Strategies in Learning and Using a Second Language
Andrew D Cohen (1998)
London and New York: Longman
Pp. xi + 294
ISBN 0 582 305888 (paper)
The term strategies, in the second-language-learning sense, has come to be applied to the conscious moves made by second-language speakers intended to be useful in either learning or using the second language. Strategies can be very different in nature, ranging from planning the organisation of one's learning (a metacognitive learning strategy) through using mnemonic devices to learn vocabulary (cognitive learning strategies) and rehearsing what one expects to say (a performance strategy) to bolstering one's self-confidence for a language task by means of "self-talk" (an affective strategy). Ever since Naiman et al. (1976) noted that "good" language learners appeared to use a larger number and range of strategies than "poor" language learners, the implications of understanding strategy use have seemed increasingly important. However, there are still many questions to resolve. Does strategy use actually aid language learning, or is it just something that good learners do? Are some strategies better than others, or is it the number and range of strategies used that counts? Are there "bad" strategies that actually making learning or performance worse? Can "poor" language learners benefit from being taught the strategies that "good" learners use, or do you need to be a good learner already to use some of the strategies? Does strategy training affect language learning, and if so is the effect direct, or does such training serve mainly to raise motivation and awareness? If learners are encouraged to use strategies to organise their own learning, for example, what are the implications for the role of the classroom teacher? Such issues have already prompted a considerable volume of research and writing, and directly or indirectly made a significant impact on language learning, at least in some places. For example, the establishment of self-access centres and the encouragement of learner independence are essentially based on the assumption that students will be able to use viable metacognitive learning strategies. Ellis (1994) writes: "The study of learning strategies holds considerable promise, both for language pedagogy and for explaining individual differences in second language learning. It is probably true to say, however, that it is still in its infancy. For this reason, perhaps, discussions of learning strategies typically conclude with the problems that have surfaced and that need to be addressed before progress can be made" (p. 558). Any new book which [-1-] continues the exploration of this infant area of study is therefore potentially exciting, especially if it contains accounts of hitherto unpublished empirical research, as is the case with Strategies in Learning and Using a Second Language. Any up-to-date, comprehensive account of the current state of knowledge about strategies is also likely to be welcome; and Andrew Cohen's title certainly sounds as though this might be such a book. Perhaps my expectations were set too high. The book presents information from a new research project, but it is research that takes us only a short step further down the road. And, despite the implied promise of the title, this book does not provide a comprehensive review of the area; nor, in fairness, does it claim to do so. Strategies in Learning and Using a Second Language is in fact something of a patchwork. It consists of a series of essentially separate articles, some written by Cohen alone, some co-authored with others, which have been stitched together to form a book. Some of the material has been published previously, though it has been revised for this publication. Some of the chapters are themselves patchworks, consisting of materials drawn from different articles on related themes. There is nothing intrinsically wrong, of course, with a patchwork approach--there are many...
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