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Literacy Across Cultures Spring/Summer 2000 4/1

Language Learning Strategies Instruction and Language Use Applied to Foreign Language Reading and Writing: A Simplified "Menu" Approach

Anthony S. Rausch
Faculty of Education
Hirosaki University
Aomori, Japan


Extensive investigation has shown the importance of language learning strategies in making language learning more efficient and in producing a positive effect on learners' language use (Wenden and Rubin, 1987; O'Malley and Chamot, 1990; Chamot and O'Malley, 1994; Oxford, 1996, Cohen, 1998). With that in mind, the development of effective means of accommodating both language learning strategies instruction and actual language use is an increasingly important focus of research and inquiry, one with implications for foreign language reading and writing. I believe that the fullest potential for language learning strategies ultimately lies in self accessible instructional materials supporting autonomous strategy use. In this article, I will outline one possible way of addressing language learning strategies instruction and language use through what I have called a "Menu Approach". I will begin by considering the importance of a learning orientation and learner autonomy, both essential for effective learning strategy use. I will then introduce a model for Simplified Language Learning Strategies (SLLS). Then, after considering two important points relevant to strategies instruction and language use, I will introduce in a menu-like form what I call the SLLS Menu Approach, an approach to mastering language learning strategies that encourages autonomy but remains accessible to the learner in a manner which can complement existing university-level Japanese foreign language curriculums with direct reference to foreign language reading and writing.

Learning and Autonomy

An important part of mastering a foreign language is mastering learning. Mastery of the fundamentals of learning is not only important in aiding language learners in (1) consolidating vocabulary, (2) acquiring basic structures, and (3) accumulating the necessary linguistic and communication skills, but (4) such mastery of learning skills puts the learner in active control of their own learning processes. The process of becoming sucessful at learning nurtures learners who are autonomous and seek individualized approaches to specific learning objectives. An approach which includes conscious consideration of the process of learning as well as a mastery of typical language syllabus content contributes not only to more effective mastery of that specific content in the traditional educational setting. It also helps lead to the development of lifelong learners, be that in language learning or some other area of interest that requires metacognition.

It must be added, however, that culture and practice have been found to exert a significant influence on the development of such an orientation to learning (Oxford, 1996). In Japan, cultural beliefs that in part dictate and educational practices that reinforce a teaching-centered orientation rather than a learning orientation might be viewed as important factors that diminish motivation as they reduce learner autonomy. A perceived lack of student motivation toward learning, along with the desire on the part of many Japanese students to receive and absorb in a passive manner knowledge provided by teachers, are typically offered as major obstacles to effective learning in Japan (see, for example, Dadour and Robbins, 1996).

A Model for Simplified Language Learning Strategies

The concept of "learning strategies" is based in part on cognitive learning theory, in which learning is seen as an active, mental, learner-constructed process. A seminal definition of language learning strategies was developed by Rebecca Oxford (1990), and is described as specific, self-directed steps taken by learners to enhance their own learning. The most comprehensive language learning strategy scheme, the Strategy Inventory for Language Learning (SILL), developed by Oxford, separates strategies into two strategy orientations and six strategies groups: (1) a direct learning orientation, consisting of (a) memory, (b) cognitive, and (c) linguistic deficiency compensation strategy groups, and (2) an indirect learning orientation, consisting of (a) metacognitive, (b) affective, and (c) social strategy groups.

The direct learning orientation strategies involve the identification, retention, storage, or retrieval of words, phrases, and other elements of the target language. The indirect strategies concern the management of the learning and include such activities as: needs assessment, activities planning and monitoring, and outcome evaluation. The indirect strategies also involve aspects that aid the learner in regulating emotions, motivation, and attitudes. These include routines for self-encouragement and the reduction of anxiety, and those which address the actions learners take in order to communicate with others, such as asking questions for clarification and cooperating with others in communication.

Each of these six strategy groups can be further subdivided, with the end result being a compendium of 60 specific strategies. Oxford's model outlines a comprehensive, multi levelled, and theoretically well-conceived taxonomy of language learning strategies. This taxonomy usefully encompasses a continuum of strategies, from affective personal management and general approaches to basic learning to specific language learning, memory, and communicative techniques. However, in keeping with the practical objective of autonomous learning strategies instruction and learner use, Cohen (1995) suggests that there is a need for greater care in specifying learning strategies on the basis of what is relevant for the given learner in the given learning circumstance. Thus, as a means of increasing accessibility and ease of use by learners and teachers alike, simplification of the language learning strategies model is important, desirable, and justifiable.

In order to make Oxford's model easier for teachers and learners to understand and use, I have simplified the terminology and reduced and clarified the options. I have done this by eliminating extraneous options, simplifying the terminology, and reorganizing the internal relational logic of the model's hierarchy. Such adjustments are necessary in order for learners to be able to understand better the overall model, as well as to be able to orient themselves in the overall scheme of the strategies scheme and to select appropriate strategies accordingly.

The hierarchical order of the scheme is from indirect to direct, grouped under the headings of management, learning, memory and communication. This model then becomes an integral part of the SLLS Menu Approach. The materials that learners might use in this simplified `menu' include specific descriptions and explanations, instructions for and examples of use, and exercises for specific strategies. See Table 1 below for a more holistic presentation of the simplified model.

Rausch, Table 1

Instruction and Use of Language Learning Strategies

In principle, language learning strategy in-struction and use can be undertaken at any educational level, in any number of forms, in-cluding both general and specific language learning skills objectives (Oxford & Leaver, 1996). Two important issues to consider in the instruction and use of such strategies are (1) the degree of curricular "integration" versus "detachment" and (2) the level of learner control.

Integration Versus Detachment
The degree of integration of learning strategies into the existing curriculum can in reality be conceptualized as reflecting a continuum which extends from fully integrated, curriculum-based programs to detached, task- or skills-specific instruction with near autonomous use by the learner. Indeed, several fully-integrated curriculum-based language learning strategies instructional approaches have been developed (see Oxford, 1996; Cohen, 1998). However, one of the most important factors in successful strategy instruction depends on just how informed it is: the need, usefulness, and benefits of a given strategy are emphasized along with a focus on direct, explicit instruction. This is true because of the emphasis which can be placed on a conceptual three-sided basis that of learning objective/ learning strategy/learner need and fit for selecting learning strategies. Ultimately, the strategies which learners make the most use of and those which yield the most benefit are not necessarily those which reflect the best fit in terms of the learning objectives. Rather, those which prove popular with students and bring tangible results are ones readily adapted to their learning level and disposition.

Moreover, adoption of fully instructional curriculum models with integrated strategies entails adjustments on the part of teachers. It is teachers who must undergo a crucial conceptual shift toward a learner-centered classroom, making the necessary adjustments in their existing curriculum, and learning the specific techniques of language learning strategies and instruction. What's more they must accept the problematic element of uncertainty inherent in curriculum change. Teachers are often uncomfortable with making such changes and thus ignore or resist introducing learning strategies (Nyikos, 1996). This is particularly true in an environment rife with pedagogical and curricular contradiction concerning how and what students should be taught, as is the case of education in Japan (though true of many other national educational systems as well).

Learner Control
The idea of a "control continuum" is a notion developed by Oxford and Leaver (1996) to describe the successive levels of awareness, attention, intentionality, and control (or autonomy) which learners can develop in their use and under-standing of language learning strategies. In any given learning situation, students will be at different learning strategies levels and will approach increasing levels of learning strategy control with different time frames.

The first step in strategy instruction is generating awareness, which can be accomplished by introducing the concept of learning strategies and having learners complete a learning strategies use assessment. Assessments activities such as sur-veys, think-alouds, diaries, and group discussions do not explicitly or directly implement strategy instruction. Instead they can be used to help students reflect on their own intuitive and already existent intentional strategy use.

At the attention level, the language learning strategies model is introduced and learners note which strategies are used for specific learning tasks and objectives, thereby developing an individual database of learning strategies. Intentionality is an active step in which learners autonomously select strategies for learning objectives on the basis of a triangular fit of individual learner/learning objective/learning strategy and their increasing experience.

Control is considered the highest level of strategy use, in which learners plan, self-assess, and evaluate overall strategy use and self-adjust use while continually incorporating a broad range of language learning strategies in their studies. In a sense, learning strategy control returns the learner to the state of unconscious awareness of learning strategy, but in this case, by virtue of familiarity and ease of use.

The SLLS Menu Approach Explained: An Adaptable Menu

On the basis of the need for detachment and control, one way to achieve instruction and use of language learning strategies is through what I have called an SLLS Menu Approach. The `menu' metaphor represents an approach to instruction and use based on the principles of choice and control, as in choosing from a menu of possibilities. As will be shown, this approach reflects the necessity for combining a model of clarity with both curricular detachment and increasing levels of self-control. These elements can then be wrapped into one practical approach which can be used with both teacher-centered, grammar-oriented instruction and student-centered, communicative-oriented instruction. This Menu Aproach ultimately proves feasible as an independent, self-directed learning curriculum.

In this Menu Approach, the language learning strategies are considered as complementary to the existing curriculum as a means of enhancing the effectiveness and efficiency with which the learner accomplishes the learning as dictated by the curriculum orientation or objectives. However, in addition to addressing the learning objectives specified and prioritized in the curriculum, the menu approach allows for the specific and individual learning needs of the learner. In this sense, the approach also accommodates the needs of independent and autonomous learners.

I have developed five basic orientations to the SLLS Menu Approach: (1) a Learning to Learn orientation, (2) a Learning Process orien-tation, (3) a Traditional Skills orientation, (4) a Language Structure orientation, and (5) an Individual Development orientation, as outlined in Table 2 below.

Rausch, Table 2

SLLS Menu Approach: Instruction and Use
Each of the five sub-menus (see Table 2 above) has an inherent orientation. For example, the Learning to Learn sub-menu is based on an increasing control continuum, whereas the Learning Process or Traditional Skills sub-menus are, for example, based on use of the menu in an actual learning exercise, albeit with a specific learning or traditional skill orientation.

SLLS Menu instruction and use as presented in the menu schema can be facilitated through an in-class introduction and description, variously combined with modeling, practice, evaluation, and directed toward the goal of strategy transfer. Such instruction can be undertaken on a regular, random or one-off instructional basis, and, if materials development is a concern, can be incorporated into language textbooks as inde-pendent learning sections or simply left to a totally separate guidebook. The latter type of material would be an appropriate means for instructors who have no intention of teaching for comprehensive mastery of the learning strategies in their classes, but who would like to include it in their materials for students' independent work.

Once the learner has achieved relative levels of attention, intention, and control, the Menu can be used as a guide in the selection and use of specific language learning strategies as dictated by task objective or learner need.Use of the SLLS Approach Menu should prove to be fairly straightforward. Given a Learning to Learn orientation, for example, a teacher or learner might simply work through the various steps as specified in the Menu by using the descriptions, explanations, examples and exercises accom-panying the materials together with whatever content is required by the curriculum or chosen by the learner. Likewise, given a Learning Process orientation, the learner could approach the material to be learned using the steps outlined in the Menu, again using the detailed descriptionsand the like that accompany the Menu. Given a topical orientation, such as a Traditional Skills orientation or a Language Structural orientation, specific learning strategies from the appropriate Menu sections might used to master the material. However, the potential for interpretation and variation in the use of leaning strategies should prove near limitless and bounded only by the users' needs and imagination.

The SLLS Menu Approach in Foreign Language Reading and Writing

Looking at the Traditional Skills section of the SLLS Menu Approach in Table 2, reading is identified as a receptive skill for which organization is the appropriate strategy and writing is identified as an expressive skill for which communication is the appropriate strategy. The respective compre-hensions of reading (literal, inferential, critical, appreciative) aside, in most foreign languge reading activities, the specific organizational strategies are (as shown in Table 1) apply and analyze, control content, and identify structure. Taking these in reverse order, one of the more important skills in reading is to note the structure at both the level of sentence as well as paragraph and section of text. Highlighting important parts of text is a means of providing organization. Comparing and contrasting the content, both as is in the target language, or by translating into the native language, are means of controling the content in reading. These are means of viewing the content in terms of something you are familiar with. Finally, most reading activities are based on use of materials which conform to grammatical standards; therefore, to increase your semantic understanding, analyze what you are reading in terms of what you know of grammatical rules.

As for writing, given the fact that most foreign language writing in the early stages is undertaken with educational aims and that time is usually not a communicative constraint to fluency, the most important communication strategy is to focus-adjust-repeat (as shown in Table 1). Contextualizing these three steps for the writing process, focus aids you in maintaining concen-tration on the objective of the writing; adjusting encourages you to consider different means of succeeding in achieving the objective; and repeat-ing (in writing, contrary to speaking) forces you to read what you have written while considering focus (effectiveness) and the need for adjustment (change to a better word or phrasing).


I have at least implied that instruction and use of learning strategies must be amenable to the existing curriculum and prevailing learning culture while striving to be accessible for both curriculum-oriented teachers and potentially independent learners. With this goal of flexibility in mind, I have further implied that the existing models of learning strategies are either too complex, too highly integrated with particular contexts, or too curriculum- and teacher dependent to be of practical value to the independent language learner. Thus, in this article I have proposed and outlined an SLLS Approach which I believe is clear, sufficiently detached, and potentially more responsive and oriented to learners. It is a scalable and adaptable model meant to complement any specific foreign language curriculum. I have also shown how it can be applied to foreign language reading and writing. At this time, this Menu Approach exists mostly in the language of this article. However, the next step will be to construct a theory-in-action that will enable me to report on the development and testing of actual SLLS materials for classroom instruction and individual learning.

Chamot, A. U., & O'Malley, J. M. (1994). Language learner and learning strategies. In N. C. Ellis (Ed.), Implicit and explicit learning of languages (pp. 371-392). London: Academic.

Cohen, A. D. (1995). Second language learning and use strategies: Clarifying the issues. National Language Resource Center: Center for Advance Research on Language Acquisition (University of Minnesota): ERIC ED 393 307.

Cohen, A. D. (1998). Strategies in learning and using a second language. London: Longman.

Dadour, E.S. & Robbins, J. (1996). University-level studies using strategy instruction to improve speaking ability in Egypt and Japan. In R.L. Oxford (Ed.), Language learning strategies around the world: Cross-cultural perspectives (pp. 157-166). Honolulu: University of Hawaii.

Nyikos, M. (1996). The conceptual shift to learner-centered classrooms: Increasing teacher and student strategic awareness. In R. L. Oxford (Ed.), Language learning strategies around the world: Cross-cultural perspec-tive (pp. 109-117). Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Oxford, R. L. (1990). Language learning strategies: What every teacher should know. New York: Newbury House/Harper & Row. Now Boston: Heinle & Heinle.

Oxford, R. L. (Ed.). (1996). Language learning strategies around the world: Cross-cultural perspectives. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Oxford R. L., & Leaver, B. L. (1996). A synthesis of strategy instruction for language learners. In R. L. Oxford (Ed.), Language learning strategies around the world: Cross-cultural perspectives (pp. 227-245). Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

O'Malley, J. M., & Chamot, A. U. (1990). Learning strategies in second language acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wenden, A. L., & Rubin, J. (Eds.). (1987). Learner strategies in language learning. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Wenden, A. L. (1991). Learner strategies for learner autonomy. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.

Contact Information
Anthony Rausch can be contacted at the Faculty of Education, Hirosaki University by e-mail at <>.

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Literacy Across Cultures
Spring/Summer 2000 4/1