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Artículo 03

Volumen 05

Metacognitive Strategies



Mtra. Gabriela de la Llata Dohrman

Lic. Ma. Angélica Gómez Montes

ENP Plantel 2 “Erasmo Castellanos Quinto”

Colegio de Inglés


In the last decades, there have been changes in the assumptions or beliefs about learning and knowledge. These new theories of learning have left out the old notion of knowledge as a simple copy of reality, based on just practice, repetition, and memory and have turned to new ideas that lead to the constructivism in which knowledge depends on the interaction between the new information and the individual’s previous knowledge. It also postulates the existence of active processes in the construction of knowledge (cognitive theory) and the need of developing abilities and skills that provide the learners with the tools to promote self learning, autonomy and independence.

When learning a language, the main objective is to communicate. In this way, as Rebecca Oxford mentions, language learning strategies contribute to the goal of communicative competence which requires interaction among learners using real, contextualized language. An important feature of language learning strategies is that they help learners participate actively in such authentic communication, in other words, they encourage the development of communicative competence.

The teacher has to train the students to focus on what they do in the process of learning a new language, more precisely to focus on strategies for gaining language skills.

 Oxford considers that learning a new language necessarily involves developing the four skills: listening, reading, speaking and writing. This will lead the learner to attain the ability to communicate in both spoken and written English.

This author makes a distinction between the general concept of strategy and learning strategy. Strategy means “a plan, step, or conscious step towards the achievement of an objective (Oxford, 1990, p.8). On the other hand, language learning strategies help learners to participate actively in authentic communication so they stimulate the growth of communicative competence.

Rather than focusing students’ attention only on learning the language, language teachers can help learners to think about what happens during the language learning process.

As it has been said, the teaching-learning process is centered on the learner, on what he should achieve in order to be responsible for the process he is involved in. The teacher will not always be with the student to guide him, so the language learning strategies will give him the opportunity to rely more on them. This aspect emphasizes the thought that the learner is the most significant variable in the process of learning a language.

However, training on the use of learning strategies is not only an activity undertaken by the learners, but an activity that teachers should be involved in. The role of the teacher becomes essential as he is the facilitator, the monitor, the guide, the motivator, the corrector and the designer of accurate materials to promote language learning strategies.

Ernesto Macaro (2001), makes a distinction between learner strategies and learning strategies. Learner strategies are those used by learners to help with the accomplishment of all-language related tasks and these emphasize the idea of the learner as the active participant in the process of learning and learning strategies are the ones used by the learner to learn something new. He considers that in using this distinction, learner strategies will often subsume learning strategies.

He also points out the fact that use of strategies in language learning is not always a conscious behavior. He agrees with another classification of strategies quoted from O’Malley and Chamot. It consists of 4 categories:

  1. Cognitive strategies.
  2. Metacognitive strategies.
  3. Social strategies.
  4. Affective strategies.


Nevertheless, he says that whatever classifications exist, he agrees with the one that refers to the one based on the idea of a continuum. Mainly, because there is a constant overlap between cognitive and metacognitive strategies that makes difficult to identify what is conscious and what is unconscious.

Oxford also states that there are two main categories of learning strategies: Direct and Indirect strategies. The direct ones are specific procedures that learners can use to internalize language. Meanwhile, the indirect ones support and manage language learning.

 (Taken from Oxford, 1990 p.17)

The previous diagram presents an overview of the classification of language learning strategies. Although these strategies overlap and support each other in a natural way, we will only focus on the metacognitive strategies.

The training on metacognitive strategies involves conscious efforts by learners to take control of their learning so that this training must be done in an informed way. That is to say, to teach the students the strategies in such an explicit way and guided manner that they can be aware of the relevance and utility of the strategy. However, after certain amount of practice, their use will become unconscious. This would be one of the final goals of training our students to work with them.

The teaching of metacognitive strategies through well designed materials will help students become independent and responsible for their learning and at the same time they will enhance communicative competence.

The students will be able to control their process of learning to become more responsible and autonomous and consequently they will achieve communicative competence. This is due to the fact that “the metacognitive strategies help learners to regulate their own cognition and to focus, plan, and evaluate their progress as they move toward communicative competence, by assessing how they are learning and by planning for future learning task, but metacognitive self-assessment and planning often require reasoning, which is itself a cognitive strategy.” (Oxford, 1990, p.16) She classifies metacognitive strategies in these categories:

 (Taken from Oxford 1990, p. 137)

According to this classification, the metacognitive strategies relate to the planning and overall organization of the language learning experience, and entail making choices about which other strategies to use in a particular situation.

Some experts in this field define Metacognition simply as thinking about thinking. It is said that learners who are metacognitively aware know what to do when they don´t know what to do. This awareness implies the use of strategies for finding out or figuring out what they need to do. They think that the use of metacognitive strategies ignites one’s thinking and can lead to a deeper learning and improved performance, especially among learners who are having problems. Understanding and controlling cognitive processes may be one of the most essential skills that classroom teachers can help second language learners develop.

Moreover, some authors such as Cohen (1998) states that metacognition combines various reflective processes. It can be divided into five primary components:

  1. Preparing and planning for learning.
  2. Selecting and using learning strategies.
  3. Monitoring strategy use.
  4. Orchestrating various strategies.
  5. Evaluating strategy use and learning.

In this way, teachers should model strategies for learners to be followed.

Preparing and Planning for learning.

Preparation and planning are important; these are metacognitive skills that can improve student learning. By engaging in preparation and planning in relation to a learning goal, students are thinking about what they need or want and how they intend to accomplish it.

 Graham (1997) in his work, points out that the central importance of the metacognitive strategies is that they allow students to plan, control and evaluate their learning.


Selecting and using learning strategies.

The metacognitive ability to select and use particular strategies in a given context for a specific purpose means that the learner can think and make conscious decisions about the learning process (Cohen, 1998).

Monitoring Strategy use

By monitoring their use of learning, students are better able to keep themselves on track to meet their learning goals. Once they have selected and begun to implement specific strategies, they need to ask themselves periodically whether or not they are still using those strategies as intended.

Orchestrating various strategies.

Knowing how to orchestrate the use of more than one strategy is an important metacognitive skill. The ability to coordinate, organize, and make associations among the various strategies available is a major distinction between strong and weak second language learners.

Evaluating strategy use and learning.

Second language learners are actively involved in metacognition when they attempt to evaluate what they are doing is effective or as this author states “when learners evaluate they consider the outcome of a particular attempt to learn or use a strategy” (Anita Wended, 1991)

Each of the five metacognitive skills interacts with the others. Researchers say that metacognition is not a linear process that moves from preparing and planning to evaluating. More than one metacognitive process may be occurring at a time during a language learning task.

There is a need of training students to become aware of strategies and at the same time to use them to control their process of learning. Consequently, teachers are becoming conscious of the importance of strategies. Besides that, there is a considerable amount of students that have difficulties in attaining learning so our concern is to help them to overcome those obstacles and become better learners through the use of strategies. The greater awareness you have of what you are doing or of the processes underlying the learning you are involved in, the better the outcome.




1.    Cohen, A. D. Strategies in Learning and using a second language . New York: Longman, 1998.

2.    Graham, S. Effective language learning. Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters, 1997.

3.    Macaro, Ernesto. Learning Strategies in foreign and second language classroom. New York. Continuum, 2001.

4.    Oxford, Rebeca. Language learning strategies, USA. Oxford, 1990.

5.    Wenden, Anita. Learner´s Strategies for Learner Autonomy. New York. Prentice Hall, 1991.