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Research Proposal

The Effects of Social Variables on the Use of Strategies in Foreign/Second Language Learning

Imdadullah Khan

Subject: Submitted to: Session:

Research Methodology Prof. Anwar Alam 2008-2009

Department of English Language and Literature University of Malakand

Table of Contents
1. Introduction 1.1. 1.2. 1.3. 1.4. Language learning strategies and its importance The Statement of the Proble The purpose of the Study Significance of the Study

2. Studies of Language Learning Strategies 3. Questions to be Probed

4. Research Hypothesis 5. Methodology 5.1. 5.2. 5.3. Subjects Oxford Placement Test Strategy Inventory for Language Learning (SILL)

6. Data Collection procedure 7. Data Analysis Techniques

8. Results and Findings 9. Suggestions

10. Bibliography

Introduction In the fast growing communication system in the world verbal

communication will never lose its place. Without verbal communication the world will come to a standstill. But sometimes, a single language proves insufficient to fulfill a persons verbal communication needs. And that is why people try to become proficient in more than one languages which instrumentally give them an edge over monolinguals. Especially, when the second language is used for international communication, it equips the speaker to have access to many social and economic benefits by using his language skills. Due to the many advantages of possessing proficiency in a second language, countrywide plans are made and recommendations prepared for the implementation of such recommendations. In countries like Pakistan, where English is used for multiple purposes, it becomes important for curriculum planners and designers to make English language course an integral part of the educational syllabi. And that is the reason English is a compulsory subject at each level i.e. from nursery to graduation. Inspite of the wide usage of English language in the country, it still remains a foreign language for learners. There is often a lack of opportunity for beyond-the-classroom interaction in school foreign language programs. This lack of opportunity places learners at considerable disadvantage when confronted with the inevitable psychological, linguistic and sociocultural obstacles in second language communication(S.J.Savignon and P.V.Sysoyev, 2002). Pakistani learners of English language confront the same

disadvantage, due to this reason; they do not achieve that level of proficiency which a second language learner achieves by using the target language within the target language environment.

The Importance of Language Learning Strategies In general, strategy specialists believe that learner with strategic knowledge of language learning compared with those without, become more efficient, resourceful, and flexible, and thus acquiring a language more easily. The suggestion is that if learners can develop, personalize, and use a repertoire of learning strategies, they will be able to achieve language proficiency in a much facilitated manner Z. Dornyei et al. (2006). There has been an abundant output in the field of second language research since the World War II due to an increased demand for additional languages that could serve as a useful tool to be exploited for the purpose of winning the war. Linguists and theorists presented different theories of language learning which they thought could facilitate the learning of a second or foreign language. Among such theories are structuralist, behaviorist and mentalist theories. But the most recent development in the field of second language learning is the cognitive theory of language learning that explains SLL (second language learning) in term of a skill. They say that like any other skill, language can be taught and learnt. For learning language skill they stress the importance of using Strategies which can make the language learning task easier. The past twenty years have witnessed a large body of second language research targeting language learning strategies (Wen-Ta Tseng, Z. Dornyei and Norbert, 2006).There is now a wealth of material that has been developed to train learners to use effective language learning strategies (Ellis, 2001). The concept of strategy is somewhat fuzzy one (R. Ellis 2001). Different definitions have been offered by different linguists. For example, Rubin (1987) defines it as learning strategies are strategies which contribute to the development of language system which the learner constructs and effect learning directly. According to R.L. Oxford, (1989) Language learning strategies are behaviours or actions which learners use to make language learning more successful, self-directed and enjoyable. Stern(1983) says, In

our view strategy is best reserved for general tendency or overall characteristics of the approach employed by the language learner, leaving techniques as the term refer to particular forms of observable learning behaviour. R. Ellis (2001) defines it A strategy consists of mental or behavioural activity related to some specific stage in the overall process of language acquisition or use. There are a plethora of other definitions as well which look at the term strategy from different perspectives and thats why we see fuzziness in defining it. In the words of Ellis, It is not clear whether they are to be perceived as behavioural or as mental activity or as both (The word in italics is my own use). Another problem is whether they are seen as conscious or as subconscious..or they have a direct or indirect effect on interlanguage development. And finally,.what motivates the use of learning strategies R. Ellis (2001).

Statement of the Problem Pakistan got English language in inheritance from the British rulers. It has penetrated into each and every academic, official and social activity. Today, a person who does not know English language can not enjoy the status of belonging to the respectable social class. All high ranking jobs are linked with the mastery of English language and all the competitive exams are conducted in English language which requires a high level of English proficiency on the part of the examinee. Due the primacy and importance of English language in every walk of life, a special place is given to it in the academic programmes. But the dearth of academic expertise in the country makes it difficult for most of endeavors, in the direction of successful language learning programmes, to face failure. The teaching of explicit language learning strategies is a new addition in the field of language learning and most of the research work to date has proved it a useful tool for the successful language learning. So for no such approach

has been applied in the country to for the purpose of language learning. It is hoped that the findings of the present research may prove to be the first step in the application of such an approach in the academic programmes. Secondly, in the field of learning strategies research, most of the researchers have mainly focused on learner characteristics and little attention has been paid to social aspect of the learning strategies. Hence, it might be hoped to add something into the field of research as well.

Purpose of the Study The present research focuses on the influence of social aspect on the use of strategies adopted by the learners in which the researcher will try to find out the impact of four variables i.e. ethnic background, gender difference, previous language learning experience and socio-economic status on learners choice of learning strategies. The researcher hopes that it will be the first attempt of its kind in this area. It is also hoped that it will open avenues for the upcoming researcher in the field of learning strategies. The success of the study might also prove helpful for English language syllabus designers and learners in some ways.

Significance of the Study The present research can be helpful in the following ways: This study will explore ways of promoting strategy awareness and use among the learners The study will probe into strategies learning problems of the different social classes/sexes/ethnic communities and suggest remedies for the weaknesses in their learning environment if there were any. It may perhaps draw the attention of language course designer to make language learning strategies part of the courses due to its usefulness for language learning.

It may also provide some useful guidelines and suggestions both for teachers as well as learners to benefit from the use of language learning strategies. It will also help suggesting a new criterion for the design of a new syllabus. The present research may also provide some guidelines for the future researchers in the field of language learning strategies.

Studies of Language Learning Strategies Most of the research studies have found a positive correlation between the use of strategies and learning outcomes. In a study of 55 intermediate foreign language learners at the university Minnesota Andrew D. Cohen found that explicitly describing, discussing and reinforcing strategies in the class roomand thus raising into the level of conscious awarenesscan have direct payoff on student outcomes. If instructors systematically introduce and reinforce strategies that can help students speak the target language more effectively, their students may well improve their performance on language tasks. Preserving the explicit and overt nature of the strategy training better enables students to consciously transfer specific strategies to new contexts. The study also seems to endorse the notion of integrating strategy training directly into the classroom instructional plan and embedding strategies into daily language task. In this way, the students get accustomed to having the teacher teach both the language content and the language learning and use strategies at the same time(A.D.Cohen,1996). In another study OMalley at al. (1985) found that classroom instruction on learning strategies with integrative language skills can facilitate learning. Carol Griffiths (2007) in a study of 131 students from fourteen different nationalities which included students from elementary level to advanced level and whose ages ranged from 14 to 64 found a significant positive

correlation between course level and reported frequency of language learning strategy use. Another of her studies confirms this result Based on the results of this study, the most proficient groups of students appear to use strategies which enable them to work consciously on their vocabulary and to interact frequently with others (both native and non-native speakers) in English. Rebecca Oxford and Martha Nyikos (1989) found a very powerful effect of the motivation, sex and years of study on the use of strategies in a conventional classroom setting. They also found that expectations imposed by the standard academic approaches to teaching and testing limit the motivation of most language learners to try new, creative, communicatively oriented strategies. There are, perhaps, five major aspects of successful language learning... (1) Language form, (2) a concern for communication (Functional practice), (3) an active task approach (4) an awareness of the learning process, and (5) a capacity to use strategies flexibly in accordance with the task requirements (Ellis, 2001). In one study Rubin (1975) found attention to form and monitoring ones own as well as others speech as the important strategies. Niaman et al. (1978) say that crosslingual comparison, analyzing the target language, using reference books and monitoring their L2 performance as the key strategies used by the learners. In another study Reiss (1985) found monitoring and attending to form as the most common strategies used by the learners. She says that it is surprising that attending to meaning was of less importance than attending to form. Huang and Van Naerssons (1985) study found no significant difference between high and low proficiency groups on two strategies of formal practicing and monitoring. Gillette (1987) also reports observed her two successful learners who did not pay much attention to learning conscious rules. Good language learners show active involvement in language learning. They appreciate teachers who are systematic, logical and clear, but prefer to

treat them as informants rather than to rely on them (Picket, 1978). Another general characteristic of good language learner is___awareness of the learning process___ suggests the importance of what O Malley and Chamot have called metalingual strategies. Successful learners are thoughtful and aware of themselves in relation to the learning process. They take conscious decisions and follow their own preferred style (R.Ellis, 2001). Chamot et al. (1988) provides evidence in support of the final characteristic of good language learners___ flexible and appropriate use of learning strategies. Chamot et al. investigated beginner, intermediate and advance level students of Spanish and Russian over four semesters. The students were divided as effective or ineffective by their teachers. No clear pattern was evident in the strategies the learners used from one time to the next; although changes were evident in the performance of specific tasks over time (R. Ellis, 2001). A study investigated by Cohen and Aphek (1981) revealed that mnemonic associations helped vocabulary learning. They identified eleven different types of mnemonic aids including the target language, the learners language and extra linguistic signs that were used as association aids by the learners. They concluded that associative auxiliaries helped in retention. They also said that contextualization strategies worked better for learners who already possessed a fair level of L2 knowledge. Another study conducted by Brown and Perry (1991) revealed that strategies that involved greater depth of processing would result in better retention. The findings of their study matched with another experimental study at the English Language Institute of the American University of Cairo. (Ellis, 2001).

Research Questions 1) Does the socio-economic status of the learner have any effect on the use of language learning strategies?

2) Does gender difference bring any variation in the use of language learning strategies? 3) Does ethnic background bring about any variation in the use of language learning strategies? 4) Is previous language learning experience relevant to the use of language learning strategies?

Hypotheses For the purpose of the present study the following hypotheses are postulated:

H. 1. Learners who make effective use of language learning strategies achieve greater proficiency than those who do not. H. 2. The learners who have more language learning experience are better in the use of language learning strategies than those who have less or no experience. H. 3. Female language learners make good use of language learning strategies than male learners. H. 4. Ethnic background has no effect on the use of language learning strategies. H. 5. Learners belonging to higher socio-economic class are better at the use of language learning strategies than those belonging to the lower socioeconomic class.

Methodology Subjects The subjects of the study will be the post graduate students at The University of Malakand. Among those post graduate classes only those will be selected where proper English language courses are taught. The Department of English where English language courses, as such are not taught but the 10

courses of Linguistics and literature are both taught in English language, will also be included in the study.

Oxford Placement Test - OPT For the purpose of finding out the proficiency level of the subjects an Oxford Placement Test will be given to the students. This test has been chosen due to the following reasons. The Oxford Placement Test is a commercially available test consisting of a listening section and a grammar section. The OPT takes about one hour and results in a score out of 200. In the literature which comes with the test, Allan (1995) claims that it has been shown to be highly reliable as well as relatively quick and convenient. Allan also claims this is reliable, objective, economical and easy to administer. (Cited in Carol Griffiths thesis, 2003) The grammar section is described as a written multiple-choice test of the grammatical structures of English covered in a wide range of course books. Allan (1995) claims that the structures included in the test have been chosen as a result of detailed research into the content of existing course books and examinations, and that the format and item-balance are based on computer evidence of difficulty levels across an international sample. According to Allan, the items were trialled on multi-level and multi-national samples of students before being analyzed statistically. (Cited in Carol Griffiths thesis, 2003) Allan (1995) claims that the resulting Oxford Placement Test is a reliable means of grading students at all levels from elementary upwards (Cited in Carol Griffiths thesis, 2003)


Strategy Inventory for Language Learning - SILL The main instrument that will be used for the collection of data is Strategy Inventory for Language Learning (SILL) version 7.0 which was designed by Rebecca Oxford in 1990. There are a few questionnaires that measures language learners frequency strategy use but SILL is the much used and tested of all such questionnaires and therefore, it does not need to be tested for relaibility. It is the 50-item version for speakers of other languages learning English which will be used for the purpose of present study. The SILL is a self-scoring, paper-and-pencil survey which consists of statements such as "I review English lessons often" or "I ask questions in English" to which students are asked to respond on a five-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (never or almost never) to 5 (always or almost always) (Carol Griffiths Thesis 2003) . Oxfords taxonomy is possibly the most comprehensive currently available (Ellis, 1994) and, as such, provides a useful starting point for an examination of the strategies used by students in the process of learning language. Interviews of the students will also be conducted whenever requires.

Data Collection The data will be collected through first hand means. The researcher will go to the different departments in person and would give questionnaires (SILL) for filling up. The purpose of the study will be explained to the learners so that the student may feel ease with the researcher. Willing students will be interviewed and their interview will be tape recorded.

Data Analysis Techniques The data will be analyzed both qualitatively and quantitatively. The qualitative data will be analyzed by using suitable qualitative methods while


for quantitative data analysis computer programmes like SPSS (Statistic Package for Social Science) will be used.

Results and Findings In the light of analyzed data collected through questionnaire and interviews results and findings will be interpreted accordingly.

Suggestions In the light of the proposed study that will be conducted by the researcher we may get some useful results that can be utilized for good purposes. For example, the findings may show that specific group of strategies proved to be more helpful in language learning for a particular group which in return might help them if they were made part of their course. The present study might also reveal if any strategy based lessons are part of the course or not. More over, the study will point out such areas where future research can be conducted.


Bibliography Brown, T. & F. Perry. 1991. A coparison of three learning strategies for ESL vocabulary acquisition. TESOL Quarterly 25: 655-70 Chamot,A. 1987. The learning strategies of ESL students in Wenden and Rubin( eds) 1987. Chamot,A., L. Kupper, & M. Imeink-Hernandez. 1988. A Study of Learning Strategies in Foreign Language instruction: First year report. Rosslyn, Va: Interstate Research Assosiates. Cohen, A. & E.Aphek. 1981. Easifying second language learning. Studies in Second Language Acquisition 3: 221-36 Cohen Andrew D. 1986. Second language learning and use strategies: Clarifying the issue. A revised version of a paper originally prepared for presentation at the Symposium on Strategies of Language Learning and Use, Seville, Spain, December 13-16,1994. Dornyei, Z. 2006. A New Approach to Assessing Strategic Learning: The Case of Self-Regulation and Vocabulary Acquisition. Applied Linguistics 27/1: 78-102. Ellis,R. 2001. The Study of Second Language Acquisition, Oxford University Press Griffiths, C. 2003. The relationship between patterns of reported language learning strategy (LLS) use by speakers of other languages (SOL) and proficiency with implications for the teaching/learning situation. Thesis Griffiths, C. 2007. Language Learning Strategies: Students and Teachers Perceptions. ELT Journal 61/2: 91-99. Huang, X. & M. Van Naerssen. 1985. Learning Strategies for Oral Communication. Applied Linguistics 6: 287-307 OMalley, J.M et al. 1985. Learning Strategy Applications with Students of English as a Second Language. TESOL Quarterly,19/3: 557-584 Oxford,R. 1989. Use of language learning strategies: A synthesis of stdies with implications for teacher training. System 17:235-47