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Carol Griffiths, UK
Carol Griffiths has many years experience as a teacher of English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) and as a teacher educator. She is especially interested in the factors which contribute to successful language learning, such as strategies which is the subject of her PhD thesis. Carol is currently working as a teacher educator at Min Zu Da Xue (Central University of Nationalities) in Beijing, China.
Aims of the book
Organisation of the book
Who is this book for?
If we want to learn how to be a good tennis player, we hire a successful tennis player to coach us. If we want to learn how to be a top violinist, we take lessons from a first- class musician. If we want to become a master carver, we find someone with the required skills and watch them at work. These examples would probably be regarded as mere common sense. For some reason, however, we are often not so comfortable with the same logic being applied to language learning.
In her seminal article (Rubin, 1975, p.42), suggested that "if we knew more about what the 'successful learners' did, we might be able to teach these strategies to poorer learners to enhance their success record". Aptitude, motivation and opportunity, she argued, are essential characteristics of good language learners who either have or can develop these characteristics. The title of the book Lessons from Good Language Learners derives from the idea that we have a lot to learn from observation of those who have already shown that they can succeed as language learners.
Rubin (1975) constructed a list of strategies typical of good language learners, who, according to her observations, are willing and able to use clues (for instance non-verbal indications, word association, general knowledge) in order to guess meaning, use a variety of techniques (such as circumlocution, paraphrase or gestures) in order to communicate or learn from communication, manage inhibitions (such as the fear of appearing foolish, or of making mistakes), attend to form (for instance by analysing, categorising and synthesising), practise the language they are trying to learn (for instance by seeking out native speakers and initiating conversations), monitor both their own and others' speech (for instance by learning from mistakes), and attend to meaning (for instance by interpreting mood and intonation).
These strategies, as Rubin (1975) pointed out, will vary according to a number of factors including the task, the learning stage, the learner's age, the learning context, learning style, and cultural differences. Rubin concluded by suggesting that knowledge about good language learners "will lessen the difference between the good learner and the poorer one" (p.50).
When Rubin published her article on good language learners in 1975, she probably did not expect that she would sow the seeds of a controversy which would still be unresolved more than 30 years later. The volume Lessons from Good Language Learners traces various aspects of the controversy, tries to draw the threads of consensus together, and points to the future for the critical questions:
- What is it that makes for a good language learner?
- Why are some learners more successful than others?
- What is the relationship between learner characteristics such as motivation, beliefs, aptitude, age, gender, style, personality and culture and success in language learning?
- How does learner behaviour such as strategy use, metacognition or autonomy relate to effective language learning?
- How can learners manage aspects of the learning situation such as teaching/learning method, strategy instruction, error correction or task?
- How can learners effectively reach learning goals such as building vocabulary, expanding grammatical knowledge and functional competence, improving pronunciation and developing their listening, speaking, reading and writing skills?
- What have we already found out and what do we still need to know?
- What can educators do to help?
Although Rubin (1975) focussed mainly on language learning strategies, Lessons from Good Language Learners approaches the question of how good language learners learn from a broader perspective. It pursues some of the areas Rubin identified as requiring further research, and includes yet others which she did not mention, at least directly (for instance gender, personality, autonomy). These variables have also been identified as potentially important contributors to success or otherwise in language learning.
It is now more than three decades since Rubin's famous article was published, and in those years debate has raged and continues to this day. Failure to reach consensus over even basic definitions has inhibited research initiatives (O'Malley. Chamot, Stewner-Manzanares, Kupper & Russo, 1985) and contributed to a "theoretical muddle" which is overdue for "clearing away" (Dornyei & Skehan, 2003, p.610).
Lessons from Good Language Learners attempts to contribute to the clearing away process by looking at a wide range of variables in relation to good language learners and their learning. Although, given the "veritable plethora" (Ellis, 1994, p.471) of such variables which have been identified, it has not been possible to include them all in this volume, as many as possible of those most commonly researched are represented. Given such breadth, it has not been possible to go into any of the topics in depth. The aim has been:
- to provide a comprehensive overview of learner/learning issues
- to review the literature and research to date
- to provide a reference base
- to address theoretical issues
- to consider pedagogical implications
- to identify gaps in our current understanding
- to suggest useful research initiatives
- to consider how all of this relates to successful language learning by unique individuals in a variety of situations
In other words, this book looks at language learning from research, literature, theoretical, pedagogical and human perspectives.
Lessons from Good Language Learners is edited by Carol Griffiths, an experienced teacher and writer, who has also written or co-authored several of the chapters in the book. Following a Prologue by Andrew D. Cohen and Reflections by Joan Rubin, the book is divided into two sections: learner variables, which are the individual characteristics or behaviours which make each learner unique, and learning variables, which have their origin externally in the form of the learning target or the learning situation, but must be managed by the learners if successful learning is to take place. In order to provide a variety of perspectives, each section contains both state-of-the-art articles and research-based articles, and specialists in their various fields have written on specific topics:
Motivation and good language learners - Ema Ushioda
Age and good language learners - Carol Griffiths
Learning style and good language learners - Carisma Nel
Personality and good language learners - Madeline Ehrman
Gender and good language learners - Martha Nyikos
Strategies and good language learners - Carol Griffiths
Metacognition and good language learners - Neil Anderson
Autonomy and good language learners - Sara Cotterall
Beliefs and good language learners - Cynthia White
Culture and good language learners - Claudia Finkbeiner
Aptitude and good language learners - Leila Ranta
Vocabulary and good language learners - Jo Moir & Paul Nation
Grammar and good language learners - Margaret Bade
Functions and good language learners - Zia Tajeddin
Pronunciation and good language learners - Adam Brown
Listening and good language learners - Goodith White
Speaking and good language learners - Yasushi Kawai
Reading and good language learners - Karen Schramm
Writing and good language learners - Louise Gordon
Teaching/learning method and good language learners - Carol Griffiths
Strategy instruction and good language learners - Anna Chamot
Error correction and good language learners - Mike Roberts & Carol Griffiths
Task and good language learners - Joan Rubin & Pat McCoy
Each topic is defined, the literature reviewed, and related issues discussed before implications for the teaching/learning situation and questions for further research are suggested. In the final chapter, Rebecca Oxford and Kyoung Rang Lee provide a summary and extension of the topics covered in the volume using the metaphor of language learning as a journey across a sometimes difficult landscape.
The list of variables dealt with in Lessons from Good language Learners is, of course, not exhaustive. Indeed, as indicated previously, it is almost certainly impossible to include every conceivable variable in any one volume. Furthermore, new research initiatives are adding to the existing body of knowledge all the time. Especially fertile at the moment are the areas of situational variables, identity, volition, the development of pragmatic competence and self-regulation, as well as affective variables including self-efficacy and anxiety. Nevertheless, Lessons from Good Language Learners covers a wide range of topics related to how good language learners develop a target language. The volume aims to provide a basic core of information and to act as a springboard for those who want to pursue an area in greater depth.
Although Rubin's 1975 article focussed especially on strategies, she suggested that many other variables need to be considered when looking at good language learners. Lessons from Good Language Learners attempts to take Rubin's initiative further by investigating a wide range of variables, any one of which has the potential to affect how students learn, and which, in combination, present an extremely complex picture. The volume is especially useful for:
And, not least, Lessons from Good Language Learners is for those who have been involved in the field of language education over the last 30 plus years. We owe a tribute to Joan for her insight and her perseverance in getting her seminal article published. We also owe a debt to the many who have toiled in the field since then. Good language learners have much to teach us, and, even after 30 years, many lessons remain to be learnt.
- those studying for degrees or diplomas in language development who will find that this volume contains a wealth of information and references which can be used as the basis for completing assignments which focus on learners and how they go about learning language successfully.
- trainee teachers to help prepare them for the realities of life in the classroom.
- practising teachers who want to be better informed, to clarify their insights into what may be happening in their classrooms day by day and to obtain inspiration
- teacher educators who can use this volume as a means of augmenting their knowledge and as a base of information from which lectures can be developed
- course designers who could use the volume as the basis for a number of interesting and useful learner-centred courses or programmes
- researchers, for whom a multitude of areas still needing investigation is suggested
Cook, V. (1991). Second Language Learning and Language Teaching. London: Edward Arnold.
Dornyei, Z. & Skehan, P. (2003). Individual differences in second language learning. In C. Doughty & M. Long (Eds), Handbook of Second Language Acquisition (pp. 589-630). Oxford: Blackwell.
Ellis, R. (1994). The Study of Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Krashen, S. (1981). Second language acquisition and second language learning. Oxford: Pergamon Press.
Larsen-Freeman, D. & Long, M. (1991). An Introduction to Second Language Acquisition Research. London & New York: Longman.
O'Malley, J. M., Chamot, A., Stewner-Manzanares, G., Kupper, L. & Russo, R. (1985). Learning strategies used by beginning and intermediate ESL students. Language Learning, 35(1), 21-46.
Rubin, J. (1975). What the 'good language learner' can teach us. TESOL Quarterly, 9(1), 41-51.
Sharwood Smith, M. (1994). Second Language Learning: Theoretical Foundations. London and New York: Longman
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