Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Taking a Closer Look at Vocabulary Learning Strategies: A Case Study of a Chinese Foreign Language Class

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Taking a Closer Look at Vocabulary Learning Strategies: A Case Study of a Chinese Foreign Language Class

Article excerpt


Over the past decades, there have been a number of studies investigating the vocabulary strategies used by learners of Indo-European languages, especially English. However, studies of the strategies used by learners of non-Indo-European languages are rare. This classroom-based case study investigates the vocabulary learning strategies used by nine learners of Chinese as a foreign language and tests a taxonomy, based on Long's (1996) interaction hypothesis, for classifying strategies that may facilitate our understanding of strategies and their role within second language acquisition.

Key words: Chinese as a foreign language, learning strategies, second language acquisition, vocabulary acquisition

Language: Chinese


Given the importance of learning lexical items to second language (L2) acquisition, a considerable body of literature has emerged on various types of vocabulary learning strategies (e.g., Atay & Ozbulgan, 2007; Avila & Sadoski, 1996; Clarke & Nation, 1980; Fan, 2000; Fowle, 2002; Kelly, 1990; Mondria & Mondria-De Vries, 1994; Shapiro & Waters, 2005; van Hell & Mahn, 1997) and on the strategies used by various groups of learners, such as Chinese students learning English (Fan, 2003; Gu & Johnson, 1996), Japanese students learning English (Schmitt, 1997), Canadian students learning French (Harley & Hart, 2000), Spanish-speaking students learning English (Jimenez Catalan, 2003; Rodriguez & Sadoski, 2000), and Australian students learning Italian (Lawson & Hogben, 1996).

A number of these studies have drawn upon Oxford's (1990) commonly used taxonomy of language learning strategies. Oxford divided the domain of language learning strategies (which she defined as conscious "operations employed by the learner to aid the acquisition, storage, retrieval, and use of information . . . ; specific actions taken by the learners to make learning easier, faster, more enjoyable, more self-directed, more effective, and more transferable to a new situation" [p. 8]) into six categories. The first, metacognitive, involves reflecting on the learning process (such as planning and self-evaluation). These are to be distinguished from cognitive strategies, which involve manipulating or transforming learning materials-such as note taking, analysis, and translation. Memory strategies are those used to commit that material to memory (e.g., flash cards). Social strategies involve interacting with another individual, while compensation strategies are methods for overcoming limitations in the L2 (such as using gestures when interacting with a speaker of the target language). Finally, affective strategies entail monitoring "your emotional temperature" (Oxford, 1990, p. 17).

While heavily influenced by Oxford's work, some vocabulary strategy researchers have demarcated the language strategy domain in a slightly different manner. Schmitt (1997), for example, classified strategies as either discovery strategies (strategies used to determine the meaning of a word) or consolidation strategies (strategies used to keep the meaning of the word in memory). Using this taxonomy, Schmitt found that using a bilingual dictionary, guessing from context, and asking classmates for help were the most common discovery strategies, while verbal repetition, written repetition, and studying the spelling of the word were the most frequent consolidation strategies. This bipartite taxonomy also was employed by Harley and Hart (2000), who found that the discovery strategies preferred by their French as a second language learners were social strategies (e.g., asking a friend for the meaning of a word) and inferring (e.g., guessing the meaning of a word from context). With respect to consolidation strategies, the majority of the learners in the study reported that rote learning of English-French word pairs was useful, while repeating words aloud was less helpful. …

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