The concept of learning strategies has become quite familiar to most professionals in teaching English as a foreign language. The aim of this study is to discover gender differences in language learning strategies used by foreign language learners in a Turkish University. 184 university students who participated in this study were enrolled in the third year of their four year undergraduate degree program. Strategy Inventory for Language Learning (SILL) was used to gather information about the strategies that the individual learners employ to learn a foreign language. Quantitative data analyses were performed in this study. The results show significant gender differences, favoring males, in students' strategy use.
Related research shows that the conscious use of such strategies is related to language achievement and proficiency (eg, Thompson & Rubin, 1993). Chamot and Kupper (1989) state that successful language learners tend to select strategies that work well together with the requirements of the language task. These learners can easily explain the strategies they use and why they employ them (O'Malley & Chamot, 1990). Cognitive and metacognitive strategies are often used together, supporting each other (O'Malley & Chamot, 1990). Furthermore, there are links between certain strategies or clusters of strategies and particular language skills or tasks. For example, reading comprehension uses strategies like reading aloud, guessing, deduction, and summarising (Chamot & Kupper, 1989).
Some other studies have attempted to examine the relationship between language learning strategies and success in FL learning and the researchers have had varied results. O'Malley et al (1985) revealed that students at all levels reported the use of an extensive variety of learning strategies. High-achieving students reported greater use of metacognitive strategies. They concluded that the more successful students are probably able to use greater metacognitive control over their learning. Ehrman and Oxford (1995) indicated that successful students preferred to use cognitive strategies more frequently in their study. Green and Oxford (1995) discovered that high-achieving students used all kinds of language learning strategies more frequently than low-achieving students. On the other hand, researchers have investigated what unsuccessful language learners do. Vann and Abraham (1990) observed that, although their unsuccessful students appeared to be active strategy users, they "failed to apply strategies appropriately to the task at hand".
Existing research shows that motivation (Kaylani, 1996), cultural background (Oxford, 1996b), attitudes and beliefs (Oxford et al 1990) and gender (Kaylani, 1996) are some of the factors which influence choice of strategies used among students learning a FL.
As gender is an issue with important theoretical and pedagogical implications in second language learning, it has received some attention in language learning strategy research (e.g., Oxford, 1993; Oxford, Young, Ito & Sumrall, 1993; Oxford, 1995; Young & Oxford 1997). These studies have found that gender can have a significant impact on how students learn a language. An emerging theory for this gender difference proposes that although sometimes males surpassed females in the use of a particular strategy, females employ more learning strategies or employ strategies more effectively (Erhman and Oxford, 1989; Nyikos, 1990; Oxford, 1994; Sheorey, 1999). Oxford and Nyikos (1989) who looked at the strategies used by 1200 university students, concluded that gender differences had a "profound influence" (p.296) on strategy use, and that females used strategies more frequently than males. Ehrman and Oxford (1990) stated that women at the Foreign Service Institute definitely reported more use of strategies. Green and Oxford (1995) reported on a study of 374 students at the University of Puerto Rico, and concluded that females used strategies significantly more often than males. Although most studies in this area seem to have reported a greater use of language learning strategies by women, Tran (1988) discovered that Vietnamese women use fewer language learning strategies than men. The present paper tries to describe how gender influences the choice of FL learning strategies used among Turkish university students.
This study specifically was conducted in the TEFL Department of the school of education. In the current teacher education system, preparation for the English teaching profession requires the acquisition of language knowledge and skills in the three domains of general culture, special English education, and pedagogy. Furthermore, the English teaching practicum encompasses three sessions of field experience during the 4-year English teacher education course; one, during the second semester of the first year, and the other two in the first and second semesters of the fourth year. It is the last session in which students are required to do actual English teaching. There is no module on language learning strategies.
Students in Turkey are admitted to English teacher education course centrally through a nationwide contested two-stage examination which is administered by the Student Selection and Placement Center (OSYM) every year. The examination consists of a) the Student Selection Examination (ÖSS), and b) the Foreign Language Examination (YDS). The second examination is administered approximately two weeks after the first to the candidates wishing to attend the higher education programs in foreign language and literature. There is no formal correspondence with internationally known tests, but the test can be viewed as demanding the equivalent of upper-intermediate language ability.
The maximum numbers of students to be admitted to each higher education program, the rank of the scores of candidates wishing to enter the same higher education programs and the candidates' list and ranking of higher education programs are among the factors which are taken into consideration in the selection and placement of students in higher education programs. It should be noted that Erzurum, where the university is located is the largest province in Eastern Anatolia and is located on a high plateau (1950m). Erzurum has very little modern industry and it has difficult weather conditions. Therefore, the university does not attract the most successful students.
Oxford (1990) identified fifty individual second language strategy items within six broad categories of second language learning strategies. The categories are
'Remembering more effectively' is a memory-related strategy which helps learners link one second language item or concept with another but does not necessarily involve deep understanding. 'Using all mental processes' enables the learner to manipulate the language material in direct ways, e.g., through reasoning, analysis, note-taking and synthesising. 'Organizing and evaluating learning' is a metacognitive strategy which identifies one's own preferences and needs, planning, monitoring mistakes, and evaluating task success. 'Compensating for missing knowledge' helps make up for missing knowledge. 'Managing emotions' helps to identify one's mood and anxiety level, talking about feelings, rewarding oneself, and using deep breathing or positive self-talk, and helps learners manage their emotions and motivation level. 'Learning with others' enables the learner to learn via interaction with others and to understand the target culture.
The SILL was chosen for this study because it is "perhaps the most comprehensive classification of learning strategies to date" (Ellis, 1994, p.539) and has been widely used. Its Cronbach alpha reliability coefficients range from 0.89 to 0.98 in various studies. Reliability of the SILL is high across many cultural groups. Its validity rests on its predictive and correlative link with language performance as well as its confirmed relationship to sensory preferences (for details, see Oxford, 1996a).
Each scale was calculated with Cronbach's alpha coefficient. These scales, the number of items within each category, and the alpha value of each scale and learning strategy preferences of the subjects are given in Table 1.
|A||Remembering more effectively||9||.8069||I review English lessons often|
|B||Using all your mental processes||14||.7848||I try to talk like native English speakers|
|C||Compensating for missing knowledge||6||.7531||I read English without looking up every new word|
|D||Organizing and evaluating your learning||8||.8636||I look for people I can talk to in English|
|E||Managing your emotions||6||.7889||I try to relax whenever I feel afraid of using English|
|F||Learning with others||6||.7229||I ask questions in English|
Research instrument reliability is often estimated by Cronbach's alpha. Hair et al (1998) suggested that the acceptable value of alpha is at least 0.70. As shown in Table 1, all constructs exhibit a high degree of internal consistency as the alpha values of the constructs are greater than 0.70. Oxford described each of the statements on a 1 to 5 scale, thus
|A||Remembering more effectively||female||140||3.20||0.47||0.04|
|B||Using all your mental processes||female||140||3.19||0.49||0.04|
|C||Compensating for missing knowledge||female||140||3.35||0.58||0.05|
|D||Organizing and evaluating your learning||female||0.52||140||3.33||0.04|
|E||Managing your emotions||female||140||2.89||0.49||0.04|
|F||Learning with others||female||140||3.12||0.54||0.05|
|A||Remembering more effectively||r|
|B||Using all your mental processes||r||0.39|
|C||Compensating for missing knowledge||r||0.15||0.46|
|D||Organizing and evaluating your learning||r||0.31||0.56||0.38|
|E||Managing your emotions||r||-0.06||0.27||0.41||0.44|
|F||Learning with others||r||0.15||0.49||0.27||0.58||0.42|
|** p<0.0 * p<0.05|
Results of the ANOVA indicated that the gender-related difference is significant on two scales: 'Using all your mental processes' (M=3.36 vs. 3.23; p<0.001); 'Organizing and evaluating your learning' (M=3.5 vs. 3.33; p<0.05). Moreover, the female students' mean for 38 of the 50 individual strategy items was higher than that for male students and the differences for 15 of these 50 items were statistically significant (ranging from p<0.05 to p<0.0001). See Table 4.
The F-value (4.29) from ANOVA for gender differences between and within groups on the 'Using all your mental processes' was statistically significant at alpha=0.04 and DF=1,182 (Table 3). The F-value from ANOVA for gender differences in students' 'Organizing and evaluating your learning' was also statistically significant at p<.01 and df=1, 182.
|A||Remembering more effectively||Between Groups||0.21||1||0.21||1.03||0.31|
|B||Using all your mental processes||Between Groups||1.01||1||1.01||4.29||0.04|
|C||Compensating for missing knowledge||Between Groups||0.38||1||0.38||1.29||0.26|
|D||Organizing and evaluating your learning||Between Groups||2.13||1||2.13||7.99||0.01|
|E||Managing your emotions||Between Groups||0.02||1||0.02||0.10||0.75|
|F||Learning with others||Between Groups||0.22||1||0.22||0.79||0.38|
Studies by educational researchers and psychologists have shown that one of the key characteristics of successful learners is that they are active learners and take charge of their learning (eg, Clifford, 1984; Gagne et al, 1993). A study conducted by Najar (1998) demonstrated that successful learners are able to apply appropriate learning strategies and this leads to effective learning. Research has shown that in the educational setting, successful learners are good strategy users and they are defined as knowing a lot of strategies and transferring them readily and appropriately to new settings (Pressley et al 1989; Pressley et al 1987). In considering the results, we can suggest that there is room for improvement in the strategies used by the learners in this study. Apparently these student-teachers have medium to low level skills in the area of how to learn. Furthermore, the need to offer strategy instruction in this study becomes more important given that these students will become teachers. The teacher educators in this institution need to address the deficiency of the students that is, how to approach the learning context.
It is clear that the more we learn about language learning strategy differences, the more complex the issue becomes. Therefore, further research is needed to extend our knowledge on individual learning strategy differences. Especially, further examination of gender differences in adult FL learning strategies will elucidate the influence of second language learners' cultural background and of the educational settings in which they learn the target language on the choice of their learning strategies by gender. Additional research is also needed to explore the relation between their strategy use and their success.
Although this study contributes useful information to the understanding of learning strategies, there are nevertheless limitations. A limitation of the present study is that the small sample size restricts the generalisability of findings. Thus, there is need for further research to cross-validate findings from the present study to a different, and larger sample. This study was exploratory in nature and dictates caution in interpreting the results. Future research should investigate why these learners have lower strategy use and how to increase it. Multidimensionality of the language learning strategy construct is also an important issue that merits attention. Furthermore, researchers may undertake a gender study to investigate whether the findings reported in the current study may be comparable across different age groups. A further suggestion for follow up studies could be the issue of student second language proficiency and its connection with strategy usage.
It is clear that the more we learn about language learning strategy differences, the more complex the issue becomes. Therefore, further research is also needed to extend our knowledge on individual learning strategy differences. Especially, further examination of gender differences in adult FL learning strategies will elucidate the influence of second language learners' cultural background and of the educational settings in which they learn the target language on the choice of their learning strategies by gender.
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|Author: Dr Leyla Tercanlioglu (PhD Atatürk University) is an Assistant Professor in the School of Education at Atatürk University. Her research has mainly been in pre-service EFL teacher education, EFL Reading and Individual differences in EFL learning. Tercanlioglu's articles have appeared in Prospect: An Australian Journal of TESOL, The Journal of College Literacy and Learning, TESL Canada Journal, and other journals. Dr Tercanlioglu teaches TEFL courses for pre-service EFL teachers. Email: Leyla@atauni.edu.tr
Please cite as: Tercanlioglu, L. (2004). Exploring gender effect on adult foreign language learning strategies. Issues In Educational Research, 14(2), 181-193. http://www.iier.org.au/iier14/tercanlioglu.html