Stanford LINGUISTICS 189/289 – STANFORD UNIVERSITY Linguistics and the Teaching of English as a Second/Foreign Language CALL Mini-Course

Unit 1: Introduction to Computer-Assisted Language Learning.


In general CALL can refer to any language learning or teaching that involves the computer in a significant way. CALL can be

  • one student on one computer with interactive software
  • two or three students on one computer with interactive software
  • students on computers interacting with other students (computer-mediated communication)
  • students on computers working with web-based language content
  • students interacting with one another and a teacher through a computer (online class)
  • a teacher using a single computer and large monitor or data projector for class instruction
  • and other options

CALL environments can be a classroom, a computer lab with the teacher present, a computer lab with students working independently, or students working at a public computer, at home, or elsewhere. The microcomputer has been a central element of this for the past few decades, although notebook computers, PDAs, and even cell phones are beginning to be utilized.

Computers in language teaching: tutor vs. tool. The field of CALL is split more or less into two camps: those who see the computer as a machine for delivering interactive language learning and practice material–the computer as tutor–and those who see it as a means for learners to experience the authentic language and communication opportunities and enhancements afforded by computers–the computer as tool (Levy 1997). It is of course possible, I would say preferable, to recognize these not as opposing philosophies but as end points along the same language teaching continuum that balances teacher-fronted and group work in a classroom. In other words, effective language learning can include elements of both. Consequently, in this introduction to the field I will try to strike a balance between them so that you come out of this able to recognize the potential advantages of using neither, one, or both  for a given teaching situation.

Acronyms and attitudes. This field has gone by a number of different names as groups of practitioners have attempted to impose their own philosophies. CALL remains the generic term

  • CALL: Computer-assisted language learning (the generic term); sometimes Computer-aided language learning
  • CALI: Computer-assisted language instruction (more teaching oriented; less learner focused)
  • CBLT: Computer-based language training (views elements of language learning as “training”)
  • CELL: Computer-enhanced language learning (computer’s  role is less central)
  • TELL: Technology-enhanced language learning (accommodates more than just computers)
  • ICTinLT: Information and Communication Technologies in Language Teaching (focuses more on tool use)
  • NBLT: Network-Based Language Teaching. (focuses on computer-mediated communication and the web


CALL began in the 1960s with mainframe-based drills, especially those based on the University of Illinois’ PLATO system. It remained an insignificant alternative for  language learning until the spread of the microcomputer into educational settings in the early 1980s. Early programs were written by teacher-developers on Apple II, IBM PC, and BBC computers, and were often distributed for free. Commercial programs, when available, were usually quite expensive but were generally more stable and technically sophisticated (though not as innovative). There was some work done with interactive laser disks during this time which provided the foundations for multimedia.

In the late 1980s and early 90s, the Apple Macintosh replace the Apple II in many educational settings and became a favorite among teacher-developers because of the support of HyperCard, a powerful but easy-to-use authoring program. The Mac had built-in sound, making it easier to work with than PCs which had incompatible proprietary boards competing with one another. Early Macs (and HyperCard) did not support color, however, so commercial programs continued to appear for PCs. The PC market was also dominant in most countries outside the US because the machines could be obtained much more cheaply than Macs.

During this period, the use of the computer as a tool increased as teachers developed innovative techniques for using email and word processors became integrated into writing classes. Some teachers helped students develop their own HyperCard projects or ones in similar applications developed for the PC, such as ToolBook. It was noted that building collaborative projects around the computer and using computer mediated communication (CMC) had a strong effect on some students’ motivations and seemed to make it easier for shy students to become involved. Some teachers built assignments around student interactions in multi-user domains (MUDs), the precursors of today’s chat rooms.

Two major changes came starting in the mid-1990s. One was the dramatic increase in commercial multimedia for language learning as CD-ROMs became standard in home computers. The other was the development of the world wide web. Because of the web and increased access to the Internet in general, the past five or six years have seen a major shift toward tool uses, and many newcomers to CALL define the field almost entirely in those terms.


Teachers interested in CALL can get involved in a number of different ways. Here are some possibilities.

  • As researchers: into second language acquisition, human-computer interaction, what works for CALL
  • As consumers of CALL software for class use or building web activities into course work
  • As directors, helping students find and use supplementary CALL materials or web resources
  • As managers of computer-mediated communication among learners in and out of class
  • As software or web developers, either “from scratch” or adding new materials to existing templates
  • As coaches to help students develop software, websites, and general computer literacy
  • As CALL experts for your program, helping other teachers and administrators with CALL implementations
  • As CALL professionals, consulting on external projects, doing software reviews for journals, making conference presentations, writing papers, interpreting and applying CALL research, and/or  providing input to the field at large.

Those who are more serious about making CALL a specialization can look to link their background in language teaching with an MA in Stanford’s Learning, Design, and Technology program in the School of Education or an MA in CALL itself available from institutions like Carnegie-Mellon.  Other CALL courses are listed on Graham Davies website

CALICO Journal (Computer-Assisted Language Instruction Consortium): Archives (1983-2000) online at Also available in Cubberley Library.
CALL Journal (Computer-Assisted Language Learning: An International Journal): I have recent issues–Stanford doesn’t get it.
LLT (Language Learning and Technology Journal): A high quality academic journal: full articles available online free.
CALL-EJ Online (CALL Electronic Journal Online). Full articles available online.
ReCALL Journal of Eurocall. Archives (1996-1999 only) available online at

Boswood, Tim (ed.) (1997). New Ways of Using Computers in Language Teaching. Alexandria: TESOL.
Chambers, Angela & Graham Davies (eds.) (2001) ICT and Language Learning: A European Perspective. Lisse: Swets & Zeitlinger.
Egbert, Joy & Elizabeth Hanson-Smith (eds.) (1999). CALL Environments: Research, Practice, and Critical Issues.    Alexandria: TESOL.
Levy, Michael (1997). Computer-Assisted Language Learning: Context and Conceptualization. New York: Oxford.
Pennington, Martha (ed.) (1996). The Power of CALL. Houston: Athelstan.
Warschauer, Mark & Richard Kern (eds.) (2000). Network-Based Language Teaching: Concepts and Practice. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.


An excellent opportunity to experience learning a new language by computer can be found at Fairfield Language Technologies‘ website.  Their online version of the Rosetta Stone allows you to try sample lessons of any of 26 languages. Select a language you don’t know but have some interest in. Then try out a few lessons. Be sure to read through the tutorial so that you understand all the options you can try.

TESOL CALL Interest Section Annotated Software List (by Deborah Healey & Norm Johnson)
ICT4LT. An excellent set modules giving in-depth coverage the field of CALL.

Links to sites with lots of other links related CALL: try these out if you want to explore. They include extended reference lists of books, articles, and software as well as online CALL resources.
Eurocall Resources
Berkeley Writing Program Links

Neteach-L List of Cool Sites

Back to CALL Mini-Course

Last modified: Friday, January 16, by Phil Hubbard
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Reading problems are emotionally difficult for disadvantaged children

Contact: Andrea Browning
Society for Research in Child Development

Chronic reading problems and depression appear to be related, especially among low-income children, and the reading problems precede the depression.

A new study done by researchers at the University of Delaware and West Chester University of Pennsylvania found that low-income children who take part in reading assistance programs in fifth grade are more depressed, anxious, and withdrawn than their peers, especially when they have chronic reading problems. The study is reported in the March-April 2007 issue of the journal Child Development.

Children from low-income families often have difficulties in reading and math achievement in early elementary school, and these problems increase as they rise in grade level. This study sought to determine if and when reading difficulties are associated with emotional distress.

The researchers looked at 105 4- to 12-year-old children who took part in a longitudinal study of the emotional development of disadvantaged children. Mothers and teachers provided information about reading assistance when the children were in the third and fifth grades, achievement scores documented reading difficulty, teachers rated problem behaviors in school that reflect emotional distress, and the children reported about their own recent negative emotional experiences, including sadness, shame, and fear. The study took into consideration children’s verbal abilities and family income.

Researchers found that fifth grade reading problems were associated with increases in emotional distress from third to fifth grade. Children in reading assistance programs in fifth grade showed more distressed behaviors than those in third grade, whether or not they were in reading programs at that time. And children who were in reading programs in both third and fifth grades were the most distressed.

These children also reported especially high levels of negative emotional experiences. The results tie the emotional distress to developmental changes in children’s understanding of academic ability between 9 and 12 years of age.

“Much research documents the common academic difficulties of economically disadvantaged children,” according to Brian P. Ackerman, professor of psychology at the University of Delaware and lead author of the study. “Little is known, however, about the emotional impact of these difficulties and participation in remediation programs, or whether the impact changes with age.

“Our results suggest that such difficulties have special emotional significance for preadolescent children, but perhaps not for younger children, and that attending to the emotional impact could help prevent school disengagement for disadvantaged children.”

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Verbally aggressive mothers direct their children’s behavior

West Lafayette, IN – July 9, 2008 – Researchers led by Steven R. Wilson of Purdue University videotaped forty mothers as they completed a ten minute play period with one of their children between the ages of three and eight years. The mothers then completed a series of questionnaires including the Verbal Aggressiveness Scale.

Mothers who scored higher on the self-reported VA Scale engaged in more frequent directing of their child’s behavior during the play activities. These mothers were more likely to control activity choices as well as the pace and duration of activities. High VA mothers did so repeatedly and in a manner that tended to enforce an activity choice they had made. Low VA mothers were more likely to follow their child’s lead or seek their child’s input about choice of activity.

High VA mothers used physical negative touch (PNT) when trying to change their child’s actions. Examples of parental PNT by high VA mothers included restraining a child by the shoulder or the wrist to prevent him or her from reaching a toy. No instances of PNT occurred for low VA mothers.

In addition, children with low VA mothers displayed virtually no resistance to their mother’s directives. Children with high trait VA mothers occasionally resisted their mothers’ directives, though this resistance tended to be indirect and short-lived.

“Our study has implications for parenting classes and interventions,” the authors conclude. “In addition to talking about why it is important for parents to avoid lots of verbally aggressive behavior to avoid damaging their child’s self-esteem, parents who have this tendency also need to learn how to follow their child’s lead and read their child’s signals, as opposed to just taking over the play period themselves.”


This study is published in the July 2008 issue of Human Communication Research. Media wishing to receive a PDF of this article may contact

Steven R. Wilson is affiliated with Purdue University and can be reached for questions at

Human Communication Research is one of the official journals of the prestigious International Communication Association and concentrates on presenting the best empirical work in the area of human communication. It is a top-ranked communication studies journal and one of the top ten journals in the field of human communication. Major topic areas for the journal include language and social interaction, nonverbal communication, interpersonal communication, organizational communication and new technologies, mass communication, health communication, intercultural communication, and developmental issues in communication.

Wiley-Blackwell was formed in February 2007 as a result of the acquisition of Blackwell Publishing Ltd. by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., and its merger with Wiley’s Scientific, Technical, and Medical business. Together, the companies have created a global publishing business with deep strength in every major academic and professional field. Wiley-Blackwell publishes approximately 1,400 scholarly peer-reviewed journals and an extensive collection of books with global appeal. For more information on Wiley-Blackwell, please visit or .

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Language Learning Strategies: An Overview for L2 Teachers

Michael Lessard-Clouston
z95014 [at]
Kwansei Gakuin University (Nishinomiya, Japan)

First published in Essays in Languages and Literatures, 8, at Kwansei Gakuin University, December 1997.


This article provides an overview of language learning strategies (LLS) for second and foreign language (L2/FL) teachers. To do so it outlines the background of LLS and LLS training, discusses a three step approach teachers may follow in using LLS in their classes, and summarises key reflections and questions for future research on this aspect of L2/FL education. It also lists helpful contacts and internet sites where readers may access up-to-date information on LLS teaching and research.


Within the field of education over the last few decades a gradual but significant shift has taken place, resulting in less emphasis on teachers and teaching and greater stress on learners and learning. This change has been reflected in various ways in language education and applied linguistics, ranging from the Northeast Conference (1990) entitled “Shifting the Instructional Focus to the Learner” and annual “Learners’ Conferences” held in conjuction with the TESL Canada convention since 1991, to key works on “the learner-centred curriculum” (Nunan, 1988, 1995) and “learner-centredness as language education” (Tudor, 1996).

This article provides an overview of key issues concerning one consequence of the above shift: the focus on and use of language learning strategies (LLS) in second and foreign language (L2/FL) learning and teaching. In doing so, the first section outlines some background on LLS and summarises key points from the LLS literature. The second section considers some practical issues related to using LLS in the classroom, outlining a three step approach to implementing LLS training in normal L2/FL courses. The third section then briefly discusses some important issues and questions for further LLS research. In the fourth section the article ends by noting a number of contacts readers may use to locate and receive up-to-date information on LLS teaching and research in this widely developing area in L2/FL education.


Learning Strategies

In a helpful survey article, Weinstein and Mayer (1986) defined learning strategies (LS) broadly as “behaviours and thoughts that a learner engages in during learning” which are “intended to influence the learner’s encoding process” (p. 315). Later Mayer (1988) more specifically defined LS as “behaviours of a learner that are intended to influence how the learner processes information” (p. 11). These early definitions from the educational literature reflect the roots of LS in cognitive science, with its essential assumptions that human beings process information and that learning involves such information processing. Clearly, LS are involved in all learning, regardless of the content and context. LS are thus used in learning and teaching math, science, history, languages and other subjects, both in classroom settings and more informal learning environments. For insight into the literature on LS outside of language education, the works of Dansereau (1985) and Weinstein, Goetz and Alexander (1988) are key, and one recent LS study of note is that of Fuchs, Fuchs, Mathes and Simmons (1997). In the rest of this paper, the focus will specifically be on language LS in L2/FL learning.


Language Learning Strategies Defined

Within L2/FL education, a number of definitions of LLS have been used by key figures in the field. Early on, Tarone (1983) defined a LS as “an attempt to develop linguistic and sociolinguistic competence in the target language — to incoporate these into one’s interlanguage competence” (p. 67). Rubin (1987) later wrote that LS “are strategies which contribute to the development of the language system which the learner constructs and affect learning directly” (p. 22). In their seminal study, O’Malley and Chamot (1990) defined LS as “the special thoughts or behaviours that individuals use to help them comprehend, learn, or retain new information” (p. 1). Finally, building on work in her book for teachers (Oxford, 1990a), Oxford (1992/1993) provides specific examples of LLS (i.e., “In learning ESL, Trang watches U.S. TV soap operas, guessing the meaning of new expressions and predicting what will come next”) and this helpful definition:

…language learning strageties — specific actions, behaviours, steps, or techniques that students (often intentionally) use to improve their progress in developing L2 skills. These strageties can facilitate the internalization, storage, retrieval, or use of the new language. Strategies are tools for the self-directed involvement necessary for developing communicative ability. (Oxford, 1992/1993, p. 18)

From these definitions, a change over time may be noted: from the early focus on the product of LSS (linguistic or sociolinguistic competence), there is now a greater emphasis on the processes and the characteristics of LLS. At the same time, we should note that LLS are distinct from learning styles, which refer more broadly to a learner’s “natural, habitual, and preferred way(s) of absorbing, processing, and retaining new information and skills” (Reid, 1995, p. viii), though there appears to be an obvious relationship between one’s language learning style and his or her usual or preferred language learning strategies.


What are the Characteristics of LLS?

Although the terminology is not always uniform, with some writers using the terms “learner strategies” (Wendin & Rubin, 1987), others “learning strategies” (O’Malley & Chamot, 1990; Chamot & O’Malley, 1994), and still others “language learning strategies” (Oxford, 1990a, 1996), there are a number of basic characteristics in the generally accepted view of LLS. First, LLS are learner generated; they are steps taken by language learners. Second, LLS enhance language learning and help develop language competence, as reflected in the learner’s skills in listening, speaking, reading, or writing the L2 or FL. Third, LLS may be visible (behaviours, steps, techniques, etc.) or unseen (thoughts, mental processes). Fourth, LLS involve information and memory (vocabulary knowledge, grammar rules, etc.).

Reading the LLS literature, it is clear that a number of further aspects of LLS are less uniformly accepted. When discussing LLS, Oxford (1990a) and others such as Wenden and Rubin (1987) note a desire for control and autonomy of learning on the part of the learner through LLS. Cohen (1990) insists that only conscious strategies are LLS, and that there must be a choice involved on the part of the learner. Transfer of a strategy from one language or language skill to another is a related goal of LLS, as Pearson (1988) and Skehan (1989) have discussed. In her teacher-oriented text, Oxford summarises her view of LLS by listing twelve key features. In addition to the characteristics noted above, she states that LLS:

  • allow learners to become more self-directed
  • expand the role of language teachers
  • are problem-oriented
  • involve many aspects, not just the cognitive
  • can be taught
  • are flexible
  • are influenced by a variety of factors.

(Oxford, 1990a, p. 9)

Beyond this brief outline of LLS characterisitics, a helpful review of the LLS research and some of the implications of LLS training for second language acquisition may be found in Gu (1996).


Why are LLS Important for L2/FL Learning and Teaching?

Within ‘communicative’ approaches to language teaching a key goal is for the learner to develop communicative competence in the target L2/FL, and LLS can help students in doing so. After Canale and Swain’s (1980) influencial article recognised the importance of communication strategies as a key aspect of strategic (and thus communicative) competence, a number of works appeared about communication strategies in L2/FL teaching2. An important distinction exists, however, between communication and language learning strategies. Communication strategies are used by speakers intentionally and consciously in order to cope with difficulties in communicating in a L2/FL (Bialystok, 1990). The term LLS is used more generally for all strategies that L2/FL learners use in learning the target language, and communication strategies are therefore just one type of LLS. For all L2 teachers who aim to help develop their students’ communicative competence and language learning, then, an understanding of LLS is crucial. As Oxford (1990a) puts it, LLS “…are especially important for language learning because they are tools for active, self-directed involvement, which is essential for developing communicative competence” (p. 1).

In addition to developing students’ communicative competence, LLS are important because research suggests that training students to use LLS can help them become better language learners. Early research on ‘good language learners’ by Naiman, Frohlich, Stern, and Todesco (1978, 1996), Rubin (1975), and Stern (1975) suggested a number of positive strategies that such students employ, ranging from using an active task approach in and monitoring one’s L2/FL performance to listening to the radio in the L2/FL and speaking with native speakers. A study by O’Malley and Chamot (1990) also suggests that effective L2/FL learners are aware of the LLS they use and why they use them. Graham’s (1997) work in French further indicates that L2/FL teachers can help students understand good LLS and should train them to develop and use them.

A caution must also be noted though, because, as Skehan (1989) states, “there is always the possibility that the ‘good’ language learning strategies…are also used by bad language learners, but other reasons cause them to be unsuccessful” (p. 76). In fact Vann and Abraham (1990) found evidence that suggests that both ‘good’ and ‘unsuccessful’ language learners can be active users of similar LLS, though it is important that they also discovered that their unsuccessful learners “apparently…lacked…what are often called metacognitive strategies…which would enable them to assess the task and bring to bear the necessary strategies for its completion” (p. 192). It appears, then, that a number and range of LLS are important if L2/FL teachers are to assist students both in learning the L2/FL and in becoming good language learners.


What Kinds of LLS Are There?

There are literally hundreds of different, yet often interrelated, LLS. As Oxford has developed a fairly detailed list of LLS in her taxonomy, it is useful to summarise it briefly here. First, Oxford (1990b) distinguishes between direct LLS, “which directly involve the subject matter”, i.e. the L2 or FL, and indirect LLS, which “do not directly involve the subject matter itself, but are essential to language learning nonetheless” (p. 71). Second, each of these broad kinds of LLS is further divided into LLS groups. Oxford outlines three main types of direct LLS, for example. Memory strategies “aid in entering information into long-term memory and retrieving information when needed for communication”. Cognitive LLS “are used for forming and revising internal mental models and receiving and producing messages in the target language”. Compensation strategies “are needed to overcome any gaps in knowledge of the language” (Oxford, 1990b, p. 71). Oxford (1990a, 1990b) also describes three types of indirect LLS. Metacognitive strageties “help learners exercise ‘executive control’ through planning, arranging, focusing, and evaluating their own learning”. Affective LLS “enable learners to control feelings, motivations, and attitudes related to language learning”. Finally, social strategies “facilitate interaction with others, often in a discourse situation” (Oxford, 1990b, p. 71).

A more detailed overview of these six main types of LLS is found in Oxford (1990a, pp. 18-21), where they are further divided into 19 strategy groups and 62 subsets. Here, by way of example, we will briefly consider the social LLS that Oxford lists under indirect strategies. Three types of social LLS are noted in Oxford (1990a): asking questions, co-operating with others, and empathising with others (p. 21). General examples of LLS given in each of these categories are as follows:

Asking questions

  1. Asking for clarification or verification
  2. Asking for correction

Co-operating with others

  1. Co-operating with peers
  2. Co-operating with proficient users of the new language

Empathising with others

  1. Developing cultural understanding
  2. Becoming aware of others’ thoughts and feelings (Oxford, 1990a, p. 21)

Although these examples are still rather vague, experienced L2/FL teachers may easily think of specific LLS for each of these categories. In asking questions, for example, students might ask something specific like “Do you mean…?” or “Did you say that…?” in order to clarify or verify what they think they have heard or understood. While at first glance this appears to be a relatively straightforward LLS, in this writer’s experience it is one that many EFL students in Japan, for example, are either unaware of or somewhat hesitant to employ.

What is important to note here is the way LLS are interconnected, both direct and indirect, and the support they can provide one to the other (see Oxford, 1990a, pp. 14-16). In the above illustration of social LLS, for example, a student might ask the questions above of his or her peers, thereby ‘co-operating with others’, and in response to the answer he or she receives the student might develop some aspect of L2/FL cultural understanding or become more aware of the feelings or thoughts of fellow students, the teacher, or those in the L2/FL culture. What is learned from this experience might then be supported when the same student uses a direct, cognitive strategy such as ‘practising’ to repeat what he or she has learned or to integrate what was learned into a natural conversation with someone in the target L2/FL. In this case, the way LLS may be inter-connected becomes very clear.


With the above background on LLS and some of the related literature, this section provides an overview of how LLS and LLS training have been or may be used in the classroom, and briefly describes a three step approach to implementing LLS training in the L2/FL classroom.


Contexts and Classes for LLS Training

LLS and LLS training may be integrated into a variety of classes for L2/FL students. One type of course that appears to be becoming more popular, especially in intensive English programmes, is one focusing on the language learning process itself. In this case, texts such as Ellis and Sinclair’s (1989) Learning to Learn English: A Course in Learner Training or Rubin and Thompson’s (1994) How to Be a More Successful Language Learner might be used in order to help L2/FL learners understand the language learning process, the nature of language and communication, what language learning resources are available to them, and what specific LLS they might use in order to improve their own vocabulary use, grammar knowledge, and L2/FL skills in reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Perhaps more common are integrated L2/FL courses where these four skills are taught in tandem, and in these courses those books might be considered as supplementary texts to help learners focus on the LLS that can help them learn L2/FL skills and the LLS they need to acquire them. In this writer’s experience, still more common is the basic L2/FL listening, speaking, reading, or writing course where LLS training can enhance and complement the L2/FL teaching and learning. Whatever type of class you may be focusing on at this point, the three step approach to implementing LLS training in the classroom outlined below should prove useful.


Step 1: Study Your Teaching Context

At first, it is crucial for teachers to study their teaching context, paying special attention to their students, their materials, and their own teaching. If you are going to train your students in using LLS, it is crucial to know something about these individuals, their interests, motivations, learning styles, etc. By observing their behaviour in class, for example, you will be able to see what LLS they already appear to be using. Do they often ask for clarification, verification, or correction, as discussed briefly above? Do they co-operate with their peers or seem to have much contact outside of class with proficient L2/FL users? Beyond observation, however, one can prepare a short questionnaire that students can fill in at the beginning of a course, describing themselves and their language learning. Sharkey (1994/1995), for instance, asks students to complete statements such as “In this class I want to/will/won’t….”, “My favourite/least favourite kinds of class activities are…”, “I am studying English because…”, etc. (Sharkey, 1994/1995, p. 19). Talking to students informally before or after class, or more formally interviewing select students about these topics can also provide a lot of information about one’s students, their goals, motivations, and LLS, and their understanding of the particular course being taught.

Beyond the students, however, one’s teaching materials are also important in considering LLS and LLS training. Textbooks, for example, should be analysed to see whether they already include LLS or LLS training. Scarcella and Oxford’s (1992) Tapestry textbook series, for example, incorporates “learning strategy” boxes which highlight LLS and encourage students to use them in L2/FL tasks or skills. One example from a conversation text in the series states: “Managing Your Learning: Working with other language learners improves your listening and speaking skills” (Earle-Carlin & Proctor, 1996, p. 8). An EFL writing text I use has brief sections on making one’s referents clear, outlining, and choosing the right vocabulary, all of which may be modelled and used in LLS training in my composition course. Audiotapes, videotapes, hand-outs, and other materials for the course at hand should also be examined for LLS or for specific ways that LLS training might be implemented in using them. Perhaps teachers will be surprised to find many LLS incorporated into their materials, with more possibilities than they had imagined. If not, they might look for new texts or other teaching materials that do provide such opportunities.

Last, but certainly not least, teachers need to study their own teaching methods and overall classroom style. One way to do so is to consider your lesson plans. Do they incorporate various ways that students can learn the language you are modelling, practising or presenting, in order to appeal to a variety of learning styles and strategies? Does your teaching allow learners to approach the task at hand in a variety of ways? Is your LLS training implicit, explicit, or both? By audiotaping or videotaping one’s classroom teaching an instructor may objectively consider just what was actually taught and modelled, and how students responded and appeared to learn. Is your class learner-centred? Do you allow students to work on their own and learn from one another? As you circulate in class, are you encouraging questions, or posing ones relevant to the learners with whom you interact? Whether formally in action research or simply for informal reflection, teachers who study their students, their materials, and their own teaching will be better prepared to focus on LLS and LLS training within their specific teaching context.


Step 2: Focus on LLS in Your Teaching

After you have studied your teaching context, begin to focus on specific LLS in your regular teaching that are relevant to your learners, your materials, and your own teaching style. If you have found 10 different LLS for writing explicitly used in your text, for example, you could highlight these as you go through the course, giving students clear examples, modelling how such LLS may be used in learning to write or in writing, and filling in the gaps with other LLS for writing that are neglected in the text but would be especially relevant for your learners.

If you tend to be teacher-centred in your approach to teaching, you might use a specific number of tasks appropriate for your context from the collection by Gardner and Miller (1996) in order to provide students with opportunities to use and develop their LLS and to encourage more independent language learning both in class and in out-of-class activities for your course. As Graham (1997) declares, LLS training “needs to be integrated into students’ regular classes if they are going to appreciate their relevance for language learning tasks; students need to constantly monitor and evaluate the strategies they develop and use; and they need to be aware of the nature, function and importance of such strategies” (p. 169). Whether it is a specific conversation, reading, writing, or other class, an organised and informed focus on LLS and LLS training will help students learn and provide more opportunities for them to take responsibility for their learning3.


Step 3: Reflect and Encourage Learner Reflection

Much of what I have suggested in this section requires teacher reflection, echoing a current trend in pedagogy and the literature in L2/FL education (see, for example, Freeman & Richards, 1996, and Richards & Lockhart, 1994). However, in implementing LLS and LLS training in the L2/FL classroom, purposeful teacher reflection and encouraging learner reflection form a necessary third step. On a basic level, it is useful for teachers to reflect on their own positive and negative experiences in L2/FL learning. As Graham suggests, “those teachers who have thought carefully about how they learned a language, about which strategies are most appropriate for which tasks, are more likely to be successful in developing ‘strategic competence’ in their students” (p. 170). Beyond contemplating one’s own language learning, it is also crucial to reflect on one’s LLS training and teaching in the classroom. After each class, for example, one might ponder the effectiveness of the lesson and the role of LLS and LLS training within it. Do students seem to have grasped the point? Did they use the LLS that was modelled in the task they were to perform? What improvements for future lessons of this type or on this topic might be gleaned from students’ behaviour? An informal log of such reflections and one’s personal assessment of the class, either in a notebook or on the actual lesson plans, might be used later to reflect on LLS training in the course as a whole after its completion. In my experience I have found, like Offner (1997), that rather than limiting my perspective to specific LLS such reflection helps me to see the big picture and focus on “teaching how to learn” within my L2/FL classes.

In addition to the teacher’s own reflections, it is essential to encourage learner reflection, both during and after the LLS training in the class or course. In an interesting action research study involving “guided reflection” Nunan (1996) did this by asking his students to keep a journal in which they completed the following sentences: This week I studied…, I learned…, I used my English in these places…, I spoke English with these people…, I made these mistakes…, My difficulties are…, I would like to know…, I would like help with…, My learning and practising plans for the next week are… (Nunan, 1996, p. 36). Sharkey (1994/1995) asked her learners to complete simple self- evaluation forms at various points during their course. Matsumoto (1996) used student diaries, questionnaires, and interviews to carry out her research and help her students reflect on their LLS and language learning. Pickard (1996) also used questionnaires and follow-up interviews in helping students reflect on their out-of- class LLS. In a writing class, Santos (1997) has used portfolios to encourage learner reflection. These are just a few examples from the current literature of various ways to encourage learner reflection on language learning. As Graham declares, “For learners, a vital component of self-directed learning lies in the on-going evaluation of the methods they have employed on tasks and of their achievements within the…programme” (p. 170). Whatever the context or method, it is important for L2/FL learners to have the chance to reflect on their language learning and LLS use.


An Example of LLS Training

Let me give one example of implementing LLS training within a normal L2/FL class from my experience in teaching a TOEFL preparation course in Canada. After studying my teaching context by considering my part-time, evening college students (most of whom were working) and their LLS, the course textbook and other materials, and my own teaching, I became convinced that I should not only introduce LLS but also teach them and encourage learners to reflect on them and their own learning. To make this LLS training specific and relevant to these ESL students, I gave a mini-lecture early in the course on the importance of vocabulary for the TOEFL and learning and using English, and then focused on specific vocabulary learning strategies (VLS) by highlighting them whenever they were relevant to class activities. In practising listening for the TOEFL, for example, there were exercises on multi-definition words, and after finishing the activity I introduced ways students could expand their vocabulary knowledge by learning new meanings for multi-definition words they already know. I then talked with students about ways to record such words and their meanings on vocabulary cards or in a special notebook, in order for them to reinforce and review such words and meanings they had learned.

In order to encourage learner reflection, later in the course I used a questionnaire asking students about their vocabulary learning and VLS in and outside of class, and the following week gave them a generic but individualised vocabulary knowledge test where students provided the meaning, part of speech, and an example sentence for up to 10 words each person said he or she had ‘learned’. I marked these and handed them back to students the next week, summarising the class results overall and sparking interesting class discussion. For a more detailed description of this classroom activity and a copy of the questionnaire and test, see Lessard-Clouston (1994). For more information on the research that I carried out in conjunction with this activity, please refer to Lessard-Clouston (1996). What became obvious both to me and my students in that attempt at LLS training was that vocabulary learning is a very individualised activity which requires a variety of VLS for success in understanding and using English vocabulary, whether or not one is eventually ‘tested’ on it. Though this is just one example of implementing LLS training in a normal L2/FL class, hopefully readers will be able to see how this general three step approach to doing so may be adapted for their own classroom teaching.


Important Reflections

In my thinking on LLS I am presently concerned about two important issues. The first, and most important, concerns the professionalism of teachers who use LLS and LLS training in their work. As Davis (1997, p. 6) has aptly noted, “our actions speak louder than words”, and it is therefore important for professionals who use LLS training to also model such strategies both within their classroom teaching and, especially in EFL contexts, in their own FL learning. Furthermore, LLS obviously involve individuals’ unique cognitive, social, and affective learning styles and strategies. As an educator I am interested in helping my students learn and reflect on their learning, but I also question the tone and motivation reflected in some of the LLS literature. Oxford (1990a), for example, seems to describe many of my Japanese EFL students when she writes:

…many language students (even adults)…like to be told what to do, and they only do what is clearly essential to get a good grade — even if they fail to develop useful skills in the process. Attitudes and behaviours like these make learning more difficult and must be changed, or else any effort to train learners to rely more on themselves and use better strategies is bound to fail. (Oxford, 1990a, p. 10)

Motivation is a key concern both for teachers and students. Yet while teachers hope to motivate our students and enhance their learning, professionally we must be very clear not to manipulate them in the process, recognising that ultimately learning is the student’s responsibility4. If our teaching is appropriate and learner-centred, we will not manipulate our students as we encourage them to develop and use their own LLS. Instead we will take learners’ motivations and learning styles into account as we teach in order for them to improve their L2/FL skills and LLS.

The second reflection pertains to the integration of LLS into both language learning/teaching theory and curriculum. The focus of this article is largely practical, noting why LLS are useful and how they can or might be included in regular L2/FL classes. These things are important. However, in reflecting on these issues and attempting to implement LLS training in my classes I am reminded that much of the L2/FL work in LLS appears to lack an undergirding theory, perhaps partially because L2/FL education is a relatively young discipline and lacks a comprehensive theory of acquisition and instruction itself. As Ellis (1994) notes, much of the research on LLS “has been based on the assumption that there are ‘good’ learning strategies. But this is questionable” (p. 558). As my own research (Lessard-Clouston, 1996, 1998) suggests, L2/FL learning seems to be very much influenced by numerous individual factors, and to date it is difficult to account for all individual LLS, let alone relate them to all L2/FL learning/teaching theories.

The related challenge, then, is how to integrate LLS into our L2/FL curriculum, especially in places like Japan where “learner-centred” approaches or materials may not be implemented very easily. Using texts which incorporate LLS training, such as those in the Tapestry series, remains difficult in FL contexts when they are mainly oriented to L2 ones. How then may FL educators best include LLS and LLS training in the FL curriculum of their regular, everyday language (as opposed to content) classes? This final point brings us to this and other questions for future LLS research.


Questions for LLS Research

Following from these reflections, then, future L2/FL research must consider and include curriculum development and materials for LLS training which takes into account regular L2/FL classes (especially for adults) and the learning styles and motivations of the students within them. While Chamot and O’Malley (1994, 1996) and Kidd and Marquardson (1996) have developed materials for content-based school classes, it is important to consider the development and use of materials for college and university language classes, especially in FL settings. On the surface at least, it would appear that the language/content/learning strategies components of their frameworks could be easily transferred to a variety of language classroom curricula, but is this really the case? One model to consider in attempting to do so is Stern’s (1992) multidimensional curriculum, which allows for the integration of LLS and LLS training into its language, culture, communicative, and general language education syllabuses.

A pressing need for further research involves developing a comprehensive theory of LLS that is also relevant to language teaching practice. Moving beyond taxonomies of LLS, various types of studies into LLS use and training must consider a wide range of questions, such as: What types of LLS appear to work best with what learners in which contexts? Does LLS or LLS training transfer easily between L2 and FL contexts? What is the role of language proficiency in LLS use and training? How long does it take to train specific learners in certain LLS? How can one best assesss and measure success in LLS use or training? Are certain LLS learnt more easily in classroom or non-classroom contexts? What LLS should be taught at different proficiency levels? Answers to these and many other questions from research in a variety of settings will aid in the theory building that appears necessary for more LLS work to be relevant to current L2/FL teaching practice.

In considering the above questions concerning LLS and LLS training, a variety of research methods should be employed. To date much of the LLS research appears to be based in North America and is largely oriented towards quantitative data and descriptions. In fact, one report on more qualitatively-oriented LLS data by LoCastro (1994) sparked an interesting response from major LLS figures Oxford and Green (1995). While calling for collaborative research in their critique, Oxford and Green’s (1995) comments in many ways discourage such work, especially for those who do not work within North America or use a quantitatively oriented research approach. However, as LoCastro points out in her response,

…there are different kinds of research which produce different results which may be of interest. Research dealing with human beings is notoriously fuzzy and shows a great deal of variation. (LoCastro, 1995, p. 174).

I would concur with this observation. In listing the above questions and calling for more research on LLS, I also hope that more case studies, longitudinal studies, and learner’s self-directed qualitative studies, like the one by Yu (1990), will be carried out and will receive greater attention in the literature in L2/FL education.


As readers may want to take up my challenge and address the issues and questions for research I have outlined here, in this final section I focus on where they may find additional information and resources to help them in their LLS teaching and research. In addition to checking the sources listed in the reference section at the end of this article, there are a number of contacts which readers may find useful for obtaining more information on LLS, LLS training and/or research, and in networking with others involved with or interested in LLS within various aspects of L2/FL education. Three such contacts are noted here.


Where Can I Get More Information?

1. The Japan Association for Language Teaching (JALT) Learner Development National Special Interest Group (N-SIG), formed in 1994, encourages learner development and autonomy, which involves and encompasses LLS. It publishes a quarterly, bilingual (English-Japanese) newsletter called Learning Learning and organises presentations at the annual JALT conference each autumn. For more information one can access the Learner Development N-SIG homepage or contact the co-ordinator:


Dr. Jill Robbins
Doshisha Women’s College
English Department
Tanabe-co, Tsuzuki-gun
Kyoto-fu 610-03 JAPAN

2. The International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL) Learner Independence Special Interest Group (SIG) has an international network of members who are interested in learning styles and LLS, learning centres, and related topics. In addition to publishing a newsletter, Independence, it occasionally holds related events. For more information either visit the Learner Independence SIG home page or contact the co-ordinator, Jenny Timmer, through email to IATEFL at: <>.

3. The Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA) at the University of Minnesota publishes a newsletter, The NESSLA Report (the Network of Styles and Strategies in Language Acquisition) and maintains a Second Language Learning Strategies website. In order to subscribe to the newsletter, contact CARLA as follows:


Suite 111, UTEC Building
1313 5th St. S.E.,
Minneapolis, MN
5514 U.S.A.

The area of LLS is a major but quickly developing aspect of L2/FL education, and interested teachers and researchers are advised to check the internet sites listed here for the most up-to- date information on this topic. In accessing these WWW pages one will also find links to related sites and organisations5.



This paper has provided a brief overview of LLS by examining their background and summarising the relevant literature. It has also outlined some ways that LLS training has been used and offered a three step approach for teachers to consider in implementing it within their own L2/FL classes. It has also raised two important issues, posed questions for further LLS research, and noted a number of contacts that readers may use in networking on LLS in L2/FL education. In my experience, using LLS and LLS training in the L2/FL class not only encourages learners in their language learning but also helps teachers reflect on and improve their teaching. May readers also find this to be the case.



I would like to thank my students for their input on LLS and LLS training, and Birgit Harley and Wendy Lessard-Clouston for their input on the issues presented in this overview and for their helpful comments on earlier drafts.



1. The Author: Michael Lessard-Clouston is Associate Professor of English, School of Economics, Kwansei Gakuin University, 1-1-155 Uegahara, Nishinomiya, 662 Japan.

2. See, for example, the work of Bialystok (1990), Bongaerts & Poulisse (1989), Dornyei & Thurrell (1991), Kasper & Kellerman (1997), McDonough (1995), Poulisse (1989), and Willems (1987) on communication strategies.

3. For more examples of specific types of LLS training, refer to the works listed in the reference section. Oxford’s (1990a) book, for instance, offers chapters with practical activities related to applying direct or indirect LLS to the four language skills or general management of learning.

4. For recent discussions of this issue and others related to autonomy and independence in language learning, see Benson & Voller (1997) and the articles in Ely & Pease-Alvarez (1996).

5. The contact details provided in this section are current as of autumn 1997.



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The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. III, No. 12, December 1997

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Passive Grammar: We’ve Got It, Let’s Use It!

Michaela Borova and Bryan Murphy
bm_fld [at]
University of Architecture, Civil Engineering and Geodesy, Sofia, Bulgaria

Bryan Murphy became aware of passive grammar while working in Sofia and attempting to learn “survival Bulgarian”. In one of his rare successes as a learner of Bulgarian, he sat down with his Bulgarian for foreigners textbook and discovered that a whole load of the language that had been opaque before was suddenly starting to make some kind of sense. This was true not only of words but also of grammar, and indeed of socio-linguistic features. While the concept of active and passive vocabulary is well-established, the parallel concept of passive grammar is less often considered. We believe that it is valid and has significant implications.

What precisely is passive grammar? It is grammatical awareness that the learner has but cannot – yet – put into productive use correctly and consistently. It does not necessarily matter whether this awareness is conscious or unconscious. Conscious awareness may take the form of explicit, learned information, for instance that Bulgarian has three genders: masculine, feminine and neuter. Unconscious awareness may take the form of unformulated expectations about the language you’re learning, such as that it will distinguish between present and past. As your contact with the language increases, these expectations grow and develop, becoming more complex and more refined. We are well used to “protecting” our students against negative transfer from their mother tongue in the form of “false friends”, etc. We are less accustomed to exploiting the vast potential for positive transfer in a conscious and systematic manner.

Why does this matter? Well, if we’ve got passive grammar, let’s use it. In fact, as teachers, we already do so, though usually implicitly. Any spiral syllabus recognises it. The Total Physical Response turns it into a method. All multiple choice questions designed as grammar tests rely on it entirely. Attempts to develop reading and listening as skills draw up on it. Michaela has developed a type of exercise for use at the University of Architecture, Civil Engineering and Geodesy in Sofia which makes use of it. She explains the role of auxiliary verbs in question formation, then asks her students to form questions using tenses they have not been presented with. She finds that, working in groups, they are usually able to form questions in the simple past from a knowledge of the simple present, to form questions using “would” from a knowledge of how to form questions using “can”, etc. She finds that this kind of pre-communicative exercise ties in well with the learning styles prevalent among engineering students. In other words, they enjoy discovering that there is some logic in the mechanics of English. Moreover, it boosts their confidence in their capacity to handle the greater complexities that are to come.

If we make the concept of passive grammar explicit, we can follow up some of its interesting implications. It is possible that grammar may have to be passive before it becomes active, in which case it makes good sense to build up the foundations of passive grammar. But, and this is a big but, there is no guarantee that passive grammar will ever become active. Bulgarians, for instance, have an enormous reservoir of passive Russian grammar, due to the similarities between their two languages, but not that many of them have had occasion to acquire communicative competence in Russian. Passive grammar, then, may be a necessary step toward active use, but it by no means a sufficient one. We are talking about a potential tool, not a magic wand.

If you are still sceptical about the existence of passive grammar, let us see if we can tap into and develop your passive grammar of Bulgarian with the following exercises:

Underline the verb in the following sentences:

Az iskam podarak.
Te iskaha kolata.
Nie iskahme tova.
Toi iskashe vsichko.
Vie iskahte mnogo.
Vie vzehte kolata.
Te nyamaha vreme.
Iskaha li te kolata?

2)  Which one word in each of the following utterances make them questions?
A/ Te otvoriha li vratata?
B/ Toi mozhe li da popravi pechkata?
C/ Imame li vreme?

3) Re-write those questions as statements.

1) a. iskam; b. iskaha; c. iskahme; d. iskashe;
e. iskahte; f. vzehte; g. nyamaha; h. iskaha?

2) li

A/ Te otvoriha vratata.
B/ Toi mozhe da popravi pechkata.
C/ Imame vreme.

Full marks? If so, we are not that surprised.

We need to add another rider here: you cannot build a course out of this stuff. It would be far too boring. These exercises are a bit like warm-ups for the brain, most effective if used sparingly.

The implications we wish now to highlight concern non-native teachers, the nature of exercises, mistakes in exercises and slow learners.

This concept upgrades the value of non-native teachers at a stroke. If grammar explanations have a role to play, which they do in building up passive grammar, then for beginners and elementary learners they are best given in those learners’ own language

Whilst we do not deny the benefits of “negotiating meaning” in a foreign language, anyone who has done any real life negotiating will be aware that failed negotiations often generate more frustration than benefits. Regarding the information about a language that needs to be conveyed, we need to take seriously the questions What? When? How much? and How? Teaching about language can again have a place in language teaching, but it is a tool, not an end in itself. Nevertheless, it probably deserves closer examination, as a tool, than it has had in recent times.

The concept of passive grammar suggests that it is not always necessary for grammar that is being presented to be immediately used actively for learning to take place. Yet most textbook exercises require this. Here is another exercise which, like the examples given above, does not.

a. Underline the words in the text below that refer to the past.

Yesterday, I crashed my car. Two days ago, someone killed my cat. Last Sunday, my spouse asked for a divorce. Never mind. A week ago, my lover and I robbed a bank. Tomorrow, we’re leaving, and soon we’ll be starting a new life in Australia.

Underline the past tense verbs in the text above.

Underline the irregular past tense verbs in the following text:

A man walked into a pub. He went up to the bar and asked the barman for a glass of water. The barman took out a gun and pointed it at him. “Thank you,” said the man.

In terms of the basic psychology of memory, the above exercises require recognition not recall as a first step in the memory process. In standard TEFL terms, they require reception not production as a first step in the language learning process. The next exercise demonstrates more clearly that passive grammar also operates at the level of text grammar. It is a short, standard “jigsaw reading” exercise at intermediate or upper intermediate level.

Put the sentences into the right order:

  • The New Jersey teen became a vegetarian 15 months ago.
  • Undeterred, Jacklyn ate buns filled with pickled slices instead.
  • Don’t make the mistake of offering Jacklyn Stewart, 15, a pork chop.
  • At first her dad treated it like simple rebelliousness.
  • Or, for that matter, a hamburger.
  • He gave a barbecue and made a point of having only ground round for the grill – not a soy patty in sight.

(from Newsweek)

Answer: c, e, a, d, f, b.

It follows from the ideas of passive grammar, recognition and reception that the “meaning” of learners making mistakes might not be transparent. We are talking specifically about mistakes in exercises. It is clearly no bad thing if a learner gets a production exercise right. But this does not mean that the learner has mastered the grammar point. They may have guessed the answer, they may have worked it out without understanding the grammar point, or, having solved the problem, they may immediately forget the problem-solving mechanism. Conversely, getting an exercise wrong does not mean that nothing has been learnt: it is possible that passive grammar has been imbibed, and, what’s more, passive grammar going beyond the overt teaching point. Learning and teaching, indeed, are by no means symmetrical, and this is what enables people to learn languages, for linguists have not yet provided a full and accurate grammar of any single language, so that learners necessarily learn more than teachers can systematically teach.

Which brings us back to Bryan, shuffling his teach-yourself-Bulgarian books: miffed at finding himself, despite all his experience of language learning and language teaching, a decidedly slow language learner this time around, but nevertheless aware, or at least confident, that with input, encouragement, motivation and, above all, time, he’d get there. Passive grammar means, above all, that we as teachers and learners can relax a bit about learning process: there’s more going on than might appear on the surface. And if we can learn to exploit passive grammar effectively, we might be able to speed up that learning process.

The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. III, No. 8, August 1997

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Teacher’s Tips: Online Grammar Teaching and Learning

Caroline Ho Mei Lin
homlc [at]
National Institute of Education
Nanyang Technological University (Singapore)

Originally Published in
‘Society for Reading and Literacy (Singapore) News magazine’,
3rd quarter 1997, Vol. 9 No. 3, p.11-12


  • The access to a wide range of resources
  • The ease and speed of getting information to large numbers of students
  • The attractive layout and graphics
  • The links to numerous other sites
  • The students getting feedback without teachers having to mark their work

These may easily entice and attract teachers to the Internet (or Net) with its plethora of resources and teaching materials. Not only is the amount of information accessible on the Net extensive but the rate of growth of the Net since its inception has been unbelievably rapid. Indeed, the Word Wide Web (or Web) with which the Net is most commonly associated has itself grown since 1993 with the introduction of the graphical web browser software. The number of pages on the Web has doubled on the average of every 3 to 5 months since then. It is no wonder then that the growth of the Web is regarded to be `unparalleled in the entire modern history of spoken and written communication’ (Maddux, 1996, p. 64).

Grammar Resources on the Net

The available resources for grammar on the Net can broadly be categorised into two main types: information-based and teaching resources. These are sites which provide: information on grammar items including lists of grammar items, Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on correct grammatical usage, online grammar clinics/help centres/forums inviting questions with responses assured and also explanations of grammar rules with appropriate examples and teaching resources including lesson plans, worksheets and activities, tasks or exercises.

I would like to focus on the second area, namely, the teaching resources or materials available for grammar teaching and learning and share some pointers on the use of these resources, in particular, for individualised instruction and independent learning by students.

A careful selection and adaptation of available resources needs to be carried out in order to ensure that students learn to put to appropriate use their understanding of grammar to communicate meaningfully, appropriately and fluently. The onus is on teachers to integrate the available resources into their present instructional programme. The general approach and underlying principles shaping the nature of the content of sites vary. There may be a structured series of individual, uncontextualised sentences in a number of so-called grammar `quizzes’ for easy and fast review or practice. These could include multiple choice, matching, word ordering, changing word forms, classification, fill-in-the-blank, sentence/clause/phrase manipulation, sentence completion and creation. Other sites, however, offer tasks requiring more independent student research where the responses are essentially student-generated. For instance, students have to search the Web as a corpus for available data in where they collect and analyse examples of words or phrases used in authentic communication.

The purpose of using the resources available is of central concern: whether for remediation or as enrichment and extension activities. Ultimately, teachers need to exercise discretion in the appropriate selection and adaptation of resources or materials so as to maximise the potential of the resources on the Net. The resources should provide for flexible, self-pacing opportunities in order to meet the specific needs and address particular areas of weaknesses of students. The sites may provide for language tasks from a range of competence levels and different entry points.

There is a need for teachers to select self-directed tasks and programmes that teach students how to work independently, explore, discover and learn to make choices. Increasingly as the new millenium approaches, there is a shift from meeting students’ needs in terms of `learning prescribed subject matter’ to one of `learning to learn and wider empowerment’ (Hackbarth, 1996, p.255). The challenge is thus for us to empower our students, not just to provide meaningless drills, nor to control them in their choice of responses made. Only then can a greater ownership of classroom activities and responsibility for students’ own learning be developed.

The quality of feedback to responses given is crucial in determining the usefulness of resources for independent learning. Feedback can be used to provide information to learners about their performance to enable them to use the information to correct their errors. On some sites, encouraging feedback and the necessary explanations to aid in understanding are given if not almost immediately, at least transmitted within a few days or so. There is sufficient support and guidance given in the form of elaboration and appropriate examples to aid students in their understanding of the grammar item in focus. However, in some sites, incorrect answers given may also not always have adequate explanations to help students’ understanding.

Students also need opportunities to sufficiently challenge them and to stimulate their thinking skills as they engage in discovery activities which help them deduce grammar rules through appropriate activities. The degree of challenge and difficulty level of tasks from various sites differ markedly. The structured, isolated exercises are more predictable, being repetitive in nature with a more limited range of variety and do not necessarily challenge students to the same degree. The degree of interactivity provided by the sites whereby students are led to explore and think through their choices in coming to a decision is to be considered. Skills which develop students’ thinking that include the following: induction and deduction, classifying, abstraction and rationalisation and justification are offered in some sites where opportunities for deduction, induction and constructing support for responses are provided. We need to work towards providing students the opportunity to discover and deduce grammar rules for themselves from the guided tasks given with appropriate notes and comments.

The use of a range of stimuli from text, graphics and sound (where available) in resources is to be carefully integrated in order to provide not only a variety of learning experiences but also cater to a range of learning styles and approaches to language learning. Some students require a visual stimulus in the form of graphic illustration which may be present as a trigger or stimulus for response to the text. Others may prefer a format of filling up tabular forms or in the form of a chart.

A knowledge of the linguistic terms and grammar rules alone does not necessarily imply an ability in knowing how to use the language appropriately and effectively. Tasks which merely engage students in scoring in purely structured tests or quizzes do not necessarily help develop students’ proficiency or ability in using language effectively and appropriately in a communicative context . There is a need for materials or resources with a certain degree of authenticity and realism that parallel as closely to real life as possible the use of language. Sufficient contextual information and background material need to be included.

There is a need to consider if the online resources merely test or teach students grammar items. Not all sites consistently provide quick diagnosis and prompt feedback given to responses. Related to the issue of teaching through providing an enjoyable and worthwhile learning experience is the motivational factor that prompts the use of the resource, namely, whether there is the `value addedness’ of the material in helping students acquire a better understanding and use of language as compared to existing print and audio-visual resources.



The Net has broken down the walls of time and space, giving every individual the ability to be a lifelong learner. We need, through teacher selectivity, monitoring, and appropriate adaptability or modifications, to provide opportunities and sufficiently prepare our students to work independently. Students, as research has shown, learn best through exploration. We, as language teachers, must consider how to expand their space and opportunities for learning. When students become actively engaged in discovering information for themselves, they will be able to solve problems and learn on their own. Then only can we say that we have effectively used information technology to expand and enhance independent learning in our classrooms and made it an integral part of classroom instruction.


  • Hackbarth, S. 1996. The educational technology handbook: A comprehensive guide. New Jersey:Educational Technology Publication, Inc.
  • Maddux, C.D. 1996. The state of the art in web-based learning. Computers in the schools, 12(4), 63-71.

[Caroline Ho Mei Lin is a Teaching Fellow with the Division of English Language and Applied Linguistics, NIE/NTU].

The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. III, No. 12, December 1997

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Towards an Understanding of Culture in L2/FL Education

Michael Lessard-Clouston
z95014 [at]
Associate Professor of English at the School of Economics
Kwansei Gakuin University, Japan

First published in Ronko: K.G. Studies in English, 25, 131-150 (March 1997 at Kwansei Gakuin University)


The title of Valdes’ (1990) paper, “The inevitability of teaching and learning culture in a foreign language course,” may now reflect an axiom in second-and foreign-language (L2 and FL) pedagogy, but it remains unclear to many L2 and FL educators just how this has come to be the case and what impact this has on their classroom practice. This article addresses these issues by working towards an understanding of culture in L2 and FL education. In doing so, we will examine how L2 and FL culture teaching has developed, where it currently stands, and what directions to take for future research on this topic.

Culture Teaching in L2/FL Education: Background

Although some L2/FL teachers seem to think that the presence of culture in current writings is relatively recent, a review of the L2/FL literature shows that this is clearly not the case. The early pattern is evident: people learned a second or foreign language in order to read and study its literature. Allen (1985) has summarized it: “…prior to the 1960s, the lines between language and culture were carefully drawn. The primary reason for second language study in the earlier part of this century was access to the great literary masterpieces of civilization” (p. 138). As Flewelling (1993, p. 339) notes, “it was through reading that students learned of the civilization associated with the target language”. Thus Nostrand’s (1966) paper on “describing and teaching the sociocultural context of a foreign language and literature” presented something of a challenge by suggesting two educational purposes of FL teaching: ‘crosscultural communication and understanding’ (p. 4). Concurrently, the development of the social sciences resulted in an increased focus on the disciplines of anthropology and sociology, and a more widespread understanding of culture. The sixties were also the height of the audiolingual era in language teaching, and the time when Brooks (1968) “emphasized the importance of culture not for the study of literature but for language learning,” as Steele (1989, p. 155) has observed. Communication began to take centre stage, along with spoken rather than written language, and what is often termed ‘small c culture’ (Steele, 1989; p. 155).

In the 1970s, an emphasis on sociolinguistics resulted in greater emphasis on the context and situation where the L2 or FL would be used. Savignon’s (1972) early study on communicative competence, for example, suggested the “value of training in communicative skills from the very beginning of the FL program” (p. 9). Culture’s role in the FL and L2 curriculum grew, and influential works by Seelye (1974) and Lafayette (1975) appeared. ‘The communicative approach’ eventually replaced the audiolingual method in many areas of the world, and in describing their framework for communicative competence, Canale and Swain (1980) claimed that “a more natural integration” of language and culture takes place “through a more communicative approach than through a more grammatically based approach” (p. 31). Teacher-oriented texts (Hammerly, 1982; Higgs, 1984; Omaggio, 1986; Rivers, 1981) now also included detailed chapters on culture teaching for the L2 and FL class, reflecting the prevailing goal: communication within the cultural context of the target language.

During the 1980s, Stern’s (1983a) major work recognized the ‘concepts of society’ in language teaching, and his (1983b) paper on the multidimensional FL curriculum recommended a four component model that included a cultural syllabus. Seelye’s original work was revised (1984), and other major works appeared concerning culture learning in L2 and FL contexts, particularly for ESL and EFL, including Damen (1987), Robinson (1981, 1988) and Valdes (1986). In Europe, a focus on ‘cultural studies’ developed in FL teaching, as described by Byram (1986, 1988, 1989) and Murphy (1988).

In the 1990s, the cultural syllabus has been supported by research in the National Core French Study (Flewelling, 1994; LeBlanc, 1990; LeBlanc & Courtel, 1990), and its importance was reaffirmed in Stern’s (1992) last book. The European emphasis on cultural studies has developed further (Buttjes, 1990; Byram, 1994; Shotton, 1991) and has also been supported by empirical research (Buttjes & Byram, 1990; Byram & Esarte-Sarries, 1991; Byram, Esarte-Sarries & Taylor, 1991). In short, ‘culture’ in L2 and FL education today is clearly much more than great literature. As our understanding of language and communication has evolved, the importance of culture in L2 and FL education has increased. This reality is reflected in current methods of language learning and teaching, including the recent Tapestry approach (Scarcella & Oxford, 1992).

While, as Nemni (1992) makes clear, there are still some ‘fuzzy’ aspects to our approach to culture both in the L2/FL class and the literature, we have moved from simply describing the sociocultural context of the L2/FL (Nostrand, 1966) to speaking of contexts of competence (Berns, 1990), considering second culture acquisition (Robinson, 1991), working to prepare students for meaningful culture learning (Mantle-Bromley, 1992), recognizing context and culture in language teaching (Kramsch, 1993), developing a new philosophy of teaching culture (Oxford, 1994), and teaching and learning language and culture (Byram, Morgan & Colleagues, 1994). That culture teaching and learning is a developing area in applied linguistics is further reflected in the growing list of recent publications (including Cargill, 1987, and Harrison, 1990) that deal specifically with this aspect of our work. As Higgs (1990) stated, it is the recognition of an “unbreakable bond between language and culture that motivates our profession’s implicit commandment that ‘thou shalt not teach language without also teaching culture'” (p. 74).

Language Teaching is Culture Teaching

As L2 and FL educators, we teach and our students learn about the culture of the L2/FL whether or not we include it overtly in the curriculum. This point was made by McLeod (1976, p. 212) some years ago: “by teaching a language…one is inevitably already teaching culture implicitly”. Sociolinguistics reveals why. In an article on discourse, for example, Brown (1990) questions whether or not language may be value-free or independent of cultural background. She concludes: “there are values, presuppositions, about the nature of life and what is good and bad in it, to be found in any normal use of language” (p. 13). Such normal language use is exactly what most L2 and FL instructors aim to teach.

Beyond this perspective, Buttjes (1990, p. 55) refers to ethnographic language studies (Ochs & Schieffelin, 1984; Poyatos, 1985; Peters and Boggs, 1986) and summarizes several reasons why “language and culture are from the start inseparably connected”:

  1. language acquisition does not follow a universal sequence, but differs across cultures;
  2. the process of becoming a competent member of society is realized through exchanges of language in particular social situations;
  3. every society orchestrates the ways in which children participate in particular situations, and this, in turn, affects the form, the function and the content of children’s utterances;
  4. caregivers’ primary concern is not with grammatical input, but with the transmission of sociocultural knowledge;
  5. the native learner, in addition to language, acquires also the paralinguistic patterns and the kinesics of his or her culture. (Buttjes, 1990, p. 55)

Having outlined these findings, Buttjes cautions readers that “as in the case of first vs. second language acquisition research, first and second culture acquisition differ in many respects” (1990, p. 55). Two of his further observations also explain just how language teaching is culture teaching:

  1. language codes cannot be taught in isolation because processes of sociocultural transmission are bound to be at work on many levels, e.g. the contents of language exercises, the cultural discourse of textbooks (Kramsch, 1988), and the teacher’s attitudes towards the target culture;
  2. in their role of “secondary care givers” language teachers need to go beyond monitoring linguistic production in the classroom and become aware of the complex and numerous processes of intercultural mediation that any foreign language learner undergoes… (Buttjes, 1990, pp. 55-56)

Thus, from this evidence and that provided by Valdes (1990) in the paper referred to above, it is clear that language teaching is indeed culture teaching. Such a perspective is evident outside of the fields of applied linguistics and second language education as well, in writings on intercultural communication (Luce and Smith [1987]). Consider this view from outside of the L2 and FL education literature:

Culture and communication are inseparable because culture not only dictates who talks to whom, about what, and how the communication proceeds, it also helps to determine how people encode messages, the meanings they have for messages, and the conditions and circumstances under which various messages may or may not be sent, noticed, or interpreted… Culture…is the foundation of communication. (Samovar, Porter, & Jain, 1981, p. 24)

We should and do teach our students the L2 or FL culture in our classes when our goal is communicative competence. Not only is culture part and parcel of the process, but the educational value of it within L2/FL education is great, as Byram (1988) argues.

The question arises, however, that if language and culture are so intricately intertwined, why bother overtly focussing on culture when there are so many other aspects of the curriculum that need more attention? As Kramsch, Cain, and Murphy-Lejeune (1996) have answered this very question by outlining historical reasons for a discourse-based “culture as language and language as culture” pedagogy, the short answer here includes several points. First, though culture is implicit is what we teach, to assume that those who are ‘learning the language’ in our classes are also learning the cultural knowledge and skills required to be competent L2/FL speakers denies the complexity of culture, language learning, and communication. Second, we should include culture in our curriculum in an intentional manner in order to avoid the stereotyping and pitfalls Nemni (1992) has outlined. The third reason for expressly including culture in our L2/FL curriculum is to enable teachers to do a better job teaching culture and to be more accountable to students for the culture learning that takes place in our L2/FL classes.

Culture Defined for L2/FL Education

To this point, I have skirted around an important issue: just what is culture? As Nemni (1992) and Street (1993) suggest, this is not an easy question to answer, particularly in an increasingly international world. Some time ago, Kroeber and Kluckhohn (1954) found over three hundred definitions of culture in their study, which underlines the difficulty and scope of the issues involved in communicating and teaching about culture. Nonetheless, the development of culture teaching in L2/FL education has led to a current understanding of culture, which I will briefly summarize here.

On a general level, culture has been referred to as “the ways of a people” (Lado, 1957). This perspective incorporates both ‘material’ manifestations of culture that are easily seen and ‘non-material’ ones that are more difficult to observe, as Saville-Troike (1975, p. 83) has noted. This global view of culture is reflected in Nemni’s (1992, p. 19) comment that the “American way of life” is conquering areas across the planet. EFL educators in Japan may well echo this point. Somewhat similarly, L2/FL teachers or students may refer to ‘Canadian culture’ or ‘Chinese culture’ in speaking of the way of life in Canada or China when refering to the people, societies and communication in these countries. Nemni (1992, pp. 13-17) has rightly noted some problems in speaking of a national culture. However, to demand one pure national culture for linguistic or ethnic groups denies the pluralism which Nemni also describes as inherent in all societies (p. 31). Reality shows us that while there are distinctions between national cultures, they may be harder to describe than other differences. Accordingly, we also speak of culture in a more specific manner in our L2/FL classes.

Adaskou, Britten & Fahsi (1990, pp. 3-4) help us define culture on a more specific level by outlining four meanings of culture. Their aesthetic sense includes cinema, literature, music, and media, while their sociological one refers to the organization and nature of family, interpersonal relations, customs, material conditions, and so on. Their semantic sense encompasses the whole conceptualization system which conditions perceptions and thought processes, and their pragmatic or sociolinguistic sense refers to the background knowledge, social and paralinguistic skills, and language code which are necessary for successful communication. While not necessarily all-inclusive or mutually exclusive, these aspects of culture provide more substance to the general definition above and reflect culture’s many dimensions. These four senses of culture outline the substance of our culture teaching as we discuss, model, and teach the L2 or FL culture in our classes.

While it is natural for us to speak of and define culture at both a general and a specific level because of the inherent complexity of the concept, another aspect of our definition reflects the dynamic nature of culture. It never remains static, but is constantly changing. As a result, Robinson (1988) rejects behaviourist, functionalist, and cognitive definitions of culture and recommends a symbolic one which sees culture as a dynamic “system of symbols and meanings” where “past experience influences meaning, which in turn affects future experience, which in turn affects subsequent meaning, and so on” (p. 11).

The different levels and aspects of culture briefly outlined here clearly show that our understanding of what culture means in L2 and FL education is varied. In L2 and FL teaching and learning, the issue of defining culture is best viewed as a continuum. This provides the ability to stress various dimensions of culture at different points, and allows for major differences between L2 and FL contexts. For L2 or FL teachers and learners in varied contexts, different aspects of culture may well be more or less important at various levels of language proficiency.

L2/FL Education Theory: Stern’s Framework

In defining culture in L2 and FL education in this fashion, I recognize Stern’s (1983a, 1992) theoretical framework, which has greatly influenced current L2 and FL pedagogy — in both theory and practice. Essentially, Stern’s three-level framework for L2/FL teaching theory includes a foundational level (one) based in the social sciences (including linguistics and educational theory), an interlevel (two) where theory and research come together in applied or educational linguistics, and a practical level (three) where the methodology and organization of L2/FL learning and teaching meet in the educational context.

In discussing concepts of society, Stern (1983a, p. 255) relates his model to the cultural aspect of L2 and FL teaching. With anthropology, sociology, and sociolinguistics providing the foundations at level one, studies and ethnographic description of the L2 or FL culture lead into the language teaching context at level two, which is supported by the sociocultural component of the L2 or FL curriculum at level three. The Stern (1983b) multidimensional curriculum was used successfully in the National Core French Study, and the cultural syllabus component has been detailed in LeBlanc, Courtel & Trescases (1990).

Perhaps most important about the Stern conceptual framework is that it recognizes that the context for language, culture, and communication is society, and thus emphasizes the social sciences as a foundation. In addition, it also states a clear frame of reference — a region, a country or a number of countries — for the society represented in the sociocultural component of the L2 or FL curriculum. Whether, as LeBlanc, Courtel & Trescases (1990) recommend, we start with the closest local L2 or FL presence and move on to L2 and FL groups farther afield, we do and need to focus on a clear society, all the while remembering the pluralism inherent within both groups and nations. My French as a second language (FSL) teachers in Toronto therefore rightly stressed Franco-Ontarian culture in my French classes, in addition to Quebec culture, and the cultures of France and Francophone Africa. In Canadian ESL, we also stress the local culture first while noting that “other people [and cultures] may have different views” (Brown, 1990, p. 15). This is just one of the many aspects of Stern’s framework, and current L2 and FL culture teaching in particular.

Guidelines for the L2/FL Classroom

With this background, it is helpful to review present guidelines for culture teaching within L2 and FL education.

First, our goals for L2/FL culture teaching must reflect the general, specific, and dynamic aspects of culture. Since Seelye (1993), Hammerly (1982, pp. 522-524), and Stern (1992, pp. 212- 215) have dealt elsewhere with cultural goals in the L2/FL class, I will summarize three. Students will indeed need to develop knowledge of and about the L2 or FL culture, but this receptive aspect of cultural competence is not sufficient. Learners will also need to master some skills in culturally appropriate communication and behaviour for the target culture. Finally, cultural awareness is necessary if students are to develop an understanding of the dynamic nature of the target culture, as well as their own culture. Certainly, the goals for culture teaching and learning may vary between L2 and FL contexts.

Second, in terms of the methodology of culture teaching, a laissez-faire approach is not adequate. Just as we are intentional in terms of what grammatical structures we teach and how, we must also be systematic about our culture teaching. A whole range of techniques exists (see Damen, 1987; Fantini, forthcoming; Rivers, 1981; Seelye, 1993; Stern, 1992; Tomalin & Stempelski, 1993; Valdes, 1986; and other resources outlined in Lessard-Clouston, 1994), but our learners benefit most when our culture lessons and the cultural aspects of our language teaching are well planned and developed. One notable method, called the ‘interactive language/culture process’, covers the above goals and is described in detail in Crawford-Lange & Lange (1984).

Third, just as we evaluate our students’ language learning, evaluation of their culture learning provides them with important feedback and keeps us accountable in our teaching. Culture learning assessment has been neglected in L2/FL education, and this is something that must be addressed if we are to enable students to truly understand and profit from this aspect of their L2/FL classes. Byram, Morgan & Colleagues (1994), Lafayette & Schultz (1975), Lessard-Clouston (1992), Valette (1986), and Zarate (1991) have dealt elsewhere with the evaluation of culture learning in L2 and FL teaching.

Fourth, the growing multicultural nature of both L2 and FL classes in North America and elsewhere is unfortunately an often untapped resource. One only needs to step into a current ESL or FSL classroom in a major centre in Canada, for example, to know that intercultural communication exists among students even before the language or culture lesson begins. Bennett (1996) challenges TESOL educators to move “beyond tolerance” in order to develop real intercultural communication in our multicultural classes. As the writers in Murray (1992) affirm, the linguistic and cultural diversity of our classes is indeed a resource. Incorporating students’ experience and awareness of and knowledge about various languages and cultures will only enhance our L2/FL culture teaching. The readings in Richard-Amato and Snow (1992) provide some foundations on the nature of the multicultural classroom, and Clarke (1996) helpfully discusses the teaching of language and culture from within a framework which recognizes the global implications of both English and TESOL.

Issues for Research

Beyond current practice, several areas need to be investigated in order to further develop our understanding of culture in L2 and FL education.

One area that needs to be addressed from the start concerns both teacher and student perceptions of the importance of culture learning in various L2 and FL programs and contexts. Are certain types of teachers or learners more open to or motivated about L2/FL culture learning? How important do they think culture is in learning a L2 or FL? What do they consider important in a cultural syllabus? While initial work has been done in EFL, by Lessard-Clouston (1996) and Prodromou (1992), more such information about other languages and contexts is needed.

A second major area for research involves studying the current culture teaching practice of L2 and FL teachers. Just what are EFL teachers doing in Japan, for example, in terms of the cultural component of their classes? What methods do teachers use, and how successful are they? How do students respond to such lessons? What aspects of their culture teaching do they want to improve? Which areas are most difficult? What resources do teachers need to teach more effectively? Morgan (1993) has examined how culture is evident in course syllabuses, but more also needs to be known about actual classroom practice.

Beyond what is currently being taught is the issue of research on how to best teach culture. As mentioned earlier, numerous techniques have been suggested, but just what methods work best, with whom, and in what contexts? How integrated are these techniques into the L2/FL curriculum? In addition, what assessment techniques are most effective for culture learning and teaching? Do such evaluation methods transfer easily to other classes or language learning contexts?

Once the above issues are investigated, research on content and materials design for cultural syllabuses is the natural next step. What cultural topics or points should be included? Is there a ‘natural order’ in L2/FL culture acquisition? Despite the debate about Hirsch’s (1987) work on ‘cultural literacy’, his interesting lists of ‘what every American needs to know’ and ‘what literate Americans know’ beg the question of whether there are similar lists for our L2 and FL students. Just how helpful would such lists be? What cultural information do students of English in Japan really need to know? What do culturally literate Spanish students in Canada know about Mexico and Spain? How might lists for first language and L2 or FL learners differ? Could the updating of such lists reflect the dynamic nature of culture?

Longitudinal studies will need to be carried out to address the performance aspects of cultural competence. What cultural patterns and behaviours do FL and L2 students need to learn, at what levels? Are acquired L2/FL cultural patterns easily maintained? Are they best learnt in immersion or other L2/FL cultural contexts? A related issue is motivation. Over time, do students learn better if they have a greater interest in or aptitude for culture learning? Do students who have spent a summer or extended periods in the L2 or FL culture obtain significantly greater motivation or cultural competence?

Clearly, a final issue is the continued development of a theoretical framework for culture learning in the future L2 or FL class, particularly based on research in L2/FL education in the areas outlined above. While Stern’s (1983a) model is of major importance and assistance, are there aspects of L2/FL culture and culture learning missing? Is a continuum definition of culture really valid? How does one’s view of culture in L2/FL education impact his or her learning and/or teaching? These issues and questions require future research in order to guide us towards a deeper understanding of culture in L2 and FL education.


This article has centred on culture in L2 and FL teaching and learning in an effort to provide an understanding of culture in L2 and FL education. After providing background on culture in the classroom and the pedagogical literature, it was argued that current L2 and FL teaching is indeed culture teaching. Beyond outlining present L2/FL culture teaching guidelines, issues for future research were summarized. In the end, it is clear that we need not be wary of culture in the L2 and FL context, even though it is also evident that there are still aspects of culture in L2 and FL education that do need further research and understanding.


The author is grateful for and recognizes the insightful comments of Sharon Lapkin, Wendy Lessard-Clouston, and Merrill Swain on an earlier version of this article.


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