Learning Outcomes

The process of independent language learning is not just intellectual, but also social and emotional. Language is an element of social behaviour and the predominant one for communication between people. Social strategies can help learners to achieve more effective language learning and obtain a better understanding of different cultures. People’s feelings, attitudes, anxieties and motivation have an impact on the progress of language learning and performance. Indeed, using affective strategies can help us to control these feelings.

By the end of this package you should be able to:

Language Learning Strategies: Types and Examples

What do we mean by language learning strategies? Oxford (1990) learning strategies as specific actions taken by learners to make learning “easier, faster, more enjoyable, more self-directed, more effective and more transferrable to new situations” (p.8). About 62 strategies divided into direct strategies and indirect strategies. Language learners use these strategies, either consciously or unconsciously, to develop their communicative competence.

Activity 1

Direct and Indirect Language Learning Strategies


affective: adj. relating to or having an effect on the emotions

cognitive: adj. related to the process of knowing, understanding, and learning something

compensation: n. when someone behaves in a particular way in order to replace something that is missing or to balance the bad effects of something

conscious: adj. noticing or realizing something

intellectual: adj. relating to the ability to understand things and think intelligently

transferable: adj. if a skill, idea, or quality is transferable, it can be used from one situation to another, or it can be used in the new situation

Retrieved from Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, http://www.ldoceonline.com

HIDE Glossary


Direct strategies deal with a new language directly, including memory, cognitive and compensation strategies. Indirect strategies deal with the general management of learning, including metacognitive, affective and social strategies.

Table Direct and Indirect Language Learning Strategies (adapted from Oxford, 1990)


Direct strategies

Memory strategies follow some simple principles, such as association making and reviewing. For example, new words and phrases can be associated with visual images, sound, motion or touch to help learners store and retrieve them for communication.

Cognitive strategies include four sets of tools - practicing, receiving and sending messages, analysing and reasoning, and creating structure for input and output. For example, learners can repeat, work with sounds and writing, and use patterns; skimming and scanning can help them to find the main idea; adult learners often use analysing and reasoning to understand meaning and expression of the target language as well as making new expressions.

Compensation strategies are used for comprehension of the target language when learners do not have sufficient knowledge of the target language. For example, if the learners do not know new words or phrases, they can guess the meaning based on the context.


association: n. a connection or relationship between two events, ideas, situations etc.; a feeling or memory that is related to a particular place, event, word etc.

retrieve: v. to find something and bring it back

Retrieved from Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, http://www.ldoceonline.com

Activity 2

Direct Language Learning Strategies: Types and Examples


Direct Strategies Examples

I sometimes link new words to a picture or a life experience.

I think of the relationship between what I already know and new things I learn in English.


I practise speaking by imitating Obama’s speeches on YouTube.

I say or write new English words several times.


I guess the meaning of new words first while reading.

If I cannot not remember the word that I want to use, I use other words that I know to express myself.


Indirect strategies

Metacognitive strategies help learners to coordinate language learning, pushing learners to focus on certain language activities and skills, maximize their energy and effort, monitor errors and evaluate their learning progress.

Affective strategies deal with emotions, attitudes, motivation and values that have an impact on learners and language learning in an important way, including lowering anxiety, encouraging, taking emotional temperature. Good language learners control their attitudes and emotions about learning. Anxiety can be both helpful and harmful: a certain amount of anxiety can help learners to optimize their performance level, but too much anxiety could possibly hinder language learning.

Social strategies include asking questions, cooperating and empathizing with others. For example, learning can be enhanced when people interact with each other to clarify a confusing point or when they participate in a group discussion or cooperative learning group to solve a problem. Empathy means to think from another person’s perspective by putting oneself in that person’s situation, which can develop cultural understanding and awareness of others’ thoughts and feelings.


optimize: v. to improve the way that something is done or used so that it is as effective as possible:

hinder: v. to make it difficult for something to develop or succeed

empathize: v. to be able to understand someone else's feelings, problems etc, especially because you have had similar experiences

Retrieved from Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, http://www.ldoceonline.com

Activity 3

Indirect Language Learning Strategies: Types and Examples


In the process of language learning, these strategies are often integrated. For example, you may use metacognitive strategies to plan your learning, and you might also need affective strategies to motivate yourself and lower your anxiety so that you can fulfil your plan.



Indirect Strategies Examples

I make action plans for some learning tasks.

I review what I have learned before the following class.


I will listen to my favourite music before I do some exercises in English.

I try to relax whenever I feel afraid of using English.


I speak to my friends in English on the phone to practice speaking and listening skills.

If I do not understand something in English, I ask the other person to slow down or say it again.


Social Strategies

Oxford (1990) suggests three sets of social strategies:

  1. ask questions for clarification or verification and for correction
  2. cooperate with others which covers cooperating with peers and cooperating with proficient users of the new language
  3. empathize with others which includes developing cultural understanding and becoming aware of others’ thoughts and feelings

Activity 4

Social Strategies


Strategy Activity
Asking questions

Letting English speakers correct me when I talk

Asking the other person to slow down

Cooperating with others

Asking for help from English speakers

Practicing English with other students


Trying to learn about the cultural background of the speakers

Asking questions in English


Affective Strategies

Oxford (1990) identified three main sets of affective strategies:

  1. lower anxiety which includes (a) using progressive relaxation, deep breathing, or meditation, (b) using music, and using laughter
  2. encourage oneself which includes (a) making positive statements, (b) taking risks wisely, (c) rewarding
  3. take emotional temperature including (a) listening to the body, (b) using a checklist, (c) writing a language learning diary, and discussing feelings with someone else.

Activity 5

Affective Strategies


Strategy Activity
Lowering anxiety

Trying to relax when afraid to use English

Encouraging oneself to speak English despite fear of making a mistake

Encouraging oneself

Being aware if one is tense or nervous when studying or using English

Giving oneself a reward or treat when one does well in English

Taking emotional temperature

Writing one’s feeling in a language learning diary

Talking to someone about one’s feelings when learning English


Using the Social and Affective Strategies

Since social and affective strategies are indirect strategies, we need to make an effort to push ourselves to try to use some of these strategies. It also happens that strategies that work for one person might not work well for another because of our different learning styles. Therefore, we need to try different strategies to find out whether they are suitable for us or not.

We also need to be aware of the fact that the effectiveness of using these strategies might not be evident even after we have tried them several times. We often need to keep trying for a while and reflect on our learning experiences before we try something different.

In Activities 4 and 5, we talked about some activities that can be used to implement social and affective strategies. Here is a summary:

  • Ask for help, repetition, clarification, confirmation
  • Cooperate with others - work with others to achieve a common goal
  • Take risks - pushing yourself to experiment with language and ideas without fear of making errors
  • Encourage and reward yourself - make positive statements during a task and congratulate yourself and others upon completion
  • Lower anxiety - reduce stress by reminding yourself about your learning goals, the progress you have made and resources available

Activity 6

Using the Social and Affective Strategies

Since you have been learning about social and affective strategies, think about your own language learning experience and answer the following questions:

  1. Have you ever used any social or affective strategies? If so, which?
  2. If yes, were they effective for you? Why or why not?
  3. If not, which strategies would you like to try?

Activity 7

Case Study

Finally, we shall return to our case study subject, Lily. Read the case of Lily and answer the questions. Then click the CHECK button to confirm your answers.

Lily is a first-year student at a university in Hong Kong. Although Lily has been doing well in her English exams, she finds it difficult to follow her teachers’ lectures in English. She often feels anxious when she has to speak in a group or in front of the whole class. Since most of her classmates can speak English very well, she feels embarrassed to speak English in front of them and is worried that she might say something that sounds stupid or silly. She is also afraid that people may laugh at her accent or make fun of her if she makes mistakes. Although she has many friends, they seldom speak English with her.

  1. Have you ever used any social or affective strategies? If so, which?
  2. If yes, were they effective for you? Why or why not?
  3. If not, which strategies would you like to try?


  1. Any answer is fine.
  2. If I were Lily’s classmate, I would invite her to talk and express her opinions and encourage her with positive comments. I might provide some language support, such as translating or offering vocabulary help and I would practise English with her in and out of class.
  3. If I were Lily, I would try to ask questions if I didn’t understand other people. I would try to lower my anxiety by encouraging myself and taking deep breaths especially in class. I would reward myself if I managed to speak twice in a group discussion. I would practise with my classmates more in English before and after class so that I could understand them better. I might post messages in English on Facebook or on other social media or try to make new friends who speak English.



  • O'Malley, J.M., Chamot, A.U., & Kupper, L. (1989). Listening comprehension strategies in second language acquisition. Applied Linguistics, 10(4), 418-437.
  • Oxford, R.L. (1990). Language Learning Strategies. New York: Newbury House.

Copyright© 2012-2013 UGC ICOSA Project, Hong Kong. All rights reserved.