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Thirty years on, but what do we really know?

There is no denying that language learners who come to our classrooms are individuals with their own identities, personalities and goals for language learning. Considerable research in the last few decades has expanded on Rubins (1975) notion of the good language learner, examining the impact of various individual learner differences. This session will give teachers an overview of the latest research on ten different individual learner differences (Griffiths, 2008) and give suggestions for those dimensions of the individual learner that can be enhanced by the classroom teacher and the learning environment:

Language aptitude Learning strategies Motivation Language anxiety Learning style Personality Learner beliefs Age Gender Identity

1 Language Aptitude Called one of the central individual differences in language learning (Skehan, 1989, p. 25) and consistently the most successful predictor of language learning success (p. 38).
Discuss: Does language aptitude determine success in foreign language learning? In what ways can language aptitude affect acquisition of other languages? Do you, or someone you know, have language aptitude? If so, how can you tell?

In his seminal work, Carroll (1962) demonstrated that foreign language aptitude comprises four cognitive abilities. The first of these abilities is phonetic coding which is the ability to segment and identify distinct sounds to form associations between those sounds and symbols representing them, and to retain these associations (handle soundsymbol relationships). The second component is grammatical sensitivity, or the ability to recognize the grammatical function of words or other linguistic structures in sentences. The third component is rote (repetition) learning ability as it applies to foreign language situations (Carroll, 1990). The fourth component is inductive language learning ability, which is the ability to infer the rules that govern the use of language. QUESTION: CAN THESE BE LEARNED??? (OR, CAN YOU AS A TEACHER TEACH THESE?)


The most significant era in the study of aptitude is still considered to be the 1950s and 1960s when three major language aptitude test batteries were published:
Carroll and Sapons (1959) Modern Language Aptitude Test (MLAT), Elementary Modern Language Aptitude Test (EMLAT) (Carroll & Sapon, 1967), and Pimsleurs Language Aptitude Battery (PLAB) (1966).

There are a variety of reasons for which aptitude test scores can be used:
Research Selection Allocating resources Program evaluation Tailoring instruction to the learners aptitude level

Research shows that aptitude has been difficult to alter through any kind of training. However, it has been argued that pedagogical implications for views of fixed aptitude or intelligence place limitations on the way in which we view learners and consequently the way we treat them (Williams & Burden, 1997, p. 18).

2 Learner Strategies
A strategy is a process. It involves at least the following procedures:
Problem identification and selective attention Analysis of task Choice of decisions Execution of plan Monitoring progress and modifying plan Evaluating result

Learning strategies are important in foreign language learning for two major reasons:
First, by examining the strategies used by second language learners during the language learning process, insight can be gained into the metacognitive, cognitive, social and affective processes involved in language learning (Chamot, 2005, pp. 112-113). The second reason supporting research into language learning strategies is that less successful language learners can be taught new strategies, thus helping them to become better language learners (Grenfell & Harris, 1999).


They refer to the steps or operations used in learning or problem-solving that require direct analysis, transformation, or synthesis of learning materials.
Clarification / Verification Guessing / Inductive Inferencing Deductive Reasoning Practice Memorization Monitoring


These strategies are used to oversee, regulate or selfdirect language learning. They involve various processes as planning, prioritising, setting goals, and self-management. They are 'higher order executive skills that may entail planning for, monitoring, or evaluating the success of a learning activity' (O'Malley & Chamot, 1990, 44).

Social Strategies
Social strategies are those activities learners engage in which afford them opportunities to be exposed to and practice their knowledge. These include: cooperation, asking for clarification, asking for help, etc. Affective Strategies
Reducing frustrations during language learning Reducing negative feelings towards L2 and its speaker community Becoming aware of your own emotional temperature Using face-saving strategies Contributing to a positive atmosphere in the classroom

What affects strategy choice

Gender females are found to use more strategies than males. Beliefs positive and realistic beliefs lead to productive strategy use. Motivation highly motivates students use more strategies that unmotivated ones.

Pedagogical Implications
Importance of not overlooking students current learning strategies; Careful choice of tasks for practicing learning strategies; Providing explicit and embedded learning strategy instruction. However, it must be done in a natural way. For example, language strategy instruction for the oral modality has proven to be a challenge, since deliberate use of a strategy could restrict the flow of natural speech (Chamot, 2005, p. 119).

Researchers have also defined motivation differently, according to their own theoretical paradigm. For example, they can define it in cognitive or psychological terms, affective terms, or social terms. Affective Motivation includes the learners affective feelings and attitudes towards the L2 language and its speakers/community. Social Motivation - currently, most scholars agree that the individuals experience in the social environment affects every aspect of human functioning, including language acquisition and use.

Integrative & Instrumental Motivation

integrative motivation --- language learning for personal growth and cultural enrichment instrumental motivation --- language learning for more immediate or practical goals. (Gardner & Lambert, 1972)

Extrinsic/Intrinsic Motivation
Extrinsic an external stimulus (e.g. learning a language because you have external pressures such as get a job and support your family) Intrinsic an internal stimulus (e.g. learning a language for your own ambitions, career satisfaction, feeling of competence and self determination).

Activity: Discuss in pairs

Which form of motivation do you think is more powerful? Why? Give reasons for your answer.

A list of ten commandments for motivating language learners (Drnyei & Csizer,1998)
Set a personal example with your own behaviour. Create a pleasant, relaxed atmosphere in the classroom. Present the tasks properly. Develop a good relationship with learners. Increase the learners linguistic self-confidence. Make the language classes interesting. Promote learner autonomy. Personalize the learning process. Increase the learners goal-orientedness. Familiarize learners with the target language culture. Activity : Looking at these, in pairs, list examples of how you implement, or could implement each strategy in your own classroom.


Activity : Discuss What are your experiences of language anxiety as a foreign language student yourself? What are your students experiences of language anxiety? Have you ever addressed this issue as a teacher? If so, how? If not, why?

As a psychological construct, anxiety has been defined as a subjective feeling of tension, apprehension, nervousness, and worry associated with an arousal of the automatic nervous system (Spielberger, 1983, p. 1).
According to Horwitz (2001), foreign language anxiety is like math anxiety or test-taking anxiety in that it manifests only in specific situations. Individuals who have it may be very competent, calm and resilient in most other contexts (a state NOT a trait!).

Horwitzs Foreign Language Classroom Anxiety Scale (FLCAS), a tool thats used by foreign language instructors internationally to determine the scope and severity of a students foreign language anxiety. Students are to indicate whether they agree or disagree with the statements:
I feel more tense and nervous in my language class than in my other classes. I keep thinking that the other students are better at languages than I am. It embarrasses me to volunteer answers in my language class. I would not be nervous speaking the foreign language with native speakers. I can feel my heart pounding when I'm going to be called on in language class. Language class moves so quickly I worry about getting left behind.

Encourage student to rather than trying to be mistaken for natives in Tokyo or Stockholm, they should set the practical, attainable goal of being functional multi-linguals (or pluralinguals). These days, with the many Englishes globally, the focus is not on correct pronunciation, or even grammar, but on comprehensability and intelligibility! Reduce language anxiety by:
Setting realistic goals; Removing face-threatening situations; Create an atmosphere of cooperation rather than competition; Ensure no one is ridiculed; Ensure a positive and supportive atmosphere in class at all times; Give students positive role models (NPRM*) Provide adequate learning support systems and strategies;

Establishing a definition for something as complex as human personality is difficult and authors of the first textbooks on personality (Allport, 1937; Murray, 1938) struggled with definitions. A definition that captures the essential elements of personality has been put forward by Larsen and Buss (2005),
Personality is the set of psychological traits and mechanisms within the individual that are organized and relatively enduring, and that influence his or her interactions with, and adaptations to, the intra-psychic, physical, and social environments (p. 4).


In the past two decades, the taxonomy of personality traits that has received the most attention and support from personality researchers has been the Five-Factor Model, or the Big Five (Larsen & Buss, 2005). The Big Five can be summarised by the acronym OCEAN:
O Openness C Conscientiousness E Extraversion A Agreeableness N Neuroticism


Although Carrell, et al. (1996) found that introverts scored significantly higher than extraverts in their overall end-of-course composite scores, due to lower distractibility and better study habits. Learners scoring highly on Openness to Experience and Conscientiousness exhibit higher correlations with learning success. Extraversion has been found to have a negative relationship with academic success. However, they do better on oral tasks.

As personality type and learning style often related, teachers and curriculum designers need to be aware of not designing materials and tasks that suit their own personality and style. While personality traits do not determine the degree of individuals academic success, they certainly shape the way people respond to their learning environment. Learners with different personality types pursue differential behavioural patterns, which will have an impact on their participation in a range of classroom activities and real-life tasks.


Learning styles & Learning Strategies Whats the Difference? Learning styles are internally based characteristics, often not perceived or consciously used by the learners, for the intake and comprehension of new information. In contrast, learning strategies are external skills often used consciously by students to improve their learning

In pairs, think of a creative EFL classroom activity that would reflect one of these learning styles: Visual learners usually enjoy reading and prefer to see the words that they are learning. Auditory learners prefer to learn by listening. Tactile learners learn by hands-on work. Kinesthetic learners like movement and need frequent breaks in desk activities. Field-independent learners like to concentrate on the details of language, such as grammar rules, and enjoy taking apart words and sentences. Field-dependent learners focus on the whole picture and do not care so much about the details.

Drney (2005) warns of different types of possible style conflicts between the teacher and learners:
Mismatch between the students learning style and their teachers teaching style (style war Oxford 1991); Mismatch between the students learning style and the syllabus; Mismatch between the students learning style and the language task; Mismatch between the students learning style and his or her beliefs about language learning; Mismatch between the students learning style and the learning strategy applied; Discuss: What is you experience of the learning style of students who taught (or learned with) from different countries? Why would certain nationalities appear to differ?

Activity: Look at the quote. What does it suggest?

Some studies concluded that: learners own beliefs about learning explained much more about individual differences in achievement, than even psychometric measures such as intelligence or aptitude. And because our beliefs shape the way we perceive things, they also act as strong filters of reality (Arnold, 1999).

Learners beliefs across various disciplines such as mathematics and science education, contributed to a growing body of evidence suggesting that they play a central role in learning experience, and have a profound influence on learning behaviour, as well as learning outcomes

Learners hold beliefs about:

The length of time it takes to learn L2. The existence and role of language aptitude. The usefulness of certain strategies. Whether its okay to speak unless correctly. Whether learning L2 is similar to learning other subjects. Whether uncorrected mistakes become fossilized. Having realistic and positive beliefs helps to overcome problems in the classroom, while negative or unrealistic beliefs can lead to decreased motivation, frustration, and even anxiety (Bernat & Gvozdenko, 2005).

Others, still, have pointed out that mismatches between teachers and students beliefs can cause problems such as:
misunderstanding and miscommunication students questioning their teachers credibility learners engagement in strategies of which the teacher disapproves students withdrawal and feelings of unhappiness


In my first year as a teacher of foreign students preparing for American universities, I taught a reading class to intermediate students. One of my students, a classroom teacher himself from Kuwait, told me in no uncertain terms that I was not teaching correctly: Everyone knew that all students should stand up and read in unison! It took some discussion before he would accept the fact that this does not normally occur in the university classes for which he was preparing. The student was confused and frustrated.


How are beliefs formed and shaped? Are they culture specific? Are they malleable? How can they affect language learning and teaching? How to deal with a mismatch between Ls and Ts beliefs How to assess them in your classroom


How does age affect second language acquisition and learning?
Folklore belief younger better. What is the reality? The critical period hypothesis claims that there is an ideal 'window' of time to acquire language in a linguistically rich environment, after which this is no longer possible. In L2/SLA, older learners of a L2 rarely achieve the native-like fluency that younger learners display, despite often progressing faster than children in the initial stages.

On the other hand On reviewing the published material, Bialystok and Hakuta (1994) conclude that second-language learning is not necessarily subject to biological critical periods, but "on average, there is a continuous decline in ability [to learn] with age." Some studies of L2 language development of older and younger learners who are learning in similar circumstances have shown that, at least in the early stages of second language, older learners are more efficient than younger learners (Lightbown & Spada, 2001). Others argue that, opportunities for learning (in and outside classroom), individual differences such as motivation, aptitude, personality, etc. also play an important role in determining factors in both rate of learning and eventual success of learning.


Gender is the broad term used not only to denote us biologically, but also our socially constructed roles.

Currently, the gender role is viewed less as a determinant of nature, and more as a product of socialization.

Female learners are generally found to do better than male on achievement, verbal ability, proficiency, and vocabulary memorization (e.g.,
Jimnez Cataln, 2003; Kiefer & Shih, 2006; Southworth & Mickelson, 2007). An emerging pattern in these studies shows that, although sometimes males surpass females in the use of a particular strategy (e.g. Phakiti, 2003), females employ more learning strategies or employ strategies more effectively (e.g., Oxford, 1994), though contradictory findings have been reported (e.g., Tercanlioglu, 2004). A number of studies investigate the relationship between gender and language learner beliefs. E.g Siebert (2003) states that male students are more likely than female students to rate their abilities highly, admit to having a special language aptitude, and be more optimistic about the length of time it takes to learn a foreign language.

Tercanlioglu (2005) identifies no significant differences among males and females, concluding that possibly age, stage of life, and contextual differences in the language-learning situation may also be important sources of group variation in learner beliefs. Bernat & Lloyd (2006) report that females are more inclined to believe that multilinguals are more intelligent, while males enjoy more practicing English with native speakers.

On a piece of paper draw a mind-map of the concept of ones identity. Discuss your map with a partner/group.

Traditionally, identity has been seen as an intraindividual characteristic.
i.e. shaped by the individuals thoughts and feelings, perceptions and beliefs, and interpretations of prior experiences.

Much of the contemporary research on identity and language learning shares an interest in the complex and dynamic nature of identity, co-constructed in a wide variety of sociocultural relationships, and framed within particular relations of power.
What is meant here by power. In what ways does this relate to identity.

Socio-cultural theory and social identity: A sociocultural conception of identity conceives of identity as dynamic and constantly changing across time and place. Indeed, a recurring theme throughout much research on identity and language learning is that of "transition." Many of the participants in research projects on identity and language learning are undergoing significant changes in their lives, whether moving from one country to another (Kanno, 2003).


In a developing country in the South Pacific, most of the indigenous population speak their native language at home. Despite this, over hundreds of years the indigenous languages have been gradually dying out with the death of older generations. The official language is the language of colonisers. Due to the colonial languages official status, media and government is conducted in the non-indigenous language.
What implications may this language loss have on the identity of the indigenous community? What effects may this have on the survival of the indigenous culture? Suggest ways in which the government can improve the situation.