Carol Griffiths’ new book The Strategy Factor in Successful Language Learning came out this month and in it Carol recollects her early experience in learning strategies at school. Here, she briefly recounts how she first taught herself how to use strategies to succeed in school.
I learnt about the importance of strategies at a relatively early age. Up until the time I was about twelve years old, my school life had been very happy. But then my father changed his job. Whereas my previous school had emphasized creativity and self-expression, my new school had a much more formal approach. I found myself being expected to answer questions on nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, articles, prepositions, subjects, objects, complements, predicates. I had never even heard these terms, and had absolutely no understanding of what they meant. My grammatical ignorance proved to be fertile ground for Miss Campbell’s ridicule, since she knew almost for certain that if she asked me a question I would get it wrong.
The time came for a big test. Forlornly, I went to Miss Campbell to ask for help. With a sweeping gesture of impatience, she told me to ask one of the other pupils. The other kids, however, had better things to do than spend their lunchtime tutoring a newcomer. I took my text book home on Friday night, and, without too much expectation of success, set to work to try to make sense of its contents. I read the definitions of the unfamiliar concepts, wrote them out to help myself remember them, read the examples, did the exercises and checked my answers from the back of the book. By means of these strategies I found myself gradually achieving some understanding of the alien subject matter. By Sunday night, I found I could do the exercises and get most of them right. And on Monday I got full marks in the test. Miss Campbell seemed surprised and even a little disappointed: she now had to find someone else to serve as the object of her scorn.
This was a most uncomfortable experience, and a most unhappy time. However, it taught me a valuable lesson which I have never forgotten: in this life we are ultimately responsible for our own success or failure. Although other people, such as good teachers, can be very helpful, and can make the task easier and more enjoyable, in the end it is we who do the learning. If we develop sound strategies which are helpful to us, which suit our individual characteristics, and which are appropriate for the situation and the task at hand, there is almost nothing we cannot achieve with sufficient effort and determination.
For more information on Carol’s book click here and if you found the subject of this book interesting you might also like Strategic Language Learning by Xuesong (Andy) Gao.