Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Language Learning Strategies and English Proficiency of Chinese University Students

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Language Learning Strategies and English Proficiency of Chinese University Students

Article excerpt


This study investigated the relationship between language learning strategy (LLS) preferences and English proficiency among Chinese university students. Oxford's (1990), Strategy Inventory for Language Learning (SILL) and an institutional version (ITP) of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) were administered to 168 third-year English majors. Multiple regression analysis revealed that SILL strategies accounted for only 4% of the variation in ITP-TOEFL score. Results of a multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) indicated no significant differences between males and females on eight measures of learning strategy preferences and proficiency. Findings suggest a need for further research examining other factors that may account for variation in proficiency among Chinese learners. The authors recommend a closer examination of the relationship between learning strategies and proficiency, and the possible interplay of learner autonomy, across diverse cultural settings.


Language teachers and researchers have long observed that some learners acquire English as a second or foreign language more quickly and effectively than others (Dreyer & Oxford, 1996; Lightbown & Spada, 1999; Vance, 1999). The nature of this marked discrepancy among learners has captured the attention of practitioners and researchers worldwide. Over the past four decades, researchers have identified a number of cognitive, affective, and sociocultural factors as significantly contributing to this variation in second language acquisition (SLA) (Brown, 2000). From this body of research, language learning strategies (LLSs) consistently have emerged as a particularly significant variable.

LLSs are defined as "specific actions taken by the learner to make learning faster, more enjoyable, more self-directed, more effective, and more transferable to new situations" (Oxford, 1990, p. 8). Stated another way, learning strategies are "measures that students can take to promote their own learning success" (Franklin, Hodge, & Sasscer, 1997, p. 24).

Although other scholars within the field of SLA have conceptualized and classified learning strategies in a variety ways, Oxford (1990) developed the most comprehensive model to date. Oxford's classification includes six groups of strategies: memory strategies, cognitive strategies, compensation strategies, metacognitive strategies, affective strategies, and social strategies.

Oxford (1990) also designed a strategy assessment survey based on her classification system. This assessment tool, the Strategy Inventory for Language Learning (SILL), is currently recognized as the most comprehensive and widely used instrument for identifying strategy preferences of language learners throughout the world (Bremner, 1999; Foong & Goh, 1997, Green & Oxford, 1995). The SILL has been extensively checked for reliability and validated in multiple ways. As of 1995, it had been used in over 45 major studies involving approximately 8,500 learners worldwide (Oxford & Burry-Stock, 1995). Research findings from these studies involving SILL learning strategies have recurrently indicated significant variation in learning strategy preferences based on a number of learner variables, including gender, motivation, setting (i.e., Englishas-a-second language [ESL] vs. English-as-a-foreign-language [EFL]), cultural background, attitudes/beliefs, learning styles, and language proficiency (Oxford, 2001; Oxford & Burry-Stock, 1995).

Because proficiency is the ultimate goal of all language learning, the following discussion will address findings related to this significant variable from language acquisition research. Results from this body of research have consistently suggested an association between LLS use and English proficiency among learners of English as a second or foreign language worldwide. In fact, both frequency and patterns of strategy use have been found to be significantly related to English proficiency (Oxford & Burry-Stock, 1995). …

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