Second Language Acquisition and Psycholinguistics

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Having been studied English Language, which is my second language acquisition for 15 years, I realize that English has deep rooted in my life since primary school. There were individual and social factors which contributed to impact my Second Language Acquisition (L2 learning) such as learning strategies and styles, motivation, personality and social context. However, in this essay, motivation and personality will be emphasized in analyzing my L2 learning experience in Primary and Secondary Stages.

Learning background:

In the primary stage, I studied in a normal primary school which treated English as important. The school given me chances to join the English Solo-Verse Speaking competitions and English courses to expose my English learning. I then studied in an EMI secondary school which regarded English as highly important. The school organized English activities like English Morning Reading Programs and English Speaking Days for students to learn English. The two learning environments impacted me to be an L2 learner and my L2 learning experiences at these stages will be discussed in terms of motivation and personality below.


Most language teachers agree that motivation is one of the most important factors influencing students' success and failure in learning a language (McDonough, 1986) According to Gardner (1985), motivation is defined as 'the extent to which the individual works or strives to learn the language because of a desire to do so and the satisfaction experienced in an activity (P.10).' He also indicated that motivation involves four aspects, goals, effortful behaviors, desires to attain the goals and favorable attitudes towards the activity. There were types of motivation, but only extrinsic and intrinsic motivations, integrative and instrumental motivations will be explored with my L2 learning experiences.

Primary Stage

At this stage, extrinsic and instrumental motivations played important roles in my L2 learning. According to Brown (2007), extrinsic motivation is stimulated by the anticipation of a reward from outside and prizes, grades, and even positive feedback and praises are typical extrinsic rewards. During my primary 1 to 2, my English was not good that I only got marginal pass in the examinations. In order not to worry my parents about my study, I was extrinsically motivated to work hard to study well. I decided to attend tutorials to improve my English. In the tutorial centre, positive and negative reinforcements were adopted. Once students gained good results in their study, rewards like chocolates would be given. However, if the students performed badly in their study, corporal punishment would be ahead. Therefore, to gain the rewards and to avoid being punished by the tutors in long term, I was motivated to study well. Moreover, I was instrumentally motivated that my goals for learning English were functional (Ellis, 1987). For instance, I was aiming at passing examinations in order to benefit my further study like getting into a good EMI secondary school. It greatly motivated me to work hard for every assessment during the test and examination periods. Extrinsic and instrumental motivations effectively helped me to improve my English at the primary stage.

Secondary Stage

During the Secondary Stage, I experienced changes in motivation which affected my L2 learning. From secondary.1 to secondary 5, intrinsic motivation impacted me most. According to Deci & Ryan (1985), intrinsic motivation refers to a learner gets pleasure, enjoyment and satisfaction through learning the target language itself. Learners engage in the intrinsically motivated activities for their own sake and it brings about internally rewarding, feelings of competence and determination (Deci, 1975). At that time, I was inspired by two good English teachers who taught me the meaning of studying English. Since then, I started to enjoy learning English and thought English was fun. Additionally, I loved doing challenging English tasks such as Grammar drills and tongue twisters. If I could manage these challenges successfully, sense of satisfaction would intrinsically make me love English. Moreover, I was stimulated by the integrative motivation at this stage. Suggested by Gardner and Lambert (1972), integrative motivation refers to a learner learns a second language because of the attractiveness of the target language culture, people or the language itself. In Secondary 3, I was attracted by the Olympics Games especially watching swimming events because of Michael Phelps. I was totally attracted by him and I started to pay attentions to everything about him. Searching for his information on internet not only helped me to know him more, but also foreign cultures and languages as his information on web were in English. It inspired me to pay effort to enhance my English proficiency as knowing more English helped me to know Phelps more when searching. I desired to communicate with or even become part of the members of the native society (Gardner and Lambert, 1975) since then. The intrinsic and integrative motivation did influence me on learning English at the secondary stage.


According to Gass and Selinker (2001), there are theories claiming that certain personality factors are important predicators of success in learning a second language. Personality is defined as a dynamic and organized set of characteristics possessed by a person which his or her cognitions, motivations, and behaviors are influenced uniquely in various situations (Chuk, 2010). There are tests and questionnaires designed to tell more about one-self in which the most popular personality test is Myers-Briggs Type Indicator [MBTI] (Myers, 1962). The MBTI was classified into four dichotomous styles of functioning. Yet only the type of Introversion and Extroversion will be emphasized in the following.

Primary Stage

At this stage, I was more an introvert with little extroversion. I loved attending formal lessons every day. Also, I liked doing practice and exercise books in my leisure time. I enjoyed academic successes when I could achieve my goals. Most often, I was nervous to talk with other people except my family and my best friends as I was too shy. I had to think a lot if I wanted to express myself to others to avoid misunderstanding which was a characteristic possessed by an introvert (Ehrman and Oxford, 1989). However, I was somehow extroverted when my teachers recommended me to participate in English Solo-verse speaking competitions. Though I was not good at speaking to others, I liked joining competitions which gave me opportunities to learn English in a relaxing way and chances to show off my performing potentials. Outside stimulation and interaction (Ehrman and Oxford, 1989) helped me to expose my English learning in the primary stage.

Secondary Stage

I was an introvert from secondary 1 to 3. At that time, I liked to concentrate on paper-works in which I was a stereotype of an introvert that I was much satisfied with a book than with other people (Gass and Selinker, 2001). I liked writing diaries in English more than sharing with others. In my study, I liked writing and reading more than speaking as I felt shy to speak to others especially foreigners. I had to process ideas before speaking to avoid the linguistics risks in conversations which was a liability of an introvert (Ehrman and Oxford, 1989). However, as I had my church life after Secondary 3, I knew more friends there and I changed into an extrovert. I liked socializing with my friends and felt happier with people (Gass and Selinker, 2001). I often played the oral game with my friends that we could only speak English with each other within the period we go shopping or we were on the bus. It provided us opportunities to practice oral English in a special way. Moreover, I turned to be confident in chatting with foreigners. For example, when I met foreigners who lost their way in the street, I was confident to tell them the way in English. Also, I got an experience of travelling to Hong Kong Disneyland with my aunts' nieces who are Canadian-born Chinese. During the journey, we could only talk in English and it gave me a chance to exchange ideas and cultures with them. To sum up, I was changed from an introvert into an extrovert that gave me different experiences in learning English at this stage.


It has been said that motivation and personality are the factors which would be modified by second language learning experiences (Ellis, 1987). The success and failure which I encountered in my L2 learning affected my personality and motivation. For example, the improvements and good results I got in primary school stimulated my motivation in learning English. However, the mistakes that I made in speaking English made me shy and introverted to talk with foreigners. Moreover, there are interactions between motivation and personality in one's L2 learning. Personality would affect learners' motivation regarding to his/her experience. Gayle (1981) suggested that personality including extroversion and introversion could be linked to motivation in the second language acquisition. For example, an extrovert would be more impacted by integrative motivation that he/she would be benefited from outside stimulations such as communicating with others; and be more desired to be part of the members of the target language society (Gardner and Lambert, 1972) which is similar to my L2 learning experience in the secondary stage.


To conclude, motivation and personality had an effect to influence my second language acquisition at the two stages. Also, motivation is correlated to personality that personality may affect motivation as discussed. However, not only the discussed factors affected my second language learning, there were other individual and general factors influencing my L2 learning. Last but not least, it should be noted that one learner could have both integrative and instrumental motivations and others at the same time. Every single factor could serve different functions collaboratively in helping one to acquire knowledge in second language acquisition.

Word Count: 1,612 words