EDITOR: Griffiths, Carol
TITLE: Lessons from Good Language Learners
PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press
Iman Tohidian, Department of English, Faculty of Humanities, University of
Kashan, Kashan, I.R. Iran.
The book is divided into two parts: Part I is about learner variables, which
include motivation, aptitude, age, style, personality, gender, culture, beliefs,
strategies, metacognition, and autonomy. Although some of these variables may be
influenced to a greater or lesser extent by external factors, they are
individual characteristics or behaviors which make each learner unique. Part II
is about learning variables, including vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation,
function, listening, speaking, reading, and writing, the learning of which is
influenced by factors in the learning situation such as the teaching/learning
method, strategy instruction, error correction practices, or task requirements.
These variables have their origin externally, but must be managed by the
learners if successful learning is to take place.
In order to provide a variety of perspectives, each part contains both
state-of-the-art articles and research-based articles. Within each of these
parts, specialists in their various fields have written on specific topics such
as motivation, strategies, instruction, or vocabulary.
Chapter 1, entitled ''Motivation and good language learners'', states that it
almost goes without saying that good language learners are motivated. Common
sense and everyday experience suggest that the high achievers of this world have
motivation, a word which derives from the Latin verb _movere_ meaning 'to move'.
Thus, simply defined, we might say that motivation concerns what moves a person
to make certain choices, to engage in action, and to persist in action.
Chapter 2, entitled ''Age and good language learners'', addresses the role played
by age in the development of language by those who already speak other
languages, and the relationship between age and other learner variables such as
motivation and aptitude are hotly debated issues.
Chapter 3, entitled ''Learning style and good language learners'', addresses an
enduring question for language researchers: the effect of individual differences
on the efficacy of language learning.
Chapter 4, entitled ''Personality and good language learners'', addresses not just
the ''good'' language learner, but those who may be considered among the best.
They are distinguished by performance at ''Level Four'' (on a five-point scale) on
an oral interview test that uses the Interagency Language Roundtable level
definitions (Federal Interagency Language Roundtable, 1999).
Chapter 5, entitled ''Gender and good language learners'', addresses gender and
its impact upon the ways that the sexes think, reason, and solve problems. This
topic is once more becoming hot in the popular press, and like any hot topic, it
is at once fascinating and controversial. Here the author is interested not so
much in gender differences per se, but in the processes that may contribute to
bringing about a language performance differential between boys and girls, women
Chapter 6, entitled ''Strategies and good language learners'', mentions that in
the 30 years since Rubin's (1975) article in _TESOL Quarterly_ brought ''language
learning strategies'' to a wide audience, the concept of language learning
strategy has been notoriously difficult to define. It has been described as
''elusive'' (Wenden, 1991, p. 7), ''fuzzy'' (Ellis, 1994, p. 529) and ''fluid'' (Gu,
2005, p. 2). Rubin (1975, p. 43) defined language learning strategies as ''the
techniques or devices which a learner may use to acquire knowledge,'' and she
constructed a list of strategies typical of good language learners.
Chapter 7, entitled ''Metacognition and good language learners'', explains that
metacognition can be defined simply as thinking about thinking (Anderson, 2002,
2005). It is the ability to reflect on what is known, and does not simply
involve thinking back on an event, describing what happened, and the feelings
associated with it. Metacognition results in critical but healthy reflection and
evaluation of thinking that may result in making specific changes in how
learning is managed, and in the strategies chosen for this purpose.
Chapter 8, entitled ''Autonomy and good language learners'', explains that
defining learner autonomy has been a major preoccupation in much of the research
literature on autonomy. Research in learner autonomy explores learners' ability
to ''take charge of'' their learning in both methodological and psychological
terms. The focus of research into learner autonomy is on the learners' ability
to assume responsibility for their learning (Dickinson, 1987; Holec, 1981;
Little, 1991). The central concern is decision-making in the learning process,
which both implies a change in role for learner and teacher and raises questions
about the willingness and ability of learner and teacher to assume their new
roles. The research therefore focuses on both the methodological and
psychological aspects of learners' language learning.
Chapter 9 entitled ''Beliefs and good language learners'' mentions that beliefs
may not be the first thing that come to mind when reflecting on the good
language learner - the role they play may not be as immediately obvious or
evident as that of learning strategies or motivation for example. Nonetheless
the nature and effects of learner beliefs on language learning have been
increasingly recognized since Joan Rubin's 1975 depiction of the good language
learner: beliefs are important because learners hold their beliefs to be true
and these beliefs then guide how they interpret their experiences and how they
Chapter 10, entitled ''Culture and good language learners'', addresses the role of
culture and language learning in the classroom. Variations in cultural, ethnic,
and national characteristics within and among individual students affect
classroom dynamics and therefore influence the decisions which teachers need to
make in order to provide an optimal learning environment for all learners.
Chapter 11, entitled ''Aptitude and good language learners'', states that Rubin
(1975) identified aptitude, motivation, and opportunity as three factors that
account for differential success in language learning. With respect to aptitude,
she argued that aptitude tests predict success but do not provide sufficient
information to guide pedagogical decision making.
Chapter 12, entitled ''Vocabulary and good language learners'', explains that at
one time the teaching of vocabulary was unfashionable, and it was widely assumed
that lexical acquisition could be left to look after itself (Nation, 1990). More
recent years, however, have seen renewed recognition of the importance of
vocabulary when learning a new language (Griffiths, 2003, 2006).
Chapter 13, entitled ''Grammar and good language learners'', mentions that
according to Rubin (1975), good language learners attend to form (often called
''grammar''). Bachman's (1990) model of language competence defines grammar as
including vocabulary, morphology, syntax, phonology and graphology, while
Purpura (2004) also suggests that we need to view grammar in its broadest sense
as including everything speakers know about their language - the sound system
(phonology), the system of meanings (semantics), the rules of word formation
(morphology), the rules of sentence formation (syntax) as well as an
appreciation of vocabulary. This chapter will deal with grammar in the narrower
sense of ''the structure of a language'' (Richards, Platt and Platt, 1992, p. 161)
and as a set of rules that define how words or parts of words are combined or
change to form acceptable units which can be used to convey meaning within a
language (Ur, 2003). In language teaching, the view that grammar plays a central
role in the language curriculum is often firmly held (Purpura, 2004).
Chapter 14 entitled ''Functions and good language learners'' mentions that
following disenchantment with grammar-based and situation-based methods, a
functional approach to the teaching and learning of language was embraced in
order to highlight the importance of learner-centered goals, a learner-centered
view of language learning, and the analysis of learner needs for using language
to communicate and interact with others.
Chapter 15, entitled ''Pronunciation and good language learners'', mentions that
in her 1975 article, Rubin states that ''the good language learner has a strong
desire to communicate'' (p. 46). Linguists declare that, of the two main mediums
for communication in human language (the spoken and written), it is the spoken
medium that has primacy (see, for instance, Brown, 2005).
Chapter 16, entitled ''Listening and good language learners'', explains that in a
first language, listening is the first skill which learners usually develop:
they listen to an utterance, then they repeat it, later they learn to read it,
and finally they learn to write it. This natural sequence does not always apply
to the learning of languages other than the first, where the graphic skills
(reading and writing) often precede the aural/oral skills, perhaps because
students are learning in an environment where aural input is not always readily
available. This frequently results in listening skills being underdeveloped and
undermines students' confidence regarding their target language competence.
Chapter 17, entitled ''Speaking and good language learners'', addresses speaking
and explains that clear pronunciation is an important aspect of the ability to
speak effectively. However it does not in itself ensure oral competence. It is
quite conceivable, for instance, that a speaker might be able to pronounce
perfectly an utterance which makes no sense or which is totally inappropriate,
as Eliza Doolittle in Shaw's _Pygmalion_ demonstrated so memorably. The skill of
speaking involves a pragmatic element which has attracted a great deal of
attention in recent years (see, for instance, Kasper and Rose, 2002), and the
importance of helping students to develop sociopragmatic competence with speech
acts in their target language is now well recognized (see, for instance, Cohen,
2005), Oral communication involves an interactive social aspect which sets it
apart from other language skills and creates an extra dimension with which the
learner must come to terms. So, although good pronunciation is necessary for
clear speech, it is by no means sufficient for the development of good speaking
Chapter 18, entitled ''reading and good language learners'', states that although
in a first language linguistic input is usually initially received via
listening, it is often via reading that students are exposed to a language other
than their first. This chapter explores the target language reading process of
good language learners and concludes with implications for the teaching and
learning of target language reading.
Chapter 19, entitled ''Writing and good language learners'', mentions that getting
learners to engage in writing in the target language with any degree of
enthusiasm can be a challenge for teachers. Perhaps this reflects the effort
which must be exerted in order to write competently in a first language: doing
the same in a new language therefore seems altogether too difficult.
Chapter 20, entitled ''Teaching/learning method and good language learners'',
mentions that in recent years, individual learner variables, such as those
discussed in Part 1 of this volume, have been increasingly recognized as
important factors in students' success or otherwise as language learners.
However, in order to understand what it is that makes a good language learner,
it is important to look at not only the characteristics of the individual
learner, but at ''the contexts in which individuals learn'' (Norton and Toohey,
2001, p. 318). It is quite possible that various aspects of a given situation
may affect different learners in quite different ways, and may relate to the
opportunities which a given learning context affords. One such aspect which is
often an integral part of a given learning context is teaching/learning method.
Over the years many different methods and approaches to the teaching and
learning of language to and by speakers of other languages (SOL) have come and
gone in and out of fashion (Griffiths and Parr, 2001).
Chapter 21, entitled ''Strategy instruction and good language learners'', explains
that an aspect of teaching/learning methodology which has attracted a great deal
of debate over the years is the issue of strategy instruction. A major premise
of the research on the strategies of ''good'' language learners initiated by Rubin
(1975) is that the strategies used by successful learners of languages can be
taught to students who are struggling to learn a new language, thus making them
better language learners.
Chapter 22, entitled ''Errors and good language learners'', mentions that over the
years, various teaching and learning methods have approached errors in language
learning from quite different theoretical and practical standpoints.
Chapter 23, entitled ''Tasks and good language learners'', mentions that in recent
years there has been a great deal of interest in task-based language teaching
and learning (for instance, Ellis, 2003, 2005; Nunan 2004), as well as a
considerable amount of research into issues related to the use of tasks (for
instance, Cohen, 2003; Skehan and Foster, 1997)
Chapter 24, entitled ''The learner's landscape and journey: a summary'', mentions that
thirty years ago, researchers passionately wanted to find out what
characteristics constituted the good language learner (Naiman, Frohlich and
Todesco, 1975; Rubin, 1975, Stern, 1975). The research aim was to unearth the
secrets of such learners, with the implicit assumption that if these secrets
became more widely known, they could be shared with or transplanted to less
successful language learners. The assumption of identifiability of a single set
of characteristics possessed by the good language learner, and possible
transferability of these characteristics to less fortunate learners gradually
gave way to the realization that no single ideal set of characteristics existed.
Instead, researchers (such as Stevick, 1990) showed that many different kinds of
successful language learners ply their varied talents in a wide range of
settings. This chapter describes the landscape of language learning and the
journey that good language learners take.
This book is intended for and will be especially useful to a) those studying for
degrees or diplomas in language development; they will find that this book
contains a wealth of information and references which can be used as the basis
for completing assignments focusing on learners and how they go about learning
successfully; b) trainee teachers to help prepare them for the realities of life
in the classroom; c) practicing teachers who want to be better informed, to
clarify their insights into what may be happening in their classrooms day by day
and to obtain inspiration; d) teacher educators who can use this book as a means
of augmenting their knowledge and as a base of information from which lectures
can be developed; e) course designers who could use the book as the basis for a
number of interesting and useful-centered courses and programs; and finally f)
researchers for whom a multitude of areas still needing investigation is suggested.
All the chapters in this book, though inevitably having their own style, are
highly readable, with a consistency of structure that provides coherence to the
book as a whole. This book is informative and enjoyable, and perhaps most
importantly it inspires you to continue with the work which remains to be done
investigating how successful language development can be promoted. Good language
learners have much to teach us, and even after 30 years, many lessons remain to
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ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Iman Tohidian has a M.A. in TEFL. His field of interest is psycholinguistics,
Applied linguistics, and Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL). He has
published papers on translation, the relationship between CALL and SLA, and
psycholinguistics, as well as other papers accepted for publication. His book
entitled _A Glossary of Second Language Acquisition_ is also accepted for
publication in the USA.