Language Learning Strategies

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Language Learning Strategies: An Update
Rebecca Oxford, University of Alabama
Foreign or second language (L2) learning strategies are specific actions, behaviors, steps, or techniques students use -- often consciously -- to improve their progress in apprehending, internalizing, and using the L2 (Oxford, 1990b). For example, Lazlo seeks out conversation partners. Oke groups words to be learned and then labels each group. Ahmed uses gestures to communicate in the classroom when the words do not come to mind. Mai Qi learns words by breaking them down into their components. Young consciously uses guessing when she reads. Strategies are the tools for active, self-directed involvement needed for developing L2 communicative ability (O'Malley & Chamot, 1990). Research has repeatedly shown that the conscious, tailored use of such strategies is related to language achievement and proficiency. Good Language Learners

Early researchers tended to make lists of strategies and other features presumed to be essential for all "good L2 learners." Rubin (1975) suggested that good L2 learners are willing and accurate guessers; have a strong drive to communicate; are often uninhibited; are willing to make mistakes; focus on form by looking for patterns and analyzing; take advantage of all practice opportunities; monitor their speech as well as that of others; and pay attention to meaning. A number of these characteristics have been validated by subsequent research. However, the "uninhibited" aspect has not been confirmed as part of all or most good language learners. Because of language anxiety, many potentially excellent L2 learners are naturally inhibited; they combat inhibition by using positive self-talk, by extensive use of practicing in private, and by putting themselves in situations where they have to participate communicatively. Naiman, Frohlich, and Todesco (1975) made a list of strategies used by successful L2 learners, adding that they learn to think in the language and address the affective aspects of language acquisition. For additional lists of strategies used by good language learners, see Ramirez (1986) and Reiss (1985). Effectiveness and Orchestration of L2 Learning Strategies

Research supports the effectiveness of using L2 learning strategies and has shown that successful language learners often use strategies in an orchestrated fashion. Some findings are listed below: * Use of appropriate language learning strategies often results in improved proficiency or achievement overall or in specific skill areas (Oxford et al., 1993; Thompson & Rubin, 1993). * Successful language learners tend to select strategies that work well together in a highly orchestrated way, tailored to the requirements of the language task (Chamot & Kupper, 1989). These learners can easily explain the strategies they use and why they employ them (O'Malley & Chamot, 1990). * Cognitive (e.g., translating, analyzing) and metacognitive (e.g., planning, organizing) strategies are often used together, supporting each other (O'Malley & Chamot, 1990). Well tailored combinations of strategies often have more impact than single strategies. * Certain strategies or clusters of strategies are linked to particular language skills or tasks. For example, L2 writing, like L1 writing, benefits from the learning strategies of planning, self-monitoring, deduction, and substitution. L2 speaking demands strategies such as risk-taking, paraphrasing, circumlocution, self-monitoring, and self-evaluation. L2 listening comprehension gains from strategies of elaboration, inferencing, selective attention, and self-monitoring, while reading comprehension uses strategies like reading aloud, guessing, deduction, and summarizing (Chamot & Kupper, 1989). See Oxford (1990b) for a detailed chart that maps relevant strategies with listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills. * The powerful social and affective strategies are found less often in L2...
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