Shevchenko M.V. 

National Technical University of Ukraine Kyiv Polytechnic Institute, Ukraine

Metacognition in Teaching English for Specific Purposes


The lack of time for in-depth study of English for Specific Purposes (ESP) is an ongoing issue at technical faculties, where the English lessons are often conducted once a week. Hence, students need to have some aids in order to achieve great results in language learning. One of such helpful means is metacognition, and more specifically, development of students metacognitive skills.

The notion metacognition was created by J.H. Flavell in 1979. It is defined as the process of developing self-awareness, the ability of self-assessment, and self-regulation that includes knowledge, experiences, aims, and strategies, i.e. the ability to arrange your own, out-of-the-classroom learning, for example, of a foreign language: to plan, track accomplishments, and correct mistakes when needed; the ability to ponder on ones own work, as well as contemplate about ones education and learning [3, p. 3; 4; 5, p. 54; 6; 7, p. 114]. While developing students metacognitive skills, teachers help them comprehend how they study, their strengths, weaknesses and needs, and to better perceive the process of study [5, p. 54]. Older students, who have well developed metacognitive skills, are more motivated and interested in learning English, able to think critically and make decisions better, show good skills of solving problems. Many researches have proved that students with inadequate metacognitive skills perform at foreign language lessons worse than those with highly-developed skills [7, p.114].

There are two features of metacognition: reflection contemplating about what one knows; and self-regulation control of how one studies [2, p. 158].

Examples of questions asked by lecturers to galvanize metacognitive skills of technical students, who study some professionally-oriented concepts at the ESP lessons, may be the following: Why are we studying this topic?; What have we learnt about it at this lesson?; How can the studied concept be applied to your speciality / future profession?

Metacognition, motivation and behaviour are reckoned to be elements of self-regulated learning. Self-regulated learners eagerly search for needed information and make everything possible to master it; perform educational activities confidently, with meticulousness and creativity; are aware of possessing particular knowledge or a skill and when they do not; manage to overcome obstacles; control the efficiency of their learning approaches and tactics; take amenability for their accomplishment outcomes; consider study as a systematic and controllable process.

Among approaches of self-regulated learning are self-assessment, organization and alteration, setting aim and planning, looking for information, making notes, self-control, arranging the environment, rehearsing and memorizing, looking for social aid, as well as reviewing [3, p. 5; 9].

Students metacognitive skills include [5, p. 55]:

1. Setting learning goals (enumeration of their individual aims for participation in the English classes, as well as their review and update throughout the programme; listing activities that will help them achieve these purposes; developing and practicing skills essential for achieving the above-mentioned goals; acknowledging achievements on the way to meeting the aims; explore, determine and evolve new strategies and additional educational opportunities to reach the English language learning goals);

2. Comprehension of personal learning styles (voice likes and dislikes concerning in-class exercises, as well as approaches to study, i.e. preferred ways to take in and process the taught material; individual assessment of ones own learning styles and inclinations, strengths and weaknesses; share and clarify learning predilections and learning tactics to group-mates and the teacher);

3. Assessment of individual learning (control, evaluate and characterize the improvement; identify reached aims and define following steps; show comprehension of assessment; look for additional learning chances; study autonomously of group activities or teacher instructions).

There are numerous benefits of application of metacognition to teaching English for Specific Purposes [1, p. 36-37; 3, p. 7-8; 8]:

      Students learning is enhanced, and pace of progress, the quality and speed of their cognitive engagement become faster;

      Students become confident in their abilities to learn, turn into strategic learners, better critical thinkers, decision-makers, problem-solvers, and, in addition, are not anxious to ask for help with study when needed;

      Students get clearer understanding of how to apply new concepts and professional terminology to the living foreign language;

      Students motivation, self-assurance and sense of personal amenability for their own development are increased;

      Students adjust their learning tactics to match the task or changing circumstances;

      Students can accurately assess why they are successful learners or, vice versa, analyse inaccuracies when they fail to perform a task;

      Students thinking skills are developed, understanding of their learning processes and knowledge construction are promoted;

      The quality of study is enhanced due to active engagement in contemplating about the subject-matter of the lesson;

      Students with advanced metacognitive skills have higher levels of inherent aiming, task value, use elaboration learning schemes, think critically, conduct metacognitive self-regulation and effort control;

      Most importantly, students see themselves as continual learners and as those who can successfully handle new, harder tasks.

To summarize, it should be mentioned that developed metacognitive skills help students improve greatly, among others, their listening and speaking skills, which require good understanding of the concept or process related to their speciality that is studied at the English for Special Purposes lesson, and stay constantly motivated and engrossed in learning the foreign language.


1.     Coşkun, A. (2010). The Effect of Metacognitive Strategy Training on the Listening Performance of Beginner Students. Novitas-ROYAL (Research on Youth and Language). 4 (1), 35-50.

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5.     Metacognitive Skills. (2006). Retrieved from: http://www.dllr.state.md.us/gedmd/cs/eslcsmeta.pdf. Last accessed 27th April 2015.

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9.     Zimmerman, B. J. (1990). Self-Regulated Learning and Academic Achievement: An Overview. Educational Psychologist. 25(1), 3-17