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What key ingredients constitute a successful foreign language learner? What qualities must one possess in order to succeed at learning French? This essay evaluates the significance of certain ‘individual learner differences’ identified by Second Language Acquisition (henceforth SLA) researchers in an attempt to determine what separates successful foreign language learners from those who are unsuccessful. A number of linguists including Ellis (2008); Skehan (1989); Robinson (2002a); and Dornyei (2005) have identified motivation, language aptitude, personality and anxiety as the ‘core factors’ in successful foreign language acquisition. This paper argues, however, that such a view portrays an over-simplistic and reductive picture of foreign language learning. In reality, no general consensus exists in the literature about the nature and scope of individual learner differences. These ‘core factors’ only constitute a restricted view of an otherwise broad and incongruous spectrum of varia

What key ingredients constitute a successful foreign language learner? What qualities must one possess in order to succeed at learning French? This essay evaluates the significance of certain ‘individual learner differences’ identified by Second Language Acquisition (henceforth SLA) researchers in an attempt to determine what separates successful foreign language learners from those who are unsuccessful. A number of linguists including Ellis (2008); Skehan (1989); Robinson (2002a); and Dornyei (2005) have identified motivation, language aptitude, personality and anxiety as the ‘core factors’ in successful foreign language acquisition. This paper argues, however, that such a view portrays an over-simplistic and reductive picture of foreign language learning. In reality, no general consensus exists in the literature about the nature and scope of individual learner differences. These ‘core factors’ only constitute a restricted view of an otherwise broad and incongruous spectrum of varia

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An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Sorcha Ryan. Originally submitted for The Acquisition and Teaching of French as a foreign language at None, with lecturer Ciara Kinsella in the category of Languages & Linguistics
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Sorcha Ryan. Originally submitted for The Acquisition and Teaching of French as a foreign language at None, with lecturer Ciara Kinsella in the category of Languages & Linguistics

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 30, 2012
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10/27/2013

 
 
Abstract
What key ingredients constitute a successful foreign language learner? What qualitiesmust one possess in order to succeed at learning French? This essay evaluates thesignificance of certain ‘individual learner differences’ identified by Second LanguageAcquisition (henceforth SLA) researchers in an attempt to determine what separatessuccessful foreign language learners from those who are unsuccessful. A number of linguists including Ellis (2008); Skehan (1989); Robinson (2002a); and Dornyei(2005) have identified motivation, language aptitude, personality and anxiety as the‘core factors’ in successful foreign language acquisition.This paper argues, however, that such a view portrays an over-simplistic andreductive picture of foreign language learning. In reality, no general consensus existsin the literature about the nature and scope of individual learner differences. These‘core factors’ only constitute a restricted view of an otherwise broad and incongruousspectrum of variables identified by other SLA researchers in the field.In addition to this, researchers, educators and students alike must be prudent in their interpretation of findings from previously conducted research before drawing their own conclusions. We must be mindful of how exactly researchers identify thesecharacteristics and how exactly they measure their importance for successful foreignlanguage acquisition.The field of SLA research is one that is still very much in its infancy. This can clearly be seen by the one-dimensional methods of investigation and primitive researchtechniques used to explore the nature of language learning. By way of example, this paper will look at the work that has been carried out in the SLA field since itsconception on one of the key factors, which is considered crucial for successfulforeign language acquisition, namely motivation, and on a lesser researched variable,namely learner strategies.As we evaluate the significance of these two variables for the successful acquisitionof a foreign language, with specific reference to French, we will see how these factorsindirectly influence one another, thus highlighting the complexity of this highlyPage 1
 
  problematical issue. We shall also see how theories of motivation have evolved over the past thirty years, and will undoubtedly continue to do so, with the gradualsophistication of SLA research.Page 2
 
 
Introduction
The question of ‘what makes a good language learner’ is one which is of greatimportance for researchers and educators alike. It is a field of enquiry from whichresearchers hope to better comprehend how we learn and which educators draw on inthe hope of helping students become successful second language learners (Lightbownand Spada, 2006). Researchers have identified a multitude of individual learner differences or ‘variables’ (as noted by Johnson, 2008), which contribute to anindividual’s successful acquisition of a foreign language. In fact one such linguist,Spolsky (1989, (as cited by Johnson, 2008)), has identified 74 factors (which he termsas ‘conditions’) that influence successful foreign language learning. These variablesare found to co-exist in the individual in varying degrees, some to a greater extentthan others (Johnson, 2008). As we shall see, this is a much more intricate andcomplex domain of research than would seem and linguists differ significantly in their theories on individual learner differences.This essay is divided into three main parts. We shall firstly look at how learner variables are defined and organised. Secondly, we will look at the three main problems that have been highlighted by linguists in this area of SLA research: how todefine and measure individual learner variables, how to measure language proficiency, and thirdly, how to assess the significance of a given variable in thesuccessful acquisition of a foreign language. Thirdly, we shall examine theimportance of two variables in the successful acquisition of French as a foreignlanguage; namely motivation and learner strategies.Page 3

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