Lunes, Hulyo 29, 2013


 “To each his own”, words that may define how complex people are. We have our differences in dealing life be it personal or professional, different strokes for different folks like what we always say and hear. Understanding a person how well he reacts and deals with a new challenge is like putting a big puzzle together using different pieces.
It all boils down to individual differences, the uniqueness of the individual mind. We may be travelling to one destination but knowing and learning how to get there is another story.

Individual Differences Links SLA

        Learners have different approach in acquiring second language (L2), though it varies since it may be acquired directly or indirectly, learner’s characteristics still play a huge role on how easy or difficult it will be.

In a country where the target language is not the language of wider communication, acquisition becomes both a demanding and challenging to those who learn a second language, for example English. Situation where English is sized as a second language like the Philippines, it is assumed and believed that one of the best places to acquire the second language is in the classroom where the contact among students, material and method occurs. In all schools in the Philippines, English is commonly used as a medium of instruction and communication (except for Filipino and other national related subjects). However, learners generally communicate or conduct their social interaction in Filipino, and vernaculars. Consequently, they are likely to have poor English exposure. Proficiency in a second language could not merely be described in terms of structures, phonology, morphology, and lexicon of target language. This kind of knowledge is not adequate for the learners who learn a second language for a utility function.

       In foreign language classroom or in second language acquisition, we should acknowledge that learners differ in a wide variety of ways. These differences are usually called individual differences. Age, motivation, personality and learning styles or learning strategies are just few of the individual differences to be considered that can either make or break in achieving success in mastering the second language. For Davis (1989), it’s not a question on how important personality is, not just by the mere mention of the word difference, but a determining factor of behaviour in general from an educational point of view and how it affects learning and to what extent. Then motivation, though motivation in learning second language has its vast meaning and can’t just be measured by one scale. It would still be based on the person’s characteristics weather it’s cognitive or behavioural. And learning styles and strategies of an individual can’t just be ignored; recent research (Ehrman & Oxford, 1989) suggests that learning style has a significant influence on students' choice of learning strategies, and that both styles and strategies affect learning outcomes.

      So how can someone easily master the art of acquiring second language with all these factors to consider, it may be difficult to pin point and to choose just one, that’s why there’s a word such as variation. A little bit of every factors won’t hurt and then apply them; we might have a winning combo!


      But if I were to focus on particular types of individual differences, then one of which has to be motivation. Motivation ranks high as a prediction of second language success (Ellis, 1997). A motivated individual has focus; goal directed will go out of his way to achieve whatever it is in his mind just by simply expanding his effort.
      Meanwhile students’ motivation to learn depends on their needs and interests, while the effectiveness of their learning is influenced by motivation (Liuolienė & Metiūnienė, 2006). Though there are levels of motivation and the driving force to it, it is the intensity of the motivation in its broadest sense, incorporating the behavioural, cognitive, and affective components, that is important (Gardner, 1985).
Research on motivation in second language learning has been heavily influenced Gardner (1985) and his associates. It is helpful to think of Gardner’s model as classifying motivation at two levels, goal or oriented motivation and core motivation. The motivation at the goal level includes the learner’s core motivation, the learner’s orientation to language learning, and the learner’s attitudes towards the learning situation.
There are also levels of motivation we call integrative and instrumental. According to Finegan (1999), when we say integrative, it is the admiration and the passion of learning the second language and becoming part of the community where the language is being spoken. It becomes a necessity, in order to operate socially in the community and become one of its members. It is also theorized by Finegan that "integrative motivation typically underlies successful acquisition of a wide range of registers and a native like pronunciation". And how does instrumental level of motivation plays its role in second language acquisition? By doing what is ask to do and by just complying what is expected of you, be it for school or job. With little social means, instrumental motivation is a mere practical level to meet the required end.
Brown (2000) makes the point that both integrative and instrumental motivations are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Learners hardly ever select one form of motivation when learning a second language, but rather a combination of both orientations. He cites the example of international students residing in the United States, learning English for academic purposes while at the same time wishing to become integrated with the people and culture of the country.
      In addition, motivation is a significant factor in L2 achievement. For this reason it is important to identify both the type and combination of motivation that assists in the successful acquisition of a second language. At the same time it is also essential to view motivation as one of a number of variables in a complex model of interconnected individual and situational factors which are distinctive to each language learner.
In school setting, primary and elementary pupils are learning a second language because they are being “told to” by either school systems (as a requirement for English study) or their parents (through school or extra-curricular study either on private academy or private lessons).  So, if most of them are studying English because they “have to,” they may be assumed to be “obedient” or “reluctant” learners. Nonetheless, in English class at the will of either parents or governing educational institution.  Such students need great efforts on the part of teachers to facilitate learning English in a way that facilitates input and output: learning to understand and use the language (Harmer, 1997).

      Based on my own observation and experience, adult English learners are highly motivated for reasons of perceived social and economic advantage results like in order to get a good job or simply for prestige. For adults, getting and keeping their attention is not as large a task as the young learners, because as Harmer (1997) stressed, ‘adults need to communicate in the English they are learning’. On the other hand, I guess young learners need classroom exposure to the language and giving them the chance to use it in an age-appropriate context ; that is study contexts have to be “graded”/”tailored” to younger learners’ social realities and abilities. Other interesting activities and materials will also be more successful if an element of “fun” can be added in.


     Age is one of the affective factors in Second Language Acquisition. A great variety of views have been expressed on the age question in children and adults who learn either the native language (L1) or the second language (L2) in different ages (Singleton, 1989). Age as an affective factor brings different performance stages in second language learning. Various explanations and interpretations of second language acquisition exist while considering age.

      Theories of second language acquisition and research have attempted to explain various interpretations and findings in age factor of second language acquisition. As stated by Lightbown and Spada (2008), learning depends on learners’ characteristics and the environment. Their findings recommended that older learners have a higher level of problem solving and metalinguistics capabilities than younger learners. Some other researchers have focused on learners’ pronunciation, syntax and grammatical morphemes. Patkowski (1982) scrutinized the level of spoken English of sixty-seven immigrants to the U.S. His finding was that pre-puberty learners acquire second language better than post-puberty learners. He also pointed out that two other factors such as length of residence and amount of instruction are inseparable from the age factor. Johnson and Newport (quoted in Lightbown & Spada, 2008) found native-like language abilities and the performance levels lower in older children than younger in a study of forty-six Chinese and Koreans speakers. On the other hand, Snow and Hoefnagel-Hohle (1982), from their research carried in Holland, concluded that adults learned faster than children and the rate of second language learning was higher.
Singleton (1989) offered a number of proposals related to age and second language acquisition. The most popular notions are “the younger, the better” and “the older, the better” (Singleton, 1989). He, on the basis of previous studies and research on age factor, focused on learners’ pronunciation skill and other linguistics features.

      Generally, there is no linear pattern of learning among the same age group of learners, and they learn differently and individually depending on variables. Furthermore, age is one of the characteristics that determine the way in which an individual learns second language. Age is not everything in second language learning. However, factors related to the age, for example the learning opportunities, the motivation to learn, individual differences, and personal and learning styles, are also important determining variables that affect the rate of second language learning in various developmental stages of the learners.

Learning and Personality Styles

      Learning and personality styles are also strong factors in second language learning. Differences in learning style and personality style are likely to influence how the students respond and benefit from a given instructional program, while many teachers ignore the possibility that students are not learning because they are not given opportunity to use their own learning and personality styles in the classroom. According to Cook (1991), it should be realized that individual learners have their own preferred learning style, and that teachers have responsibility to identify the preferred learning and personality styles of each learner. On the other hand the learners themselves should know their learning and personality styles. By being better informed about their own learning preference, learners will increase their ability to develop additional learning style and even modify their existing learning pattern (Davis, 1989).

      On the part of the learners, the condition described previously requires alternative or at least a better compensatory effort to allow them to acquire English effectively. So in this case, the learners must be encouraged to develop independence inside and outside classroom (Cook, 1991). They must be equipped with the means to guide themselves, so that they can take on responsibility for them to learning.
Identifying learning style of students is one of the determinant factors for the success of the learners of English as their second language, because according to David (1989) by knowing the learning styles of the students, the teacher can adapt the way of presenting the teaching materials. In line with this, the identification of personality styles of the students is also important, because by knowing the students’ personality styles, the teacher can understand what the students really want. So the teacher can adapt the communication behaviour to eliminate conflict. Cook (1991) further stressed if the teachers and the students have a candid communication, the students can absorb and retain new information, which can change their behaviour.

      Truly, individual differences affect second language acquisition. These differences may be developmental, cognitive, affective or social. There are factors that are fixed which we cannot control such as age. There are some variable factors such as motivation and language learning and personality styles which are controlled by social setting and the course taken for developing the second language. Therefore, teachers need to know that variable factors are controlled through the learning environment, by knowing their students’ cognitive styles, their learning preferences, how they teach, and what they teach.
No matter what the factors and aspects of individual difference that affect the acquisition of second language, what cannot be disputed is the fact that age, motivation, and personality and learning styles are very important variables when examining successful second language acquisition.

[10:26:45 AM] World Wingstar Manila: References
Brown, H.D. (2000). Principles of language learning and teaching (4th ed.). Englewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Cook,V., 1991. Second language Learning and Language Teaching. London : Edward Arnold.

Davis, E.C., 1989. Learning Skills and Language Learning Strategies. Ujung Pandang: Hasanuddin University and SIL.

Ellis, J., 1997. SLA research and Teaching.  England.  Oxford University Press
Ehrman & Oxford, 1989. The Role of Styles and Strategies in Second Language Learning.
Retrieved 8th November, 2009 from
Finegan, E. (1999). Language : Its structure and use (3rd ed.). Harcourt Brace.
Gardner, R., 1985. Social Psychology and Second Language Learning, Arnold, London
Larson-Freeman, D., & Long, M.H. (1994). An introduction to second language acquisition research. Longman.
Lightbown, P. & Spada, N., 2008. How languages are learned (3rd ed.). NY: OUP.
Liuolienė, A. & Metiūnienė, R., 2006. Second Language Learning Motivation. Retrieved 18 October, 2009 from
Norris-Holt, J., 2001. Motivation as a Contributing Factor in Second Language Acquisition. Retrieved 8 November, 2009 from
Patkowski, M., 1982. The sensitive period for the acquisition of syntax in a second language. In Krashen, S., Scarcell, R. and Long, M. (Eds.), Issues in second language research. London: Newbury House, 52-63.

Singleton, D., 2002. The age factor in second language acquisition (2nd ed.). Clevedon:
Multilingual Matters (p.63).

Snow, C. & Hoefnagel-Hohle, M. (1982). The critical period for language acquisition: evidence from second language learning. In Krashen, S., Scarcell, R. and Long, M. (Eds.), Issues in second language research. London: Newbury House, 93-113.

5 komento:

  1. Thank you so much Teacher Bryan for sharing these principles and researches on understanding the learners' individual differences in acquiring English as a second language. This could be very significant and helpful for our teachers to become more efficient in handling our students and bringing them to the stairs of success. Keep on posting!