Vocabulary Learning Strategies and Language Learning Outcomes


  • An earlier version of this article was presented at the International Language in Education Conference held in Hong Kong, 14-16 December 1994. We gratefully acknowledge the cooperation of students and teachers at Beijing Normal University.

concerning this article should be addressed to Yongqi Gu, Room 603, Bonham Campus, Department of English, The Hong Kong Institute of Education, 2 Hospital Road, Hong Kong. Telephone (852) 2803-7452. Internet: pegu@boc.ied.edu.hk


We aimed to establish the vocabulary learning strategies used by Chinese university learners of English and the relationship between their strategies and outcomes in learning English. We asked 850 sophomore non-English majors at Beijing Normal University to complete a vocabulary learning questionnaire. We correlated replies to the questionnaire with results on a vocabulary size test and on the College English Test (CETBAND2). Participants reported using a wide variety of vocabulary learning strategies. In a multiple regression analysis, Self-Initiation and Selective Attention, two metacognitive strategies, emerged as positive predictors of CETBAND2 scores. Contextual guessing, skillful use of dictionaries, note-taking, paying attention to word formation, contextual encoding, and activation of newly learned words also positively correlated with the two test scores. However, visual repetition of new words was the strongest negative predictor of both vocabulary size and general proficiency. Furthermore, strategies aiming at vocabulary retention only related more to vocabulary size than to English proficiency. We identified 5 approaches to learning. These strategy combinations, rather than individual strategies, may have made the difference in these people's learning.