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Individual Differences in Second Language Learning

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Cana Ko

on 1 May 2014

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Transcript of Individual Differences in Second Language Learning

Individual Differences in Second Language Learning
Learner Beliefs
Older learners have more strong beliefs and opinions about instruction ways.

play important roles for both children and adults when learning second language.

Motivation in the classroom
Teachers can make a positive contribution to students’ motivation of learning second language.

Example of how relations of power impact the learning process
Study 1: Bonny Norton Peirce→ Immigrant women in Canada
Identity and Ethnic Group Affiliation
Social factors affect motivation, attitudes, and language learning success.

Grammar instruction within communicative practice
Nina Spada(2009)
Whether the ESL/EFL learners are preferred to focus on grammar separately from or embedded within communicative practice.

Classroom observation scheme

the Motivation Orientation of Language Teaching(MOLT)
Significant positive correlations between the motivational practices(MOLT) and learners’ self-reports on the questionnaire.

What and why is the relationship between age and language learning?
Pedagogy(Teaching method) interacts directly with motivation in second/ foreign language classrooms.
(Marie Guilloteaux and Zoltan Dornyei, 2008)
Location: EFL classrooms in Korea

Four categories of motivational practices:

Teacher discourse


Activity design
Encouraging positive retrospective
and activity design
Learners’ motivation was measured in terms of level of encouragement
very low


Does Critical Period Affect Only Nothing but Pronunciation?
Will There Be A Difference Between Learners Who Started to Learn English Before Puberty and Those Who Began Learning Later?
Another Factor related to SL Acquisition Other Than Age?
The statistics was based on how much learners paid attention, actively participated, and eagerly volunteered.
The findings don’t indicate cause-effect relationships.
A Pioneer in the study of motivational strategies’ impact on language learning
Why do the study results not indicate cause-effect relationships between motivational strategies and language learning?
One of the factors: social dynamic or power relationship between languages
/ Majority group learning the language of a
/minority group have
different attitudes and motivation
Investment: capture the relationship of the language learner(their identities) to the social world
High learning motivation
Reluctance of speaking
(Power imbalance)

Example of how relations of power impact the learning process
Study 2: Immigrant children in English-medium kindergarten classes



Exclusion in the classroom community

Contradictory ways:
In Japan: reluctance of speaking English despite of having high learning motivation
(Avoid being identified as “show offs”)
What’s the reason for Japanese students not willing to invest in English communication?
Why do they think of communicating in English as “show offs”?

A mismatch between students’ views and teachers’ views: grammar and corrective feedback
(Renate Schulz, 2001)
Grammar instruction and corrective feedback
Shawn Loewen(2009)
EFL learners > ESL learners
(ESL learners have more years of grammar instruction)

Grammar instruction > Corrective feedback
(Exception: Arabic and Chinese)

Grammar instruction within communicative practice
Nina Spada(2009)
Whether the ESL/EFL learners are preferred to focus on grammar separately from or embedded within communicative practice.

ESL learners > EFL learners on separation of grammar instruction and communication

(ESL learners have more opportunities to communicate outside the classroom so they appreciate the grammar instruction separately from communication in classrooms)

According to the study of Nina Spada in 2009,
we can see both ESL and EFL students value grammar instruction. However, does grammar instruction really plays an important role in learning second language?
Or can we learn second language successfully only through communication practice?
How the existence of individual differences should influence instruction?

Inherent differences in their approach to learning
Their beliefs about how language are learned
Deprived of leaning opportunities

To expand students’ repertoire of learning strategies
To develop flexibility in students’ ways of learning language

Zoltan Dornyei

Coming up...
1. How the existence of individual differences should influence instruction?

2. What and why is the relationship between age and language learning?

3. Does critical period affect only nothing but pronunciation?

4. Will there be a difference between learners who started to learn English before puberty and those who began learning later?
Is learning second language at early age equal to success in ESL?
There are many adult SL learners at high level of proficiency of rich vocabulary, sophisticated syntax, and effective pragmatic skills.
Eg. Joseph Conard

Predisposed brain
Critical Period
General Learning

not effective
There are developmental changes in the brain affect the nature of LA.

There may be multiple critical period for different aspect of language learning.
The condition:
SL instruction is most likely to succeed if it begins when learners are very young.
Asian Mom
Rate of Learning
Research suggest that older learners have an advantage in terms of the rate of learning.
Asian Kid
Researchers : Catherine Snow/Marian Hoanglehoe
Learners include children age 3+, adolescents, and adults
Adolescents' test scores > Adults' test scores> Children test scores
In other words...
Adolescents and adults learn faster than children in the first few months
of exposure to Dutch.
By the end of the year
the children were catching up, or have surpassed the adults on several measures.
Adolescents' test scores

Children test scores

Adults' test scores

Study 1:

Mark Patkowski
to find out other than pronunciation, will still there be difference
between age and the acquisition of other features of SL.

He studied 67 highly educated immigrants to the US. They had
started to learn English at various ages, but all had lived in the US
for more than 5 years. He compared them to 15 native-born
Americans with a similarly high level of education, whose variety of
English could be considered the SL speakers’ target language.
Even if accent were ignored, only those who had begun learning their SL
before the age 15 could achieve full, native-like mastery of that language.

retained the highest levels of performance
This study shows...
Study 2:

Mark Patkowski
to know if there’s difference to learn SL in the pre- and post-puberty time
the total amount of time a speaker had been in the US
the amount of formal ESL instruction each speaker had had
1. interview with every person
2. transcribe the 5-minite samples from the interviews
3. ask trained native judges to grade each transcript from point 0-5
32/33 SL learners learning English before puberty (15) were rated 4+ to 5 points
27/32 post puberty learners were rated between 3 and 4, but few learners were
4+ to 5, and only one was rated 2+


Like we are picking up other new skills, some people did extremely well, some did poorly and most were in the middle

Adults and adolescents can
rapidly progress in their proficiency in a second language
where they use the language in social, personal, academic, or professional interaction.
Length of Residence in the US

Amount of Instruction

When these factors separate from the age of acquisition, the connection with success can’t be predicted.

Thus, Patkowski concluded that learners who acquire a SL primarily n the natural environment, age of acquisition is an important factor in setting limits on the development of native-like mastery of a SL and that

this limitation not apply only to pronunciation!

Intuitions of Grammaticality
In This Chapter We Have Learned
Cook argues that the criterion of
“indistinguishable from a native speaker”
should not be used as the basis for success in second language acquisition.

SLL or bilinguals should not be compared to monolingual speakers because the real goal is “multicompetence”

knowledge of multiple languages that inform and enrich one another
What can we conclude about
the role of age when learning takes place primarily in an educational setting?
Age and Second Language Instruction
Younger ≠ better
Starting early ≠ success
Older learners can also attain high level of proficiency in their second language

1.The goals of an instructional program
2.The context in which it occurs

When is the best age to start?

Decisions about the age which instruction should begin

cannot be based only on research on the critical period hypothesis
which focus only on age and on the attainment of native-like proficiency.

Differences in learning outcomes
Age of learning
In educational settings, it is important to assess the resources available for second language development
Older children / adolescence progress
Learners acquire skill in order to satisfy the needs to
1.Use the language for everyday communication
2. To succeed on examination
3. To read text on academic courses

than younger children progress
more rapidly
To Achieve Native-like proficiency
Desirable for learners to be completely surrounded by the language
When the goal is
To gain basic communicative abilities and the native language will continue to be important
Second language should be taught later
Clare Burstall's Landmark Study
Students who had made progress in the start-early programmes were place with the ones that have yet receive any instructions at all.

Advanced Students
Students with fewer hours of instruction
Teachers are more likely to teach to a lower denominator, the difference will eventually disappear.
The Earlier the Better?
In Quebec ESL class are starting at a earlier timing

age 9~10 age6

Total instruction hours not increased
, instead,
Hours are spread out over more years.
Students might

feel frustrated
by the lack of process
Motivation may diminish

Early Starter vs Later Starter
Since the 1990s, some large-scale studies have been useful to separate the effects of age and other factors in school-based foreign language learner.
Variations of educational contexts make it hard to compare

Barcelona Age Factor Project
To study the effect of
changing the age of beginning to teach English to Catalan/Spanish bilingual students.


Look at students’ progress after 100, 416,726 hours of instruction.

compare those who started later (age11,14, or18+) with those who start earlier(age8)
Based on metalinguistic awareness or analytic ability,
Students who start later perform better.
Researchers from the BAF study continued to follow the learners’ language development over several years and observed that...
The younger learners did NOT surpass the older learners as has been observed in the ‘natural setting’

Younger learner caught up ; older learners maintained their advantage

Monoz 2006:33
1. Difficulty of defining and measuring individual differences

2. Relationship between individual characteristics and learning environment are complex

3. Different learners may react differently to same learning conditions

4. The same learner may react differently to the same conditions at different times
The Goal
of the sensitive teacher

to create a learning environment with a wide variety of instructional activity so that learners with different abilities and learning preferences can be successful in learning a second language.
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