Learner strategies are intangible concepts that are difficult to observe because “they necessarily involve cognitive processes which neither the learner nor the teacher may be able to specify” (Rubin, 1975, p.45). Hedge (2000, p.77) distinguishes learner strategies as either mainly metacognitive or cognitive but for the interest of discussion our focus will fall mainly on the cognitive side. Learner strategies have always been associated with the ‘good learner’ concept and thus this post will be supported by the influential research of Naiman et al. (1978), among others.
Rubin’s (1975, p.43) definition on learner strategies as being “the techniques or devices which a learner may use to acquire knowledge” aided in the fine-tuning of subsequent taxonomies on good learner strategies. Naiman et al. (1978), presented two taxonomies with the first one consisting of 10 unrefined strategies (p.5), and the second one consisting of 5 refined strategies that were based on research (p.30). In the interest of precision the second taxonomy will be applied and complemented with brief accounts of the target poor learners and a few prominent learner techniques based on these strategies will be discussed in consequent reviews.
The first good learner strategy states that students must have an ‘active task approach’ (Naiman et al., 1978, p.30). Good learners actively involve themselves in the language learning task. The state of our target poor learners is between being active and passive. Due to the constant failure in attempting tasks the students see their involvement as futile. Therefore, these students need to be trained appropriate learner strategies to lessen the failure rates and consequently motivate them into approaching tasks in an active manner. A lot of improvements can be achieved using this approach outside the classroom through constant exposure and practice and these behaviours can be groomed by the teacher. In the classroom, the same approach of constant practice and exposure applies.
The second good learner strategy is the ‘realization of language as a system’ (Naiman et al., 1978, p.31). Good learners develop or exploit an awareness of English as a language system. One way of achieving this strategy is by utilizing the first language as a comparative system. Fortunately, the L1 of our target learners has many similar technical constructs as well as noticeable discrepancies. Therefore, they can use their knowledge of L1 to make inferences or comparisons that would create a system based on their understanding. An easier approach to realization is to acknowledge that words are governed by concepts such as synonyms, registers and parts of speech. Understanding these concepts would make English a more systematic construct rather than a sporadic cluster of words in the students’ memory.
The third good learner strategy is the ‘realization of language as means of communication and interaction’ (Naiman et al., 1978, p.32). The keyword ‘communication’ suggests that good learners constantly communicate to be aware of the input (Schmidt, 1990; cited in Robinson, 1995, p. 285). The target poor learners must therefore expose themselves to similar situations even though it means to “overcome the inertia of using English” (Naiman et al., 1978, p.32). The target learners always avoid such situations. Training them in developing this strategy would need witty teaching methods that would go under their anxiety radar unnoticed.
The fourth learner strategy is the ‘management of affective demands’ (Naiman et al., 1978, p.32). Good learners acknowledge that they must cope with the affective demands of language learning and to do so means to overcome all inhibitions. The target poor learners are known to have many inhibitions in using English. Making mistakes is a cause for embarrassment to the group and they have a shared view that if one cannot speak proper English one should not speak any English at all. Therefore the teaching methods to be employed must either be cautious enough to prevent humiliation or be flexible enough that errors do not cause embarrassment.
The fifth learner strategy is the ability to ‘monitor L2 performance’ (Naiman et al., 1978, p.33). Good learners tend to maintain their English by constantly revising and asking others who are more knowledgeable to revise their English for them. This final strategy is the only strategy that is mainly utilised by the target poor learners. However, the target learners are monitoring their English inappropriately and infrequently to the extent that their monitoring is ineffective. These learners revise for the sake of revising and ask for the sake of asking. Therefore, the teaching methods to be employed must place them in a state of constant revision that befit their capacity.
Naiman’s (1978) taxonomy of the five learner strategies aforementioned can be argued as being an oversimplification but it gave credence that the target poor learners are not capable of analysing the language due to inappropriately using strategies. Several taxonomies (Ellis, 1985; Oxford, 1990) have pinpointed the same flaw of poor learners. Nonetheless, a more important contribution of the taxonomies is the effective learner techniques that have been derived from them. These techniques will then be used as a guideline to determine the appropriate teaching methods for our target learners.