There are a plethora of challenges that pertains to the learning of the second learning. The process of foreign language acquisition that is often a second language is characterized by certain difficulties that narrow down to individual attributes. It is worthy to understand the various factors that make it easy for students or some people to learn a second language faster than their counterparts. It is important to note that despite similar learning conditions, there are possibilities that different people will take different periods of time to understand and learn a given language that is not their first language. The process of learning a second language is thus affected by various external and personal factors no wonder it differs across all platforms of learning. These factors have been detrimental to the learning speed of a person and their comprehension abilities thus leading to disparity in the learning abilities of a person. The paper looks into various elements of individual differences that have an impact on the process of learning a second language. It looks into several aspects that define the individual differences and how they directly or indirectly influence the learning process.
There are growing concerns about gaining knowledge of additional language besides one’s mother tongue. It is due to numerous social, economic, and greater extent political factors. The world has become a global village. Everyday people tend to interact with virtual compatriots through the exploits of technology. The adoption of technology has made it easy to interact with people from other geographical areas and cultures (Goh & Silver 2004). However there are challenges that it poses. One of the challenges faced is communication barrier. A case scenario is when there is a well-paid job opportunity offered in another language. There would be a multiplicity of challenges to take the job. It would be virtually impossible to communicate effectively, a critical element of a corporate relationship. Therefore, there would be the need for acquisition of knowledge of their language to communicate effectively. Several interrogated studies have indicated that individual differences define the significant disparity in the learning process of a second language. Individual differences are regarded as the patterns that influence cognitive abilities of an individual towards learning of a different dialect (Lightbown & Spada 1999). It helps explain the learning abilities and the variations exhibited in learning a second language. It also offers implicit and explicit understanding into the various individual factors that determine the effectiveness of the second language. It also puts into perspective the effects of these cognitive abilities on the second language acquisition. It also examines how these factors intertwine to explain the differential learning processes.
The importance of conducting the research is to bridge the research gap from the previous studies on the subject and help future second language, L2; learners and tutors understand the dynamics of acquiring a second language. Contrary to the other researches on this topic, my research puts a specific focus on the East Asia population. The research explores the linguistic capabilities of second language learners with respect to this specific race. This project uses qualitative research methods to uncover the underlying disparities in second language acquisition about individual learner attributes and factors. It is thus a qualitative research to help find out how individual learners differences affect the learning the foreign dialect. It also explores how these factors can be used to help in teaching the second language. Qualitative research has been useful in similar studies. For instance; researches conducted by Lee & Gupta (2005) as well as Zafar & Meenakshi (2012) used the methodology to explore the various factors in learning the L2 but their researches were limited to the general learner rather than specific orientation like culture or race.
How do individual learner differences influence the acquisition of second language by East Asian learners?
Several studies have been conducted on this topic to pin the facts and intrinsically determine how the individual learner differences impacts on the level of second language learning. In the empirical studies by linguistic scholars on the subject, several individual factors have been laid bare and found to have either directly or indirectly impacted on the L2 acquisition capabilities.
According to Lightbown & Spada (1999), age is one individual factor that determines and affects the ease with which learners get to acquire the second language. In her analogy, there is a sizable level of success in younger people’s ability and swiftness in learning the second language. However, she denotes the assumption that many people make on learning the second language regarding age. While there are numerous parameters for measuring success, she argues that sometimes it is not right to assume that children are more successful in learning the second language. Peregoy et al. (2013), asserts that it is important to outline the various philosophically acceptable definitions of success before making the assumption that children were more successful than the adult. Several definitions have been fronted by different researchers and scholars in the field of lingual studies. Some scholars have defined it as the ultimate result while some associate it with the fluency and the functional competence in speaking the acquired language. She discredits the evaluation criteria used to reach such deductions as lacking the sensibility and threshold to warrant the ultimate judgment. There is an interconnection between the first language and the second language acquisition, and thus, the degree of learning L1 would spell hopes for second language acquisition. Certain physiological changes are the critical determinant of language acquisition. She underlines how these physiological factors can make one acquire a language either quickly or act as an impediment for the learner. She gives an example of a young child, Genie, who was abused and kept in isolation for more than thirteen years. After that period of isolation, it was apparently tough for her to acquire even her first language. She had been deprived of all modes of language input. The little girl failed to develop any linguistic skill and knowledge of her mother tongue. She argues that such isolation would make it even harder to learn the second language with normalcy. Mackey (2007) argues that normal learning process would be ideal for young age compared to old age. It is under normal conditions that age has an advantage. VanPatten & Williams (2006) says that critical period is a component of proximity in the speed of language acquisition. At this stage, the learning process is optimal, and one can easily acquire any language at a faster rate. Therefore, age as an individual learner difference plays a critical role in the second language learning by determining the speed at which one acquires a new language.
According to Ortega & Byrnes (2008), sex is another individual difference that impacts on the second language learning process. It is important to note that the study on gender issues about individual learner differences are at a juvenile stage. Moreover, the studies have not been proven scientifically, but studies have indicated that female second language learners integrate greatly with the with the language modules. Studies have also shown that female learners have wider social strategies they employ to the process of L2 acquisition. The author also asserts that there are significant and notable differences in gender variation when it comes to language learning. Studies have shown that female learners have greater potential and zeal to the language learning than the males. Goh & Silver (2004) affirm that in the acquisition of the first language, female speak faster than male children they exhibit linguistic advantages compared to their male counterparts.
Zafar & Meenakshi (2012) have a conviction that aptitude provides an advantage in L2 learning and has a direct influence on its success. In his view, the author argues that there aptitude is one of the areas in second language learning. There is a belief that people are born with certain abilities that tend to provide them with a competitive advantage over their peers. In the second language learning, it has been assumed that natural linguistic abilities exist in certain people that make them learn languages faster than others. The author says that the assumptions continue to linger in the minds of many people despite the fact that not much has been done to validate the claims. Some models have been designed to help determine the level of success in the learning of foreign languages. Models like MLAT have been implemented to help establish how foreign language learners find it difficult in learning their projected languages (Roberts & Meyer, 2012). It was meant to determine learner’s grammatical sensitivity, phonemic abilities, and learning and memory. Though aptitude is a critical language learning determinant, other authors dispute the fact that it could be the most important element in the learning of second languages. According to Roberts & Meyer (2012), other factors have considerable influence on the L2 learning capabilities than imagined. The factors said are the learning style, personality, and learner motivation that is employed by the learner and their personalities. Aptitude is a component of individuals’ cognitive abilities. It is thus considered to have notable impacts on language learning process.
Winke (2007) argues that motivation is another individual factor that is considered critical in L2 learning. In every aspect of life, motivation serves as the key catalyst to undertaking certain actions. In the context of second language learning, motivation comes with the desire to achieve certain goals in life and as such can have huge impacts on ones’ ability to learn a new language. It is often considered one of the strongest determinants of success in the learning of the second language. Studies have found that motivation brings with it great desire and willingness to pursue a second language, and the desire is translated into the efforts used. According to Goebel (2007), there are two main types of motivation that provide the desire to learn a second language. The author says that learners are either exhibiting integrative motivation or instrumental motivation. Research shows that both motivation types have a direct correlation to with the learning process. They both play different roles in second language learning. All the said types of motivation have the direct impact on the level of second language learning success.
Another factor that has been brought into focus on second language learning is personality. There are several characteristics of personalities that have a direct impact on the success of L2 learning. According to studies conducted by Pütz (2010), introverts were found to have greater ability in learning the L2 then extroverts. It has also been found that successful learning requires that the learner must have reasonable confidence and esteem. Mitchell et al. (2012), further say that the sense of self-belief must be available to enable one gain success in any endeavor. Acquisition of L2 also requires a bit of inhibition, the ability to offer self-protection over an action. Such personalities have been found to provide an advantage in learning the second language.
Despite there being numerous studies conducted in this topic, many researchers have failed to comprehensively provide the learner differences with regard to ethnography. I is thus the study gap that this project attempts to bridge.
The methods used in the research is a qualitative approach that involved collecting data from Mr. Chen, a Cantonese-speaking friend and local neighbor from Hong Kong, and Miss. Tin, who is my classmate from Hong Kong, also Cantonese speaker. The research involved the use of face to face interview with the participants in which they accounted for situations from self-experience on how the individual differences impact second language learning. The face-to-face interview was used as a data collection method. The two participants were interviewed vis-à-vis. The research used transcribing to analyze the data. In this method of analysis, written form of data are closely studied for theoretical and practical considerations to find out how the information gathered answers the research question. The process used reduction and interpretation of data to create meaningfulness in the data collected. The method of data analysis to help compare the different data collected from the two friends about individual learner differences in L2.
Sample interview interaction
Q. Mr. Chen, how old was you when you first learnt English language?
Q. Where did you learn the language?
Q. How difficult was it to learn the language and how can you compare the experience
with any of your peers who also learnt English as a second language?
Q. What motivated you to learn English and why do you think it took you such little time to adapt?
Q. When did you learn English language and how old was you?
Miss Tin: I was 12-years old at the time. My family had just relocated from Hong Kong.
Q. Where did you learn the language?
Miss Tin: I learned English in New York City.
Q. How was your experience learning English as your second language?
Miss Tin: It was excitingly easy. As kid, I and my twin brother found it easy to integrate
with our peers and learn the language. Our age was pivotal in my learning process.
Q. How do you compare your experience to your brother’s?
Miss Tin: It was great that we both began the process together but eventually, I was fluent enough six months into the process while he was still struggling to pronounce certain words as well as finding it difficult to understand what others said. Additionally, my brother did not fancy interacting with others and that might have proved the impediment to his acquisition. He took more than two years to become as good as I already were in six months.
Similarities between the interviewees
Both the interviewees are juveniles.
The interviewees have similar cultural background.
They share a common first language.
They were both learning English as their first language.
Both used interaction as the strategy for learning the second language.
Differences between the interviewees
The first interviewee was a male while the second interviewee was female.
The second interviewee took little time to learn than the first interviewee.
The second interviewee took six months while the first took ten months.
According to the interviewees, minimal forced semantic would be the perfect condition for learning and becoming fluent in the shortest time possible, 6 and 10 months respectively.
The analysis of data collected from the two participants revealed that age is a very critical factor and an individual attribute that have an impact on how fast one learns a second language. Mr. Chen gives his experience learning English language at the age of 10-years. He says that not much effort was required; he only interacted with English speaking kids New York City and the interaction alone yielded a great outcome. He says it took him only ten months to begin speaking English fluently. However, he says a similar attempt at learning English proved a mountain to climb for his 40-year old brother who had visited them from Hong Kong. He stayed for one year in the English-speaking environment but was not able to fully and fluently communicate in English. Drawing from his experience, it was evident that age had an impact on L2 learning between him and his brother. At 10-years, he took only six months but his 40-years old brother took one year without formidable success. It was also evident that aptitude had played a role in the speed of L2 acquisition. At the age of 10 years, Mr. Chen was motivated to learn a second language that would be essential for his communication in the US. It was thus clear that motivation also played a role in his success of L2 learning. His learning style also offered an advantage as he learned through interaction. Miss Tin on her side brought into perspective the idea of gender in the linguistic acquisition process. She says it took her only six months to learn English than her twin brother. From her analogy and account of events, it was evident that sex had played a critical role in L2 learning. Her learning strategies had also worked in her favor. She had been learning through interaction with local kids. Her brother who was also an extrovert found it hard to learn the new language. It would lead to the deduction that personality differences also had a role in L2 learning.
The data collected from the two participants were compared against each other to find out the similarities and differences to help make deductions. Both having been learners at their tender age, they showed the disparity in periods taken to learn the L2. Comparing their said experiences to those of their friends as they provided, it was clear that certain individual learner differences were elementary in defining the learning capabilities. Age was a major determinant in the learning process. As affirmed by Lightbown & Spada (1999), people of younger age stood a better chance of learning the second language. The research also points to the same. Mr. Chen in his assertion admitted that his forty years old brother encountered more difficulties in learning English than him. Motivation was also found to have played a critical role in the process of L2 learning. As Winke (2007) puts it, motivation determines the need for the learning process. The interview reveals that both the interviewee had the need to communicate and that served as a motivation for their learning steps. The findings also points to gender having more influence in the learning process. When female and male child are born at the same time, the female will speak the language earlier than a male child, a manifestation into their linguistic advantages over the male. In the view of Cook (2008), empirical studies have shown that women exhibit linguistic superiority in every aspect language learning with an exception of listening abilities. It is thus essential to bring to the attention that female are superior language learners than males. They further outwit men in all the elements of language learning process. The findings are supported by similar research conducted by Goh & Silver (2004). In their analogy, Goh & Silver (2004) found that female learners became fluent faster than male learners. In the interview, it is evident that despite both learning at the same age group, Miss Tin became fluent faster than Mr. Chen. Also
The role of individual learner differences in the acquisition of second language remains critical to the teaching of L2. Teaching of second language is always faced with difficulties as all learners are foreign to the language. Despite the influence of their mother tongue, the process of acquisition mostly ends as a success. Teaching L2 to learners with linguistic homogeneity thus requires that necessary factors be considered to ensure that L2 teachers are successful in their work. The implications of the research findings are that learning a second language should be done at a tender age since it is characterized by certain physiological factors that make it very easy to learn L2 faster. As found out in the analysis, Mr. Chen could easily integrate and learn the language much faster than the older brother due to disparities in their age. Therefore, when teaching the second language, the linguistic teachers should factor in age and formulate work plans on how it should be integrated into the study to maximize the results. The younger pursuant should be clustered together to enable them share similar physiological advantage. Their age should enable them adapt in similar speed but with minimal disparity due to other factors such as motivation and aptitude. Also, female gender is faster masters of L2 than male. Also, differences in personality had proved instrumental in learning the second language. An extrovert found it a bit hard to learn the second language than an introvert as demonstrated in the case of Miss Tin. Additionally, teachers of English should create an understanding into individual aptitude as a measure of success in the learning process. In this regard, aptitude tests should be adopted to assess learner strengths so that appropriate program can be created to help them. Aptitude was also credited to contribute to the lingual acquisition capabilities. Similarly, age brought extra motivation and the thirst to learn a second language. Therefore, when teaching L2, it is important to put emphasis on the aspects of individual attributes and understand individual differences can work for or against a learner. Thus, it will require that each of them is given different levels of attention. Drawing from the findings of the research, while administering linguistic programs, tutors should consider the gender permutations and teach according to the learner strengths since female learners are faster in acquisition than their male colleagues. It will help manage learners and provide them with befitting timelines for learning.
I recommend that the study be adopted by the linguistic tutors to help them understand the basic needs for individual learners with the Asian cultural orientation so that the process of learning can be effective. It is due to the failure in understanding the learner differences from specific cultural orientation that learning L2 has been seen a difficult endeavor. This research will be useful to learners with East Asian background Additionally, further studies should be conducted on the subject but with intent of scientific determination of biological factors that create the learner disparity. The focus of another study should also be to determine how individual learners from other cultural backgrounds respond to the second language learning.
Lightbown, P. M., & Spada, N. (1999). How languages are learned (3rd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. In-line Citation: (Lightbown & Spada, 1999)
Peregoy, S. F., Boyle, O., & Cadiero-Kaplan, K. (2013). Reading, writing, and learning in ESL: A resource book for teaching K-12 English learners. Boston: Pearson.
Mackey, A. (2007). Conversational interaction in second language acquisition: A collection of empirical studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
VanPatten, B., & Williams, J. (Eds.). (2006). Theories in second language acquisition: An introduction. United States: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. In-line Citation: (VanPatten & Williams, 2006)
Ortega, L., & Byrnes, H. (2008). The longitudinal study of advanced L2 capacities. New York: Routledge.
Goh, C. C., & Silver, R. (2004). Language acquisition and development: A teacher's guide. Singapore: Longman.
Zafar, S., & Meenakshi, K. (2012). Individual Learner differences and Second language acquisition: A review. Journal of Language Teaching and Research, 3(4).
Roberts, L., & Meyer, A. (2012). Individual differences in Second language learning: Introduction. Language Learning, 62, 1–4.
Winke, P. M. (2007). THE PSYCHOLOGY OF THE LANGUAGE LEARNER: INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES IN SECOND LANGUAGE ACQUISITION. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 29(01), . doi:10.1017/s0272263107310061 In-line Citation: (Winke, 2007)
GOEBEL, R. O. (2007). The psychology of the language Learner. Individual differences in Second language acquisition edited by DÖRNYEI, ZOLTÁN. The Modern Language Journal, 91(1), 125–127.
Lee, V., & Gupta, P. D. (Eds.). (2005). Children’s cognitive and language development. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers in association with the Open University.
Mitchell, R., Myles, F., & Marsden, E. (2012). Second language learning theories (3rd ed.). London: Hodder Education.
Pütz, M. (2010). Cognitive processing in Second language acquisition: Inside the Learner’s mind. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Co.
Mangado, M. J. G., Adrian, M. M., & Maria Del Pilar Garcia Mayo (Eds.). (2013). Contemporary approaches to second language acquisition. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Co.
Cook, V. J. (2008). Second language learning and language teaching (4th ed.). London: Oxford University Press.
Where did you learn the language?
How difficult was it to learn the language and how can you compare the experience with any of your peers who also learnt English as a second language?
What motivated you to learn English and why do you think it took you such little time to adapt?
When did you learn English language and how old was you?
Where did you learn the language?
How was your experience learning English as your second language?
How do you compare your experience to your brother’s?