Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Closer Look at Language Learning Strategies

Recently, I posed a question about the best language learning strategies on Facebook. I also posted it on Twitter, but I guess I haven't figured the twitter system out yet, because no one responded!

As you can guess, the responses generally centered around interaction with native speakers or target language native speaker materials (like television or music). Naturally so—people who have learned a foreign language agree that native speaker interaction is practically irreplaceable. In fact, studies have shown that learning a native language in a context-rich environment (i.e., English as a Second Language) instead of a context-poor environment (i.e., English as a Foreign Language) can shorten the time it takes to become proficient by years.

I will be one of the first ones to jump on the “practice-with-a-native-speaker suggestion” bandwagon; however, I think that we focus on native speaker interaction at the expense of developing other language learning strategies that can make those interactions more salient and that can help even when native speakers or materials are not available.

A prime example is time spent in the classroom. When people suggest interaction with a native speaker as a language learning strategy, they are primarily referring to some sort of effort at independent learning. Few EFL teachers have the ability to pair their students with native speakers during classroom instruction time. Even if they did, it would be difficult to incorporate that activity with the other language instruction needed to keep all students at a semi-uniform level of learning.

This is where the value of incorporating language learning strategy training in teaching comes in. By arranging lesson plans and learning environments that introduce strategies and help students practice them, a teacher can prepare students for more successful independent learning.

In order to help myself (and anyone else) understand these strategies better, I will be doing a series of blog entries covering the main language learning strategies, discussing the research, and providing tips for incorporating them in the classroom.