Tokai University Foreign Language Education Center Journal. Vol. 13. Oct. 1993. (pp. 141 - 146).
Learning strategies and language outcomes
- Abstract -
This paper describes four strategies which impact language learning.
The value of learning schedules is first described.
Next, the use of semantic networks and word maps is highlighted.
After this, the value of self-talk and imagery
is exemplified. Finally, the need for teachers to help students
become more aware of their preferred learning strategies is underscored.
Keywords: learning strategies, language learning, learner development
What kind of learner are you? Most people are probably unsure how to
answer this question. However, knowing the sort of learner you are might
make it easier to learn more effectively. A study by O'Malley
and Chamot (1990: 46) cites fifteen behaviors which influence
language learning outcomes. These appear in Table 1.
Table 1. Learner strategies identified by O'Malley and Charmot (1990, p. 46.)
- SELECTIVE ATTENTION: Focusing on special aspects of learning tasks, as in planning to listen for key words or phrases.
- PLANNING: Planning for the organization of either written or spoken discourse.
- MONITORING: Reviewing attention to a task, comprehension of information that should be remembered, or production while it is occurring.
- EVALUATION: Checking comprehension after completion of reception of a receptive language activity, or evaluating language production after it has taken place.
- REHEARSAL: Repeating the names of items or objects to be remembered.
- ORGANIZATION: Grouping and classifying words, terminology, or concepts according to their semantic or syntactic attributes.
- INFERENCING: Using information in text to guess meanings of new linguistic items, predict outcomes, or complete missing parts.
- SUMMARIZING: Intermittently synthesizing what one has heard to insure the information has been retained.
- DEDUCING: Applying rules to the understanding of the language.
- IMAGERY: Using visual images (either general or actual) to understand and remember new verbal information.
- TRANSFER: Using known linguistic information to facilitate a new learning task.
- ELABORATION: Linking ideas contained in new information, or integrating new ideas with known information.
- COOPERATION: Working with peers to solve a problem, pool information, check notes, or get feedback from a learning activity.
- QUESTIONING FOR CLARIFICATION: Eliciting from a teacher or peer additional explanation, rephrasing, or examples.
- SELF-TALK: Using mental redirection of thinking to assure oneself that a learning activity will be successful or to reduce anxiety about a task.
This paper describes how four of the behaviors identified above pertain to my own experience as a JSL learner.
The article will conclude by mentioning some possible teaching implications.
Planning has two levels: working with long term objectives and short term behaviours. Planning is closely related to goal setting.
Teachers should help learners consider their goals and make sure they have enough time for their desired tasks. It is
also important to monitor how one performs
specific activities to promote learning. For most foreign language learners, success with a new language is not
something that just happens. Many – if not most – successful
learners arrange their lifestyles or schedules so that they have extensive exposure to the target language and
regular opportunities to practise it. To do this, each learner
must consider his or her long term objectives, then the means to bring them to fruition.
Matsuka (1990) recommends that learners establish explicit goals by making a contract with themselves. Basically, a
self-authored contract is nothing more than a way of clarifying ones goals and
considering the steps necessary to attain them. Such contracts are not commands, but guidelines to help one evaluate
short-term behaviors in terms of long term objectives.
A copy of a sample learning contract I made appears in Illustration 1.
Illustration 1. A sample learner contract for a student of Japanese.
As a Japanese Learner:
Second Language Learning Goals for 1993
Learning goals should be formulated in their target language when possible. I wrote the previous goals in December 1992, had a native writer offer revisions,
then rewrote them. Since the previous goals were formulated by me rather than decreed by a teacher,
I felt committed to achieving them. In most university classes students operate under a series of concise rules about attendance and participation.
Goal sheets may work for students who are motivated to learn a new language, but what about unmotivated students?
It seems that self-authored goal sheets may have marginal value unless there is a sense of genuine committment.
Successful teachers are skilled at convincing learners that learning should not be to please a teacher or
obtain a grade - but for their own futures.
The specificity of the previous contracts is important: they contain plans to accomplish a number of specific
tasks in a given time frame. Vague goals such as "I promise to study harder" are of little value. As
Mager (1984) points out, learning goals should be clear, concise, and linked to measurable behaviors.
I have included two contracts here because I believe learning is very closely related to teaching. Remembering that
I am a language learner sometimes helps me operate better as a teacher. Admittedly, many of the strategies I use in
learning Japanese may not work in college EFL classes.
Learning contracts can be used in a variety of ways. Matsuka (1992) recommends that teachers begin their school year
by helping students clarify their learning goals. She further recommends that students be evaluated
in part on the extent that they have fulfilled their contracts.
Lyons (1977) suggests that learners organize words into semantic networks.
Students attempting to master one word may find learning how it relates to others beneficial. Often
I will study families of words, or what Coseriu and Geckler (1972, pp. 103-171) describe as "classemes." For instance,
I learned the term rakuten-shugi-sha (optimist) at the same time as ensei-shugi-sha (pessimist).
The task of learning two separate items was reduced. Cognitively, I learned a single concept consisting of two words.
If we organize words in a meaningful way it is often easier to remember them. A way of organizing words advocated by
Collins and Quillian (1969) is semantic mapping, a process of graphically representing related terms.
Semantic mapping has many classroom applications. Sometimes I will draw a simple map such as the one in Illustration
2 to illustrate the difference between related terms. Recently, for example, a student asked me about the
difference between "pig" and "hog."
Rather than explain the difference of these terms without any visual cues, I drew a diagram
which is seen in Illustration 2, then asked the student to elicit sentences using both terms.
Semantic maps can offer students a conceptual frames to understand new words.
Illustration 2. A semantic comparison of buta with two related English terms.
Adapted from Hajima & Kudhira (1984:129)
Many persons find it easier to visualize the difference between two terms before attempting to use them. There are certainly times when one picture is worth a thousand words
Another option is to have students draw their own maps and get feedback from peers.
As they work out the semantic boundaries of different terms, they will likely revise their hypotheses.
Dixon and Nessel (1992: 16-17) suggest this is
effective because students have a chance to formulate their own hypotheses, test them for validity, and revise them as necessary.
Junge (1992) underscores the significance of learner attitudes by affirming,
"Learning a foreign language while believing it is difficult is like driving a car with your foot
on the brake." In the same vein, Dansereau (1978, pp. 1-29) suggests that affective strategies,
or what he calls "self-talk," have a substantial effect on learning performance. Rather than cherishing
non-productive attitudes about my abilities, I have tried to channel my energy into considering the many
things I can do.
How is this relevant to our classes? Although "self-talk" is something students must do for themselves,
teachers can be more aware of the way they talk to those they are teaching. The reason is that the students
do, at least to a degree, shadow the many of the words of their teachers and respond to their expectations.
Let's consider a specific example of this. When I was teaching some college students how to make polite
invitations last year, I believed it was difficult and told them, "This is hard." Few students mastered
what I was attempting to present. Now I am handling such situations differently. Though I recognize English is often complex,
seemingly difficult tasks can be broken down into simple components. Murphey adds, "A teacher's job is to inspire
students to develop productive beliefs and help them to achieve things that they might think initially that they are
incapable of doing." If we believe that our students can achieve a lot and that learning is simpler, and show this
in our attitudes, language, and actions, students will achieve more.
Murphey (1993) further describes the value of useful myths and states, "Sometimes what we believe as language learners and what we believe as teachers is different. A teacher's job is to inspire students and help them to achieve things that they might think they are incapable of doing." If we believe our students can achieve a lot and that learning is simple, they will achieve more than if we think learning is difficult and that they can't achieve much. In short, teachers need to examine their beliefs and expectations about what is possible in the classroom. Recently, I have become more aware of the sort of language I use with students. I am now eliminating the word "difficult" from my vocabulary. I am starting to believe that any task, if broken down into small steps, and approached with the right attitde, can be made easy.
Paivio (1979), Lesgold (1975), and Stevick (1986) have highlighted the importance of imagery in vocabulary acquisition.
An intriguing point I have noticed as a Japanese language student is that the words I tend to forget are not
always those which occur least frequently - usually they are ones without vivid visual, auditory, or kinesthetic associations.
As a case in point, I remember the word by visualizing
its kanji. Both characters comprishing this word tell a story. The character
seems to suggest climbing up a mountain road,
and seem to suggest having wool fibers above ones eyes.
Together, the denote a sense of grappling, grasping, and struggle – which is the basic nuance of this word.
Stevick suggests that "images" can be stored in auditory, or tactile, or visual forms. Some words we "see": other
others we "feel"; still others we hear. In the 1950's memory was viewed as primarily as a process of habit formation
and reinforcement. Our understanding today is richer.
What does this mean for our classes? One application for us as teachers is that we can help students better
understand how they remember things. Most students are not aware of how their memory works or the strategies they
use to remember items.
Wenden (1991, p. 37) suggests students vary in their visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile learning preferences.
For students with primarily visual learning preferences, teachers can use more words which elicit visual responses
and make better use of graphic materials. For those who rely primarily on auditory cues, we can provide extensive
aural input and offer ample opportunities to hear language at natural speed. For those with kinesthetic and tactile
preferences, we can incorporate activities featuring movement and link language to action sequences. Teachers need
to apply a range of strategies to satisfy a variety of students.
This paper has highlighted four strategies which impact language learning. Rather than offer a comprehensive discussion
of language learning, I have provided a glimpse of how some of the strategies mentioned by O'Malley and Charmot relate
to my experience as an English teacher and student of Japanese. In the final section of this paper I have suggested a
primary role of teachers is to help students become more aware of their own preferred learning strategies.
Pendergast (1991) comments, "The most difficult thing about learning a foreign language is not learning the language
itself. It is learning to understand what is necessary in order to learn."
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Copyright (c) 1993 by Tim Newfields