Difficulties in research on learner characteristics and SLA:
A learner’s language proficiency can be defined and measured in many ways (e.g. * CALP vs. BICS ). That is, there are many ways to define the “success” of language learning .
It is not possible to directly observe and measure qualities such as motivation, personality, aptitude, and intelligence. They are just labels of behaviors.
These psychological variables are often not independent of one another . Researchers may use the same labels to describe different sets of behavioral traits.
A correlation of two factors does not mean that there is a causal relationship between them. That is, the fact that two things tend to occur together does not necessarily mean that one caused the other.
*Note: CALP – cognitive/academic language proficiency
Traditionally, intelligence refers to the mental abilities that are measured by an IQ (intelligence quotient) test. It usually measures only two types of intelligence: verbal/linguistic and mathematical/logical intelligence.
There are other types of intelligence such as spatial intelligence, bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, musical intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, and intrapersonal intelligence . (see the handout)
Some studies have found that learners’ success in language learning is associated with extroversion such as assertiveness and adventurousness , while others have found that many successful language learners do not get high scores on measures of extroversion.
Inhibition is a negative force for second language pronunciation performance.
However, in general, the research does not show a clearly defined relationship between personality and SLA . The major difficulty is identification and measurement of personality characteristics.
Personality may be a major factor only in the acquisition of conversational skills (i.e., oral communicative ability), not in the acquisition of literacy skills (i.e., reading and writing skills).
Types of motivation (in terms of communicative needs):
External power wants the learner to learn L2 for a practical purpose (e.g., a corporation asks its staff to get language training). The learner wishes to achieve practical goals using L2 (e.g., for a career). Instrumental Someone else (e.g., the learner’s parents) wishes the learner to know L2 for an integrative reason. The learner wishes to learn L2 for personal growth and cultural enrichment. Integrative Extrinsic (External) Intrinsic (Internal) Purpose Source
Field independent (FI) learners pick out hidden figures in a complicated drawing more quickly. They tend to perceive elements independently of a context or field and focus on details . They are more analytical .
Field dependent (FD) learners are more inclined to see the whole drawing and have difficulty separating it into parts. They tend to perceive the whole field or situation and focus on general meaning . They are more relational .
The right brain perceives and remembers visual, tactile, and auditory images. It is more efficient in processing holistic , integrative , and emotional information.
The left brain is associated with logical , analytical thought , with mathematical and linear processing of information.
*Note: Though we all tend to have one hemisphere that is more dominant, it is important to remember that the left and right hemispheres operate together as a “team”. Most best solutions to problems are those in which each hemisphere has participated optimally.
The person who is tolerant of ambiguity is willing to accept innovative and creative possibilities and not be cognitively or affectively disturbed by ambiguity and uncertainty.
In second language learning a great amount of apparently contradictory or ambiguous information is encountered (e.g., words, grammatical rules, and cultural systems in the L2 differ from the L1). Successful language learning requires tolerance of such ambiguities, at least for interim periods.
However, too much tolerance of ambiguity can have a detrimental effect . People can become “wishy-washy” and may make many mistakes without awareness when using the second language.
Every person, student or teacher, has a learning style; therefore, there is no particular teaching or learning method that can suit the needs of all learners.
Learning styles exist on wide continuums , although they are often described as opposites.
Learning styles are value-neutral ; that is, no one style is better than others .
Very little research has examined the interaction between different learning styles and success in L2 learning; however, students should be encouraged to “stretch” their learning styles so that they will be more empowered in a variety of leaning situations.
The relationship between a learner’s age and his/her potential for success in second language learning is complicated .
The relationship needs to take into account
1) the stage of L2 development , 2) the goals of learning L2 (i.e., In what aspects of the L2 the learner has achieved), and 3) the context in which the learner learns L2 (including language input, learning environment, and socio-cultural context).
1) L2 development in informal language learning environments where the TL is used primarily:
Children can eventually speak the L2 with native-like fluency, but their parents and older learners (i.e., post-puberty learners) are hard to achieve such high levels of mastery of the spoken language , especially in pronunciation/accent .
Adults and adolescents can make more rapid progress toward mastery of an L2 in contexts where they can make use of the language on a daily basis in social, personal, professional, or academic interaction.
Those who support critical period hypothesis (CPH):
Younger is better (particularly in the phonological achievement)
Those who consider that the age factor cannot be separated from factors such as motivation , social identity , and the conditions for learning :
Older learners may well speak with an accent because they want to keep their L1 identity , and the language input for adults is different from that for children because they rarely get access to the same quantity and quality of language input that children receive in play setting.
When the goal is basic communicative ability of the TL, rather than native-like mastery, and when children’s native language remains the primary language , it may be more efficient to begin L2 or FL learning later (e.g., in early adolescence – at age 10, 11, or 12).
When learners receive only a few hours of instruction per week, those who start later often catch up with those who began earlier.
One or two hours a week will not produce very advanced L2 speakers, no matter how young they were when they began learning.
1. Age is only one of the characteristics which affects the learner’s L2 learning. The opportunities for learning (i.e., context - both inside and outside the classroom), the motivation to learn, and individual differences in intelligence , aptitude , personality , and learning styles have also been found to be important determining factors in both rate of learning and eventual success in learning.
2. The study of individual learner variables is not easy and the results of research are not entirely satisfactory, partly because of the lack of clear definitions and methods for measuring the individual characteristics and partly because of the complex interactions of those characteristics . Thus, it remains difficult to make precise predictions about how a particular individual’s characteristics influence his/her success as a language learner.
Even though the research findings are not conclusive in the relationship between personal factors and second language learning, teachers should take learners’ individual aptitudes, personalities, and learning styles into account to create a learning environment in which virtually all learners can be successful in learning a second language.