Put twenty learners of the same age in a room and teach them a language for a month, each day 2 hours. Have them invest exactly the same amount of time to study the covered material. Do they perform the same output after the month?
After reading this thesis every reader will have to agree that these learners are not able (or at least not likely) to produce the same output. This leads to a conclusion which is the basis of my theory: Every second-language learner is different.
Some persons find tasks easier or more difficult than others. Some learn faster, some will never be able to acquire a high proficiency in certain areas (e.g. pronunciation). The reasons for this cannot be explained easily. One needs to take into account many different factors that concern the traits of a learner and also external factors that influence the success of a second-language learner.
Therefore, this thesis with the title "Every Second-Language Learner is Different" aims at analysing the individual differences in second language acquisition. Moreover it will try to present conclusions which can be used in the process of second language acquisition by teachers as well as learners.
Thus, the first chapter will be about the factors that influence second language learning for the individual. I will start with the definitions of language aptitude and intelligence and describe how these factors relate to each other. Then I will write about personality and its influence on SLA and present different personality characteristics that have been identified to be important. The next point will deal with motivation; different terms that stand in connection to motivation will be explained. A further emphasis will be put on age in SLA, the critical period hypothesis will be presented and the importance of age will be illuminated. After that I will discuss the impact of gender in SLA and why a study from 2007 offers totally new research findings. Then I will come to different learning styles that learners have and explain the most important ones. Finally, social factors will be included to show that there are external influences that change the success of a second-language learner.
The second chapter will deal with the advantage language teachers and learners can derive, if they are familiar with the factors that influence the second language learner and the process of SLA. In other words, it will try to present possibilities how to benefit from findings of different linguists and empirical studies.
In this thesis I will refer to research carried out by specialists in the field of linguistics as well as psychology and also to my own experiences as a second language learner. It should be obvious that it is not possible to include every detail that is relevant to the topic of individual differences in SLA, and therefore the idea is to provide an excellent overview of the models, theories and research results in combination with my own analysis of the topics.
Individual differences are characteristics that make human beings unique. In the case of individual differences in SLA these differences need to be consistent and in some way provable. There exists a variety of techniques to find out about IDs, such as intelligence/aptitude tests but many of these IDs cannot be measured. In this case linguists rely on empirical studies. However, there has been a variety of research on the topic up to now and although some areas need further proof, linguists are very sure to have an answer to some of the IDs and therefore the factors that influence second language acquisition.
Factors that influence second language learning
There are various factors that influence the process of learning and acquiring a second language. This chapter presents the most important of these factors and will try to explain their meaning and the relevance in SLA.
Aptitude and Intelligence
When explaining "aptitude" to a non-linguist the most popular paraphrase is "talent". When it comes to language aptitude the same paraphrase applies. Language aptitude can be seen as a talent for language. Ellis (2005: 140) defines language aptitude as "the special ability that people have, in varying degrees, for learning an L2". This means that language aptitude is a natural cognitive ability, an individual potential, something that is innate. It means that some people find it easier to learn a language and/or are more successful in learning it. Therefore, the main focus of research in this area lies on finding out about the relation between language aptitude and success in L2 learning. (cf. Ellis 2007: 74).
Carroll (1965), who conducted foreign language aptitude research in the 1950s, was actually the first one to talk about aptitude in connection to language and he defined four components of language learning aptitude:
Phonemic coding ability
Inductive language learning ability
Rote learning ability
The first point has to do with the capability to detect the different sounds of a language. The second point refers to the ability to find the grammatical elements of a sentence, such as the object and the subject. The third point goes together with the ability of a learner to recognize the structure of a language. The fourth point talks about the ability to form connections between new words in the L2 and their meaning in the L1 of the learner (cf. Ellis 2007: 74).
Primsleur (1966) introduced three factors that relate to language learning aptitude:
He describes that verbal intelligence is "the knowledge of words and the ability to reason analytically in using verbal materials" (1966: 14). Motivation will be examined closer in 2.1.3. of this paper, but basically it is the willingness to achieve a goal and perform certain things to do so. Auditory ability identifies the process of hearing and most importantly understanding the heard words.
To identify a person's language aptitude scientists have developed different language aptitude tests. Most of the language aptitude tests are used to select employees and to decide which person is most likely to profit from language training and therefore of course most valuable for a company that is looking for people who are likely to become fluent in a foreign language. The most important ones are the "Modern Language Aptitude Test" (also called MLAT) mainly developed by John B. Carroll to test adults, and the "Primsleur Language Aptitude Battery" (also called PLAB) developed by Paul Primsleur to test children.
Today there are many language aptitude tests to be found online. They concentrate on different areas such as verbal reasoning, vocabulary, homonyms, spelling and punctuation etc. Institutes such as the University of Kent put those tests online to prepare their students for example for assessment centres (cf. University of Kent 2011).
Interestingly, there is also critique to the theory of language aptitude. A learner with higher results in aptitude test may learn easier and faster than others, still learners with lower results can also gain the same level of proficiency. Although such learners would have to put a higher effort in achieving this level (cf. Lightbown and Spada 2007: 57).
Concerning intelligence the question is what one understands when talking about the term. Encyclopedia Britannica defines intelligence in education as "the ability to learn or understand or to deal with new or challenging situations" (Britannica Online 2011). In the past intelligence tests have been used to predict the learning ability of a student and the IQ score of a person was very likely to match with their ability to learn a second language.
However, the intelligence level of a person and the communicative ability do not seem to be related. To understand this argument one has to be familiar with Cummins' (cf. 1979) concepts of CALP and BICS, which are two different kinds of language ability. CALP stands for "cognitive/academic language ability" and points to skills such as grammar and vocabulary. In addition, there is a relation between CALP and intelligence. BICS means "basic interpersonal communication skills" and refers to the skills that are needed for oral communication, fluency etc. and it does not have any connection to intelligence (cf. Ellis 1991: 111).
Evidence for the theory of CALP and BICS and the connection (or non-connection) between intelligence and aptitude is to be seen in various examples of language learners who score low on IQ tests but get fluent in foreign languages quickly and easily. Vice versa, people who perform generally very well on the academic level often face difficulties when it comes to foreign language learning.
Today a high number of linguists are influenced by Howard Gardner's (1993) theory of multiple intelligences. Intelligence tests only address a few key skills of human intelligence, but Gardner argues that humans have various different kinds of intelligence such as competences in the areas of music, sports, communication etc. (cf. Lightbown and Spada 2007).
This means that a person is capable of being gifted in one area and not gifted in another one, but still the strength/weakness in one area does not mean that the person's intelligence is generally lower or higher. The fact that for example a learner is bad at verbal reasoning does not mean he/she is not very intelligent, as he/she can still achieve high scores when musical or physical abilities are tested.
This theory of multiple intelligences seems very likely to be "true" because everybody has strengths and weaknesses. In addition to that, there is hardly ever a human being who is excellent at every different area (e.g. mathematics, languages, music, sports, interpersonal relations) but almost everybody is talented at something.
Personality is described as "a characteristic way of thinking, feeling, and behaving. Personality embraces moods, attitudes, and opinions and is most clearly expressed in interactions with other people" (Britannica Online 2011).
Many different personality traits seem to be likely to influence L2 acquisition. However, this is not easy to prove in empirical studies as various studies that try to compare similar personality characteristics generate different findings (cf. Lightbown and Spada 2007: 60).
It is often argued that the distinction between extroversion and introversion plays a role in SLA. On the one hand, it is said that extroverts are too impulsive to study a language seriously. On the other hand, scientists argue that extroverted persons are more likely to take risks, which is very important when it comes to the production of a second language. If learners do not take the risk of speaking and making mistakes they will never achieve proficiency, which would imply that introverts are not that well suited to language learning. However, research underlines the fact that introverts are generally better in academic tasks. In addition to that, many learners of high proficiency in a second language do not get high scores in extroversion measurements.
As already mentioned above the willingness of risk-taking is said to influence second language acquisition. It has to do with the learners' personalities whether they use the language only in situations in which they are absolutely sure about the correctness of their utterance or whether they are ready to try something new and still make the utterance although they are not sure if a construction is going to work or not. Actually, the risk-takers might learn something new by making a mistake and getting corrected by somebody, while the persons who do not take the risk do not ever really broaden their active speaking ability.
Risk taking also relates to inhibition as scientists argue that inhibition reduces risk-taking and according to Lightbown and Spada risk-taking is "necessary for progress in language learning" (2007: 61). Usually inhibition is more likely to be a problem of adults than of younger learners as they are more restrained than teenagers. Lightbown and Spada report of a study in which the effects of alcohol on inhibition in language production were tested. They report that "one study involved an analysis of the effects of [...] alcohol, known for its ability to reduce inhibition, on pronunciation. Study participants who drank small amounts of alcohol did better on pronunciation tests than those who did not drink any"(2007:61).
Another personality trait that possibly influences second language acquisition is anxiety. For a long time it was assumed that anxiety is something fixed. However, it is rather something that is to be found in specific situations and belongs to a context. Anxiety is not permanent, which means that it changes from situation to situation. For example, a student can feel perfectly comfortable and relaxed when talking to colleagues in a small group in the foreign language but he/she can get anxious when talking aloud in front of the whole class and the teacher.
Lightbown and Spada argue that "anxiety can play an important role in second language learning if it interferes with the learning process" (2007: 61). This means that students who are anxious will probably learn more slowly than students who are laid-back because they cannot simply concentrate on the assignment but also concentrate on their own behaviour.
However, anxiety is not bad in all cases because it can help to motivate the students and enhance their concentration to an upcoming task such as an exam (cf. Lightbown and Spada 2007: 61).
There are various other personality characteristics (such as self esteem, responsiveness, empathy etc.) that are likely to influence second language acquisition but for most of them the scientific results are too unclear to draw conclusions.
Firstly, there is no learning without motivation. Whether that motivation is a voluntary one (e.g. I want to learn a foreign language because I like to speak to people from a foreign country) or a forced one (e.g. I have to learn a foreign language in order to pass high school) does not really matter as long as the goal (gaining some kind of knowledge or ability in the target-language) is reached. Motivation has to do with the attitudes that learners have and with the effort they put in learning a second language. It is important to keep in mind that motivation is dynamic, i.e. it can change.
The fact that motivation is crucial in language learning can be explained by a simple example. Take a student whose aptitude is high and whose teacher is excellent. This example basically meets the requirements that are necessary for successful second language acquisition. However, if the student is not motivated all other positive factors are worthless. Moreover, it is a fact that a student who lacks aptitude or who is anxious can still acquire a high level of proficiency in the L2 if he/she is motivated.
There are different types of motivation namely integrative, instrumental, intrinsic and resultative motivation. Integrative motivation applies if the learner wants to connect with the culture of the L2 he/she learns. In the case of instrumental motivation the learner wants to achieve a specific goal, such as performing well in a test in school. Intrinsic motivation can be generated if the learner gets interested by a certain learning task. When talking about resultative motivation one understands the motivation that results out of some kind of achievement in the process of learning the L2 (cf. Ellis 2007: 75).
Motivation and positive attitudes are both important factors in SLA. Lightbown and Spada state: "Although the research cannot prove that positive attitudes and motivation cause success in learning, there is ample evidence that positive motivation is associated with a willingness to keep learning" (2007: 63).
It is usually best for the motivation if a learner is interested in the topic. This interest for languages can derive from the fact that a student is interested in languages in general but also that a student likes the country (or countries) in which the language is spoken, or would like to identify with the people who speak the language and their culture. Another trigger for motivation can be a situation (or daily situations) in which the learner has to use the L2, such as living in a foreign country or working with people from foreign nations.
Zoltàn Dörnyei offers a motivation model that consists of three stages: choice motivation, executive motivation and motivational retrospective. In the first stage the motivation has to be triggered, objectives get set. The second stage contains of fulfilling the tasks and keeping the motivation on a high level. Finally, the third stage refers to a "retrospective evaluation how things went. The way students process their past experiences in this retrospective phase will determine the kind of activities they will be motivated to pursue in the future" (2005: 84).
Dörnyei also talks about demotivation, a process that can happen if the second language learner gets frustrated during the process of SLA or if something negative overpowers the positive effects of learning the language (e.g. the lesson is uninteresting, the learner has problems with the other class participants or the teacher). That a learner gets demotivated does not mean that all positive connotations he has to learning a foreign language disappear. Therefore, a learner can for example be disappointed by a language course, but still be interested in learning the language (cf. 2005: 90).
The L2 Motivational Self System is introduced by Dörnyei. In this system second language motivation is represented by three main factors: the Ideal L2 Self, the Ought-to L2 Self and the L2 Learning Experience. The Ideal L2 Self describes the ideal version of the second language learner i.e. which second language skills the learner would ideally prefer to have. The Ought-to L2 Self refers to what the learner believes he/she ought to be like and skills they ought to have to prevent negative results in the process of SLA. The L2 Learning Experience has to do with the actual practice of learning a foreign language (e.g. the situations in which the language is acquired as well as the environment in which the acquisition process takes place) (cf. 2005: 106). These factors are according to Dörnyei most important to preserve motivation. It is essential to know what potential stands at the end of a learning process and what a learner wants to achieve in order to stay motivated.
Age is a factor that has been said to be important in SLA for a long time. It has been one of the most discussed factors that stand in connection with individual differences in second language acquisition because it is a factor that can be evaluated easily, in contrast to almost all others.
The most widely known theory about age in connection to language acquisition is the Critical Period Hypothesis. Ellis describes that it states that "target-language competence in an L2 can only be achieved if learning commences before a certain age (e.g. the onset of puberty) is reached" (2005:138). This means that the critical period is the time from birth to puberty in which language learning is easiest and most successful.
It is easy to witness in daily life that this theory generally applies. Children who are for example raised bilingually are able to speak both languages with a very high proficiency when they grow older. Another evidence is the fact that language teaching today starts in nursery school, because scientists have found out that earlier input produces more excellent output (especially on the level of pronunciation). However, there are adults who become fluent in languages although they start to learn the language after the critical period.
Krashen, Scarcella and Long investigated child-adult differences in SLA and came to the conclusions that three principles apply:
1. Adults proceed through the earlier stages of syntactic and morphological development faster than children (where age and exposure are held constant)
2. Older children acquire faster than younger Children (again, the early stages of syntactic and morphological development re time and exposure are held constant
3. Acquirers who begin natural exposure to second languages during childhood generally achieve higher second language proficiency than those beginning as adults (1982: 159).
At first glance, this seems to go against the critical period hypothesis, especially in the first two points. However, it actually supports the critical period hypothesis, because the first and second principles only talk about the fact that older learners are faster in early stages of second language acquisition. The third principle confirms what the critical period hypothesis claims: The younger the better, when it comes to language learning.
Apart from the critical period hypothesis there exist further opinions about the difference between youth learners (although after the critical period) and adult learners. Youth learners would be in the age between 12/15 and 25 while adult learners would be 25+. If one asks people on the street whether they think learning is easier in adolescence or in adulthood the answer is usually adolescence. The reasons are self-evident as youth learners are in the middle of a learning process (because they go to school, or to university) and they learn generally easier than adults that have not been in an active learning process for years.
However, adults might have an advantage when it comes to motivation. Students often only learn languages because they are "forced" to do so to pass exams etc. In contrast, adult learners usually really want to learn the language either for their own interest or because they need it for their job and the motivation is generally higher when these reasons apply. Yet, there are scientists who argue that there are no differences between adult and youth learners as general findings show that in key skills age does not matter.
While acknowledging these different results of SLA research in connection to age, society still has to decide when it is best to start L2 instruction. It is generally believed that the earlier a person is exposed to a second language the more likely it is that he/she achieves native-like mastery of this language. But is that really the goal? Is it so important to speak a foreign language in a way that the speaker is undistinguishable from native speakers? There is no right answer to this as many L2 learners set native-like proficiency as their ultimate goal. However, in most cases it is not very realistic to follow such a goal and one has to take into account that successful communication should be the centre of attention. Eventually, it is probably not that important when the SLA process starts, if the learner keeps in mind that understanding and being understood is the actual goal.
Age may also be seen in connection to time, as it is common knowledge that the longer somebody learns a foreign language the better they get. Many linguists argue that it is not important in which age the exposure to the second language starts or takes place but to which extend. The perfect example would be people who move to other countries in which another language is spoken. They are exposed to the new language many hours a day (for example at school, at work, at home: television, radio) and therefore learn the language relatively fast.
In contrast to this stands primary and secondary education for example in Austria where pupils usually have two or three hours of English lessons a week. Even in high school the amount of hours is usually not higher than three per week. One will come to the conclusion that three hours of exposure to a foreign language per week is not a lot to provide enough input to create a high proficiency over the years. In addition to that, it is not very realistic to believe that there is more than one student per class (in secondary or high school) who uses the L2 in his/her leisure time (e.g. watch English movies). Thus, the discussion should probably not be about the age of people when they acquire a language but about the amount of input/exposure to the second language.
To understand the influence of gender on SLA the distinction between sex and gender has to be very clear. While sex refers to the physiological characteristics that distinguish men and women, gender refers to the social roles that belong to men and women, according to society. Thus, gender is a social construct.
For many centuries there has been a difference between the education boys received and the education girls received. Additionally, boys and girls studied different languages until a few decades ago. It was very normal that boys had to study Greek and Latin, while girls usually learned the languages to which we may refer today as "modern languages", such as French and English. There is already a certain pattern behind this, namely that boys used to learn systematic languages, while girls used to learn communicative languages. Therefore, in past times there was a difference between male and female second language acquisition that was decided by society.
Today, in general, every child in the same country learns the same L2. The most interesting question is, if there is also a natural difference in SLA between men and women. There are research research findings that point out that in the process of first language acquisition girls are usually faster than boys. Moreover, it is known that men and women use language in a different way, which is however again something that is more likely to be connected with society (nurture) than cognitive traits (nature).
A study in 2007 brought new results to the question whether the brains of boys and girls work different when it comes to language. The stunning result was that they do. Researchers from Northwestern University and the University of Haifa tested 31 boys and 31 girls in the ages between nine and fifteen. The scientists measured the participants' brain activity as they performed different language tasks such as writing and spelling.
For the first time -- and in unambiguous findings -- researchers from Northwestern University and the University of Haifa show both that areas of the brain associated with language work harder in girls than in boys during language tasks, and that boys and girls rely on different parts of the brain when performing these tasks. [...] The researchers found that girls still showed significantly greater activation in language areas of the brain than boys. The information in the tasks got through to girls' language areas of the brain -- areas associated with abstract thinking through language. [...] In boys, accurate performance depended -- when reading words -- on how hard visual areas of the brain worked. In hearing words, boys' performance depended on how hard auditory areas of the brain worked.
Researchers are not sure if these results would be the same with adults. However, it is to mention that women tend to give more information and provide more context than men. In contrast, men get confused easily by too much information and tend to formulate things easier. These facts relate to the findings of the study (cf. EurekAlert! 2011).
The way in which individual learners process the input (i.e. the information) they are exposed to the easiest can be referred to as learning style. Scientists distinguish between various different learning styles but the most important ones are visual, auditory, kinaesthetic and environmental. Visual learners learn best when they see the material they need to learn, auditory learners like to hear somebody speak or speak the material they have to study themselves, kinaesthetic learners learn fastest when they can touch something and environmental learners prefer to match the environment in a way that makes them feel comfortable.
This is of course not the only possibility to categorize learning styles but probably the easiest distinction as most people can find their learning style in one of the four categories. There are two learning styles with which learners identify most frequently, namely visual and auditory. Thus, it is not surprisingly that most teaching methods focus on these areas. Moreover, today every teacher offers his/her students both visual (power-point presentations, overhead, worksheets, scripts, demonstrations etc.) and auditory (talking, listening to CDs etc.) input.
A further approach to differentiate learning styles is on the cognitive level. Learners can be either field independent or field dependent. Field independent learners do not connect the facts to a wider area/field of interest. In contrast, field dependent learners see the facts in the context of a whole field and the fact is only a part of the whole. For many years field independent learners were believed to achieve higher success in second language acquisition. However, Dörnyei and Skehan (2003) state that further research on this topic is necessary to prove the connection between field (in)dependence and SLA.
There are learners who like to work individually (i.e. on their own) while some prefer to work in a group. It rarely happens that a learners argue that they work well in both situations. To work alone has the advantage to be able to organize the workload, develop own ideas and that there is no need to be considerate of others etc. The disadvantages are that the individual learners have more to do on their own and they do not get the chance to be inspired by others' ideas. In contrast, groups have the advantage to provide only a small workload for each group member, there are many ideas and only the best ones will be taken, etc., while the negative sides are the fact that each group member is dependent on others and their time schedules.
Furthermore, some learners even argue that they are incapable of learning anything when working in a group (which means they do not benefit from group work) while others depend on colleagues to study and understand difficult concepts.
Lightbown and Spada (2007: 65) argue "that languages exist in social contexts". This is of course true because language is always connected to its speakers and their culture(s). Such social factors of languages can influence motivation, attitude and sometimes even the success of a second-language learner (cf. Lightbown and Spada 2007: 65).
Language has to do with the distribution of power in a society. It depends if the language is spoken by a huge part of the population of a country or of a small part only. In addition, the whole attitude of learners depends highly whether the learner is from a linguistic majority learning the language of a minority or vice versa (cf. Lightbown and Spada 2007: 65). This stands in connection to prestige, as it is more likely that it is prestigious for a language-minority member to learn a majority language than for a majority-member to learn a minority language. This applies in reality to countries such as the US, in which many Spanish immigrants speak English, but not half as much Americans speak Spanish. Moreover, it is for sure more prestigious for Spanish people to speak perfect American English than it is for Americans to speak perfect Spanish.
A further social factor is identity. No matter which language children learn as their first language, this is the language that forms the identity of the child. Language gives people a feeling of belonging to some group or community which is important for the identity of the individual. If a child is raised bilingually it often happens that the child feels torn between two communities or even two forms of the own identity. Society usually wants such bilingual persons to decide on one group affiliation, which means in order to be accepted by society bilinguals have to decide who they are, and which language (and culture) is their preferred one. This happens because humans tend to categorize people to understand them better, and if a person doesn't fit into a clear category he/she is different, and that's usually considered negative by society.
However, it gets more and more common that people don't have to decide what their preferred language, or culture or identity is; they can be/have more than one. At the moment society is opening towards people who are different, and it is not that important any more where a person comes from and which language he/she speaks.
It is not common that a single learner studies a language from a single teacher. This fact leads to the importance of group dynamics in SLA. Language groups can consist of a different number of people but in general the groups are made up of 12 (rather likely in adult education) to 30 (rather likely in school) students. The groups can consist of people of different ages, background, motivation etc. But no matter how the group is comprised, learners influence each other through their own behaviour in the language classroom.
For example if one learner is very motivated and talented, raises his/her hand more often than others and seems to know more, he/she is very likely to intimidate the others and this can even lead to a decrease in the success (or motivation) of the other learners. Another example would be a few interested learners in a group of uninterested learners. They interested ones would probably be limited through the non-motivation of the others. In contrast, it can also happen that a very high-levelled group can push some weaker learners to better results. It is to understand that group dynamics can be positive and negative, but learners are hardly ever not influenced by their colleagues (cf. Ellis 1991: 101f).
Use of Findings in the Language Classroom
The findings and theories presented earlier are not only interesting for theoretical but also for practical use in the language classroom. Teachers can apply them as well as learners to improve their way of teaching/learning a foreign language.
Concerning the topic of second language aptitude teachers and learners should be aware that there is some kind of aptitude for languages and that not every learner learns with the same speed and ease but also that everybody can gain some proficiency if they want to do so. People who are involved in SLA should also know that there is not one type of intelligence and that it does not apply that if one does not have this intelligence he/she is stupid and will never achieve anything. The concept of intelligence rather needs to be seen positively, because everybody has talents and everybody is intelligent in one or the other way. Teachers should not give up on students because they seem to be hopeless cases.
Personal characteristics influence second language learning and the learner should be seen as an individual. Every person has a different potential, speed and way to approach tasks. Furthermore, a teacher can create an atmosphere in which the students like to be, which reduces problems such as anxiety in the classroom.
Every teacher knows that he/she has a huge influence on the students' motivation. The way in which the contents of a subject are presented is important for the motivation of a class.
According to Lightbown and Spada there are a few tricks how to keep a class of students motivated. Firstly, it is important to inform students at the beginning of a lesson what the topics of this lesson will be so that they can get interested in the topics before they are covered by the teacher. Secondly, a teacher should not stick to the same structure every lesson. It has been found out that the attention of students drops if the teacher follows the same pattern or uses the same activities all the time. Finally, it can be helpful for the motivation of students if the teacher asks them to work in groups. Students do not compete against each other in such a situation (which relaxes weaker ones) and single students get motivated because they know that the other group members need their participation to complete the task (cf. 2007: 65).
However, group work is not always positive for every individual learner and therefore it should not be a constant situation and teachers should probably allow learners to work on their own if they prefer to do so.
When it comes to age in SLA every teacher and learner should know that every learner who wants to acquire some skills in a foreign language will achieve, no matter what his/her age is. The process of acquisition may take longer with some learners and some may not gain absolute proficiency, but communication should be the goal when instructing and learning a second language.
In respect to the topic of gender and the findings form the study of 2007 it is obvious that in a classroom setting, boys need to be taught language both visually (with a textbook) and orally (through a lecture) to get a full grasp of the subject, whereas girls may be able to pick up the concepts by either method.
Teachers should be aware that there are different learning styles and that they should try to offer some helpful form of input for every learner. Of course, this is not easy and unfortunately also not very realistic when there are 30 students sitting in one classroom and the teacher has to follow a specific curriculum. However, a few methods of input should be offered by every teacher to give every student the best chance to take some advantage out of the covered material.
For visual learners and auditory learners (as already mentioned above) it is not difficult to present the material in a helpful way as most teachers "talk and show" anyway. This means for visual learners a teacher needs to present things graphically and he/she should demonstrate things if possible. Auditory learners enjoy lectures (a case in which the teacher speaks a lot) and discussions (in which they can actively apply the acquired knowledge and also deepen it, and in which they can hear other students describing the same topic in different words).
It is a little more difficult to present material according to kinaesthetic learners' preferred way of learning as they like to touch things to keep information in mind best. For subjects such as Biology and Chemistry there are "props" available anyway (human skeleton, experiments in the chemistry laboratory). In other subjects teachers can help students by giving them written assignments, having them take notes and letting them participate in activities.
When it comes to environmental learners (which actually anyway applies to a very small percentage of students) the best option would maybe be to let them do a huge part of their studies at home, where they can control their own environment. Relatively new methods such as online learning make this way of studying possible. Another attempt to help the environmental learners is already to be observed in recent years because schools repaint, decorate and furnish the classrooms to create a more pleasant learning environment.
The awareness that there are different learning styles is important for students as well. If for example an auditory learner tries to study vocabulary by only reading it (i.e. not aloud) he/she will need more time to remember the vocabulary. If the same learner knows that his/her learning style is auditory he/she can for example record the vocabulary and listen to it to learn it.
Learning a language always happens in a social context and therefore teachers and students should be aware that different social factors have an influence on the acquisition of a foreign language. Teachers should especially watch out for group dynamics as they can affect the learning situation in the language classroom and the individual progress of each student.
As the chapter "Use of Findings in the language classroom" already presents some kind of summary of the presented factors there is not much left to say at this point. In this thesis I was able to present that there are various differences that influence second language learning. Not every factor bears the same importance, but all of the definitions and findings can help to understand the way SLA works for individual persons better.
As already mentioned in the beginning it is not possible to line out every detail of the individual differences of SLA in a 20-page paper, but I tried to give a good overview of the theories and offer the most interesting findings in some areas. This paper also shows that some factors that influence SLA still need further research, and that complex topics such as age in SLA are highly discussed by linguists.
The presented factors need not to be seen as single points, but as an interdependent system. To get back to an example that was already mentioned above: although a student has a language aptitude, he/she won't be able to gain a high proficiency if he/she lacks motivation.
The aim of this paper was to show how and why every second language learner is different. At the beginning one may think that he/she is already familiar with most of the features that influence SLA but at a closer look, there is so much more behind this topic, and every day new studies are conducted and new results are presented, which keeps the topic of individual differences in second language acquisition not only up to date but also highly interesting.
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