Language learning strategies

Language learning strategies

Language learning strategies have created a great deal of controversy over the years since Rubin and Stern first introduced the concept to the second language literature in 1975, followed closely by Naiman et al. (1978). All of these studies focused on identifying lists of strategies.

In the 80s the emphasis moved to classification. Rubin (1981) classified strategies according to whether they are direct or indirect. Then in 1985 O'Malley et al. divided strategies into cognitive, metacognitive or social categories.

In 1990, Rebecca Oxford published her landmark book "Language Learning Strategies: What Every Teacher Should Know" which included the "Strategy Inventory for Language Learning" or "SILL", a questionnaire which has been used in a great deal of research in the years since. Then towards the end of the 90s, Andrew Cohen (1998) produced his book on strategies for learning and using a second language.

Controversy over basic issues such as definition continued, however, with some (e.g.Macaro, 2006) giving up trying to define the concept in favour of listing essential characteristics. Others (such as Dornyei and Skehan, 2003) abandoned the strategy term in favour of "self regulation". Furthermore, although originally promoted as a means of helping students to success in language learning, some well-known studies (e.g. Porte, 1988; Vann and Abraham, 1990) produced negative results.

Interest in the potential of strategies to promote learning remains strong, however (e.g. Cohen and Macaro, 2007). From an exhaustive review of the literature, Griffiths (2008) synthesized a definition according to which language learning strategies are activities consciously chosen by learners for the purpose of regulating their own learning. Griffiths also demonstrated a significant correlation between language learning strategy use and proficiency. More recently (2011), both Oxford and Cohen have published new books on the subject.


  • Vocabulary-based strategy 1
  • Double translation 2
  • Grammar-based strategy 3
  • Communicative approach 4
  • Total immersion 5
  • References 6
  • Notes 7

Vocabulary-based strategy

The vocabulary-based language learning approach utilizes associated a word with a picture, akin to how most children learn their first language, as it is a relatively easy method. The use of pictures assist those who are visual learners to memorize the vocabulary, and with the increase in the technological advances, computer-aided technology can replace traditional flashcards that have been used in the past.[1] However, the lack of grammar rules used in the vocabulary-based approach makes for a choppy and messy translation when communicating in the newly acquired language.[2]

Double translation

Double translation requires an adept teacher who is familiar with the meaning of the passage to be translated. This method was started by Roger Ascham and is used to translate lots of classic works.[3] By providing the background, purpose, and grammatical structure information to students, learning is conducted by the students translating the passage into the desired language into written form, and then making the needed corrections where errors were made. While the technique may be useful when learning languages which students will only read and never speak, such as Latin, it doesn’t teach listening or speaking skills, and can be time intensive.[4][5]

Grammar-based strategy

The grammar based language approach focuses on learning the different rules of grammar involved in the intended language. It is thought that once the grammar has been learned through rote memorization, the integration of vocabulary becomes easier. Such an approach allows learners to grasp the grammar rules of the language, which allows students to develop skills in both the reading and writing realms of a new language. However, it can take a while to learn enough grammar knowledge to use the language effectively and the memorization required can make the grammar-based language method frustrating at times.[6]

Communicative approach

Used primarily in a classroom setting, the communicative approach, also called the natural approach, focuses on the different aspects of language including reading, listening, and writing, allowing for a holistic approach to language learning. Previous research into the communicative language approach among non-native English speakers has revealed that most of the students in such an environment preferred the method to improve their English proficiency.[7]

'Differentiated Approach'

Today's classroom has participants representing a number of backgrounds and cultures. This changing phenomenon encourages teachers to provide balance to the delivery of specific content according to the student’s need. Using a differentiated approach entails modifying content, process, product and affect.[8] What students learn is typically the same; it’s how they learn becomes differentiated. Benefits to differentiated instruction not only help language learners and other students in the learning environment but also the educator. The teacher gains a better insight to how each student learns.

Total immersion

See language immersion.


  1. ^ McGraw, Ian; Yoshimoto, Seneff (October 2009). "Speech-enabled card games for incidental vocabulary acquisition in a foreign language". Speech Communication 51 (10): 1006–1023.  
  2. ^ "Language Learning Styles". TLG. August 2013. Retrieved 22 August 2013. 
  3. ^ Correll, barbara. "Shakespeare's Coriolanus: Double Translation and the subject of latinity". Retrieved 22 August 2013. 
  4. ^ Jackson, John. "The Early Education of Queen Elizabeth I and Her Later Translation of Boethius’s De Consolatione Philosophiae". Retrieved 22 August 2013. 
  5. ^ "The Double Translation Method". Retrieved 22 August 2013. 
  6. ^ "Grammar-Based Language Learning: How It Works". Retrieved 22 August 2013. 
  7. ^ Tschirner, Erwin (2008). Kontakte. New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education. p. xxv.  
  8. ^ Tomlinson, C & Imbeau, M (2010). Leading and Managing A Differentiated Classroom.


  • Cohen, A. (1998). Strategies in Learning and Using a Second Language. London and New York: Longman.
  • Cohen, A. (2011). Strategies in Learning and Using a Second Language (2nd edition). Harlow, UK: Longman.
  • Cohen, A. & Macaro, E (2007). Learner Strategies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Dornyei, Z. & Skehan, P. (2003). Individual differences in second language learning. In C. Doughty & M. Long (Eds), Handbook of Second Language Acquisition (pp. 589–630). Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Griffiths, C. (2008). Strategies and good language learners. In C. Griffiths (Ed.), Lessons from Good Language Learners (pp. 83–98). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Macaro, E. (2006). Strategies for language learning and for language use: Revising the theoretical framework. The Modern Language Journal, 90/3, 320-337.
  • Naiman, N, Frohlich, M., Stern, H., & Todesco, A. (1978). The good language learner. Research in Education Series No.7. Toronto: The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.
  • O』Malley, J. M., Chamot, A., Stewner-Manzanares, G., Kupper, L. & Russo, R. (1985). Learning strategies used by beginning and intermediate ESL students. Language Learning, 35/1, 21-46.
  • Oxford, Rebecca (1990), Language learning strategies: What every teacher should know, New York, USA: Newbury House .
  • Oxford, R. (2011). Teaching and Researching Language Learning Strategies. Pearson Longman.
  • Porte, G. (1988). Poor language learners and their strategies for dealing with new vocabulary. ELT Journal, 42(3), 167-171.
  • Rasekh, Z., & Ranjbary, R. (2003). Metacognitive strategy training for vocabulary learning, TESL-EJ, 7(2), 1-18.
  • Rubin, J. (1975). What the 『good language learner』 can teach us. TESOL Quarterly, 9/1, 41-51.
  • Stern, H.H. (1975). What can we learn from the good language learner? Canadian Modern Language Review, 34, 304-318.
  • Vann, R. & Abraham, R. (1990). Strategies of Unsuccessful Language Learners. TESOL Quarterly, 24/2, 177-198.