Strategic Language Learning: The Roles of Agency and Context

Author: Xuesong (Andy) Gao

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Multilingual Matters
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This monograph reports on a longitudinal inquiry into mainland Chinese undergraduates' language learning experiences in an English medium university in a multilingual setting with a focus on their strategic language learning efforts. This book examines the issue as to what extent language learners' strategic learning efforts depend on their 'choice', if 'the element of choice' is the defining characteristic of language learners' strategic learning behaviour. The inquiry, using a qualitative and ethnographic research approach, reveals dynamic interaction between learners' agency and contextual conditions underlying the participants' strategic learning process. Such understanding informs pedagogical efforts to foster individual learners' capacity for strategic learning and their capacities in opening up and sustaining a social learning space for exercising their strategic learning capacity or utilizing their strategic learning knowledge.

In this engaging study combining both quantitative and qualitative approaches, Gao makes extensive use of a sociocultural research perspective to investigate second-language learner strategies. With theoretically-grounded rigor, he demonstrates how contextual realities (such as the threat of a given exam) mediate the language learning and use strategies of college students. A highlight of the study is his comparison of the same learners' strategies and discourse about their experiences in studying in mainland China and then at an English-medium university in Hong Kong. What lends credibility to the study is that the author himself experienced challenges similar to those of his subjects, and that he was a participant observer by rooming for a year in a student dorm with one of his subjects.

Andrew Cohen, Second Language Studies, University of Minnesota, USA

Gao Xuesong's book is the first in-depth account of language learning strategy use written from a sociocultural perspective. Showing how individuals' strategy repertoires and use change over a period of years and across two settings – Mainland China and Hong Kong – it offers unique insights into the roles of individual agency and social context in strategic engagement with foreign language learning. The four detailed, and often moving, individual case studies included in the book are especially valuable in illuminating the human side of language learning strategy use.

Phil Benson, Hong Kong Institute of Education

Overall, Gao's book is a timely and valuable addition to the growing body of research on SLA from a sociocultural perspective. This book in particular makes an important contribution to understanding the interaction between learner agency and social context in mediating the process of language learning. A particular strength of the book is that it is written in a clear and accessible manner throughout. In view of the rich and insightful analyses of the data and the use of a rigorous theoretical framework, it is clearly a book that deserves to be widelyread and it is highly recommended to researchers in the areas of language learning, language learning strategy, sociocultural theory, and learners' learning narratives.

Chit Cheung Matthew Sung, Lancaster University in SSLA issue 33:3

Xuesong (Andy) Gao is an Associate Professor in the Division of English Language Education, Faculty of Education, The University of Hong Kong.

Chapter 1 Introduction Chapter 2 A Sociocultural Perspective on Strategic Learning Chapter 3 Mainland Chinese Students' Migration to Hong Kong Chapter 4 On the Chinese Mainland Chapter 5 Learning English in Hong Kong Chapter 6 Four Case Studies Chapter 7 Agency and Context in Strategic Learning
Postgraduate, Research / Professional, Undergraduate
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