Language Learning Strategies

A shift from teaching to learning

Research on language learning strategies has been a result of the changes that occurred in language learning methodologies and approaches. Focus was no more on the teaching techniques but rather on the learning processes. The centrality of the learner has become more important than the domineering role of the teacher. The teacher’s role has shifted from that of the sage on the stage to that of a guide, a counselor. This change has brought language learning strategies to the center of attention for some educators.

Definition of Language Learning strategies

As noted above language learning strategies is a result  of the changes over time that occurred in ELT. The importance of the shift lies in the emphasis on the process rather than on the product. Learning has supremacy over teaching and all the processes involved in language learning, including the strategies learners employ to develop language competences,  are taken into account.

Language learning strategies can be defined as choices we consciously make about how to sud or manage learning. They are steps taken by students to enhance their own learning. The following is a definition by Rebeca Oxford:

…language learning strategies — specific actions, behaviours, steps, or techniques that students (often intentionally) use to improve their progress in developing L2 skills. These strategies can facilitate the internalization, storage, retrieval, or use of the new language. Strategies are tools for the self-directed involvement necessary for developing communicative ability.
( p. 18)

Are LLS Intentional?

Do Language Learning Strategies have to be intentional? In other words if a learner uses anything to learn efficiently and effectively without being explicitly aware of it, does it mean that he’s not using LLS? I think that learners develop habits that enhance language learning. These habits can be actually considered as LLS although they are not intentional. In spite of being unconscious they are real steps that support the learning process. Some students reach enough maturity to use LLS naturally and unconsciously.

Can Language Learning Strategies be taught?

Although some learners instinctively develop their own strategies, most can also benefit from explicit instruction and practice. In fact it would be helpful for learners to reflect on their leaning. This awareness makes learners think about the different ways they can use to learn fast and efficiently. It is not a waste of time if a teacher spends some time teaching students how to learn. Appropriate use of a dictionary is a skill that can be taught an d learners will benefit enormously from that skill.

Here are some tips to teach LLS:

  1. Introduce the concept of LLS
  2. Talk about the benefit.
  3. Integrate LLS into your course
  4. Provide different strategies and allow students to choose what they consider appropriate for them

Classification of Strategies


O’Malley’s (1985) classified  Language Learning Strategies into  three main categories:

  1. Metacognitive Strategies:
    They involve consciously directing one’s own efforts into the learning task.
  2. Cognitive Strategies:
    They  refer to learning steps that learners take to transform new material. Examples of such steps include inferencing, contextual guessing and relating new information to other concepts from memory.
  3. Socioaffective Strategies:
    They involve interaction with another person or taking control of ones’ own feelings on language learning.


Rubin’s (1987) contends that there are  three types of strategies used by learners that contribute directly or indirectly to language learning.

  1. Learning Strategies
    1. Cognitive Learning Strategies
      1. Clarification / Verification
      2. Guessing / Inductive Inferencing
      3. Deductive Reasoning
      4. Practice
      5. Memorization
      6. Monitoring
    2. Metacognitive Learning Strategies
      1. planning
      2. prioritising
      3. setting goals
      4. self-management
  2. Communication Strategies
  3. Social Strategies


Oxford’s (1990) considers that the aim of Language Learning Strategies is being oriented towards the development of communicative competence. Oxford classified LLS into two main classes, direct and indirect.

  1. Direct strategies
    1. Memory
      1. Creating mental linkages
      2. Applying images and sounds
      3. Reviewing well
      4. Employing action
    2. Cognitive
      1. Practising
      2. Receiving and sending messages strategies
      3. Analysing and reasoning
      4. Creating structure for input and output
    3. Compensation strategies
      1. Guessing intelligently
      2. Overcoming limitations in speaking and writing
  2. Indirect strategies
    1. Metacognitive Strategies
      1. Centering your learning
      2. Arranging and planning your learning
      3. Evaluating your learning
    2. Affective Strategies
      1. Lowering your anxiety
      2. Encouraging yourself
      3. Taking your emotional temperature
    3. Social Strategies
      1. Asking questions
      2. Cooperating with others
      3. Emphathising with others


Stern (1992) advances five main language learning strategies:

  1. Management and Planning Strategies
    1. decide what commitment to make to language learning
    2. set himself reasonable goals
    3. decide on an appropriate methodology, select appropriate resources, and monitor progress,
    4. evaluate his achievement in the light of previously determined goals and expectation
  2. Cognitive Strategies
    1. Clarification / Verification
    2. Guessing / Inductive Inferencing
    3. Deductive Reasoning
    4. Practice
    5. Memorization
    6. Monitoring
  3. Communicative – Experiential Strategies
  4. Interpersonal Strategies
  5. Affective Strategies



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.

O’Malley, J. Michael, and Anna Uhl Chamot. 1990. Learning strategies in second language acquisition. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Oxford, R. (1990). Language learning strategies: What every teacher should know. New York, USA: Newbury House.

Rubin, J. (1975). What the “good language learner” can teach us. TESOL Quarterly, 9(1), 41-51.
STERN, H.H. 1992. Issues and Options in Language Teaching. Oxford: OUP.

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