How to become a good English language learner

Понедельник 25 Июль 2016


Статья исследует познавательный процесс, стратегии изучения иностранного языка и стили обучения, которые каждый студент может использовать для того, чтобы стать успешным учеником. Статья показывает, что осознанное использование многочисленных прямых/непрямых учебных стратегий и значительное изменение стиля обучения могут сказаться на его/её успехе в изучении иностранного зыка.

The article explores the cognitive process, the language learning strategies and styles that any student can use to become a good English language learner. It shows that the conscious use of multiple direct/indirect language learning strategies and a significant change in student’s learning styles may account for his/her success in becoming a good English language learner.

настроение: позитивное

ключевые слова: autonomy, English as a foreign language, language learning strategies, learning styles, metacognition

город: Ставропольский край, г. Михайловск

e-mail: katenika1@rambler.ru

It is often the case that in most English teacher training programs around the world, English language development courses generally become the major obstacles that learners have to overcome on their way to getting their degrees. To pass such courses, they need to be able to use the second language appropriately in different communicative situations. Trainees need to be able to talk about different content areas, manipulate linguistic components accurately such as grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation, and make use of an array of language learning strategies and styles that facilitate acquisition. Although many of these learners experience disappointment in the accomplishment of this end, some others manage to accomplish it effectively. These successful second language learners are known as good language learners [7, p. 43]. Without external assistance from mates, tutors, or instructors, these learners manage to develop self-regulated efficacy and thus improve their linguistic performance. Autonomy is a predictor of second language acquisition, and along with the appropriate use of learning strategies and styles, these factors have a positive effect on students’ command of second language  [6, p. 35].  This article sets out to explore the cognitive process and the language learning strategies and styles that students can use to become a GLL.

Several studies show that not all individuals acquire a second language in the same way or with the same degree of success. Rubin was one the first researchers to be concerned with the characteristics which enable some individuals to perform better than others at learning a second language [7, p. 48]. She describes three variables: aptitude, motivation, and the opportunity which GLLs possess or may create. Whether the first variable can be modified is unknown. There is debate both for and against. On the optimistic side, researchers believe that an individual’s aptitude to learn a second language may be improved by implementing diverse learning strategies. As to the second variable, motivation is usually classified as intrinsic, when the driving force to learn the language arises from a genuine interest either in the language itself or in a desire to achieve personal growth. Motivation is classified as extrinsic when the interest to learn a second language comes not from within the individual, but from an external source. The third variable comprises the opportunities that learners have or find to practice the second language. GLLs look for chances to use the language both inside and outside the classroom. Research in the area indicates that GLLs make use of an array of language learning strategies and styles, and that these strategies and styles should be re-defined, classified and explored further.

On their part, Cohen, A. D., Oxford, R. L. studied ways of processing information that enhances its comprehension, learning, and retention. Their studies came from a concern for identifying the characteristics of effective learners[1, p. 150]. They arrived at three important conclusions regarding the use of learning strategies. First, mentally active learners are better learners. Those students, who consciously make links between what they already know and new materials, have better comprehension and recall than those who do not. Second, strategies can be taught. If strategies are taught and students are given classroom time and opportunities to practice the second language using them, they will learn more effectively than those students, who do not go through such experiences. Third, academic language learning, in particular, is more effective when the use and development of language learning strategies are promoted.  Ma, R., & Oxford, R. L. set out to research the learning strategies employed by language learners as well as the different learning styles. These authors define them as: “the often conscious steps or behaviors used by language learners to enhance the acquisition, storage, retention, recall, and use of new information” [4, p.110]. According to these authors, strategy use is related to becoming more self-directed and can help improve students’ performance. While the relationship between strategy use and proficiency is quite complex, they agree that more proficient learners “appear to use a wider range in a greater number of situations than do less proficient learners”. In their studies, Cohen, A. D., Oxford, R. L., & Chi, J. C. identified three attributes of GLLs. First, they are actively involved in their language learning process, either right from the beginning or later on. Second, they find ways to overcome the obstacles they face, whether these obstacles are linguistic, affective, or environmental. Finally, they monitor their own performance by studying, practicing, and becoming involved in communication. Regarding the use of learning strategies, they state that “certain attributes [were] common among GLLs, especially with regard to strategies and techniques they had employed” [1, p. 159].

Several authors classify learning strategies in different ways. Ehrman and Oxford’s  classification seems to be the broadest. They divide strategies into two groups: direct and indirect. Direct learning strategies involve using the language, retrieving and storing information, and manipulating the language. Indirect strategies complement the previous group and support language learning. These include metacognitive strategies, which are used for organizing and evaluating the learning process; affective strategies used for managing emotional states and attitudes; and social strategies used for learning cooperatively with others.

Direct learning strategies are divided into three types: memory, cognitive, and comprehension strategies. O’Malley and Chamot define cognitive type of strategies as those in which the learner interacts with the material to be learned by manipulating it mentally (as in making mental images) or physically (such as taking notes).

O’Malley and Chamot define metacognitive strategies types of strategies as those which involve executive processes, such as planning for learning, monitoring one’s comprehension and production, and evaluating how well one has achieved a learning objective [4, p. 108]. Ehrman and Oxford further subdivide metacognitive strategies into centering, arranging and planning, and evaluating learning. O’Malley and Chamot strongly recommend that teachers should have their students use metacognitive strategies. They further claim that learners, who organize new information and consciously relate it to existing knowledge learn better, than those, who simply memorize by rote learning. Oxford offers two plausible explanations as to why metacognitive strategies are so important to advanced learners [5, p.125]. On the one hand, advanced learners are more self-regulated, so they may use more metacognitive strategies in their learning process. On the other hand, it might be possible that as advanced learners become more flexible in implementing different metacognitive strategies, they learn to become more self-regulated. Although a correlation between these two variables has not been observed yet, it can be stated that to reach their linguistic goals, advanced learners organize their learning process by employing metacognitive strategies. Another very important strategy a student can employ is evaluating and monitoring her/his own production.

The objective of this article was to explore the learning processes which can lead an unsuccessful student to become a GLL. We have also discussed the language learning strategies that most GELLs often use. Griffiths and Oxford predict that “there will be an increasing groundswell of interest in definitions that emphasize learners’ strategic self-regulation” [2, p. 8]. The insights provided in this study may be taken into account for teachers to better understand how they might help their students. Oxford claims that language teachers, coaches, or counselors must be competent in successful strategy instruction to provide assistance for learners to become aware of the strategies available and their effectiveness for performing given tasks. This might be achieved by designing tasks which push learners to use metacognitive strategies; for example, tasks which encourage learners to notice gaps in their interlanguage by comparing and contrasting input/output and the distance to be covered to reach the desired level of second language proficiency [3, p. 146]. Teachers may also discuss with their students how to organize their learning and how to set realistic goals. As regards learning styles, a practical suggestion for teachers might be to “pair one student with another student who has a different learning style, so that learners can emulate the desirable strategies of the other person and incorporate them into their own styles” [4, p. 103]. This study may also be useful for students facing challenges and who want to achieve individual self-development. This article should have a positive impact on second language learners’ language development, a fact that will allow them to achieve their desired linguistic goals and eventually become better language learners.


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  6. Oxford, R. L., Rubin, J., Chamot, A. U., Schramm, K., Lavine, R., Gunning, P., & Nel, C. The learning strategy prism: Perspectives of learning strategy experts. System, 43, 2014 (pp. 30–49).
  7. Rubin, J. What the “good language learner” can teach us. TESOL Quarterly, 9(1), 1975 (pp. 41–51).
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