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Teaching Learner Strategies for Vocabulary Acquisition by Darron Board - 2

With learners like mine, this is essential in maintaining motivation, since successful use of learning strategies leads to success in language learning. If I as a teacher can make strategy instruction effective, I will be able to directly influence the motivation of my learners. Chamot et al (1996) argued that access to appropriate strategies leads to students gaining a higher expectation of learning success, argued to be central to motivation. This is particularly so if strategy instruction, "is combined with metacognitive awareness of the relationship between strategy use and learning outcomes" (1996:178). Cohen (1998) argues that SI is useful more generally for teaching how when and why strategies can be used and in helping learners explore ways in which they can learn the L2 more effectively. Cohen also highlights that learner autonomy is increased as SI encourages self-evaluation and self-directed learning.
It has also been suggested that SI can help learners overcome certain psycholinguistic and affective constraints in the classroom. Nyikos (1996:112) claims that SI can help overcome the limitations in learners' competence caused by:

· maturational constraints, which may cause learners to resist learning certain features (Doughty 1991)
· limited capacity processing, where learners can only process limited amounts of information simultaneously, which makes it difficult for learners to pay attention to both form and meaning at the same time
· the "readiness" of a learner's interlanguage to acquire a new feature (Pienemann 1989)

Nyikos therefore concludes that SI can help learners in four main ways (1996:112):

1. to help learners become more aware of the strategies they already use
2. to apply task-specific strategies which help overcome nervousness, the inability to remember and the need to immediately produce language during oral communication. Being able to overcome these limitations will obviously make learning more efficient
3. to monitor the effectiveness of the strategies already used
4. to create new strategies or abandon ineffective strategies by consciously and critically reflecting on their own strategy use

Critique of Strategy Instruction
With so much written about SI, it is logical that a fair amount of literature about it has been on whether or not it is really effective. The first main area of critique has argued that instruction that attempts to teach learners certain types of strategies (e.g. compensation strategies for dealing with gaps in vocabulary knowledge) may simply be a waste of time (Kellerman 1991). This is because students already know how to use these strategies in the L1. The problem is not that students don't know how to transfer these L1 strategies to L2, but rather that they do not have the linguistic competence to use the strategy effectively or they are perhaps limited at an affective level. Cohen summarises this argument,
"Kellerman would explain an apparent inability to use an L2 strategy effectively as resulting from a lack of L2 language proficiency or from the inhibitory atmosphere in the classroom, rather than resulting from a lack of control over the strategy" (1998:108).
In my current teaching context this would not be the case since the learners do have the L2 proficiency and the classroom atmosphere does not inhibit the use of strategies. A second, highly influential critique of SI has been developed by Rees-Miller (1993). Her argument is that insufficient research has been carried out to be able to claim that SI is wholly effective, and she cites a number of studies that show SI to be not particularly useful.


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