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Language Learners Strategies: Issues in Classification. Andrew D. Cohen University of Minnesota. Language Learner Strategies.

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Language learners strategies issues in classification l.jpg

Language Learners Strategies: Issues in Classification

Andrew D. Cohen

University of Minnesota


Language learner strategies l.jpg
Language Learner Strategies

Learners’ conscious and semi-conscious thoughts and behaviors, having the explicit goal of improving the knowledge and understanding of the second language, as well as behaviors for using the language that has been learned or for getting around gaps in language proficiency.


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Ways to Classify Learner Strategies

  • By goal: Language learning strategies (e.g., identifying, distinguishing, grouping, memorizing strategies) or language use strategies (e.g., retrieval, rehearsal, communicative, and cover strategies).

  • By function: Metacognitive, cognitive, affective, or social strategies.


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  • By skill: Listening, speaking, reading, writing, vocabulary, or translation strategies.

  • Other: Strategies by proficiency levels, by specific cultures (i.e., learning the language of a specific culture), or by specific languages.


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Concerns about Strategies

  • Distinguishing language learning strategies from language use strategies may not always be easy.

  • The same strategy (e.g., “interrupting a conversation in order to take part”) may reflect all four functions, depending on the instant: metacognitive, cognitive, social, and affective.

  • Are strategy descriptions in strategy measures fine-tuned enough to be meaningful?


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  • Problematic terminological distinctions:

    • strategies vs. processes

    • macro- vs. micro-strategies

    • general vs. specific strategies

    • tactics or techniques vs. strategies

    • overt/motor strategies (e.g., writing marginal summaries) vs. strategies involving thought processes (e.g., connecting a visual with a word)

    • strategies as intention to act vs. strategies as action itself

    • strategic knowledge vs. strategic action


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  • Must strategies be conscious? Do you agree with the following?

    • Strategies can be classified as conscious mental activity. They must contain not only an action but a goal (or an intention) and a learning situation. Whereas a mental action might be subconscious, an action with a goal/intention and related to a learning situation can only be conscious.


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Strategies vs. skills following?

  • What we have been referring to as strategies may actually be skills, or at least a combination of strategies interacting with one another. So, “summarizing a text” or “looking a word up in a dictionary” is not a strategy but a skill, operationalized through either a sequence of or a cluster of strategies.



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What are learner strategies for? following?

  • for enhancing learning.

  • for performing specified tasks.

  • for solving specific problems.

  • for compensating for a deficit in learning.

  • for making learning easier, faster, more enjoyable.


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Individual differences in language learning following?

  • The strategies that learners use and the effectiveness of these strategies depend on the learners themselves (e.g., age, gender, language aptitude, intelligence, cognitive and learning style preferences, self-concept/image, personality, attitudes, motivation, prior knowledge), the learning task at hand (e.g., type, complexity, difficulty, and generality), and the learning environment (e.g., the learning culture, the richness of input and output opportunities).


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References following?

  • Cohen, A. D. & Macaro, E. (Eds.) (Forthcoming, 2007). Language learner strategies: 30 years of research and practice. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Macaro, E. (2004). Fourteen features of a language learner strategy. Working Paper No. 4. Auckland, NZ: Centre for Research in International Education, AIS St Helens. http://crie.org.nz/research_paper/1Ernesto_Macaro_WP4.pdf. http://www.crie.org.nz/research_paper/2Ernesto_Macaro_WP4.2.pdf. http://www.crie.org.nz/research_paper/3Ernesto_Macaro_WP4.3.pdf.


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