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When reading research papers about language learning strategies, one frequently encounters the Strategy Inventory of Language Learning or SILL. What is it and where does it come from?

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The Strategy Inventory of Language Learning or SILL was developed by Rebecca L. Oxford. Oxford developed the inventory in the mid 1980s and published several versions of it in between 1985 and 1990.

One of the earliest publications about it is the report Development and Psychometric Testing of the Strategy Inventory for Language Learning (SILL) that Oxford wrote for the US Army's Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences in 1986. This report describes all the versions that Oxford had created in the preceding years. (Older versions are hard to find online.) The inventory is based on research on second language learning strategies, which led to a classification of such strategies.

The inventory is based, among other things, on the observation that successful language learners tend to use "good" strategies more often than less successful learners and that awareness of strategies can enhance language learning.

The 1986 reports identifies the following types of strategies:

  • direct (primary) and indirect (support strategies),
  • cognitive and metacognitive strategies,
  • syntactic and semantic strategies,
  • formal and functional strategies,
  • social strategies,
  • other strategies: study, affective and textual.

The final version was published in the book Language Learning Strategies: What Every Teacher Should Know (1990).

Surveys on language learning strategies use a questionnaire that contains items such as "I use new SL words in a sentence so I can remember them", "I use flashcards to remember new SL words", "I start conversations in the SL", "I try not to translate word for word" and "I try to relax whenever I feel afraid of using SL". For each item or statement, there is a 1-to-5 scale, in which 1 stands for "Never or almost never true of me" and 5 stands for "Always or almost always true of me". Even though the SILL is now more than 25 years old, it is still being used in second language acquisition research.

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