Language learning strategies are crucial key for learners and teachers to consider in order to develop students’ language competency. In the classroom, teachers tend to deal with a group of students at one time, but language learning occurs differently in different individuals. Therefore, one learning strategy works for some students, while that learning strategy may not work for other students. Many researchers have tried to reveal what kinds of factors affect the favored language learning strategy use (Cohen, 1998; Cook, 2001; Macao, 2001; Wenden, 1987; O’Malley & Chamot, 1990; Oxford, 1990). Different factors, such as age, motivation, nationality, gender and so on, are related to different uses of language learning strategies across individual language learners. However, it is important for teachers to pay more attention to creating the learning spaces for any students in the classroom in order to make them successful language learners. Using language learning strategies not only helps students learn the language efficiently and effectively, but also helps teachers use the language learning strategies as a tool in the classroom in order to build their language skills. Once students know their preferred language learning strategy, they can apply this to any situations to accelerate their language competency by themselves. Moreover, knowing what strategy works for particular students may give teachers some ideas for the teaching methods or teaching techniques in the classroom for teachers’ preparation effectively. Therefore, it is important for both students and teachers to examine what kinds of language learning can facilitate effective learning.
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Definition of language learning strategies
The term, language learning strategies, has various definitions according to different researchers. Some researchers stated that learning strategies are processes selected by students in order to improve their learning in their own ways (Cohen, 1998; Cook, 2001; Nunan, 1999; Oxford, 1990). The learners decide to choose which learning strategies to use in their learning. Cohen (1998) emphasized that it is important for learners to choose the elements because those things give them their particular preference learning strategies. In support of the definition of learning strategies, Cohen (1998) added that learning strategies can be actions “through the storage, retention, recall, and application of information about that language” (p.4). The learning strategies are one of the outcomes from using the language. Moreover, O’Mally & Chamot (1990) argued that the learning strategies are “the special thoughts or behaviors that individuals use to help them comprehend, learn, or retain new information” (p.1). Therefore, the definition of learning strategies focuses learners on how they are able to learn the language consciously and subconsciously.
Types of language learning strategy
Research on language learning strategy came originally from the field of the cognitive psychology (Mitchell & Myles, 2004). In cognitive psychology, some scholars are interested in the information-processing in learners’ brains with a first or second language use. At the same time, they also were interested in how learners were able to have control over the information by themselves. By knowing the process that learners would take, language educators and researchers have been looking for the effective language learning strategy demanded by ELLs and teachers in order to make them successful language learners. It is important to categorize language learning strategies. At the beginning of the classification of language learning strategies, Rubin (1981) made two categories of language learning strategies. One category is direct learning strategies, such as memorization, monitoring, guessing and so on. The other category is indirect learning strategies, such as creating opportunities for practice, using formulaic interaction and so on. In the same vein, Oxford (1990) suggested her own system of language learning strategies. She classified the language learning strategies into two classes and six groups. In the two classes, she used the direct class and indirect class. As for the direct class, the groups are memory strategies, cognitive strategies, and compensation strategies. On the other hand, for the indirect class, the groups are social strategies, affective strategies, and meta-cognitive strategies. This classification provides a comprehensive organization for understanding language learning strategies. Moreover, it is a useful way to analyze language learning strategy use by teachers and learners. In this current study, Oxford’s classification system is used in order to determine the language learning strategies.
Studies on language learning strategies
Researchers and educators started to explore the language learning strategies in the 1970’s (Macao, 2001). In the early research about learning strategies, researchers conducted research in the use of language learning strategies in relation to a good language learner. (Macao, 2001; Wenden, 1987). Studies have shown cognitive and meta-cognitive strategies are used the most among all strategies (Green & Oxford, 1995; Hong-Nam & Leavell, 2006; Rahimi et al, 2008) However, after a few decades, research studies have started to investigate the use of language learning strategies connected to other factors, such as the proficiency of the language, gender, and ethnicity.
In in English in the English as Foreign language (EFL) settings, researchers found that successful learners tended to employ language learning strategies more than less successful learners (Green & Oxford, 1995; Lai, 2009). In English as a Second Language (ESL) settings, Hong-Nam & Leavell (2006) found that students in the intermediate level used the most language learning strategies of the three different English proficiency levels. It is important to see that learners tend to employ the language learning strategies to develop their language learning both in the EFL setting and in the ESL setting. Moreover, learners at different levels of English proficiency have showed their preferable strategies use (Green & Oxford, 1995; Lai, 2009; Hong-Nam & Leavell, 2006). The more proficient students are, the more they tend to choose meta-cognitive or cognitive strategies to use. On the other hand, the less proficient students are, the more they tend to use social or memory strategies. The proficiency level is related to the choice of learning strategies made by the learners.
Other studies focused on the use of language learning strategies in relation to gender (Green & Oxford, 1995; Lai, 2009; Hong-Nam & Leavell, 2006, Rahimi et al, 2009, Reid, 1987). Many researchers found that women tend to use language learning strategies more than men. However, Rahimi et al. (2009) found that there was no difference of strategy use between genders. One of the reasons for this could be the participant’s age. Rahimi et al. used post-secondary students as their participants, while other studies used university students as their participants. It is also important to consider the age factor concerning the strategy use. In addition to this, Hong-Nam & Leavell (2006) gave the evidence that gender differences affect students’ preferable language learning strategies differently. Therefore, there may be some relationship between the language learning strategy use and the gender factor.
There are also some research studies about the use of language learning strategies in relation to learners’ ethnic background. Hong-Nam and Leavell (2006) found that most students preferred to use meta-cognitive strategies. On the other hand, Chinese students preferred to use the social strategy. In the same vein, Macaro (2001) found that Italian students reported social strategy use more than English students. However, it is hard to say that there is a particular favored learning strategy use by different learners’ nationalities. In addition to this, patterns across nationality or ethnicity may be related to different factors like personal characteristics, culture, and received learning strategy use in the class.
The purpose of the study
The purpose of this current study is to extend the existing literature to investigate the use of language learning strategies for ESL students in the university level in the ESL setting. In this study, participants have already entered the university as undergraduate or graduate students. The study examines what kinds of language learning strategies are most commonly used by the students in order to succeed in academic classes at universities. This study will use multiple variables, such as age, gender, ethnicity, and the English proficiency level, in order to see some relationship between the use of language learning strategies and the other variables. In addition to this, the study will examine how the use of language learning strategies may be related to the length of time in the United States and the length of time studying in the United States. This study tries to answer these questions.
What language learning strategies are used by university ESL students in order to succeed in academic classes at the university level?
Are there any different uses of language learning strategies between undergraduate students and graduate students?
Are these any different uses of language learning strategies between genders?
Are there any differences for the language learning strategy use by each nationality?
Does the length of time studying in the United States or the length of time in the United States predict the university ESL students’ language learning strategy use?
This current study used mixed methods in order to identify the use of language learning strategies for English as Second Language (ESL) Learners at the university level. Data were collected by using an online survey site.
Sample and Site Selection
The study involved 300 international students enrolled at University of Nevada, Reno as undergraduate or graduate students. They came from over 30 different countries and they have a variety of majors. The participants are male (160) and female (140). All the participants are only taking academic classes and are full time students with student visa (F-1) status at the University of Nevada, Reno. In order to take only academic classes at University of Nevada, Reno, all international students need to have a score of at least 61 on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) internet based test for both undergraduate and graduate school. In addition to this, they need to pass the bridge test given by the Intensive English Language Center (IELC). If students do not pass the bridge test, they need to take bridge English classes in order to build their English skills. All the participants in this study passed the bridge test or have taken a bridge classes. Additionally, some students recently arrived at the United State to start the school, while some students have been the United States for over five years.
The selected site for this study was at the University of Nevada, Reno. It had a total of 553 international students enrolled on the fall 2010. The number consisted of 217 students for undergraduate school and 336 students for graduate school. They came from 66 different countries to study at University of Nevada, Reno. The school offers over 145 degree programs and three different education levels.
In this study, a participant’s self-reported questionnaire, short answer questions about the use of language learning strategies, and a background information questionnaire were used. For the participant’s self-reported survey, the Strategy Inventory for Language Learning (SILL version 7.0 for ESL/EFL) developed by Oxford (1990) was used. According to Oxford and Burry-Stack (1995), Cronbach’s alpha for the SILL studies has been .85-.95 in order to show the degree of precision on an instrument. These numbers were high, but it showed that “the measurement error is minimal” (Oxford & Burry-Stack, 1995, p.7). The SILL has 50 strategy items and is divided into six categories: Memory strategy, cognitive strategy, compensation strategy, metacognitive strategy, affective strategy and social strategy. The SILL used a 5-point scale for each strategy item ranging from 1, “never or almost never true of me” to 5, “always or almost always true of me”. After rating all the items and adding the score for each category, the reporting score can identify which categories of language learning strategies were used the most by each participant. Looking at the results of the scores, there was a basic scale developed by Oxford (1990). The high frequency rate of strategy use was a range from 3.5 to 5. The medium frequency rate was a range from 2.5 to 3.5. The low frequency rate was a range from 2.4 to 1.0 using this scale
Additionally, the qualitative questions about the use of language learning strategies were added by the researcher. These questions focused on when to use, and how to use, learning strategies in their academic context, and how they are used differently in English or in their native language. The background information questionnaire was created by the researcher based on an Individual Background Questionnaire (IBQ) developed by Hong-Nan and Leavell (2006). The questionnaire asked for information about age, gender, nationality, native language, the TOEFL score, time of English study, time in the United States, time of schooling, and rate of English proficiency. As instruments for this study, these three different kinds of questions took 40 -50 minutes of the participants’ time.
Data collection and analysis
An online survey with all three components of questions was created using Qualtrics Labs, Inc. software, Version 15877 of the Qualtrics Research Suite. Participants were invited by email to complete the online survey at the middle of the semester. They were asked to take the online survey by the end of the semester. In order to increase the rate of their responses on online surveys, email reminders were sent several times. In the email, the researcher explained the purpose of the study and the data collection procedure to the participants and included the URL link for the survey. Their answers in the online survey will remain completely anonymous.
The Data analysis has two different parts in this study: the quantitative and the qualitative analysis. In the quantitative analysis, the Strategy Inventory for Language Learning (SILL) and background information were used to calculate the overall strategy use by looking at the computation of descriptive statistics in order to know which language learning strategies were used most commonly. ANOVA analysis was used in order to find out whether there were any differences between the use of language learning strategies and the other factors . The independent variables were these factors such as, such as age, gender, nationalities, the educational levels, the time spent the United States, and the time studying in the United States, while the dependent variable was the use of language learning strategies. In the qualitative analysis, the short answer questions in the online survey were used in order to support recurrent themes for quantitative analysis.
Appendix A. Short answer questionnaire.
How do you use learning styles differently when you study your major in your language and in English?
How do you apply learning styles for all subjects that you are taking? Are there any differences depending on the subject?
What are your favorite learning styles in your classes that you use in order to be a successful student?
Appendix B. Background information
Please fill out the most appropriate answer to you.
Which student are you?
â€¢ Undergraduate student
â€¢ graduate student
What is your gender?
What is your major?
Where are you from?
What is your native language?
How old are you?
How long did you study English in your country?
How long have you been living in the United States?
How long have you studied English in the United States?
How long have you been a student in the United States?
Could you tell me about your most recent TOEFL score?
The date of TOEFL
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