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The Effective Learning Strategy In English

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 5439 words Published: 11th May 2017

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Speaking is considered to be one of the most difficult skills in English learning. As one of the receptive skills, speaking is the foundation to develop other language skills. For a long period of time, the teaching of English in China has mainly focused on the teaching of reading and writing in the early stage of learning and neglected the teaching of listening and speaking. Many teachers are puzzled at the situation in the English class: though many students can get a good mark in English test, not all of them can perform well in listening and speaking. But the primary function of language is for interaction and communication. So how to improve learners’ oral communicative competence is a significant problem that each language teacher has to face, especially for the 12 to 15-year-old junior middle school students. But as their teachers, their oral English is very important. In China, oral English learning has been the weak point. It is of necessity to investigate factors which may obstruct or enhance oral English acquisition. They reflect on what was wrong with the teaching and try to find out the solutions to these problems. And it is obvious that the learners do not have enough and effective listening and speaking practice in a scientific way. Through our research, we know that the students are mainly influenced by the affective learning strategies. This article starts from the affective learning strategies, analyses the relations between the learners’ oral English ability and the affective learning strategies. At last, this article also gives some suggestions for the English learners in junior middle school.

1 Introduction

With the rapid development of the society, frequent communication among different nations and the rapid development of the international trade, more and more English majors will be needed. So to teach the students to be excellent English talents is an important and difficult task. In recent years, more and more scholars and researchers have paid much attention to the learning methods in order to improve their learning ability and achievement. In my own school and university experience, I found that students’ learning ability and achievement has much to do with the language learning strategies, especially the affective learning strategies. As we know, language learning strategies are what the teachers and students should know in their teaching and studying. In my middle school time, it reminds me that most of my English teachers did not view learning strategies as a priority and even the few who did care about them knew little or nothing to apply them to their teaching or to help the students to learn English. Due to this fact, I set down to do some researches and write an article to make a study of the learning strategies.

1.1 Problems

In the past decades,much progress has been made in English teaching in China, but there are still some problems that we have to face .One of them is that in spite of consistent practice and hard work,many junior high school students can’ t use English properly after three years of learning, especially their oral English is very poor. They still use the old learning methods,and are passive in English learning. Although teachers always make their students change learning strategies,they can’t yet change this kind of embarrassing situation . And there is another phenomenon, many a students can do well in reading and the examinations, but when they are called to give a speech or do some oral exercises, they just can not open their mouth. It seems that there are something stuck in their throat. Both the teachers and students do not know how to solve this problem, so they don’t know how to improve their speaking ability.

1.2 Theoretical significance

This article mainly discusses the influences of the affective learning strategies on English speaking. So, before we start those points, let us know something about the theoretical significance of studying the learning strategies and oral communication.

1.2.1 The importance of studying the learning strategies

It is meaningful and important for us to learn how to employ efficient ways in English learning. First,autonomous learning is the ultimate goal for English teaching. And one of the most important ways to achieve this is to motivate students to develop their own thinking strategies and learning strategies. In junior high schools,because of the traditional teaching methods,students cannot develop their own learning strategies .Therefore, it is becoming more and more important to study how to help students develop and use efficient learning strategies.

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An old proverb tells us what to do in English teaching .It goes “Give a man a fish and he will eat it up for a day ,but teach him how to fish and he will have fish to eat. “So to help students to develop their own affective learning strategies is just like teaching them” how to fish”. So in English teaching it is very important to teach students how to develop learning strategies .If they master the ways to develop learning strategies and use them freely and correctly ,students can not only improve their English fast,but also enhance their sense of responsibility in learning English .

1.2.2 The importance of oral communication

In people’s daily lives most of them speak more than they write, so speaking is fundamental to human communication. Many students equate being able to speak a language as knowing the language and therefore view learning the language as learning how to speak the language, or as Noonan (1991) wrote, “success is measured in terms of the ability to carry out a conversation in the target language”. Therefore, if the students do not learn how to speak or do not get any opportunity to speak in classroom they may soon get de-motivated and lose interest in learning.

With China’s entry into WTO and successful bidding for holding 2010 EXPO in Shanghai, the need for proficient English speakers is surely increasing, which means more opportunities for those who can speak fluent English in their own fields. In order to meet this challenge and seize the opportunity, the students not only want to have profound knowledge for English reading and writing, but also need the ability to have oral communication with foreigners in English. So to improve the students’ ability of oral English is becoming an important task.

2. A General Review of Affective Learning Strategies

In the September of 2000, the new English Course Standard for the Basic Education Stage was issued and tried out. It’s greatly different from the past syllabus. The teaching contents and goal of the course standard includes skills, knowledge, culture, affective strategies and so on. Both The Syllabus for Junior Middle School English Course of the Nine year Fulltime Compulsory Education (Revised) and The Syllabus for Full-time Senior Middle School English Course mentioned “To help the students develop the effective English learning strategies” as the teaching goal. The problem here is that we failed to get proper affective learning strategies organized in teaching and learning practice. So the brief review of the foreign and Chinese applied linguists’ researches about the affective learning strategies in the latest years should be taken at first. And it starts from the following aspects:

2.1 The definition of affective learning strategies

Affective strategies concern the ways in which learners interact with other learners and native speakers or take control of one’s own feelings on language learning. Examples of such strategies are cooperation and question for clarification. The term affective refers to emotions, attitudes, motivations, and values. It is impossible to overstate the importance of the affective factors influencing language learning. Language learners can gain control over these factors through affective strategies.

“The affective domain is impossible to describe within definable limits,” according to H.Douglas Brown. It spreads out like a fine-spun net, encompassing such concepts as self-esteem, attitudes, motivation, anxiety, culture shock, inhibition, risk taking, and tolerance for ambiguity. The affective side of the learner is probably one of the very biggest influences on language learning success or failure. Good language learners are often those who know how to control their emotions and attitudes about learning. Negative feelings can stunt progress, even for the rare learner who fully understands all the technical aspects of how to learn a new language. On the other hand, positive emotions and attitudes can make language learning far more effective and enjoyable. Teachers can exert a tremendous influence over the emotional atmosphere of the classroom in three different ways: by changing the social structure of the classroom to give students more responsibility, by providing increased amounts of naturalistic communication, and by teaching learners to use affective strategies.

Self-esteem is one of the primary affective elements. It is a self-judgment of worth or value, based on a feeling of efficacy-a sense of interacting effectively with one’s own environment. Low self-esteem can be detected through negative self-talk, like “boy, am I a blockhead! I embarrassed myself again in front of the class.” The three affective strategies related to self-encouragement help learners to counter such negativity. A mount of anxiety sometimes helps learners to reach their peak performance levels, but too much anxiety blocks language learning. Harmful anxiety presents itself in many guises: worry, self-doubt, frustration, helplessness, insecurity, fear, and physical symptoms.

Tolerance of ambiguity—that is the acceptance of confusing situations-may be related to willingness to take risks (and also reduction of both inhibition and anxiety). Moderate tolerance for ambiguity, like moderate risk taking, is probably the most desirable situation. Learners who are moderately tolerant of ambiguity tend to be open-minded in dealing with confusing facts and events, which are part of learning a new language. In contrast, low ambiguity-tolerant learners, wanting to categorize and compartmentalize too soon, have a hard time dealing with unclear facts. Again, self-encouragement and anxiety-reducing strategies help learners cope with ambiguity in language learning.

2.2 Classification of affective learning strategies

There are two kinds of classifications: Chamot and O’Malley’s and Oxford’s

a: Chamot and O’Malley (1990) recognized three affective/social strategies: cooperation, questions for clarification, and self-talks.

b: Oxford (1990), otherwise, gave some more detailed items: lowering your anxiety, encouraging yourself, and taking your emotional temperature for affective strategies; and asking question, cooperating with others, and empathizing with others for social strategies. In this paper, I mainly talk about Oxford’s classification of the affective strategies. As shown in Figure 1

A. Lowering your anxiety

(Using progressive relaxation, deep breathing, or meditation, Using music, Using laughter)

Affective strategies B. Encouraging yourself(Making positive statements, Taking risk wisely, Rewarding yourself)

C. Taking your emotional temperature(Listening to your body,

Using a checklist, Writing a language learning diary)

2.2.1 Lowering your anxiety

Three anxiety-reducing strategies are listed here. Each has a physical component and a mental component.

Firstly, using Progressive Relaxation, Deep Breathing, or Meditation: Use the technique of alternately tensing and relaxing all of the major muscle groups in the body, as well as the muscles in the neck and face, in order to relax; or the technique of breathing deeply from the diaphragm; or the technique of meditating by focusing on a mental image or sound.

Secondly, using Music: Listen to soothing music, such as a classical concert, as a way to relax.

Thirdly, using Laughter: Use laughter to relax by watching a funny movie, reading a humorous book, listening to jokes, and so on.

2.2.2 Encouraging yourself

This set of three strategies is often forgotten by language learners, especially those who expect encouragement mainly from other people and do not realize they can provide their own. However, the most potent encouragement—and the only available encouragement in many independent language learning situations—may come from inside the learner. Self-encouragement includes saying supportive things, providing oneself to take risks wisely, and providing rewards.

Making Positive Statements: Say or write positive statements to oneself in order to feel more confident in learning the new language.

Taking Risks Wisely: Push oneself to take risks in a language learning situations, even though there is such a chance of making a mistake or looking foolish. Risks must be tempered with good judgment.

Rewarding Yourself: Give oneself a valuable reward for a particularly good performance in the new language.

2.2.3 Taking your emotional temperature

The four strategies in this set help learners to assess their feelings, motivations, and attitudes, in many cases, to relate them to language tasks. Unless learners know how they are feeling and why they are feeling that way, they are less able to control their affective side. The strategies in this set are particularly helpful for discerning negative attitudes and emotions that impede language learning progress.

Listening to Your Body: Paying attention to signals given by the body. These signals may be negative, reflecting stress, tension, worry, fear, and anger; or they may be positive, indicating happiness, interest, calmness, and pleasure.

Using a Checklist: Use a checklist to discover feeling, attitudes, and motivations concerning language learning in general, as well as concerning specific language tasks.

Writing a Language Learning Diary: Writing a diary or journal to keep track of events and feeling in the process of learning a new language.

Discussing Your Feeling with Someone Else: Talking with another person (teacher, friend, relative) to discover and express feelings about language learning.

3. The Influence of Affective Learning Strategies on Speaking

This article focuses on discussing about the influences of the affective learning strategies on oral English for junior high school students, which is also the researching point. We want to find out how does them influence the junior high school students’ oral English, and then according to what we found we can make some suggestions. The following paragraphs will talk about the influences of three different affective strategies on speaking in detail.

3.1 The influence of lowering your anxiety

As we all know in recent years, more and more foreign language researchers have taken learner variables, especially affective factors into consideration. “Among the affective factors influencing language learning, especially oral English speaking, anxiety ranks high”. “Psychologically speaking, anxiety refers to the intense and enduring negative feeling caused by vague and dangerous stimuli from the outside as well as the unpleasant emotional experience involved, such as anticipation, irritation and fear”. While language anxiety is the fear or apprehension occurring when a learner is expected to perform in the second language learning, it is associated with feeling such as uneasiness, frustration, self-doubt, apprehension and tension.

In my own experience, I and also my friends and classmates have anxiety problems, when we participate in the English corner or give a speech; they impede us to carry on. There are many other similar cases can be found. So lowering your anxiety becomes very important. Lowering your anxiety can help you accomplish your learning tasks more peacefully and more efficiently.

3.2 The influence of encouraging yourself

Confidence, also called as self-confidence, is a kind of optimistic emotion that language learners firmly believe they can overcome troubles to gain success. It is also a kind of active and upward emotional inclination that their real values can be respected by other people, collective, and society. Confidence is an important quality formed in the process of people’s growth and success, and was built on the basis of their right cognition. Setting confidence is to evaluate correctly himself, look for his merits, and affirm his capability. People often say that it is important for them to know themselves wisely. This “wisdom” embodies in not only seeing their merits, but also in analyzing their shortcoming. In fact, everyone owns great potentials, and everyone possesses his advantages and strong points. If we can objectively evaluate ourselves and on the basis of knowing our disadvantages and weak points to encourage ourselves, our strong sense of self-esteem and confidence can be stimulated.

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Confidence is to be a kind of active affective factor. As for foreign language learners, if you want to succeed, you should possess the major quality – confidence. It often plays a decisive role in foreign language learning. Confidence is just like catalyst of foreign language learner’s competence and can make all potentials be transferred, and let their potentials bring into play. However, foreign language learners who are lacking in confidence often hold suspicion on their competence. They often embody negative weakness, or lack stability and initiative. They should change their attitudes on the foreign language learning, build enough confidence. As a matter of fact, encouraging yourself is a very important way to gain confidence. So we can know how significant role does encouraging yourself play in improving the learners’ speaking ability.

3.3 The influence of taking your emotional temperature

Emotion, as we know plays a very important role in our life as well as in our language learning. Good emotions can help you lead a happy life and it also can help you do an excellent job when you are communicating with the others or making a speech to the public. On the contrary, bad emotions can help you nothing but ruin you instead. This strategy — taking your emotional temperature — helps learners to assess their feelings, motivations, and attitudes and, in many cases, to relate them to language tasks. Unless learners know how they are feeling and why they are feeling that way, they are less able to control their affective side. The strategies in this set are particularly helpful for discerning negative attitudes and emotions that impede language learning progress, and especially oral English learning progress. Through this set of strategies, the English learners can improve their speaking ability in a short time.

4. Findings and Analysis

In order to make this article more persuadable and authoritative, I made a questionnaire and also make an analysis. The aim of making findings and analysis is also to find the factors which impede the junior school students’ oral English ability, and then according to what we have found we can give some useful and effective suggestions to them.

4.1 Data collection

30 questionnaires were distributed and 27 were returned. All incomplete questionnaires were discarded because the results could not be described and analyzed unless all items were answered. In total, the data from 27 fully completed questionnaires were analyzed. All the questions are designed according to the affective strategies I mentioned in this thesis.

4.2 Data analysis

According to the questionnaires, I made a date analysis. I analyzed the proportion of students, who choose these options. And also I analyzed the proportion of them who had the speaking obstacles and who failed to adopt the useful ways to help them to train their affective strategies. These will be shown in the following two tables.

4.2.1 Application of affective learning strategies in a junior middle school

The table below shows that in general students sometimes use the affective strategies, although the level of use by strategy category differs in one way or another. The capitalized letter A, B, C, D, E orderly means:”I never or almost not do that”, “I usually don’t do that”, “I sometimes do that”, “I usually do that” and “I always or almost always do that”. The items from 6 to 16 refer to the questions about the affective strategies. The figures in the blanks are the percent of how many students choose the items A, B, C, D, and E. The appendix at the end of this article will give you a more detailed explanation.

From the table, a conclusion can be drawn that almost half of the students feel nervous or shy when they speak English, and the most important thing is that 51.9% of them cannot get rid of being nervous and 85.2 of them face the affective factors by themselves. They seldom talk about these things with others. And 70.4% of the students do not use music to lower their anxiety before they give a speech, when it refers to writing English diaries, it is even more serious. In all, the reason why this phenomenon occurs is that the students have a short cognition on the affective learning strategies. If they wanted to improve their speaking ability, the teachers should help them to have a comprehensive knowledge about them and help them apply them to their study. So the affective strategies should be paid attention to.

5 Suggestions

From the above analysis, besides the learner’s specific difference, social condition and learning task also greatly influence and restrict the students’ learning motivation and their learning strategy applications. The middle school students in our country need a better condition for their foreign language learning, which includes the richer understandable language input, especially the oral input; they also need more chance for practicing and using the foreign language. An ancient proverb says: “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach him how to fish and he eats for a life-time.” I think that guiding the students to improve some effective English learning strategies is a kind of approach to “give a man a fish” in order to expect him to “eat for a life-time”. So it is very important to teach the students the learning approaches and the learning strategies in order to develop their foreign language learning ability. If the students master the strategy knowledge and use the strategies freely and correctly, they can not only accelerate the foreign language learning, but also strengthen their learning sense of responsibility, autonomy, independence, and self-guiding and self- efficiency. Then the students’ inner learning motivation is aroused, so they can elaborate the facial role in the learning process, accelerate the English acquisition. Based on the above analysis and discussion, I want to give the following suggestions:

5.1 Improving speaking ability

This article has just presented the definition and the classification of the affective strategies in the first few parts. We know the functions of these affective strategies, but that is not enough. If we want to improve our speaking ability, we should know how to apply them to speaking. The following parts will talk about it in detail.

a). As it mentioned above, anxiety is a big negative factor which impede the English learners’ speaking. So we must lower our anxiety before we make a conversation. And there are some ways to help us to do that. Use progressive relaxation, deep breathing, or meditation, music, and laughter. When we are going to make a speech or do some oral exercises we can use these strategies.

b). Encourage yourself is also a very important strategy to help you to improve your speaking ability. And there are also three ways to encourage yourself. When we are studying, we can make some positive statements to remind us that we can do it, we can accomplish the tasks successfully. Here are some examples:

I understand a lot more of what is said to me now.

I am confident and secure about my progress.

I can get the general meaning without knowing every word.

And also when we train our speaking, we can take some risks wisely. May be we are always do the easy speaking tasks which may not be effective to us anymore, so we can challenge ourselves and do some difficult ones. The last way is that give yourself a reward when you gain something. But you should remember the rewards need not be tangible or visible. They can also come from the very act of doing a good job. Students can learn to relish their own good performance.

c). Taking your emotional temperature is one of the affective strategies. This set of strategies for affective self-assessment involves getting in touch with feelings, attitudes, and motivations through a variety of means. Language learners need to be touch with these affective aspects, so that they can begin to exert some control over them. The strategies described here enable learners to notice their emotions, avert negative ones, and make the most of positive ones. When the learners use this set of strategies they should take the following aspects into consideration. First, they should listen to their body. One of the simplest but most often ignored strategies for emotional self-assessment is paying attention to what the body says. Second, use a checklist. A checklist helps learners in a more structured way to ask themselves questions about their own emotional state, both in general and in regard to specific language tasks and skills. Third, discuss your feeling with someone else.

5.2 Training affective learning strategies

At the first of this article, it mentions the importance of studying affective learning strategies. According to that, we know it is important and necessary to study them. So the training of affective learning strategies is a must.

5.2.1 Goals of learning strategy training

The goal of strategy training is to teach students how, when and why strategies can be used to facilitate their efforts at learning and using a foreign language. By teaching students how to develop their own individualized strategy systems, strategy training is intended to help students explore ways that they can learn the target language more effectively, as well as to encourage students to self-evaluate and self-direct their learning. The first step is to help learners recognize which strategies they’ve already used, and then to develop a wide range of strategies, so that they can select appropriate and effective strategies within the context of particular tasks. Carrell (1983) emphasizes that teachers need to be explicit about what the strategy consists of, how, when, why it might be used, and how its effectiveness can be evaluated.

A further goal of strategy training is to promote learner’s autonomy and learner’s self-direction by allowing students to choose their own strategies, without continued prompting from the language teacher. Learners should be able to monitor and evaluate the relative effectiveness of their strategy use, and more fully develop their problem-solving skills. Strategy training can thus be used to help learners achieve learning autonomy as well as linguistic autonomy. Students need to know what their abilities are, how much progress they are making and what they can do with the skills they have acquired. Without such knowledge, it will not be easy for them to learn efficiently.

The strategy training is predicted on the assumption that if learners are conscious about and become responsible for the selection, use and evaluation of their learning strategies, they will become more successful language learners by improving their use of classroom time, completing homework assignments and in-class language tasks more efficiently, become more aware of their individual learning needs, taking more responsibility for their own language learning, and enhancing their use of the target language out of class. In other words, the ultimate goal of strategy training is to empower students by allowing them to take control of the language learning process.

5.2.2 Models for affective learning strategy training

Before talking about the models for affective learning strategies, I want to emphasize that learning environment is very important for training strategies. When the students meet some difficult problems, they should turn to advanced teaching facilities. It is not just a good way to study but also a very good learning strategy. So the school should take it into consideration.

By now, at least three different instructional frameworks have been identified. They are Pearson and Dole model, Oxford model, and Chamot and O’Malley model. They have been designed to raise student awareness to the purpose and rationale of affective learning strategy use, to give students opportunities to practice the strategies that they are being taught, and to help them understand how to use the strategies in new learning contexts. Each of the three approaches contains the necessary components of explicit strategy training: it emphasizes discussions about the use and value of strategies, encourages conscious and purposeful strategy use and transfer of those strategies to other contexts, and allows students to monitor their performance and evaluate the effectiveness of the strategies they are using.

(1) Pearson and Dole model

The first approach to strategy training has been suggested by Pearson and Dole (1987) with reference to first language, but it can also be applied to the study of second and foreign languages as well. This model targets isolated strategies by including explicit modeling and explanation of the benefits of applying affective , extensive functional practice with the strategy, and then an opportunity for transfer of the strategy to new learning contexts. Students may better understand the applications of the various strategies if they at first modeled by the teacher and then practiced individually. After a range or a set of affective strategies have been introduced and practiced, the teacher can further encourage independent strategy use and promote learners autonomy by encouraging learners to take responsibility for the selection, use, and evaluation of the affective strategies that they have been taught. Pearson and Dole’s sequence includes:

1. Initial modeling of the strategy by the teacher, with direct explanation of the strategy’s use and importance;

2. Guided practice with the strategy;

3. Consolidation , teachers help students identifiy the strategy and decide when it might be used;

4. Independent practice with the strategy; and

5. Application of the strategy to new tasks.

(2) Oxford model

As for the second approach to strategy training, Oxford et al. (1990) outline a useful sequence for the introduction of the affective strategies that emphasizes explicit strategy awareness, discussion of the benefits of strategy use, functional and contextualized practice with the strategies. This sequence is not prescriptive regarding strategies that the learners are supposed to use, but rather descriptive of the various strategies that they could use for a broad range of learning tasks. The sequence they is the following:

1. Ask learners to do a language activity without any strategy training;

2. Have them discuss how they did it, praise any useful strategy and self-directed attitudes that they mention, and ask them to reflect on how the strategies they selected may have facilitated the learning process;

3. Suggest and demonstrate other helpful strategies, mentioni


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