Empirical Studies on Language Learning Strategies

Language learning strategies have long been associated with effective language learning (e.g., Green & Oxford, 1995; Hsiao & Oxford, 2002; O’Malley & Chamot, 1990). With a few notable exceptions (e.g., Green & Oxford, 1995; Phillips, 1991), it has generally been claimed that good language learners use strategies more frequently, and in a number of situations, than do less proficient learners (e.g., Ehrman & Oxford, 1990; Rubin, 1975).

Bialystock (1981) explored the role of conscious learning strategies in 157 students of French as a FL in two Toronto high schools. Specifically, the study was to examine the effects of formal strategies and functional strategies on L2 learning achievement: formal strategies involve formal practice and monitoring; functional strategies include functional practice and inferencing. Results indicate significant variation of strategy use, with monitoring and inferencing used more frequently than practicing. However, of the four types of strategies examined, only functional practice significantly correlated with gains in reading, listening, speaking, and writing.

Huang (1984) reported a thesis study on learning strategies in oral communication employed by Chinese EFL learners in China. Sixty graduating students from Guangzhou Foreign Language Institute answered a strategy questionnaire and the top ten and bottom nine students, as identified by an oral test, participated in an interview. The results of the questionnaire, as Huang reported, support Bialystock’s (1981) findings: of three learning strategies (functional practice, formal practice, and monitoring), functional practice is the major predictor for success, while formal oral practice cannot predict success in oral communication.

Politzer and McGroarty (1985) examined the relations of three types of learning strategies (classroom behaviors, individual study behaviors, and interaction behaviors) with learning achievement among 37 English as a Second Language (ESL) students enrolled on an eight-week intensive English course designed to prepare students for graduate study in the USA. In this study, however, no overall correlation was found between three types of learning strategies with English achievement. They concluded that the use of specific language-learning strategies varied depending on such factors as the students’ proficiency level, cultural background, and the type of language test.

Rossi-Le (1989) found that for 147 adult ESL students in the Midwest and the northeastern parts of the USA, language-proficiency level on a standardized test predicted strategy use in multiple regression analyses. More proficient ESL students used self-management strategies like planning and evaluating and formal practice significantly more often than less proficient ESL students.

Wen and Johnson (1991) studied the learning strategies of 242 second- year English majors at seven postsecondary institutions in Nanjing and Shanghai and found that one-third of the variance in English proficiency was related to combined effects of six variables, three of which were language-learning strategies.

Ehrman and Oxford (1995) studied 262 English native-speaker government employees studying different foreign languages at the US Foreign Service Institute. They found that the most frequently used strategies were from the compensation category followed by social and cognitive, then metacognitive, memory and affective strategies. Only compensation strategies were associated with proficiency.

Green and Oxford (1995) surveyed 374 tertiary-level Puerto Rican ESL students. They report significantly higher strategy use among more proficient students in the cognitive, compensation, metacognitive and social categories. Seventeen individual strategies were used significantly more often by more proficient students, one was used significantly less often.

Bremner (1999) explored the relationship between language-learning strategies and language proficiency in 149 learners in Hong Kong. The results supported significant relationships between learning strategies use and proficiency level. In addition, higher use of cognitive, compensation and social strategies was found among higher proficiency learners in Hong Kong.

Peacock and Ho (2003) investigated the use of 50 common L2 learning strategies by 1,006 English for Academic Purposes students across eight disciplines in a university in Hong Kong. The study compared and contrasted strategy use across disciplines and also examined the relationships between strategy use, L2 proficiency, age, and gender. The study found that 27 strategies were positively associated with L2 proficiency. Differences were also found by age and by gender: older students were stronger in the use of affective and social strategies, and females in the use of memory and metacognitive strategies.

Gan (2004) examined self-directed language learning attitudes and strategies of Chinese EFL students. The study found that all five strategic factors examined significantly and positively correlated with the students’ CET4 scores. The multiple regression analyses indicated that two strategic factors, that is, cognitive learning and effort management, and persistent and active learning, significantly predicted students’ CET4 scores. This study also further examined the differences in strategy use in relation to proficiency level by dividing the students into three groups of achievers based on their CET4 scores. The results reveal that:

  • • the statistical means of the strategy use for high-proficiency group were higher than for the low-proficiency group for all five strategy factors;
  • • the means for the medium-proficiency group were statistically significantly higher than for the low-proficiency group for three strategy factors, that is, cognitive learning and effort management, social and cooperative learning, and persistent and active learning; and
  • • the means for the high-proficiency group were statistically significantly higher than for the medium-proficiency group for one strategy factor of affective self-reflection.

Chand (2014) investigated the relationship between language learning strategies and proficiency in academic writing. It revealed the students’ preferences in strategy use, with metacognitive and cognitive strategies being used most frequently and followed by social, compensation, memory, and affective strategies. A weak positive correlation was found between strategy use and academic language proficiency.

Language-learning strategies have been widely researched and from the studies reviewed here we could learn about the functions of these strategies in language learning. Generally, language-learning strategies could be predictors of effective language learning.

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