Learning strategies are also critical to the language acquisition process. They are usually applied spontaneously and they often come to students as the situation demands. There are times, however, when such strategies are applied methodically after being taught from somewhere else (the teacher, books, peers, trial and error). Strategies that children use to learn will generally be consistent with their personality, their individual learning styles, and their cultural backgrounds. For example, students who are outgoing and high-risk takers and for whom being assertive is acceptable culturally will be more willing to use overt learning strategies such as seeking out people with whom they can speak, asking questions, and so forth.
For example, the Teach International Teacher Training Program encourages its teachers to become high-risk takers even before their arrival in their country of destination. Taking deliberate steps to expose oneself to the language one will need overseas is the first approach. Once there, finding a living situation in which you will have constant interaction with the target language; memorising short chunks of dialogue and practising them at every opportunity (greetings, directions, requests, money, food, clothing); seeking the input of shop owners, business and community people; and working with a tutor to review your daily conversations are all ways that you can start to immerse yourself and acquire the target language at a rapid rate.
While many people may be reticent to pursue language goals in this way, they might feel comfortable and recognise the value in some of the learning strategies: making friends with native speakers, seeking a tutor or language helper, debriefing after conversations, and keeping progress notes.
Students can choose and use strategies, maintain them over time, and transfer them to new situations when needed. Teachers should model as many as they can and students who are not doing as well as they should be in the language learning process should be assured that their apparent failure is probably not due to a deficiency in intelligence but rather a lack of appropriate strategies.
The following is a sample from the Oxford strategy inventory for students learning English that identifies a few areas that may need focus. The students are to tell how true specific statements about strategies are for them:
Just the survey itself may be enough to make older children aware of the many strategies they can incorporate into their language learning practices.
Here are a few strategies that teachers may want to share with their older students, aged 11 to the oldest child’s class that they have. They are categorised by skill area. The teacher may want to translate them into the students’ first language so they can benefit from them by using many of them right from the start.
5. Vocabulary Development
It is important to remember that most strategies are too complex to be reduced to lists. All the teacher has to do is listen to students’ conversations about what they are doing to find that they indeed are aware. It is also important that a focus on strategies not be so extensive or intrusive as to interfere with learning. Sometimes too much emphasis on strategies causes students to lose the meaning of what they are learning as they become focused on how they are learning. Furthermore, strategies that may be inappropriate culturally or that students may not be ready for or do not need, could be a waste of time. On the other hand, instruction in strategies that is well-timed and suited to the needs of the students can make a noticeable difference in the way they approach learning a second language.