Language Learning Strategies | TESL Issues

Language Learning Strategies

Language Learning Strategies

They are mental and communicative procedures learners use in order to learn and use language. Strategies can help the students to increase their level of consciousness and awareness over their learning process.

Learning strategies are perhaps best defined in terms of a set of characteristics that figure in most accounts of them (Ellis, 2008, pp. 704-705):

  • Strategies refer to both general approaches and specific actions or techniques used to learn an L2.
  • Strategies are problem-oriented—the learner deploys a strategy to overcome some particular learning or communication problem.
  • Learners are generally aware of the strategies they use and can identify what they consist of if they are asked to pay attention to what they are doing/thinking.
  • Strategies involve linguistic behaviour (such as requesting the name of an object) and non-linguistic (such as pointing at an object so as to be told its name).
  • Linguistic strategies can be performed in the L1 and in the L2.
  • Some strategies are behavioural while others are mental. Thus some strategies are directly observable, while others are not.
  • In the main, strategies contribute indirectly to learning by providing learners with data about the L2 which they can then process. However, some strategies may also contribute directly (for example, memorisation strategies directed at specific lexical items or grammatical rules).
  • Strategy use varies considerably as a result of both the kind of task the learner is engaged in and individual learner preferences.

Behaviors or actions which learners use to make language learning more successful, self-directed and enjoyable are called language learning strategies (Oxford, 1989). A language learning strategy is “an attempt to develop linguistic and sociolinguistic competence in the target language  for example, memorisation, imitation of conversation with native speakers, and inferencing (Ellis, 2008).

Classification of language learning strategies (O’Malley & Chamot, 1990):

  • Metacognitive Strategies: For example, selective attention, deciding in advance to attempt to specific aspects of language input,
  • Cognitive Strategies: For example, inferencing (using available information to guess meanings of new items, predict outcomes, or fill in missing information)
  • Social or Affective Strategies: For example, question for clarification (asking a teacher or another native speaker for repetition, paraphrasing, explanation and/or examples)

LLS Classification (Oxford, 1990):

Oxford’s taxonomy is hierarchical, with a general distinction made between direct and indirect strategies, each of which is then broken down into a number of subcategories. Direct strategies are those that directly involve the target language in the sense that they require mental processing of the language, whereas indirect strategies provide indirect support for language learning through focusing, planning, evaluating, seeking opportunities, controlling anxiety, increasing cooperation and empathy and other means (Oxford, 1990, p. 151).

Tarone distinguished language learning strategies and skills learning strategies. The former are concerned with the learners’ attempts to master new linguistic and sociolinguistic information about the target language, while the latter are concerned with the learner’s attempts to become skilled listeners, speakers, readers, and writers.

Stern (1983) distinguished ‘strategies’ and ‘techniques’. The former are defined as general and more or less deliberate approaches to learning for example an active tasks approach, whereas the latter constitute observable forms of language learning behaviour evident in particular areas of language learning such as grammar, for example, inferring grammar rules from texts, and vocabulary, e.g. using a dictionary when necessary.

According to recent research, learners applying proper strategies to their learning process are more highly motivated compared with other.

Research has also shown that not all learners automatically know which strategies work best for them. For this reason, explicit ‘strategy training’, coupled with thinking about how one goes about learning and experimenting with different strategies can lead to more effective learning.

According to Rebecca Oxford, strategies are tools for active and self-directed involvement, which is essential for developing communicative competence. She further adds, learners who have developed appropriate learning strategies have greater self-confidence and learn more effectively. In her introduction to the field, she identifies 12 key features of strategies. According to Oxford, language learning strategies:

  • Contribute to the main goal, communicative competence
  • Allow learners to become more self-directed
  • Expand the role of teachers
  • Are problem-oriented
  • Are specific actions taken by the learner
  • Involve many actions taken by the learner, not just the cognitive
  • Support learning both directly and indirectly
  • Are not always observable
  • Are often conscious
  • Can be taught
  • Are flexible
  • Are influenced by a variety of factors

Oxford and Cohen (1992, p. 1) believe that strategies had the power to increase attention essential for learning a language, enhance rehearsal that allows linkages to be strongly forged, improve the encoding and integration of language material, and increase retrieval of information when needed for use. Having re-established the potential of LLS, Oxford and Cohen (1992) acknowledged that “strategies and tactics become confused” and that these were too many “fuzzy synonyms”. However, they decided to reject distinct classifications of ‘strategies’ and ‘tactics’ because this would produce strategy lists that would be overtly long, atheoretical, and filled with mixed levels of behaviour. They therefore proposed that all strategies be regarded as conscious. They also ventured that the highest learning performance was “associated with congruent, well-integrated packages of learning strategies along with personality-related factors including learning style” (Oxford & Cohen, 1992, 24).  

It is important to note that strategies should be integrated into the ongoing process of language lessons.

LoCastro (1994) argued that large and general LLS inventories were not transferrable across sociocultural domains and that their results and conclusions might not equate with large classes and that strategies developed by learners under a grammar-translation method were not the same as those developed under a communicative approach. In other words, strategy use might well be influenced by the learning environment.

Macaro (2006) defined learning strategies as cognitive and rejected the view that they can also be considered in terms of overt behaviour.

According to Oxford, strategies are of two types, direct and indirect.

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