Incorporating Learning Strategies into ELT
认知策略，cognitive strategies！、元认知策略(metacognitive strategies)和社会/情感
关键词(自主学习 学习策略 认知策略 元认知策略
It is generally recognized in the field of second/foreign language learning that great emphasis has been put on the part of teaching rather than that of learning. Every few years, new foreign language teaching methods arrive on the scene. New textbooks appear far more frequently, proclaiming to be more effective than those that have gone before. Teachers have attached great importance to the adoption of new teaching methods, implementation of various techniques, and utilization of textbooks, aiming to ultimately improve their teaching of English as either a foreign or a second language. As Littlewood (1990) states, “In most of the considerable literature that
exists about classroom methods and techniques, the focus of attention is clearly on the activity of teaching, as if learning were merely a straightforward reflection of the teacher‟s actions. „To learn‟ means, above all, to react to stimuli and instructions
provided by the main actor in the classroom: the teacher.”
It is surprising that it is only comparatively recently - since the early 1970s - that the distinction between teaching and learning has aroused much interest in language teaching circles and an increasing number of linguists or teachers have begun to look more closely at the other participants - the learners- in the teaching-and-learning process. Recent years, in particular, have been marked by an increasing interest in learner autonomy. Researches in this area have described a range of ways in which teachers have set about handing over to students the responsibility for their own learning. As Nunan (1995) points out, however, “It is a mistake to assume that learners come into the language classroom with a natural ability to make choices about what and how to learn. Therefore, one of most important responsibility the teacher should take is to provide learners with the ability, that is strategies and confidence, to take on more responsibility for their own learning.
2. The Conception and Types of learning strategies
Learning styles or strategies are terms used to describe identifiable individual approaches to learning situations. Keffe (1979:4 cited in Spolsky, 1989: 109) defines
learning strategies as „cognitive, affective and physiological traits that are relatively stable indicators of how learners perceive, interact with, and respond to the learning environment‟. A definition given by Oxford (1990: 8 Cited in Johnson, 2001) is that
learning strategies are specific actions taken by the learner to make learning easier, faster, more enjoyable, more self-directed, more effective, and more transferable to new situations.
O‟Malley and Chamot (1990 cited in Willis1996: 10) identified three main
types of strategy: „metacognitive‟ (e.g. organizing one‟s learning, monitoring and evaluating one‟s speech, etc.); „cognitive‟ (e.g. advance preparation for a class, using a dictionary, listing/categorizing new words, making comparisons with other known language, etc.) and „socioaffective‟ (e.g. asking for help, interacting with native speakers, etc.). Whereas a broader classification is Oxford‟s classification system which makes a distinction between what she calls „direct‟ and „indirect‟ strategies. A
learner‟s direct strategies help him to come to grips with the language, dealing with things like memorizing vocabulary, and getting to understand new grammar rules. Whereas a learner‟s indirect strategies include planning issues (such as how many
hours he/she will spend on learning, and what he/she will do in preparation for each lesson), as well as issues having to do with affective demands- coping with the „strain
on the nerves‟ that speaking and learning a foreign language can involve. Below is
Oxford‟s classification of six categories of strategy (1990: 14-16, cited in John, 2001):
(a) Direct strategies „working with the language itself‟
1) memory strategies for remembering and retrieving new information
2) cognitive strategies for understanding and producing the language
3) compensation strategies for using the language despite knowledge gaps (b) Indirect strategies „for general management of learning‟
4) metacognitive strategies for co-ordinating the learning process
5) affective strategies for regulating emotions
6) social strategies for learning with others
3. The Role of Learning Strategies in EFL/ESL
In the past decades applied linguists have given a great deal of attention to trying to identify the factors (or variables as they are called) that make the learning different. The variables that contribute to individual differences are usually divided into three broad categories: cognitive, affective and personality (Johnson, 2001: 117). Cognitive variables relate to the mental makeup of the person. Intelligence is one such factor; another is language aptitude, the term used to refer to an ability specific to language learning and different from general intelligence. Affective variables are associated with the feelings. The most commonly studied affective variables are
motivation and attitudes. Personality variables are concerned with learners‟ individual personalities, with extroversion and introversion as the most obvious ones.
Apart from these variables, there are other individual differences that interact as strongly with kinds of teaching, that is the issue of learning styles or learning
strategies. Many researches suggest that different learners approach a task with a different set of skills and preferred strategies. As Spolsky (1989:110) says, “learners
vary (both individually and according to such characteristics as age, proficiency level, and cultural origin) in their preference for learning style (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactic) and mode (group or individual); as a result, learning is best when the learning opportunity matches the learner‟s preferences. Different types of learners
adopt different strategies for learning successfully. O‟Mally and Chamot (1990: 140)
conclude in their study, “in general, more effective students used a greater variety of
strategies and used them in ways that helped the students complete the language task successfully. Less effective students not only had fewer strategy types in their repertoires but also frequently used strategies that were inappropriate to the task….”
Similarly, Littlewood (1990: 67) also points out, “there are a number of active strategies which people might adopt in order to learn more effectively.” According to Littlewood (1990), individuals learn in different ways and may use a variety of learning strategies at different times depending on a range of variables, such as the nature of the learning tasks, mood and motivation levels. Furthermore, each learner develops strategies and techniques which suit his or her individual needs and personality and implements these in different ways, and because of this, a definitive list of language learning strategies is not likely to emerge, but the findings from researches do allow certain generalizations, regardless of learner differences.
Therefore, in order to promote learning, teachers can help by making students aware of such strategies, and encouraging their use. Students may benefit from actual training in particular strategies. Certainly encouraging students to become self-reliant will raise the quality of their classroom learning and make it easier for them to continue their learning even after their course has finished. Hence, the teaching of learning strategies is in accordance with the theory of learner training which, as Ellis and Sinclair (1989:2) states, aims to help learners consider the factors that affect their learning and discover the learning strategies that suit them best so that they may become more effective learners and take on more responsibility for their own learning. In other words, making explicit how to learn and helping students develop these learning strategies will be of great benefit to the students. As Confucius states:
If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day.
If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.
4. Teaching of Learning Strategies
1) What learning strategies should be taught?
It must be noted that learning strategies bear the features of both generality
and particularity. It is of generality because some learning strategies can be effective to all language learners; it is of particularity because, due to individual differences, certain specific learning strategies may be more effective to some learners than to others, individual learner, therefore, must choose the learning strategies flexibly on the basis of their own learning context or the aim of their learning. For instance, metacognitive strategy is one of the basic strategies that each learner should adopt, whereas it is a matter of individual preference as to how to define his or her own short-term goal or long-term goal and how to determine the arrangement of their own study. Therefore, teachers should, on the one hand, try to teach some basic learning strategies so that all the learners will benefit in their learning, and, on the other hand, try to help students discover what strategies are most suitable and beneficial to each individual learner according to each learner‟s specific needs, personality, and goal of learning. Teaching of learning strategies can be either integrated into such courses as listening, speaking, reading, writing or grammar, or carried out in a separate intensive or extensive training course.
As for what to teach in a strategy training course, experiments carried out by Ellis and Sinclair (1989) have demonstrated that the training course which focused on both metacognitive and cognitive strategy development tended to produce more positive feedback from the learners than courses which focused on only one of these aspects. In addition, it has been suggested that the combination of metacognitive with cognitive strategy development makes it easier for learners to transfer strategy training to other learning tasks. As O‟Malley states (cited in Ellis and Sinclair, 1989), “students without metacognitive approaches are essentially learners without direction and ability to review their progress, accomplishments and future learning directions”. Below are examples of some general cognitive and metacognitive strategies (adapted from Harris, 1997: 7).
(An example of cognitive strategies)
1. Recognizing the type of text: poem, newspaper article, brochure?
2. Examining pictures, the title, etc. for clues.
3. Going for gist, skipping inessential words
4. Using the knowledge of the world to make sensible guesses.
5. Picking out cognates.
6. Identifying the grammatical category of words.
7. Using punctuation for clues.
(An example of metacognitive strategies)
A. Monitoring learning
1. Strategy monitoring: tracking how well a strategy is working
; Identify what has been successfully grasped and what needs
; Judging one‟s ability to perform a task;
; Judging one‟s overall execution of the task.
B. Monitoring language use
This is obviously easier in written work (where the learner has time to
reflect and correct) than in spontaneous speech.
1. Auditory monitoring: „does it sound right?‟
2. Visual monitoring: „ does it look right?‟
3. Grammatical monitoring: „is that the right tense, adjective
4. Style monitoring, e.g. „is that the right tone for a formal
As for the teaching of the third type of learning strategy- „socialaffective‟-,
which involves learners co-operating in language learning activities, it can be more economical, natural and effective to integrate this aspect of learning into the types of activities where appropriate, for learners will discover by themselves how much they benefit from working in pairs, groups, or individually.
2) How should learning strategies be taught?
Whichever type of strategy selected, the most important principle is to teach it systematically. Strategy training cannot be undertaken in a „one-off‟ lesson or
conducted only in short periods, as learners need to apply the strategies directly to language tasks and practise them extensively. The activities in strategy training may include the following sequence:
Reflecting Awareness-raising Experimenting
Learners can be encouraged to express their feeling for learning because they often have very definite opinions about what is right or wrong in language learning without understanding the reason for these. Thus the purpose of this step is to give them the opportunity to examine a variety of different attitudes to language learning and teaching, including their own, and consider the implications of these attitudes for their own learning. For instance, when teaching how to learn vocabulary, the teacher can ask students „How do you feel about learning vocabulary?‟
This step aims to give learners basic knowledge that they can apply to their own language learning by providing specific language awareness information for each
skill. Take teaching vocabulary for instance, the teacher can first ask students „What do you know about English vocabulary?‟ and then provide them with necessary knowledge concerning words, such as the form (spelling, pronunciation), the meaning (denotation, connotation) and appropriateness (formal, informal), etc. 3) Experimenting
Learners are often not aware of the wide range of strategies at their disposal and may be making use of only a very limited number, or strategies that may not be the ones most suited to them or their learning styles. The aim of this step is to encourage learners to consider the potential variety of strategies, experiment with them, and identi those which suit them best. In the case of learning vocabulary, the teacher can first get students involved in various activities to experiment with different kinds of memorization strategies, such as representing sounds in memory, using physical response, using imagery, semantic mapping, making associations, etc., and then encourage the students to reflect on these strategies so as to pick out the strategies that may be most preferable and suitable for them to try. 4) Action-planning
In this step, learners are ready to draw up their action plans according to the strategies chosen by them. The aim of this step is to encourage learners to set themselves short-term aims that are closely related to the specific difficulties that the learner may be confronted with in their learning. The learners may need assistance as they may not always make the link between their own particular difficulty and the strategy that is likely to help them overcome it. They should also consider how they will monitor their own progress, and how they will know that they have improved. Below is an example of an action plan (adapted from Ellis and Sinclair, 1989).
What? How? When? How long? Done
Spelling Copying 10 times 2 May 2002 10 minutes ?
More specific Read Manufacturer‟s 6 Oct. 2002 30 minutes ?
washing machine Instructions in English
vocabulary and note down words.
9 Nov. 2002 15 minutes ? Polite ways of „Functions of English‟
interrupting Unit 5.
The aim of this step is to help learners become aware of a variety of ways of organizing their learning and select those they prefer after their experimentation with a range of strategies in the previous steps. The role of the teacher is to encourage an
exchange of ideas and to advise and inform where necessary without being prescriptive. Take learning vocabulary for instance, the teacher may elicit or provide the following ways of organizing the learning of vocabulary:
; Organize a regular timetable for learning vocabulary.
; Set a weekly/monthly goal for memorizing certain number of new words.
; To support your vocabulary library, collect articles from magazines and
newspapers on the same or similar topics.
; Make a collage of advertisements, packet labels, etc., which have interesting
or useful words on them.
; Record new words in sentences on cassettes and listen to them regularly. Use
different cassettes for different topics.
The recurrent concept conceives learning as an autonomous, deliberate, motivational and self-responsible process for the individual. As teachers of English, we should help learners consider the factors that affect their learning and discover the learning strategies that suit them best. Strategy training can be particularly valuable to university learners of English who have a large amount of free time outside class at their own disposal. Teaching of some effective learning strategies can not only facilitate their learning of English in the university but also develop the capacity for taking charge of their own learning independently in the life-long learning process.
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Littlewood, W. 1990. Foreign and Second Language Learning. Foreign Language
Teaching and Research Press; People‟s Education Pres/s; Cambridge University
Spolsy, B. 1989. Conditions for Second Language Learning. Shanghai Foreign
Language Education Press; Oxford University Press
Willis, J. 1996. A Framework for Task-Based Learning. Longman.