Chapter 5: Individual learner differences and Second Language Acquisition

Book Name: Understanding Second language Acquisition

Writer: Rod Ellis

Professor: Dr.Haniye Davatgari

Saeed Mojarradi Ph.D. Candidate T.3      

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Aspects of SLA influenced by individual learner factors

There are two basic possibilities regarding which aspect of SLA is affected by individual learner factors:

One is that differences in age, learning style, aptitude, motivation, and personality result in differences in her route along which learners pass in SLA.

The other is that these factors influence only the rate and ultimate success of SLA.

These are separate issues. To claim that individuals vary in the rate at which they learn or the level of competence they eventually attain is not controversial.

Indeed, it is part of most language learners’ and teachers’ experience. However, to claim that individual differences influence the sequence or order in which linguistic knowledge is acquired is far more controversial.

As Fillmore (1979) points out, on the one hand individual differences are seen as an all-important factor, while on the other they are treated as relatively insignificant. Research which has concentrated on accounting for differences in the proficiency levels of learners has tended to emphasize the importance of individual learner factors.

Identification and classification of learner factors

The identification and classification of the different individual factors has proved to be problematic. The main difficulty is that it is not possible to observe directly qualities such as aptitude, .motivation, or anxiety.

These are merely labels for clusters of behaviors and, not surprisingly, different researchers have used different sets of behavioral traits. As a result, these labels to describe it is not easy to compare and evaluate the results of their investigations.

Each factor is not a unitary construct but a complex of features which are manifest in a range of overlapping behaviors.

It is, therefore, not surprising to find that a host of terms have been employed to describe the phenomena Hawkey (1982) lists some of these:

1-    ‘affective,

2-    cognitive,

3-    and social factors’ (Tucker et at 1976),

4-    ‘affective and ability factors’ (Chastain 1975),

5-     and ‘attitudinal/motivational characteristics’ (Gardner et aL 1979)

I propose to make an initial distinction between personal and general factors.

Personal factors are highly idiosyncratic features of each individual’s approach to learning a L2. Some examples are provided by Schumann and Schumann (1977) in a report of their own language learning experiences. They include ‘nesting patterns’ (the need for a secure and orderly home base before learning can effectively begin), `transition anxiety’ (the stress generated by moving to a foreign place), and the desire to maintain a personal language learning agenda. The Schumanns found that such factors strongly influenced their SLR.

The general factors are variables that are characteristic of all learners. They differ not in whether they are present in a particular individual’s learning, but in the extent to which they are present, or the manner in which they are realized. General factors can be further divided into those that are modifiable (i.e. are likely to change during the course of SLA), such as motivation, and those that are unmodifiable (i.e. do not change in strength or nature as SLA takes place), such as aptitude.

Personal and general factors have social, cognitive, and affective aspects. Social aspects are external to the learner and concern the relationship between the learner and native speakers of the L2 and also between the learner and other speakers of his own language.

Cognitive and affective aspects are internal to the learner. Cognitive factors concern the nature of the problem-solving strategic used by the learner while affective factors concern the emotional responses aroused by the attempts to learn a L2.

Different personal and general factors involve all is thought of as three aspects in different degrees.

Aptitude, for instance, primarily cognitive in nature, but also involves affective and aspects is primarily affective, but also has social and cognitive sides. Age is a factor that may involve all three aspects fairly equally.

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