Strategy use of bilingual learners: a research agenda

Grenfell, M.J. and Harris, V. (2006) Strategy use of bilingual learners: a research agenda At Conference of the British Educational Research Association. 06 - 09 Sep 2006. 15 pp.


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One in eight of children growing up in Britain comes from an ethnic minority background. The educational achievement of these children is a key concern (see Gillborn and Gipps, 1996; DfES 2003). Bilingual learning is one of the avenues through which progress can be made. Many ethnic minority families are bilingual and children have the potential to develop both their languages and literacies for the purpose of enhancing learning (Cummins, 1996) There is also increasing recognition in the National Literacy Strategy (DfES 2002) and the Primary National Strategy (2003) of the benefits to be gained when children use home languages alongside English in the mainstream classroom.
The long-term effects of bilingual learning have been demonstrated by research in the USA (Thomas and Collier, 2002) and in the rather different context of Welsh bilingual education (Williams et al, 1996). Several small-scale research projects in England in the 1980s also showed good results (Fitzpatrick 1987; Jupp, 1990), and the process of bilingual learning now needs to be examined in more depth. Findings from studies so far indicate particular aspects of the learning process that may be enhanced by working bilingually: conceptual transfer, translation and interpretation, linking new materials to familiar words, and increasing knowledge of how language works.
During the 1990s, three strands of research developed with respect to Bilingualism and Learning strategies. Firstly, the value of bilingual instruction was underlined by studies which showed that bilingualism facilitated the acquisition of a third language (Swain and Lapkin 1991, Cenoz and Valencia 1994, Sanz 2000). Variables such as motivation, IQ, age, exposure, gender, sociocultural background were considered in the light of bilingualism and learning. Secondly, the issue of the advantages of bilingualism has also been evident from Language Learning Strategy research itself; from a deficit model of bilinguals to investigating the ‘enabling, rather than the disabling attributes of mainstream populations’ (Jiminez et al. 1995) Thirdly, a number of studies have explored the cultural influences on the use of learning strategies (Politzer and McGroarty 1985, Parry 1991, Oxford 1996).
What is missing is a study which connects the use of strategies to learning a third language (L3) by a particular bilingual cultural group.
The paper examines the role of the transfer of learning strategies in contributing to bilingual learners’ success in L3. It will address the theoretical issues in terms of both social and psychological reasons for transfer. The cultural background and psychotypology of individual learners will be used to illustrate issues in the interaction between proficiency in English, attainment levels, attitudes to language learning, self-efficacy and personality. We shall explore the extent to which such bilinguals have a wider range of strategies than monolinguals. We shall also explore the extent to which transfer is dependent on skill area. The aim of the paper is to focus on what we know about this research area and to offer both a theoretical and practical synthesis of existing understanding on the relationship between language learning strategies, bilinguals and the learning of a third language. The paper uses examples collected in pilot studies carried out in bilingual classrooms. It will conclude by listing the major research questions arising and sketch the type of methodological approach necessary to answer them.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Venue - Dates: Conference of the British Educational Research Association, 2006-09-06 - 2006-09-09
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Keywords: bilingualism, policy, language learner strategies, methodology

ePrint ID: 41934
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Date Event
Date Deposited: 17 Oct 2006
Last Modified: 16 Apr 2017 18:56
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