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TITLE: Learning Strategies in Foreign and Second Language Classrooms

SOURCE: The Modern Language Journal 87 no3 469-70 Aut 2003

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YASUKO ITO WATT


MACARO, ERNESTO. Learning Strategies in Foreign and Second Language
Classrooms. New York: Continuum, 2001. Pp. viii, 282. $85.00 cloth; $31.95 paper.
ISBN 0-8264-5134-9, cloth; 0-8264-5135-7, paper.
Macaro's discussion of language-learning strategies can benefit anyone involved in
the field of language learning. Beginning with the belief that "the main purpose of
language teaching and learning is for students to become increasingly competent at
speaking and writing second or foreign language," his focus here is on strategies for
"learning to learn" (p. 1).
Macaro first identifies in chapter 1 various problems that arise in language
classrooms and relates them to the larger topic of learning strategies. In chapter 2, he
introduces tools for evaluating student learning strategies (diaries, questionnaires,
interviews, task-based self-reports, and student observation). Readers may be aware
of these tools but he explains why they are helpful in learning how students learn.
Chapter 3 is a review of past studies of learning strategies, and in chapters 4 and 5 he
focuses on "the skills and processes involved in oral interaction, memorization and
writing" (p. 107) and on ways of bringing about changes in learning strategies. He
considers in chapter 6 how learning strategies may be introduced into the classroom
and in 7, he provides ways to evaluate the various strategy training tools introduced.
In the final chapter, he gives 10 recommendations for the development of learning
strategies and for their implementation in the classroom.
Macaro frequently draws on two strategy studies, the Oxford Writing Strategies
Project and the Lingua Project. He was involved in both studies. Their focus was 13-
to 15-year-old students in England and Italy. Although he often bases his arguments
on these studies of adolescent-age students and cognate languages, the findings and
examples can be applied to a wider group of language learners, including college and
university students. Indeed, this study has a great deal to offer to those who are not
involved with cognate languages.
Macaro invites us to take charge in learning how students learn, and he urges us to
come up with a list of strategies that best suit our own students as we progress through
the book. He also encourages us to discuss issues raised in the book with colleagues
who teach languages.
Learning-strategy theories are briefly presented early in the volume. However, the
author's intention is to distance this book from theoretical discussions of learning
strategies and to focus on more practical approaches, although not ignoring their
theoretical background. Macaro succeeds in this regard. He cleverly involves the
reader in "Pause for Thought" boxes throughout the book. Pertinent and useful
questions in these sections give readers a chance to review and reflect on what they
have read.
The author claims that this volume is different from ordinary language-learning
strategy books in three ways. First, this book is intended for language learners,
teachers, and researchers, as well as for those who train future teachers. Second, the
author believes that good research enhances classroom teaching, and he structures the
book as though readers were involved in action research. Third, he claims that this
book is one of the first to emphasize "combinations of learning strategy training rather
than individual strategies" (p. 5).
In Macaro's mind, it is not possible to separate the four groups of people mentioned
above in discussing strategy training. Whether language learners will read and
appreciate this volume is unclear, but language teachers and trainers of teachers will
find their work enriched by considering the issues Macaro raises, and students will
therefore benefit. Macaro succeeds in involving readers, without their consciously
noticing it, in the cycle of rich action research. He provides numerous examples that
involve combinations of learning strategies that teachers can use in their classrooms.
The author is aware that strategy training is not without problems. He discusses, for
example, the pros and cons of first language (L1) use in language strategy training.
Macaro ultimately supports L1 use in strategy training, although in general he resists
giving strong recommendations.
Although technology has already enriched the field of language learning and will
enable us to understand learning strategies more fully, the author limits his references
to technology to the use of email and clip art. We will have to wait to see how the
author will incorporate technology in his future treatments of learning strategies.
This volume is an excellent addition to the field. The author makes us look at
students and our teaching in a new way. I share the author's belief that "strategy
training is a gradual, recursive and longitudinal process" (p. 266) that may cultivate
flexible and resourceful language learners.
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YASUKO ITO WATT
Indiana University