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Week 1 4 6 January 2012

Individual Differences in Second Language Learning


Intelligence
Aptitude Learning styles Personality Motivation and Attitudes Identity and ethnic group affiliation Learner beliefs Age of acquisition

The Good Language Learner

A good language learner:


a) is a willing and accurate guesser b) tries to get a message across even if specific language knowledge is lacking c) is willing to make mistakes d) constantly looks for patterns in the language e) practices as often as possible f) analyzes his or her own speech and the speech of others g) attends to whether his or her performance meets the standards he or she has learned h) enjoys grammar exercises i) begins learning in childhood j) has an above-average IQ k) has good academic skills l) has a good self-image and lots of confidence
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Before looking at learner characteristics


What problems can you see in the following statements?
a) Extroverted learners learn a foreign language more successfully than introverted learners. b) Low motivation causes low achievement in English language learning.

Before looking at learner characteristics


Difficulties in research on learner characteristics and second language acquisition (SLA):
1) definition and measurement of variables
e.g., willing to make mistakes 2) definition and measurement of language proficiency literacy/academic skills vs. conversational skills 3) correlation vs. causal relationship 4) socio-cultural factors e.g., power relationship between L1 and L2, social/cultural identity
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Intelligence (I)
Intelligence has multiple types:
Traditionally, intelligence refers to the mental abilities that are measured by an IQ (intelligence quotient) test. It usually measures only two types of intelligence: verbal/linguistic and mathematical/logical intelligence. There are other types of intelligence such as spatial intelligence, bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, musical intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, and intrapersonal intelligence.

Multiple Intelligences
(Howard Gardner, 1993)
Linguistic intelligence: speaking, using words, writing, giving presentations, solving word problems. Logical-mathematical intelligence: using numbers, logic, calculations; learning and understanding grammar rules. Spatial intelligence: drawing, painting, using color, art, graphics, pictures, maps, and charts. Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence: muscular coordination, athletic skill, body language, drama and theater. Musical intelligence: using music, tones, hearing; producing the intonation and rhythm of a language. Interpersonal intelligence: talking with other people, understanding them, using language to communicate. Intrapersonal intelligence: self-knowledge, self-confidence, using language to analyze yourself.
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Intelligence (II)
Research Findings:
1. Intelligence, especially measured by verbal IQ tests, may be a strong factor when it comes to learning that involves language analysis and rule learning. 2. On the other hand, intelligence may play a less important role in language learning that focuses more on communication and interaction. 3. It is important to keep in mind that intelligence is complex and that a person has many kinds of abilities and strengths.

Aptitude (I)
Aptitude refers to the ability to learn quickly (Carroll, 1991) and is thought to predict success in learning. It is hypothesized that a learner with high aptitude may learn with greater ease and speed. (But other learners may also be successful if they persevere). Language aptitude tests usually measure the ability to:
1) identify and memorize new sounds 2) understand the function of particular words in sentences

3) figure out grammatical rules from language samples


4) memorize new words
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Aptitude (II)
Research findings:
1) Early research revealed a substantial relationship between performance on language aptitude tests and performance in foreign language learning that was based on grammar translation or audiolingual methods. 2) However, performance on language aptitude tests seems irrelevant to L2 learning with the adoption of a more communicative approach to teaching. 3) Successful language learners may not be strong in all of the components of aptitude. Learners strengths and weaknesses in the different components may account for their ability to succeed in different types of instructional programs.
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Learning Styles
Learning style refers to an individuals natural, habitual, and preferred way of absorbing, processing, and retaining new information and skills (Reid 1995). Types of learning styles related to L2 learning:
1. Perceptual learning styles:

visual, aural/auditory, and haptic (kinesthetic & tactile)


2. Cognitive learning styles: field-independent vs. field-dependent (tendency to see the trees or the forest) right-brain dominance vs. left-brain dominance

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Learning Styles
field-independent vs. field-dependent
Heres a puzzle for you. Look at the row of strange shapes below. Can you find what the message is?

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Can you find the hidden pictures?

Learning Styles
field-independent: see things more analytically field-dependent: see things more holistically Research findings:
FI is related to classroom language learning that involves analysis, attention to details, and mastering of exercise, drills, and other focused activities. FD is related to the communicative aspects of language learning that require social outreach, empathy, perception of other people, and communicative skills. FI/FD may also prove to be a valuable tool for differentiating child and adult language acquisition due to the fact that FI increases as a child matures to adulthood.
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Learning Styles
right-brain vs. left-brain dominance
The right brain perceives and remembers visual, tactile, and auditory images. It is more efficient in processing holistic, integrative, and emotional information. The left brain is associated with logical, analytical thought, with mathematical and linear processing of information.

Though we all tend to have one hemisphere that is more dominant, it is important to remember that the left and right hemispheres need to operate together as a team.

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Learning Styles
Research findings and implications:
1) Every person, student or teacher, has a learning style; therefore, there is no particular teaching or learning method that can suit the needs of all learners. 2) Learning styles exist on wide continuums, although they are often described as opposites. 3) Learning styles are value-neutral; that is, no one style is better than others. 4) Very little research has examined the interaction between different learning styles and success in L2 learning; however, students should be encouraged to stretch their learning styles so that they will be more empowered in a variety of leaning situations.
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Personality
There are a number of personality characteristics that may affect L2 learning, such as
Extroversion vs. introversion Inhibition vs. risk-taking Anxiety Self-esteem Empathy

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Extroversion vs. Introversion


Are you more extroverted or introverted? It is often argued that an extroverted person is well suited to language learning. However, research does not always support this conclusion. Some studies have found that learners success in language learning is associated with extroversion such as assertiveness and adventurousness, while others have found that many successful language learners do not get high scores on measures of extroversion.

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Inhibition vs. risk-taking


It has been suggested that inhibition discourages risk-taking, which is necessary for progress in language learning.

Inhibition is often considered to be a particular problem for adolescents, who are more self-conscious than younger learners. Inhibition is a negative force, at least for second language pronunciation performance.
Be aware that inhibition may have more influence in language performance than in language learning.

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Anxiety (I)
Trait Anxiety vs. State Anxiety: a) Trait anxiety: a more permanent predisposition to be anxious b) State anxiety: a type of anxiety experienced in relation to some particular event or act; temporary and contextspecific More recent research acknowledges that anxiety is more likely to be dynamic and dependent on particular situations and circumstances.

Anxiety can play an important role in L2 learning if it interferes with the learning process.
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Anxiety (II)
Debilitative (harmful) Anxiety vs. Facilitative (helpful) Anxiety: Not all anxiety is bad and a certain amount of tension can have a positive effect and facilitate learning.
A learners willingness to communicate has also been related to anxiety. It is often affected by the number of people present, the topic of conversation, and the formality of the circumstances. Willingness to communicate or state anxiety can also be affected by learners prior language learning & use experience, self-confidence, and communicative competence.
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Conclusions for Personality


In general, the research does not show a single clearly-defined relationship between personality traits and SLA. 1. The major difficulty is that of identification and measurement of personality characteristics.

2. Personality variables may be a major factor only in the acquisition of conversational skills, not in the acquisition of literacy or academic skills.
3. Most research on personality traits has been carried out within a quantitative research paradigm (i.e., an approach that relies on measuring learners scores on personality surveys and relating these to language test performance). More qualitative research is needed to adequately capture the depth and complexity of the relationship.
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Motivation & Attitudes


Questions:
1.Do positive attitudes and motivation produce successful learning or does successful learning engender positive attitudes and motivation? 2.Are there other factors that affect both attitudes/ motivation and the success of learning?
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Motivation & Attitudes


Types of motivation (in terms of communicative needs):
Purpose Source

Intrinsic (Internal)
The learner wishes to learn L2 for personal growth and cultural enrichment.
The learner wishes to achieve more immediate or practical goals using L2 (e.g., for
a career).

Extrinsic (External)
Someone else (e.g., the learners parents) wishes the learner to know L2 for an integrative reason.
External power wants the learner to learn L2 for a practical purpose (e.g., a
corporation asks its staff to get language training).

Integrative

Instrumental

Motivation & Attitudes


Research findings:
1) Both integrative and instrumental types of motivation are related to success in L2 learning. Most L2 learning situations involve a mixture of each type of motivation.

2) Research strongly favors intrinsic motivation, especially for long-term retention. Intrinsically motivated learners are striving for excellence, autonomy, and selfactualization.

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Motivation & Attitudes


Drnyei (2001) a process-oriented model of motivation that consists of 3 phases:
1) choice motivation: getting started and setting goals 2) executive motivation: carrying out the necessary tasks to maintain motivation 3) motivation retrospection: appraisal of and reaction to learners performance

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Motivation in the Classroom


Motivating students into the lesson. The content needs to be relevant to their age and level of ability, and the learning goals need to be challenging yet manageable and clear.
Varying the activities, tasks, and materials to increase students interest levels. Using cooperative rather than competitive goals to increase students self-confidence.

Cultural and age differences will determine the most appropriate way for teachers to motivate students.

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Identity & Ethnic Affiliation


The social dynamic or power relationship between L1 and L2:
Minority group members learning the language of a majority groups may have different attitudes and motivation from those of majority group members learning a minority language. Think of why an ESL learners and an EFL learners attitude may differ in motivation and attitudes.

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Identity & Ethnic Affiliation


An imbalanced power relationship between L1 and L2 may limit the opportunities learners have to practice and to continue to develop the L2.
Identities are not static and can change over time. Learners identities will impact on what they can do and how they can participate in classrooms, which affects how much they can learn. The relationship between feelings of ethnic affiliation and L2 learners mastery of pronunciation can be complex. Learners may want to speak with a strong foreign accent to maintain their L1 identity.
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Learner Beliefs
What is your learner belief? How should language be learned?

Virtually all learners, particularly older learners, have strong beliefs about how their language instruction should be delivered.
Learner beliefs are usually based on previous learning experiences and the assumption that a particular type of instruction is better than others. Learner beliefs can be strong mediating factors in learners experience in the classroom.
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Learner Beliefs
Conclusions:
1) Learners preference for learning, whether due to their learning styles or to their beliefs about how language are learned, will influence the kinds of strategies they choose to learn new material. 2) Teachers can use this information to help learners expand their repertoire of learning strategies and thus develop greater flexibility in their second language learning.

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Age of Acquisition
The relationship between a learners age and his/her potential for success in second language learning is complex or controversial.

The relationship needs to take into account


1) the learners cognitive development 2) the learners motivation

3) the learners goal for learning L2 (i.e., in what aspects the L2 the learner has achieved)

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4) the contexts in which the learner learns L2 (including quantity & quality of language input, learning environment, learning time, and socio-cultural contexts)
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Age of Acquisition
Research findings:
1) L2 development in informal language learning environments where the L2 is used primarily:
Children can eventually speak the L2 with native-like fluency, but their parents and older learners (i.e., post-puberty learners) are hard to achieve such high levels of mastery of the spoken language, especially in pronunciation/accent. Adults and adolescents can make more rapid progress toward mastery of an L2 in contexts where they can make use of the language on a daily basis in social, personal, professional, or academic interaction.

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Age of Acquisition
Research findings:
2) L2 development in formal language learning conditions (i.e., classrooms) where the L1 is used primarily :
In the early stages of the L2 development, older learners (adolescents and adults) are more efficient than younger learners (children). Learners who began learning an L2 at the elementary school level did not necessarily do better in the long run than those who began in early adolescent. It is more difficult for post-puberty learners to attain native-like mastery of the spoken language, including pronunciation, word choice, and some grammatical features.
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Age of Acquisition
Conclusions (I):

- At what age should L2 instruction begin?


Those who support critical period hypothesis (CPH): Younger is better (particularly in the phonological achievement) Those who consider that the age factor cannot be separated from factors such as motivation, social identity, and the conditions for learning: Older learners may well speak with an accent because they want to keep their L1 identity, and the language input for adults is different from that for children because they rarely get access to the same quantity and quality of language input that children receive in play setting.
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Age of Acquisition
Conclusions (II):
When the goal is basic communicative ability of the TL, rather than native-like mastery, and when childrens native language remains the primary language, it may be more efficient to begin L2 or FL learning later (e.g., in early adolescence at age 10, 11, or 12). When learners receive only a few hours of instruction per week, those who start later often catch up with those who began earlier. One or two hours a week will not produce very advanced L2 speakers, no matter how young they were when they began learning. Older learners may be able to make better use of the limited leaning time.

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Age of Acquisition
Conclusions (III):
Age is only one of the characteristics which affects L2 learning. The opportunities for learning (both inside and outside the classroom), the motivation to learn, and individual differences in intelligence, aptitude, personality, and learning styles have also been found to be important determining factors that affect both rate of learning and eventual success in learning the L2.

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Summary
1. The research on individual differences is complex and the results of the research are not easy to interpret. This is because of
a) the lack of clear definitions and methods for measuring individual characteristics b) The fact that the characteristics are not independent of one another: learner variables interact in complex ways.

2. It remains difficult to predict how a particular individuals characteristics will influence his or her success as a language learner.

3. Teachers should take learners individual differences into account and to create a learning environment in which more learners can be successful in learning an L2.

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