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Vocabulary Learning Strategies

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27/06/17 Linguistics Reference this

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Related researches in China

In China, researches on students’ learning styles have attracted a lot of researchers to this area. The most impressive researches are conducted by Wang Churning (1988) and Hu Xiaoqiong (1997). Employing Reid’s Perceptual Learning Style Preference Questionnaire (PLSP), Wang Churning (1988) conducted a large scale research in Guangdong University of Foreign Studies. The participants were 490 English major students from freshmen to senior students. Four conclusions were made from his findings: firstly, individual difference of learning styles did exist among English major students. The most favored style was tactile learning style and group learning style the least favored; secondly, the length of learning time could affect students’ learning styles and students from different grades had the tendency of presenting different learning style preference; thirdly, there were great similarities of learning styles shown by male and female students; finally, learning styles were related to the learning achievements and visual learning style was always preferred by students who possessed low English proficiency of listening and reading.

Hu Xiaoqiong (1997) also employed Reid’s Perceptual Learning Style Preference

Questionnaire (PLSP), with some modifications, to conduct research on 236 students of English major, from freshmen to juniors. His findings further proved Wang’s research finding that students preferred tactile learning style most during their learning process. Apart from this, he also stated that students of English major preferred multi-dimensional learning styles instead of a single one.

Adopting Keef and Monk’ Learning Style Profile, Yu Xinle (1997) tested 149 students of English majors from three universities in Beijing. According to his findings, no correlation could be found between learning style preference and gender difference, and no significant learning style preference existed between male and female students. However, sequential learning styles and memory learning styles had significant correlation with English learning achievements.

From the researches mentioned above, it could be concluded that researches on learning styles are relatively few and almost all the researches are conducted among English major students, and researches on perceptual learning styles of non-English major students are greatly lacking. Therefore, further researches of perceptual learning styles are extremely needed to be conducted and explored in great detail to non-English major students for their learning style preference.

Chapter 3 Literature review on learning strategies

The importance of learning strategy as the key variable to influence individual learning difference in the acquisition of second language area is a topic that has drawn the attention of researchers worldwide. The following view of literature will present a brief history of learning strategy from the mid- 1970s to the present.

  • Background of learning strategies

Teachers and researchers have long noticed the fact that only seeking for the perfect teaching models cannot assure the success of students’ language learning. Under the same language input, not all the students can achieve the same success as others; some students obviously learn better than others. Learning is a two-way communication. Teachers and students need to work together. Neither of them can make the final success of language learning with the neglect of the other. Oxford (1990) clearly states that research interest has been shifted from what students learn or acquire to how students gain language, that is to say, from the product or outcome of learning and acquisition to the process of learning and acquisition. In a word, the focus has shifted from teachers to learners, and from learning and teaching results to learning and teaching processes.

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Researches on learning strategy have started from the mid-1970s abroad. Since then, a great number of researchers have become int.: ested in this area. Researchers, such as Oxford & Nyikos (1989), O’Malley & Chamot (1990), Oxford (1990), Wenden (1991), Nyikos & Oxford (1993), Sa-ngiam (1994), Ehrman & Oxford (1995), Eugene (2001), Nisbet (2002), Griffiths (2003) and so on, have guided the strategy research direction and have greatly contributed to the theory development. Their general research focus includes: studies on learning strategies employed by good or successful language learners, studies on learning strategy definitions and classifications, studies on influencing variables on learning strategy use and on the application of learning strategy theories to language learning and teaching. With the development of strategy researches, classifications of learning strategies have been constantly enriched and perfected. Rubin (1975) first, and shortly after, Stern (1975) publish their studies on the learning of “good” or “successful” second language learners, which starts the new threshold of research in second language acquisition (Cited by Oxford, 1990). On the basis of previous researches, Freeman (1991) briefly points out that good language learners have the characteristics of willingness and accuracy and have a strong desire to communicate even at the risk of appearing foolish. They also pay attention to language form and meaning in their conversation. Moreover, they practice and monitor their own speech and speech of others. In the 1990s, researches on learning strategies have achieved great success. O’Malley & Chamot (1990) and Oxford (1990) propose more impressive classifications of learning strategies that have led to a spate of significant researches in this field. Wenden (1991) outlines the schema of learning strategies that includes cognitive strategies (selecting input, comprehending input, storing input, and retrieving input) and self-management strategies (planning, monitoring, and evaluating). Cohen (1998) identifies that strategies consist of language learning strategies and language use strategies and states that the two strategies are the processes consciously selected by learners and can enhance students’ learning through the storage, retention, recall, and application of information.

Another interesting topic related to learning strategies is strategy training. Different names have existed for the application of strategy use to learning, such as “learner training”, “learning-to-learn training”, “learner methodology training”, and “methodological initiation for learners”. O’Malley & Chamot (1990) state that learning strategies are not the preserve of highly capable individuals and could be learned by others. Oxford (1990) also emphasizes the teachability of learning strategies. Their views have laid the foundation of strategy training programs. Currently, many researchers are devoting themselves to designing and executing strategy training programs, especially for inexperienced learners.

  • Definitions of different strategies
  • Strategies

The concept of strategy derives from the Greek term “strategia” which means generalship or the art of war. In nonmilitary settings, it means a plan, step, or conscious action toward achievement of an objective (Oxford, 1990). Researchers, such as O’Malley & Chamot (1990), Oxford (1990), Wenden (1991), Ellis (1994), and Cohen (1998), have contributed greatly to the development and application of learning strategy theories. However, in educational settings, it has been variously described as “fuzzy” (Ellis, 1994), “no consensus” (Wenden, 1991), and “conflicting views” (Cohen, 1998). Certainly, a brief review of literature will indicate the plethora of different terms for strategy, such as “techniques”, “tactics”, “potentially conscious plans” and so on.

There is little consensus regarding what a strategy is. Defining strategy is a difficult task and each definition will cause the controversial views easily. Researchers always emphasize this or that aspect of learning strategies when rendering the definition. For example, Brown (1994) holds the view that strategies are referred to as specific methods of approaching a problem or task, modes of operation for achieving a particular end, or planned designs for controlling and manipulating certain information. However, Ellis (1994) proposes that strategies consist of mental or behavioral activity related to some specific stage in the overall process of language acquisition or language use. Cohen (1998) defines strategies as the process consciously selected by learners. From the above definitions, it could be noticed that Brown tends to define strategies just as behavioral actions. However, Ellis emphasizes both the mental and behavioral aspects. Cohen mainly focuses on the element of consciousness when rendering the definition, which is not mentioned by Brown and Ellis. The writer would like to define strategies as both mental and behavioral actions consciously selected by learners when solving the problems in this study.

  • Learning strategies and language learning strategies

Learning strategies have considerable potential for enhancing the process of learners’ language learning and help learners know how to learn more meaningfully, successfully and automatically. Same problems exist when researchers define learning strategies. Different researchers emphasize different aspects of learning strategies. For example, Weinstein & Mayer (1986) hold the view that learning strategies are the behaviors and thoughts that a learner engages in during learning which are intended to influence the learner’s encoding process (Cited by Ellis, 1994); however, Oxford (1990) expands the definition as specific actions taken by the learner to make learning faster, more enjoyable, more self-directed, more effective, and more transferable to new situations; Cohen (1998) defines it as the conscious thoughts and behaviors used by learners with the explicit goal of improving their knowledge and understanding of a target language. Language learning strategies are language specific. Thus the writer of this study is more likely to define learning strategies as behavioral and mental actions consciously selected by learners during learning process. And language learning strategies are behavioral and mental actions consciously selected by learners during language learning process.

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  • Classifications of learning strategies

Different scholars classify learning strategies from different angles and a large number of classifications exist. In the following part, the more comprehensive and elaborate classifications will be discussed, including O’Malley & Chamot’s and Oxford’s classifications.

  • O’Malley & Chamot’s classification

O’Malley & Chamot’s classification is based on information processing theory and draws on the work of cognitive psychologists who introduces and develops the concepts of declarative and procedural knowledge. Generally speaking, declarative knowledge can be described as a kind of factual information which is stored in the mind and is related to the question of “what they are” and procedural knowledge is about checking rules and is associated with the question of ” how to do”. O’Malley & Chamot’s research project provides a rationale and approach in cognitive theory for discussing learning strategies in second language acquisition. Cognitive theory has explained adequately how information is stoizd in memory and what processes are entailed in learning. It states that learning strategies are stored in people’s mind in the form of declarative or procedural knowledge. In cognitive theory, learning strategies are represented as complex cognitive skills that follow the same general rules as other forms of procedural knowledge. Learning strategies begin as declarative knowledge and gradually go through associative, and autonomous stages with practice and experience. Cook (1993) further explains this by using

Anderson’s three developmental stages theory in second language acquisition: firstly, in the declarative stage, intensive attention is involved to the new language and deliberate efforts are made to understand the new language; secondly, in the compilation stage, procedural knowledge is acquired and gradually less conscious attention is needed; thirdly, the automatic processing like native speakers is finally formed. O’Malley & Chamot (1990) illustrate learning strategies as mental and socio-affective processes, emphasizing learner interaction with the language in order to foster acquisition. They present three categories of learning strategies, including metacognitive, cognitive, and social/affective strategies.

They point out that metacognitive strategy encompasses executive process that mainly includes planning, monitoring and evaluating strategies. Planning is the strategy used by learners for organizing of the written or spoken discourses. Monitoring is the strategy used by learners for checking one’s comprehension during the process of learning. And evaluating is the strategy used by learners for checking the outcomes of one’s own language learning. Cognitive strategies involve the direct manipulation of materials to be learned. Strategies concerning cognitive strategy are mental or behavioral aspects. For example, learners can link new information to previously acquired concepts mentally or physically so that they can group the learning items in meaningful categories or summarize the important information. Other frequently used cognitive strategies are resourcing, repetition, grouping, transfer and translation and so on. Social/affective strategies are used when learners interact with other persons in order to assist their learning. For example, learners often ask questions for clarification or use some kinds of emotional control to promote their learning.

  • Oxford’s classification

Almost at the same time, Oxford (1990) offers more comprehensive and full-scale language learning classification. Her classification research on language learning strategies has great influence on second language acquisition. She makes a distinction between what she calls “direct” and “indirect” strategies and explains the relationship between them by an analogy of a theatre. Direct strategies consist of memory, cognitive, and compensation strategies. This kind of strategies deals with the new language and is like the performer in a stage play who works with the language itself in a variety of€specific tasks and situations. Indirect strategies comprise metacognitive, affective, and social strategies and are compared as the director who takes the responsibility for the general management of the play.

Firstly, three types of direct strategies are discussed, including memory, cognitive, and compensation strategies. Memory strategies are learning strategies that help students store and retrieve new information and mainly include strategies, such as grouping or inferencing, creating mental linkages, and applying images and sounds. Cognitive strategies are strategies that enable learners to understand and produce new language by a variety of different means. Summarizing and reasoning deductively are examples of cognitive strategies. Additional examples includ practicing, receiving and sending messages, analyzing and reasoning, and creating structure for input and output. Compensation strategies are strategies that allow learners to use the language despite their large gaps in knowledge base. Guessing intelligently, using synonyms, and overcoming limitations in speaking and writing are included in this type of strategies. Secondly, indirect strategies include metacognitive strategies, affective strategies and social strategies. Metacognitive strategies are language learning strategies, such as planning for language tasks and setting goals that provide a mechanism for individuals to coordinate their own learning process. Affective strategies are strategies that help learners gain control over emotions, attitudes, motivations, and values. To lower their anxiety, learners can listen to music or make positive statements or reward themselves to become high-spirited or try to take their emotional temperature to concentrate on their learning. Social strategies are strategies that involve interaction between and among learners. When they have classroom collaborative activities, learners could use social strategies to help them to obtain information they need, for example, strategies of asking questions, cooperating with others, and empathizing with others.

The classification of learning strategies is still controversial. Oxford’s classificatory system is different from O’Malley & Chamot’s, but there is similarity between them. For example, both of the two classifications include the category of metacognitive strategy which involves the process of thinking, planning, monitoring and evaluating.

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O’Malley & Chamot’s (1990) classification emphasizes more on metacognitive and cognitive strategies and lesser focus on social/affective strategies. In their classification, they provide cognitive theories to support the classification of their learning strategies. However, Oxford’s classification is more comprehensive and offers six types of learning strategies with an emphasis both on direct and indirect functions of strategies. In addition, Oxford’s classification addresses the social and affective components, which are less developed in O’Malley & Chamot’s classification. Moreover, Oxford’s classification system can be measured by her widely recognized Strategy Inventory for Language Learning (SILL). For these reasons, Oxford’s classification system and the accompanying strategy inventory are more acknowledged in the academic world and are always approved by researchers who are interested in this field.

Related research in China

Wen (2003) identifies two distinctive development stages of learning strategies in China. The two stages are respectively named as the “budding stage” and the “full developing stage”. The budding stage is from 1984 to 1992, and the full developing stage is from 1993 to 2003. In the former stage, Huang (1984) publishes her postgraduate dissertation “An investigation of learning strategies in oral communication that Chinese EFL learners in China employ”, which has laid the foundation of Chinese research on learning strategies. In the latter stage, a large number of researchers have made great contributions both in theory and practice in this field. It is worth noticing that researches of learning strategies in today’s China have entered the flourishing age. In theoretical aspect, Wen (1996) has put forward the classification system of learning strategies. She classifies strategies into two groups: management strategies and language learning strategies. Management strategies comprise aim establishing, planning, strategy selecting, self-monitoring, self-evaluating and self-adjusting. Language learning strategies can be subdivided into traditional and non-traditional strategies. Traditional language learning strategies consist of form-focused strategies, accuracy strategies, and using-mother tongue strategies. Non-traditional strategies are made up of meaning-focused strategies, fluency strategies and mother-tongue avoidance strategies. Based on her classification, many studies are conducted, such as Wen Qiufang and Wang Haixiao (1996a, 1996b), Wen Qiufang (1996c), Qin Xiaoging(1998) and the like. Wen and Wang (1996) conducted the comparatively important research on sophomores of non-English majors and one of their research findings was that correlation existed between learners’ belief and their choice of learning strategies.

There are a large number of empirical studies on learning strategies in different language learning areas. For example, Wu Yi’an and Liu Runging (1993) investigated the psychology and social-psychology factors that affected students’ English language learning. According to the results of their studies, the strategy use had no effect on English achievements. Liu Shaolong(1996) chose 7 adult middle school teachers to investigate the influence of background knowledge on learning strategy choice in listening. After data analysis, he pointed it out that background knowledge did have great influence on the choice of strategy use in listening. Hou Songshan (1998) examined the effect of task types and gender difference towards the choice of communicative strategy use. His participants were sophomore students of English major from PLA Foreign Language College. His findings proved that task types could affect the choice of communicative strategy use. Males and females had different choice of communicative strategy use. Wu Xia & Wang Qiang (1998) investigated strategy use on vocabulary learning. He conducted research on sophomore students of non-English major students in Beijing Normal Universities. According to their findings, metacognitive and cognitive strategies were frequently used by students when learning vocabulary. And good language learners employed more vocabulary learning strategies than those of bad language learners. Wang Yu (2002) conducted strategy research on sophomore students in Suzhou University. His research findings were that strategies, such as metacognitive, form-focused, meaning-focused, using-mother tongue, and social/affective strategies could account for students’ different listening abilities to a large extent. Thus, according to Wen (2003), all researches of learning strategies fall into two categories:

macro and micro aspects. In macro-aspect, researches usually focus on the general situation of learners’ beliefs and learning strategies; and in micro-aspect, researches often concentrate on the strategy use in different language learning areas, for example, strategies use in speaking, listening, reading and writing areas.


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