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Individual Differences in Second Language Learning

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Abeer Zaki

on 25 February 2015

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Transcript of Individual Differences in Second Language Learning

Individual differences in second language learning
To what extent do you think Research supports this?
Intelligent, extroverted students who interact without inhibition in L2 and seek opportunities to practice language skills will be the most successful learners.
There is a certain age at which learning a second language should begin; the younger the better.

Learning Style
Age and L2 Learning
Critical Period Hypothesis:
There is a time in human development when the brain is predisposed for success in language learning.

There is a critical period for L2 acquisition
There might be more than one critical period related to different aspects of language learning

Older Learner Vs. Younger Learner Skills
Mark Parkowski (1980):
* Before vs. After puberty (Disregarding accent)
Learners who acquire a second language primarily in the natural environment, age of acquisition is an important factor in setting limits on the development of native like mastery of a second language and that this limitation does not apply only to pronunciation.

6.Identity and ethnic affiliation
Renate Schulz (2001)
In second language learning, there is often a mismatch between a teacher’s and a student’s views.

Abeer Zaki
6.Identity and ethnic
group affiliation
6.identity and ethnic affiliation
Attitudes and Motivation
Language Learning Aptitude
3.Learning style
Individual’s natural, habitual and preferred ways of absorbing, processing, and retaining new information and skills
5.Attitudes and motivation
Positive attitudes cause success in learning --> No proof!
Positive attitudes are associated with a willingness to keep learning.
1) Learners communicative needs
2) their attitudes towards the second language community.

1. Intelligence
Fred Genesee (1976) vs. IQ tests.

Weak academic performance
+ right opportunities
= considerable success in L2 Learning

Multiple Intelligences?
2. Language Learning Aptitude
The ability to learn quickly.
Aptitude Components:
1. Ability to identify and memorize new sounds
2. Understand the function of particular words in sentences
3. Figure out grammatical rules from language samples
4. Remember new words

Younger Learner
1) More opportunities
2) Errors praised or accepted.
Older Learners
1) Situations demand more complex language
2) Embarrassed by lack of mastery -> sense of inadequacy.

Norton and Toohey (2001)
Teacher’s responsibility - opportunities to talk.
Struggled to be given a more desirable position, and to communicate with her colleagues.

Errors corrected?
Grammar in class?
Good to know:
Most students want their errors corrected, while very few teachers feel this is desirable.
ESL learners value separating grammar from communicative interaction much more than EFL learners. (Why?)

Cognitive Learning Styles
Perception-Based learning Styles
For a long time:
Field independence = success in second language learning

Zoltan Dornyei:
Review of research --> More research needed.

Research Process
1) Select a group of learners and give them a questionnaire to measure the type and degree of that factor.

2) Some kind of test is used to assess their second language proficiency

3) The test and questionnaire are both scored, then the researcher uses a statistical procedure called a

4) If correlation is found, researcher tries to know what kind of correlation it is; positive or negative?
Most Serious Error?
Individual characteristics that
influence learning outcomes

identity and Ethnic Group Affiliation
Learner Beliefs
1. Intelligence
Norton and Toohey (2001)

Intellectual resources:
Eva --> Italian + countries
Julie --> Polish + secrets + familiarity with classroom routines

2. Language Learning Aptitude
Aptitude tests:
(YES) Audio-lingual methods approach
(NO) Recent Communicative Approach

Peter Skehan (1989): Successful language learners do not need to be strong in all components; some may have strong memories but only average abilities in language analysis.

2. Language Learning Aptitude
Marjorie Wesche (1981):
Instructional programs + matching students’ aptitude profiles = Student satisfaction + teacher satisfaction + higher levels of achievement

A challenge for teachers:
Finding instructional approaches that meet the needs of learners who have a variety of aptitude profiles.

2. Language Learning Apptitude
Rosemary Erlam (2005):
Relationship between aptitude and the effectiveness of different kinds of instruction.
Instruction kinds: deductive, inductive and structured input.
All learners benefited from deductive instruction regardless of differences in aptitude.
Peter Skehan (1989):
More structured teaching may even out individual differences compared with less structured teaching.

2. Language Learning Apptitude
Two ends of the spectrum:

1. Students who find it extremely difficult.
2. Exceptional learners

What does this suggest?

Extroverted means: Well-suited to language learning

Reality: .... ?
: Inhibition discourages risk-taking which is necessary for progress in language learning. (Especially for adolescents – self-conscious.

Reality: ... ?

Anxiety is a permanent feature of a learner’s personality.

Reality: ... ?

Some researchers prefer to call it “tension”, instead of anxiety so it would be less negative, more neutral.
Tension: Can be both beneficial and detrimental, related to social interactions inside and outside the classroom.

Willingness To Communicate (WTC)
depends on the number of people, topic, formality, energy level.
Communicative Confidence:
what makes learners communicate in a wide range of conversational interactions.
Shaped by two variables:
1) How relaxed the L2 learner is
2) How competent he/she feels about their L2 ability.

Other personality characteristics have been studied but no clear relationship
Personality variables :
Conversational skills (Yes)
Acquisition of grammatical accuracy (No) Acquisition of academic language (No)

* Quantitative research paradigm
A more qualitative approach

In the future:
researchers think that personality and the way it combines with other factors will have an important influence on success in language learning.

5. Attitudes and Motivation
Robert Gardner and Wallace Lambert (1972):
Instrumental Motivation vs. Integrative Motivation

Norton and Toohey (2001):
Good language child learners: Attitude and Motivation predicted success.

5.Attitudes and Motivation
Zoltan Dornyei (2001)
Developed a process-oriented model of motivation:
1) Choice Motivation
2) Executive Motivation
3) Motivation Retrospection

5.Attitudes and motivations

Marie Guilloteau and Zoltan Dornyei (2008) 
Identified 25 motivational practices divided into 4 categories:
1) Teacher discourse
2) Participation structure
3) Activity Design
4) Encourage positive retrospective self-evaluation and activity design

Correlation between:
Teachers’ motivational practices
Learners’ engagement behaviors
and Learners’ self-reports on the questionnaire.

DOES NOT MEAN: Cause-effect relationship

Bonny Norton:
Concepts such as instrumental and integrative motivation do not adequately capture the complex relations of power, identity and language learning.

She uses the term “
” to capture the relationship of the language learner (and his/her identity) to the changing social world.

Keeleen Toohey (2000):
Immigrant children were quickly assigned identities in class.

* Effect of this on the students?

Classrooms are organized to provide occasion upon which some children look more and some less able, and judgments are made which become social facts about individual children.

Important: Identity and Investment
Contribute in complex and sometimes contradictory ways when learning a foreign language.

Example: Greer (2000): Japanese students

Social relationships - valued partners in communication (Marginalized immigrants and/or minorities).

Norton and Toohey (2001)
With regard to social resources, both learners sought to set up counter-discourses in which their identities could be respected.
ESL immigrant with undesirable job --> multilingual resource with a desirable partner.
ESL learner --> a nice little girl with allies (cousin Agatha).

Critical Period Hypothesis
Focuses only on age and attainment of native-like proficiency

Does not focus on goals, available resources, opportunities for learning, motivation to learn, individual differences to aptitude.

Do you happen to know any exceptional older learners?

What does this say about the critical period for second language acquisition?
Johnson and Newport (1989) Learners who began earlier, received higher scores on the grammatical judgment test.

RobertDeKeyser (2000)  Adult learners learn language in a way that is different than the way young children learn.

Snow and Hoefnagelhohle (1978)
Learning Dutch in the Netherlands:
At the beginning:
1st place: Adolescents
2nd place: Adults
3rd place: Children
Why did Adolescents and adults learn faster than children?
By the end:
1st place: Adolescents
2nd place: Children
3rd place: Adult

Starting early ≠ guarantee of success

1) Native-like fluency --> surround by language as early as possible
2) Communicative ability in an educational system --> strengthen the native language first, and then begin second/foreign language teaching later.

Vivian Cook (2008) 
“Indistinguishable from a native speaker” --> Inappropriate

... Why?
Think of a second language that you were learning as an adult. List some reasons why you think you were/weren't successful.

Norton and Toohey (2001)
Good language adult learners appeared to use five significant strategies:
(a) taking an active approach
(b) recognizing systematic nature of language
(c) using language for communication
(d) managing their own affective difficulties
(e) monitoring their performance

So, at what age should instruction begin?
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