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#12: Socioaffective Factors

1. Personality
It seems logical to assume that the learners low self-esteem or insufficient confidence will
increase his or her anxiety level. Consequently, those socio-affective variables could be
negatively correlated with underachievement in language learning. Poor learning effects, in
turn, might adversely influence the learner's motivation to learn. For this reason, it is
worthwhile investigating the role played by PERSONALITY FACTORS and related ILDs in
(un)successful second or foreign language learning. Although potential interrelationships
between affective states and L2 acquisition are not easy to pinpoint, one thing can be safely
stated: if learners are to apply themselves to the learning task, they need to feel secure and
2. Extroversion vs. Introversion
According to Brown (2007: 146), the extroversion/introversion split determines the extent to
which a person has a deep-seated need to receive ego enhancement, self-esteem, and a sense
of wholeness from other people (extroverts), as opposed to receiving that affirmation within
oneself (introverts). Psychological profiles of the two types of personality go back to the
seminal works by Hans Eysenck (1965; 1967: 59f.; 1970):
The typical EXTROVERT is sociable, likes parties, has many friends, needs to have people to talk to, and
does not like studying by himself. He craves excitement, takes chances, often sticks his neck out, acts
on the spur of the moment, and is generally an impulsive individual. He always has a ready answer, and
likes change. The typical INTROVERT, on the other hand, is a quiet, retiring sort of person, introspective,
fond of books rather than people; he is reserved and distant, except with intimate friends. He tends to
plan ahead and distrusts the impulse of the moment. He does not like excitement, takes matters of
everyday life with proper seriousness, and likes a well ordered mode of life.

Research conducted in ESL environments both formal and naturalistic over 25 years ago
(e.g. Krashen 1985; Swain 1985; Long & Porter 1985) tended to indicate that extroverts
make better language learners in terms of:
o being more outgoing
o volunteering in practice activities
o generating more input

o seeking output opportunities outside

the classroom
o maximizing interaction
o maximizing comprehensible output

In other words, those research studies more or less confirmed the popular stereotype,
whereby individuals who eagerly engage in interpersonal interaction, and who are flexible,
talkative, excitable, impulsive and risk-taking students (Lolande et al. 1987), stand a better
chance of succeeding in L2 learning. As observed by Ellis (2008), extroverted learners take
advantage of their outgoingness and look for practice opportunities to achieve their
communicative goal, and, as a result, receive more input, thus enhancing acquisition.

However, the above characteristics appear to be favoured by only one type of instructed and
uninstructed language learning activities, namely oral communication, where certain types of
learners may indeed benefit from increased opportunities of using L2. In contrast, however,
concurrent research (cf. studies reported in Skehan 1989) showed that extrovert learners tend
to become more impatient, have a shorter concentration span, and get more easily distracted
from studying, in comparison with introvert students. In actual fact, some scholars (e.g.
Eysenck 1970) demonstrated that extroverts are often outperformed by introverts in certain
types of learning, such as committing material more effectively to long-term memory.
Johnson (1996) believes that introverts owe success in language learning to their diligence,
tranquillity and emotional stability. Besides, as suggested by Skehan (1989), there might be a
positive correlation between introversion and academic success combined with the age
variable. Thus, in pre-pubertal learners achievement is apparently positively influenced by
extroversion, whereas among post-pubertal learners it is introversion that tends to generate
greater success.
3. Self-esteem
Traditionally, SELF-ESTEEM has been referred to as a personal judgement of worthiness
(Brown 1981: 114) or the evaluation which the individual makes and customarily maintains
with regard to himself (Coopersmith 1967: 4). A modern approach, e.g. by Christopher J.
Mruk (2006: 35), defines the notion in question as the experience of being capable of
meeting lifes challenges and being worthy of happiness. It is typically expressed by an
attitude of approval or disapproval held towards oneself. In terms of language learning, high
self-esteem can, for instance, prevent seeing errors as a potential threat to ones ego. Benson
& Voller (1997: 134) point out that such students perceive making mistakes as the inevitable
and natural ingredient of the learning process a side effect of testing hypotheses in L2. By
the same token, they will not be easily discouraged by negative feedback on the part of the
teacher. However, much of the published literature on the subject shows a strong ESL bias.
For example, White (1999) and Bernat (2004) point out the relationship between an
immigrant young learners self-esteem and L1 cultural identity, emphasizing that the childs
success in English is directly proportional to his or her achievement in the mastery of the
mother tongue.
4. Inhibition and language ego
is closely related to self-esteem, as well as to the concept of LANGUAGE EGO.
Brown (2007: 38) argues that learners with lower self-esteem maintain walls of inhibition to
protect what is self-perceived to be a weak or fragile ego, or a lack of self-confidence in a
situation or task. Inhibition may considerably affect any learning situation that involves
interactive activities. This is because mistakes potential threats to an individual's ego can
cause some learners to build walls of inhibition which they put between themselves and other
people, thus hindering communication in L2. One of the most frequently cited studies in this
connection is one by Alexander Z. Guiora et al. (1972), who designed a project in which the
experimental group of learners received small doses of alcohol or valium so that their
inhibition could be reduced. The researchers found that the experimentals who had lessthan-normal inhibition significantly outperformed the control group in pronunciation tasks.
This may support the claim that there exists a relationship between different levels of
inhibition and success in foreign language learning.

5. Risk-taking
Learners who are not ready to take a risk often experience the following concerns and
discomforts (Beebe 1983: 40):
In the classroom, these [] might include a bad grade in the course, a fail on the
exam, a reproach from the teacher, a smirk from a classmate, punishment or
embarrassment imposed by oneself. Outside the classroom, individuals learning a
second language face other negative consequences if they make mistakes. They fear
looking ridiculous; they fear the frustration coming from a listeners blank look,
showing that they have failed to communicate; they fear the danger of not being able
to take care of themselves; they fear the alienation of not being able to communicate
and thereby get close to other human beings. Perhaps worst of all, they fear a loss of
In contrast, students who are prepared to take risks do not fear making mistakes or projecting
a reduced image of themselves.
6. Language anxiety
Research studies have provided diverse opinions on the construct of anxiety. For example, Gass
& Selinker (2008: 400) state that is not clear whether anxiety is a matter of personality, an
emotional reaction to a situation, or a combination of both of these factors. Drnyei (2005:
198), on the other hand, believes that the construct in question should be conceived of as:

beneficial/facilitating vs. inhibitory/debilitating anxiety


trait vs. state anxiety

The former dichotomy refers to whether or not anxiety can affect learning positively or
negatively, while the latter refers to whether anxiety is a learners stable predisposition to
become anxious, uneasy and tense in various situations (cf. also MacIntyre & Gardner 1994)
or whether it is a reaction in a particular situation.
Other researchers have come up with the following types of anxiety observed in educational

communication apprehension: fear of speaking with or listening to others (Horwitz et al.

1986; Horwitz 2000, 2001)
test anxiety: fear of scoring poorly or failing the course (Horwitz et al. 1986; Horwitz
2000, 2001)
archaic anxiety: a repressed distress of the past acting as a latent personal trauma; a
psychological discomfort resulting from negative experience of earlier failures (Arnold
& Brown 1999)
performance anxiety: fear of not being able to learn what one is supposed to learn (Heron
orientation anxiety: fear of failing to understand everything that happens in the classroom
(Heron 1989)
acceptance anxiety: fear of not being liked or accepted by the classmates (Heron 1989)

can be defined generally as an emotion often produced in response to

stress (Piechurska-Kuciel 2011: 200) and more specifically as the feeling of tension and
apprehension particularly associated with L2 contexts, including speaking and listening
(MacIntyre & Gardner 1994: 284).

Adult learners, in particular, are sensitive to the inevitability of errors, largely due to their
impatience to master L2 and their perception of linguistic failure as a face-threatening act.
Besides, there is the well-known phenomenon of the frustration of non-communication
undermining the status of a grown-up and educated person in a beginner adult learner.
Language anxiety may also follow from the adult learner's low motivation and from the
above-mentioned earlier negative experience, known in the literature as archaic anxiety
(Arnold & Brown 1999: 9). Finally, there is a social dimension to language anxiety, namely
the perception of self in relation to other participants of the learning situation GROUP
DYNAMICS (cf. Turula, 2002; 2006; see below #7).
Summing up, the construct of foreign language anxiety can be said to be:

stemming from the uniqueness of formal instruction in L2
caused by learners low self-appraisal of their own abilities
a consequence of poor achievement in L2 learning
leading to a feeling of tension and apprehension, particularly during speaking and
listening activities

7. Classroom dynamics
The construct of CLASSROOM DYNAMICS refers to a complex of behaviours and psychological
processes which obtain within an educational setting, such as a language classroom. It is
particularly important for the social context of L2 learning and teaching. In particular, the
relationships among classmates may positively or negatively influence language pedagogy
based on cooperation of small groups or pairs, such as communicative language teaching.
Traits of good classroom dynamics are as follows:

a friendly classroom environment

supportive atmosphere
cooperation and interaction
a positive attitude to L2 and the target language culture

8. Empathy
is defined by Brown (2007: 143) as the process of putting oneself into someone
else's shoes, of reaching beyond the self and understanding and feeling what another person
is understanding or feeling. It is probably the major factor in the harmonious coexistence of
individuals in society. The ILD under consideration is particularly important in learning the
culture of the L2 speech community. Littlewood (1984: 65) points out that this means feeling
those people's sense of identity. Empathy is the very trait that helps a learner go beyond the
paradigm of his or her present identity in order to embrace new patterns of behaviour.
Moreover, Brown (2007: 144) emphasizes that empathy is also a desired characteristic of
interpersonal interaction. It is easier to obtain empathic communication because of feedback
that interlocutors give and receive from each other.


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