Ahad, 21 Februari 2016



Fuziana Ali

What does every successful language learner do to acquire a language?

In Malaysia, it is very common to find people who can speak at least two or three languages. A person may speak Malay, Chinese and English. Another person may speak Malay, English and Arabic. They can speak all these languages fluently. Yet, some other people find it so difficult to learn a second language.

Why do some learners are more successful than others in learning a second language?

Past research found that the successful language learners use language learning strategies (Rubin 1975, Naiman et al. 1978, Oxford 1990 and O’Malley and Chamot, 1990).

What are language learning strategies?

There have been many definitions of language learning strategies given by various experts. Here, we shall only look at two definitions given by Oxford (1990), an eminent advocate of language learning strategies and Mohamed Amin (2009), a local advocate who are referred to globally.

          Oxford (1990) defined language learning strategies as specific actions taken by a language learner to make learning easier, faster, more enjoyable, more self-directed, more effective, and more transferable to new situations. Some examples of specific actions suggested by Oxford (1990) to be used as cognitive strategies include repeating, formally practising with sounds and writing system, recognising and using formulas and patterns, recombining and practicing naturalistic. For compensation strategies, the specific actions taken in overcoming limitations in speaking and writing are switching to the mother tongue, getting help, using mime or gesture, avoiding communication partially or totally, selecting the topic, adjusting approximating the message, coining words and using a circumlocution or synonym. According to Oxford (1990), these language learning strategies are often used by them consciously, to improve their progress in apprehending, internalising, and using the second language.

            Meanwhile, Mohamed Amin (2000) in Mohamed Amin and Mohd Zaki (2010) defined language learning strategies as plans or actions that a learner takes to improve his process of language learning and he employs these language learning strategies to assist learning in speaking, reading, writing and listening.
Professor Rebecca L. Oxford

          1.             The Oxford’s (1990) Model of Language Learning Strategies

The Oxford’s (1990) model suggested that language learners can overcome the problems they face in learning a language by employing direct and indirect strategies. Direct strategies comprises of language learning strategies that directly involve the target language. These direct strategies require the use of mental processing and are divided into memory, cognitive and compensation strategies. These strategies are processed and used to serve different purpose. A language learner may use memory strategies to remember parts of speech. For example, the learner may apply images and sound. A learner may use cognitive strategies to manipulate a language. For instance, a learner can choose to do a lot of practice with the language learnt. He may imitate a native speaker or even practise pronouncing new words learnt. A learner may also use compensation strategies to comprehend a language or to produce the language. These compensation strategies help a learner to use alternative way of communicating in the language learnt despite having limited vocabulary and inadequate grammar. A learner may make a guess intelligently by using linguistic clues or any other clues to comprehend what the other speaker is saying or to understand a reading text. A learner may also employ some compensation strategies such as switching code, getting help, miming, using gesture, coining words and using synonym to overcome difficulties in speaking and writing.

Meanwhile, indirect strategies include language learning strategies that support the direct strategies. They help language learners to manage their language learning without directly involved the target language. Oxford’s (1990) indirect strategies comprises of metacognitive strategies, affective strategies and social strategies. All these three strategies are applicable to improve listening, speaking, reading and writing skills. Metacognitive strategies are strategies that allow language learners to monitor their learning. They are categorised into three types. The first one is centring your learning. The strategies that a language learner may take in order to centring their learning include overviewing and linking with already known material, paying attention and delaying speech production to focus on what I am listening to. The second one is arranging and planning your learning. A language learner may choose strategies such as to find out about language learning, organise, set goal and objectives, identify the purpose of a language task, plan for a language task and seek practice opportunities. The third one is evaluate your learning. To evaluate his learning, a language learner may self-monitor and self-evaluating. For examples, he monitors his learning by identifying errors made and reduces them.  At the same time, he self-evaluates his progress in learning the target language.

Affective strategies are strategies that language learners adopt to lower their anxiety, to encourage themselves and to take their emotional temperature. Affective strategies are crucial in developing progress in language learning. The success of learning depends on the learner’s attitude and motivation. Too much fear of making errors can inhibit a learner from improving himself. Thus, a learner may adopt relaxation technique, listen to music or use laughter to reduce anxiety. He may also make positive statements about himself, take risk wisely and reward himself as self-encouragement. Writing a language learning diary and discussing feeling with someone else about language are examples of how language learners take their own emotional temperature. Being able to assess their feeling, the learners will be able to control their emotion and reduce negative thoughts that may hamper their learning.

Social strategies are chosen by language learners when they need others to help them overcome difficulties in learning English. Oxford’s (1990) model of language learning strategies stressed that there are 3 types of social strategies: asking questions, cooperating with others and empathizing with others. All these strategies can assist language learners to improve their listening, speaking, reading and writing skills. In asking question, a learner may want to ask for clarification or verification and to ask for correction. Oxford (1990) claimed that a learner usually tends to ask for clarification or verification when he reads a text or listens to a conversation. However, a learner usually opts to ask for correction when they speak in the target language and when they write. Cooperating with others enable the learner to interact with others. The learner may either cooperating with their peers or cooperating with proficient users of the new language. In a language classroom, the learners may work together with their peer in a group to complete a language task. They need to work together, discuss, and ask questions. The learners may cooperate with proficient users of the target language in the classroom and during natural interaction outside the classroom. For example, a learner may ask a proficient speaker to slow down or to repeat what he has said in order to understand what he is listening too. A learner may also ask proficient colleague to explain some technical aspect of the target language learnt.

Empathizing with others require the learners to develop cultural understanding and to become aware of other’s thought and feelings. Cultural understanding is crucial in assisting the learners to have a better understanding of the listening or reading text. Being aware of others’ thought and feeling can assist the learners to be more sensitive of what to say to others who are using the language. They have to listen to the tone of the voice, the face expressions and other forms of physical fitness. In writing, this awareness may help the leaners to understand the embedded meaning of a sentence, a phrase or a poem.

2.            Mohamed Amin’s (2000) Model of Language Learning Strategies

Mohamed Amin (2000) in Mohamed Amin and Mohd Zaki (2010) categorised language learning strategies into three: classroom language learning strategies, out of class language learning strategies and exam language learning strategies. He suggested that classroom language learning strategies are strategies used to improve language learning during learning and teaching process in the classroom. These strategies include paying attention in class, listening to teacher’s speech, reading over class work, asking friends to clarify, discussing with friends. Meanwhile out of class language learning strategies involve strategies used to improve one’s language outside the classroom. Conversing in English language with friends outside of school, conversing with teachers in school and looking for opportunities to learn English language are some of the strategies that can be adopted by the students. Strategies in this category allow the students to practise the language they have learnt in the classroom. Another strategy is exam language learning strategies. These strategies can be classified as socio-affective strategies. He cited reading over notes or exercises, studying grammar books, memorising essay formats and doing previous exam papers as some of the strategies.


Mohamed Amin  Embi & Mohd Zaki Mohd Amin. 2010. Strategies for Successful English language Learning. Selangor Darul Ihsan, Malaysia: Karisma Publication Sdn. Bhd.

Oxford, R. L. 1990. Language learning strategies: What every teacher should know. Boston, Massachusetts: Heinle & Heinle Publisher.

Oxford, R. 1994. Language Learning Strategies: An Update. ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics, Centre for Applied Linguistics. (Online) http://www.cal.org/resources/Digest/oxford01.html [14 March 2013]

Oxford, R. L. (1996). Language Learning Strategies Around The World: Cross-Cultural Perspectives. Second Language Teaching at Curriculum Center, University of Hawaii at Manoa, United States of America: University of Hawai’i Press.

O’Malley, J.M., Chamot, A. U., Manzanares, G.S, KUPPER, L. & Russo, P. (1985). Learning Strategies Used by Beginning and Intermediate ESL Students. Language Learning, 35, 1, pp.21-46.

O'Malley, J. M., Chamot, A. U., StewnerManzanares, Gloria., Russo, R. P., & Küpper, L. (1985). Learning strategy applications with students of English language as a second language. TESOL quarterly, 19(3), 557-584. (Online) http://www.hpu.edu/Libraries_HPU/Files/TESOL/TQD/VOL_19_3.pdf#page=129 [1 February 2012]

O'Malley, J. M., Chamot, A. U., STEWNERMANZANARES, Gloria, Russo, R. P., & Küpper, L. (1985). Learning strategy applications with students of English as a second language. TESOL quarterly, 19(3), 557-584.
O'Malley, J. Michael, and Anna Uhl Chamot. Learning strategies in second language acquisition. Cambridge University Press, (1990). (Online) http://catdir.loc.gov/catdir/samples/cam031/89009770.pdf [14 December 2013]

NOTE: For more information about Professor Mohamed Amin, please click this link 


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