Effective Language Learning Strategies From Cambodian Teachers

After the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) era, Cambodia has been struggling to participate in the international community where English is used as a lingua franca (Clayton, 2007). Due to this trend, more and more Cambodian learners have paid more attention to the study of English. The emergence of English has become even more prosperous after the country was admitted into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1999 (Clayton, 2007). Nevertheless, a number of Cambodian EFL learners have failed to be proficient in the language although having spent a lot of years learning the language. The reason lying behind the failure can be the ignorance of effective language learning strategies or a mismatch between the learning strategies frequently used by the students and the teaching strategies thought to be effective, by teachers, in teaching the language (Chamot, 2004; Felder & Henriques, 1995; Fewell, 2010).

Based on Bull and Ma (2001), students may not be aware of the strategies they have used or are using in order to enhance their comprehension, retain information in their memory, or recall what they have learnt. As Chamot and O’Malley (1990) claimed that learners are unique and naturally possess different learning styles, the unawareness may lead to the inappropriate use of the learning strategies available (Oxford, 2003). Besides the learning styles defined by Oxford (2003) as a general approach or behaviour used by learners to acquire the language-auditory or visual style , other variables such as the learner characteristics, culture and context, etc. also wield influence on the utilization of the strategies (Chamot, 2004). For instance, learners who live in a culture that values individual competition may prefer the strategies allowing them to work alone to other strategies calling for cooperation and collaboration. In addition to this, the context also plays an important role in deciding the utilzation of the learning strategies. For example, a study conducted by Edonomo and Secomo (2007) in Turkey showed that learners tended to use social strategies to learn the language in a naturalistic context but cognitive and metacognitive strategies in a tutored-setting context. However, the awareness of the strategies, to Felder & Henriques (1995), is not yet the solution to the failure if the teaching strategies the teachers believe to be helpful in aquiring the language are mismatched with the learning strategies taken for granted by the learners. Djigunovic (2001) indicated that using inappropiate teaching strategies which are not favoured by the learners may not be able to motivate them to learn the language well. Similarly, Griffiths and Parr (2001) discovered in their study made in New Zealand that there was an almost complete difference in perception of learning strategies between students and teachers. Due to the aforementioned points, I am unsure if the unawareness of the language learning strategies and the diverse perspertives on the language learning strategies also take place in the Cambodian EFL context.

So far, a number of studies have been done to provide ground to the issue of language learning strategies. Bull and Ma (2001) conducted a study to draw students’ attention to the language learning strategies they have used to learn the language. In the same regard, the identification of the strategies, using SILL (Strategy Inventory for Language Learning) designed by Oxford (1990), is also made by various researchers specialized in the field of study (Chamot, 2004; Edonomo & Secomo, 2007; Embi, Mahamod, Teh, & Yusoff, 2009; Fewell, 2010). Moreover, the interelationship between the utilization of the language learning strategies and student motivation has also been explored (Djigunovic, 2001). Embi, Mahamod, Teh, and Yusoff (2009) even looked at the correlation between gender and the strategies frequently used. At the same time, some researchers are interested in exploring whether there is a mismatch between students’ perspectives and teachers’ perspectives on the effective language learning strategies used to learn the language and the unfortunate potential consequences of the mismatch (Chamot, 2004; Felder & Henriques, 1995; Griffiths & Parr, 2001).

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Though there are quite a number of studies in the field of language learning strategies, few of them have been conducted in the Cambodian EFL context. The identification of the language learning strategies frequently used by Cambodian EFL students in the classroom learning environment and the comparison between Cambodian EFL teachers’ perspectives and students’ perspectives on the subject in focus have not yet been studied together.

The lack of the study more or less contributes to the poor academic performance of the Cambodian EFL learners excepting other variables. I believe that when the perspectives of the two groups (teachers and students) are determined, we will be able to help the students learn the language more effectively so that they will not waste their time, financial resoures, and mental effort. Additionally, the understanding of the covert perceptions will give the language teachers ideas on how to use appropriate teaching strategies which are matched with the students’ learning strategies in the right learning context. Besides, the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sports (MoEYS) may take the findings into consideration and implement relevant policies which can enhance the English learning environment in Cambodia.

Based on the aforesaid significance, this present study aims at identifying the language learning strategies frequently used by the Cambodian EFL learners to deal with different types of language tasks and exploring the effective language learning strategies in the Cambodian EFL context from the perspective of lecturers and students at the Institute of Foreign Languages (IFL), Phnom Penh. Thus, the research questions required to answer are:

What are the effective language learning strategies frequently used by IFL students to handle various language tasks?

What are the language learning strategies regarded as effective by IFL lecturers?

Annotated Bibliography

Bull, S., & Ma, Y. (2001). Raising learner awareness of language learning strategies. Interactive

Learning Environments , 9 (2), 171-200.

Bull and Ma have brought the issue of language learning strategies which are closely related to my research topic into focus. In their study, they reviewed a variety of both learning styles and strategies. Difference between learning styles and strategies were also clearly made. Through the questionnaire (SILL-Strategy Inventory for Language Learning) administered to non-native learners of English who also have high level of English proficiency, findings which revealed the learning strategies already used by students and the ones recommended to them should be made aware of in order that the problem of a mismatch between students’ learning styles and teachers’ teaching styles can be avoided. Therefore, I would say that this journal article would cover a lot of ground on my research topic.

Chamot, A. U. (2004). Issues in language learning strategy research and teaching. Electronic

Journal of Foreign Language Teaching , 1 (1), 14-26.

This is a collective secondary source discussing how issues in language learning strategies affect the performance of students and teachers of foreign languages. Chamot makes a profound study into several issues pertaining to language learning strategies including the identification of students’ learning strategies, the classification of identified strategies, the interrelationship between the strategies and learner characteristics, the influence of culture and context, etc. This descriptive research further points out that knowing students’ learning strategies is of vital importance to teachers who attempt to help students become more successful language learners. Moreover, the paper also discusses the impact of culture and learning environment on the utilization of the strategies. These two main focuses are exactly what I am concentrating on in my research; therefore, more or less, I will be able to benefit from this descriptive study.

Chamot, A. U., & O’Malley, J. M. (1990). Learning strategies in second language acquisition.

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Chamot and O’Malley write this book in an attempt to describe what language learning strategies are, how they help learners enhance comprehension and retain information in their memory, how they are learned, and why they influence the learning outcome. Furthermore, various theories regarding learning strategies in second language acquisition are also explained. More or less, these theoretical explanations will provide ground to my study.

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Djigunovic, J. M. (2001). Are language learning strategies motivation–speicific? : language learning

strategies and motivation. Orbis Linguarum , 18, 125-138.

In the study conducted in Croatia, Djigunovic put emphasis on the relationship between language learning strategies and learning motivation. Three separate studies were made at different learning institutions, and a large sample of participants, aged from 13 to 21, were given two sets of questionnaire to complete. One is SILL used to check the strategies used by students, and another one is the motivation questionnaire. The result showed that student motivation correlated significantly with all the strategies frequently used. The more motivated the learners were, the more frequently they used the learning strategies. However, the findings also revealed that the learning motivation decreased according to the learner age. The youngest learners were found to have the strongest connection between the motivation and strategies used. Though my study does not focus on the learning motivation, it will gain advantage from this study as well since motivation is what every learner needs in order to succeed in learning the language, and I do believe that the identification of the strategies which are able to motivate students to learn well will be of great benefit to my study.

Edonomo, D. V., & Secomo, Y. D. (2007). Foreign language learning strategy choice:

naturalistic versus instructed language acquisition. Journal of Theory and Practice in Education , 3 (1), 4-11.

In Turkey, a study conducted by Edonomo and Secomo to discover how different learning contexts-naturalistic and instructed language acquisition, with their different specific demands, affect language learning strategy preferences and frequency of use was investigated. In the study, 25 international students who were studying English at Bogazici University in Istanbul were selected. At the same time, they also had to study Turkish in order to survive in the country. Due to the fact that these international students were studying English in a formal setting (Instructed language acquisition) and Turkish in a non-formal setting (Naturalistic language acquisition), the researchers were interested in the language learning strategies frequently used by the students in the two different contexts. As a result, we could see that the students tend to use social and compensation strategies to learn Turkish in the outside classroom learning environment while metacognitive, cognitive, and compensation strategies are preferred to learn English in the classroom learning environment. Although, this study primarily focuses on the language learning strategies used in different learning contexts, it is somehow related to my proposed study which deals with the perspectives of students and teachers on the effective language learning strategies used in the classroom learning environment. To a certain extent, it also provides background information to my research study.

Embi, M. A., Mahamod, Z., Teh, K. S., & Yusoff, N. M. (2009). A closer look at gender and Arabic

language learning strategy use. European Journal of Social Sciences , 9 (3), 399-407.

There are many research studies done to investigate the correlation between language learning strategies and proficiency level or motivation. Differently, this study was conducted to find out the relationship between gender and strategies use in learning Arabic language. The researchers collected data, using SILL questionnaire, from a total of 457 students who were studying Arabic language in Malaysia. The result of the study was in accord with some studies done previously which showed that female students tended to use language learning strategies, especially affective and metaphysic strategies, more often than male students. This significant difference will give me an idea to determine the strategies frequently used by female Cambodian learners and the ones often used by male Cambodian learners.

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Fewell, N. (2010). Language learning strategies and English language proficiency: an investigation

of Japanese EFL university students. TESOL Journal , 2, 159-174.

In this study, Fewell attempted to investigate the correlation between English proficiency level and the correct utilization of language learning strategies on Japanese first year students. Other variables excepting learning strategies which may affect students’ proficiency level were carefully determined and excluded from the study, although the attempt was hard to achieve. In order to determine the impact of the utilization of learning strategies on the proficiency level, the researcher used SILL to unfold the strategies used by the top 25% of English proficient learners and the bottom 25% of English proficient learners. Unexpectedly, the analyzed result was contrary to the results of most studies showing the correlation between increased English proficiency and increased language learning strategy utilization. Due to the finding, I realize that this study is absolutely fascinating, and what really fascinates me is the underlying factors interfering the findings.

Felder, R. M., & Henriques, E. R. (1995). Learning and teaching styles in foreign and second

language education. Foreign Language Annals , 28 (1), 21-31.

The content of this descriptive study includes many findings I am looking for. The researchers purposefully raise the learning strategies particularly suitable for second and foreign language acquisition. Moreover, the authors discuss certain learning styles favored by the teaching styles of most language teachers. It is written in the paper that the unawareness of students’ learning styles and teachers’ teaching styles can lead to the unfortunate mismatch which can result in several negative consequences including boredom of learning, demotivation, poor academic performance, etc. This study, though not a field study, represents a valuable collective source of information on the issues in language learning strategies and, obviously, will become a fundamental reference to my study.

Griffiths, C., & Parr, J. M. (2001). Language learning strategies: theory and perception. ELT

Journal , 55 (3), 247-254.

This easily understandable article is closely related to my study. If looking at the research questions, Griffiths and Parr aim at discovering the most frequently used language learning strategies adopted by the contemporary language learners who are speakers of other languages and the teachers’ perception of the language learning strategies used by their students. To get the result, a large sample of 569 students who are non-native speakers of English in New Zealand were selected to fill the SILL and 30 experienced teachers were invited to complete ILLS (Inventory of Language Learning Strategies) questionnaires. The result of the study was quite interesting because there was a mismatch between students and teachers’ perspectives on using the strategies to learn the target language. Based on the students’ perception, social strategies are the most commonly used and memory strategies are the least; however, the teachers believe that their students use memory strategies the most and affective strategies the least. The difference in perception between the students and teachers really interests me, and I think this study can be a good model for my present study as it also provides useful information on the relation between changing language teaching and learning theories and the language learning strategies which go alongside.

Oxford, R. L. (2003). Language learning styles and strategies: an overview. In Learning styles and

strategies (pp. 1-25). GALA.

In this chapter, Oxford mainly discusses the distinction between learning styles and strategies in depth. Extended definitions of the key terms are provided. This chapter of the book is fundamental to my study since detailed description of each style or strategy is given one by one, and there is also a part discussing the implications for L2 teaching. The author clearly indicates that harmony between students’ style and strategy preferences and a combination of instructional methodology and materials is the essence of helping students perform well in their L2 learning.

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