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Research on language learning strategies began in the 1960s. It was infl uenced by the development of cognitive psychology. Until the introduction of cognitive psychology, prior research on second language learning and teaching focused mainly on methods of teaching, instead of on learner characteristics and the process of acquiring a second language (Wenden, 1987).With the advent of cognitive theories research in second language education has gradually shifted toward the learner or learner centered approaches in an attempt to enhance learner's autonomy and independence . In this way, "autonomous learners assume responsibility for determining the purpose, content, rhythm and method of their learning, monitoring its progress and evaluating its outcomes"( Holec, 1981,p.3). This has resulted in a growing interest in research in language learning strategies (LLS) which are believed to "contribute to the development of the language system which the learner constructs and affect learning directly" (Rubin, 1987, p. 22). Research in this field has gained prominence since the mid-1970s by the seminal studies of Rubin (1975) and Stern (1975). They attempted to explore the strategies employed by good language learners and how the teachers can apply these strategies to help the less successful learners to improve their performance. Since then, abundance of studies have been conducted in the area of LLSs to explore the significant role language learning strategies play a in L2/FL learning (Abraham & Vann, 1987, O'Malley & Chamot, 1990; Oxford et al., 1989,1993, 1995;among others)
Definition of learning strategies
Learning strategies have been defined in a variety of ways. Wenden and Rubin (1987) define them as "any sets of operations, steps, plans, routines used by the learner to facilitate the obtaining, storage, retrieval, and use of information" (p.19). In their influential study, O'Malley and Chamot (1990) defined LLS as "the special thoughts or behaviours that individuals use to help them comprehend, learn, or retain new information" (p. 1). Oxford (1992,1993) illustrates LLS as "specific actions, behaviours, steps, or techniques that students (often intentionally) use to improve their progress in developing L2 skills. These strategies can facilitate the internalization, storage, retrieval, or use of the new language. Strategies are tools for the self-directed involvement necessary for developing communicative ability"( p. 18). Finally, Cohen (1998) defined learning strategies as "the steps or actions consciously selected by learners to improve the learning of a second language, the use of it, or both" (p. 5).
Characteristics of LLS
Among the various characteristics emerged in the LLS literature, Oxford identifies twelve important features of strategies.According to Oxford learning strategies
contribute to the main goal, communicative competence
allow learners to become self directed
expand the role of teachers
are problem oriented
are specific actions taken by the learner
involve many actions taken by the learner, not just cognitive
support learning both directly and indirectly
are not always observable
are often conscious
are influenced by a variety of factors (p.9)
Lessard-Clouston (1997) also summarizes basic features of LLS .First LLS are generated by the learner and s/he gradually takes these steps in the process of language learning. Second, language learning is enhanced by the use of LLS which help develop language competence, as reflected in the learner's skills in listening, speaking, reading, or writing the L2 or FL. Third, LLS may be visible (behaviours, steps, techniques, etc.) or unseen (thoughts, mental processes). Fourth, LLS involve information and memory (vocabulary knowledge, grammar rules, etc.).
Taxonomy of LLSs
As noted above, early classifications of LLSs simply provided a list of strategies based on the good learners' performance (Rubin, 1975; Stern, 1973). However, more recent taxonomies categorize strategies either according to their direct/indirect contribution to language learning (Rubin, 1987), or the level and type of information processed by language learners when they apply such strategies (O'Malley et al., 1985a;O'Malley and Chamot, 1990).
Based on prior study results, Oxford (1990) devised a language learning strategy system ( See Table 1), known as Strategy Inventory for Language Learning (SILL), in which she classifies LLS into two major groups of direct (including memory, cognitive, compensation) and indirect (metacognitive, affective, social) strategies. Direct strategies are defined as those that are involved in conscious mental processes, whereas indirect strategies are not consciously applied but are essential to language learning.Each category is then divided into six subcategories, which according to Oxford, are interrelated and support each other.
Table 1 Oxford's Language Learning Strategy System (Oxford, 1990, p. 17)
1. Memory strategies
Help learners store and retrieve new information
A. Creating mental linkages
B. Applying images and sounds
C. Reviewing well
D. Employing action
2. Cognitive strategies
Applied by learners to better understand and produce the target language
B. Receiving and sending messages
C. Analyzing and reasoning
D. Creating structure for input and output
3. Compensation strategies
Used for overcoming deficiencies in
knowledge of the target language
A. Guessing intelligently
B. Overcoming limitations in speaking
1. Metacognitive strategies
Allow learners to control their own cognition
A. Centering your learning
B. Arranging and planning your learning
C. Evaluating your learning
2. Affective strategies
Refer to the methods that help learners to regulate emotions, motivation, and attitudes
A. Lowering your anxiety
B. Encouraging yourself
C. Taking your emotional temperature
3. Social strategies
Include interaction with others through the target language
A. Asking questions
B. Cooperating with others
C. Empathizing with others
Oxford's classification of learning strategies has been the most comprehensive one to date (Ellis, 1994). and has been used in a considerable number of studies in various countries.
Research on LLSs
The research on LLSs has predominantly been descriptive since the learners are required to report on the strategies they use. In this way, the researchers are able to investigate the effects of learner characteristics such as gender, age, proficiency level, learning styles, and affective factors , like motivation, on strategy use, (Chamot, 2004).
Research indicates that language learners at all levels use strategies (Chamot & Kupper, 1989), but that some or most learners are not fully aware of the strategies they use or the strategies that might be most beneficial to employ (Oxford, 1989).
It appears that good language learners orchestrate and combine their use of particular types of strategies in more efficient ways (Chamot & Kupper, 1989; O'Malley and Chamot, 1990; Oxford, 1993). Rossi-Le (1995) found that more proficient EFL students used self-management strategies such as planning, evaluation and formal practice significantly more often than less proficient students. Khaldieh (2000) reports that higher levels of language proficiency have also been associated with less anxiety and more confidence, which denotes the significance of affective factors influencing the learner's performance on a task. Studies have revealed that awareness of task demands and metacognitive knowledge regarding strategy selection are major distinctions between successful and unsuccessful learners (Abraham & Vann, 1987; Khaldieh, 2000; O'Malley & Chamot, 1990). According to some research findings, cognitive and metacognitive strategies highly correlate with high language proficiency levels ( Peacock and Ho, 2003). In some of these studies, however, the positive relationship between the number of strategies used and language proficiency is partially supported (e.g., Abraham & Vann, 1987; Khaldieh, 2000).
Other researchers even found that, both successful and unsuccessful learners actively utilize a great variety of strategies, but in different ways. These unsuccessful learners, however, usually fail to select the most appropriate strategies ( Chamot et al., 1988; Chamot & El-Dinary, 1999; Vandergrift, 1997; Vann & Abraham, 1990). A number of research studies interestingly suggest that the appropriate choice of strategies will assist learners to gain more proficiency . This, in turn, probably leads the proficient learners to the choice of more active strategies (MacIntre, 1994; Green and Oxford, 1995).
LLSs and types of learners' proficiency
A great number of research studies have highlighted the relationship between learning strategies and learners' proficiency in which the results show that more proficient language learners use a greater variety learning strategies (Rahimi et at., 2008; Griffiths, 2003; Lee, 2003; Anderson, 2005; Bruen, 2001; Green and Oxford, 1995; O'Malley and Chamot, 1990; Ehrman, and Oxford, 1989). Researchers have utilized a multitude of ways to determine students' proficiency in the foreign language including standardized tests such as TOEFL (Arroyo, 2005), students' GPAs in English courses (Shmais, 2003; Radwan, 2011), language achievement tests (O'Mara & Lett, 1990), language course grades and placement examinations (Mullin, 1992), teachers' judgments about their students (Magogwe & Oliver, 2007), duration of study (Khalil, 2005; Rahimi et al. 2008; Radwan, 2011), and self-ratings (Oxford & Nyikos, 1989).
Due to the need for more investigation on all aspects of learner's proficiency, the current study endeavors to focus on the studtents' GPA scores, and duration of English study ,as two measures of English proficiency, with the students' report on their choice of LLSs. The findings would reveal the benefits and shortfalls of such measures and how well they could predict the learners' use of LLSs.
Purpose of the study
This study examines the use of learning strategies reported by Iranian English learners and its relationship to the students' academic success determined by their GPA scores and the years of English study they have completed.
1. What are the most frequent learning strategies used by the EFL learners?
2. Is there any relationship between the use of EFL language learning strategies in general and the students' academic success?
3. Is there any relationship between categories of strategies and students' academic achievement?
4. Is there a significant difference between first year and second year students with regard to their perceived strategy use?
Sample: The subjects participating in the study comprise 107 male and female Iranian university students studying English in a two -year program to get their Associate's degree in Teaching English. They are either first -year or second -year students whose age ranges between 19 to 31.
Instruments: In order to measure strategy use, Oxford's (1990) Strategy Inventory for Language Learning (SILL) designed for EFL/ESL learners is used in this study. The SILL uses a five-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 ("Never or almost never true of me") to 5 ("Always or almost always true of me"). It consists of 50 statements about the strategies used by language learners covering six broad categories of strategies, each represented by a number of items.
1) Memory strategies (9items)
2) Cognitive strategies (14 items)
3) Compensation strategies (6 items)
4) Metacognitive strategies: (9 items)
5) Affective strategies (6 items)
6) Social strategies (6 items)
Reliability for the SILL (Oxford, 1990) is high across many cultural groups with Cronbach's alpha for internal consistency 0.93-0.98 (Oxford & Burry- Stock, 1995).
In this study, the SILL was presented in Persian to the participants to
ensure that possible failure to understand the instructions or questions
would not affect the responses. The researcher used Pishghadam's(2008)
Persian version of SILL, which yielded a Cronbach alpha value of 0.96. Using the responses from the current participants, the reliability of SILL, as determined by Cronbach's alpha, was 0.93.
The students' academic success are judged based on their overall GPA score on academic courses.
Data analysis procedure
The following procedures were carried out on the data : 1) calculating descriptive statistics (mean, frequency & standard deviation) for all categories of SILL 2) conducting correlation analysis to determine the significance of the relationship between strategy use, and academic success of the students, 3) Calculating paired sample T- Test to see whether there is any significant difference the between first year and second year students in terms of their perceived strategy use.
The findings of the study
Overall strategy use
To answer the first question, descriptive statistics for the entire SILL, the six subcategories of SILL, and the individual SILL items were calculated. According to Oxford (1990, p. 300), mean scores that fall between 1.0 and 2.4 are defined as "low" strategy use, 2.5 and 3.4 as "medium" strategy use, and 3.5 and 5.0 as "high" strategy use. The participants reported a medium frequency for the mean strategy use on the entire SILL (M = 3.49, SD = 0.48) as well as the six categories of the SILL (see Table1). Among the six strategy categories, the participants reported using metacognitive strategies most frequently and affective and compensation strategies least frequently.
Table 1: Descriptive statistics for Six SILL Categories of all students
Analyzing the use of the individual strategy items for the entire group, it was found that they frequently apply all the metacognitive strategies to organize and evaluate their learning. The items like I think about my progress in learning SL, I try to find out how to be a better learner of SL. , I pay attention when someone is speaking SL and I look for opportunities to read as much as possible in SL are the most frequently reported strategies respectively. However, the least-used items were those that involved reading and writing in English such as, I write down my feelings in a language learning dairy, and I read SL without looking up every new word.
Relationship between LLS and GPA
To probe for the linear relationship between students' overall strategy use and their GPA, a correlational analysis was performed. The obtained correlation coefficient (r = 025) demonstrated no significant relationship between reported strategy use and students' GPA. Similar results were observed for the third research question. In other words, there was no significant relationship between SILL categories and students' GPA (See table 2).
Table 2. Correlation coefficient obtained for all SILL categories
The mean score for more successful students (M= 3.45) and less successful students (M=3.51) in terms of their obtained GPA in academic courses showed similar patterns for their strategy use with slightly higher mean for less successful students.
Difference between years of study and reported strategy use
The analysis of data for the second-year students showed a slightly lower mean score (M= 3.42) than the first- year ( M= 3.51) students in terms of their perceived strategy use.
As regards the fourth research question, an independent t-test was run to probe any significant difference between the years of study completed by the students and their reported use of strategies. The t observed value of .70 (df.= 104, P= 0.5) denotes that there is a no significant difference between the two groups. Thus, the null hypothesis that there is no significant difference between the two variables is verified (Table 3).
Table 3. T-test results for the first year and second year students
Std. Error Difference
Equal variances assumed
Equal variances not assumed
The findings of the present study showed that Iranian EFL learners use learning strategies moderately. They tend to use metacognitive strategies more frequently. This reflects the students' attempts to become proficient in the target language. Among the top ten strategies used by all participants, five belong to the metacognitive strategies. These strategies are necessary for successful language learning, since they, as indicated by Oxford (1990), help learners coordinate and enhance their own learning process through monitoring and evaluating language use, planning, focusing, organizing, and seeking opportunities to use the language.. A number of other research studies report the learners' preference for metacognitive strategies (Whorton. 2000; Goh & Foong, 1997; Hong-Nam & Leavell, 2006; Magogwe & Oliver, 2007; Rahimi et al. 2008; Pishghadam, 2008 among others). The Iranian learners' frequent use of metacognitive strategies may have been influenced by the teaching approach adopted in the Iranian EFL classrooms (Rahimi et al, 2008).
The analysis of data demonstrated that the more successful students in terms of their GPA were not better strategy users than less successful students. Shmais (2003) also found no relationship between students' GPA and their frequency of strategy use. It seems that students' GPA might be affected by some other factors and in some settings lacks the explanatory power to predict LLS use. Similarly, some studies (Green, 1991; Phillips, 1991, as cited in Park, 1997) have reported a curvilinear relationship between the use of strategies and the proficiency levels of the participants; the low level proficiency learners tend to use the strategies more frequently than those in a higher level. The majority of these studies show that the students in the mid-proficiency group used the strategies more frequently than the highand low-proficiency groups.
The duration of study represented as first-year and second-year students, in this study, showed no significant difference in LLS use. Normally, it is assumed that an increase in the years of study would result in higher proficiency levels by learners which would, in turn, lead to an increase in their strategy use. However, in this context it was revealed that the duration of study does not necessarily lead to learners' more strategy use. This finding is in line with some other research studies (Rahimi et al. 2008, Radwan, 2011) in which freshman students reported a higher level of strategy use. In other words, it does not follow a linear relationship between strategy use and duration of the study.
This study was an attempt to investigate the relationship between students' perception of LLS use and their overall proficiency, determined by the university GPA scores. The results showed that this relationship is not always linear and straightforward. Strategy use is a complex phenomenon that is influenced by other variables in various ways.
The context of the study does have a significant effect on the students' use of strategies, which may lead to contradictory results. It has been revealed that Iranian learners employ metacognitive strategies more frequently than other strategies. The learners may have been influenced by the teaching approach practiced in the Iranian EFL classrooms (Rahimi et al, 2008) such as paying attention, consciously searching for practice opportunities, planning for language tasks, self-evaluating one's progress, and monitoring errors. Wharton's (2000) observation in Singapore also suggest that the learners as unique individuals and the context of learning play a role in the choice of learners' strategies.
The SILL might not always be able to account for all the strategies employed by the learner. On the other hand, there remains the possibility that learners may report on the strategies which they don't actually use. Research methodology could be enriched by employing multiple data collection procedures such as interviews and classroom observation combined with the use of SILL questionnaire , to yield further and perhaps more trustworthy findings (Chun-Lai, 2009).
The fact that more successful and less successful students, in some way, adopt similar strategy patterns denotes that they have not received any formal instruction in employing LLS. Most of these strategies have probably been learned habitually and unconsciously. Therefore, training students in using learning strategies and encouraging them to be aware of their own unique ways of learning would make them independent and efficient learners.
The weakness of this study is the limited number of variables which have been studied in relation to learning strategies. More research is needed to consider other important social and affective variables which could play a role in the choice of LLSs.