Scholarly article on topic 'Language Learners’ Skills and Strategies: Assessing Academic Needs in a Multilingual Context'

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Abstract of research paper on Educational sciences, author of scientific article — Dora Chostelidou, Eleni Griva, Eleni Tsakiridou

Abstract This study identified and recorded students’ learning skills and strategies in English for Academic Purposes (EAP) and a Language Other than English (LOTE) in a multilingual learning context, the Department of Balkan Studies at the University of Western Macedonia, in Greece. A self-report questionnaire was employed investigating the students’ language learning needs in the receptive and productive skills along with their language learning strategies. The findings indicated a considerable degree of awareness on multilingual learning along with a certain degree of flexibility in strategy use. Also, bilingual learners showed more strategic knowledge and a greater degree of metacognition in language skills. In result, it is suggested that the students should be provided with multilingual instruction to enhance their awareness and metacognitive strategic use in as many foreign languages (FLs) as possible.

Academic research paper on topic "Language Learners’ Skills and Strategies: Assessing Academic Needs in a Multilingual Context"

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Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 191 (2015) 1472 - 1478

WCES 2014

Language Learners' Skills and Strategies: Assessing Academic Needs in a Multilingual Context

Dora Chostelidoua*, Eleni Grivab, Eleni Tsakiridoub

aAristotle University of Thessaloniki, Thessaloniki 54124,Greece bUniversity of Western Macedonia, Florina-Niki Avenue, Florina 53100, Greece

Abstract

This study identified and recorded students' learning skills and strategies in English for Academic Purposes (EAP) and a Language Other than English (LOTE) in a multilingual learning context, the Department of Balkan Studies at the University of Western Macedonia, in Greece. A self-report questionnaire was employed investigating the students' language learning needs in the receptive and productive skills along with their language learning strategies. The findings indicated a considerable degree of awareness on multilingual learning along with a certain degree of flexibility in strategy use. Also, bilingual learners showed more strategic knowledge and a greater degree of metacognition in language skills. In result, it is suggested that the students should be provided with multilingual instruction to enhance their awareness and metacognitive strategic use in as many foreign languages (FLs) as possible.

© 2015TheAuthors.PublishedbyElsevierLtd.This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Selection and peer-review under responsibility of the Organizing Committee of WCES 2014

Keywords: multilingualism, language learning strategies, language skills;

1. Introduction

In acknowledgement of the fact that the social and individual phenomenon of multilingualism has become prominent in recent years, research in the most important factors which influence the language learning process in a multilingual learning context has considerably grown (Jessner, 2014). Among the factors at issue are learning strategies and skills, which present the focus of the present research in terms of their effect on the language learning

*Dora Chostelidou. Tel.: +0030-6944148077 E-mail address: chostelidou@yahoo.com ; dora.efl@gmail.com

1877-0428 © 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Selection and peer-review under responsibility of the Organizing Committee of WCES 2014 doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2015.04.442

process. Learning strategies are regarded influential in determining the students' foreign language (FL) learning process (Oxford, 2005) while they are also believed to act as catalysts when employed by EAP students in order to cope with the demands of dealing with the receptive and productive skills. Language learning strategies have been defined by scholars in various ways; a chronological presentation of the most widely used definitions follows. Wenden and Rubin (1987, p.19) describe them as "any sets of operations, steps, plans, routines used by the learner to facilitate the obtaining, storage, retrieval and use of information". According to Chamot (1987, p.71) they are "techniques, approaches, or deliberate actions that students take in order to facilitate the learning and recall of both linguistic and content area information". Sometime later,O'Malley and Chamot (1990, p.1) on their part defined learning strategies as "the special thoughts or behaviours that individuals use to help them comprehend, learn, or retain new information". Expanding on these definitions of learning strategies, Oxford (1990, p.8) defined them as "specific actions taken by the learner to make learning easier, faster, more enjoyable, more self-directed, more effective, and more transferable to new situations". On a similar line, Hall (2001, p.92), identified learning strategies as "goal-directed actions that are used by learners to mediate their own learning". Following Oxford's (1990) classification of learning strategies, which draws upon previous models, strategies are classified into cognitive, memory, compensation, metacognitive, affective and social, and are grouped into two major broad types, direct and indirect ones, which are all interrelated and interact with one another. Oxford's Strategy Inventory for Language Learning (SILL) (1990) has been extensively used by researchers throughout the world, indicating its high validity, reliability and utility as a research tool (see Griva, Chostelidou, & Tsakiridou, 2011). Moreover, SILL has been adopted for the purposes of the present study since it is considered to provide a more comprehensive and detailed approach while it also provides a more systematic link between strategies and strategy groups with each one of the language skills, listening, reading, speaking and writing. At this point, a general distinction between the two terms can be identified on the grounds of the processes 'skills' and 'strategies' entail. Skills are considered to be deployed unconsciously despite the level of processing, while strategies are thought to represent conscious decisions thus, be applied deliberately (Maes, 1999; Tomitch, 2002). Furthermore, in the case considered the learners are identified as multilingual users and need to develop their multilingual competence, which means that they are expected to use the different languages effectively and appropriately in various situations for different communicative purposes and may need to make use of all the components of communicative competence (Cenoz& Genesee, 1998). However, it is often the case that not all competencies in each one of the languages learnt are developed to the same extent or level (Cenoz& Genesee, 1998, p.19) whereas identifying the level of proficiency needed to be attained by an individual in order to have acquired multilingual competence in a second or third FL is also an issue of high debate (Saville-Troike, 2006, p.30). Nevertheless, the benefits of multilingualism need hardly be argued while multilingual individuals are considered to possess higher language awareness (Jessner, 2006, 2008), linguistic sensitivity and cross-cultural awareness (Szcz^sniak, 2013) and are more flexible in strategy use (Cook, 2001). Successful learning of FLs presupposes the ability to make appropriate selection and use from a strategy repertoire (Chamot et al, 1988; Chostelidou & Giva, 2011; Green & Oxford, 1995) while studies (Griffiths, 2003; Griva et al, 2009a; Griva et al, 2009b; Lee, 2003; Yang, 2007) revealed that successful language learners generally use a wider variety of learning strategies, in a more flexible way, compared to the less successful learners.

2. The Study

2.1.Purpose

The purpose of the present study was to conduct a needs assessment in order to provide an account of the university students' learning strategies, as well as record their needs for receptive and productive skills development in a multilingual academic learning context, the Department of Balkan Studies at the University of Western Macedonia, in Greece. In particular, an attempt was made to: a) identify the university students' reflection on language strategy use in English for Academic Purposes (EAP) and in a Language Other than English (LOTE); b) explore their awareness of developing their receptive and productive skills

2.2. Context and sample of the study

The sample consisted of a total of 92 university students, 20 male and 72 female, aged between 18 and 30, who attended the 2nd year of studies at the Department of Balkan Studies at the University of Western Macedonia, in Greece. According to the syllabus the students attend language courses for Academic Purposes during the four semesters of their study in order to learn FLs, among them, English, a dominant language, and a Language Other Than English (LOTE). All students were attending an EAP course, which aimed to provide them with ample training in language skills and strategies, so as to effectively deal with academic aspects of the English language during their studies. More specifically, the EAP course adopts an integrated approach to skills development along with extensive strategy training so as to meet the learners' needs concerning the target language. In addition, they were given the opportunity to learn a second FL at the University, a LOTE, among the following on offer: Albanian (13.3%), Russian (44.2%), Bulgarian (19.5%), Serbian (21.7%) and Romanian (17.3%).

2.1. Research Instrument

A self-report questionnaire was administered to all 2nd year students to fill in during an hourly session. Its focus was on raising their awareness of the language components and strategies along with reflecting upon their language skills. In total, 70 'Likert-type' questions were included asking the students to choose from the options "much and little" for questions which fell into the following sections: a) language learning strategies; b) language skills awareness concerning their needs in the receptive and productive skills.

3. Results

3.1.Language learning strategies

3.1.1.Strategy use in a multilingual context

In the attempt made to record the strategies employed by the target group of university students, it was revealed that memory strategies were of highest significance for an important number of them in the EAP language course (m=1.984) in relation to metacognitive (m=1.8272), cognitive (m=1.9121) and compensation strategies (m= 1.9213). On the other hand, cognitive (m= 1.9334) and compensation strategies (m=1.9334) were of highest significance for a considerable number of the students in the Balkan languages in relation to metacognitive (m=1.8412) and memory strategies (m=1.8272).

Fig. 1. Mean scores of the total number of cognitive, metacognitive, compensation, and memory strategies in English and LOTE

3.1.2. Memory strategies used in English and LOTE

The most frequently used memory strategies in the English language compared to those used in LOTE are shown on Table 1.

Table 1. Memory strategies in English and LOTE

English LOTE

Memory strategies Much (%) Little (%) Much (%) Little (%)

I write new words several times 53.1 31.6 45.9 17.3

I group new words in thematic categories 56.1 15.3 29.6 48

I use new words in a sentence so that I can remember them 67.3 4.1 57.1 19.4

I connect the sound of a new word with an image or picture I remember new words or phrases by recalling their location on the book page/the board. 70.4 30.6 4.1 28.6 41.8 25.5 20.4 33

3.1.3. Cognitive strategies used in English and LOTE

The most frequently used cognitive strategies in English compared to those used in LOTE are presented on Table 2.

Table 2. Cognitive strategies in English and LOTE

English_LOTE

Cognitive strategies Much (%) Little (%) Much (%) Little(%)

I translate a word/phrase into L1 36.7 24.5 45.3 22.5

I skim a FL passage at first to get the gist before I read it again more carefully. 30.6 42.9 43.9 44.9

I look for words in my own language that are similar 53.1 37.8 45.9 46.9

to new words in the FL.

I find the meaning of an FL word by dividing it into 46.9 34.7 13.3 57.1

parts that I can understand.

I summarise information that I read or hear in the FL 70.4 3.1 73.5 4.1

3.1.4. Metacognitive strategies used in English and LOTE

The most frequently used metacognitive strategies in English compared to those used in LOTE are shown in the following table (Table 3).

Table 3. Metacognitive strategies in English and LOTE

English_LOTE

Metacognitive strategies Much (%) Little (%) Much (%) Little (%)

I notice my mistakes in the FL and use that 30.6 37.8 40 25.3

information to help me do better.

I look for opportunities to read as much as possible 46.9 24.5 56.1 26.5

in the FL

I organize/ monitor my writing process in the FL 45.9 16.3 14.3 57.1

I think about my progress in the FL 50 29.6 48.9 11.7

I try to find as many ways as I can to use the FL 38.8 43.9 59.2 22.4

Pearson r correlation coefficient tests were conducted in order to investigate the relationships between the students' strategy use in the English language and their ability to transfer and use strategies in LOTE. The Pearson correlation coefficient showed a significant relationship between the following categories of strategies in the English language and LOTE: a) moderate correlation between the employment of memory strategies in English and LOTE (r=.474); b) weak correlation between the employment of metacognitive strategies in English and LOTE (r=.231); c) weak correlation between using cognitive strategies in English and LOTE (r=.248); d) moderate correlation between using compensation strategies in English and LOTE (r=.534)

3.2. Bilingual — monolingual students and strategy use in English and LOTE

One way ANOVA, which was conducted on the overall strategy use marked by the participants, revealed significant differences between the Greek-speaking (monolingual) and the bilingual students in relation to the total number of the following categories of strategies concerning the English language. More specifically, it was revealed that the bilingual students declared that they employed a greater number of a) cognitive strategies (F8.842 = -1.676, p < 0.005); b) compensation strategies (F14.605 = -1.551, p =0.000); and c) metacognitive strategies (F8.930 = -1.993, p < 0.005). Moreover, the bilingual students proved to use a greater number of compensation strategies (F5.208 = 2.408, p < 0.005) in LOTE (Table 4).

Table 4. Differences between the monolingual and bilingual students in terms of strategy use in English and LOTE

Language Learning Strategies

English LOTE

Strategies Students Mean Std. Dev Mean Std. Dev

Memory strategies Greek speaking 1.1595 .30608 1.8225 .33293

Bilingual .9341 .28602 1.8315 .33988

Cognitive Greek speaking 1.0543 .20437 1.9180 .33206

Bilingual 1.1463 .30303 1.9335 .14388

Greek speaking 1.0248 .32058 1.8641 .42252

Compensation Bilingual 1.1150 .20005 2.0497 .29078

Greek speaking 1.0789 .39040 1 .7656 .56423

Metacognitive Bilingual 1.3095 .43684 1.8268 .34650

3.3. Awareness in multilingual skills development

In the attempt made to record theuniversity students' awareness in language skills development, it was revealed that they were of highest practice need in terms of reading and writing skills both in English and LOTE in comparison to listening and speaking skills.The students' awareness in language skills development in the English language andin LOTEis presented in figure 2.

Fig. 2. The students' awareness in language skills development in English and LOTE

Pearson r correlation coefficient tests were conducted in order to investigate the relationships between the students' awareness in language skills development in English and their skills development in LOTE. The Pearson correlation coefficient showed a significant relationship between the following language skills in terms of English and LOTE: a) moderate correlation between reading skills development in the English language and reading skills development in LOTE (r=.319); b) weak correlation between reading skills development in English and reading skills development in LOTE (r=.248). Reading skills included the following sub-skills: 'reading comprehension of academic texts' 'skimming an academic text' 'reading texts for pronunciation purposes' 'scanning a text'. Writing skills included the sub-skills: 'developing arguments', 'summarizing an academic text', 'selecting appropriate academic vocabulary', 'writing short or full answers' 'constructing a meaningful paragraph'.

4. Discussion

The research findings indicated a considerable degree of awareness on the part of the university students on multilingual learning (Jessner, 2006; 2008; Kiely& Shahidullah, 2013) along with a certain degree of flexibility in strategy use (Aronin&Hufeisen, 2009; Kostic-Bobanovic&Bobanovic, 2011; Parks & Raymond, 2004), factors regarded as contributing to success in learning FLs. It should be noted that the bilingual learners showed more strategic knowledge and a greater degree of metacognition in language skills (Anderson, 2008; De Angelis 2007; Garcia, 2005; Goh, 2008)concerning both the English language and LOTE.

Concluding, it is suggested that raising the students' multilingual awareness in relation to the receptive and the productive skills and strategy use should be reinforced through the provision of systematic training embedded in the regular language courses, in consideration of the fact that multilingualism challenges the hegemony of English and is inextricably related to the notion of language and its importance for communication, cultural understanding, development and mobility. After all, multilingualism tends to be regarded the norm rather than an unusual exceptionas "two languages are as normal as two lungs" (Cook, 2002, p.23).Nevertheless, it cannot be ignored that since a single training method could not possibly fit the needs of all learners' concerning their language learning strategies and skills development, a multimodal and multicognitive approach corresponding to all the students' needs should be employed (Chostelidou et al, 2012).

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