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Strategy training in language learning - a systematic review of available research

What do we want to know?

Strategy training in language learning has been topical since the 1970s, and a large amount of work has been done on identifying the strategies used by both successful and less successful learners, and by users of modern languages. The strategies have generally been classified as metacognitive (to do with awareness of the learning), cognitive (to do with the behaviours and mental process of the learning) and socioaffective (to do with personality traits and interactions with others). It is generally held that the skills we develop for learning in general and for learning our first language do not automatically transfer to other learning situations or to other languages - hence the rationale for research into strategies and their potential benefit if the skills are trainable.

Who wants to know?

Policy-makers, language teachers; those involved in teacher education.

What did we find?  

There is sufficient research evidence to support claims that training language learners to use strategies is effective, but it is not possible to say from this evidence whether the effect of training is long-lasting or not. Furthermore it is not really known to what extent the specific mechanics of different training interventions are responsible for the effect, or if it is due to improved awareness that a broad range of training might engender in the learner.  Strategy training works for reading comprehension and writing skills, and the research evidence for this is stronger than it is for listening, speaking and overall proficiency.

What are the implications?

  • The evidence indicates that it is worth considering strategy training programmes for language learning, on a policy level, as research shows that it is effective in certain situations.

  • The evidence relates largely to effectiveness for adult and higher education learners; more research is needed concerning school-level learners, and concerning the effectiveness of long-term strategy training.

  • Practitioners might select from the strategy training interventions found in this review but should also assess carefully their learners and the pedagogic situation in question in estimating the likelihood of positive outcomes.

How did we get these results?

Twenty-five comparative studies undertaken since 1960 were synthesised.  Fifteen studies were for English as a foreign or second language and 10 for French, Spanish, German, Japanese, Italian, Russian or Latin. Most studies related to non-school populations.

This summary was prepared by the EPPI Centre

This report should be cited as: Hassan X, Macaro E, Mason D, Nye G, Smith P, Vanderplank R (2005) Strategy training in language learning: a systematic review of available research. In: Research Evidence in Education Library. London: EPPI Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London.

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