In recent years, in line with a more learner-focused view of education, there has been increasing interest in language learners themselves, and how they approach the task of learning. This learner-centred focus has had two significant effects on classroom teaching and curriculum planning. First, in response to the recognition that learners are individuals with unique learning needs, teachers and course designers are aiming to design courses and classroom materials with a specific group of learners in mind. A second effect of learner-centred education is the provision for learners to work more independently, both in and out of the language classroom, allowing learners more control over what is learned, and when and where that learning takes place. This may be realised in a focus on learner strategies. Learning strategies are defined as behaviors and thoughts that a learner engages in during learning that are intended to influence the learner’s encoding process. More specifically, Oxford (1990) defines as ‘‘specific actions taken by the learner to make learning easier, faster, more enjoyable, more self-directed, more effective, and more transferable to new situations.’’ Although there has certainly been a trend towards a learner-centred focus in whole-class instruction, in many institutions there are still several aspects of learning in a whole-class environment that require learners to engage in activities or tasks that are imposed by the curriculum, and so there are a number of task level decisions that must be made by learners within the classroom context. Since the ability to make strategic decisions about learning at task-level is likely to be a determinant of effective learning, it is important to investigate the strategies that learners use to approach tasks for which some aspects, such as format and assessment, are already predetermined by the curriculum.
Oxford (1990a) highlighted on how the following individual factors influence the learners choice of strategies while learning a second language.
Motivation — Students who were more motivated used more strategies than the less motivated ones, and specific reason for studying the language (motivational orientation, especially as related to career field) was important in choosing the strategies.
Gender- Females outnumbered males in overall strategy use (although sometimes males surpassed females in the use of a particular strategy).
Culturalbackground — Different forms of memorization, including rote memorization, were more common among some Asian students than from students of other cultural backgrounds.
Attitudes and beliefs — Attitudes and beliefs had an immense effect in choosing any particular strategy, with negative attitudes and beliefs oftenresulted in poor strategy use.
Type of task — The category or difficulty of the task was the determinant of the strategies to be employed to accomplish the task.
Age and L2 stage — Learners of different ages and various stages of L2 learning used different strategies.
Learning style — Learners’ individual learning style often decided the choice of L2learning strategies.
Tolerance of ambiguity — In some cases, students with more tolerance to ambiguity used significantly different learning strategies than those of lesstolerance.
These L2 strategy classification systems have been divided into the following groups (Oxford, 1994):
- systems related to successful language learners (Rubin, 1975)
- systems based on psychological functions (O'Malley & Chamot, 1990)
- systems based on linguistic competence, dealing with guessing,
- language monitoring, formal and functional practice (Bialystok, 1981) or with communication strategies like paraphrasing or borrowing (Tarone, 1983)
- systems related to separate language skills (Cohen, 1990), and systems based on different styles or types of learners (Sutter, 1989)
According to Wenden (1991), there are two main kinds of learning strategies:
1) Cognitive strategies; 2) Self — management strategies.
Linguistic and sociolinguistic content are processed using mental steps or operations, i.e. cognitive strategies, which fulfil four key functions: (1) selecting information from incoming data; (2) comprehending it; (3) storing it; and (4) retrieving it for use. Learners employ self-management strategies to monitor and manage the learning process. Wenden points out that they may also be referred to as metacognitive strategies, regulatory skills or skills of self-directed learning. These strategies can be divided into three categories: (1) planning; (2) monitoring; and (3) evaluating.
O’Malley & Chamot (1990: 8) identify a third type of learning strategy in their literature review, social/affective strategies, of which cooperative learning, asking for clarification, and redirecting negative thoughts are some examples.
It is clear that there is considerable relationship between the LLS and language proficiency. In other words, learners who use LLS more than others generally attain greater language proficiency, and research into L2 learning demonstrated that good language learners used strategies more regularly and correctly to enhance their target language learning. Therefore, in order to help learners to learn the target language more successfully and effectively, the connection between the use of the LLS and language proficiency should be further explored on a universal scale.
1. Oxford, RL 1990, Language Learning Strategies: What teacher should know, Newbury House, New York.
2. Wenden, A. (1991) Learning strategies for learner autonomy: planning and implementing learner training for language learners. Hemel Hemstead, Hertfordshire: Prentice Hall.