Oxford, R., & Nyikos, M. (1989). Variables Affecting Choice of Language Learning Strategies by University Students. The Modern Language Journal, 73, 291-300.
According to Oxford, second language learning strategies are specific actions, behaviors or techniques learners use to improve their progress in acquiring the L2. In this article, together with Nyikos, she discusses and analyzes the variables that affect the choice of these learning strategies by university students in the Midwestern USA.
In order to investigate the relationship between language learning strategies and the variables that affect their selection, Oxford and Nyikos had more than 1,200 students answer two key research questions of the study: what kind of strategies do students use to learn a new language and what variables influence the use of these strategies? To cover the first question, the authors had students fill out the Strategy Inventory for Language Learning (SILL) that asked the frequency of use of certain learning strategies, and to cover the second question they conducted a background questionnaire.
Five main factors emerged from the analysis of the first research question: formal rule-related practice strategies, functional practice strategies, resourceful independent strategies, general study strategies and conversational input elicitation strategies. It is worth pointing out that the first group of strategies (finding similarities between languages, generating and revising rules, and analyzing words) received the highest level of use whereas the functional strategie (attending foreign language films, seeking native speakers for conversation, and reading authentic material in the new language) were the least frequently used strategies.
Based on the data analysis, the authors observed that students employ strategies that can be useful in a traditional and structure-oriented foreign language instructional environment. As a result, the formal rule-related practice and general study are more used than the functional/conversational strategies.
In the second part of the text, Oxford and Nyikos discussed the variables that influence the use of language learning strategies and pointed out that that motivation was the most powerful influence in this process. The authors claimed that not only does motivation to learn a language lead to the use of a variety of strategies, but high strategy use can lead to high motivation as well. They also highlighted that a student’s motivation is also affected by the institutional environment. Thus, the popularity of formal rule-learning strategies among the participants of the study mirrored the reality of their academic setting, which focused on developing analytic language skills to attain success on tests and assessments.
The authors concluded that the high expectations imposed by the academic approaches to teaching and testing limit the motivation of most students to try new strategies. They also added that second language classrooms should stimulate the use of communicatively-oriented strategies for both learning and teaching so that students could be encouraged to use a great variety of strategies and to apply them to tasks which promote creative, communicative learning.
Applying these findings to second language material development can help students develop creative, communicatively oriented strategies. Materials developed in the light of strategy instruction can play an important role in the creation of autonomous language learners. These materials (mainly print materials) should include a set of strategies that could lead students to better manipulate and analyze their content such as: note taking, key word, contextualization, memorization, guessing, and practice. Therefore, knowing how to design language materials based on learning strategies is a way to both provide comprehensible input through written texts and to understand how to make students gain self-control and autonomy throughout the process of learning a new language.