Chapter 17: Second Language Learning and Teaching: Learning Styles & Strategies

Wikis > Chapter 17: Second Language Learning and Teaching: Learning Styles & Strategies


Learning a new language? Or teaching a second language? Facing difficulties in learning or teaching a second language? What are some of the strategies in language learning? Here, we will be exploring some tips and tricks in language learning suited to different personality types. We will also look at ways teachers can apply the learning strategies into their course planning to teach the second language more effectively!

While language learning styles are more general, it should not be confused with language learning strategies as the same thing.  “Language learning strategies are the specific behaviors…that students adopt to help them learn (Oxford and Lavine (1992), pg. 1-2).” We will be looking at how language learning strategies affect language learning styles (related to the Myers-Briggs personality types). It was argued that the learning style impacts the learning strategies employed by an individual (Ehrman & Oxford, 1990). It is within this context that Oxford developed the Strategy Inventory for Language Learning, or SILL (Oxford, 1990), which we will be working with in the subsequent subchapters.

Second Language Learning

Second language learning is a conscious process where the learning of another language other than the First Language (L1) takes place. Often confused with bilingualism and multilingualism, the process has to take place after the first language(s) has already been acquired. Having said that, Second language learning could also refer to the third, fourth, or fifth (so on and so forth) language the learner is currently learning.

L1 versus L2

The First Language (L1) refers to the language you learn since you were born (not literally, of course). It is commonly known as the language(s) of your parents or caregivers, basically, the person(s) you spend time with the most from you were in your mother’s womb till you are about 5 years old. It is possible to have more than one L1. The Second Language (L2), on the other hand, refers to the language learned after the L1 has been acquired. A language can only be referred to as your L2 if the learning occurs after you have acquired your L1.

Language Learning Strategies

Strategies in language learning, or the steps that one take to learn a language, is very important in ultimate language performance. It is defined as “specific actions, behaviors, steps, or techniques — such as seeking out conversation partners or giving oneself encouragement to tackle a difficult language task — used by students to enhance their own learning” (Scarcella & Oxford, 1992, p. 63). There are six strategies that learners use when learning a language. The strategies include:

  1. Memory
  2. Cognitive
  3. Comprehension
  4. Metacognitive
  5. Affective
  6. Social

However, each individual has strategies that they use more than others. To check out the strategy patterns that you use, follow the following instructions:

  1. Grab a pen, paper, and calculator
  2. Access this link, go through each part and answer each item. At the same time, write your response for each item on your piece of paper (1, 2, 3, 4 or 5).
  3. Add up the response scores for each Part.
  4. Divide the SUM for each Part with the NUMBER OF QUESTIONS for each part. You will get the average scores for each part.
  5. Do so for every part. You will end up with 6 average scores.
  6. For each Part, it correlates to the Strategies shown above. Part A correlates with Strategy A which is Memory Strategy, so on, so forth.
  7. To understand your average scores, refer to the following table:
High Always or almost always used

Usually used

4.5 to 5.0

3.5 to 4.4

Medium Sometimes used 2.5 to 3.4
Low Generally not used

Never or almost never used

1.5 to 2.4

1.0 to 1.4

Now that you have found out your pattern of strategy usage, we will now explore what each strategy mean.

Memory strategy

People who adopt the memory strategy depend on their memorizing ability. They find ways to remember better to aid in entering information into long-term memory, by creating a word-meaning map in their brain (mental linkages), and then being able to retrieve that information. Adopting this strategy will allow the learning and retrieval via sounds (e.g., rhyming), images (e.g., a mental picture of the word itself or the meaning of the word), a combination of sounds and images (e.g., the keyword method), body movement (e.g., total physical response), mechanical means (e.g., flashcards), or location (e.g., on a page or blackboard).

Things they do: Do a lot of exercises on English grammar. Create a word bank from your reading materials or TV shows and memorize the meaning of the words and try to use them.

Cognitive strategy

People who adopt the cognitive strategy tend to analyse and reason. They form internal mental codes and revise them to receive and produce the message in the target language. Adopting this strategy will enable you to internalize the language in direct ways such as through reasoning, analysis, note-taking, summarizing, synthesizing, outlining, practicing in naturalistic settings, and practicing structures and sounds formally.

Things they do: Watch Korean dramas and try to replicate how the characters pronounce Korean words. Watch Korean dramas and try to replicate how the characters use certain words in a sentence. Write emails or letters in SL. Read SL reading materials such as magazines and newspapers.

Comprehension strategy

People who adopt the comprehension strategy find themselves guessing unknown words when listening and reading. They also try to replace words they do not know with longer phrases or other words that they know when speaking and writing to overcome gaps in knowledge.

Things they do: Try to guess the meaning of words they don’t know. Try to understand the meaning through looking at the word in context. Guess the meaning of some words by reading the whole passage. Try to look for cues or nonverbal signs when in conversation.

Metacognitive strategy

People who adopt the metacognitive strategy plan, arrange, focus, evaluate on their own learning process. They identify and monitor their own learning style preferences and needs, such as gathering and organizing L2  materials, arranging a study space and a schedule for L2 revision and learning, monitoring mistakes made in L2, and evaluating task success, and evaluating the success of any type of learning strategy.

Things they do: Observe how the SL teacher speaks in the SL. Observe how they themselves speak in the SL. Practice speaking in SL in front of the mirror. Crosscheck with Google to find out if their pronunciation is correct, and correct it. Doing crossword puzzles and play word games like scrabble. Take note of how other people communicate in SL, especially natives.

Social/Affective strategy

People who adopt the social/affective strategy control their feelings, motivations and attitudes when in social situations such as asking questions, communicating with others, facilitate conversation and interaction.

Things they do: They encourage themselves to speak in SL even when they are afraid of making a mistake. They reward themselves for good performance. They remind themselves that it is okay to make mistakes. They tell themselves to be confident and not be afraid to make mistakes. They try to speak in SL to others. They ask for clarifications of a confusing point of the L2, or when communicating. They are people to correct their speech when communicating.

General Conclusions

In general, you may notice in your average scores that you have scores across all strategies. This suggests that you use all strategies in language learning, no matter the frequency. This is known as strategy chain; a set of strategies that interlock, complementing and mutually supportive with each other. It is also worth noting that each individual uses every strategy, but some strategies are used more than others. Studies have shown that there is no one strategy that is more effective than others.

In the later chapters, we will take a look at how teachers need to consider that different people have different predominant strategies that they use. Knowing this will help teachers plan their lessons to benefit each and every student in language learning. Teachers can also help their students develop an awareness of learning strategies and enable them to use a wider range of strategies. “Stretching” students’ learning styles by making them try out strategies outside their primary preference can also be beneficial.

Also, for learners, it is good to note that while you have some strategies that you use more than others, studies have shown that effective learners use an array of strategies. In the future sub-chapters, we will take a look at how one’s personality style affects their learning styles and henceforth the strategies they typically adopt. Optimal learners find ways to tailor their use of strategy to match their individual needs and develop combinations of strategies that work for them (Oxford, 1990).

Activity for Self-Analysis of Strategy Adoption

Many studies also show that the frequency of use of strategies in language learning directly relates to quicker and more effective language attainment (Nyikos & Oxford, 1993), regardless of assessment method. Now, take the SUM OF ALL AVERAGE SCORES for every part and divide it by 50. That will give you the overall average of your usage of strategies. Using the same template to read your average scores,

High Always or almost always used

Usually used

4.5 to 5.0

3.5 to 4.4

Medium Sometimes used 2.5 to 3.4
Low Generally not used

Never or almost never used

1.5 to 2.4

1.0 to 1.4

if you fall between the range of LOW, you need to increase your frequency of adopting the strategies pronto! If you fall in the MEDIUM range, you are generally using it, but more can be done to reap maximal attainment. If you fall in the HIGH range, then well done. You are well on your way to language performance.

Learning Styles for Second Language Learning (for learners)

Learning styles refer to the variations in how an individual learn based on their preferences, strengths, and weaknesses. The individual’s learning style has a significant influence on the learning strategy choices. When left to learn the language on their own, and if not encouraged by the teacher or forced by the lesson to use a certain set of strategies, learners typically use learning strategies that reflect their basic learning styles (Ehrman & Oxford, 1989; Oxford, 1996a, 1996b). The learning process is most effective when it is in line with our learning style preferences. Therefore, it is useful to know which learning methods are likely to be most effective for us, to help us acquire knowledge quickly and effectively.

Activity for Personality Identification

We will be looking at the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality types and learning styles.  The results can aid your understanding in how you can be more successful in the classroom and beyond. This can be useful in developing strategies for more effective study and developing our less-preferred ways of learning. Here’s how you can start:

  1. Go to
  2. Complete the survey and find out your personality type
  3. Take note of your personality type to follow this chapter

Now that you know your personality type, check out what each letter in your personality type means. The personality type and learning styles are not fixed as they run on a continuum. When your personality type show that you are extroverted for example, it does not mean that you are an extrovert but you actually gravitate towards extraversion. Also, take note how each type describes the style in which they prefer to learn a language in.

Learning Styles

  1. Extraversion (E) and Introversion (I)

This style continuum relates to how people are stimulated and oriented.

Extraversion (E) Introversion (I)

If you prefer extraversion you could be described as talkative or friendly once or twice in your life. Most of the time, you like to be in a fast-paced environment. You love interacting with others and holding discussions and being in the centre of attention.

Learning style: Extroverts prefer to learn by interacting with others, experiential learning and are interested in external input such as from people and events. Extroverts enjoy group work. They learn best by talking and physically engaging the environment because talking helps to form their thoughts.

If you prefer introversion, you are most likely reserved and/or private. You appreciate a slower pace with more time to think and tend to think things through in your head. You are more of an observer.

Learning style: Introverts prefer to learn in solitary activities and lean towards internal input, themselves, rather than external. They learn best through quiet, mental reflection. Their attention will naturally flow inward to their own thoughts, ideas, and impressions.

2. Sensing (S) and, Intuition (N)

This style continuum relates to one’s view of the world and how they take in data.

Sensing (S) Intuition (N)

If you prefer Sensing, you most likely see the world in a practical and factual way, seeing the reality of how things are. You accept hard facts as they are. You prefer ideas that are practical. When describing something, you do it very specifically and literally.


Learning style: They question, “Is this practical and useful to me?” The more precisely they can learn how something can be put to use or how they can operate it, the greater their interest in the topic and the greater their desire to apply what they learn. They prefer independent work and concrete facts, organization, and structure. They are good at memorization and like to go step by step. They excel at tasks that call for carefulness, observing specifics, and have a practical interest.

If you gravitate towards Intuition, you prefer possibilities, and meanings, and is known for being innovative and theoretical-minded. You see the big picture and how things connect. You are definitely not a planner. Instead, you see possibilities that arise from a situation. You reason things abstractly, in a figurative and poetic manner, and appreciate variation.

Learning style: Intuitive types focus on general concepts, clarifying theories before applying them. Pretty much a skeptic, they rely on observations and see associations and meanings. They will always ask “why” before anything else. Creative and innovative, they enjoy new material. They are best with tasks that appeal to their intellectual interests and call for grasping general concepts, seeing relationships, and using imagination. They can remember specifics when they relate to a pattern.

3. Thinking (T) and Feeling (F)
This style continuum relates to the decisional-making and conclusion-derivation of a person.

Thinking (T) Feeling (F)
If you gravitate towards Thinking style, you are objective-minded, often relying on logic reasoning and cause-and-effect criterion when making decisions. While you enjoy finding flaws in an argument or proposals, you uphold fairness. You could be called reasonable, level-headed or logical by your colleagues or friends once or twice in your life.  

Learning style: Thinkers use logical analysis to understand. They naturally critique things, making them good at problem-solving. They enjoy going in-depth. They strive to get a sense of mastery over the material being studied. They may have difficulty with instructors who do not present material in a logical order. They like clear course and topic objectives that are precise and action-oriented. Accuracy is important to them.

If you gravitate towards Feeling, you rely on the basis of personal or social values, interpersonal relationships, and their own feelings or those of others, when making decisions. You value harmony and forgiveness and like to please others and point out the best in people. Once or twice in your life, you could’ve been called empathetic or the ‘mother of the group’.

Learning style: Feelers attempt to relate ideas and concepts to their own personal experiences. They enjoy group work only when individual relationships develop or are positive. They learn well by helping others and responding to their needs, and they study well with others. They feel the need to develop a personal rapport with the instructor and receive feedback and encouragement.

4. Judging (J) and Perceiving (P)
This style continuum concerns the process in which the individual uses to interact with the outside world.

Judging (J) Perceiving (P)

If you gravitate towards Judging, you prefer to have closure before you can move on to another task. You gravitate towards having some form of structure or organization and like to be in control. Having said so, you adhere to deadlines and rules strictly.

Learning style: Judgers learn best in formal settings. They prefer step-by-step instruction or manual and detailed explanations. They plan their work schedule and stick to the plan, often getting work done early. They meet deadlines and prefer to work on only one thing at a time. They avoid last-minute stresses and don’t work well under last-minute pressure. They want to know what they are accountable for and by what standards they will be graded. They treat assignments seriously.

Perceivers enjoy spontaneity, having some flexibility, freedom, and autonomy, and are highly adaptive. This also applies to deadlines and rules. If you prefer to have your options open, then you are gravitating towards perceiving. You excel in improvising and you like to make things up as you go.

Learning style: Perceivers love to start many tasks, want to know everything about each task, but end up not complete them. They work in flexibly, often by impulse. They study best when surges of energy come to them. They are stimulated by the new and different. They are good at informal problem solving. Their biggest problem is procrastination. However, they excel at last-minute pressures and often do their best work under pressure. When completing a lengthy assignment or project, they will work best if they divide the work into several sub-assignments.

Now that you know more about your personality types and your learning styles, it is good that you take note of what you can do to improve your learning process. For example, if you are a perceiver, you should  divide the work into several sub-assignments when completing a lengthy assignment since that is how you work best. Optimal learners acknowledge their weaknesses and try to minimize them while emphasising on their strengths. Research have also shown that successful learners are more open and receptive towards other learning styles to as to optimise the learning and be able to take in and internalise materials or perform well in assessments, regardless of their nature. Hence, the MBTI results serve as a guide for you to minimize your weaknesses and build on your strengths towards second language learning and attainment.

 Second Language Teaching Methods (for teachers)

Teachers can make use of the information on language learning strategies and styles to create and design their lesson or course plan. Since teachers play a big role in their students’ language learning process, the tools, teaching methods and classroom environment adopted will ultimately affect their students’ progress.

Having talked about the language learning strategies and styles in the previous sub-chapters, teachers can now use that information and consider that different people have different predominant strategies that they use, and that different people learn in a different way. Knowing this will help teachers plan their lessons to benefit each and every student in language learning. It will be advantageous if teachers raise awareness and train the students to adopt the language learning strategies so as to enable them to use a wider range of strategies. “Stretching” students’ learning styles by making them try out strategies outside their primary preference can also be beneficial. Eventually, we will also talk about the various assessment methods and introduce some tools suited for different language learning strategies and styles.

Classroom environments

In this section, we will be looking at the classroom environments that each personality style continuum works best in or prefer. Considering these, it is good that teachers mix the preferences so as to benefit all types of learning styles of students.

Extraversion Introversion
  • Discussions in the second language
  • Role-playing in the second language
  • Conversations with other students in the second language
  • Self-introductions in the second language
  • Presentations about the culture of the second language
  • Interactive learning
  • Individual projects
  • Independent reading in the second language
  • Writing tasks in the second language
  • Listening tasks in the second language
  • Observational tasks such as to write a composition in the second language
  • Space and time to think in assessments
  • Voluntary participation in class
Sensing Intuitive
  • Learning involving senses (hear, touch, see, smell, taste)
  • Hands-on activities
  • Audio-visual second language  materials
  • Materials that are relevant and in-depth
  • Real-life applications
  • Class expectations to be presented clearly
  • Theories presented clearly
  • Problem-based learning
  • Autonomy in learning
  • Independent learning
  • Group work
  • Individual work
Thinking Feeling
  • Logical second language teaching eg. grammar rules
  • Step-by-step guide eg. in applying grammar rules
  • Logical reasoning presented
  • Objective instructor feedback eg. in pronunciation
  • Objective peer feedback
  • Constructive criticisms
  • Respectful class
  • Fair class
  • Positive rapport with instructor
  • Positive rapport with other students
  • Positive feedback and corrections from instructors and peers
  • Rewards/Appreciation
  • Relate class materials or topics to people or human values
Judging Feeling
  • Clear, detailed instructions and guidelines eg. grammar rules
  • Course outline presented
  • Logical reasoning presented
  • Step-by-step guide
  • Likes variety of assignments and assessment methods
  • Reason the purpose of study, assignments or assessments to them
  • Pop quizzes

 Class activities for strategies

In this section, we will propose what are some activities that fall under the strategies mentioned above.

Memory Get students to create a word bank from their own reading materials, synthesis exercise, cloze exercise, grouping words into categories (eg. positive adjectives, neutral adjectives, negative adjectives), songwriting, using flashcards, story-telling, spelling tests
Cognitive Watch videos or movies, discussions (online and offline), reading, summary-writing, synthesis exercises
Comprehension Reading, comprehension exercise, listening comprehension exercise, dictation
Metacognitive Explicit teaching, word games (eg. scrabble), reading, discussions (online or offline), oral presentations
Affective Story-telling , show and tell, oral presentations, discussions (online and in-class), role-playing, online skyping, peer evaluations

Other tools for language teaching

  1. Corpora

Learning the most frequently used words in a language is beneficial in the early stages. Corpora have been used for the making of dictionaries and reference works such as the Collins Cobuild series, published by HarperCollins. Corpora can be used to identify the frequent words used by the native speakers in a language. As in the case of English, the words may be obtained from corpus studies of the British National Corpus (BNC) for British English and Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) for American English. At present, the English language (and its varieties) has a more established corpus, while this may not be the case yet for other languages.

Teachers can tap on the patterns from the corpora to teach L2 vocabulary. This can also be done in scaffolding, where teachers introduce a certain number of words at the beginning stage (eg. English) and gradually introduce more as learners advance. This may, for instance, be a relevant source for the learners who primarily adopt the Memory strategy, where they are guided to memorise sets of vocabulary list and then be tested on them. Also, other corpus can be used to study the common mistakes made by second language learners in their attempt to achieve native-like writing and speech (Biber and Conrad, 2010). By studying the common mistakes, the teachers can plan their lessons to minimise them.

  1. Computer-assisted language learning (CALL)

The computer can be used as a tutor aid, tool, and/or for communication. Computer-assisted language learning (CALL) is the computer applications in language teaching and learning. Teachers can use CALL for content delivery (eg. Microsoft PowerPoint) or classroom activities (eg. WebQuests, grammar drills, etc.). Additionally, CALL could also be used for task-based group work or activities and computer-mediated communication between students in class such as synchronous online discussions.

One advantage of using computers is that it efficiently allows for learning when the teacher is not present. Delivery of content can still be done through an online medium. Certain computer tools allow for feedback to be given when learners make a mistake, unlike the conventional paper-and-pen homework system in which mistakes can only be corrected in the following class. Furthermore, this online content can be used by the students to revise or get back to at home or for when the student cannot attend class. This is due to the possibility of asynchronous learning, in which the learner can learn without the constraints of time and space.

The founder of Vivaling (an online language academy for children learners), Bernard Goldstein, mentioned in a guest lecture at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) that the computer, despite playing a significant role in helping learners learn language, is still unable to replace the physical teacher entirely. Rather, the computer is a medium that can enhance and aid the teaching process. Thus, we propose that CALL be used as a support for a physical teacher, a means of revision between a lesson and another or, in fact, as a medium for communication, where the hassle of traveling can be overcome as proven in the case of Vivaling.

Examples of CALL:

  1. Asynchronous discussions (such as blogs, discussion forums/boards)
  2. Synchronous learning (such as online chats, Skype)
  3. E-learning
  4. YouTube videos
  5. Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel
  6. CD/DVDs for language learning
  7. Web-based language learning software/programs (such as Vivaling)
  8. Podcasts

Assessment methods

Oral Assessments
  1. Engage in dialogue
  2. Storytelling
  3. Self-introductions
  1. Video-making
  2. Story-writing
  3. Skits
Written Tests
  1. Situational writing
  2. Letter-writing
  3. Narrative writing
  4. Grammar test
  5. Vocabulary test
  6. Spelling test
  7. Comprehension/Listening comprehension test

There are many types of methods of assessing students in language learning. It is beneficial to adopt a variety due to the varied nature of students. Varied learning styles and personalities will affect the performance levels on the different method of assessing. For example, there is a higher chance of extroverts doing better in oral examinations as compared to introverts. Above and beyond test performance, what we aim to achieve is the pleasure of learning for various learner types and personalities. A rigid assessment method risks turning learners away from language learning as they may conclude that the process is too difficult rather than opting to adopt different learning strategies for their objective.

General conclusions

To conclude, language teachers ought to be aware of student personality as a factor, in order to optimise their students’ learning. Teachers can use a variety of activities and assessment methods to suit the various learning styles and strategies adopted by the students. Additionally, the use of computers (CALL) to aid their teaching is also a move that is well encouraged and celebrated. A good amalgamation of these strategies and tools should be on its way to achieving effective language learning and effective language teaching, a goal we all want.


Limitations to the information

1 Personalities

We are aware of the criticisms that are levelled at the discourse of personality vis-a-vis language learning. In fact, we acknowledge that personality is something that can change over time and under circumstances. This, however, does not take away the fact that our dominant (current) personality does play a role in the effectiveness of language learning.

2 Strategies

There isn’t one strategy that fits everyone or one that is superior to another. Different strategies would suit different personalities better. Studies have concluded that the most effective learners use a good mix of strategies to maximise the learning (Ehrman, 1990; Ehrman & Oxford, 1995).

3 Teaching

In a class setting, it might be challenging for a tutor to use every single strategy to cater to every learner’s preference, given time and resource constraints. However, a suggestion that we propose is that tutors adopt at least several strategies that cut across opposing personalities (i.e. introverts VS extroverts), as each learner would at least be (dominantly) one or the other.

4 Learning

As for learners, while it is a case of optimality to have lessons be catered to individual personalities, it is important for learners to adapt to the different strategies too. In the event that the class does not cater to their personality, they can choose their preferred strategy when revising or practising the language on their own or with their peers. Flexibility is key to successful learning.

5 Difference in metalinguistic features

One also has to consider the challenges in acquiring different L2s. Some L2s have a more complex grammar, for instance, while other L2s may have a deeper orthography (where a phoneme, say /a/, can be pronounced differently in different environments). All these metalinguistic features play a role in the L2 learning process. The writing system may also affect the speed of learning how to write the L2, as those whose L1 comes in form of Roman alphabets (a, b, c, d) may take more time learning an L2 writing system that uses logographic symbols (e.g. Chinese, Japanese).

Future study directions

1 Other than English?

The studies we use mostly dealt with English as an L2. This means that the metalinguistic features learners in the studies had to deal with were primarily that of English, whose results may extend to other languages with a similar system. Thus, at present, we may not be able to account for other L2 languages which have different linguistic nuances and thus pose different learning challenges.

2 Age of acquisition

There is strong ground to believe that the age at which the L2 is learnt plays a role in the learning process. Studies have shown that learning a language within the critical period is requires less effort than learning after that period (Ortega, 2014). On top of that, most of the studies using personality tests assess young adults or adult learners, who would be relatively more conscious of their behaviour and personality. This may not be necessarily the case for children, whose personality might be more uncertain or might be in the process of being shaped. Thus, the L2 learning would also have to take into account age as a factor.


We have explored the various language learning strategies and have noted that the way to optimising the strategies is to use an array of them. Remember, there is no definite superior strategy. If your overall score is within the medium or low ranges, increasing the frequency of strategy use will help in your learning. Kudos to those with high-frequency average scores! Keep up the burning desire to learn a second language.

We have also noticed how learning types correlate to language learning and how then the patterns of strategy use differ from one individual to another. Being more receptive towards the other learning styles other than your primary styles could lead to more effective learning of language for you. Also, the various learning styles and strategies resented could help teachers choose the most suitable language teaching methods for your class activities. Acknowledging and considering your students’ learning types can help in choosing the right materials, activities and assessment methods for your course. Strategy training can also benefit your students and let them have more exposure to the different strategies that could make their language learning process much faster.

Lastly, of course, second language learning is a two-way affair. As much as the teachers are trying their best to cater to their students’ learning styles and optimise the strategies, the learners have to also do their part in the journey towards SLA.

May your language learning journey be a fun and fruitful one! All the best.


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First Created by Nur Faizah Binte Abdan, Muhammad ‘Arif Bin Muhammad Khairul Tan, AY2016/17 Semester 1