L2 Learning Strategies

Key Issues in SLA  Vocabulary learning strategies   Second Language Learning and Language Teaching (Book website)

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Learning strategies questionnaire

When you are learning another language in the classroom, what special things do you do or what tricks do you use for:


learning grammar

getting meanings from contexts
using the language socially outside the classroom
using the language for work, obtaining information, etc


Bialystok strategies

The Good Language Learner (GLL) Strategies (Naiman, Frohlich, & Stern)


find a learning style that suits you


involve yourself in the language learning process


develop an awareness of language both as system and as communication


pay constant attention to expanding your language


develop the L2 as a separate system


take into account the demands that L2 learning imposes


Research summary: O'Malley, J.M., Chamot, A.U., Stewner-Manzanares, G., Kupper, L., & Russo, R.P. (1985), 'Learning strategies used by beginning and intermediate ESL students', Language Learning, 35, 21-46
Aim: to discover learning strategies used by L2 learners inside and outside the classroom
Learners: 70 Spanish-speaking high school ESL students and 20 ESL teachers
Data type: interviews with students and teachers, and classroom observation
Method of analysis: interviews scored by 4 raters for strategies
Results: established a range of 26 learning strategies in 3 broad categories of metacognitive (69.9%), cognitive (30%), and social\affective (0.1%)

                              Beginners      Intermediate
Metacognitive:         112                      80
Cognitive:                 297                    149
Total:                        409                     229

Comparison of learning strategies for ESL beginner and intermediates (adapted from O'Malley, Chamot, Stewner-Manzanares, Kupper, & Russo, 1985, p.37)

O'Malley & Chamot maximal list of strategies, starting from O'Malley, Chamot, Stewner-Manzanares, Kupper, & Rocco, 1985.

A.  Metacognitive strategies: 'higher order executive skills that may entail planning for, monitoring, or evaluating the success of a learning activity' (O'Malley & Chamot, 1990, 44) advance organisers: planning the learning activity in advance - "You review before you go into class".
directed attention: deciding to concentrate on general aspects of a learning task.
selective attention: deciding to pay attention to specific parts of the language input or the situation that will help learning.
self-management: trying to arrange the appropriate conditions for learning - "I sit in the front of the class so I can see the teacher".
advance preparation: planning the linguistic components for a forthcoming language task
self-monitoring: checking one's performance as one speaks - "Sometimes I cut short a word because I realize I've said it wrong".
delayed production: deliberately postponing speaking so that one may learn by listening "I talk when I have to, but I keep it short and hope I'll be understood".
self-evaluation: checking how well one is doing against one's own standards
self-reinforcement: giving oneself rewards for success
B.  Cognitive strategies repetition: imitating other people's speech overtly or silently.
resourcing: making use of language materials such as dictionaries.
directed physical response; responding physically 'as with directives'.
translation: 'using the first language as a basis for understanding and/or producing the L2'
grouping: organising learning on the basis of 'common attributes'.
note-taking: writing down the gist etc of texts.
deduction: conscious application of rules to processing the L2.
recombination: putting together smaller meaningful elements into new wholes.
imagery: visualising information for memory storage - "Pretend you are doing something indicated in the sentences to make up about the new word".
auditory representation: keeping a sound or sound sequence in the mind - "When you are trying to learn how to say something, speak it in your mind first".
key word: using key word memory techniques, such as identifying an L2 word with an L1 word that it sounds like.
contextualisation: 'placing a word or phrase in a meaningful language sequence'.
elaboration: 'relating new information to other concepts in memory'.
transfer: using previous knowledge to help language learning - "If they're talking about something I have already learnt (in Spanish), all I have to do is remember the information and try to put it into English"
inferencing: guessing meanings by using available information - "I think of the whole meaning of the sentence, and then I can get the meaning of the new word".
question for clarification: asking a teacher or native for explanation, help, etc.
C:  Social Mediation strategies: cooperation: working with fellow-students on language


Abbreviated Adapted Strategy Inventory for Language Learning (SILL) for L2 students of English (Oxford 1990)

Describe each of these statements on a scale going from 1. 'Never true of me', 2. 'Usually not true of me', 3. 'Somewhat true of me', 4. 'Usually true of me', 5. 'Always true of me'.
A. Remembering more effectively (9 items) I think of relationship between what I already know and new things I learn in English.
B. Using all your mental processes (14 items) I say or write new English words several times. 
C. Compensating for missing knowledge (6 items) To understand unfamiliar English words, I make guesses. 
D. Organising and evaluating your knowledge (8 items) I try to find as many ways as I can to use my English. 
E. Managing your emotions (6 items) I try to relax whenever I feel afraid of using English. 
F. Learning with others (6 items) If I do not understand something in English, I ask the other person to slow down or say it again. 


Bialystok, E. (1990), Communication Strategies, Blackwell, Oxford

Dodson, C.J. (1986), 'Language-learning strategies of monolinguals and bilinguals', in Oksaar, E. (ed.), Sociocultural Perspectives of Multilingualism and Language Acqusition. Tubingen: Narr

Ellis, G. & Sinclair, B. (1989), Learning to Learn English, CUP

Green, J. & Oxford, R. (1995), 'A closer look at learning strategies, L2 proficiency and gender', TESOL Quarterly, 29, 2 261-297

McDonough, S. (1995), Strategy and Skill in Learning a Foreign Language, Arnold

Naiman, N., Frohlich, M., Stern, H.H. & Todesco, A. (1978), The Good Language Learner, Toronto, OISE

O'Malley, J.M. & Chamot, A.U. (1990), Learning Strategies in Second Language Acquisition, CUP

O'Malley, J.M., Chamot, A.U., Stewner-Manzanares, G., Kupper, L. & Russo, R.P. (1985), 'Learning strategies used by beginning and intermediate ESL students', Language Learning, 35, 21-46

Oxford, R.L. (1990), Language Learning Strategies, Newbury House

Learning strategies mini-test

Communication strategies