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An Overview of Language Learning Strategies

An Overview of Language Learning Strategies
Admin - Oct 03 2015

Over the last few years, the field of education has radically shifted its traditional emphasis on teachers, focusing instead on the process of learning and the development of learners. In a paper published near the turn of the 21st century, Michael Lessard-Clouston presented a three-step approach for language learning which ESL and EFL teachers can adopt in their classes.

According to prior research, learning strategies may be defined broadly as “behaviors and thoughts that a learner engages during [the] learning [process]” which are aimed at influencing the learner’s cognitive development, or how he or she processes information. This definition has its roots in cognitive science which assumes that people process data during a learning encounter. Transposing this definition to the more specific sphere of language acquisition, language learning strategies (LLS) may then be considered as “specific actions, behaviors, techniques or steps” that may be used by learners to improve their proficiencies in a foreign or second language. Moreover, LLS should be differentiated from learning styles, which encompass a broader and less technical aspect of the learning process, including the “natural, preferred or habitual” manner of receiving, understanding and retaining new information and skills.

These strategies are meant to make it easier for students to internalize, store, retrieve or use the new language they are trying to learn. Thus, in a learner-focused paradigm, these strategies take much of the learning responsibilities from ESL and EFL teachers, assuming instead a realigned definition as “learners’ tools” for a self-directed participation in the development of their own communicative abilities.

Characteristics of Language Learning Strategies

In its early years, language learning strategies emphasized the linguistic and sociolinguistic competence of learners but has now focused more on its mechanics and characteristics. Additionally, LLS has come to acquire a number of characteristics previously forwarded by leading educators and now commonly accepted by the EFL and ESL community.

The basic tenets of language learning strategies are:

  1. LLS are specific steps taken and generated by learners.
  2. LLS enhance language learning and help in the development of language competencies as mirrored in the students’ listening, reading, writing and speaking skills.
  3. LLS may be visible (behaviors, techniques, etc.) or undetectable (mental processes)

A number of noted language educators have expanded the characteristics and objectives of LLS. Among the most significant inclusions are the nature of LLS as problem-oriented, flexible, and highly teachable. These additions also establish a major role for ESL and TEFL educators in guiding learners toward the most appropriate LLS for a given language learning encounter.

LLS may be assimilated in different ESL And TEFL classroom contexts. These are the recommended steps in integrating LLS into your English lessons:

  1. Study the Teaching Context. It is critical for teachers to review the learning scenario and gather adequate information about the classroom dynamics in order to encourage students to find the best LLS to address their specific needs. Individual interests, motivations and preferred learning styles should be gleaned as classroom lessons progress.
  2. Emphasize LLS in the Lesson Plan. Once a specific LLS has been determined for a particular individual or learner group, create learning scenarios wherein the likely usage of the particular LLS is very high. Create clear examples or models to guide students toward the learning goal.
  3. Revisit the encounters and encourage learner feedback. Teachers should primarily reflect on both the negative and positive experiences they themselves encountered for each application of a specific LLS. Equally important is the learner’s own recollection of the appropriateness or effectiveness of a specific LLS. This will allow both the teacher and the language learners to recalibrate their preferred LLS or try other language learning strategies to better approach a specific learning scenario.

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