Use of Language Learning Strategies Among Libyan English Majors

  1. Introduction

There is a widely shared misapprehension among Libyan language teachers that Libyan university students are passive and need to be instructed to learn a language (even with doing homework, they usually plagiarise what is at hand). This view emanates from teachers’ observation and not from studies of the learners themselves. Language teaching in Libya is still teacher centred and students have been forced to follow formal instruction in language learning. This tight disciplinary control over learners has discouraged learners from experiencing the language and developing personalised learning strategies as they are not taught or encouraged to use a wide variety of language learning strategies.

Having reviewed a considerable amount of the published research (see Literature Review), the researcher has ascertained that there was no study which has been carried out in Libya to investigate the use of language learning strategies among Libyan students. Accordingly, the researcher believes that there is a need to conduct such a study to provide consistent information about a population that has not yet been explored. From the researcher’s experience as a teacher of English in Tripoli University (Asswani Branch), Libyan university English majors (let alone students from other majors) were found to be not proficient enough in English and they lack the basic skills in the language.

The main purpose of this study is to provide a considerable contribution to the domain of applied linguistics by investigating Libyan university English majors’ use of language learning strategies. Therefore, this work can be seen as an essential requirement for any planning of language learning strategies training in order to improve achievement in English proficiency in Libyan universities, especially English majors because most of the graduates are assigned to teach English after their graduation.

The researcher has chosen Tripoli University English majors to be the subjects of this study because the university is the oldest one in the country and it is located in the middle of the country where students from different regions of the country come to study. In this study Libyan university English majors in Tripoli University will be assessed on their use of Language Learning Strategies

The researcher will use the SIL to measure students’ use of language learning strategies and a qualitative instrument for the purposes of triangulation (see Preliminary Study).

  1. Literature Review

This section reviews the relevant literature related to language learning strategies (LLS). After discussing the definitions that have been proposed to describe LLS, the earlier studies which employed the SILL as a data collection instrument are briefly discussed. Finally, a short description of how the current Libyan study relates to that research is provided at the end.

2.1 Definitions of Language Learning Strategies

Learning strategies have been given various definitions by several researchers. These definitions are summarized in table 1 below.

Table 1. Definitions of Language Learning Strategies

Author Definition
Bialystok (1978) “…optimal means for exploiting available information to improve competence in a second language…” (1978:71)
Rubin (1987) “what learners do to learn and do to regulate their learning” (1987: 19)
O’Malley & Chamot (1990) “… the special thoughts or behaviours that individuals use to help them comprehend, learn or retain new information.” (1990: 1)
Oxford (1990) “specific actions taken by the learner to make learning easier, faster, more enjoyable, more self-directed, more effective, and more transferable to new situations”. (1990: 8)
Wenden (1991) learning strategy specific mental steps or operations learners implement to learn” (1991: 163). They also “… regulate [learners’] efforts to [learn] …” [and] “They are one type of learner training content that should be included in plans to promote learner autonomy.” (1991: 18)
Stern (1992) “The concept of learning strategy is based on the assumption that learners consciously engage in activities to achieve certain goals, that they exercise a choice of procedure, and that they undertake some form of long-term planning.” (1992: 261)
Richards et al (1992) “intentional behaviour and thoughts that learners make use of during learning in order to better help them understand, learn or remember new information. These may include focusing on certain aspects of new information, analyzing and organizing information during learning to increase comprehension, evaluating learning when it is completed to see if further action is needed. Learning strategies may be applied to simple tasks such as learning a list of new words, or more complex tasks involving language comprehension and production. The effectiveness of second language learning is thought to be improved by teaching learners more effective learning strategies” (1992:209)
Nunan (1999) “Language Learning Strategies The mental and communicative processes that learners deploy to learn a second language.” (1999: 55)
Carter & Nunan (2001) “Learning strategies: techniques used by learners to help make their learning be more effective and to increase their independence and autonomy as learners. Strategies can be employed by learners to assist with the storage of information, to help with the construction of language rules and to help with an appropriate attitude towards the learning situation” (2001: 223)

From Table 1 above it can be seen that Rubin’s (1987) definition is very broad and it includes both cognitive and metacognitive strategies by implication. O’Malley’s & Chamot’s (1990) definition takes into consideration the need to understand new information in order to learn, but it does not refer explicitly, similar to Bialystok, to managing or monitoring learning. Oxford (1990) in her concise definition pointed out significant facets of language learning strategies such as  ‘enjoyment’ and their transferability to new situations as well as their role in fostering learner autonomy. Wenden’s (1991) definition is similar to O’Malley’s & Chamot’s (1990), but Wenden’s account adds a metacognitive component and, like Oxford (1990), highlights the role of language learning strategies in promoting learner autonomy. Stern’s (1992) definition implies that strategies are conscious and that language learning is intentional. This definition also mentions the concept of managing learning. Nunan (1999) regards strategies as mental and communicative processes. Carter’s and Nunan’s (2001) definition also emphasises the role of strategies in increasing learner independence and autonomy, and includes a reference to ‘attitude’, not mentioned before.

From table 1 and the comments above it can be seen that the definitions of Stern (1992) and Richards et al (1992) are confined to ‘intentional’ behaviour and thoughts. Others (O’Malley & Chamot, 1990 and Oxford, 1990) refer to special or specific actions, steps, thoughts and behaviours without mentioning whether strategies are conscious or not. Therefore, one might argue that strategies may also be operative at a subconscious level. This claim is supported by Wenden (1991: 18) who argues that strategies “can also become automatized. The decision to use them remains below consciousness”.

Researchers such as those mentioned above have not yet reached a consensus on a definition of the concept of LLS which, since the early research during the seventies, has proved to be somewhat elusive (Wenden, 1987).  Now with greater agreement on its meaning, the term of LLS, in the context of this study refers to:

 “actions, behaviors, steps or techniques … used by learners to enhance learning. Specifically, these strategies facilitate the acquisition, storage, retrieval, and use of information” (Oxford, Lavine and Crookall, 1989: 29).

“special thoughts or behaviors that individuals use to help them comprehend, learn, or retain new information”. (O’Malley and Chamot, 1990: 1).

“operations or processes which learners deploy to learn the TL” (White, 1995:210).


2.2 Previous Studies with the SILL

In the last three decades the field of learning strategies has generated various types of research. Research carried out included the collection of data to create profiles of the good language learner (Rubin, 1975); Naiman et al., 1978), to identify learners’ use of strategies (Politzer, 1983; Politzer and McGroarty, 1985; O’Malley et al., 1985a), to classify learning strategies (O’Malley et al., 1985b; Oxford, 1990); to develop programmes of strategy training (Ellis and Sinclair, 1989; Oxford, 1990; Oxford et al., 1990; Wenden 1986, 1988, 1991, 1995), and to investigate the effect of other variables such as motivation on second language learner strategy use (Crookes and Schmidt, 1991; Dörnyei, 1990, 1994; Gardner et al., 1997). However, due to the publication  space limit, the literature relevant to this study is confined mostly to prior research using the SILL.

According to Oxford and Burry-Stock (1995) the SILL was used in nearly fifty major studies in the world. Some of these studies were mentioned above (Watanabe, 1990; Oh, 1992; Yang, 1992; Bremner, 1999; Talbott, 1993; Philips, 1990; Anderson, 1993; Oxford et al., 1989) and the rest will be referred to below. It should be noted that certain studies which are cited here have not been published (Watanabe, 1990; Chang, 1991; Noguchi, 1991; Mullins, 1992; Bedell, 1993) but are cited by Oxford and Burry-Stock (1995) and Bedell and Oxford (1996).

Many of these studies were conducted in the USA with learners of languages other than English (e.g. Ehrman and Oxford, 1988; Oxford and Nyikos, 1989; Nyikos and Oxford, 1993; Oxford and Ehrman, 1995; Gardner et al, 1997).  There were also other American studies which investigated learners of English as a second language (e.g. Chang, 1991; Markley, 1997).

The majority of the SILL studies which were conducted in non-English speaking countries involved learners of English as a foreign language:  Japan (Watanabe, 1990; Noguchi, 1991); Indonesia (Davis and Abas, 1991); Mainland China (Bedell, 1993; Wen and Johnson, 1997); Korea (Oh, 1992; Park, 1997); Taiwan (Klassen, 1994; Yang, 1996) and Thailand (Mullins, 1992). In the Puerto Rican studies (Green, 1991; Green and Oxford, 1995) the participants were regarded as EFL/ESL because of the ‘hybrid’ nature of the language community (Oxford and Burry-Stock, 1995).

Oxford and Burry-Stock (1995: 12) claim that the “frequency of use of language learner strategies appears to be directly related to whether students are in an ESL or EFL setting (or in a hybrid of ESL and EFL environments, as in Puerto Rico)” and argue that learners in ESL contexts use strategies more frequently than EFL learners in non-English speaking situations. Green and Oxford (1995) claim that the participants in the non-English speaking societies showed low use of strategies because they did not depend on English for their living. In contrast, those who live in places where English is the sole medium of communication, were continuously exposed to a “strong communicative demand from the environment” (Green and Oxford, 1995:266).

Studies such as those mentioned above (Politzer, 1983; Baily, 1983; O’Malley et al., 1985a; Ehrman and Oxford, 1988; Oxford and Nyikos, 1989; Mangubhai, 1991; Philips, 1991; Green and Oxford, 1995; Bedell and Oxford, 1996; Bremner, 1999; Yang, 1999) have provided evidence that the frequency of strategy use is significantly influenced by various variables, such as cultural background, language proficiency, occupation, and gender, etc. Oxford and Burry-Stock (1995: 19) argue that studies have

“to be replicated so that more consistent information becomes available within and across populations. Particularly important is more information on how students from different cultural backgrounds and different countries use language learning strategies. …students from different countries utilize different strategies and prioritize common strategies differently”.

Unfortunately, no study using the SILL was found to be carried out in Libya. The related studies that the researcher has found were conducted in Palestine (Shmais, 2003), and in Lebanon (Salem, 2006).

Shmais used the SILL to assess the frequency of strategy use among (99) Arabic male and female English majors at An-Najah University in Palestine according to gender and proficiency. Shmais have found that An-Najah University English majors’ strategy use ranked from high to medium. The highest (79.6%) was Metacognitive strategies and the lowest (63%) was compensation strategies. She asserts that gender and proficiency had no significant effect on strategy use.

Salem (2006) has surveyed 147 Lebanese undergraduates to explore the role of motivation, gender and language learning strategies in English as a foreign language proficiency. She found that although motivation in general did not correlate with EFL proficiency, effort did in favour of the high proficient.  Her study also revealed that overall strategy use does not play a significant role in EFL proficiency, and that metacognitive strategies had a low negative correlation with EFL proficiency. Salem’s study has also showed that cognitive strategies were the most frequently used and affective strategies were the least frequently used.

Based on the arguments presented above the SILL will be one of the instruments which will be used in this study. However, due to the nature of the study which aims at identifying the strategies used by Libyan university English majors, the SILL will be translated into Arabic to insure that Libyan students understand the meaning of the items fully. The researcher will also use an open instrument which includes items measuring strategy use to enrich the data available for analysis and for validation purposes as well.

By using the SILL and carrying out this study with Libyan university majors the researcher hopes to assess the Libyan majors’ language learning strategy use. The key research questions under investigation in this study are as follows:

  1. What is the level of overall strategy use of Libyan university English majors?
  2. What type of strategies do Libyan university English majors use most? Are these strategies considered in the literature to be effective ones?
  3. What type of strategies do Libyan university English majors use least?
  1. Method

This section concerns the methodology of the study. Firstly, it describes the method, subjects and data collection instruments and procedure of the study in detail. Then, it discusses the analyses of reliability of the subjects’ response scores to the study instruments.

Having made corroborative use of qualitative information in the preliminary study, the methodology employed in the main study is exclusively quantitative to measure the study variable. The quantitative analysis involved asking closed-ended questions via the distribution of the SILL (Appendix 1) which was piloted and modified as required before being distributed to a total of 76 students. Data generated in this way arguably affords ‘‘a good deal of precision and clarity’’ (McDonough and McDonough, 2004, p. 171) and allows quick and simple answers (Oppenheim, 2001).

After the design of the preliminary study, data were collected from a group of Libyan university English majors similar to those to be targeted in the main study using the SILL plus an open questionnaire (see appendix 2). The main conclusions for the main study were as follows.

After considering the comments from the participants, the SILL instrument were modified to include the response scale with each item in the instruments. The quantitative and qualitative data were analysed using reliability analysis and content categorization respectively.

According to Oxford (1996) the reliability of the SILL should be determined with the whole instrument and not for the six subscales separately. She asserts that:

“Though the current ESL/EFL SILL was constructed using six subscales, reliability of the SILL is determined with the whole instrument. This is because the six subscales are strongly correlated with the SILL mean (.66 to .81) and moderately correlated with each other (.35 to .61); see Oxford and Ehrman (1995).” (Oxford, 1996: 32).

Hence, the researcher run a reliability analysis accordingly and found that the SILL has an acceptable internal consistency, α = 0.92. All items appeared worthy of retention. It was found that all items have acceptable internal consistency indices. Given that the mean Cronbach Alpha coefficient is 0.92 and all the individual subscales coefficients are above 0.91, the researcher concludes that the SILL is a reliable instrument. Never the less, it was improved according to the qualitative data analysis by the addition of three new items which surfaced repeatedly in the open data resulting in a total of 53 items (see appendix 1).

In conclusion, the results of quantitative and qualitative analysis seemed sensible and show that our research questions are worth pursuing in the main study.


3.1 Instruments

The researcher translated all the SILL and the open-ended questionnaire into Arabic to avoid misunderstanding the meaning of the instruments’ items by the participants. The translation of the questionnaires into Arabic was approved by two Arabic PhD holders of applied linguistics at the University of  Tripoli. The modified SILL contains a total of 53 items (see appendix 1) classified into six strategy categories measuring memory strategies (Part A ), cognitive strategies (Part B),  compensation strategies (Part C), metacognitive strategies (Part D), affective strategies (Part E), and social strategies (Part F).



3.2 Participants

Seventy six Libyan students (n=76) majoring in English at the department of English, Faculty of Arts in Tripoli University participated in the study. All participants were native speakers of Arabic. Of these, 22 students were third year English majors and 54 students were fourth year English majors. There were 26 males and 50 females. Data were collected in two separate lectures on the 23rd of February 2016 and subjects received no monetary compensation for their participation. All students surveyed in this study are native Arabic Libyan university English majors who are either in their third (n=22) or fourth (n= 54) year of study. All the participants have spent their lives in Libya and had more or less the same normal Libyan state education.


3.3 Procedure

The researcher obtained the consent of the Dean of Faculty of Arts to use three lectures on two separate days (22nd and the 23rd of February 2016) to invite English majors to participate in the study and also for the administration of the instruments.  The aims of the instruments, their structure and content, and how it was to be completed were explained to the subjects. The researcher asked the participants to give their answers as truly as possible and emphasized that he had no predetermined expectations and that no response would be deemed as better than another. The subjects were also assured that all the information collected will be confidential and will only be used for research purposes. Moreover, they were assured that their identities will be anonymous and that their personal information will be treated in strict confidence and will not be revealed. It should be noted that in Libya, unlike other Arabic countries, mixed gender classes are normal, so males and females study together in the same classroom.

The questionnaires were read aloud to the participants before they started to record their responses to ensure that they understood each item accurately. The researcher was assured that students understood all the instructions and items because students did not ask questions about any of them.

English majors were recruited to participate in the study on the 22nd of February 2016 and  the subjects recorded their answers for the modified Strategy Inventory for Language Learning (SILL) on the 23nd of February 2016,.

The administration and the completion of the SILL did not take long as students spent 40 minutes on completing the strategy inventory. The responses of the participants were reviewed separately during their collection to insure that each student has responded to all the items. If a response was not provided, the participant was encouraged to helpfully give his/her answer. Since the instrument was completed in class, the return rate was 100%.

The next section describes and discusses the analysis of reliability of the study instrument.

  1. Analyses of Reliability

Although reliability had already been checked in the preliminary study, we thought it advisable to confirm it. This section presents and explains the analyses of reliability of the subjects’ responses to the SILL measuring language learning strategy use (see Appendices 1). Using SPSS 16, these analyses were conducted as it is believed indispensable to prove the reliability of scores on which data description and analysis are based. As a consequence, the researcher precludes “the accumulation of results based on relatively invalid or unreliable measures” (Wilkinson et al., 1999:6).

The section is organised in three sections. First, it reports the overall reliability of the instrument following its administration to 76 participants, then on the analyses of reliability of each of its component subscales.



4.1 Overall Reliability

Following the administration of the modified version of SILL to the 76 subjects, an analysis was made of the overall reliability of the instrument (Cronbach alpha for internal consistency). The overall reliability was found to be 0.92. This was considered quite acceptable and compatible with the coefficients in the range of 0.93 to 0.98 obtained by various forms of the SILL and reported in Green and Oxford (1995: 264).

The researcher now moves to the analyses of reliability of scores of the six SILL subscales.


4.2 Reliability of subscales

As outlined in Section 3, the modified version of the SILL used in this study consisted of fifty three items which are divided into six subscales, as shown:

Direct Indirect
Memory                             (10 items) Metacognitive                            (9 items)
Cognitive                           (14 items) Affective                                    (6 items)
Compensation                   (7 items) Social                                        (7 items)

When the internal consistency was tested by applying Cronbach’s alpha to the six SILL subscales separately, the reliability index ranged from a minimum of 0.65 for the Memory subscale to 0.84 for the Social subscale (see Table 2).

Table 2: Reliability Index for SILL Subscales

Subscale Reliability Index
Memory 0.65
Cognitive 0.80
Compensation 0.81
Metacognitive 0.80
Affective 0.74
Social 0.84

4.3 Summary

As it can be seen in table 2 all subscales appeared to have good internal consistency. Moreover, the overall reliability was found to be 0.92. Thus the researcher concluded that the data are reliable enough to be analyzed.

The researcher has prepared the students’ responses for data analysis by adding up students responses to each strategy category and getting their averages by dividing by the total number of items in each category. The overall strategy scores were obtained by adding all sums of the six strategy categories and dividing by 53 (the number of the SILL items).

The next section will describe the results obtained from the responses to the study instrument and their analysis.



  1. Results

The purpose of the present study was to measure strategy use of Libyan university English majors. As described above, quantitative data were collected from 76 participants using the SILL. This section summarizes the findings of the study and discusses them in light of previous research and in relation to the Libyan context. First, it presents the results obtained from analysing the data collected through the study instrument and examines the subjects’ responses in terms of the study variable to answer the research questions. Then, results are discussed in greater detail. The descriptive and inferential statistics obtained from analyzing this data and their discussion are presented below and are organized in terms of how they answer the research questions.  The research questions explored the participants’ overall claimed use of language learning strategies, the strategies they use most and those they use least, and whether the most used strategies are considered in the literature to be effective ones.

5.1 Findings for the major strategy categories

The modified SILL was used to assess the level of overall strategy use and the use of the 6 SILL categories. The results showed that the participants’ overall claimed use of strategies could be considered ‘high’ use as their mean score was greater than 3.50 on the rating scale of 1 to 5.

Descriptive statistics were calculated primarily to determine, based on the means obtained, whether the participants were low, medium or high strategy users on the five point Likert scale which ranges from 1 (never or almost never true of me) to 5 (always or almost always true of me) with 3 (somewhat true of me) as the midpoint. In addition to the overall mean score, Table 3 shows the rank, mean scores and standard deviations of reported use of strategies of the 76 subjects at the subscale level.

Table3: Overall Reported Strategy use by Subjects (N=76)

Strategy Subscale Mean Std Dev Rank
Metacognitive 3.86 0.74 1
Cognitive 3.69 0.58 2
Compensation 3.67 0.81 3
Social 3.62 0.94 4
Memory 3.53 0.61 5
Affective 3.28 0.89 6
Overall Strategy Use 3.63 0.54  


Using Oxford’s (1990: 291) broad categories of description and according to the overall mean score of the SILL items, the subjects’ overall use of strategies in this study could be considered high use as they generated a mean greater than 3.50 (M= 3.63) on the rating scale of 1 to 5. Using Oxford’s (1990: 291) broad categories of ‘high’, ‘medium’ and ‘low’, the mean scores obtained here for the Memory, Cognitive, Compensation, Metacognitive, and Social strategies can be described as ‘high’, while those for the Affective strategies can be considered ‘medium’ reported strategy use.

The study subjects reported using Metacognitive strategies most with a mean of 3.86, followed by Cognitive strategies (mean= 3.69). Compensation strategies were ranked third as indicated by their mean score (3.67). Social (mean= 3.62) and Memory (mean= 3.53) strategies were ranked fourth and fifth respectively. Affective strategies were within the middle-frequency range and were the least frequently used with a mean of 3.28. These results are in line with the findings of previous studies with similar subjects in other countries (e.g. Shmais, 2003; Riazi and Rahimi, 2005; Salem, 2006; Riazi, 2007, and Alqahtani and Alhebaishi, 2010).

The standard deviations for all the strategy categories shown in Table 3 are not high which demonstrates that the participants of this study belong to a homogeneous population. In view of the high use indicated by the high means of using all strategies (probably excluding deployment of affective strategies), it seems that Libyan English majors are to some extent alert to using language learning strategies. Moreover, given that metacognitive strategies were the most frequently used, it can safely be assumed that the participants were mentally aware of the necessity to take charge of the language learning process by planning, organizing, focusing, and evaluating their own learning. This is reassuring since these are university students and that is exactly what one would hope that university students would do?

Contrary to Green and Oxford’s (1995: 266) claim (in their study of Puerto Rican university students) that the participants in the non-English speaking societies showed low use of strategies because they did not depend on English for their living, the results of the current study showed that this is not true as the current study revealed that the overall claimed strategy use of Libyan English majors’ was high. However, from the researchers experience as an English major, this inconsistency in results might be due to the fact that Libyan students watch a wide range of English satellite channels, listen to English songs, and that they use English for surfing the internet and chatting online. This is reflected in their high use of certain strategies. For example, the frequency of their use of the cognitive strategy ‘I watch English language TV shows spoken in English or go to movies spoken in English’ was high (M= 3.76, Std= 1.315). They also reported a high use of the cognitive strategy ‘ I start conversations in English’ (M= 3.79, Std= 1.075) which indicates that they might have used it when chatting online as reflected in its appearance 23 times in the open data collected during the preliminary study as well as mentioning using the internet 5 times. Furthermore, they used the metacognitive strategy ‘I pay attention when someone is speaking English’ with a high frequency (M=4.03, Std= 1.336) which also surfaced in the open data 7 times. Of course, time is surely a factor here too, because most of those activities were not available in 1995 for Green and Oxford’s  cited study the way they are now!

These findings are consistent with previous work on Arabic learners by Shmais (2003) who found that the frequency of strategy use by Palestinian English majors ranked from high to medium with Metacognitive strategies as the most frequently used, but Shmais’s (2003) findings were partially inconsistent with the results of this study in that the current study revealed that Affective strategies were the least frequently used whereas Shmais’s (2003) study showed that Compensation strategies were the least frequently employed. The results of this study are also similar to Salem’s (2006) study of 147 Lebanese undergraduates which showed that Affective strategies were the least frequently used, but in her study Cognitive strategies were the most frequently used. Riazi and Rahimi (2005) however, like us, found that metacognitive strategies were the most frequently used by Iranian EFL learners.

Moreover, the results of this study are also compatible with the findings of Riazi’s (2007) investigation of the patterns of language learning strategy use among 120 Qatari female English majors. He found that this group of EFL learners featured ‘high’ medium strategy use (M= 3.46) and that the most used category of strategies was metacognitive and the least was the affective ones.

Furthermore, the results of this study also support Alqahtani and Alhebaishi’s (2010) findings when they investigated the strategies employed by 50 undergraduate political sciences students taking an English for specific purposes course in Kuwait University. Their findings were consistent with the current results and revealed that the most frequently strategies used were the metacognitive strategies (M= 4.10, Std= 0.58) while the affective strategies were the least used ones (M= 2.89, Std= 0.37).

The results of the current study backed by findings of the other studies mentioned above suggest a certain universality amongst Arabs at university level, if not more widely.

  1. 2 Findings for the individual strategies

At the level of individual strategies, as shown in Table 4, the students were high users of 34 items (64 % of all items), medium users of 18 strategies (34 %), and low users of only one memory strategy ‘I use flashcards to remember new English words’ (2 %). This is not surprising since flashcards are normally something used by teachers at low levels of learning in school rather than something typically made or obtained to be used by learners at university level.  Of the 34 strategies for which students claimed high use 10 were cognitive, 8 were metacognitive, 6 were memory, 5 were social, 4 were compensation, and only one was affective ( I encourage myself to speak English even when I am afraid of making a mistake). Six of the 18 lowest employed strategies were affective, 4 were cognitive, 3 were compensation, 3 were memory, only one was metacognitive (I plan my schedule so I will have enough time to study English) and another was social (I try to learn about the culture of English speakers).


Table 4: Descending mean value and standard deviation for individual learning strategies

Item Strategy Category Mean Std. Dev.
I make summaries of information that I hear or read in English Cognitive 4.47 .683
I practise the sounds of English Cognitive 4.33 .755
I think about my progress in learning English Metacognitive 4.28 1.053
To understand unfamiliar English words, I make guesses Compensation 4.28 1.078
I try to find out how to be a better learner of English Metacognitive 4.18 1.080
I use a near word or description to the thing that I cannot say in English Compensation 4.13 .984
I review English lessons often. Memory 4.13 .998
I think of relationships between what I already know and new things I learn in English Memory 4.05 1.005
I pay attention when someone is speaking English Metacognitive 4.03 1.336
I try to find as many ways as I can to use my English Metacognitive 4.01 1.205
If I do not understand something in English, I ask the other person to slow down or say it again Social 3.97 1.243
I use new English words in a sentence so I can remember them Memory 3.96 1.101
I remember a new English word by making a mental picture of a situation in which the word might be used. Memory 3.95 1.130
I try to talk like native English speakers Cognitive 3.92 1.262
I say or write new English words several times. Cognitive 3.89 1.173
I use the English words I know in different ways Cognitive 3.87 1.181
I ask for help from English speakers. Social 3.83 1.171
When I can’t think of a word during a conversation in English, I use gestures Compensation 3.79 1.289
I try not to translate word-for-word Cognitive 3.79 .736
I start conversations in English Cognitive 3.79 1.075
I ask questions in English Social 3.78 1.372
I look for opportunities to read as much as possible in English Metacognitive 3.76 1.094
I watch English language TV shows spoken in English or go to movies spoken in English Cognitive 3.76 1.315
I look for people I can talk to in English Metacognitive 3.76 1.274
I encourage myself to speak English even when I am afraid of making a mistake Affective 3.74 1.237
I first skim an English passage (read over the passage quickly) then go back and read carefully Cognitive 3.72 1.271
I practise English with other students Social 3.70 1.307
I ask English speakers to correct me when I talk Social 3.68 1.278
I notice my English mistakes and use that information to help me do better Metacognitive 3.67 1.193
I try to guess what the other person will say next in English Compensation 3.66 1.195
I have clear goals for improving my English skills Metacognitive 3.58 1.236
I write notes, messages, letters or reports in English Cognitive 3.58 1.388
I connect the sound of a new English word and an image or picture of the word to help me remember the word. Memory 3.54 1.361
I record new words in my vocabulary notebook Memory 3.50 1.428
I remember new English words or phrases by remembering their location on the page, on the board, or on a street sign. Memory 3.46 1.399
I read for pleasure in English Cognitive 3.45 1.136
I plan my schedule so I will have enough time to study English Metacognitive 3.43 1.300
If I can’t think of an English word, I use a word or phrase that means the same thing. Compensation 3.43 1.258
I talk to someone else about how I feel when I am learning English Affective 3.43 1.237
I look for words in my own language that are similar to new words in English. Cognitive 3.42 1.299
I make up new words if I do not know the right ones in English Compensation 3.42 1.268
I try to relax whenever I feel afraid of using English Affective 3.37 1.374
I try to learn about the culture of English speakers Social 3.28 1.382
I notice if I am tense or nervous when I am studying or using English Affective 3.24 1.315
I use rhymes to remember new English words. Memory 3.22 1.333
I avoid writing or talking in English when I do not know the words to express what I want to say or write Affective 3.13 1.398
I physically act out new English words. Memory 3.12 1.366
I read English without looking up every new word. Compensation 3.01 1.149
I find the meaning of an English word by dividing it into parts that I understand Cognitive 3.00 .864
I write down my feelings in a language learning diary Affective 2.89 1.173
I try to find patterns in English Cognitive 2.64 .860
I give myself a reward or treat when I do well in English Affective 2.61 1.144
I use flashcards to remember new English words. Memory 2.36 1.151

The top 10 most used strategies included 4 metacognitive strategies, 2 cognitive strategies, 2 compensation strategies and 2 memory strategies. Four of the least 10 used strategies were affective, 3 were memory, 2 were cognitive and only one compensation strategy. However, the claimed reported use of all these least ten used strategies was moderate and students only reported rare low use of only one memory strategy; namely, using flashcards to remember new English words, M= 2.36. This low usage of flashcards to remember English vocabulary is not surprising since flashcards are normally something used by teachers at low levels of learning in school rather than something typically made or obtained to be used by learners, especially at university level

The highest used strategy was ‘I make summaries of information that I hear or read in English’ with a mean of 4.47 (cognitive). The researcher believes that Libyan students might have claimed high use of this cognitive strategy because they are required to learn the content of what is read/heard in their subject classes in university to prepare for their exams. Moreover, they usually have to read a passage or an account of something and are asked to retell or summarise it briefly. The second most frequently highly employed strategy was also cognitive (I practise the sounds of English, M= 4.33) and again the researcher believes that its high deployment might be due to the fact that Libyan English majors are required to practice the sounds of English in the Phonetics academic courses which they have to take in their third and forth years.

From the fifty three individual strategies 4 of the 9 metacognitive strategies were among the top 10 ranking strategies in terms of frequent use. These 4 strategies which contributed to the high use of the metacognitive category were associated with the frequent monitoring of English learning progress (M=4.28, Std=1.053), the consistent search for ways which would enhance English learning (M=4.18, Std= 1.080), paying attention to English speakers (M=4.03, Std=1.336), and trying to find as many ways as they can to use their English (M=4.01, Std=1.205). In fact, the participants also reported high use of identifying their own mistakes to improve their performance in English (M=3.67, Std=1.193), looking for opportunities to read as much as possible in English (M=3.76, Std=1.094), looking for people they can talk to in English (M=3.76, Std= 1.274), and claimed a ‘high’ medium deployment of planning their schedule to reserve sufficient time to study English (M= 3.43, Std=1.300).

Based on the results obtained in this study, students can be categorized as “low” high users of the language learning strategies. That is to say, they are strategic learners. Metacognitive strategies were their most preferred type, which indicates that their learning habits mirror their conscious awareness of the need to improve their learning behaviour. It also suggests that autonomy will turn out to be quite high as well, since there is some logical connection surely between being metacognitive and being autonomous. They claim to have clear goals, monitor their progress, and consistently look for better ways to enhance their English abilities via exerting sufficient effort to find English interlocutors, colleagues, or tourists whenever possible. Moreover, they are also deliberately involved in self-correction and self-assessment. Furthermore, students claimed to be exerting effort to familiarize their hearing to the oral mode of English language by watching English TV shows and movies in addition to getting acquainted with its written forms through reading English books and magazines.

5.3 Interpretation of strategy findings

With regard to whether the most frequently used strategies by the participants of this study are deemed effective in the literature, researchers in the field have concentrated on the importance of Metacognitive strategies which Libyan English majors have reported using more frequently than any other category of strategies. O’Malley and Chamot (1990), Wenden (1999) and Oxford (1990) regard metacognitive strategies as those which aid students to think about their learning process, i.e. plan, direct, monitor, regulate and guide their learning and evaluate their learning. In other words, they constitute ways to organise and evaluate their learning. However, one can easily use these strategies but simply not be able to spot many of one’s own mistakes. We have to remember that this whole study is about strategy use and the researcher do not know how effectively these strategies are used when they are employed.

Stern’s (1975) characteristics of good language learning for instance, include technical know-how about how to tackle a language, strategies of planning and self-monitoring. Dickinson (1993:330-331) too, argues that monitoring and self-assessing one’s use of learning strategies and of learning are important characteristics of autonomous learners. Moreover, Breen and Man (1997: 134-135) maintain that autonomous learners have a metacognitive capacity which enables them to reflect on what they are doing in order to decide “what to learn, when, how and with what human and material resources”.  Furthermore, Benson (2001) and Nunan (1997) regard planning, monitoring and evaluation as features of autonomous learning which nowadays is likened to and associated with effective and good language learning.

Rubin’s (1975) also included learning from communication, being willing to make mistakes, paying attention to form, taking advantage of every opportunity to practise, monitoring, and focusing on meaning as characteristics of good language learners.

Thus, the researcher concludes that metacognitive strategies which Libyan English majors used most in the current study are effective language learning strategies, if in fact they do use them to the extent that they claim to.

Although one might expect students to favour memory strategies, the fact is that a closer look at certain items classified under this category indicates that some strategies would be unlikely to be used by university students, particularly English majors. For example, using flash cards or rhymes and physically acting out the meanings of new words are likely to be utilized by younger language learners, in part because at university level most words would not be words with concrete meanings that lend themselves to this. In this study, using flashcards, for instance, ranked last among the fifty three strategies with a mean of only 2.36. In support to this argument, it should be noticed that 7 of the 10 memory strategies had a mean higher than the midpoint. Moreover, students claimed a high frequent deployment of reviewing their English lessons (M= 4.13), and reported that they frequently think of the relationships between their previous knowledge and what they currently learn (M= 4.05). Although these two items are regarded as memory strategies, they ranked 7th and 8th among the fifty three strategies. This implies that classifying widely different strategies under this label might, to a certain extent, mask the reality, and make it harder to see the real patterns of strategy use.  In fact, this is the reason that made the researcher in this study explore these strategies not only collectively but also separately within the same strategy category.    This would also be a reason for doing a factor analysis of all the strategies regardless of the SILL categories, to see what natural groups fall into.

Whereas it sounds critical that EFL learners depend on compensation strategies to overcome the linguistic deficiencies they face during interaction, compensation strategies ranked third. Students reported medium use of looking up every new word (M= 3.01) and making up new words if they do not know the right ones in English (M= 3.42). It is the researchers’ belief in this study that compensation strategies can hardly be viewed negatively in the absence of availability of situations for authentic use of English for oral interaction in real-life everyday situations. Although they are EFL learners, Libyan English majors might lack the need to communicate orally in English outside the classroom. It should be noted that Libyan students learn English through formal instruction in the classroom where language teachers are native speakers of Arabic. Moreover, Libyan students have no opportunity to learn English through oral interaction except when they meet native speakers of English who come to the country either as tourists, or diplomats and businessmen.

Compared to the findings of other researchers (e.g. Shmais, 2003) where compensation strategies were the least frequently employed, our findings are not consistent; hence, one needs to dig deeper and examine the strategies separately. In doing so, the researcher found that although the participants reported “making up new words” with a mean of 3.42 and “reading English without looking up every new word” with a mean of 3.01 (medium use), as the lowest, they reported a high use of making guesses to comprehend unknown words with a mean of 4.28, and using approximations or descriptions to express themselves with a mean of 4.3. They also claimed a ‘low’ high use of gestures with a mean of 3.79, trying to guess what the other person will say next in English with a mean of 3.66 and using synonyms with a mean of 3.43. Briefly, then, whereas compensation strategies as a category ranked third, certain strategies belonging to this category scored relatively high and two of them were among the top 10 most frequently used strategies.

Compared to other strategy categories, the participants’ use of social strategies ranked fourth but still can be described as high since their mean is above the mid point (M= 3.62). No instance of social strategies was among the top ten strategies used by the learners. Instead, the social strategy ‘I try to learn about the culture of English speakers’ was among the eleven least frequently used strategies. It should be noted that the nature of the Libyan EFL context, which provides insufficient exposure to speakers of English, is likely to be responsible for this result. Although one can find out about culture on the world wide web, the researcher thinks that it maybe the stance of the past Qaddafi regime towards the west and its culture played a role in that, but now, the researcher believes that there appears a change in learners’ attitude towards the west and their culture.   A closer look at the category of social strategies in general reveals that such strategies are more likely to be employed in a context where students have access to native English speakers to interact with face to face and seek help from them and request correction. In a country like Libya however, preferring a certain strategy in this way, does not necessarily coincide with its actual usage because Libyan students’ eagerness to interact with English native speakers is seldom fulfilled due to the fact that none of the lecturers in the English department is a native English speaker. In addition, native speakers of English and foreigners who use English for face to face interaction are rarely found in Libya as tourists, businessmen and diplomats to which Libyan English majors have no access except in hotels and embassies or tourist sites which students visit only once a year in journeys organized by the administration of the faculty. In support of this line of argument, the results have shown that students claimed high use of certain social strategies which they might have been accustomed to use when visiting tourist sites or during chatting online. This is reflected for example in the students’ high use of asking English speakers to slow down if they do not understand the meaning of something (M= 3.97), seeking help (M= 3.83) and correction (M= 3.68) from English speakers, as well as asking questions in English (M= 3.78) which helps in conversation by generating responses from their interlocutors and shows their interest and involvement.

They also practice English with peers to a moderate extent (M= 3.70) which indicates that they cooperate with others and thus eliminates competition and engender group spirit. It should be noted here that Libyan learners do not naturally apply cooperative strategies due to the strong emphasis put on competition by the Libyan educational system. It is well known that competition sometimes generates a highly sensitive aspiration to perform better than others which leads often to higher levels of anxiety and fear of failure (which necessitate a need to train students in using more affective strategies to manage their emotions, nerves, confidence, etc.). Thus, it is vital for teachers to train learners in using social strategies and help them change their attitudes from confrontation and competition to cooperation.

Broadly speaking, referred to Oxford’s categorization (i.e., high usage 3.5-5) this means that the relatively low use (compared to the other strategy categories) of the students’ claimed deployment of affective strategies (M= 3.28, Std Dev= 0.89) can be described as ‘high’ medium usage. In support of this argument, students reported frequently taking risks by encouraging themselves to speak English even if they were afraid of making mistakes (M= 3.74) and talking to others about their feelings while learning English (M= 3.43). This means that Libyan English majors, to some extent, control their emotions about their learning and understand that negative feelings hinder learning. However, none of the seven affective strategies were among the top 10 most frequently used strategies and four of them appeared to be among the 10 least used strategies. One reason that might have led to the relatively low use of affective strategies among Libyan English majors in this study is the fact that they are third and fourth year students and thus they might feel that there is less need for employing affective strategies as higher levels of proficiency are more related to learners’ metacognitive, cognitive and social strategies use. Moreover, the less frequent use of affective strategies by the participants might also be attributed to the teacher-centred and grammar-oriented English learning experience in Libyan classrooms and the limited opportunities to use English both inside and outside the classroom.   Nevertheless, students appeared to monitor their emotions while studying or using English (M= 3.24) by trying to relax when they feel afraid of using English (M= 3.37) and sometimes writing down their feelings in language learning dairies (M=2.89). They also claim to give themselves rewards whenever they do well in English (M= 2.61).

They also use avoidance moderately if they do not know how to express themselves in English (M= 3.13), yet it seems that they also used certain cognitive strategies more frequently such as utilizing gestures (M= 3.79) and using synonyms (M=3.43) to overcome their linguistic deficiencies and help them generate positive feelings and increase the amount of communication.

In fact, it would be inappropriate to speculate that affective strategies are ineffective because they merely were the least frequently used and ranked last; rather, the researcher argues that training students in using them with the intention of helping them in identifying their mood and lowering their anxieties, talking about feelings, using positive self-talk, encouraging themselves to use English and in rewarding themselves whenever they perform well in English could prove to be a useful tool to improve their language learning.

6. Conclusion

In view of the high use indicated by the high means of using all strategies (probably excluding deployment of affective strategies), it seems that Libyan English majors are to some extent alert to using language learning strategies. Moreover, given that metacognitive strategies were the most frequently used, it can safely be assumed that the participants were mentally aware of the necessity to control the language learning process by planning, organizing, focusing, and evaluating their own learning. This is reassuring since these are university students and that is exactly what one would hope that university students would do.

Based on the results obtained in this study, students can be categorized as “low” high users of the language learning strategies. That is to say, they are strategic learners. Affective strategies were the least frequently used and ranked last. Metacognitive strategies were their most preferred type, which indicates that their learning habits reflects their conscious awareness of the need to improve their learning behaviour. It also suggests that autonomy will turn out to be quite high as well, since there is some logical connection surely between being metacognitive and being autonomous. Thus, the researcher concludes that metacognitive strategies which Libyan English majors used most in the current study are effective language learning strategies, if in fact they do use them to the extent that they claim to.


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