AUTHOR: Visnja Pavičić Takač
TITLE: Vocabulary Learning Strategies and Foreign Language Acquisition
SERIES TITLE: Second Language Acquisition
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
Yasemin Kirkgoz, the Department of English Language Teaching, the University of
This book discusses vocabulary learning strategies (VLS) as an integral
component of language learning strategies (LLS) within the framework of
cognitive theory and relevant models of second language acquisition (SLA). The
book starts with the author's brief introduction (pp. 1-3, ''Introduction: An
Outline of the Book'') of theoretical and practical aspects underlying the book
and its outline. Key issues explored in this 197-page text are divided into five
chapters, each focusing on a different issue. The book ends with Appendices,
followed by References and an Index.
The first chapter, ''Factors Affecting Vocabulary Learning and Acquisition'' (pp.
13-28), starts by analyzing a selection of factors affecting second language
vocabulary learning and acquisition. LLS are mainly viewed from the cognitive
aspect; however, the fact that the cognitive approach to language learning is
reputed to neglect the role of linguistic factors in SLA was also discussed in
other aspects, e.g., the role of first language (L1), the learning context,
inherent features of lexical items, etc. The author first presents linguistic
features of lexical items with reference to different definitions of vocabulary
such as those provided by Carter (1992) and McCarthy (1994). Then the influence
of first and other languages on second language (L2) vocabulary acquisition is
given. A number of factors that differentiate why L2 vocabulary acquisition is
different from L1 are discussed. The issue of mental lexicon, i.e., its
organization and development are outlined. Mental lexicon is defined as a memory
system containing a vast number of words, which are accumulated and stored in
A detailed view of the inherent linguistic features of lexical items as well as
the complexity of lexical forms and relations are given. In this way, the author
acknowledges the potential influence that linguistic features may have on
vocabulary acquisition, which according to the author the linguistic theory has
reputedly failed to do. The difficulty of gathering the data on the organization
and functioning of the mental lexicon is discussed. Contexts from which L1 and
L2 learners obtain their vocabulary knowledge are contrasted. With regard to L2
lexicon, relevant research findings suggested that the organization of the
mental lexicon and vocabulary development are in a dynamic relationship with
each other, and VLS may contribute significantly to determining the quality of
The final portion of the chapter summarizes the role played by VLS in vocabulary
learning. The rationale for this was to give an overview of several vocabulary
teaching strategies, to emphasize the role of controlled explicit vocabulary
instruction, and to stress the role of the teacher and teaching strategies in
formal L2 instruction. In the framework of formal L2 instruction, among the
factors influencing vocabulary learning, the role of teacher and VLS are
highlighted. What is understood in presenting new lexical items is that learners
are presented pre-selected lexical items mostly in these ways: providing a
definition, presenting through context, connecting the meaning to real objects,
actively involving learners, and using oral drills. As a second category of
vocabulary teaching strategies a list of procedures is provided which learners
can use for reviewing lexical items to help consolidate vocabulary in long-term
memory, such as repetition of words, copying words and personalization. In
conclusion, the author admits that it is difficult to achieve the goal of L2
vocabulary acquisition, and that learning vocabulary through formal instruction
is influenced by the interaction of such factors as the teachers' approach to
vocabulary teaching strategies, learners' efforts and their readiness to take
responsibility for their own learning.
The second chapter, ''Theoretical Anchorage'', discusses LLS in light of the
cognitive theory of learning and related L2 acquisition theories and models. The
cognitive theory of learning is based on the theory of human information
processing and refers to three fundamental cognitive aspects of learning: how
knowledge is developed, how it becomes automatic and how it is integrated into
learners' existing cognitive systems, emphasizing 'meaningful learning'. Memory
is considered functioning in two stages: short-term and long-term memory.
Cognitivists consider individual differences in language acquisition in such
areas as motivation, cognitive style and learning strategies in their research.
The chapter goes on to discuss theoretical models of SLA that considers
individual differences in language learning. The first theory presented is
interlanguage theory, originated by Selinker in 1972, and has been influential
in SLA research since the early 1970s. This theory refers to a ''language system
(i.e. grammar) constructed by language learners in the process of L2 learning
(p. 31). It is significant in being the first theory that takes account of the
possibility of learners' conscious attempts to control their learning. The
second model introduced is Bialystok's second language learning model, which is
based on the assumption that language is processed by the human mind in a
similar way to other kinds of information. In the model, learning strategies are
examined in two groups: formal strategies, which relate to formal practicing and
monitoring of linguistic forms; and functional strategies which refer to
learners' attempts to use the target language. The pedagogical implication of
the model is that explicit linguistic knowledge can become implicit through a
strategy of formal practicing. In the Multidimensional Model, advocated by
Clahsen et al (1983) while one dimension focuses on acquisitional sequences in
interlanguage the other explains individual learner variation. In the operation
of this model, it is believed that learners initially rely on formulas and
lexical items, after which they move through a series of stages, following
different paths to L2. Another cognitive model introduced was Adaptive Control
of thought Model (ACT) by Anderson which distinguishes between two types of
knowledge as represented in long-term memory: declarative knowledge (facts that
we know) and procedural knowledge (what we know how to do). The model views L2
acquisition as consisting of cognitive, associative and autonomous stages,
during which declarative knowledge becomes proceduralized through practice.
It is argued that the interaction between language and cognition needs to be
determined (Ellis, 2000) to understand the impact of cognitive theory on SLA.
Information processing model views language development after the critical
period as an example of the human-information processing system. Stern, in his
synthesis of models, discusses the usefulness of the proposed models of L2
acquisition, as they provide a much needed overview of relevant facts and their
interactions to be considered when interpreting L2 acquisition. Yet he maintains
that none of the models can account for all the factors involved in L2 learning.
In the second language model proposed by Ellis (1995), learning strategies
function as a mediator between individual learner differences and situational
and social factors as well as learning outcomes. Cognitive/conative model of
learning created by Young and Perkins (1995) argue that the model effectively
accounts for individual differences in L2 learning processes as it considers the
diversity of mental representations in L2 acquisition more effectively than
other SLA theories. Shehan's model (2000) based on research on individual
differences in L2 learning proposed the model ''individual differences in
language learning'', which incorporates four classes of individual differences:
modality preference, foreign language aptitude, learning style and learning
In this chapter, the approaches to describing features of LLS are reviewed.
Although researchers could not agree on a definition of learning strategies,
most of them do not seem to acknowledge the importance of LS in SLA.
Despite the differences among these theories and models, the common points among
them is that they reflect common assumptions that make LLS significant for L2
learning and teachers need to be aware of the fact that LLS cause individual
differences among learners. A summative definition of LS is proposed based on
existing definitions and features of LS are provided.
For L2 learners, LLS are significant as they reflect conscious efforts learners
make in learning enabling learners to control their own learning, and they
reflect the success of failure in L2 learning.
The next part of this section defines and provides a categorization and taxonomy
of LLS. In terms of the categorization of LLS, the most widely accepted one by
Cohen (1998) and O'Malley & Chamot (1996) is given, classified as cognitive,
metacognitive, social and affective strategies. The chapter concludes with the
main issues discussed throughout the section.
Chapter 3, ''Survey of Research on vocabulary Strategies'', gives a critical
review of previous research on VLS, and then discusses an analysis of methods
and research tools used to assess VLS, their advantages and drawbacks.
The underlying motivation for exploring strategies of good language learners was
because it was believed that finding out strategies good language learners ' use
would help weak learners improve their learning outcomes.
Research findings revealed that many learners use learning strategies in
vocabulary learning more frequently than in other language learning activities.
The Keyword Method, a kind of a mnemonic device based on cognitive processes
used for retention of information, has been researched as one of the most
popular VLS by researchers. The author suggests that the studies of the
effectiveness of this method indicate its superiority over mechanical rote
learning. Another area of studies discussed is the studies of Computer assisted
Vocabulary Learning (CAVL), which showed that learners can successfully learn
words using specialized programs on CD-ROMs, or even popular computer games.
This gives learners the advantage of directing their own learning. Researchers
set out to identify the differences between successful and less successful
learners based on their strategy.
The next part of this chapter focuses on studies of VLS, as a specialized
subgroup of general learning strategies, as revealed from the analysis of
learner dairies. Studies revealed that the most frequently used was the group of
strategies for creating mental linkages, i.e., relating an L2 with an L1 word.
The part of the chapter dealing with the issue of vocabulary strategy training
discusses the approaches, advantages and limitations and efficiency of such
training. Based on the research findings in the field of vocabulary acquisition
and VLS, strategic teaching is viewed as one of the four basic approaches to
vocabulary teaching. Various VLS (the word card strategy, vocabulary notebooks)
are discussed. The author argues that the most efficient and useful is a
combination of various strategies as they complement each other. It is also
suggested that teaching VLS needs to be adapted to the learners' needs.
The final part of the chapter is dedicated to research methods used in VLS.
McDonough (1995) distinguishes between indirect and direct methods.
Questionnaires and discourse analysis are examples of indirect methods in which
learners express their degree of agreement to statements drawn up by the
researchers whereas in diaries, observation, think aloud protocols, recording
and interviews as direct methods, learners are required to report on what they
do as they are engaged on a language task. The advantages and pitfalls of each
research method are outlined and triangulation of data using a combination of
methods is suggested.
Chapter 4, ''Studies on vocabulary Learning Strategies'', mainly reports on three
original studies of VLS used by elementary school learners of English as a
foreign language. The first study is concerned with the development of a
reliable and valid instrument for measuring the use of VLS by primary school
learners. SILL, developed by Oxford (1990), is given as an example of one of a
few questionnaires validated across cultures and languages. Yet, the need to
create a questionnaire as an instrument for measuring the frequency of LLS use
based on the specific set of LLS and addressing a target population is
emphasized because LLS are idiosyncratic.
The chapter, then, examines how to design a questionnaire to measure VLS of a
specific group of primary school learners (aged 10-14) of a foreign language
(FL) in 3 phases. In Phase one, a two-part questionnaire was developed; the
first part of which containing questions on demographic information, and the
second part statements targeting learners' use of VLS based on a three-point
scale. To ensure the content and face validity of the questionnaire, a focus
group discussion was held with three primary school learners, chosen at random,
to comment on the questionnaire. Changes suggested by the learners were
incorporated into the questionnaire. In Phase 2, the 69-item questionnaire was
piloted with 99 participants resembling the sample to be used in the study. The
demographic data was examined but the remaining data was analyzed statistically
using several factor analyses to refine the questionnaire items. On the basis of
this analysis, it was decided to further investigate the questionnaire, and
administer it to a larger sample. In phase 3, the questionnaire, reduced to 53
items, was administered to 358 learners, following the same procedure, as in the
pilot study. The results obtained from the main study were positive as the
instrument could be considered valid in serving its purpose of measuring the
frequency of VLS use.
The second study explores the relationship between VLS used by teachers and VLS
selected by their learners by adopting the social constructivist approach which
emphasizes the dynamic nature of the interplay among these factors: teacher,
learner, task and context. The target population involved eight primary school
learners (Grades 6-8) in Croatia. 358 participants learning English as a first
FL responded to a 27-item questionnaire, whose main part VOLSQES was used to
assess the frequency of VLS usage. Also, five English lessons in eight classes
were videotaped. Detailed analysis of the data and the findings obtained for two
research questions are discussed. It is concluded that VLS used by learners in
this specific study are independent of VTS used by their teachers.
The third study examines the differences in the use of VLS by elementary school
learners resulting from the target language being learnt. This study was
conducted to find out the differences in VLS used by 675 learners of two
different languages (English and German), aged between 11-14. Data from these
learners were collected through a 27-item questionnaire followed by a Likert
scale. Data was analyzed using the statistical procedure: the independent
samples t-test. The results of the study did not reveal any differences in the
use of VLS between two groups of learners. Although cognitive theory seems to
suggest that LLS are general and universal, this cross-linguistic study
questions the universality and transferability of learning strategies and
recognizes the role the social learning context may play in strategy use.
In the last chapter, ''Summary: Some Implications for Practice and Research, and
Conclusions'', first, the issues discussed in the previous chapters are reviewed;
then implications for practice and further research are discussed. The major
conclusion emerging from the previous studies reported in the book is that VLS
are highly idiosyncratic and need to be treated accordingly. Therefore, a
standardized questionnaire, or any standardized data collection method, is not
universally applicable as it cannot alone capture all characteristics of a
particular sample. A special questionnaire needs to be tailored to the research
context using other methods to complement the data. Previous studies also
suggest interventions to be made in several areas: foreign language instruction,
design of teaching/learning materials. As research findings suggest, teachers
often rely on the materials they teach. Thus, learning materials should contain
activities for both explicit and implicit work on the development of VLS.
Similarly, teachers should be guided on how to approach VLS training since a
prerequisite for a successful VLS training is an informed teacher.
Takač's book is a significant contribution to LLS in the field of SLA, for the
insights it offers into current directions into the field, detailed exploration
of issues informed by theory while at the same time offering an up-to-date
information on the major key issues in SLA research, and bringing together a
significant number of empirical studies conducted in this field of enquiry.
The research presented in the book describes work that has been going on for
some time on learning strategy and strategy training. What is significant,
however, is that this body of research has been compiled and presented in a
single text. It is therefore a significant book for introducing readers to
strategy-related issues in SLA.
Each chapter is clearly laid-out and well written, with excellent end-of-chapter
summaries. The author's Introduction proves particularly beneficial by providing
an overview on which the chapters' contents are based, and is useful to provide
the reader with essential background information before proceeding to read the
texts. The content is easy to read, particularly for those who are involved in
strategy training, since it is presented in a very clear and factual manner.
Another strong feature of this book lies in its up-to-date and authentic
illustrations of the themes. The issues discussed are supported with significant
research, giving the reader a much wider perspective on learners' VLS.
I believe that this much needed book will be an invaluable resource and will be
thought-provoking for the reader, not only on learner strategy use, but also on
the relationship between strategy training and language acquisition.
Overall, I would highly recommend this book to those researchers involved in LLS
and of vocabulary acquisition, and for teachers and teacher educators. The
wealth of illustrations and the elaborate discussion makes this book an
extremely useful reference for those involved in strategy teaching and training.
Carter , R. (1992). _Vocabulary: Applied Linguistic Perspectives_. London and
New York: Routledge.
Clahsen, H., Meisel, J. and Peinemann, M. (1983). _Deutsch als Zwietsprache: der
Spracherwerb auslandischer Arbeiter_. Tübingen: Gunter Narr.
Ellis, R. (1995). _The Study of Second Language Acquisition_. Oxford: Oxford
Ellis, R. (2000). _Instructed Second Language Acquisition_. Oxford: Oxford
McCarthy, M. (1994). _Vocabulary_. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
McDonough, S.H. (1995). _Strategy and Skill in Learning a Foreign Language_.
London: Edward Arnold.
Oxford, R. (1990). _Language Learning Strategies: What Every Teacher Should
Know_. Boston: Heinle & Heinle.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Yasemin Kirkgoz is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English Language
Teaching at the University of Cukurova, Turkey. Her research interests include
second language acquisition, vocabulary acquisition, strategy training and