Individual Differences in Second Language Learning


IndividualDifferences in Second Language Learning

TheIndividual Differences

Individualdifferences are characteristics that exist between and amongindividuals that affects the learning abilities and the outcome.Different learning abilities among individuals provide a basis ofdistinguishing the potential of learning among them. The individualdifferences that influence the acquisition of the second learninglanguage are emphasized to be of four main areas: learningstrategies, motivation, learning style and language aptitude.However, other individual differences include age differences,culture, gender and working memory. The learning of the secondlanguage is highly dependent on the dynamics of personal traits amongindividuals. This subjection makes the learning of second languagehighly subjected to individual differences. Therefore, teachersshould always consider individual differences among students byunderstanding their traits and factors that make them different.

Insecond language learning, individual differences provides the teacherwith the basis of adopting different and appropriate teachingstrategies to teach different learners. This is possible through theunderstanding of learners and their differences which informs theapplication of the teaching strategies. The understanding of thedynamics of each of the learners is important for the teacher notonly because it provides the strategies, but also because it exposesthe potential of every student. According to Ehrman et al (2003), theuse of different learning strategies is practically related to theproficiency and the achievement of the students. Therefore, everyteacher should not only understand, but actively apply the strategiesto each student depending on their personal differences.

Oneof the individual differences in the acquisition of the secondlanguage is learning styles. The learning styles are defined by thepersonal preferences and cognitive styles. The learning styles aredifferent among individuals and determine the process of acquiringthe language skills by the students studying a second language(Ehrman&amp Leaver, 2003).The application of the learning style helps a person by understandinghis or her style and distinction of whether it is an acquired or anatural element. Through the understanding of the different learningstyles, the teacher will explore and determine how to cater for themin the teaching-learning environment (Lightbown&amp Spada, 2006).

Learningstrategies are also important aspects of individual differences toboth the second language student and to the teacher. Inquiring on thestrategies used by the students and whether they follow therecommendations of the teacher is important in predicting theirlearning outcomes. In the teaching of the second language, it isimportant to determine the strategies to use through theunderstanding of the learning strategies used by students. Thecognitive strategies are important to directly manipulate languagematerial while meta-cognitive strategies involve the individualdifferences in planning, implementing and the evaluation of theeffectiveness of the learning activity (Ehrman et al, 2003). Asapplied in learning, memory strategies are also different in the waydifferent students understand and remember after learning.

Accordingto Griffiths(2008),learners use different strategies extensively and have differentresults. The importance of incorporating these aspects of individualdifferences helps to use the strategies that results to positiveresults to teach others who portray similar personal traits.Understanding learner strategies help teachers to emphasize on thedifferences in regard to the taxonomies of learning strategies suchas compensatory strategies, the social strategies and the effectivestrategies that relate to students. This means that learningstrategies will emphasize on current effort of developing thesetaxonomies for the benefit of the second language student. Theunderstanding of the learning strategies for such students is alsoimportant in the investigation of the theoretical basis of suchstrategies and the trainability of the students.

Theunderstanding of the motivation behind the students’ learning ofthe second language is important to determine the best learningapproach. With different levels and sources of motivation, studentsportray different behavior and drives in the learning of the language(Pavlenko&amp Lantolf, 2000).According to Griffiths(2008), student motivationto such students can be either intrinsic or extrinsic. Intrinsicallymotivated students provide a higher enthusiasm in learning whileextrinsically motivated students needs the input of the teacher toinvoke the factors that motivate them to learn. According toGriffiths (2008),motivating students creates an atmosphere in the classroom that issupportive of varying activities and makes speaking the language moreenjoyable. Dornyei (2001) argues that offering of motivationalrewards promotes the motivation of individuals, in this case, that ofstudents by enlisting them actively in learning tasks.

Theindividual difference of amplitude provides the teacher and thestudents with the understanding of the effect of the first languageon the understanding of the second language. This is possible throughthe understanding of the residue of the abilities of the firstlanguage that impact on the second language (Pavlenko&amp Lantolf, 2000).The rate at which students effectively learn a second languagedepends on the abilities that are presented by the language abilitiesthat can be determined by the skills of the first language. Theunderstanding of the abilities informs the learning types. Thisintroduces the abilities in memory as well as the phonetic codingability of students to associate between meanings and sounds, andrecall the association.

IDsrepresented in the provided learner profiles

Consideringher age, Willie is not well placed in the classroom since she islearning with native English speakers. Her language skills aretotally different from those of her classmates since English is likeher second language. In addition, Willie faces challenges sinceEnglish is a second language amidst the first language of herclassmates who have innate English language skills. The learningstyle of Willie is different from others since she is sociable andlikes to read fast. She employs a social learning strategy in herstudies. Therefore, language instructors can use group work and groupdiscussions to help her learn the language.

Inthe case of Titan, English is his second language, but he ismotivated to learn its proficiency. From the motivation point ofview, he is motivated by the ability to converse in English withother people. This is an important individual difference that theteacher should promote for him to effectively learn the language ashe is intrinsically motivated. His language amplitude is excellentsince he is able to memorize new English words and grammar rules.Moreover, the Titan’s learning strategy is excellent in thelearning of the language since he is uniquely keen with details. Thisis important for his progression in learning English as the firstlanguage since he will carry the abilities of his first language tothe second language.

Oldas he is, Jentel is committed to learning the language. However, heis a little embarrassed with the beginning level of his Englishskills which seems to affect his motivation. The language instructorshould therefore incorporate ways of motivating him to appreciate hislevel of English language. The teacher should particularly motivatehim to speak in front of the classroom as a way of improving hislanguage skills and encourage his interaction with the nativespeakers rather than the Goodians in order to learn the language. Inaddition, Jentel has a unique learning strategy and learning style ofusing flash cards to aid his memory and improve his vocabulary. Thisshows his efforts in improving his language amplitude and memory inhis quest to learn English.

Thelearning style of Beatriz is particularly unique because she likes tobe corrected in private and later after the mistake. This can be usedby the teacher in teaching her the language by incorporating privatesession with her on a regular basis, so as to correct her mistakes.However, the teacher needs to motivate her to speak English in frontof the classroom so as to facilitate her mastery of the language.According to MacIntyre(2007), such a strategy will improve the willingness to speak thesecond language. Herlearning strategy of supplementing what the teacher teaches throughprivate studies is very important to her, and the teacher shouldfacilitate her by motivating the strategy. His learning style ofreading online is also unique to her as she indicates her commitmentto learning. However, her language amplitude is not that excellentsince she has problems in understanding and performing in English ascompared to other subjects.

Implicationsfor teaching

Thefour profiles clearly illustrate the individual differences and howthey impact on the learning of the second language. While Willie issocial and tries as much as possible to speak the language, Janteland Beatriz are not comfortable with the social strategy of speakingand practicing the language. However, the high motivation with Titanto learn the language introduces the differences that emanate frompersonal ambitions to learn the language. In terms of languageamplitude, Titan has excellent abilities compared with the rest,while Jantel seeks the help of flash cards to improve his memory.This shows the individual differences that teachers should addressand consider while adopting different teaching strategies fordifferent students.

Smithet al (2008), argues that languageinstructors should adopt different learning and motivation strategiesfor each of the students in relation to their learning of Englishlanguage. For Willie, the language instructor can allocate her agroup that will be the basis of discussion and interaction in orderto learn the language. This is because she is talkative and social.The teacher should also train her to read keenly and pay attention todetails. For Titan, the teacher can take advantage of theself-motivation to give him assignments and promote personal studymethod since he spends more time at home. In addition, the teachercan introduce group discussions for him to motivate his speechlearning.

Toimprove the learning of English language for Jantel, the teacher canencourage her to engage in more public speeches in class as a way ofbeating his fear and embarrassment. According to Ortega (2009), shecan still learn the language despite her older age. The teacher canalso give more self-study materials that he will study and providematerials that will boost his amplitude. To facilitate the learningof the language by Beatriz, the teacher can introduce private tuitionsessions to help her learn the language from her mistakes. Theteacher can also introduce the group work to promote her speechthrough practicing and also improve her social skills.


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