SCET Journal 2020/2021

Language Matters »

Effective Strategies for Language Learning and Engagement

Emma L. Peden

Teaching a foreign language can be a daunting task, but for the learner, it can be exponentially more challenging. In order to be successful as an instructor of a foreign language, it is imperative to be knowl- edgeable about both direct and indirect strategies for new language acquisition. “Since the amount of information to be processed by language learners is high in language classrooms, learners use different language learning strategies in performing the tasks and processing the new input they face” (Hismanoglu, 2000). In my own classroom, I have used many differ- ent strategies to help my students retain information and make connections to their own knowledge. The types of learning strategies for language acqui- sition can be broken down into “direct” and “indirect” (Hismanoglu, 2000). Under each of these catego- ries, there are subcategories. The subcategories for “direct” strategies include both memorization and cognitive approaches, while the “indirect” strategies include metacognitive, affective, and social approach- es (Hismanoglu, 2000). I have experimented with both direct and indirect forms of strategies and found that when I use any set of direct strategies, the indirect ones often implement themselves naturally through collaborative work and connections made between content. While direct strategies allow students and teachers to lay the foundation for what they are learn- ing, indirect strategies foster higher-order thinking and introspective activities that result in a deeper under- standing and connection to the material. I frequently begin any unit with some form of direct strategy. This will include direct note taking, presen- tation of any number of PowerPoints, and videos on grammar concepts. The students actively take notes and write down new vocabulary. I use visuals to help my students. I allow for freedom of choice as often as possible. In doing so, I am creating ways for my students to be a part of their own education. I give options, and I allow them to make their own choices. For example, I let my students draw their vocabulary words instead of writing their translations. For some, this is very helpful. I try to tap into my students’ mem- orization abilities by having the students listen to the

pronunciation of each new word and repeat it. We also use charts for memorization of verb conjugations. Reading is also a key element in the beginning of any unit. I try to ensure that the students are reading aloud small sentences, passages, and short stories that use the vocabulary words we are learning, as well as a high number of cognates. Any reading material that contains a generous number of cognates helps the students process the information better and make connections to their dominant language. Many of these exercises fall under the cognitive category of direct strategies. Cognitive strategies also include clarification or verification, guessing or inductive infer- encing, deductive reasoning, practice, and monitoring (Hismanoglu, 2000). Indirect strategies are used in my classroom after the introduction of the material has been established. I find that with my indirect strategies, there tends to be a higher level of learning because the students begin to take what they are learning and put it into practice. Some indirect strategies are known as social strategies, and these require students to collaborate with one an- other (Hismanoglu, 2000). Collaborative work tends to help the students draw on their strengths and spot their weak points. By working together, the students can scaffold their knowledge and creativity. They can build on one another’s assets and conquer assignments by helping one another with understanding. One of the collaborative projects that I most enjoy requires the students to come up with a storyboard using random words in Spanish. I ask the students to create a dialogue or story using the words that they are given. Then, the students perform their dialogues or act out their scenes. I find that any strategy that allows students to have creative control will be more engaging than an assignment that comes with a list of stringent rules. While there are parameters for every assignment, it is important to let the students guide their own learning at times. Giving our students the freedom to make choices and develop their own inferences allows them to think more deeply about the material and to make connections. Furthermore, if they are enjoying what they are learning, they are more




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