Empowering Students with Language Learning Strategies: A Critical Review of Current Issues

Article excerpt


This article analyzes the body of research literature that has brought us to the state of our current knowledge regarding learning strategies in general and learning strategies instruction as they relate to second language acquisition (SLA). Three categories are discussed: (1) types of learning strategies, (2) learning autonomy and strategy training, and (3) other strategy-related factors such as metalinguistic development and internal/external variables related to the use of learning strategies (e.g., motivation). By conducting a critical review of the issues presented in the literature, the analysis arrives at the implications for language teaching and language learning, taking into consideration the perspective of both the instructor and the student.

Key words: language teaching, learning strategies, second language learning

Language: Relevant to all languages


In the last few decades we have seen numerous studies investigating the use of strategies by second language (L2) learners. Several researchers have defined these studies as the thoughts and actions of learners who are attempting to increase their learning, comprehension, and retention (Brown, 2000; O'Malley & Chamot, 1990; Oxford, 1990; Scarcella & Oxford, 1992; Yamamorio, Isoda, Hiromori, & Oxford, 2003). Initial interest in students' use of learning strategies existed in the mid1970s and early 1980s and produced questions such as, Why don't learners learn what teachers teach? (Allwright, 1984). Questions like this spawned exploration into how students' skills and knowledge are acquired differently (Nunan, 1995). More specifically, research into these individual differences has looked beyond instruction and other learner external factors to study both the processes that take place within the learners themselves and how their productivity can be improved (Lujan-Ortega & Clark-Carter, 2000; Wenden & Rubin, 1987).

To this end, this article reviews the body of research that has led us to the current status of learning strategies and learning strategies instruction. This extensive research can be organized into three general categories: types of learning strategies, learner autonomy and strategies training, and other strategy-related factors including students' metalinguistic awareness and variables related to the use of learning strategies (e.g., motivation, gender). Based on a critical review of these categories, as presented in recent literature, this investigation will consider the implications that such issues have for language teaching and learning through the consideration of both the instructor's and the learner's perspectives.

Types of Learning Strategies

In order to understand how learning strategies can influence language learning, we must begin by identifying the various types of learning strategies. Although many distinctions have been made between different types of learning strategies, it should be noted that, to date, there is no consensus as to which strategies should be included in the SLA research literature and under which categories to include them. The studies presented in this section provide categories that summarize the most common types of learning strategies. These studies attempt to guide instructors by informing them of the most effective learning strategies for their students and how to utilize them.

For example, Purpura's (1997) and Gan, Humphreys, and Hamp-Lyon's (2004) classification systems include cognitive strategies, i.e., those that require direct control over the material, and metacognitive strategies, which involve planning or thinking about production or comprehension. Following their work on 70 beginner and intermediate high school students' strategy usage, O'Malley, Chamot, StewnerManzanares, Küpper, and Russo (1985) added to the previous categories a new grouping referred to as socioaffective strategies-those strategies that take into consideration issues such as classroom interactions and the learning environment. …