In language learning, vocabulary plays an important role, as pointed out by David Wilkins: ‘without grammar very little can be conveyed, without vocabulary nothing can be conveyed’ (Thornburry, 2002, p.13). Many researches have been done in vocabulary learning that are aiming to find the differences between good language learners and bad language learners. How do good learners achieve better than bad learners? Thornburry (2002) believed that good learners know how to learn, achieve a measure of autonomy and develop their own techniques or strategies.
Being aware of vocabulary learning has been indicated as very important. Decarrico (2001) believed that vocabulary learning strategies will help the students in finding out the meaning of new words and consolidating them once it has been understood. Therefore, it is very crucial to understand the strategies that conscious or unconsciously applied by good language learners. There are very common strategies in learning vocabulary, such as mnemonic devices, vocabulary notebooks, guessing meaning from context, and verbal and written repetition. The awareness of vocabulary learning strategies will help second language learners to improve vocabulary learning and enhance lexical competence. Moreover, knowing the factors that are influencing the use of vocabulary learning strategies can help teachers and researchers to design appropriate materials and activities.
The use of vocabulary learning strategies is influenced by several factors. Nyikos and Fan (2007) identified the four main factors that influence the use of vocabulary learning strategies, including learner’s level of proficiency, individual variation and gender, strategy development and proficiency, and learning environment. The aim of this study is to broaden current knowledge of the factors that are playing important roles in affecting students’ vocabulary learning strategies and further understand the most successful strategies used by good language learners.
Statement of the Problem
Even though students are studying in the same environment and receiving the same learning material from the teacher, each of them might show different strategies in learning vocabulary. Their choices are fully affected by the factors which influence the use of vocabulary learning strategies. Knowing and understanding why certain factors become the reason of vocabulary learning strategies choice will benefit the teachers and researchers so that they can design appropriate material for the students. Therefore, this research will seek to answer the following questions:
- What are the strategies that high school students use in learning vocabulary?
- What are the factor that influencing the use of vocabulary learning strategies of high school students?
Many studies have been published on the importance of strategies in language learning, however, there are still some critical issues in finding out the factors that influence their use. Do good learners apply different strategies from bad learners? What are the strategies that applied by good language learners and the elements that are influential on the use of those strategies?
Since there is a high interest in finding out what strategies applied by students when they are learning vocabulary, several research has been done in this area. Decarrico (2001) provided guessing meaning from context, mnemonic devices, and vocabulary notebooks. Meanwhile, Thornburry (2002) added the list by pointing out several strategies that are used by good vocabulary learners which include using mnemonics (using keyword technique or visual element), word cards/ flashcards, guessing from context, coping strategies for production, using dictionaries, spelling rules, keeping records, and motivation. Yet, Lawson and Hogben (1996) conducted a research which came out with more interesting result. The participants (17 female students learning Italian) showed the use of strategies such as repetition (reading of related words, simple rehearsal, writing of word and meaning, cumulative rehearsal, testing, subtotal), word feature analysis (spelling, word classification, suffix), simple elaboration (sentence translation, simple use of context, appearance similarity, sound link), and complex elaboration (complex use of context, paraphrase, mnemonic).
Oxford (1990) built a very comprehensive list of strategies that are classified into two big groups which are strategies for the discovery of a new word’s meaning and strategies for consolidating a word after it has been encountered (Schmitt, 1997, pp.207-208). Under the big two umbrellas, there are several kinds of strategy groups and the strategies themselves:
- Strategies for the discovery of a new word’s meaning
- Determination strategies, including: analyze part of speech, analyze affixes and roots, check for L1 cognate, analyze any available pictures or gestures, guess from textual context, bilingual dictionary, monolingual dictionary, word lists, and flash cards.
- Social strategies, including: ask teacher for an L1 translation, ask teacher for a paraphrase or synonym of new word, ask teacher for a sentence including the new word, ask classmates for meaning, and discover new meaning through group work activity.
- Social strategies, including: study and practice meaning in a group, teacher checks students’ flash cards or word lists for accuracy, and interact with native speakers
- Memory strategies, including: study word with a pictorial representation of its meaning, image word’s meaning, connect word to a personal experience, associate word with its coordinates, connect the word to its synonyms and antonyms, use semantic maps, use ‘scales’ for gradable adjectives, Peg Method, Loci Method, group words together to study them, group words together spatially on a page, use new word in sentences, group words together within a storyline, study the spelling of a word, study the sound of a word, say new word aloud when studying, image word form, underline initial letter of the word, configuration, use Keyword Method, affixes and roots (remembering), part of speech (remembering), paraphrase the word’s meaning, use cognates in study, learn the words of an idiom together, use physical action when learning a word, and use semantic feature grids.
- Cognitive strategies, including: verbal repetition, written repetition, word lists, flash cards, take notes in class, use the vocabulary section in your textbook, listen to tape of word lists, put English labels on physical objects, and keep vocabulary notebook.
- Metacognitive strategies, including: use English language media (songs, movies, newscasts, etc), testing oneself with word tests, use spaced word practice, skip or pass new word, and continue to study word over time.
- Strategies for consolidating a word once it has been encountered
There are several factors which influence vocabulary learning strategies use. These factors play important role as they are related with the use of strategies. The factors are including:
- Proficiency level of the learners
The use of strategies in learning vocabulary is different between proficient and less proficient learners. Research by Hosenfeld (1977), Ahmed (1989), Gu and Johnson (1996) described the strategies used by proficient learners which include reading at phrase level, keeping meaning in mind, guessing meaning from context, applying structured approach like monitoring and reviewing words they are learning, asking for assistance and tests, using written sources to verify knowledge, self-testing, using new words in real and imagined contexts, skilled use of dictionaries, taking notes, and paying attention to word formation (Nyikos and Fan, 2007).
Based on the research above, it can be indicated that proficiency level highly influences the use of strategies in vocabulary learning. To sum up, Nyikos and Fan (2007) believed that proficient students have required knowledge to use more varied strategies effectively than less proficient students. It is obvious that the required knowledge helps proficient learners to achieve better than less proficient learners, for example, in line with the strategies listed above, proficient learners can save more time and energy in using dictionaries than less proficient learners.
- Individual variation and gender differences
Gender is believed to have important part in learning language including vocabulary learning strategies. Who can use the strategies better: men or women? Catalan (2003) provided an interesting result which showed that “.. female participants exhibited a greater range of vocabulary learning strategies use, including formal rule-related strategies, input elicitation (social elicitation strategies), planning and rehearsal strategies, and consolidation strategies than males..” (Nyikos and Fan, 2007, p.257).
Even among good language learners, they do not have the same style in choosing the strategies. Gu (1994) believed that good learners are flexible and aware metacognitively to keep evaluating their strategies (Nyikos and Fan, 2007). Not all good learners apply the same strategies because they autonomously characterize their personal styles in learning.
- Strategy development and proficiency
Nyikos and Fan (2007) believed that good language learners decide to choose more appropriate and task-compatible strategies as they reach higher level of proficiency. Since good language learners are metacognitively aware, they develop their previous strategies and look for better ones. I think that this situation rarely happens in bad language learners who do not improve or develop their strategies even though they are posed with different tasks.
- Learning environment
Students who learn in EFL classroom tend to be less exposed with the need in practicing new words and applying strategies rather than ESL students. Thus, Nyikos and Fan (2007) highlighted learning environment, classroom-restricted FL versus socially-embedded ESL, as one factor which is affecting the use of vocabulary learning strategies.
- Years of language study
I believe that length of time spent in learning language will be positively related with the knowledge of strategies and how to use them. On the opposite, in the study conducted by Rahimi, Riazi, and Saif (2008), Iranian EFL learning context showed no relationship between years of language study and the use of learning strategies.
Oxford and Nyikos (1989) argued that motivation is the most important factor that are affecting language learning use (Rahimi, et.al., 2008). Learners who are more motivated use strategies more frequently than the less motivated learners.
Given the strategies that are applied by good language learners and factors which affect the use of vocabulary learning strategies, teachers can consider to examine the factors and select other useful strategies that can be taught to the students. They both are the most valuable data in designing a way to make students aware of strategies. The only way of doing this is by introducing them to the strategy instruction. Learning strategy instruction seems to be the final solution of how teachers can make bad language learners apply the strategies just like the good ones.
Chamot (2005) pointed out several significant issues in learning strategy instructions that are still not solved yet. Two of them seems to be highlighted in the area of research on strategy instruction. First, there has been different strong arguments on what language should be used in strategy instruction. Marco (2001) is in line with using L1 because it is impossible to use other languages during strategy instruction for beginner to low intermediate level students. Instructions and explanations are better to be delivered in L1. Second, experts have different ideas on whether strategy instruction should be embedded with the learning or be taught explicitly. Even though putting strategy instruction along with the learning process seems to be enjoyable for the students, I do not agree with this since they may forget strategies they have learned before and keep using the same one. It is much favorable to hold a session of strategy instruction where students are introduced with the strategies and how to use them.
This research will be conducted by using case study as the method. First, using Range software, three mostly used textbook material for high school students will be analyzed based on GSL/AWL list and BNC list as well. The most frequent words in baseword 2 and 3 will be used as tool to observe the use of strategies in learning these vocabularies. Second, as many as 150 students from 5 high schools in Jakarta will be requested to study a list of words. Third, students will be asked to answer a series of questions to find out the strategies that they have been using and haven’t. Besides using survey as an instrument, the researcher will also interview the students with the same purpose as the previous one. In the fourth step, the researcher will compare the students’ performance and strategies they are using. What are the strategies that the good language learners (students with good performance) using? What are the bad language learners preferring? After that, the fifth step is to observe and ask questions to the students to find out which factors that affect their choice of strategies. Finally, the results of the students’ strategies in learning vocabulary their performance in doing vocabulary task will be linked to the factors behind which affect their strategies’ choice.
The overal discussion in this research proposal showed the elements that are affecting the use of vocabulary learning strategies and a need of designing vocabulary learning strategy instruction. Different EFL context may give different result, thus, it is important in examining the strategies that applied by good language learners in your area and evaluating the influencing factors. However, it is not yet known of how vocabulary learning strategy instruction can be conducted by evaluating the elements which influence in the use of the strategies. Therefore, further research is highly needed to figure out how really helpful the factors are.
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