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Examples of learner strategies

Learner strategies are things that learners can do that improve progress in learning a language. “Research has repeatedly shown that the conscious, tailored use of such strategies is related to language achievement and proficiency.” (Oxford, 1994)

Not all strategies are suitable for every situation, every learner, or at every stage of language learning. Teachers need to find out what strategies their students are already using, teach them useful strategies that they need to know, and how to choose the right strategy for the task (and for their learning style and language level).

Here is a summary of the most common language learning strategies that can be easily taught and used. Click on the headings below for an explanation, and examples, of each strategy. In some cases, an alternative label for the strategy used in other literature is given in brackets.



Look for opportunities to use the language.  Use imagery.
Practise.  Organise words into meaningful groups.
Play and experiment.  Break words into parts.
Set goals and plan.  Use flash cards.
Chill out / Have fun.  Make sentences.


 Read lots on the same topic.
Look for patterns.  Review regularly.



Read/listen a lot.  Seek out conversation partners.
Read/listen for keywords, words you know.  Be prepared to make mistakes.
Guess or ignore unknown words.  Use gestures and paraphrase.
Make predictions.  Ask for clarification/help.
Read/listen to the same thing over again.  Plan and prepare.
Check your understanding.  Think in Māori.
   Check your writing.

See also:


Look for opportunities to use the language

  • Go to places where Māori is spoken.
  • Listen to Māori radio, TV.
  • Try to use Māori as often as possible in everyday conversation.


  • Practise Māori often by repeating phrases to yourself, reviewing words.

Play and experiment

  • Try out saying new things even if you’re not sure if that’s the way to say it.
  • Play around with words and try guessing.
  • Play word games.

Set goals and plan

  • Figure out what you can do and what you need to learn.
  • Set realistic goals such as learning how to do a particular thing, or learning a certain number of words.
  • Organise yourself and your time to achieve the goal.

Chill out / Have fun

  • When learning a language, it’s important to relax and not get too nervous, but also to be brave and try new things. Have fun with the language by playing games and singing songs in Māori.


Use imagery

  • Learn words by making a mental picture or associating it with a situation or physical sensation.
  • Use real objects, for example, label objects around the home in Māori.
  • Use the keyword technique.

The keyword technique (Atkinson, 1975) – this is an effective way of making a new word memorable. (Nation, 2001, pp. 311–314)

Create an unusual association between how the word sounds and its meaning. Find an English word that sounds like the Māori one, then imagine a picture combining the meaning of both words.

Example 1: to learn the word ako (learn), think of a word that sounds a bit like it – ‘ark’. (This is the keyword.) Now imagine the animals on the ark learning from a teacher. If the image is strange and funny it is easier to remember.

Example 2: to learn the word whana (kick), think of a word that sounds a bit like it – ‘fun’. (This is the keyword.) Now imagine a boy having fun kicking a ball.

See Atkinson, R. C. (1975). “Mnemotechnics in second-language learning”. American Psychologist, 30, 821–828.

Seen Nation, I. S. P. (2001). Learning Vocabulary in Another Language Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Organise words into meaningful groups

  • Make your own organisation of words you are learning by part of speech, topic, etc.
  • There can be many different ways of grouping words – group them in a way that means something to you.

Example: Organise the following words into groups in the following table (some words might fit into more than one group): paru, mahi, whare, kura, waka, kai, pōtae, koti, rākau, āporo, haere, ika, tangi, moe, kākahu, kūmara, kōrero, maunga, matapihi, hū.

Things you can eat  ...............................................
Things you cannot eat ...............................................
Things you wear ...............................................
Things you do ...............................................
  • You can use colour coding
  • Don’t try to learn words that are similar in sound or meaning at the same time – it’s better to learn one thoroughly first, and then contrast with the other, or you can get confused
  • It can be useful to learn the more frequent or common words first.

Break words into parts

  • Make the most of what you know already by looking for parts of words that you already know. For example, kaiako (teacher) can be broken into the prefix kai meaning a person who does something, and ako meaning ‘teach/learn’.

Use flash cards

  • Make cards to practise the words you are learning – these can have translations or pictures on the back.
  • Test yourself regularly
  • As you learn the words, shuffle the cards and try in a different order
  • Take out the words you now know and practise again with the words you don’t know yet
  • Look at the Māori words first and try to remember the meaning. After you can do that, use the cards the other way around – look at the meaning and try to remember the Māori word. (Nation, 2001, pp. 315–316)

Make sentences

  • Make up your own sentences with the words you’re trying to learn.

Read lots on the same topic

  • Find lots of texts on the same topic and read them (for example, to learn sports words, read books and articles about sports).

Review regularly

  • Don’t just study new words – study and test yourself on words you studied before to make sure you don’t forget them. Have you learnt more about a word you already know?


Look for patterns (deduction)

  • Be on the lookout for patterns in the language – words that come in the same order each time; similarities between different patterns.
  • Try and work out rules for yourself.
  • Use your knowledge of the grammar rules.
  • Look and listen for examples of the patterns you are trying to learn.


Read/listen a lot

  • Read and listen to as much as you can, especially if you can find things to read and listen to that are not too difficult for you to understand.
  • By seeing and hearing lots of the language, you will learn without knowing it.

Read/listen for keywords, words you know (selective attention)

  • Don’t try to understand every word of what you read or hear – focus on the keywords or on the words that you do know.

Guess or ignore unknown words (inferencing)

  • When you hear or read words you don’t know, don’t freak out! Either ignore them and just try to get the general meaning or if they seem important, try to guess what they mean.
  • Use the context to help you, both the close context (the sentence) and the big picture of the whole text, conversation or news bulletin, for example
  • Use your knowledge of the language and your general knowledge.

Make predictions

  • If you get the chance, try to predict what you will hear or read from clues like the context, the title, the situation, and your background knowledge about the topic.

Read/listen to the same thing over again

  • If you read the same thing over and over again (or listen if you have a recording), it gets easier each time and you’ll understand and learn more.

Check your understanding

  • As you read or listen, ask yourself if you are understanding. If not, you might need to use some of the other strategies mentioned here, or maybe you’re reading or listening to something that is just too hard right now – find something easier.


Seek out conversation partners

  • Make an effort to find people who will talk to you in Māori (schoolmates, friends who go to Māori-medium schools, relatives, people at a local marae). Have email ‘conversations’ in Māori.

Be prepared to make mistakes

  • Try not to worry about making mistakes. Note that the word ‘Make’ is part of the word ‘Mistake’ – M I S T A K E – you cannot make anything without making mistakes. (Paul Nation)

Use gestures and paraphrase

  • Help yourself communicate in Māori by using gestures and paraphrasing (using other words) when you’re not sure exactly how to say what you want. The person you’re talking to might be able to tell you the word, or at least you can keep going in Māori.

Ask for clarification/help

  • When you’re having a conversation and there’s something you don’t understand, ask the other person to repeat it or to say it a different way – or to ask for help when you can’t find out how to say what you want. You can also ask for examples or more explanation. Check that you understand correctly by asking “Did you mean [repeat the idea in your own words]”?

Plan and prepare

  • Before you write something or make a spoken presentation, plan what you will say. Organise it. Make sure you know the keywords for your topic.

Think in Māori

  • Try to think (speak and write) directly in Māori. This is more effective than translating from English.

Check your writing

  • After you’ve written something in Māori, go back and reread it carefully, checking for errors and ways you could improve it.


  • Oxford, R. (1994). Language Learning Strategies: An Update. (link to PDF) CAL Online Resources: Digests, October 1994.
  • Cohen, A. D., Paige, R. M, Kappler, B., Demmessie, M., Weaver, S. J., Chi, J. C. & Lassegard, J. P. (2003). “Does the ‘Good Language Learner’ Exist?” in Maximizing Study Abroad: A Language Instructors’ Guide to Strategies for Language and Culture Learning and Use. CARLA Working Paper Series, University of Minnesota.
  • See other references in the Bibliography for teachers under Language learning strategies.

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