A Nice Synthesis
of Second Language Learners Strategies
Over the past decades, there has been a marked shift in the focus
of foreign language instruction. Students are being encouraged to
“learn how to learn” and “how to use” a foreign language. More and
more foreign language educators recognize that effective learning
and use strategies can enhance students’ efforts to reach their
language goals. Though it is promising to see that the study of
language learning and use strategies continues to receive increased
attention, there is still little literature available nowadays.
Fortunately, in his book, Andrew D. Cohen offers a very nice synthesis
of issues relating to language learner strategies.
The book is divided into five main sections: (a) discussion of terminology
describing second language(L2) learning and use strategies; (b)
a review of research methods available for assessing L2 strategies;
(c) strategy training and the effects of strategies-based instruction;
(d) strategies of choosing the language of thought for cognitive
processing; (e) strategy use in testing situations.
Overall, the author has aimed at a balance between theory, research
and practical pedagogical implications, but one of the most positive
aspects of the book is that it has devoted extensive time to the
discussions of terminology and research methods. Since L2 learning
and use strategies are generally internal mental processes, it is
quite a challenge to design a study that can be sure of collecting
adequate data on learners’ strategy use. I especially like the way
that Cohen presents an in-depth analysis of six different approaches
to assessing language learner strategies: learning strategy interviews
and written questionnaires, observation, verbal report, diaries
and dialog journals, recollective studies, and computer tracking.
His thorough discussion of research methods will certainly help
prospective researchers to determine their research topics and choose
the means of investigation, and eventually benefit the fledgling
field of language learning strategies.
This book will also be particularly useful for teachers who want
to be of greater support to their students in their learning efforts.
The position Cohen has taken is that “strategies-based instruction
provides the most efficient way for learner awareness to be heightened”
(p.265). A variety of approaches to provide student-directed language
learning and use strategy instruction as well as the possible roles
that the teacher can play are discussed. A research project on the
effects of strategies-based instruction conducted at the University
of Minnesota is also reported. Nonetheless, the implications for
teaching strategies in the classroom are generally written in the
form of principles or suggestions. Therefore, this book may not
meet the needs of teachers who are searching for classroom-ready
strategies-based instruction activities, exercises, and curriculum.
Moreover, another valuable aspect of the book is that Cohen addresses
a more specialized and often neglected area in strategy use: strategies
for choosing the language of thought. According to Cohen, the language
of thought used by language learners concerns a matter of strategy
selection. Although many language teachers often assume that learners
should use and think in the target language as much as possible
if they want to improve their language proficiency, Cohen’s research
sought to determine the roles of the native and target languages
used by learners in the learning process, and he showed that learners
may revert to thinking in their mother tongue in order to enhance
their learning. The author’s study could certainly bring our attention
to the use of native language as an excellent valuable resource
that can also contribute to the development of foreign language
skills. In fact, an increasing number of recent publications have
reassessed the positive contribution that native language can make
to foreign language learning (Friedlander, 1990; Kobayashi and Rinnert,
1992). Therefore, this book would serve as a great foundation for
researchers to further explore such studies on the value of mother
tongue in the foreign language learning process.
In summary, this volume creates a fine introduction to the field
of L2 learning and use strategies, and it will surely help to stimulate
the profession’s interest in conducting more relevant research.
It is highly recommended for both researchers and teachers of second
and foreign language programs.
Friedlander, A. (1990). Composition in English: effects of a first
language on writing in English as a second language. In B. Kroll
(Ed.), Second language writing: research insights for the classroom
(pp. 109-125). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kobayashi, H., & Rinnert, C. (1992). Effects of first language
on second language writing: translation versus direct composition.
Language Learning, 42(2), 183-215.