Student use of second language learning strategies – conscious or unconscious methods of helping and accelerating learning – has received a considerable amount of attention in the twenty years or so since Rubin's influential 1975 article on the ‘Good language learner’ called for research in the area. Oxford and Burry-Stock (1995: 4) report that 40 to 50 studies (many unpublished) involving more than 8,000 learners have been done using the prime data-collection instrument on strategy use, Oxford's SILL (Strategy Inventory for Language Learning, 1990), alone. Many of these studies have found strong links between strategy use and target-language proficiency, and this has increased interest in the topic of what strategies are used by better learners.
Cohen (1998: 4) defines second language learning strategies as processes consciously chosen by students that result in action ‘taken to enhance the learning or use of a second language … through storage, retention, recall, and application’.
Oxford, in her SILL, divides the 50 common strategies on the questionnaire into six categories, as follows (the complete list of strategies can be seen in Oxford, 1990):
(remembering more effectively), e.g. ‘I review English lessons often.’
(using all your mental processes), e.g. ‘I use the English words I know in different ways.’
(compensating for missing knowledge), e.g. ‘To understand unfamiliar English words, I make guesses.’
(organising and evaluating learning), e.g. ‘I plan my schedule so I will have enough time to study English.’
(managing emotions), e.g. ‘I try to relax whenever I feel afraid of using English‘
(learning with others), e.g. ‘I practise English with other students’