Good language learners use effective strategies to advance in mastering a second language; and researchers have tried to identify the nature of the techniques used by successful students.
First, let’s find out what is the meaning of learning strategies. “These are one self-examination and insight into and control over one’s learning” (Sinclair 1989). Learning strategies are unobservable mental processes. Successful language learners can be differentiated from less successful ones by the type of strategies they use to perform an assignment.
Naiman (1978,1996) in his study asked to both groups (successful and unsuccessful language learners) what contributed to their outcome. In the successful learners’ group 50% thought their good memory helped as well as their ability to analysing languages (60%), motivation (47%), actively producing the language from the start of learning (82%), and almost all (94%) considered learning as a conscious process.
Opinions of Successful Language learners
The unsuccessful language learners thought that language is something that is acquired effortlessly and considered that learning more than one language helps (78%). They manifested that they had felt discouraged, impatient and confused (85%), inhibited or embarrassed (50%), and that seeking out situations to overcome shyness is important.
Opinions of Unsuccessful language learners
Later studies have looked at the interaction between strategy and certain learner variable. One of these was gender. Rebecca Oxford tried to establish the relationship between gender and strategy and came up with a questionnaire were strategies were divided into two types: - direct or primary strategies, and – indirect or support strategies.
The direct or primary strategies are formal practice (grammar) and functional practice (communication).
The indirect or support strategies are general study strategies and affective strategies.
This questionnaire was filled by 1200 university students and her results were as follow:
Female students showed greater strategy use than males for general study strategies, formal rule related practice, and conversational related strategies. Women favoured intuition and feeling over thinking. They used greater social interaction and they asked more questions than men.
O’Malley and Chamot (1990), when studying the characteristics of more effective language learners, emphasised the difference between metacognitive, cognitive and social/affective strategies.
“Metacognitive strategies entail planning, monitoring or evaluating the success of a learning activity” (O’Malley and Chamot 1990); and “cognitive strategies are incoming information, manipulating it in ways that enhance learning” (Maven). This might include activities like grouping items to be learned in categories. Social/affective strategies covers interaction with another person.
They found out that more successful students used learning strategies more often, whereas ineffective students used fewer strategies.
Suzanne Graham (1997) studied language learners’ general approach to their work. They were judged on their organisational/ scheduling strategies, setting aside specific times for specific pieces of work or tasks, keeping a diary of work, revising etc… and the most successful ones were more organised, they were most active in their approach to reviewing, and they regularly learned vocabulary and grammar. They spent time outside lessons on self-directed learning (independently doing extra reading or learning extra vocabulary). Effective students were more willing to assess their progress. Effective learners evaluated their strengths and weaknesses, as well as their strategies, more frequently than the non-effective ones.
It has been said that we should focus as teachers not only on what our students are learning, but on how they are doing it as well; that language students should be trained in strategies as part of language learning to encourage them to monitor, evaluate, and control the use of their strategies. This would lead to more effective language learners overtime.
What do think?
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