What are Language Learning Strategies and How Can They Contribute To a Better Learning?

Term Paper, 2005
21 Pages, Grade: 1,0



1. Introduction

2. Strategies in General

3. Strategies in Language Learning
3.1 Hypothesis about Learning Strategies
3.2 Approaches and Clarification of Terminology
3.3 Neurophysiological or Psychical System
3.4 Dimensions
3.5 Oxford’s Model of Systematizing Strategies
3.6 Consciousness
3.7 Problem-Orientation of Strategies
3.8 Choice and Efficiency of Strategies

4. Ways of Teaching Learning Strategies
4.1 Separate and Integrated Instruction
4.2 Direct and Embedded Instruction
4.3 Problems of Strategy Instruction
4.4 Proposal of Instructing a Cognitive Strategy
4.5 Affective Strategies

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Foreign languages are so often spoken and learned (in Germany) that for many people they can be seen as a part of everyday life. How, however, it should be learned, acquired and taught is widely discussed. This paper orientates on one aspect of language learning and teaching processes:

What are language learning strategies and how can they contribute to a better learning?

After explaining the term “strategy” etymologically and from a general point of view, the author gives a hypothesis of what he understands by it. Further, important features of strategies in language learning are discussed, being followed by notions of how strategies can be taught / included in the teaching process. The paper will include examples that do not represent a complete picture to verify (kinds of) strategies. Those examples are used in points to make the content clearer.

2. Strategies in General

The word strategy, coming from the French word stratégie, goes back to the Greek word strategia meaning that the general, strategos, is on active duty. Being on duty, he leads (in Greek agein) his stratos, the Greek word that probably represents the origin of the etymological chain, which means army (cf. American Heritage College Dictionary 1342).

The military background of the word strategy, can be seen in its today’s definition, found in any monolingual dictionary. The Oxford American Dictionary states that it is “the planning and directing of the whole operation of a campaign or war” (cf. Oxford American Dictionary 676). Consequently, in the military field a strategy is a certain program worked out beforehand that is based on approved research-based military concepts and later is realised. Strategies are theoretical concepts put into action. Further, the definition implies that military strategies are complex. The military head, using all elements of the war apparatus, makes several steps to win an entire war. In opposite military tactics only represent one step that includes a certain disposition of the army to avoid encroachment of enemies or executing a mission by using up as little resources (soldiers, arms and ammunition) as possible (cf. Microsoft Encarta).

Inventing and applying strategies is not only left to the military field. The American Heritage College Dictionary also defines strategy broader as “a plan of action […] intended to accomplish a specific goal” (American Heritage College Dictionary 1342). Without a goal, there cannot be a strategy. Or as already Seneca stated it: “Ignoranti quem portum petat, nullus suus ventus est.” („Wer nicht weiß, welchen Hafen er anlaufen will, bekommt keinen günstigen Wind.“) (Lexikon lateinischer Zitate 3944).

In every field, people apply strategies, having the objective to solve problems, facilitate work and increase efficiency. Making a list before going shopping e.g., will help not to forget to buy products. Arranging the products in a certain way on the list can make the purchase even more efficient in terms of time and result. A student has to strategize his/her studies in order to be successful. Effective skills how to prepare and organize a paper as well as knowledge how to access specific information, will help to finish his/her work by the deadline given. Further strategies play an important role in learning processes, which from now on will be dealt with in this paper.

3. Strategies in Language Learning

During the last decades the term learning strategy was introduced into the field of language acquisition. Yet, linguists have “little consensus in the literature concerning either the definition or the identification of language learning strategies” (cf. Wenden quotes Bialystok 7), because they have found different approaches to and dimensions of strategies.

For some authors strategies represent an action, others see them as parts of planning processes. A third approach would define strategies as declarative respectively procedural knowledge (cf. Zimmermann 97). Different dimensions are for example used by Oxford and Cohen: the former differentiates between direct and indirect strategies; the latter categorizes strategies into language learning and language using strategies. Additionally, the term has been used in a broad notion and in other cases in a very specific context.

3.1 Hypothesis about Learning Strategies

Language learning strategies are a multitude of declarative and procedural knowledge, intentional behaviors and complex processes that in some way foster learning and using a target language. They are goal-orientated systematic actions used to efficiently accomplish a task, solve a problem or facilitate activities.

3.2 Approaches and Clarification of Terminology

First it should be clarified what operations and processes are and how they relate to strategies. Generally, mental processes represent brain activity which can be systematized.

Cognitive processes for example can be processes of thought, of perception (Wahrnehmungsprozesse) or of the encoding, storing and reproducing of information (Gedächtnisprozesse).

One explanation how strategies and processes are related is given by Wenden. She says that mental operations that structure or restructure information in the short-term memory and organize knowledge are called processes. The techniques which are used to encode or access the information and later reproduce the knowledge are then referred to cognitive strategies (cf. Wenden, p. 6).

Grotjahn offers another approach. Here strategies and processes are in one dimension: A mental process includes strategic elements if it is optional in performing a task. If a process is obligatory it is only an operation (cf. Grotjahn p. 51). Wendt’s ideas support Grotjahn’s explanation. For him, an operation is too small to be a strategy. Only several operations make one action (Handlung by Wendt). Strategies are basic structures of the latter and consequently consist of several operations (cf. Wendt p. 79).

Both approaches should be taken into consideration. Wenden’s proposal emphasizes that with certain tools mental processes can be manipulated for more efficiency. Pointing out that strategies only include processes that are of an optional nature, Grotjahn shows that some learning behavior may not include strategies, which means that without using strategies a certain potential is not obtained and used.

3.3 Neurophysiological or Psychical System

Maybe learning progress is partly caused by actual physiological changes in the brain.

Writing e.g. many précis will have likely the effect that one can better summarize and outline a text. This improvement could be caused by more efficient techniques, discovered and applied by time, that optimize the mental processes. But perhaps the (repeating) training develops new synapses in the cortex which make more complex processes possible. That being the case, more strategies can be understood or applied than before the training. This thought implies that strategies are part of the mental hardware. But more likely neurophysiological changes only affect the overall potential of the person’s abilities. The psychical and neurophysiological structures then highly interact with each other. Without input there is no increasing neurophysiological potential which can operate with multiplex processes. It could be compared to installing Windows XP on a Pentium I. The installing is impossible, as the hardware working storage is simply not constructed for the multitude of processes. As a result one can use the psychical system to manipulate neurophysiological structures, but the latter sets the limits for the former.

3.4 Dimensions

The reasons for different approaches towards the definition of the term strategy might be the complexity of language learning behavior, which includes various dimensions of mental processes. Therefore, linguists also use “tactics“, “techniques”, “potentially conscious plans“, “learning skills”, “basic skills”, and similar terminology when explaining comparable learning behaviors.

Zimmermann fears an inflationary usage of the term strategy (cf. Zimmermann 95) and favors a careful differentiation of these levels, that have also been differentiated into substrategies and techniques or macro- and micro-strategies. Others, as Wendt and Cohen identify these levels as various kinds of strategies, suggesting to use other criteria to differentiate whether the learning behavior is a strategy or not (see also Wendt 81, Cohen 9-10). Cohen recommends to use a continuum of strategies which includes all levels: from a very general approach, as making concepts how a language is functioning to the most specific action as writing down vocabulary (cf. Cohen 9-10). Not distinguishing between the degree of specificity, but to set different criteria as for example consciousness could avoid the inconsistencies of the criteria used describing several kinds of strategies (Cohen 11). In addition, strategies that may serve several functions of differing levels will not be confused in terms of definition and still can be stratified and systematized.

3.5 Oxford’s Model of Systematizing Strategies

Oxford suggests to differentiate between direct and indirect strategies. The former can be further divided into memory, compensation and cognitive strategies. Memory strategies facilitate memorizing through restructuring and organizing information, as well as linking those to more than one sense (cf. Oxford 38-40). Students can also compensate their limited knowledge or abilities by guessing intelligently or avoiding the problem (Oxford 47-49). Cognitive strategies include practicing tasks, analysing the language and priories certain information by using e.g. reading techniques as skimming or scanning on the one hand to and structuring encoding information through summarizing or highlighting on the other (cf. Oxford 43-45).


Excerpt out of 21 pages


What are Language Learning Strategies and How Can They Contribute To a Better Learning?
Martin Luther University  (Anglistik)
Anglistik und ihre Didaktik/Sprachlehr- und -lernforschung: An Introduction
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ISBN (Book)
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Foreign languages can be seen as a part of everyday life. How they should be learned, acquired and taught is widely discussed. The paper shows differing views on language learning strategies. It also discusses theoretical aspects. These include: neurophysiological or psychical system, matter of consciousness, sub- and unconsciousness and efficiency. The paper also presents theoretical ways of implementing teaching learning strategies and ends with an own practical proposal.
What, Language, Learning, Strategies, They, Contribute, Better, Anglistik, Didaktik/Sprachlehr-, Introduction
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Andreas Koch (Author), 2005, What are Language Learning Strategies and How Can They Contribute To a Better Learning?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/73523


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