biggs, J. (2001). Enhancing Learning: A Matter of Style or Approach. In Sternberg, R. J. & Zhang, L. (eds) Perspectives on Thinking, Learning and Cognitive Styles. London, Mahwah: Lawrance Erlbaum Associates.

Griffiths, C. (2013). The Strategy Factor in Successful Language Learning. Great Britain: Short run press Ltd.


Please check the How to Motivate Your Students course at Pilgrims website.

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