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State of the art article

Learner strategies
S. H. McDonough University of Essex, UK

1. Introduction McDonough (1995: 2-6) discusses the often over-

lapping uses of the terms strategies, skills, and
There has long existed both pedagogic and research
processes, pointing out that 'strategy' has at least
interest in learners' solutions to learning problems.This
four senses, guiding principle, heuristic estimation,
emerged in recent times as a reaction to behaviourist compensation mechanism, and plan for action.
conceptions of the learner as the locus of a mass of Furthermore, skills, process and strategy may be co-
stimulus-response connections, the internal structure terminous with various kinds of cognitive mecha-
of which remained unspecified because unobservable. nism, some of which are automatic and not available
The strategies discussed in the early stages related for conscious manipulation or inspection, and some
mainly to classical linguistic categories such as gram- of which are. Johnson (1996) discusses the notion of
mar, phonology and semantics. In the intervening skills in language learning from the perspective of
years, strategy studies have investigated the microstruc- cognitive theory, but does not situate strategy clearly
ture of learner response to new language, looking at in his scheme.
learners' solutions to processing problems, to anticipat-
An early stimulus to the investigation of strategies
ed or actual communication problems, to the need to
for second language learning was the programmatic
compensate for perceived lack of knowledge or skill,
work of Rubin (1975) and Stern (1975) describing
and to problems in the use of language to perform strategies which could discriminate between good
tasks. Such knowledge about learner behaviour could, and poor learners, and which could be recommend-
it has been claimed, be used to inform pedagogy and ed as good practice for learning. Stern's original
reduce dogma, to provide cognitive mechanisms and list of ten strategies, which he nominated as being
contribute knowledge of the process of reading, talk- 'features that mark out good language learning'
ing, listening, and writing, to elaborate the elective (1975:31) were:
component of language acquisition, to explain lan-
guage acquisition and to explain individual differences 1. A personal learning style or positive learning
in rate and route of learning. The product of strategy strategies
investigations, the various lists of strategies that have 2. An active approach to the task
been identified as useful for learning, have been utilised 3. A tolerant and outgoing approach to the target
as content for instruction, with the teaching of strate- language and empathy with its speakers
4. Technical know-how about how to tackle a
gies under the guise of'learner training' actually substi-
tuting for language instruction in some programmes.
5. Strategies of experimentation and planning with
The concept of strategy has however proved diffi- the object of developing the new language into
cult to define in an agreed fashion, as Ellis, R. (1994: an ordered system and of revising this system
530) comments. Cohen (1998: 5) provides the fol- progressively
lowing statement: 6. Constantly searching for meaning
Second language learner strategies encompass both second lan- 7. Willingness to practise
guage learning and second language use strategies. Taken togeth- 8. Willingness to use the language in real communica-
er they constitute the steps or actions consciously selected by tion
learners either to improve the learning of a second language, the
use of it, or both. 9. Self-monitoring and critical sensitivity to language
Steven McDonough is Lecturer in Applied Linguistics 10. Developing the target language more and more as a
in the Department of Language and Linguistics, separate reference system, and learning to think in it.
University of Essex, UK (email: mcdon@essex.ac.uk). They were subsequently tested and, in reduced form,
His research interests are in the psychology of second partially substantiated in the 'Good Language
language learning, and he has published three books Learner' study of Naiman, Frohlich, Stern and
(Psychology in Foreign Language Teaching, Tedesco (1978).
George Allen and Unwin, 1981 and 1986; Strategy Strategies have been isolated and described for
and Skill in Learning a Foreign Language, Arnold, learning a second language, for learning to learn a
1995; Research Methods for English Language language, for performing in and using the language,
Teachers (withj. E. McDonough), Arnold, 1997) and for communicating in the language and for compen-
various articles in this area and on its relation to English sating for lack of knowledge of breakdown of com-
language teaching. munication, for the exercise of language in different

Lang.Teach. 32,1-18. Printed in the United Kingdom © 1999 Cambridge University Press 1

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Learner strategies
macro-skill areas such as reading, writing, talking, Language Learning (SILL), which had three classes
and listening, and for coping with difficult elements of 'direct' strategies, Memory, Cognitive, and
of language instruction such as classroom presenta- Compensation strategies, and three classes of'indi-
tion and instruction and taking tests. Connections rect' strategies, Metacognitive, Affective, and Social.
with strategic behaviour have been demonstrated Criticisms have been levelled at all these ways of
for motivation, emotions such as anxiety and self- dividing and labelling the field. In addition, students
confidence, and with other factors such as proficien- of strategy use in particular areas of language use
cy and sex of the learner. have produced more specific taxonomies, for exam-
This range has motivated the increased use of the ple for reading, writing, listening, test-taking. In the
term learner strategies (Cohen, 1998; Wenden and next section the problems with the taxonomic
Rubin, 1987) as opposed to the narrower conception approach will be aired.
of learning strategies, and this term is also redolent of Researchers have developed a number of ways of
the learners' active participation in the learning obtaining information about strategic behaviour, and
process, not simply as a performer, as in audio-lingual standards of research have developed as experience
methods of teaching, but as a problem-solver and with different kinds of data and methods has been
reflective organiser of the knowledge and skills on gained. Cohen (1987) discussed the shortcomings of
offer in the language exposure and required for a purely observational approach and develops the
effective language use. However, learner strategy advantages of verbal report, distinguishing between
work has not been confined to language study: con- introspection and retrospection, and, in his terminol-
currently there has been considerable interest and ogy, between self-observation and self-revelation.
research in the general educational field in 'thinking Verbal reporting methods, usually referred to as 'pro-
skills' programmes and learning strategies derived tocol analysis' or 'think-aloud', have, however, gained
independently of language learning problems considerably in power, sophistication, and popularity,
as experience with their use has increased, and meth-
(Williams and Burden, 1997: 143). Nisbet and
ods of countering their disadvantages have been
Shucksmith (1986) trace the history of learning
developed. Ericsson and Simon (1987, 1993) pre-
strategies, ideas about learning to learn, and improve-
sented careful arguments for this method and these
ment of study skills back to the beginning of the
kinds of data to be considered valuable and valid,
century and beyond. As we shall see, the specifically
under strict data-gathering conditions, refuting earli-
linguistic provenance of the strategies people use for
er criticisms within psychology raised by Nisbett and
solving language problems is quite narrow: strategies Wilson (1977). Poulisse et al. (1987) noted that retro-
are predominantly general mental mechanisms spective verbal reporting methods nearly doubled
applied as the learner thinks fit. the number of identifications of use of compensatory
Tarone (1977) drew an often quoted distinction strategies over the number identified by other means
between communication, learning, and production such as discourse analysis, taking account also of the
strategies, on the basis of the purpose of the strategic instances where verbal reporting disconfirmed iden-
behaviour - repairing or forestalling communication tifications. Cohen and Scott (1996: 89-105) and
breakdown, expanding language knowledge, or exer- Cohen (1998: Chapter 3) analyse the procedures,
cising a receptive or productive skill. The difficulty advantages and disadvantages of six methods of doing
with such a distinction is simply that it rests on learn- research on strategies:
er's purpose, which may not be so precise: a learner
may use a strategy for making sense of a difficulty in • Oral interviews and written questionnaires (for
a reading passage, which enables the learner to example, Carrell, 1989; Oxford, 1990)
remember some new language item. However, they • Observation (as in O'Malley et al. 1985)
may have been reading the passage in the first place • Verbal report (as in Anderson & Vandegrift 1996;
to expand their knowledge of the language. On the Block, 1986)
other hand, one cannot assume that a strategy for • Diaries and Dialogue journals (as in Oxford, Lavine
avoiding communication breakdown, like circumlo- etal. in Oxford, 1996)
cution, will result in any new language being learnt, • Recollection studies (Pickett, 1978; Poulisse et al.,
though it may. Since strategy use is usually inferred 1987)
from questionnaire or verbal report data or just from • Computer tracking (Baily in Oxford, 1996).
performance data, independent evidence of purpose
would require a further level of self-observation or None of these methods is without problems, and
recollection. O'Malley and Chamot (1987, 1990) there is always a danger that method predetermines
presented another three-way division, which drew the kind of results obtained. However, given the
on Flavell's concept of metacognition: Metacognitive mixture of 'hard' and 'soft' data, and of quantitative
strategies, Cognitive strategies, and Social-affective and qualitative methods of analyses represented, the
strategies. Oxford (1990) presented a system of classi- technique of data triangulation (Denzin, 1978) is
fication which formed the basis of the most compre- often used to provide stabilisation of the data and
hensive questionnaire, the Strategy Inventory for interpretive clarity in particular studies.

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Learner strategies
ond language learners on the basis of the evidence of
2. Theoretical foundations
error analysis, and inventing the powerful but con-
In first language acquisition research, a strategic troversial concept of'fossilization', whereby an error
approach was developed in Slobin's (1973) operating became ineradicable through learning or teaching.
principles for a child learning the structure of the Theoretical contributions from studies in educa-
language of the environment. Such 'principles' as 'Pay tion, not specifically with reference to language, but
attention to the ends of words' hid a number of issues particularly to maths, science, and reading, have been
which have since proved to be highly controversial. outlined by Nisbet and Shucksmith (1986, Chapters
'Attention' was a traditional psychological category 2 & 3), who reviewed meta-analyses of study skills
of cognition; since it is to some extent under volun- manuals from most of the century, and went on to
tary control, it is often associated with conscious describe the controversies surrounding the notion of
mental activity. However, Slobin did not claim that a hierarchy of strategies, from 'planfulness' (Brown,
his operating principles were conscious choices in 1974, cited ibid. 1986: 28) through macro and micro
the mind of the neonate, far less that babies could strategies to Flavell's (1976, cited ibid. 1986:30) con-
inspect their own conscious choices, Rather, the cept of metacognition, and criticisms of it.
operating principles were means for getting neces- Within discussions of strategies for language
sary evidence for the construction of grammars, and learning, however, the most usual theoretical basis
some strength of claim was made that they were uni- referred to has been the various forms of informa-
versal principles of language acquisition, and there- tion theory approaches to cognition (Anderson,
fore innate features of the operation of the linguistic 1983; Johnson, 1996; McLaughlin, 1987; O'Malley
system (expressed in a sense anthropomorphically). and Chamot 1990). In particular, O'Malley and
Others argued that such principles were general, not Chamot (1990) attempted to locate their work with-
specifically linguistic, features of the intelligent brain, in an expansion of Anderson's Adaptive Control of
used in other areas of cognition. Furthermore, Thought (ACT) model, building on Anderson's view
Slobin's principles assumed the pre-existence of vari- of strategies within the development of procedural
ous kinds of linguistic knowledge, such as 'word' in knowledge. However, they also note that the concept
the example, which implies systematic segmentation of strategies itself does not play a major role in
of the stream of speech. Later attempts at developing Anderson's theory. Neither does it in Johnson's
the notion of learnability of language have rejected (1996) view of language learning as skill acquisition.
this simple assumption in favour of much more com- Elaborations of cognitive theory to include accounts
plex theories of die innate faculty of language. Thus, of the role of strategies in language learning have
early attempts to use the notion of strategies in been presented by Faerch and Kasper (1983a) for
language acquisition confused conscious and uncon- elaboration and reduction strategies and by Bialystok
scious activity, linguistic and non-linguistic cate- (1990) in particular for communication and com-
gories, and made unsubstantiated assumptions about pensation strategies. McDonough (1998) discusses
the sophistication of genetically endowed linguistic the internal structure of strategies, exploring the
knowledge. possible theoretical bases for the notion of a hierar-
However, such early work in first language acqui- chy of strategies in terms of cognitive load, power of
sition inspired several important pieces of work in application, and some other dimensions.
second language development, such as Stevens' Applied Linguistics theorists have attempted to
(1984) research on the learning of French in integrate the notion of learning and communication
Canadian schools and Selinker's (1972) theory of strategies in particular in theories of communicative
Interlanguage. competence (Canale and Swain, 1980), to capture
The first was performed in the context of the the perception that it is part of a bilingual's skill to be
establishment of 'immersion' teaching in Canadian able to solve communication problems and operate
schools, which was held to simulate the conditions of language expansion mechanisms, and that, further-
first language acquisition for second language learn- more, such a strategic 'competence' is part of what
ers. Stevens isolated a number of strategies used by needs to be taught and tested in an overall language
her sample for making sense of grammatical and teaching operation. Canale and Swain (1980) includ-
phonological difficulties in the French they encoun- ed 'strategic competence' within their concept of
tered and had to use in pursuance of their ordinary communicative competence, together with gram-
school working day. Her study used young beginners matical, discourse, and sociolinguistic competence.
in a second language; another study of young begin- Bachman (1990) argued that strategic competence
ners and the way their strategic repertoire grew was was different from language competence but com-
reported by Chesterfield and Chesterfield (1985). plementary.
The second drew on the applied linguistic tradi- As O'Malley and Chamot (1990: 44) recognised,
tion of languages in contact and first language inter- affective strategies (including coping with one's own
ference mechanisms as traced historically by Selinker emotions, motivation, and enlisting the help of others
(1992), specifying a number of strategies used by sec- via appeal) are less easily incorporated in a cognitive

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Learner strategies
framework, though as examples of learner strategies, methods of preparation for learner autonomy and to
they are no less important than cognitive and meta- autonomous learning itself. Smith (1998) discusses
cognitive strategies. both the traditional positions with regard to these
There is a pervading assumption, theoretically issues and the more recent notion of student interde-
codified in Anderson's three stages of skill acquisition pendence and ability to work collaboratively with-
(cognition, association, and autonomy) (O'Malley out a teacher, being promoted in some countries of
and Chamot 1990:78-9), and seen as a broad aim for the Pacific Rim (Aoki and Smith 1996). Politzer and
learning-to-learn activities (Nisbet and Shucksmith MacGroarty (1985) demonstrated that students from
1986: 12, 92), that learning strategies promote different broad cultural groups (Latin American and
autonomous learning. Wenden (1991) is based on Asian) achieved success using different kinds of study
this assumption, and the book provides exhaustive behaviours, some characteristic of traditional notions
documentation of the desirability of autonomous of'Good Language Learners' and some not. A wealth
learning and of practical steps for developing learner of evidence on the cross-cultural perspective on
autonomy, mainly in the sense of learners taking learner strategies is given in Oxford (1996),in partic-
responsibility for their own learning and developing ular in the articles by Bedell and Oxford (1996:
strategies for doing so. Crabbe (1993) discusses Chapter 4) and Levine, Reves, and Leaver (1996:
research showing that, while teachers often give Chapter 3).
copious procedural instruction on how to accom- A further theoretical issue involved in the descrip-
plish activities designed to promote interaction and tion of strategies is consciousness. Bialystok (1990)
independent learning, they do not give instruction in pointed out that strategies are often assumed to be
how to learn language from these activities. That is part of conscious, voluntary behaviour, but this may
assumed to occur 'naturally'. Fleming and Walls not necessarily be so. Part of the difficulty lies in the
(1998) found that pupils learning French and vagueness of the concept of consciousness: taking
German in England spontaneously used a wide Schmidt's (1994, 1995) deconstruction of this con-
selection of strategies in their spoken and written cept into his quartet of'intention', 'attention', 'notic-
tasks, and they argue that guidelines and criteria for ing' (awareness), and 'understanding' (control), it is
meta-cognitive and cognitive strategies should be evident that both cognitive and meta-cognitive
made explicit in the National Curriculum to raise strategies can be conceptualised within these cate-
teachers' awareness of them and enable teachers to gories, but it is also remarkable that Schmidt's own
develop them in their classes. discussions of explicit and implicit learning (concen-
There is some tension between regarding strate- trating in particular on the role of'noticing') largely
gies as part of a theory of learning, describing the ignore the research on strategic behaviour. More
development of autonomy, and the implication that direct articulation of this issue is given by Ellis, N.
many learners need instruction in operating strate- (1994) discussing conscious processes in vocabulary
gies independently. It is this gap between what learn- acquisition: the involvement of an 'explicit concep-
ers can do and what they will do which provides the tual system' and strategies (see also Ellis and Beaton,
justification for learner training programmes. Two 1993).
small-scale studies of self-directed learning further Finally in this section, strategy use has been shown
underline the point. Nakhoul (1993) describes the in various studies to be affected by and to affect
development of successful use of self-access facilities diverse other issues such as motivation, gender, cog-
at Hong Kong University, noting the difficulties stu- nitive style, language proficiency level, and age
dents experienced and the need for teacher support (Erten, 1998; Kaylani, 1996; Oxford, 1990; Oxford
through tutorial; Jones (1993), in the context of an and Crookall, 1989; Rubin, 1975). Nayak et al. (1990)
evaluative study of'teach yourself material, notes the report an intriguing study comparing learning strate-
difficulties such lone learners have with self-study gy use by monolingual and multilingual adults.
packages and the relative paucity of'learner support' Multilinguals did not appear to be overall superior in
features embodied in the materials. He quotes a diary learning ability, but were more flexible and had bet-
study (1992, cited in Jones 1993) of learning ter ability to adjust their strategies to task require-
Hungarian in which he adopted an autonomous ments. However, this study used mini-artificial
approach after gaining certain kinds of basic lexical languages rather than natural foreign languages, so its
knowledge, partly as a reaction to the rigidity of the relevance to learning real foreign languages may be
self-study packages used. in doubt. These variables constrain the amount and
Another difficult issue that is raised by the variety of strategy use, and crucially the success of
involvement of learner strategies with autonomy is particular strategies in particular circumstances. For
culture. Nakhoul's students were Hong Kong this reason, predictions of what will be good or poor
Chinese, whose culture may have made them more strategies to use or to recommend are not reliable, in
the present state of knowledge considerably less so
resistant than Western students both to group discus-
than weather forecasting.
sion methods including a proportion of self-disclosure,

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Learner strategies
3. Strategic performance in different certain kinds of strategies and certain combinations
skill areas of strategies. Earlier, Hosenfeld (1976) had attempted
to compare, using an interventionist questioning
Reading technique, what good and poor second language
There has been a great deal of work on the strategies readers were doing. Carrell (1989) investigated self-
used by readers in their first language (LI) and their reported meta-cognitive strategy use in a question-
second language (L2). In the first language, the naire-based study. Very few of her questions (which
ground-breaking work of Olshavsky (1976-7) initi- were in four groups, concerned with readers' confi-
ated a long series of strategic investigations of both dence in the L2, repairs, effectiveness of strategies,
poor readers and good readers. Many people think and difficulties) could be shown to be related to first
that they do not use strategies in reading in their first language reading, and the two different groups
language, that it is an 'automatic' process, but research (Spanish speaking learners of English and American
has shown that this is not true. There is a cline of learners of Spanish) rated different strategies as
reading skill for native speakers and strategy use is important in the second language. This was affected
evident wherever a reader recognises that they are by their proficiency in the second language. A study
beginning not to comprehend the text, or that their by Block (1986,1992) looked at generally unsuccess-
interpretation ceases to be plausible. This may hap- ful readers working in their LI or L2 in an American
pen at word level, sentence level (even the native college context, and showed how the upper group,
language) or particularly at the level of discourse, which used strategies characterised by an ability to
where the author's intentions may be misinterpreted take the text as a relatively self-contained problem
leading to the construction of an unfaithful model of (called 'Integrators'), contrasted with the lower
the intended meaning because the overall context of group, who allowed their own reactions to the text
the passage is inaccurately located (Waern, 1988). to affect their interpretation (called 'Non-integra-
Ericsson (1988) in the same journal presents a com- tors'). Further developments in reading strategies in
prehensive review of verbal report studies on text L2 have been reported by Aslanian (1985), using
comprehension, mainly drawing on LI studies. One questions to reveal misunderstandings, Cavalcanti
of his conclusions was that verbal reporting methods (1987), using pause-length measurements to evaluate
slow down, but do not change, the normal processes strategy use and success of interpretation, Davis and
readers use when they are not giving a concurrent Bistodeau (1993), Kember and Gow (1994), Paran
report, not talking while reading. Pressley and (1996) andTaillefer (1996).Talbot (1997) reported a
Afflerbach (1995) present a monograph of meta- study evaluating the success of a programme of
analysis of thirty-eight verbal protocol studies of instruction in foreign language reading strategies in
native speakers reading and systematise their findings Singapore. Typically, studies of individual skill areas
into a theory of'constructively responsive reading'. have needed to develop specific taxonomies of
While the balance of strategy use in second lan- strategies for that area, which go beyond the more
guages may be different, requiring for example more general strategy inventories developed by, for exam-
work on word-identification than normal for native ple, O'Malley and Chamot (1990) and Oxford
speakers, this work has enormous implications for (1990); though often those inventories form the basis
the theory of reading in a second language. of the specific skill research.
Work in reading in a second language has uncov-
ered strategy use in four main groups (Sarig, 1987):
• Technical Aids (like skimming, marking the text, The productive skill of writing in a foreign language
using context, recognising cognates, consulting has also been studied in terms of strategies, under the
glossaries); guise of'writing process research'. This also originat-
• Clarification and Simplification (like paraphrase, ed in classic studies of performing in the first lan-
syntactic simplification, identifying the grammatical
guage, as did the reading studies (Flower and Hayes,
category of words, using inference);
1980, 1981; Perl, 1980, 1981; see also Smagorinsky,
• Coherence Detection (like keeping the meaning of
1989, 1994). Most studies of L2 writing strategies
the passage in mind, using background knowledge,
recognising text structure, anticipating context, dis- have used as their starting point the categories and
criminating main and subsidiary propositions); time analysis system developed by Perl (1981), adapt-
• Monitoring (like consciously changing the plan, ed for the second language situation in various ways.
varying reading speed, deserting a hopeless phrase, People have mostly been studied while under
stating failure to understand a word or clause, ques- instructions to talk while writing, giving a written
tioning information). product and a correlated commentary at the same
time. As always, some people are more comfortable
Sarig's own research was on school leavers reading in with this situation than others, which means the
a foreign language, and she noted how successful cre- quality of data for strategy analysis varies consider-
ation of plausible interpretations was dependent on ably between writers.

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Learner strategies
A number of sharp criticisms of the talking-while- writing, by skilled and unskilled writers, but doubts
writing approach have been made. Cooper and have been raised about its status as a theory of writ-
Holzmann (1983) took Flower and Hayes to task for ing, and about the further proposal that verbal report
treating what people say they do as data for what methods can test it. One obvious shortcoming is the
they actually do. Dobrin (1986) particularly high- lack of any provision for evaluation of the product by
lighted the difficulties of interpreting what people others and the incorporation of feedback from audi-
say in terms of strategies and the impossibility of ence and/or teacher.
making any kind of bridge between processes that Several studies have looked at planning by L2
are open to conscious choice and inspection ('heeded' writers. Raimes (1985, 1987) noted that many did
processes in Ericsson and Simon's terms, 1993) and not spend much time planning before plunging
automatic processes. Berkenkotter (1983) raised the straight into text production, then rehearsing the
objection that the strategies revealed by verbal report continuation. For many of her writers, planning con-
by an experienced publishing author were mostly sisted of repeating the set title (even just repeating
not recognised by him as his usual approach to writ- one troublesome word in the title). This may have
ing, and therefore were associated with the abnormal been an artifact of the situation of writing to a set
situation of talking while writing rather than the topic in a research situation, but it is a frequent
normal situation of writing alone and silently. When teaching situation as well. Other studies (Lay, 1982;
using this method of self-revelation with non-native Zamel, 1983) have, however, made similar findings.
speakers there is the additional problem of the lan- More detailed studies of planning were carried out
guage used for report (usually the native language) by Jones and Tetroe (1987), who investigated both
being different from the language used for writing. the language of planning and the cognitive load of
This point in fact raises a number of interesting certain types of writing task. Specifically, they com-
questions concerning the language of planning and pared the moves of intermediate writers (preparing
rehearsal used by L2 writers which are discussed for university study in their L2) planning in their
below. native language (Spanish) or English, and their subse-
Investigations of writing strategies in both the first quent writing. They found that planning in the first
language and second languages began in detail fol- language by and large produced better results in
lowing the development of the theory of recursive the second language writing, but the particular task
writing processes (Perl, 1980) in contrast to the earli- (narrative, exposition, completing given a start and
er assumptions of linear stage theory. Perl had sug- completing towards a given end) made a consider-
gested that writers produce text by a series of able difference. Friedlander (1990) compared writers
recursive processes, somewhat independently of how planning to write on themes they had learned about
they originally planned what they wanted to say. either in the LI or the L2, in the matching or non-
Whereas linear stage theory held that text was the matching language. He found that, indeed, better
last stage of a planning process going on in ever plans and better L2 essays were produced in the
increasing detail from idea to linguistic text, in the matching language situation (i.e., writing in Chinese
order of ideas in the original plan, the recursion the- on a Chinese topic and in English on an American
ory proposed that text was decided on by constant topic), so planning in the language of knowledge
reference to the text just produced, individual signifi- acquisition helped the construction of text in the
cant words in the text, and to a vague concept of second language. He also found that there were a
Perl's, the 'felt sense' of the text as it grew. The picture number of consistent differences in the plans con-
of text production that this gave was of a writer con- structed for the culturally familiar topic and the
stantly evaluating and reviewing the sentences just novel topic. The plans for the Chinese topic were by
produced and their immediate continuations, in the and large shorter and more sparse, consisting of
light of the text already on paper, a picture which headings and single words giving an indication of
neatly incorporated the idea (Britton, 1983) of'shap- topics and topic order; plans for the English topic
ing at the point of utterance'. Zamel's (1982) were more likely to be more detailed, and to consist
'Writing: the process of discovering meaning' takes of larger stretches of text which then could be incor-
the same idea further, claiming that writers only porated into the final text.
finally work out what they mean through choosing Many other, at the time unpublished, pieces of
the words, sentence structure, rhetorical frameworks, research into writing processes of second language
and so forth, of the text they are producing. Flower writers were reviewed usefully by Krapels (1990).
and Hayes (1981) formalised these ideas into a model Krapels concluded that the body of research she
of the writing process which involved three primary reported showed that unskilled writers in English as
processes of planning, translating, and reviewing, L2 suffer from a lack of composing competence
drawing on secondary processes and much stored rather than linguistic competence; that evidence on
information, in particular the writer's experience of LI and L2 similarities is somewhat contradictory;
writing the current and other texts. This model has that code-switching in planning and text-production
been very influential in studies of both LI and L2 between LI and L2 is quite common but by no

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Learner strategies
means universal; and that LI use while writing in L2 again, marked preferences for sentence-length, rea-
may be a device for sustaining the composing soned comments rather than one word or symbol
process, an organisational aid, and sometimes the and a wish for as full a response to a particular point
result of the demands of certain writing tasks. as possible. Questions as comments were not unwel-
A piece of research which led directly to a set of come, even if they were challenging. One of Keh's
instructional materials for introducing 'Process writ- conclusions was to write herself guidelines as to the
ing' into EFL classrooms was Arndt's (1987) study of most welcome kinds of comments. So here, one out-
six Chinese writers, in which she compared their come could be said to be decision about teachers'
verbal protocols while writing in Chinese and in strategies, but still not any detailed information about
English. She found that there were many similarities students' processing strategies. Ferris (1997) also
between their approach to writing in each language, investigated the frequency and reception of a
so much so that she felt able to give each writer an teacher's written comments on L2 texts. Radecki
individual label that characterised their approach. To and Swales (1988) identified both 'receptors' and
what extent such a conception masks underlying 'resistors' to teachers' written comments among their
generalisations is a question for further research with college-level ESL writers. In many cases, what deter-
larger samples.The writing textbook she co-authored mined the writers' attitude to the comments seemed
(Arndt andWhite, 1991) attempted to institutionalise, to be their own evaluation of their own work, but
in prescriptions for classroom activities, the variety presumably this in turn was determined by individ-
and creativity of writing process research. For teach- ual personalities and their attributions of compe-
ers of writing, one of the most important areas of this tence to the teachers - not linguistic competence,
research remains the written interaction between but competence to criticise their work. Radecki and
teacher and student, in particular the provision of Swales were not able to delve into those aspects in
feedback ('coaching from the margins', Leki, 1990) depth within the framework of their study.
and the learning writers' use of that feedback. A vari- Manchon Ruiz (1997) presents a review of L2
ety of methods involving product and process have composing strategies which arose out of work on the
been used to research the many issues surrounding relationship between LI writing ability and L2 profi-
feedback, its effectiveness, and the ways students ciency in L2 composition, highlighting in particular
utilise it. Semke (1984) found that it was by and large the role of'restructuring'. Porte (1997) investigated a
ignored; Zamel (1985) found that it was often con- number of underachieving L2 writers, and while he
fusing, self-contradictory, based on misreadings of the found they could describe their revision strategies,
writer's intention, and contributed to worsening text there was a strong implication that these were prag-
quality rather than improvement; Fathman and matic reactions to what they thought their teachers
Whalley (1990) found that feedback on different preferred and what seemed to be the message from
aspects (grammar and content) was not equally effec- the feedback they were given. He therefore surmised
tive; Hall (1990) investigated students' reactions to that the writers' primary concern with surface arid
revising their work and evaluating it; Cohen (1991) mechanical text alterations was a product of the
and Cohen and Cavalcanti (1990) found that stu- learning situation. This result echoed, using a differ-
dents had a variety of reactions to feedback, some ent methodology, Yagelski's (1995) finding that LI
even resenting it as an intrusion into their personal writing students tended to follow the patterns
space, and that the same students had definite opin- embedded in the classroom context (in particular a
ions about particular kinds of feedback. They also focus on lower-level concerns) in their revision
found a rank order of'popularity' of actions taken on strategies, and not to use the opportunity to recon-
the basis of feedback, from 'making a mental note' sider the meaning, argument structure,the quality of
down to rephrasing and redrafting, and finally — and the points and the examples, the order of the main
least popular - writing a fair copy. Of course, what a sections, etc. Cumming and So (1996), studying ESL
student does with feedback on a composition is writers, also identified a predominance of local focus
going to depend partly on the relation between that in discussing drafts with their tutors, again largely
task and the next one. Remembering a detailed driven by the tutors' definition of the problem. These
comment from one attempt is important if the next pieces of research raise, but do not solve, the question
task is a redraft (not the norm for Cohen and of how learners evaluate their tutors' suggestions and
Cavalcanti's Brazilian university students in either how, especially in the case of weak students, consid-
Portuguese or English), but of no great use if the eration can be given to deeper concerns of structure,
next task is a different kind of writing on a different argument, and quality during the revision process.
topic. What is still unclear in this area is what strate- The small scale in terms of number of L2 writers
gies, if any, learners adopt to extract general lessons investigated and the variety of methods used (prod-
they can use to improve their next piece from partic- uct measures, questionnaires, verbal protocols) in this
ular comments on pieces they have already written. area has meant that the amount of reliable informa-
Research by Keh (1990) on students' reactions to tion on writers' strategies for planning, rehearsal,
feedback in a peer-conferencing situation showed, production, and exploitation of feedback is limited.

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Learner strategies
However, it is highly suggestive and has already been correct word. These pieces of research represent only
used to generate new approaches to writing instruc- a selection from a growing literature on compensato-
tion in classrooms and ways of offering comments ry strategies (see also Haastrup & Phillipson, 1983;
and evaluative feedback. Notes of caution both about Varadi, 1980), but most of this literature actually con-
the research base and in particular about the imple- cerns word-level problems.
mentation of'process writing' as a means of coaching Olshtain and Cohen (1989) looked at a more
have been sounded (Horowitz, 1986; Zamel, 1987). complicated issue in communication: the perfor-
Stratman and Hamp-Lyons (1994) pointed out that mance of speech acts and how the students learn the
there were many reactive effects in the talking- linguistic and cultural criteria for what counts as suc-
while-writing situation used for much of this cessful performance (just saying 'I'm sorry' is not
research: normal or habitual processes gave way to necessarily good enough to count as an apology). In
different ones when writing under this added and to fact, in the language the students were learning,
some extent alien constraint.This is unhelpful for the Hebrew, there are five elements which need to be
validity of the research, but not unwelcome as a new present (apology-perhaps with intensifier, explana-
tool for use in instruction; just as Hosenfeld (1984) tion, acknowledgement of responsibility, offer of
found that getting readers to talk about their reading repair, promise of forbearance), each of which
strategies helped them to change, so there may be involves a specific and different performative phrase.
certain benefits in getting writers to verbalise what Olshtain and Cohen (1990) found that, since these
they think they are doing. involved some cultural differences, direct explanation
by the teacher was the method of learning the stu-
dents favoured most. Cohen and Olshtain (1992)
Talking expanded the task set to include a variety of com-
Studies of strategies used to accomplish talking in a mon functional language situations (apologising,
foreign language have concentrated particularly on complaining, responding, requesting) on role-play
compensatory activities and on pragmatics - learning cards to elicit just how learners would go about try-
to perform certain kinds of speech acts appropriately. ing to negotiate these slightly difficult interpersonal
Poulisse et al. (1987) used discourse analysis and a and interactional situations. Cohen (1998: 240-255)
retrospective verbal report to analyse communication gives a full account of their results and discussed the
breakdown and repair strategies in conversations research (under the general heading of test-taking,
between Dutch high school students and English for this role-play elicitation task is more akin to
native speakers. Tarone (1977,1980,1981) developed communicative performance tests than to the chance
a taxonomy of communicative strategies which, encounters of real life) in terms of methodology,
grouped as Paraphrase, Borrowing, and Avoidance, strategies revealed, focus of attention during process-
focused principally on what to do when the speaker ing, the language of thought, and individual differ-
cannot find a word or realises that a word is not ences of style.
going to be understood. Faerch and Kasper (1983b:
20-60) developed a theory of reduction strategies
(avoidance, omission) and achievement strategies Listening
(similar to Tarone's taxonomy) to account for data in Listening comprehension is generally regarded as the
two corpuses of non-native speaker/native speaker most difficult skill by most language learners, and for
interactions recorded in Denmark and Germany and many of the same reasons (typically its transient
reported a study (1983: 210-238) comparing the nature and the limited degree of control by the lis-
utility of the psychological and the interactionist tener on the stream of speech) it has proved to be the
views of communication strategies. Bialystok (1990: most difficult skill to research. Issues in listening
57-83) reports a study of nine-year-old girls learning comprehension strategy research parallel those in
French in an immersion teaching school who were reading, to some extent: word identification, con-
set simple communicative tasks involving describing struction of interpretations, coherence detection,
an array of objects on a feltboard to another child establishment of main points and subsidiary points.
who could not see the original array, but had to But there are some additional problems for listening
reproduce it on their feltboard, from what the first comprehension; icking up the pronunciation and
child said in French. Consequently most of the task intonation cues, discriminating the salience signals of
involved identification of objects and some position- content words by stress, identifying the grammatical
al information. Her analysis concerned the nature of cues present in the stream of speech, and coping with
the children's attempts to communicate these mean- the emotional stress of working at another speaker's
ings.and the success of the various solutions. speed. Finally, while many listening comprehension
Interestingly, word coinage had by far the greatest tasks in classrooms are inauthentic and relate most
success rate (96%), indicating that, with two children directly to listening to radio programmes, ultimately
of similar linguistic background, a high degree of listening is generically one side of interaction and lis-
agreement can be reached without the use of the tening strategies are geared to preparing a response.

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Learner strategies
Murphy (1985) had listeners give a verbal report to and strategies for dealing with comprehension of
of what they were doing signalled by stopping the authentic listening and reading tasks in the context
tape at certain moments. He described the think- of the affective climate of the classroom, as evidenced
aloud reports so obtained in terms of various word- by the students' attitudes and motives for learning
identification and coherence detection strategies, foreign languages. Vogely (1995) investigated listen-
noting what made listening difficult for his learners. ers' reactions to authentic listening tasks. Goh (1997)
A larger-scale study by O'Malley, Chamot, and used a diary study of performing listening tasks with
Kupper (1989) using the O'Malley and Chamot young students from the People's Republic of China
strategy typology found three main groups of strate- learning English in Singapore. The diaries revealed
gies in use: self-monitoring, elaboration by using considerable details, which Goh categorised under
background knowledge, and inferring the meaning the headings of 'person knowledge' (what they
of words or phrases from context. They divided their learned about their own reactions to listening tasks);
learners into effective and ineffective listeners on the 'task knowledge' (their experiences and beliefs about
basis of teachers' observations of their classroom the importance of various features of the listening
behaviour and found that the more effective ones task, and about the usefulness of different kinds of
used a more top-down approach, favouring inference input material); and 'strategic knowledge' (the choic-
and coherence detection strategies, while the less es they made for directing their attention during the
effective concentrated on a word by word approach, tasks and information about strategies that worked
working bottom-up. The latter group inevitably ran for them and those that did not).The study strongly
into time problems. A large-scale study of listeners by implies that the diary-keeping raised the students'
Vandegrift (Anderson and Vandegrift, 1996) looked awareness of what they were doing, but is unable to
at the strategies used by learners of different grades in conclude this since no control or triangulation is
a selection of schools in Canada learning French.The reported. Rost and Ross (1991) took up the question
of learner strategies in listening in an interpersonal
study used three different methodologies: self-report
conversation situation, particularly in the use of clar-
through delayed retrospection and a structured inter-
ification questions. Rost and Ross found that four
view about strategies, self-observation after an oral
types of clarification question were used successfully
proficiency interview, and self-revelation through
by the more proficient learners: global reprise, local
think-aloud. The study produced interesting results
reprise, forward inferencing, and continuation sig-
for meta-cognitive and cognitive strategies, but the nals. In the second part of the study learners were
coding scheme was found to be inadequate for the given training in asking clarification questions, and
affective area, which was nevertheless shown to be in a listening comprehension task using narrative,
highly important. The listening comprehension they were observed asking such questions. The train-
process that emerges (the tasks were inauthentic ing was found to be successful both in improving
classroom exercises) is nevertheless an interactive their questioning behaviour in interaction and in
process, success being dependent on drawing on var- improving the text comprehension. The study did
ied sources of information and background knowl- not look at how long-lasting the effect of such train-
edge. Some support was found (since some students ing was, an issue to be taken up later when discussing
participated in all three phases of the methodology) strategy training as a specific issue.
for the idea that making students more aware of their
own strategies via stimulated recall (on video) and
self-revelation is itself a helpful exercise, promoting
use of meta-cognitive strategies of attention and Vocabulary
elaboration. Young (1996) confirmed some of The importance of vocabulary strategies has already
Vandegrift's findings in a study of listening compre- been underlined in previous sections on reading and
hension among Chinese learners of English in Hong listening strategies, and in terms of word-finding and
Kong, and presented very interesting qualitative and repair in studies of communication strategies in talk-
quantitative analyses of the strategies used by these ing and writing. In other words, strategies for finding
learners for a variety of text types. The qualitative the meanings of words as encountered, and finding
analysis in particular demonstrates how individual the right words for meanings (or ways round not
learners cope with unknown words, some being able finding the right words) are central to all other lan-
to hold on to an unknown word while using subse- guage use situations. However, vocabulary problems
quent lines of the passage for identification cues, are also encountered in other ways: how do people
while others found that coming across an unknown learn new vocabulary whether encountered in nat-
word blocked their use of helpful information ural communication, reading or listening compre-
occurring later. The quantitative analysis revealed not hension, or vocabulary expansion exercises or
only the overall relative frequency of different strate- dictionaries? Findings in this area have been
gies, but also, through muti-dimensional scaling, their reviewed by Ahmed (1988) and more recently by
relative importance. Bacon and Finneman (1990) Schmitt (1997). Cohen and Aphek (1981) looked at
were concerned to set the study of students' reactions vocabulary strategies in word encounters and word-

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Learner strategies
finding tasks in Hebrew L2 classrooms using think- rich context reduces the need for attention to the
aloud. Porte (1988) investigated the strategies used word itself. Gu and Johnson (1996) present a rela-
by under-achieving EFL learners to acquire vocabu- tively large-scale questionnaire study of 850 second
lary, showing that, although many were using strate- year students at Beijing Normal University, and
gies characteristic of'Good Language Learners', they looked at the relationships holding between particu-
were using a small subset or misapplying them. lar cognitive strategies and measures of proficiency
Much work has used the concept of keywords or and vocabulary size. Self-initiation and selective
pegword mnemonic systems. Typically, learners asso- attention showed the strongest correlations with
ciate a well-known native language word that sounds general proficiency; contextual guessing, using dic-
like the foreign word and link the keyword to the tionary look-up for learning, note-taking and other
translation equivalent by some story, imagery, or active strategies like oral repetition also correlated
other association. Ellis and Beaton (1993) compared with both vocabulary size and general proficiency.
and contrasted keyword methods with other meth- An interesting feature of their analysis was the divi-
ods since, as they showed in their review of the key- sion of the respondents into five learning style cate-
word literature, success has been shown for keyword gories. The most successful were those students
systems for so-called 'passive' vocabulary (remember- (small in number) who used reading as a means to
ing the meanings of foreign words) but not for learn vocabulary, and those who activated a wide
'active' vocabulary (remembering the foreign word range of strategies. Despite the large sample size, Gu
for a concept). Ellis and Beaton found that the key- and Johnson acknowledge their study is only
word imagery method was indeed efficient for trans- exploratory in nature, and reports beliefs rather than
lation into the native language, but was significantly actual process information. However, the gradual
surpassed by simple rote repetition for translating accretion of quite large-scale studies of the populari-
into the foreign language, and that a combined strat- ty of different strategy types and the correlation with
egy was most effective. Interestingly they also found proficiency measures allows a kind of cost-benefit
a part of speech effect: imageable noun keywords analysis of the efficiency of people's solutions to the
were successful but imageable verbs were not. problem of acquiring vocabulary, moderated by
Schmitt and Schmitt (reported in Schmitt 1997) analyses of individual differences of approach.
conducted a large-scale survey of vocabulary learn- A small-scale study by Erten (1998) looked in
ing strategies among Japanese learners, who are used considerable detail at the relationships between pre-
to a grammar translation method of teaching. Not ferred vocabulary learning strategy and learning
surprisingly, they found that rote repetition featured style, using a task intended to simulate look-up in a
highly in their ratings of importance, while strategies monolingual dictionary (pairing a word with an L2
based on internal evidence and cross-linguistic paral- gloss expressed in a sentence). One dramatic result of
lels were low down on the list.They also found inter- his study is the effect of first language on the use of
esting differences in the estimations of utility of the cognate forms as learning devices. Japanese learners
various strategies as between students in beginner, attempted strategies based on such morphological
intermediate and advanced classes: whether this was knowledge significantly less often than Spanish
because of growing cognitive maturity or increasing speakers. Dictionary look-up as a strategy on
language learning experience could not be separat- encountering a word is itself of interest, as it fre-
ed. Lawson and Hogben (1996) report a study of stu- quently involves a tension between student prefer-
dents learning Italian vocabulary in a university ence (usually for translation equivalents) and
context in Australia. By contrast, they did not teaching advice (often for the use of monolingual
attempt to promote particular strategies or compare dictionaries for accuracy), but further interesting
imposed strategy use conditions, but observed problems arise when considering how students retain
through a think-aloud procedure what strategies (from either kind of dictionary) the information
were being used. The most frequent strategy gained, and how they actually interpret either the
employed was repetition; strategies involving more translation equivalent (and then remember the for-
detailed internal information available from the eign word) or the L2 gloss obtained. One line of
grammatical or phonological shape of the word, or research on the second problem is Nesi and Meara's
from the semantic context of the sentence in which (1994) paper on the 'KIDRULE' strategy, where they
the new word was presented, while successful, were analyse which parts of a dictionary definition are
used far less frequently. The students appeared to rely actually processed and how faults of interpretation
on a collection of strategies of medium power; they arise. Analysing dictionary look-up procedures is,
might have known more powerful strategies but they however, problematic, since experimenting with dic-
did not use them consistently. Lawson and Hogben tionary entries removes dictionary look-up from the
point out that, for vocabulary acquisition, presenting normal context, and therefore from the set of deci-
words in a context which makes it easy for the learn- sions about linguistic context, need, and future use of
er to infer the meaning is likely to result in less effi- the word which normally determine dictionary use.
cient learning of the new word precisely because the It is also problematic to ensure that the stimulus


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Learner strategies
words are truly unknown to the learners. Cohen (1991) present a larger-scale multi-method
Dictionaries themselves differ in interesting ways, study which explores these issues carefully, isolating
perhaps on a dine of'learner friendliness'. This area those strategies used in tests which lead to success,
has been reviewed recently by Scholfield (1997). through discriminant analysis of items, scores, and
Grorjahn (1987) and Feldman and Stemmer
Test-taking (1987) used protocol analysis to investigate empiri-
An activity that most learners of a foreign language cally what a new form of test, the C-test (a kind of
more or less voluntarily engage in is being tested: letter-deletion cloze), was actually measuring. Thus
offering their proficiency in the new language for verbal report methods were used in order to evaluate
measurement. It might be thought that in this area of a test's validity. In this type of test, most of the work is
language learning, at least, there is no need of infor- in fact devoted to word-finding rather than meaning
mation on learner strategies, since testing is by defin- construction. Cohen (1998: 216-237) reviews in
ition objective and dispassionate, and could not be detail related work in test validation. Buck (1991)
affected by person variables such as variation in strat- presents a think-aloud study of listening test perfor-
egy use. However, several studies have now shown mance, which revealed strategies concerned with
that how a learner approaches the set task makes a time-management, higher-order questions, response
considerable difference to both the validity of the set, and following a self-consistent line of interpreta-
task (in this context, the relationship of the test task tion through successive answers. A very recent retro-
to the skill nominally being tested as deployed in spection-based study of multiple-choice listening has
ordinary language use situations) and the reliability been reported byWu (1998), which noted strategies
of the test (since testees may differ in the degree of leading to successful answers and to comprehension
skill they have in coping with test formats indepen- breakdown, in particular strategies for compensating
dent of the language skills being tested). Cohen for missing linguistic knowledge items. Wu's retro-
(1984) began to open this area up for second lan- spective think-aloud methodology is interesting
guage learners with reports of small-scale studies of because it avoids the usual problem in investigating
cloze and multiple-choice test formats. An interest- test performance, that the results may not be charac-
ing study of multiple-choice reading by Dollerup, teristic of tests administered through normal, timed
Glahn, and Hansen (1982) drew a distinction procedures, as if the test really'counted'.
between mainline reading and fragmented reading:
reading directed by adherence to the main topic and
reading referenced to test questions. Nevo (1989) Strategies in the classroom
drew together a number of implications from these There have been several studies of students' evalua-
previous studies and compared 'contributory' strate- tions of classroom teaching procedures (Alcorso and
gies (those characteristic of normal reading) with Kalantzis; Eltis and Low; Nunan, all reported in
'non-contributory' strategies (those particularly Nunan, 1988; EFL Services, 1992;Maclennan, 1987).
designed for interpreting multiple-choice questions) There have also been proposals for introducing
in LI and L2, showing that learners employed non- explicit teaching of strategies into ordinary class-
contributory strategies nearly three times as often rooms, to be reviewed in a later section, some of
in L2 as in LI (though contributory strategies were which have already been mentioned. Highly intrigu-
the majority in both situations). McDonough (1995: ing problems arise when researchers consider what
113) compared Nevo's and Dollerup et a/.'s most learners are actually paying attention to and reacting
frequent strategies with a list of reading strategies to when they participate in classroom learning.
derived from the work reported under 'reading' Unfortunately this information is very difficult to
above. The picture of reading strategies emerging obtain. Oxford et al. (1990) presented a collection of
from the test situation is different both quantitatively descriptions of six classrooms in which various
and qualitatively from that emerging from studies of strategies were in use. Cohen (1992) investigated pat-
reading in non-test situations. Some of that differ- terns of attention in class using a 'stimulated recall'
ence is explicable in terms of variation in research video technique. Cohen and Hosenfeld (1983) used
method, in particular the smaller number of strate- a dramatic technique of stopping the class at selected
gies evident in the test situation; but the absence in moments and asking students to complete an atten-
those testing studies of 'technical aids' or 'monitor- tion focus questionnaire. Cohen also reports small-
ing' or 'coherence' detecting strategies implies scale studies of students coping with error feedback
strongly that this kind of reading test is tapping a spe- in class. Slimani (1989) used a comparison between
cialised set of operations (partly characterised by lesson transcript and 'uptake' record (what students
'test-wiseness') rather than what people normally could remember of a lesson immediately and three
do when reading in a foreign language, and thus hours afterwards) to infer what topics students paid
test validity (particularly construct validity) is attention to and who had raised them. She found
compromised. Anderson, Bachman, Perkins and that students paid far more attention to topics raised


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Learner strategies
by fellow students than to those raised by the teach- 4. Strategy instruction
ers (although the latter were far more numerous).
McDonough (1995) draws a distinction between
The validity of the uptake measure was given partial
descriptive studies of strategy use and strategy pro-
support by Ellis (1995). Oddly, the studies on pat-
motion, and interventionist studies of programmes of
terns of attention and uptake show differences: in the
strategy instruction. By and large this corresponds to
first case, by and large students were found to tune
a division of the many studies of the effects of teach-
out other students' contributions; in the latter, they
ing people strategies as a way of teaching people to
became the major focus. This difference may be
learn - 'learner training' as between exploratory
related to culture, educational history, and proficien-
studies and quasi-experimental studies. The majority
cy, and needs further research.
of the studies in the previous main section fall into
the class of descriptive studies. As the issues involved
The language of thought have become clearer, so it has been possible to design
more complex studies dedicated to testing some of
An interesting line of research refers to the use of the hypotheses arising out of the more exploratory
mental translation in performing language tasks. studies. Such issues include:
With regard to explicit and intended translation
tasks, Krings (1983), Holscher and Mohle (1987) and • the relation between strategy use and proficiency,
Gerloff (1987) investigated a variety of translation which the earlier part of this paper has shown to be
tasks from L2 into LI, involving planning, interpret- crucial;
ing, word-finding, and production strategies for the • the double-edged relation between teaching people
final native language version. These are interesting to learn and learner autonomy;
studies in their own right, and for pointers they give • the definition of success in teaching people strate-
for the 'covert' use of translation while doing other gies:
language tasks, including production in L2 talking 0 the use of particular strategies as taught,
and writing. Mental translation is a frequently used 0 increased proficiency attributable to greater
strategy for coping with many comprehension and strategy use,
production tasks in the L2: it is therefore interesting 0 the adoption of a strategic approach involving
personal development of strategies, or
to find out what use L2 learners of different profi-
0 the use of increasingly more efficient and higher-
ciency levels make of the LI, and when. Sometimes
level strategies in place of less powerful ones.
such use is programmatic and intended, as in
Friedlander's (1990) study of planning writing in the A number of sets of language learning strategy train-
language of knowledge acquisition. Sometimes ing materials have been developed for classroom use,
translation is avoided at great cost in accuracy and based partly on general educational research and
speed. Cohen and Hawras (1996) report a study of partly on language learner research. Ellis and
using translation in reading in an L2. Subjects used Sinclair's (1989) book aims to raise awareness about
mental translation as a comprehension strategy, the task of language learning, to prepare the student
involving individual words and at other times sen- for participating in various kinds of learning activi-
tence frames: so translation served accuracy in word ties, and to develop a personal language learning
identification and more global comprehension, but approach. Willing (1989) produced a set of teaching
not necessarily at the same time. Cohen (1998) materials for teaching language learning strategies for
reports a study of the use of mental translation in both specific and general applications. O'Malley and
Spanish language immersion classes, of children per- Chamot (Chamot 1996) introduced a scheme for
forming maths tasks. By and large he found that the learner training in normal language classes called the
children were resorting to the native language to Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach
perform the cognitive operations involved, but were (CALLA). Chamot (1996) reports a study of its
interpreting the task set and of course giving the implementation with some evaluation of its success.
answers in the Spanish L2. Studies of 'thought- Wenden's (1991) book presents arguments for using
switching' into and out of LI while performing in strategy training for developing learner autonomy
L2 indicate some of the complications of operating and the book contains many exercises and materials
in two languages, and raise questions about the for adopting the approach advocated. Weaver and
nature of bilingual performance. Pedagogic implica- Cohen (1997) prepared a set of teacher training
tions centre on the dubiousness of banning LI from materials for strategies-based instruction in 30-hour
L2 classrooms: perhaps calls for 'linguistic purity' in and 15-hour formats, incorporating video referring
L2 are simply flying in the face of reality. Put more to its use for four different languages.
positively, studies of strategic use of mental transla-
Empirical validation of strategic teaching has been
tion underline some of the benefits of having two
reported in small-scale and large-scale studies.
languages available: becoming bilingual is actually
Wenden (1987) gave additional strategy training,
different from being two monolinguals in the same
but found it was less successful than hoped, and
used mainly for extra language exposure by motivat-


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Learner strategies
ed learners. O'Malley and Chamot (1987, 1990) speaking tasks: self-description, story retelling, and
report on two larger-scale studies of strategy train- city description. Students completed the SILL and
ing, on English as L2 and other languages, and one gave evidence in the form of think-aloud protocols.
other involving training the teachers as well, but The study compared, in a quasi-experimental design,
found in all three studies that the benefits were not an Experimental group, who received the strategies-
easy to detect. The gains that might be attributable to based instruction, and a Comparison group who did
strategy training might be difficult to detect because not. There was thus control of input and a direct link
they are very small, or because they are largely a between treatment, with or without strategy instruc-
function of individual differences of proficiency or tion, and specific language tasks. While the results do
approach, or because the quasi-experimental situa- not go all the Experimental group's way, the study
tion is neither sensitive enough nor sufficiently provides a firm basis for the claim that strategy-based
extensive. A critical review of the field as it was then instruction makes a measurable difference in both
was delivered by Rees-Miller (1993), which urged how students perform (that is, their performance
caution on teachers considering implementing strategies and modes of action) and in how well they
learner training schemes recommending particular perform (that is, the quality of their performance of
kinds of strategy training. Interestingly, this review the set tasks).
sparked off defensive comment from protagonists in
the field in a later edition of TESOL Quarterly. 5. Conclusion
Nevertheless, there have been useful studies of strate-
gy training for particular skills, for example Kern The state of the art in research into language learner
(1989) on reading, and Carrell, Pharis, and Liberto strategies is patently that there is a great deal of seri-
(1989) on the use of meta-cognitive strategies in pre- ous interest in the subject, producing a mass of high
reading tasks. quality research. As research methods have been
Since McDonough's (1995) review, which was developed and research designs more refined in this
discouraging, a number of better controlled inter- area, so learner strategies are being revealed in more
ventionist evaluations of learner training schemes or and more areas of language learning.
strategies-based instruction have appeared, and they A first conclusion is that there are certain areas of
have begun to demonstrate the advantages of this strategy use which are of wide applicability, and in a
kind of language teaching approach. A number of sense more essential than others. One is word-finding
SILL and non-SILL based studies of strategy training and word-identification. Learners who have devel-
schemes around the world are reported in Oxford oped good skills in this area will need to use them in
(1996) (in particular the papers by Baily, Chamot and most example of language use and language tasks -
O'Malley, Dadour and Robbins, Oxford and Leaver, writing, reading, production tasks, tests. Another is
and Rubin). Larger-scale studies include Talbot's coherence detection and higher-order strategies of
(1997) evaluation of a reading strategy programme this sort, which can be applied as we have seen to
and Nunan's (1997) empirical investigation of the many language use situations. Monitoring and other
effectiveness of training in general language learning self-evaluation strategies contribute heavily to the
strategies. Nunan's study, in particular, showed ability to be an autonomous learner.
encouraging results for the selection of learning A second conclusion is also patent, which is that
strategies with his Hong Kong student group. teaching strategies is not universally successful, but
Strategy training also increased motivation to learn the latest research is showing that, in certain circum-
for this group, in the rather special context of the stances and modes, particularly when incorporated
run-up to the handover of Hong Kong to the into the teacher's normal classroom behaviour, and
People's Republic thus involving teacher training as well as learner
Dornyei (1995) investigated the teachability of training, success is demonstrable.
communication strategies through focused instruc- A third conclusion has to be that many questions
tion. His results, though mixed, show that it is possi- remain unanswered. We do not have an adequate
ble to train students to use certain communicative theory of strategic behaviour to which all the results
strategies effectively, and that this affects their fluency can be related. The relationship between strategy use
positively (for instance, less fluent learners were able and proficiency is very complicated: issues such as
to use time-gainingfillersand thus became more flu- frequency and quality of strategy use do not bear a
ent, at least on a simple conception of fluency). simple linear relationship to achievement in a second
The largest controlled study to date is Cohen, language. The role of strategies as an explanation of
Weaver and Li's study (1996), reported with more learning contrasts with the conception of strategies
detailed discussion in Cohen (1998: 114-156). This as an aid to learning. It is tempting but not entirely
study used the thirty-hour course in strategies-based justified to see the difference between skilled and
instruction (Weaver and Cohen, 1997) for training unskilled language learners in terms of the strategy
the teachers, who were teaching French and repertoire, choices, and creative development the
Norwegian classes. The study concentrated on three former have available and do activate.


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Learner strategies
The strategy training issue and its relationship to that 'Too often our focus has been on what students
developing learner autonomy (or to regimented pro- should be doing; we must begin by asking what stu-
cedures) is live, and some of the most interesting dents are doing'.
work is in this area.
With the development of sensitive research meth-
ods, and the invasion of the concept of strategy into
so many areas of second language learner activity, I am grateful for the help of the Editor and of an
there are many opportunities and even greater need anonymous Language Teaching reviewer for support in
for rigorous research. The point has already been planning this review and for drawing my attention to
made that work on strategies is hampered by the lack work in the field which I had missed.
of a coherent theory of how strategies work, how
they are selected, invented, and discarded in favour of
better ones, how they relate to enlarging the individ-
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