Thursday, October 27, 2011

Strategies in Use – Follow up on Affective Strategies

Recently, I wrote about emotions in language learning and affective language learning strategies. I also talked about a learner that I was working with who had an emotional block with speaking English. This entry is a follow up on the strategies I discussed in action.

Moving Along the Emotional Scale
Lowering Anxiety
In order to help her lower her anxiety, I wanted to give have her try some of the language learning strategies in the “Lowering Anxiety” section. I had planned on just assigning some of the activities suggested by Oxford, but Tim suggested finding out what she already does to relax, and to incorporate that into her learning routine. I thought that this was an excellent (and more authentic) idea, so, in one of our sessions, we spent some time talking about how she normally relaxes. She told me that she likes to read or listen to music, and based on that information, I suggested that she spend about 10 minutes doing one of these activities everyday before she worked on her English project.

Encourage Yourself
For this strategy, I asked my learner to write down a positive statement about her progress in English learning every day for the week, until we met again. We wrote the first one down together, and talked about it. I was surprised the next week, however, when she told me that she didn't write them down during the week because she thought the strategy didn't work for her. She explained that, because of her culture, she feels more secure with hard work and with other people telling her positive things about her learning (But, she said, maybe this will work for other people). When she tells herself positive things, she feels like she is pretending. She also mentioned an American movie she had seen where one of the main characters was told “You have to believe in yourself to achieve what you want” or something like that. She said she thought it was so strange, because no one in her culture would ever say that. They would say. “You have to work hard to achieve what you want.” Based on this exchange, I didn't press this strategy anymore, but I did focus on giving her encouraging statements and pointing out improvement.

Taking Your Emotional Temperature
I didn't directly incorporate this strategy with my learner, but I did indirectly make it a part of all of our sessions. Each time we met, I would ask her how she felt about her English (and about her upcoming project) this week, and we would discuss the times she had felt stressed, and the times that she had felt successful. This was a nice way to begin our sessions, because it allowed her to discuss what she was feeling and it allowed me to see where she still felt insecure so that we could work a little more in that area.

This application of language learning strategies has taught me a few things.
  1. The idea that all strategies must work for all learners is not correct. The “Encourage Yourself” was a big miss with my learner; however, by listening to her reaction, I was able to help her reach the desired effect of encouragement through other means, i.e., giving her extra “practice” work and telling her about her improvement.
  2. Cultural ideas of encouragement are sometimes strikingly different. Her response that people in her culture would never say “You have to believe it to achieve it” shocked me at first, because it is such an ingrained part of my own culture. That is the American motto! How can you not agree with that?? It is going to be important to find out what your learners' cultural views of positive statements are. If their culture doesn't agree with this idea of making positive statements to yourself, you may want to either explain the purpose of the strategy more clearly or skip it in favor of a different approach to encouragement.
  3. Adapt strategies to the learner's current practices. Strategies that are easy to incorporate into the learners routine may be more effective in the long run. Tim's suggestion of inquiring about the learner's pre-exisiting habits was very helpful in making the “lowering anxiety” strategy activities seem more natural and less new-age-yoga-hollistic-medicine-y.
  4. Strategy knowledge is important for teachers, not just learners. Even if you are not teaching every strategy directly, it is still helpful to know them so that you can indirectly incorporate them into your teaching. While it is helpful to teach learners these strategies, trying to teach all of them can be overwhelming. Modeling the use of strategies in your teaching may also be helpful.