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Research Into Chinese Efl Learner Strategies: Methods, Findings and Instructional Issues Lawrence Jun Zhang RELC Journal 2003; 34; 284 DOI: 10.1177/003368820303400303 The online version of this article can be found at: http://rel.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/34/3/284

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[RELC 34.3 (2003) 284-322] ISSN 0033-6882

RESEARCH INTO CHINESE EFL LEARNER STRATEGIES: METHODS, FINDINGS AND INSTRUCTIONAL ISSUES Lawrence Jun Zhang National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore [email protected]

ABSTRACT Spearheaded by Rubin (1975) and others (e.g. Stern 1975), extensive research into language learner strategies (LLS) has been conducted to investigate successful and less successful learner behaviours in the West in the field of second language acquisition (SLA). Research into EFL learner strategies in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is beginning to gain some momentum and can be roughly divided into two major strands. One is some sporadic writings about language learners’ learning methods possibly without the writers being explicitly exposed to influences from this learning theory. The other is empirical research through different data elicitation methods in the Western empirical research tradition. While the first strand relies heavily on anecdotal evidence on general learner behaviours, the other has explored, so far, different skill areas, including strategies for oral communication, listening strategies, vocabulary learning strategies, reading strategies, writing strategies, LLS in general, and learner metacognition of learning processes. It seems that almost all the studies have tried to establish correlations between learner strategies and language learning achievements. This article examines how research into Chinese EFL learner strategies has contributed to the understanding of Chinese EFL students, trying to find a link between this information and its insight into pedagogical practices in the classroom.

Introduction It has been one and a half decades since the publication of Young’s (1987) and Wong’s (1988) frequently cited reviews on research into Chinese © The Continuum Publishing Group Ltd 2003, The Tower Building, 11 York Road, London SE1 7NX and 15 East 26th Street, Suite 1703, New York, NY 10010, USA.

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learners in a broader sense than what is reported in this paper. Much research into Chinese (PRC) EFL learners has been conducted since then. One of the exuberant branches of the research focuses on language learner strategies (LLS), which has been regarded as a relatively new area of academic and pedagogical inquiry in SLA. In response to the quick developments in the field, this paper intends to serve as an update. I argue, as do Young (1987), Wong (1988) and Jin and Cortazzi (2002), that the Chinese EFL learning context and learning culture are special entities deserving particular attention. For example, Young (1987) argues that, The teaching of English to speakers of other languages, like any teaching, does not occur in a sociocultural vacuum. The culture of the learners, which I take to mean the meanings which those learners assign to events in which they are participants, derives from the culture of the communities in which they grow up, and is influenced by the roles which members of that community expect learners to take. On the other hand, the interpretations which teachers place on the events in which they are co-participants with their students may in some cases differ from the interpretation placed on the same events by the students, and the resultant misunderstandings may cause serious educational problems (p. 15).

Wong (1988) critically reviewed research into such areas as phonology, morphology, the typographical transfer hypothesis, written discourse, spoken discourse and sociolinguistic competence, and reading. She focused on analysing approaches and noting trends. However, due to space, she confined herself to the above areas and did not discuss studies of social/ affective factors affecting language acquisition. Both Young’s and Wong’s points seem to have been well taken in recent LLS research, as will be seen in the sections that are focused on LLS. It would be right to say that LLS research has been evolving, heralded by research into general learning, or study, strategies, in educational or cognitive psychology (e.g. Anderson 1979; McKeachie 1974; cf. later work by Weinstein 1981; Weinstein et al. 1988). After the research in pursuit of ‘what a good language learner is’ was initiated by language educators and applied linguists in North American contexts (Rubin 1975, 1981; Stern 1975), the field of language teaching and learning began to shift its attention to the characteristics of a good language learner. Worldwide, increasingly more research into language learner behaviours has incorporated the concept in studying the approaches and tactics that learners employ to achieve their learning objectives (see, e.g., Goh 1999; Liu et al. 1989; O’Malley and Chamot 1990; Oxford 1990, 1996; Rubin 1975, 1981; Wenden and Rubin 1987; L. Zhang 2002). This paper will © The Continuum Publishing Group Ltd 2003.

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review research into learner strategies conducted on Mainland Chinese EFL students.1 It will take a critical view on the LLS research into mainland Chinese EFL learners who learn the target language in a sociocultural context unique in itself. For practical reasons and limited by constraints, it will restrict itself mostly to the literature published in international journals in English, and in major Chinese journals on foreign language teaching and research, only with occasional reference to publications elsewhere.2 LLS Research for Learning Effectiveness Spearheaded by Rubin (1975) and Stern (1975) and colleagues, extensive research into LLS has been conducted to investigate successful and less successful learner behaviours in the West (Naiman et al. 1978; see Oxford 1993, 1996, for reviews). This body of research intended to find out how good and poor language learners differ in strategy choice. So far, it seems that there is no unanimous agreement on what a good language learner is in terms of ideal strategy use. Or, one may dare say that a standard ‘good language learner’ does not in reality exist. Nevertheless, it is generally agreed that ‘a good language learner’ is someone who is metacognitively aware of the processes in language learning and uses metacognitive, cognitive and socioaffective strategies flexibly and effectively (Cohen 1998; Oxford and Cohen 1992; Wenden 1998). Even though efforts have been made to find out how good and poor learners differ (e.g. Naiman et al. 1978, as mentioned above, among others), work on Chinese EFL learner strategies is still relatively insufficient. The available work can be roughly divided into two major strands. One is some sporadic writings on learners’ language ‘learning methods’ possibly without being explicitly exposed to influences from this learning theory-based research tradition (e.g. Kohn 1992; Wood 1981). The other is empirical research through different data elicitation methods (e.g. Liu et al. 1989; Wen 1995, 2001; Wu et al. 1996; Zhao 1991). While the first strand relies heavily on teachers’ summary of what they have found about general learner behaviours through years of teaching or based on anecdotal evidence, the other has explored, so far, through careful research designs, different skill areas, including strategies for oral communication (Huang 1984; Huang and van Naerssen 1987; Chen, 1990), listening strategies (Goh 1997, 1998, 1999, 2002; Jiang 1994; Liu 1996), vocabulary learning strategies (Gu 1994, 2002; Gu and Johnson 1996; P.

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Zhang 2001), reading strategies (L. Zhang 1999), and LLS in general (Wu et al. 1993, 1996; Ma 1999; Wen 1993, 1995; Wen and Johnson 1997). It seems that almost all the studies have tried to establish correlations between learner strategies and language learning achievements. Another major trend seems to be a focus on learner perceptions of language learning processes. The emphasis on further exploring learner problems through other measures such as diaries and think-aloud procedures (Ericsson and Simon 1993) seems to have produced some interesting findings about how learners themselves perceive their difficulties in learning EFL. For example, good and poor learners differ in their metacognitive awareness of themselves as learners, the nature and demand of the task, and applicable strategies in language learning (Goh 1997, 1999; L. Zhang 2000a, 2001a 2002; P. Zhang 2001). In the sections that follow, a discussion on the terminology in LLS research precedes an examination of how research studies on Chinese EFL learner strategies have contributed to our understanding of them. The findings from the studies are analysed, compared and interpreted with respect to the methodological and instructional considerations in the hope that Chinese EFL learners are put in a relatively comprehensive perspective so that effective instructional practices can be suggested to enhance pedagogical efficiency. Terms: Strategies, Tactics, Techniques and Moves Before reviewing this research, certain concepts surrounding second and foreign LLS research are clarified. This is necessary because the same term used in one study might have different connotations in another. Earlier research into LLS focused on identifying successful and unsuccessful learner strategies (e.g. Rubin 1975; Vann and Abraham 1990) in order to impart the large repertoires of effective strategies to less successful learners to increase their language-learning efficacy. This body of research has helped us understand language learners tremendously. In studies that focus on identifying strategies, the term strategies has generally been used interchangeably with tactics (in cognitive psychology as well as in LLS research) until recently when Schmeck (1988) made a distinction between the two in the field of education. He did so because he thought that this distinction would draw attention to the dimension of ‘specificity-generality’. Also the study of individual differences often requires that researchers look at behaviour from the more general per-

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spective. So he argued that ‘the term tactics refers to the specific activities of learners and the word strategies refers to their more general plan or approach’ (p. 171). Therefore, strategy is a cluster of higher level learning tactics, and the choice of tactics by a student is guided by his or her strategy, and the learning outcome is also determined by this choice (Schmeck 1988). Coming to the field of L2 (especially EFL) LLS literature terms such as strategy, technique (Stern 1975), tactic (Seliger 1984), and move (Sarig 1987) are used. However, Goh (1998, 1999, 2002) has worked within Schmeck’s (1988) classification and made a distinction between a strategy and a tactic. By and large, the research literature on second/foreign LLS uses the two to refer to both the general approaches and to specific actions or techniques (cited in Cohen 1998: 10-11). However, Oxford and Cohen (1992) caution that there might be confusions about the hierarchical relationships among strategies (see also Cohen, 1996). This is a point that needs to be taken as advice in future research studies. Furthermore, while pointing out the terminological and conceptual issues that need clarification, Cohen (1998: 10) says that ‘the issue is one of how to refer to these various cognitive or metacognitive processes’ such as strategies, techniques, tactics and moves. He points out that strategies range from more general to more specific—general strategy→specific strategy→more specific→still more specific→more specific than that. He has suggested a solution to the problem, which is that all of these terms would be referred to simply as strategies, while acknowledging a continuum from the broadest to the most specific. This makes the operationalization of the definition much easier. Researchers have generally worked within such a broad definition along this line with reference to Chinese EFL learners (see, e.g., Liu et al. 1989; Gu and Johnson 1996; Wen and Johnson 1997; L. Zhang 1999, 2002, 2003). Even though this is acknowledged as a feasible solution, an important issue arose; that is, because of researchers’ various operationalizations of what a strategy entails, the research findings are difficult to compare. This difficulty is also due to the different classificatory systems used. It is particularly so when researchers have focused on eliciting possible strategies used by their subjects based on different operational frameworks for reference. Indeed, three categories of strategies (metacognitive, cognitive and socioaffective) have been proposed (Cohen and Oxford 1992; O’Malley and Chamot 1990; Rubin 1981) and researchers have generally followed this framework, but the specific strategies embedded under each of these three

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have varied among researchers, especially as regards metacognitive and cognitive strategies. The issue is compounded by the names given to identical strategies by different researchers. It seems necessary that researchers standardize the names to be given to the strategies based on available research findings where a wide range of strategies have already been listed. Objectives, Methods and Findings The overarching objective of the LLS research into Chinese EFL learners, like its counterparts in many other sociocultural/sociolinguistic contexts, has been concerned with identifying and comparing strategies used by successful and less successful learners. This is logical in its own right. The earliest research report accessible so far is Huang (1984; see also Huang and van Nearssen, 1987), which could be regarded as one that heralded the start of Western empirical research methods in Chinese scholars’ work on EFL learner strategies in the field of applied linguistics, language teaching or more broadly, in SLA in the Mainland. From then on until the present day, research reports have been published documenting differences between successful and less successful learners (e.g. Goh 1998; Gu and Johnson 1996; Liu et al. 1989; Jiang 1994; Wen 2001; Wen and Johnson 1997; Wu et al. 1993, 1996; L. Zhang 2001a). With regard to the methodology, it seems that earlier reports on Chinese EFL learners’ learning methods were based on the writers’ summary, or anecdotal evidence, of what they observed from their classroom teaching experience and there was no mention of the research methods used. It is my assumption that these reports were not motivated by the empirical research tradition. Nevertheless, it will also be misleading if such work is completely rejected (e.g. Field 1985; Wood 1981).3 Summative reports by these experienced teachers are equally valuable if the assertions are complemented by empirical evidence. It seems that only recently have research studies on Chinese EFL learners begun to argue for the validity of their findings based on empirical data (L. Zhang 2002). Research methods used in these studies hitherto are summarized below.4 In summary, the following are the major thrusts in terms of research designs adopted for LLS research with reference to Mainland Chinese EFL learners: 1.

Questionnaires (either adapted or self-designed) (e.g. Gu and Johnson 1996; Huang 1984; Huang and van Naerssen 1987; Goh 2002; Goh and Kwah 1997; Liu et al. 1989; Ma 1999; Wen 1993, 1995, 2001; Wen and Johnson 1997; Wu and Wang 1998;

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3.

4. 5.

Wu et al. 1996; L. Zhang 2002; P. Zhang 2001) Interviews (either open-ended, semistructured, or structured) (e.g. Huang 1984; Huang and van Naerssen 1987; Goh 1997, 1999; L. Zhang 2000a, 2001a) Think-aloud protocol analyses (either concurrent introspective or retrospective think-out-loud method) (e.g. Goh 1998; Gu 1994; Wang and Wen 2002; Yu 1999; L. Zhang 1999) Learner diary or journal entry analyses (e.g. Goh 1997, 1999; Parry 1995, 1996; Wen 1995) Experimental designs (e.g. Chen 1990; S. Liu 1996)

Although the list here makes a deliberate attempt to classify the studies into one of the five categories in terms of the research methods used, in several cases, the same research reports have used two or three methods for data elicitation (e.g. Huang 1984; Wen and Johnson 1997) to triangulate the methods as well as the data (e.g. Wen 1993; L. Zhang 1999). In such cases, these reports are classified into more than one category. Table 1 is a comprehensive, though not an exhaustive, overview of the findings from such research. Language Skill Areas Researched and Major Findings For the sake of clarity, the following review is conducted in accordance with the chronological sequence in which the research reports became available or accessible to readers. Some of these reports are in thesis/ dissertation form, while the majority are publications in academic journals or conference proceedings/collections. Oral Skills Huang (1984) and Huang and van Naerssen (1987) are two early research reports on Chinese EFL learners’ strategies for oral communication. As the Huang and van Naerssen (1987) report was based on part of the data of Huang (1984), a focus on Huang (1984) seems more illustrative. Huang (1984), by asking her respondents to answer her questionnaire and interviewing them after the survey procedure, found that functional practice had a critical role to play in language learning, and oral proficiency was most predicted by ‘reading aloud’. Chen’s (1990) study is experimental in research design. She designed concept-identification tasks (24 lexical items) to identify communication strategies used by advanced EFL majors of differing grades at tertiary © The Continuum Publishing Group Ltd 2003.

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level. She found that the frequency, the type and the effectiveness of communication strategy use varied in relation to proficiency levels, with highproficiency learners using more strategies than their low-proficiency counterparts. The distance between L1 and L2 was also found to affect the subjects’ choice of communication strategies. The findings might have something to do with how EFL was taught during the period when communicative language teaching had just been introduced into Chinese classrooms (cf. Li 1984; Wu 2001; Yu 2001). Comprehensive Surveys of EFL Learner Behaviours A research project (1987-1991) carried out at the Beijing Foreign Studies University on Chinese EFL learners investigated 17 variables and 13 factors affecting learning achievement with a sample of 250 English majors from six foreign language institutes/ universities across China (Liu et al. 1989; Wu et al. 1993, 1996). Statistical analyses showed that six factors, i.e., language aptitude, motivation, institution type, sex, middle school type, and field-independent cognitive style contributed their greatest shares in improving learner proficiency, accounting for 63.4% of the variance. Although Liu, Wu and colleagues explored learner strategies (including formal practice, functional practice, memory and self-management) as one possible cluster of variables contributing to learners’ success in language learning, the regression model did not show its obvious role. The reason could be that learner strategies as a cluster variable might include several skill areas, and the different proficiency levels in each skill area might cover up the overall proficiency level of the subjects investigated, as commented by Jiang (1994). However, this is so far the largest scale survey ever conducted on English majors at the tertiary level in Mainland China. Reporting on part of the Wen (1993) doctoral research data, Wen and Johnson (1997) focused on surveying 242 English majors’ English achievement in relation to L2 learner variables from five tertiary institutes in Nanjing and Shanghai. Sixteen learner variables were established, but Partial-Least-Squared (PLS) analyses found that only six variables had direct effects on learner achievement, which included three learner traits, i.e., sex, L1 and L2 proficiency, and three clusters of learner strategies, i.e., vocabulary learning, tolerating ambiguity (risk-taking), and mother tongue avoidance. Management strategies were found to have the strongest indirect effect on English achievement. Strong and consistent effects were found for belief variables on strategy variables. Their qualitative data further illustrated differences between successful and less successful learners in strategy use (see also Wen and Wang 1996, for similar findings). © The Continuum Publishing Group Ltd 2003.

Table 1. A Chronological and Selective Review of Learner Strategy Research into Chinese EFL Learners Researcher

Sample Size

Huang 1984; Huang and van Naerssen 1987

60

Field 1985

U/A*

Melton 1990**

331

Chen 1990

12

Sample’s EFL Proficiency Level Tertiary advanced EFL majors

Instruments for Data Elicitation

Objectives and Purposes

Self-designed questionnaire and interviews

To identify learner strategies in oral communication in English, mainly functional and practice strategies

Tertiary advanced EFL teacher trainees

Author assertion/summary based on anecdotal evidence

To describe the reading situation and to propose a Chinese EFL reading model based on Coady’s (1979) psychological reading model

Mixed levels of EFL majors and non-majors at 5 tertiary institutions 2nd year graduates and 3rd year undergraduates in Guangzhou FLI

Adapted and translated learning styles questionnaire (Reid 1987) Self-designed conceptidentification tasks (24 lexical items)

To identify Chinese EFL learners’ learning style preferences

To identify communication strategies in English in relation to levels of EFL proficiency

Main Findings

Functional practice in language learning has a critical role and reading practice ‘stood out as the most significant predictor of oral proficiency when examined along with speaking and listening practice’ (1987: 287). Chinese students’ use of reading strategies is characterized with low-level process strategies, but not with abstract, conceptual strategies; their ‘process strategies and conceptual abilities are not fully reinforced…they are not able to use their conceptual abilities to the fullest potential’ (p. 179). Chinese EFL learners have multiple learning styles; no single category of style can be assigned to typify them.

Frequency, type and effectiveness of communication strategies vary according to proficiency level. High proficiency students use more communication strategies than their lowproficiency counterparts.

Researcher

Sample Size

Zhao 1991

60

Kohn 1992

U/A

Wen 1993

242

Gu 1994

2

Jiang 1994

348

Wen and Wang 1996

1081

Sample’s EFL Proficiency Level Tertiary 1st and 2nd year EFL majors

Advanced tertiary EFL majors and non-majors Tertiary 2nd year EFL majors Tertiary 2nd year non EFLmajors 2nd year EFL majors at 11 tertiary institutions Tertiary 2nd year non EFLmajors

Instruments for Data Elicitation

Objectives and Purposes

Main Findings

Politzer and McGroarty’s (1985) Language learning Strategies Questionnaire Assertions based on teaching experience

To identify what kind of language learning behaviour Chinese EFL learners demonstrate in the classroom

Chinese EFL learners’ classroom behaviour has a close relationship with their EFL achievement; students’ self-learning behaviour and communication behaviour are related to students’ vocabulary size. Chinese EFL teachers encourage students to use strategies, which are discouraged by reading teachers in American universities.

Questionnaires

To make claims about Chinese EFL learners’ literacy strategies and their potentials and pitfalls when studying in American universities To find a relationship between learner strategies and EFL achievement

Think-aloud verbal report

To identify vocabulary learning strategies of good and poor EFL learners

Questionnaires and language proficiency tests

To identify learner strategies and their relationship to their EFL listening comprehension

Self-designed Questionnaires

To find a relationship of learner variables to scores on CET-Band-IV

Of 15 variables, a combination of traditional and non-traditional learning approaches makes a better contribution to learners’ EFL achievement. Good reader tries to assign meaning to vocabulary, but the poor reader tends to be rigid in strategy use. Functional practice in language learning and reading practice better predict EFL majors’ comprehensive listening comprehension ability. Of 16 variables, six variables have direct effects on EFL achievement: Sex, L1 proficiency, L2 proficiency, Vocabulary learning, Tolerating ambiguity and Mother tongue avoidance; Management strategies have the strongest

Researcher

Sample Size

Sample’s EFL Proficiency Level

Instruments for Data Elicitation

Objectives and Purposes

Main Findings

indirect effects on EFL achievement. Belief variables have strong direct effects on strategy variables. To examine the relationships between cultural membership, literacy traditions and individual language learning behaviour To identify vocabulary learning strategies and the relationships between particular strategies and measures of proficiency and vocabulary size

Parry 1996

25

Tertiary EFL teacher trainees

Diaries and classroom observation

Gu and Johnson 1996

850

Tertiary 2nd year non EFLmajors

Self-designed questionnaires

Wu et al. 1996

250

2nd year EFL majors in 6 FL institutes

11 instruments, see Wu et al. (1996: 7) for description

To identify learner factors and their effects on EFL learning

Goh and Kwah 1997***

174

Tertiary 1st year EFL/ESL learners

Strategies Inventory for Language Learning (Oxford 1990)

To identify learner strategies and the effects of gender and proficiency on strategy use

There are relationships between cultural membership, L1 literacy traditions and reading strategy use. Self-initiation, selective attention, contextual guessing, skilful use of dictionaries, notetaking, paying attention to word formation, contextual encoding and activation of newlylearned words are predictors of EFL achievement. Aptitude, motivation, higher institution type, gender, types of middle schools, and fieldindependent cognitive style have greater effects on learners’ EFL achievement. Metacognitive strategies are most frequently reported, while memory strategies are least frequently reported; there are gender differences in cognitive and compensation strategies among learners of three proficiency levels; female students use compensation and affective strategies more frequently.

Researcher

Sample Size

Sample’s EFL Proficiency Level Tertiary EFL majors in 5 institutions

Instruments for Data Elicitation

Objectives and Purposes

Self-developed questionnaires

To identify learner strategies and their relationship to language learning outcomes

EFL Majors at 3 tertiary institutions Tertiary 1st year EFL/ESL learners

Keefe and Monk’s (1990) Learning Styles Test Think-aloud, interviews and learner diaries

To identify EFL learning style preferences of Chinese EFL learners

202

Tertiary 2nd year non-EFL majors

Adapted questionnaire based on O’Malley and Chamot (1990)

To investigate the relationship between vocabulary learning strategies and the quality and quantity of students’ vocabulary knowledge

265

Mixed levels of tertiary EFL majors and non-majors

Adapted and translated version of SILL (Oxford 1990), interviews

To survey learning strategies and the influence of proficiency level, gender, and field of specialisations on strategy use

Wen and Johnson 1997

242

Yu 1997*

149

Goh 1998***

40

Wu and Wang 1998

Ma 1999

To identify listeners’ comprehension strategies and perceptions about ESL listening in relation to proficiency levels

Main Findings

Six variables have direct effects on EFL achievement: three are traits pertinent to students’ admission to universities, and other three are clusters of strategies; tolerating ambiguity is negatively correlated; management strategies have the strongest indirect effect on achievement. Learners’ sequential processing ability and memory capacity have predictive effects on their learning achievement (R2 = .10447). Nine metacognitive and three cognitive strategies are identified; both high-ability and low-ability listeners have metacognitive knowledge about listening in a second language. There were correlations between vocabulary learning strategies and the quality and quantity of the subjects’ vocabulary knowledge; there were significant differences between good and poor learners in strategy use on all the 10 categories of strategies Gender has no significant effect on the choice of such strategies as memory, metacognitive and affective strategies, but significant difference is found in strategy choice by students of different majors.

Researcher

Sample Size

Sample’s EFL Proficiency Level Tertiary 2nd year non-EFL majors

L. Zhang 1999

312

Wen 2001

72

Tertiary 1st, 2nd and 3rd year EFL majors

Gu 2002

850

Tertiary 2nd year non EFLmajors

Wang and Wen 2002

16

Mixed levels of tertiary EFL majors with 4 students from each four levels

Instruments for Data Elicitation Self-designed EFL-RSI, taskbased think-aloud verbal report and retrospective interviews based on the Flavell model (1979, 1987) Self-designed questionnaire (Wen 1993)

Self-designed Questionnaire and a vocabulary size test Think-aloud protocol analysis

Objectives and Purposes

Main Findings

To explore learners’ metacognitive knowledge of EFL learning and their use of reading strategies

Differences are found between successful and less successful EFL readers in metacognitive knowledge of person/self, task, and strategy not only in quantitative measures, but also in quality, and the combined contribution of the strategy-variables to learners’ success in reading is R2 = .219. Gender differences are not found significant when effect sizes are taken into consideration (η2 < .10). There are statistical significant differences in the subjects’ perceptions of the variables over a three-year period, all of which increasing with the grade they are in at the university; there are stable relations among all the variables; and motivation affects beliefs and strategies, and beliefs affect strategies There are significant gender differences in strategy use, with women using more strategies than men, but the differences between science and arts students are not statistically significant. They were able to use their L1 and L2 when composing in their L2. There was a higher likelihood that they relied on L1 when managing their writing processes, generating and organizing ideas, but more likely to rely on

To examine developmental patterns of modifiable learner variables, their relationships on a longitudinal basis

To discover differences in vocabulary learning strategies and learning outcomes across gender and academic majors To examine their use of L1 in their composing in L2

Researcher

L. Zhang 2002

Sample Size

160

Sample’s EFL Proficiency Level

Pre-U ESL learners in Singapore who were to start their EAP program

Instruments for Data Elicitation

Chinese version of Carrell’s (1989) Metacognitive Awareness Questionnaire (MAQ)

Objectives and Purposes

To explore possible differences between high-scorers and low-scorers in their metacognitive awareness of reading strategies

Main Findings

L2 when undertaking task-examining and textgenerating activities Successful and less successful readers measured against IELTS scores are found different in their perceptions of two categories of strategies (difficulty and effectiveness) related to reading comprehension.

* U/A = Unavailable ** To my knowledge, these are the only two available research studies on Chinese EFL learners’ learning style preferences. *** The subjects were 1st year tertiary students from China and they did not start their studies in Singapore when the data was collected.

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Wen’s (2001) recent longitudinal study on the developmental patterns of modifiable variables, i.e., motivation, beliefs and strategies, and their relationships involved 72 English-major students at Nanjing University. Her comparison of the questionnaire data collected in 1996, 1997, and 1998 show that the relationships among all the three modifiable variables are fairly stable but changes are obvious in these three variables over a period of 3 years’ time. She reports that there are systematic patterns on the three variables in terms of the subjects’ perception change, resulting in statistical differences when t-tests or Chi-square tests were used to calculate them. She also finds that motivation affects beliefs and strategies, and beliefs, in turn, affect strategies. Vocabulary Learning Strategies Gu (1994, 2002), Gu and Johnson (1996), Wu and Wang (1998) and P. Zhang (2001) are empirical research reports which I will focus on to see what EFL learners’ vocabulary learning strategy use patterns look like. Gu’s (1994) analysis of a successful learner and an unsuccessful learner showed qualitative differences in strategy use in learning English vocabulary items in performing a reading task. The successful subject outperformed his unsuccessful classmate not only on metacognitive strategies, but also on cognitive ones. Gu and Johnson (1996) similarly aimed to establish relationships between strategy use and learning outcomes with 850 university non-English majors as subjects. They reported that their subjects used a wide variety of strategies, but in a multiple regression analysis, two metacognitive strategies, namely, self-initiation and selective attention, emerged as positively predicting English achievement as measured by College English Test (CET) Band 2. They also found positive correlations between CET Band 2 scores and contextual guessing, skilful use of dictionaries, note-taking, paying attention to word-formation, contextual encoding, and activation of newly learned words respectively. Gender differences were also found statistically significant, with females outperforming males in the number of strategies perceived to be used. Wu and Wang (1998) investigated vocabulary learning strategies of 202 non-English majors. They found that: (1) their subjects used a wide range of metacognitive and cognitive strategies for vocabulary learning; (2) there were correlations between vocabulary learning strategies and the quality and quantity of the subjects’ vocabulary knowledge; and (3) there were statistically significant differences between good and poor learners in strategy use on all the 10 categories of strategies (i.e. holding beliefs,

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advance-organising, self-monitoring, self-evaluating, selective attention, using contexts, guessing, using dictionaries, classifying, and memorising by rote). Strategies for vocabulary learning such as doing vocabulary exercises, association, guessing, using contexts, classifying, learning by rote, and consulting a dictionary were frequently used. P. Zhang (2001) compared the characteristics of vocabulary learning strategies used by Masters’ degree level English and non-English majors through a questionnaire and vocabulary exercises. Her findings show that, although there were overlaps in the choice of strategies between the two groups, the frequency of strategy use was statistically different, with nonEnglish majors reporting more varieties and higher frequencies of socioaffective vocabulary learning strategies than the English majors in learning basic vocabulary and with English majors reporting more uses of metacognitive strategies. The issue that intrigues researchers and practitioners alike would be whether it would be better if EFL learners use more strategies or the quality of strategy use would be more important for language acquisition. This seems to be a complex issue that deserves further investigation (see Cohen 1998; and Nation 2001, for insightful discussions). Listening Strategies The Liu et al. (1989) and the Wu et al. (1993) reports did not show any statistically significant contribution of the learner strategy variable to learners’ overall success in English learning, as briefly reviewed above; thus, Jiang (1994), as a member of the research team, further analysed the data in relation to listening comprehension and its subskills by increasing his sample size. He found, however, that of all the seven variables (i.e. functional practice, formal practice, memorization, listening practice, speaking practice, reading practice, and writing practice), functional practice and reading practice were better predictors of non-English majors’ overall listening comprehension and some subskills. The major findings corroborated with what Huang (1984) and Huang and van Nearssen (1987) reported. Goh (1998) reported on listening strategies used by Chinese ESL students who were learning English for academic purposes in Singapore. Her analyses showed that high-ability listeners used more strategies and tactics than the low-ability ones. Both groups used more cognitive strategies (e.g. inferencing, elaboration, prediction, contextualization, fixation, and reconstruction) than metacognitive ones (e.g. selective attention, directed attention, comprehension monitoring, comprehension evaluation, real-time

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assessment of input), and the low-ability listeners were particularly poor at metacognitive strategies. When Goh (1999) examined again these learners’ listening strategies and the tactics through which the strategies were operationalized, she identified altogether 44 listening tactics from her subjects’ retrospective verbalizations. In comparing two learners’ retrospective protocols, she found that although they used many similar strategies, the higher ability listener demonstrated more effective use of both cognitive and metacognitive tactics. She came to the conclusion that examining specific tactics was useful in clarifying some strategies in the literature and that an investigation of how individual tactics interacted in processing sequences could offer insights into cognitive differences between learners. Writing Strategies Research into Chinese EFL learners’ writing strategies is scant. Cheng (1994), Kirkpatrick (1997), Yu (1999), and Wang and Wen (2002) are four reports addressing issues related to Chinese students learning to write in EFL. As Cheng’s paper deals with how the teacher corrected students’ compositions/essays by locating learner error types emerging from their work in the writing process, it is difficult to put Cheng’s work into the category of writing strategies. Kirkpatrick (1997) examines traditional Chinese text structures and their influence on the writing in Chinese and English of contemporary mainland Chinese students. So his focus is on contrastive rhetoric. In this sense, Yu (1999) and Wang and Wen (2002) seem to be the only two that focus on examining strategies used by Chinese EFL learners in learning how to write in English. Regarding revision as a cognitive process (Flower and Hayes 1981), Yu’s comparative study of revision in L1 and L2 writing showed that revision was worthwhile in light of the reinterpretation of revision. By applying a methodological triangulation (thinking-aloud protocols, retrospective interviews, a questionnaire, and product study), the study revealed that the characteristics of revision in CL1 and EL2 writing are basically similar. The subjects made more after writing revisions than either mental revisions or simultaneous revisions, and they made more surface changes than meaning changes in both drafts. Some differences between CL1 and EL2 writing were also found: the subjects spending longer time on pre-draft planning made fewer revisions in CL1 writing but more revisions in EL2 writing. EL2 writing was a less fluent composing process than CL1 writing, and the use of the mother

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tongue led to more revisions, but it was a positive factor rather than interference in the sense that it helped the writers to express themselves. There was also an obvious transfer of revising skills from CL1 to RL2 writing. Yu concluded that revision could improve the overall quality of a text both in L1 and L2 writing. Wang and Wen (2002) reported on the composing processes of Chinese EFL students by focusing on examining their L1 use patterns when composing in their L2 and how such L1 use was affected by L2 proficiency and writing tasks. Sixteen Chinese EFL learners were asked to compose aloud on two tasks, narration and argumentation. Analyses of their thinkaloud protocols showed these students’ control over their L1 and L2 when composing in their L2. The likelihood of relying on L1 was higher when they were managing their writing processes, generating and organizing ideas, but when undertaking task-examining and text-generating activities, the likelihood of relying on the L2 was greater. They used more L1 in the narrative writing than in the argumentative task. The think-aloud protocols also showed a decline of L1 use with the writer’s L2 development, but the extent of the decrease in L1 use in individual activities varied. Reading Strategies It seems that, like writing strategies, reading strategies used by Chinese EFL learners in Mainland China have also been infrequently documented, although I do find reports on Chinese learners in other contexts. For example, Li and Munby (1996) examined the metacognitive reading strategies used by two Chinese students on the Social Sciences Masters programme at Queen’s College, Canada. They asked the participants to read two passages about which they were subsequently asked with regard to their use of reading strategies. Through interviews, think-aloud sessions and journals for data collection, they found that their participants used a variety of metacognitive strategies. The most common strategies were: ‘use of background knowledge’, ‘translation’, ‘self-questioning’, ‘summarization’, and ‘prediction’ (p. 204). One student used ‘picking out key words’ and the other used L1 domain to ‘compare and contrast’ what he had read. The authors concluded that the students were very adept at using strategies. They also found that as it was difficult for the participants to think in English on difficult passages, they reverted to their native Chinese on such tasks. Feng and Mokhtari (1998) compared the reading strategies used by mature American university Chinese readers of advanced English pro-

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ficiency levels who were asked to read easy and difficult Chinese and English texts and think aloud concurrently. They found that when reading the easy English and Chinese texts, their use of reading strategies in reading the two languages was similar; but when they were presented with the difficult Chinese and English texts, being native speakers of Chinese, who had already achieved extremely high levels of proficiency in the Chinese language, their use of reading strategies in these two tasks was different. When they were reading the Chinese text, their use of strategies was meaning-focused; in contrast, when they were reading the English text, they used low-level processing strategies. It should be pointed out that these two studies were conducted in North America, where English is used as the major language for these Chinese students in academic settings. So it is expected that their perceived and actual use of reading strategies would be different from that of their peers in the Mainland due to a change in the social and learning context (see, e.g., Goh and Liu 1999; Gu 1994; L. Zhang 1999, 2001a). In order to investigate learner strategies in EFL reading in relation to proficiency, L. Zhang (1999) used an EFL-Reading Strategy Inventory based on previous research (Anderson 1991; Block 1986, 1992; Carrell 1989) study. Like other studies reported in the literature, he found differences between successful and less successful EFL readers in strategy use. Of all the strategy variables, two were found predictive of EFL reading achievement—guessing at unknown vocabulary items and detailing vocabulary meaning. Metacognitive Awareness of Learning Processes Learner metacognition has been seen as a factor affecting effectiveness in language learning (Wenden 1998). Chinese EFL learners’ metacognition of language learning has been researched respectively by Goh (1997), Goh and Liu (1999), and L. Zhang (1999, 2000a, 2001a, 2002) within the Flavellian model (Flavell 1979, 1987). Goh’s (1997) report was based on her analysis of 40 Chinese ESL students’ diaries about their experiences of learning how to listen. She found that many of the students were quite clear about three aspects of listening—their own role and performance, the demands and procedures of L2 listening, and strategies for listening. She classified the first one into four major subcategories—cognitive processes during listening, problems during listening, obstacles to listening comprehension, and obstacles to listening development. She divided the second category into three subcategories—factors that affect listening compre-

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hension, input useful for developing listening and nature of second language listening. Regarding learners’ strategic knowledge, she put them into three subcategories—strategies that assist comprehension (e.g. use visual clues, guess or infer, etc.), strategies for developing listening (talk to competent speakers frequently, listen to all kinds of material, etc.), and strategies that do not always work (use existing knowledge, ask speakers to repeat, etc.). However, as the participants in Goh (1997) were PRC students who had already been on the English Communication Skills Programme in Singapore, the contextual factors might have played their roles in affecting learner metacognition of learning processes. Goh and Liu (1999) compared two groups of Chinese learners of English (one in the Mainland, and the other in Singapore) in terms of the metacognitive knowledge they held about language learning through a 50item questionnaire. They found that the two groups’ knowledge was basically similar except for the fact that the Mainland group had a set of strategies that the Singapore group did not support—memorization, translation and pattern drills. They explained that the foreign social context where the Singapore group studied for six months could be a factor that influenced their knowledge about effective learner strategies. Through analysing his interview data, L. Zhang (2001a) found that his student readers’ metacognitive knowledge related to person/self, task, and strategy variables within the Flavell (1979, 1987) model also differed according to EFL proficiency levels. The high-scorers reported using more frequently strategies such as ‘anticipating text contents, monitoring comprehension, stating a lack of background/schema knowledge, skimming for main ideas, guessing meaning from context through inferences, and asking for help for clarification’. In contrast, the low-scorers used ‘translating into L1, acknowledging a lack of lexical resources, and using dictionaries’ more frequently. He came to a conclusion that linguistic knowledge, strategic knowledge and other knowledge are equally important for efficient reading to take place (cf. Alderson 1984). Only having the knowledge is not sufficient if learners are not taught how to put this knowledge into its active roles in EFL learning and reading, as is maintained by Lehtonen (2000). So, L. Zhang (2002) made another attempt to explore how EFL learner awareness was correlated with reading performance. He drew the conclusion from the questionnaire data that learners’ metacognitive awareness of ‘strategies for effectiveness’ and of ‘strategies that are usually regarded as difficult’ was closely correlated with reading performance as measured by the IELTS scores.

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The preceding research review suggests that several issues need to be further explored in relation to Chinese EFL learner strategy research. They are addressed in the sections that follow. Research Methods In many cases, researchers used different measures to investigate the research questions and different classificatory systems with which to code the strategies elicited, and precisely because of this the research findings are difficult to compare. Some have also pointed out this dilemma in LLS research (e.g. Oxford and Cohen 1992; Oxford 1993). As regards Chinese EFL learners, I do not think this should be a severe constraint on the research design. And yet it seems that researchers have not done enough to show how learners differ in metacognitive, cognitive and socioaffective domains of language learning. Ideally, however, it would be better if there was one instrument that might function as a panacea or prototypical measure of a language learning strategy repertoire that Chinese EFL learners should have. This would greatly facilitate substantial classroom implementation of strategy training programs across a particular region, province, or even the country. Unfortunately, however, such an instrument would take some time to develop (or maybe there won’t be such an instrument), as one questionnaire instrument successfully used in one culture might not be able to inform the researcher of what learners think in another. Different cultural contexts would offer new challenges for research of this kind (Biggs and Watkins 1996; Oxford 1996; Rao 2002; Young 1987; Zhang et al.1999). It seems that the duration of the investigation into Chinese EFL learner strategies will be longer than expected before any commonly shared results are to be disseminated across the country for pedagogical application. Intercultural comparative studies of classroom practices or across subcultures within the country would also offer us some insight into how effective language learning should be represented (cf. Oxford 1996; Zhang and Skuja-Steele 2001). Researchers in the future might need to refer to previous research so that when they want to elicit data in order to find systematic patterns in them about learner behaviours, they have something to take as background work. Subject Selection The literature shows that, most often, researchers have focused their attention on tertiary students, either English majors or non-English majors. The © The Continuum Publishing Group Ltd 2003.

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large spectrum of middle school EFL learners has almost been forgotten in their research agendas. Studies focusing on middle school EFL students are really few in number (e.g. Lin 1999). Of course, it is understandable why the pendulum has swung towards tertiary students. One reason, I assume is that researchers are, in most cases, from universities and colleges and data collection would be much easier even without collaboration from other institutions given the big pool of subjects in one university or college. For another, research studies conducted by scholars at foreign tertiary institutions take up a big share. These scholars used to teach at the tertiary level before moving abroad for their higher degree studies. It is possible that there are other reasons as well. Nevertheless, the pendulum should also swing sideways, as it is well known that middle school learners are at a critical crossroad in terms of EFL learning, and once their problems are detected and solved, they can move forward smoothly in their English language learning journeys. Random sampling is another issue concerning subject selection. In what sense this is implemented is quite a concern, particularly if the pool for sampling is enormously small or enormously large. Related to this issue is representativeness. How representative the findings are of the total population under investigation should also be taken into serious consideration in research design in future research. Imports for Pedagogy The third issue to be addressed concerns the pedagogical implications that the research studies have suggested. It is unfortunate that most often there is no marriage in reality between research findings and classroom practice in the Chinese context. As is usually the case, it seems that the pedagogical implications of these studies have not been made available to the practitioners in the field, either. Or, researchers’ products have not been well promoted to their customers. As there is always a danger for researchers to promote their research findings to practitioners, the researchers themselves should try their own findings with particular groups of students. This is mainly because each research study has its limitations in terms of its generalizability. Therefore, the level of difficulty in the practitioners’ implementation is anticipated. Additionally, researchers themselves ought to present the pedagogical implications of their studies clearly so that practitioners can easily understand the procedures and steps in classroom practice. Although the majority of the research reports reviewed above are related to tertiary EFL

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students, tertiary teachers are either too busy with teaching or doing their own research to give any serious attention to how the research findings can be imported into language classrooms at the tertiary or the middle level. In large measure, the research findings have not been taken as being of any great help in classroom teaching. If some effort is made to import research findings into classroom practice and illustrate the meaning of their guiding roles in pedagogy, the significance would be much greater; hence some kind of partnership needs to be established between practitioners and researchers if the researchers themselves are not full-time teaching staff. The fact that some research studies have not been available to many language teachers is another contributing factor for scant application of research findings to the classroom. Many of these studies were reported and published outside China, although the subjects were taken from Chinese tertiary institutions. Under such circumstances, the difficulty in applying the research findings to classroom teaching is understandably greater. Insufficient Research into Reading, Writing and Oral Communication Strategies The review of research indicates that generally Chinese EFL students have a relatively large repertoire of learning strategies and successful and less successful learners differ not only in the quantity but also in the quality of strategy use. When it comes to the skill areas researched so far, it seems that almost every skill area needs to be further explored. A look at the journals published in China and international journals indicates that the amount of research into listening and vocabulary learning strategies is on the increase, but research into reading, writing and oral communication strategies has not been sufficiently documented. It seems that researchers need to exert more effort, especially on reading, writing and communication strategies. Ironically, reading has been popularly regarded as one efficient and easy way in which Chinese EFL learners learn the language most of the time, but the available research literature suggests an imbalance between the research conducted so far and the role reading plays in EFL programs across the country. Similarly, writing strategies have not been fully explored for the simple reason, it appears to me, that writing skills are the most difficult skills that would be expected of good learners who have achieved certain levels of attainment in EFL learning. It is my speculation that a general lack of research into Chinese EFL learners’ communication

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strategies may also be attributable to the higher expectations such a skill has of students. Although I will address my concern over writing and oral communication skills in the following section, due to space, and supposing it is justifiable, I would like to elaborate only a little more on related research conducted in the West into reading strategies so that researchers interested in this area can continue with what needs to be done using Chinese EFL students as subjects. The deliberations here are motivated by the consideration that in China reading has been relegated as one important means by which teachers can provide students with relatively sufficient linguistic input in EFL pedagogy. My deliberations here are also concomitant with the Chinese national English syllabuses at all levels, which clearly state the utilitarian and functional purposes of foreign languages for accessing scientific and technological information mainly via reading or viewing the printed material (Adamson 2001; MOE 2000). The Need for More Research into Reading, Writing and Oral Communication Strategies It is obvious that all skill areas need to be further researched, but given the relatively bigger proportion of reports on listening and vocabulary learning strategies available in the literature, it appears that research into Chinese EFL learners’ reading, writing and oral communication strategies happens to be the weaker areas so far. Part of the reason, I assume, is that many EFL teachers and researchers do not think that Chinese EFL learners face great challenges in reading in EFL, as reading is the approach with which many institutionalized EFL instruction starts. Therefore, researchers had reasons to assume that of the four skill areas—listening, speaking, reading and writing, Chinese EFL students’ reading skill would be the strongest. However, this assumption does not allow for any oversight of the problems Chinese EFL students have with efficient reading. It is true that, while research into native language reading strategies has a much longer history, second/foreign language reading research has just begun to focus on reading strategies. The literature on L1 reading strategy research generates the general assumption that poor readers use local strategies laboriously and usually rigidly, rather than combining both local and global strategies to achieve comprehension efficiency, given that strategies are deliberate metacognitive, cognitive, social or affective action plans used by a learner to learn material (Baker and Brown 1984). As strategies reveal readers’ resources for reading (Langer 1986), and

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they indicate how readers conceive a task, what textual clues they attend to, how they make sense of what they read, and what they do when they do not understand, research into reading strategies of native English speakers has concentrated on describing those strategies. One of the earliest studies of students’ reading strategies by Sullivan (1978) found that poor readers had difficulty in transposing information and searching for evidence to support conclusive statements (see also Garner 1987). In second/foreign language reading, strategy research is also beginning to be regarded as one part of the wider field of LLS (e.g. O’Malley and Chamot 1990; Oxford 1990; Wenden and Rubin 1987; Young and Oxford 1997). This is because language learners ‘are not mere sponges acquiring the new language by osmosis alone. They are thinking, reflective beings who consciously apply mental strategies to learning situations both in the classroom and outside of it’ (Chamot 1987: 82). This research reveals the ways in which readers manage their interaction with the written text, and how these strategies are related to comprehension. A relatively large number of studies compare and contrast reading strategies within particular languages (e.g. Anderson 1991; Block 1986; Carrell 1989; Young and Oxford 1997). Others compare and contrast strategies across the native and the target languages (e.g. Sarig 1987; Tang 1997; Upton and Lee-Thompson 2001), with conflicting results. Of these several are empirical investigations into reading strategies and their relationships to successful and less successful reading (Aslanian 1985; Block 1986; Cohen 1986; Sarig 1987; Young and Oxford 1997). Only recently has research into reading begun to focus on metacognition (Block 1992; Carrell 1989; Casanave 1988; L. Zhang 2002). While it is true that these studies have offered us a range of dichromatic types of readers, it is difficult to compare the results, as in the case of general LLS; the age, proficiency levels of the readers under study, and the tasks or the reading material assigned to the readers present a great diversity. Even categorization of strategies varies. What is categorized as general strategies in one study may be classified into global strategies in another when the coding systems are different, as pointed out by Young and Oxford (1997). Moreover, except for the studies by Cohen and Hosenfeld (1981), Cohen (1986), Block (1986, 1992), Sarig (1987), Parry (1995, 1996), and Young and Oxford (1997), there have been few direct investigations into the reading processes and strategies of second language readers, especially EFL learners in input-poor contexts. Deplorably, research into Mainland Chinese EFL readers is sparse (cf.

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Chern 1993; Haynes 1988; Haynes and Baker 1993; Li and Munby 1996; Tang 1997; Upton and Lee-Thompson 2001, whose subjects were in target-language contexts other than Mainland China itself). It would be commendable, therefore, if more Chinese EFL learners’ reading behaviours were given closer scrutiny in the near future. Necessarily, this effort should also include how they manage vocabulary learning in reading despite the relative abundance of research as reported in leading international and major Chinese journals on foreign language teaching and research. The same scenario would also be true of research into Chinese EFL students’ writing strategies. Little has been reported on how Chinese EFL learners cope with their writing tasks except Yu’s (1999) findings about their revision processes and Wang and Wen’s (2002) study comparing how Chinese EFL students used the L1 and the L2 in the writing process. These should be niche areas where large-scale as well as in-depth studies on Chinese EFL learners are needed. More importantly, in terms of the pedagogical decisions teachers make, I assume that any ‘mismatch’ between teachers’ explicit correction and learners’ needs and expectations has to be addressed in the Chinese context (cf. Raimes 1985). Moreover, if some comparative research is conducted to see how reading and writing skills are related in learner development, the findings would further contribute to our understanding of issues involved in EFL pedagogy (see, e.g., Zamel 1983, 1992). As pressing as the above two skill areas is a need to investigate Chinese EFL learners’ use of strategies for oral communication. Although research along this line is abundant in the West (e.g. Bialystok 1990; Færch and Kasper 1983; Kasper and Kellerman 1997), when it comes to Chinese EFL learners, much work still needs to be done (cf. Chen 1990; Huang 1984). Given that communicative language teaching has gradually taken its root in the EFL classroom due to the availability of increasing numbers of textbooks that emphasise developing learners’ communicative competence (Adamson 2001; Jin and Cortazzi 2002: 137), attempts to examine how learners use strategies in oral communication events in today’s EFL classrooms will be of great value to teachers in their decision-making in the classrooms. This is because the kind of research effort will reveal fundamentally how textbooks, related teacher behaviour and the increasing use of English as the medium of instruction in the classroom interact with one another in contributing to learners’ use of oral communication strategies or vice versa. The findings can then be compared with what has been

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reported. Such comparisons will help researchers and teachers to look at the issue afresh in order to garner insights into pedagogical practices, with the aim of ameliorating change to the methods of lesson delivery. Effects of Pedagogical Intervention on Learner Performance Seeing that the research reviewed above shows that successful and less successful learners differ in the range of strategies available and in their choice of these strategies, further research is needed to see what kind of strategies would benefit less successful learners the most when they handle different tasks in the four major skill areas—listening, speaking, reading (including vocabulary learning) and writing. Work along this line has just started on Chinese EFL learners (e.g. L. Zhang 2003), although scholars in the field have been rather concerned about pedagogical effects of strategy training (see, e.g., Anderson 1999; Cohen 1998; Nunan 1997; Rubin 1987; Wenden 1991). Based on the findings, empirical research can be conducted on the effects of strategy training or reciprocal teaching of different kinds of strategies in different skill areas on learners’ performance improvement. If there are effective instructional effects, then promotion of such instructional programs can be advocated in different settings with their constraints in mind. Teacher-education programs in particular might also need to see the relevance of the research findings to curriculum restructuring (e.g. Zhang et al. 2002). By then, the labyrinth of learner strategy instruction will be hopefully fully appreciated by language teaching practitioners to the degree that language teachers will think about implementing strategy instruction in the classroom so that learner autonomy can be taken as one important agenda in reality (e.g. Benson 2001; Nunan 1988). Conclusions and Recommendations LLS research into Chinese EFL learners has gradually become mature both in research design and instrumentation despite minor hiccups (Gao et al. 2001; Gui and Ning 1997; Liu 1999). The relatively small corpus of the research studies reviewed in this paper, particularly of those from journals edited and published in Asia with native-researcher perspectives shows a steady growth in LLS research and the Asian voices are heard in one way or another. It appears that researchers generally found differences between successful/good and less successful/poor learners in their use of LLS. The liter-

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ature also indicates that more empirical research findings are taken as grounds on which tentative instructional implications are suggested or recommended. This is really needed although most often the suggestions/ recommendations are very modest, as each research study has its own limitations. Although it is doubtful that practitioners in the field will accept the suggestions and recommendations, at least, teachers should be happy that these are based on research findings. This is in sharp contrast to earlier trends wherein many position papers were presented based on writers’ personal experiences, attitudinal inclinations, or anecdotal evidence. However, although the empirical research findings show that successful and less successful learners are different in strategy use, methodologically, it is not clear whether the strategies are comparable, as researchers used different instruments in collecting the data. Many of the studies were based on researchers’ questionnaires, the inherent limitations of which should be obvious (see Cohen 1996, for validity issues in LLS research). How these instruments are inter-related is another important issue to consider. Any attempt to factor-analyse the instruments using the same groups of subjects to validate or to improve certain aspects of the instruments involved should be welcomed. Furthermore, as it is very common that empirical reports written in the quantitative paradigm tend to neglect effect sizes (see Ellis 2000; Wilkinson and the Task Force on Statistical Inference, APA 1999, for an explanation), it is not very certain whether some findings are statistically significant because of the number of subjects or variables involved. Moreover, many reports are based on correlations, which are not indicative of causality in any statistical sense. Therefore, it is not categorically clear whether good learners successfully used some ‘effective’ strategies by virtue of their high proficiency levels, or their high levels of EFL proficiency were the result of their effective strategy deployment, or the variables are interacting with one another (e.g. learning styles, learner motivation, language aptitude, etc.). And yet, strategies are not intrinsically good or bad, depending on how effectively and flexibly learners use them. This is an aspect that might deserve more attention. Even reports based on qualitative methods (e.g. ethnographic interviews, think-aloud, etc.) are limited because of the small number of subjects/participants in these case studies. This would make further pursuits of the issue worthwhile. In other words, consistent and well-designed research is needed in order to map out a wide array of LLS used by Chinese EFL learners, with reference to particular skill areas, in the process of their efforts towards efficiency in language learning. © The Continuum Publishing Group Ltd 2003.

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As mentioned earlier, and it is also apparent from the selective review thus far, learning style preferences and strategy use are not well linked in research studies on Chinese EFL LLS (interested readers are referred to Melton 1990 and Yu 1997, for their findings about Chinese learners’ learning style profiles). It seems that, more often than not, research reports alluded to the problem but did not offer much evidence to show the links among the variables. Except for a few studies (e.g. Liu et al. 1989; Wu et al. 1993, 1996), the relationships between the two major domains of learner cognition need to be given sufficient attention. In relation to this research into LLS are other issues such as learner anxiety in performing different tasks in language learning in general (e.g. L. Zhang 2001b, 2001c) or in reading in particular (e.g. L. Zhang 2000b). Therefore, researchers into LLS still seem to have a long way to go in order to reveal some of the interesting findings that are awaiting new insights to be garnered, particularly in constructivist interactive activities where the learner grows in language skills (Foley 1991; L. Zhang 2003). This is because China as the EFL super-power needs more personnel proficient in foreign languages, especially English, in its ever-expanding and flourishing economic reshuffling. In the process, the evolving nature of language teaching methodology has also to be taken into consideration (see Wu, 2001, for a report on recent developments in ELT in China) so that classroom practitioners will see the value of adapting methods to suit their students’ aptitudinal competencies to make language teaching and learning as efficient as possible. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Part of this paper was presented at The Ninth International Symposium on Contemporary Linguistics, 19-21 October 2002, Beijing, China. I am grateful to Rita Skuja-Steele, Christina Hvitfeldt, Christine Goh, Yongqi Gu, Qiufang Wen and Donglan Zhang for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper. Any error or omission remains my responsibility.

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NOTES 1. Selected papers for review in this article must meet the criteria that they are (1) empirical or data-driven; (2) generally accessible; (3) reported in English or in Chinese; and (4) participants/subjects were in Mainland China while the study was conducted, or they just arrived in a foreign land but did not start their study. Studies that focus on English learners in other social contexts are not reviewed, but only briefly mentioned if found relevant. 2. International journals mainly referred to in the preparation of this paper include Applied Linguistics, Applied Language Learning, Asia Pacific Journal of Education, Asia Pacific Journal of Language in Education, Asian Englishes, Asian Journal of English Language Teaching, ELT Journal, English for Specific Purposes, Hong Kong Journal of Applied Linguistics, Journal of Second Language Writing, Language Awareness, Language Learning, Language Teaching, Language Teaching Research, Reading Psychology, RELC Guidelines, RELC Journal, Studies in Second Language Acquisition, System, Teaching and Learning and TESOL Quarterly. Major Chinese journals on foreign language teaching and research consulted include the sole Englishmedium journal Teaching English in China Quarterly (Beijing), and other Chinesemedium journals: Foreign Language Teaching and Research (Beijing), Journal of Foreign Languages (Shanghai), Modern Foreign Languages (Guangzhou). I have to apologise for my arbitrariness in the choice of these journals in the likelihood of neglecting some other findings reported in other journals, particularly those Chinese ones not easily accessible. 3. Wood (1981) appeared in Teaching English in China Newsletter, an annual publication of the British Council, Beijing, China, which is the forerunner of Teaching English in China Quarterly (TEIC). TEIC is now published at the Beijing Foreign

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Language Teaching and Research Press with editorial and technical assistance from the British Council, and it is in its 26th volume by 2003. 4. Readers interested in earlier introductory reflections on some important aspects in relation to foreign language teaching and learning in China, including the pedagogical implications of the LLS research, are referred to Dai and Shu (1994a, 1994b). For a general survey of research studies conducted in either the qualitative or the quantitative paradigm as published in major Chinese journals on foreign language teaching and linguistics, readers are encouraged to consult Gao et al. (2001).

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