Self-direct Language Learning and Self-Assessment

Self-directed language learning is defined by the Summer Institute of Linguistics [SIL] International (2015) as, “the learner [of a language] takes responsibility for their learning, choosing the content, resources, time, place, activities, and pace of their learning.”   The self-directed learning may be a person that has a passion and/or wide-knowledge of language and language learning, or may be a person that for some reason wants or needs to learn another language but has no particular passion or knowledge (an everyday language learning). However, neither the presence nor lack of passion or knowledge is the ultimate determiner of the effectiveness of self-direct learning. The ultimate determiner is really a drive to learn the language out of want or need. The self-directed learning must put forth an effort to learn.  The self-directed learning is not a purely atomistic learning, but as SIL (2015) noted, may use a team, coach, commercial resources, on-line resources, etc. Indeed, the self-directed learner may utilise language classes and schools, while supplementing those with self-directed learning activities outside the classroom.

An important skill for self-directed language learners to have is self-assessment. This simply means that the learner assesses their own ability to use their target language. However, there are problems in self-assessment. Self-assessment requires the learner to have clear goals to judge progress; yet, many learners will degrade themselves in their self-assessment because of anxiety and subjectivity of standards. As MacIntyre and Gardner (1989) wrote, language anxiety presents in three major forms: “communication apprehension” (in which the learner is unable to express their complex ideas with a limited vocabulary), “fear of negative social evaluation” (being preserved poorly for incorrect language use), and “test anxiety.” Language anxiety may hinder the process of self-assessment because the learner may degrade their abilities based on preserved inabilities. This speaks the role of subjectivity in standards may play in inhibiting accurate self-assessment. The learner may judge their own language skill more poorly than a non-speaker would. Self-assessment may be subject to variations based on situation; for example, take Mr X learning Language Y. In the presence of a native speaker, Mrs Z, of Language Y, Mr X may self-assess his skill level in Language Y very poorly because of anxiety in speaking with a native or feelings of lack of knowledge. However, when with Miss И (a non-speaker of Language Y), Mr X may self-assess his skill level in Language Y very highly because of the lack of anxiety (no native speaker to judge or correct speech) or feelings of superior knowledge. Self-assessment can be a useful tool for the self-directed learner. However, as Saito (2003) noted self-assessment occurs “through complex cognitive processes,” which “many uncontrollable factors” influence.


MacIntyre, P. D. & Gardner, R. C. (1989). Anxiety and Second-Language Learning: Toward a Theoretical Clarification. Retrieved from

Saito, Y. (2003). The use of self-assessment in second language assessment.TESOL Web Journal.

Summer Institute of Linguistics [SIL] International (2015). Self-directed Learning. Retrieved from