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Background Of Language Learning Strategies English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 3771 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This chapter covers the background of language learning strategies (LLS), the literature review including the definitions of key terms, classifications of LLS, the characteristics of LLS, the factors influencing the choice of LLS, evidences from previous research studies, the teachers’ role in LLS training, and theoretical concepts.

2.1 Background of Language Learning Strategies

Research on language learning strategies has been conducted since the 1960s. Williams and Burden (1997, p. 149) stated that developments in cognitive psychology influenced much of research done on language learning strategies. In most of the research on language learning strategies, the principal concern has been on “identifying what good language learners report they do to learn a second or foreign language, or, in some cases, are observed doing while learning a second or foreign language” (Rubin & Wenden 1987, p. 19). In 1966, Carton published “The Method of Inference in Foreign Language Study”, which was the initial effort to describe second language learners’ strategies. Then in 1971, Rubin began to conduct research regarding the strategies of successful learners and affirmed that, once acknowledged, such strategies could be made available to less successful learners. Rubin (1975) categorized strategies in terms of processes contributing directly or indirectly to language learning. Wong-Fillmore (1976), Tarone (1977), Naiman et al. (1978), Bialystok (1979), Cohen and Aphek (1981), Wenden (1982), Chamot and O’Malley (1987), Politzer and McGroarty (1985), Conti and Kolsody (1997), and many others have also researched strategies employed by language learners during foreign language learning.

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2.2 Literature Review

2.2.1 Defining concepts

There have been many researchers trying to give a definition of the term “language learning strategies”. In the ancient Greek language, ‘Strategy = strategia’ means generalship or the knack of fighting (Yi et al., 2007). In a more precise intelligence, strategy entails the most favourable supervision of troops, ships or aircraft in a designed operation while “tactic” is diverse, but is associated with sub-strategies which are the apparatus to accomplish the achievement of strategies. In non-military settings, the concept of strategy has been applied to the non-adversarial situations, where it has come to imply an arrangement, movement or an act is used for attaining a detailed purpose (Oxford, 1990). Oxford (1990) stated that strategies are particularly important for language learning “because they are tools for active, self-directed involvement, which is essential for developing communicative competence” (p. 1). Because they are very noteworthy, learning strategies have been broadly employed in the learning field. Many researchers have tried to give definitions to ‘language learning strategy’ using different terms and different concepts of their own which will be discussed in the following paragraphs.

Many researchers have conceptualised variously the term “language learning strategies”. “Strategy” originates from ancient Greek language ‘strategia’, which implies fighting capability (Yi et al., 2007). Regarding military field, ‘strategy’ is fundamental to troop surveillance, while ‘tactic’ is a tool to achieve the strategic goal. Apart from militarism, ‘strategy’ has been defined as preparedness to accomplish a target (Oxford, 1990). To develop communicative competence, strategies are indispensable to language learning (Oxford, 1990, p.1). For this reason, most researchers have viewed ‘language learning strategy’ diversely as follows.

Schemeck (1988) defined strategy as the performance of a set of actions (tactics) for accomplishing some goal and learning strategy as a chain of actions for accomplishing learning (p. 5). Weinstein and Mayer (1986) explained that learning strategies are “behaviours and thoughts that a learner engages in during learning and that are projected to persuade the learner’s encoding process” (p. 315). More specifically, Rigney (1978) gave a definition of a learning strategy as “cognitive strategy” which is “used to indicate operations and procedures that the student may use to acquire, retain, and retrieve different kinds of knowledge and performance” (p. 165).

Rubin (1975) defined strategies as “the techniques or devices, which a learner may use to acquire knowledge” (p. 43). Later, Rubin (1981) did a study to discover cognitive strategies in second language learning and got to know the distinction between direct and indirect language learning strategies. In 1987, Rubin proposed language learning strategies as strategies which lead to the improvement of the language structure which the learner builds and which shapes learning from then on (p. 23). She also recommended that language learning strategies consist of any set of operations, steps, plans, routines used by the learner to facilitate the obtaining, storage, retrieval and use of information (p. 19).

Bialystock (1978) defined learning strategies as “optional means for exploiting available information to improve competence in a second language” (p. 71). He then identified four kinds of language learning strategies: (a) formal practising; (b) functional practising; (c) monitoring; and (d) inferencing. According to O’Malley et al. (1985), “language learning strategies have been broadly defined as any set of operations or steps used by a learner that will facilitate the acquisition, storage, retrieval or use of information” (p. 23). In this study, they classified twenty-six strategies into three subgroups: metacognitive, cognitive, and social-affective. In the same way, Chamot (1987) said learning strategies are techniques, approaches, or deliberate actions that students take in order to facilitate the learning and recall of both linguistic and content area information (p. 71). She proposed that some language learning strategies are observable, but some may not be. In a cognitive perspective, O’Malley and Chamot thought of language learning strategies as “the special thoughts or behaviours that individuals used to help them comprehend, learn, or retain new information” (p. 1).

Nisbet (1986) gave another explanation of language learning strategies as “always determined and goal-oriented, but perhaps not always accepted at a conscious or deliberate level. They can be long-lasting or so speedy in implementation that it is unfeasible for the learner to bring back, recall or even be responsive that one has utilized a strategy” (p. 25). Oxford and Crookall (1989) defined language learning strategies as “steps taken by the learner to aid the acquisition, storage, and retrieval of information” (p. 404). They noted that strategies may be used consciously but they can also become habitual and automatic with practice. Similarly, Oxford (1990) claimed that “learning strategies are steps taken by students to enhance their own learning (p. 1), and she said they were specific actions taken by the learner to make learning easier, faster, more enjoyable, more self-directed, more effective, and more transferable to new situations (p. 8). Scrella & Oxford (1992) found that learning strategies were specific actions, behaviours, 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 (p. 63).

MacIntyre (1994) argued that the term strategy implied active planning in pursuit of some goal, which was not something that would automatically occur. He emphasised the learners’ deliberate action of language learning strategies. He provided a different perspective of defining language learning strategies as “the actions chosen by language students that are intended to facilitate language acquisition and communication” (p. 190). The definition focuses more on learners’ intention and choice in using language learning strategies. In 1999, Nunan gave the definition of learning strategies as mental and communicative procedures learners use in order to learn and use language (p. 171). Four researchers, Chamot, Barnhadt, El-Dinary & Rubbins (1999), defined learning strategies as the thoughts and actions engaged in, consciously or not, to learn new information (p. 1). Lastly, Hall (2001) referred learning strategies to goal-directed actions that were used by learners to mediate their own learning (p. 92).

Researchers have recognized and illustrated language learning strategies which language learners use when they process new information and perform responsibilities (Hismanoglu, 2000). In the subsequent section, how different researchers have classified language learning strategies will be shortly summarized.

Language learners should know exactly the strategies to be used in order to improve their achievement. Cohen, Weaver, Li (1996) argued that:

Strategies for language learning and language use have been receiving ever-growing attention in the areas of foreign language teaching and learning (Oxford 1990, Cohen 1990, O’Malley & Chamot 1990, Wenden 1991, Brown 1991, Rubin & Thompson 1994, Mendelsohn 1994, Mc Donough 1995). It is fair to say that language educators in many different contexts have been seeking ways to help students become more successful in their efforts to learn and communicate in foreign languages. The application of foreign language learning and use strategies is viewed as one vehicle for promoting greater success. A strategy is considered to be “effective” if it provides positive support to the students in their attempts to learn or use the foreign language. (p. 3)

The Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (2009) defines ‘successful learners’ as:

people who own essential literate learning skills, numeracy and information and technology of communication.

people who have good sense of creativity, are resourceful in identifying and problem solving.

people who process information, reason, question and carry out evaluation by themselves.

people who communicate in many means.

people who understand how they learn and learn from their mistakes.

people who are able to learn individually and work in groups.

people who have world knowledge.

people who enjoy learning and are motivated to achieve the best they can now and in the future.

2.2.2 Taxonomy of Language Learning Strategies

Since the 1960s, the research of language learning strategies has been conducted by many language researchers (Wenden & Rubin, 1987; O’Malley et al., 1985; Oxford, 1990; Stern, 1992; Ellis, 1994). Most of these attempts to categorize language learning strategies are a sign of more or less the same classifications of language learning strategies without any fundamental changes. As below, O’Malley’s (1985), Rubin’s (1987), Stern’s (1992), and Oxford’s (1990) taxonomies of language learning strategies will be described: O’Malley’s (1985) Classification of Language Learning Strategies

O’Malley et al. (1985, pp. 582-584) divide language learning strategies into three main subcategories:

Metacognitive Strategies

Cognitive Strategies

Socioaffective Strategies

A. Metacognitive Strategies

It can be stated that metacognitive is a term to express executive function, strategies which require planning for learning, thinking about the learning process as it is taking place, monitoring of one’s production or comprehension, and evaluating learning after an activity is complete. Among the main metacognitive strategies, it is possible to include advance organizers, directed attention, selective attention, self-management, functional planning, self-monitoring, delayed production, self-evaluation.

B. Cognitive Strategies

Cognitive strategies are more limited to specific learning tasks and they involve more direct manipulation of the learning material itself. Repetition, resourcing, translation, grouping, note-taking, deduction, recombination, imaginary, auditory representation, key word, contextualization, elaboration, transfer, influencing are among the most important cognitive strategies.

C. Socioaffective Strategies

As to the socioaffective strategies, it can be stated that they are related with social-mediating activity and transacting with others. Cooperation and questioning for clarification are the main socioaffective strategies (Brown, 1987, pp. 93-94). Rubin’s (1987) Classification of Language Learning Strategies

Rubin, who pioneered much of the work in the field of strategies, makes the distinction between strategies contributing directly to learning and those contributing indirectly to learning. According to Rubin (1987), there are three types of strategies used by learners that contribute directly or indirectly to language learning. These are:

Learning Strategies

Communication Strategies

Social Strategies

A. Learning Strategies

They are of two main types, being the strategies contributing directly to the development of the language system constructed by the learner:

Cognitive Learning Strategies

Metacognitive Learning Strategies

A.1 Cognitive Learning Strategies

They refer to the steps or operations used in learning or problem-solving that requires direct analysis, transformation, or synthesis of learning materials. Rubin identified six main cognitive learning strategies contributing directly to language learning:


Guessing/Inductive Inferencing

Deductive Reasoning




A.2 Metacognitive Learning Strategies

These strategies are used to oversee, regulate or self-direct language learning. They involve various processes as planning, prioritizing, setting goals, and self-management.

B. Communication Strategies

They are less directly related to language learning since their focus is on the process of participating in a conversation and getting meaning or clarifying what the speaker intended. Communication strategies are used by speakers when faced with some difficulty due to the fact that their communication ends outrun their communication means or when confronted with misunderstanding by a co-speaker.

C. Social Strategies

Social strategies are those activities learners engage in which afford them opportunities to be exposed to and practice their knowledge. Although these strategies provide exposure to the target language, they contribute indirectly to learning since they do not lead directly to the obtaining, storing, retrieving, and using of language (Rubin & Wenden, 1987, pp. 23-27). Stern’s (1992) Classification of Language Learning Strategies

According to Stern (1992, pp. 262-266), there are five main language learning strategies as follows:

Management and Planning Strategies

Cognitive Strategies

Communicative-Experiential Strategies

Interpersonal Strategies

Affective Strategies

A. Management and Planning Strategies

These strategies are related to the learner’s intention to direct his own learning. A learner can take charge of the development of his own programme when he is helped by a teacher whose role is that of an adviser and resource person. This is to say that the learner must”

decide what commitment to make to language learning

set himself reasonable goals

decide on an appropriate methodology, select appropriate resources, and monitor progress,

evaluate his achievement in the light of previously determined goals and expectations (Stern, 1992, p. 263).

B. Cognitive Strategies

They are steps or operations used in learning or problem solving that require direct analysis, transformation, or synthesis of learning materials. In the following, some of the cognitive strategies are exhibited:


Guessing/Inductive Inferencing

Deductive Reasoning




C. Communicative-Experiential Strategies

Communication strategies, such as circumlocution, gesturing, paraphrase, or asking for repetition and explanation are techniques used by learners so as to keep a conversation going. The purpose of using these techniques is to avoid interrupting the flow of communication (Stern, 1992, p. 265).

D. Interpersonal Strategies

They should monitor their own development and evaluate their own performance. Learners should contact with native speakers and cooperate with them. Learners must become acquainted with the target culture (Stern, 1992, pp. 265-266).

E. Affective Strategies

It is evident that good language learners employ distinct affective strategies. Language learning can be frustrating in some cases. In some cases, the feeling of strangeness can be evoked by the foreign language. In some cases, L2 learners may have negative feelings about native speakers of L2. Good language learners are more or less conscious of these emotional problems. Good language learners try to create associations of positive affect towards the foreign language and its speakers as well as towards the learning activities involved. Learning training can help students to face up the emotional difficulties and to overcome them by drawing attention to the potential frustrations or pointing them out as they arise (Stern, 1992, p. 266).

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View our services Oxford’s (1990) Classification of Language Learning Strategies

Oxford (1990, p. 9) sees the aim of language learning strategies as being oriented towards the development of communicative competence. Oxford divides language learning strategies into two main classes, direct and indirect, which are further subdivided into six groups (cognitive, memory, and compensation under the direct; metacognitive, affective, and social under the indirect class) (see Figure 1).

Each of six groups shown above has some more concrete strategies, as shown in Table 1 and Table 2. Some language learning strategies which relate with learning directly are called direct strategies. All direct strategies require mental processing of the target language, but the three groups of direct strategies (cognitive, memory and compensation) do this processing differently and for different process (Oxford, 1990). Cognitive strategies, such as practising or analysing, enable learners to understand and produce new language by many different means. Memory strategies, such as grouping or using imaginary, have highly specific functions. They help students store and retrieve new information. Compensation strategies, like guessing or using synonyms, allow learners to use the language despite their often large gaps in knowledge.

Other language learning strategies are called indirect strategies because they support and manage language learning without, in many instances, directly involving the target language (Oxford, 1990). Indirect strategies are divided into metacognitive, affective and social. Metacognitive strategies allow learners to control their own cognition; that is, learners can coordinate their own learning processes by using study habits such as centering, arranging, planning and evaluating. Affective strategies help regulate emotions, motivations and attitudes. Social strategies help students to learn through interaction with others. Indirect strategies are useful in virtually all language learning situations and are applicable to all four language skills: listening, reading, speaking and writing.

2.2.3 Characteristics of Language Learning Strategies

Clouston (1997) maintains that the terminology is given differently by researchers, some use the terms “learner strategies” (Wendin & Rubin, 1987), others “learning strategies” (O’Malley & Chamot, 1990; Chamot & O’Malley, 1994), and others still use “language learning strategies” (Oxford, 1990a, 1996), but there are a number of fundamental characteristics in the commonly acknowledged analysis of LLS. First, learners generate LLS which are steps taken by learners of the language. Second, LLS improve language learning and facilitate enlarge language competency, as feedback in the learner’s skills in listening, speaking, reading or writing the L2 or FL. Third, LLS might be able to be seen (behaviours, steps, techniques, etc.) or unseen (thoughts, mental processes). Four, LLS engage information and memory (vocabulary knowledge, grammar rules, etc.).

Reading the LLS literature, additional aspects of LLS are less consistently acknowledged. Oxford (1990a) and others such as Wenden and Rubin (1987) distinguish an aspiration for control and independence of learning on the part of the learner all the way through LLS. Cohen (1990) persists that only mindful strategies are LLS, and that there must be a selection about the part of the learner. Strategy transferring from one language or language skill to another is an associated purpose of LLS, as Pearson (1988) and Skehan (1989) have argued. In her teacher-oriented text, Oxford sums up her opinion of LLS by citing twelve vital qualities. Additionally, she states that LLS:

let learners become more self-directed

enlarge the responsibilities of language teachers

are problem-oriented

include many points of view, not just the cognitive

can be educated

are changeable

are manipulated by a wide range of factors

(Oxford, 1990a, p. 9)

2.2.4 Factors Influencing Strategy Choice

There are several factors which affect the second language learner with regard to types of strategies she or he chooses to use. Oxford (1994) concluded available research on how the


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