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Review of  Teaching & Researching: Language Learning Strategies

Reviewer: Marije Michel
Book Title: Teaching & Researching: Language Learning Strategies
Book Author: Rebecca Oxford
Publisher: Pearson Linguistics
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 22.4507

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AUTHOR: Rebecca L. Oxford
TITLE: Teaching and Researching: Language Learning Strategies

SERIES TITLE: Applied Linguistics in Action
PUBLISHER: Pearson Education Limited
YEAR: 2011

Marije C. Michel, Department of English Linguistics, University of Mannheim, Germany

In this book Rebecca Oxford summarizes over thirty years of research and
teaching on second language (L2) learning strategies. She focuses on
self-regulated learning strategies, that is, ‘deliberate, goal-directed attempts
to manage and control efforts to learn the L2’ (p. 12). Oxford presents a
comprehensive and detailed review of work on language learning strategies.
Importantly, the author addresses a wide range of aspects from well-researched
cognitive and affective perspectives to more neglected topics like sociocultural
characteristics or neurocognitive facets of strategy use, teaching, and learning.

The main part of the book (section I) discusses the author’s model of strategic
self-regulated learning, referred to as the S2R-model. Oxford gives an overview
of fundamental dimensions (cognitive, affective, and sociocultural-interactive)
and integrated theories (e.g., Vygotsky’s model of self-regulated learning) that
relate to L2 learning strategies. Furthermore, the extensive appendices list
demonstrative examples of different strategies used in action. Section II
presents practical applications of strategy assessment (e.g., think-aloud
protocols) and strategy assistance (e.g., how to instruct learners on strategy
use) concerning the S2R model. Section III discusses how to do research into L2
learning strategies (e.g., quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods) and
summarizes the findings of relevant research up to now (e.g., results of reading
strategy research). The final section, IV, covers where one may find more
information about language learning strategies (e.g., journals, websites). The
book concludes with an elaborate glossary of concepts and terms relating to
language learning strategies.

As all books from the Pearson series ‘Applied Linguistics in Action’ the textual
information in Oxford’s book is endorsed by visual enhancements. For example,
every chapter starts with preview questions, and a detailed table of contents is
highlighted in a different typeface. Many tables and figures summarize key
aspects graphically. Every chapter finishes with suggestions for further reading.

Section I: The S2R Model
In chapter 1, Oxford starts by introducing her model of strategic self-regulated
(S2R) language learning that classifies different strategies into three broad
dimensions of cognitive, affective and sociocultural-interactive strategies.
Within each dimension she distinguishes meta-strategies from strategies. There
are eight meta-strategies: ‘Paying attention’, ‘Planning’, ‘Obtaining and Using
Resources’, ‘Organizing’, ‘Implementing Plans’, ‘Orchestrating Strategy Use’,
‘Monitoring’, and ‘Evaluating’ that all can be applied to cognitive, affective
or sociocultural-interactive aspects of L2 learning. There are six strategies at
the actual level of cognition: 'Using the Senses to Understand and Remember',
'Activating Knowledge’, ‘Reasoning’, ‘Conceptualizing with Details’,
‘Conceptualizing Broadly’, or ‘Going Beyond the Immediate Data’. Oxford names
two affective strategies: 'Activating Supportive Emotions, Beliefs and
Attitudes' and 'Generating and Maintaining Motivation’, and three
sociocultural-interactive strategies which refer to ‘Overcoming Knowledge Gaps
in Communication’, ‘Interacting to Learn and Communicate’ and ‘Dealing with
Sociocultural Contexts and Identities’.

All strategies are based on different types of meta-knowledge related to person
(individual), group or culture (community), task (short-term immediate),
whole-process (long-term), and strategy (meta-strategies and strategy). As a
whole these knowledge types influence the conditional knowledge that explains
when, why, and where to use a given strategy.

In real-life a strategy manifests itself as, what the author calls, a tactic,
that is an actual (meta-) strategy in action for a given learner in a given
situation, like the tactic that ‘two learners study together before a major
test’ as an example of the sociocultural-interactive strategy to ‘interact in
order to learn’.

After defining the concepts of S2R, the author focuses on the relationship
between language learning strategies and individual learning styles (e.g.,
whether one is an analytic, visual and/or extraverted learner). This chapter
concludes by highlighting the strengths of the S2R model in contrast to other
models. As the author stresses, one of the main achievements is that the model
not only acknowledges cognitive aspects, but treats the affective and
sociocultural-interactive dimensions to a similar extent. The remaining three
chapters of section I provide a detailed review of these three main categories
of strategies.

Chapter 2 focuses on (meta-)cognitive strategies. To refer to the cognitive side
of strategic learning Oxford uses the metaphor of a ‘construction manager’ in
charge of planning, organizing, coordinating, monitoring, and evaluating
language learning. This chapter relates the cognitive aspects to other theories
of learning. Discussed are relations to schema theory, e.g., how information is
transferred from short-term to long-term memory through the building of schemata
that are elaborated and through practice become flexible; cognitive-information
processing theory about how declarative knowledge (awareness and explicit
information about strategies) becomes procedural knowledge (automatic use of a
strategy); activity theory where a language learning goal can be met by a chain
of tactics based on different strategies; cognitive load theory, how different
strategies can be used to deal with the intrinsic and non-intrinsic cognitive
load of language learning situations; even neurobiological aspects of learning
are addressed, e.g., that neurological research findings situate higher
cognition, like the strategy of reasoning, in the prefrontal cortex of the brain.

In chapter 3, Oxford discusses (meta-)affective strategies which she refers to
metaphorically as the ‘electricity workers’. The main message of this chapter is
that affective aspects of language learning are at least as important as the
cognitive side -- nothing works without electricity. Therefore, it is important
to make use of strategies that influence the affective aspects of language
learning, that is, to create optimistic emotions, beliefs, and attitudes and to
build and maintain motivation for L2 learning. Aspects of L2 learning that are
related to (meta-)affective strategies are among others anxiety, self-esteem,
beliefs about L2 learning, and (most extensively discussed in this chapter)
motivation. Oxford explains how the strategic setting of goals concerning
mastery and performance in the L2 helps learners e.g., to keep a positive
attitude and strengthen L2 learning motivation. Furthermore, she stresses that
attention to strategies that (as neuropsychological evidence suggests) lower
language output anxiety should be part of every teacher’s repertoire.

Chapter 4 reviews (meta-)sociocultural-interactive strategies, that is, the
‘community manager’, who takes care of the highly interacting social,
historical, and imaginative layers of culture during language learning. Oxford
stresses that language learning and language use are tightly connected such that
sociocultural-interactive aspects of language use cannot be separated from
learning a new language. Therefore, strategies to enhance language learning will
need to take into account sociocultural and interactive characteristics of the
L2 and the L2 community. The S2R model acknowledges the importance of
sociocultural-interactive strategies by situating them at the same level next to
cognitive and affective strategies. The author explains that strategy
instruction may intend to improve intercultural competence as a whole but
ideally may aim at including ways to manage emotions e.g., when learners are
confronted with an L2 culture that is very different from their own background.

Appendices A-F conclude section I with 35 pages of concrete examples of
authentic tactics classified by their basic function in relation to
(meta-)cognitive, (meta-)affective, and (meta-)sociocultural-interactive
strategies respectively. For example, one tactic -- ‘I envision that I will
perform well on the English entrance examination. Since this exam is so
important, it helps to have a positive image.’ -- serves the basic function of
‘using a positive imagery for expectations’ as part of the strategy ‘Generating
and Maintaining Motivation’.

Section II: Strategy Assessment and Assistance
The second part of the book presents a useful practical and applied guide to
evaluate and instruct the use of language learning strategies. It may be most
relevant to practitioners.

In Chapter 5, Oxford reviews strategy assessment by discussing four key
methodological issues: (1) assessment based on self-report vs. observations; (2)
task specific vs. global assessment; (3) cultural appropriateness of assessment;
(4) quantitative, qualitative, or mixed assessment. When dealing with these
issues the author gives a detailed analysis of the pros and cons of different
methods of assessment. For example, she addresses the intrusiveness of
think-aloud protocols or how task specific colour-coding enhanced students’
awareness of strategy use. She gives advices on what type of strategy
questionnaire (task specific or general) would serve best for what purpose
(e.g., diagnostic) and group (children or adults). Finally, this chapter
formulates some guiding questions in order to assess the quality of an
assessment tool, e.g., relating to its validity and reliability.

Chapter 6 presents a useful collection of suggestions how teachers can assist
learners in acquiring and improving language learning strategies. The author
states that a single well taught lesson on strategies is well worth the time as
it can have large benefits concerning the effectiveness of an L2 learner’s
effort to reach higher levels of target language competence. Furthermore,
research findings suggest that students profit most from explicit strategy
instruction. Generally, instruction may follow the path from (1) identifying,
awareness raising and self-reflection on strategies frequently used via (2)
introducing, naming and modeling new strategies to (3) encouraging students to
try, practice and evaluate these new strategies. Importantly, whether a language
learning strategy is useful depends to a large extent to individual learner
factors and the specific goal of a learner. The author acknowledges these facts
by presenting various strategy assessment tools for different populations, e.g.,
for adult versus child learners or by highlighting the special needs of distance

Section III: Researching Learning Strategies
This section focuses on research into language learning strategies. Due to its
detailed explanations of basic concepts, it is particularly relevant to students.

Chapter 7 gives an introduction into general research methodology that may also
be useful beyond language learning strategies. It outlines differences between
quantitative, qualitative, and mixed models of research design. When reviewing
quantitative methods, the tables in this chapter explain different threats to
experimental research (e.g., due to selection or researcher bias). In the
paragraphs about qualitative research several ‘how to’-models exemplify the ways
to conduct, for example, a narrative study. Another set of tables systematically
displays what questions one may ask when checking e.g., for process or catalytic

In chapter 8 a summary of the most important findings from research into
language learning strategies is presented. The chapter is organized into
separate paragraphs addressing the four language skills reading, writing,
listening, and speaking, as well as vocabulary and grammar. It seems that
top-down strategies in listening and reading are most beneficial. Research into
general strategy use suggests that students benefit most from the capacity to
have available many different strategies they can use at appropriate moments for
a given task -- rather than overarching ‘best’ strategies that work for all
learners. The author concludes that reading and vocabulary have been studied
quite extensively while listening and grammar are stepchildren of strategies
research. She therefore calls for more research especially into these subfields
and into the combination of e.g., reading and writing strategy use.

Section IV: Resources
The last chapter gives a short of the different dimensions of strategies,
defining the field of language learning strategy teaching and research. Oxford
lists journals and books that treat language learning strategies. Furthermore,
some digital databases (websites, corpora) are given. Finally, the author pleads
for more research into language learning strategies and asks for greater
awareness among teachers and learners about the utility of effective language
learning strategies.

The book concludes with an elaborate Glossary of 25 pages starting with
‘accommodation’ (the cultural process of adjusting attitudes), via ‘motivation’
to ‘ZPD’ (Zone of proximal development following Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory).

Oxford presents a broad, detailed, and comprehensive overview of research and
teaching on language learning strategies. As it summarizes the research findings
in this field of the last thirty years, this book was much needed. The field of
language learning strategies is a vast area and the author took up the challenge
of collecting this information. She succeeds in presenting a clearly structured
and well outlined review. The volume situates language learning strategies in
relation to other fields within and beyond second language acquisition. In
discussing the theoretical bases and the empirical evidence, by giving practical
guidelines for instruction and many authentic examples, it is a welcome
contribution to the Pearson series on ‘Applied Linguistics in Action’.

Still, some critical aspects should be considered. First, the volume aims at
practitioners, students, and researchers. However, it may be useful only to the
two former audience types or for scholars seeking to enter the field. Others,
more deeply interested in research into language learning strategies, may find
the volume at times basic (in particular chapters 7 and 9) or find it to discuss
some topics too briefly (e.g., the neurobiological evidence in section I).

A second point of concern is that information given in boxes and graphs on
occasion repeats the text, creating some redundancy. This may help students
capture the importance of these aspects and, furthermore, acknowledges different
learning styles (e.g., analytic vs. visual). However, some readers may prefer a
more selective presentation of the issues discussed. Likewise, the appendices to
section I, which present over two hundred examples of tactics assigned to their
category of strategies, do give a comprehensive collection of authentic language
learner statements, but some readers may prefer a selection of some exemplary
tactics over a full list.

Third, the author is concise in explaining why the S2R model uses the
dimensions, categories, and strategies it does, and how these differ from other
models of language learning strategies. These personal statements make it rather
like an oral lecture. While these reflections model for students how to deal
with theoretical questions, advanced readers may find it enough to see that
decisions are based on empirical and theoretical evidence.

Finally, a more practical issue concerns the magnitude of examples and tables
(that often require the reader to turn the book back and forth from portrait to
landscape reading). At times, these make it difficult to read and follow the
coherent line of text, that is, the tabular presentation masks the importance of
the issues reviewed, rather than emphasizing them.

In sum, although this book on learning strategies is sorely needed, and while
the author definitely provides a complete treatment of the topic, it may suffer
a bit from its own aim to be comprehensive. A more selective approach to the
topics under review would make it more attractive -- in particular for researchers.

Marije Michel holds a PhD in Applied Linguistics from the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. She is currently working as a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of English Linguistics, University of Mannheim, Germany. Her research focuses on cognitive and interactive aspects of task-based performance in adult second language learners as she investigates effects of task complexity and priming during task-based interactions.

Format: Paperback
ISBN-13: 9780582381292
Pages: 360
Prices: U.K. £ 19.99