Applied Linguistics

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 12 September 2016

Applied Linguistics

Second language learning has always become an important work-field both in schools and other private sectors dealing with language teaching and learning process especially in the time of global integration. It is a complex activity involving a mix of internal factors such as age, aptitude, motivation, personality, or learning strategies…and external factors such as socio-economic and cultural background, learning and teaching contexts… All these factors play a very important role in learners? success in acquiring and using a second language.

Thus, learners’ second language achievement can be greatly improved when teachers have a better understanding of the learner, of the learning process and of the variables that may help or hinder learner’s language achievement. Because of the limited size of this article, I am going to discuss some of the most important factors affecting learner’s second language achievement: motivation, age, personality, social and cultural factor in order to analyze what stimulates successful language learning and what places obstacles in the learner’ s path to language proficiency.


II. 1. Some factors affecting learner’s L2 achievement II. 1. 1. Internal factors II. 1. 1. 1. Motivation It is undeniable that motivation is one of the major factors in deciding the learner’s failure or success in second language achievement. Motivation is a kind of desire for learning. It is very difficult to teach a second language in a learning environment if the learner does not have a desire to learn a language. Reece & Walker (1997) stress that a less able student who is highly motivated can achieve greater success than the more intelligent student who is not well motivated.

In this article, we are concerned with motivation related to foreign language teaching and learning. Wilkins (1972) points out that “motivation is not a general covert term for possibly distinct concept such as energy, interest and enjoyment, but instead, restricted to the degree of willingness to learn which depends largely on the learner’s needs in learning the language. Psychologists have distinguished two major types of motivation which play an important role in determining how willing the learner is to persevere with the task: instrumental and integrative motivation The first motivation will be discussed is instrumental motivation.

It is generally characterized by the desire to obtain something practical or concrete from the study of a second language (Hudson 2000). With instrumental motivation, the purpose of language acquisition is more utilitarian, such as meeting the requirements for school or university graduation, applying for a job, requesting higher pay based on language ability, reading technical material, translation work or achieving higher social status. Instrumental motivation is often characteristic of second language acquisition, where little or no social integration of the learner into a community using the target language takes place.

According to Richards (1976) simply learning a language to acquire course credits, or to carry out a limited range of tasks that do not involve the learner in close face – to – face interaction ( for example a person learning enough English to sell souvenirs to tourists does not generally lead to a high degree of accomplishment in learning). However, in recent years, according to Brown (1977), he stated that Indian English is one example of a variety of English which can be acquired very successful for instrumental reasons alone.

Another motivation will be taken into consideration is integrative motivation. According to Gardner and Lambert (1959), this kind of motivation means learning a language because the learner wishes to identify himself with or become integrated in the society whose language it is. It has generally been thought that integrative motivation is the more powerful of the two because it implies a desire to integrate with speakers of the target language. Instrumentally oriented students would be expected to acquire the second language only to the point where their instrumented goals were satisfied.

It is likely that when the learner merely wanted to be able to buy food and take public transportation he could achieve those goals with a very low level of proficiency in the second language and if the learner had to use the target language in his professional life, his level of learning would be much higher.

Learners with integrative motivation view the language as a key to social and cultural enrichment through the opportunities to provide for association with members of a different culture. Then their goal in learning the language is to be able to use the language as a means of communication and also for acceptance by the people who speak the language. Such motivation often leads to high accomplishment.

In settings such as Vietnam, learners who learn English for special purposes have a great deal of instrumental motivation to acquire English in order to be able to be applied for a good job with a high salary. They learn English very fast just because they want to communicate orally, in a very simple English with other speakers of English. In Vietnam, English is a compulsory subjects so almost all of students learn English just to pass the exam.

Thus, the type of language learned namely forms as mainly for communicative use will be directly affected by the type of examination students need to pass. As a result, it is likely that learners will not achieve a high standard of English. II. 1. 1. 2. Language aptitude As has been discussed in the previous section, success in mastering a foreign language depends very much on the learner’s motivation. Beside the motivation factor, social psychologists have also found out that whether a student can learn a foreign language very successfully or not also depends on his language aptitude.

This section is an attempt to discuss an intrinsic factor influencing foreign language learning that is language aptitude. Aptitude for language learning is usually composed of four different types of abilities: the ability to identify and memorize new sounds, the ability to understand the function of particular words in sentences, the ability to figure out grammatical rules from language samples, the ability to memorize new words. Many tests of language aptitude have proven extremely effective in predicting which learners will be successful in learning.

However, considerable controversy remains about whether language aptitude is properly regarded as a unitary concept, an organic property of the brain, or as a complex of factors including motivation and short-term memory. Research has generally shown that language aptitude is quite distinct from general aptitude or intelligence, as measured by various tests, and is itself fairly consistently measurable by different tests. Language aptitude research is often criticized for being irrelevant to the problems of language learners, who must attempt to learn a language regardless of whether they are gifted for the task or not.

This claim is reinforced by research findings that aptitude is largely unchangeable. In addition, traditional language aptitude measures such as the Modern Language Aptitude Test strongly favor decontextualized knowledge of the sort used in taking tests, rather than the sort used in conversation. For this reason little research is carried out on aptitude today. However, operators of selective language programs such as the United States Defense Language Institute continue to use language aptitude testing as part of applicant screening. In my opinion, as a teacher of English, aptitude plays an important role in learner’s language achievement.

How is it that some people can learn a foreign language quickly while others, given the same opportunity experience utter failure? Does this depend on how language is taught? Partly this is true as when the teacher is equipped with a better language teaching method, his students can learn faster. But partly it is not true as in the same group there always exists fast and slow learners. Another answer to the question is the problem of “motivation” but not all students with the same motivation can have the same accomplishment. Another possible answer to the question is that some people have language aptitude while others do not.

II. 1. 1. 3. Learner’s age The previous section dealt with the learner’s language aptitude, a factor that influences language acquisition a great deal. This section will take into consideration another factor – age which has received a number of opinions so far. In the past few decades, the comparisons among child, adolescent and adult learners have been made by many researchers, and the different findings as well as explanations have been reported. Traditionally, research in Critical Period Hypothesis and other variables has derived two major aspects of language learning–the younger = the better and the older = the better.

However, recently the scholars in the fields of linguistics, psychology and psycholinguistics have reported their study or experiment results continually, resulting in completely different points of view so the argument for or against the Critical Period Hypothesis has never stopped. The question of how developmental stages interact with individual learning differences is still a question of great debate. Is there an optimal age, a critical period or a sensitive period? How does the age factor affect the development of linguistic abilities? Are adults really inferior to children and even to adolescents?

There exists a belief that younger learners have certain advantages over older learners in language learning. According to Ellis in 2008; Larsen-Freeman in 2008; Mayberry & Lock in 2003, Robert Dekeyser in 2000, younger children learn L2 easily and quickly in comparison to older children. Larsen-Freeman & Long in 2008 also suggest that there is a period of time, between birth and somewhere around the age when a child enters puberty, exists in which the learning a second language can be accomplished more rapidly and easily than times falling outside of this period (i. e. post puberty).

This is because children are in the most flexible condition learning a foreign language. This stage might be strongly impressed on their brain, which can stimulate nervous function system, and the further learning can help them to form language habit and competency easi1y. however Researchers also disagree with withdrawing home language support too soon and suggest that although oral communication skills in a second language may be acquired within 2 or 3 years, it may take 4 to 6 years to acquire the level of proficiency needed for understanding the language in its academic uses (Collier, 1989; Cummins, 1981).

So children who are taught L2 intensively too early will damage their L1 acquisition. Another belief reported by Johnson and Newport, Dekeyser, Asher and Price, Politzer and Weiss, Olson and Samuel, Lightbown and Spada (2008) that older learners have a higher level of problem solving and metalinguistics abilities than younger learners.. The young learners are considered fluent in communication of the second language and achieve native like accent. Learners after the age of puberty do not acquire native like accent of a second language but have complex learning pattern.

Research suggests that children and adults L2 learners pass through different developmental states in second language learning. Learning depends on the cognitive maturity and neurological factors. Adults’ cerebra nerve network has come into being completely, and their thinking habits have become mature in this period. They can deal with complicated language form and contents easily, because their meta-language consciousnesses, common sense and literary knowledge are better than children.

In general, age is important but not everything in second language learning. There are some factors related to the age, for example the learning opportunities, the motivation to learn, individual differences, and learning styles, are also important determining variables that affect the rate of second language learning in various developmental stages of the learners. II. 1. 1. 4. Learner’s personality We have mentioned some important factors influencing learner’s second language achievement such as motivation, language aptitude and age.

In this section we continues with some specific personality factors in human behavior in relation to second language acquisition. The psychological factors to be discussed here are self-esteem, inhibition, extroversion/ introversion. Self –esteem is the degree of value, a worthiness which an individual ascribes to himself. According to Schuman in 1978 and Brown in 1980, there are three kinds of self- esteem: global, specific and task self – esteem. How is self –esteem related to second language acquisition?

Brown (1980) states that specific self- esteem might refer to second language acquisition in general but task- esteem might approximately refer to one’s self-evaluation of a particular aspect of the language process: speaking, writing… A study by Adelaide Heyde (1979) revealed that all three aspects of self-esteem correlated positively with performance in oral production and student with high self –esteem actually performed better in the foreign language. Inhibition – sets of defences built to protect the ego, a concept closely related to self-esteem and of course has to be considered by teachers.

Language learners, children or adults, make progress by learning from making mistakes but at the same time, making mistakes can be viewed as a threat to one’s ego. As a result, the learner tends to build a certain degree of defence to protect himself. Guiora et al… (1972a) produced one of the few studies in inhibition in relation to second language learning, and the experiments have been high-lighted a possibility that the inhibition, the defence which we place between ourselves and others can prevent us from communicating in a foreign language.

. Another factor which also needs some examination is extraversion and introversion. Language teachers often assume that the extraverts are better language learner than introverts. In a language class, the teacher tends to prefer to have more students with an outgoing and talkative personality. At an early stage, extroverts seem to speak the language better than the introverts, but this does not mean that the proficiency of a more introverted student will be lower. This depends very much on the goal of learning.

It can be argued that the reserved learner may be very quiet but he can be a good language learner in the sense that he is good in aural and reading comprehension even though he cannot speak. Thus, it is not clear then that extraversion or introversion helps or hinders the process of second language acquisition and it is hard to say which is ideal for language learning. II. 1. 2. External factors The previous section examined some aspects of internal factors. This section accounts for some equally important external factors which also affect learner’s second language achievement.

As language teachers we are faced with factors such as the social context of learning, the cultural differences between two language involved. The learning environment of the educational context and the teaching method being used. Most of these are largely beyond our control but nevertheless they are important because they can affect, sometimes decide the learner’s internal factors in learning. To improve teaching and stimulate better learning, these factors should be taken into consideration.

II. 1. 2. 1. Social factor The child’s acquisition of his mother tongue is affected by the condition under which it takes place. The same influence is also relevant to learning of a second or foreign language. The classroom itself is a kind of social setting where each student has a role, so his success of learning a foreign language is, to some extent, determined by the teacher- student relationship and the student- student relationship. The teacher’s love for his job is often an encouragement to his students in their learning.

According to Cheatain (1976), student is also strongly encouraged to learn the language when his teacher is always hopeful. The student- student relationship is no less important. This instance concerns face- saving. No students likes to let his errors be known to his friends, so correction of errors by the group is helpful when there is non- hostile trusting climate in the classroom. In addition to the classroom features of the learning situation itself, there are factors in the wider social context that influence language learning.

Teaching never occurs in a vacuum. Any subject occupies a position in the syllabus in order to meet a need of all part of the school population. Second language or foreign language teaching is not an exception. As the political, economic and historical conditions change, the course objectives are altered. In a great number of countries it so happens that shifting political economic and social conditions often bring about the change in status of a second or foreign language. For example, English was not introduced into the school curriculum in Vietnam until 1971.

Nowadays, when Vietnam is a member of WTO, English becomes a compulsory subject as it is an international language of commercial and official communication. Political factors are not the only ones that influence second language learning. Other attitudes towards language learning which are characteristic of the society to which the learner belongs are particularly important to the success of language learners. In Vietnam, the ability of using English fluently is a special qualification for certain favored jobs, but in others like the UK or the USA, learning another language is little more than a hobby.

Obviously, all the different attitudes, which actually stem from political, economic or historical causes play an important part in the overall achievement in foreign language learning. II. 1. 2. 2. Cultural factors It is obvious that knowing a second language no longer means merely having acquired some linguistic competence: the ability to construct grammatically correct sentences. It also includes the acquisition of communicative competence: the ability to communicate the second language.

To the extent that language is culturally acquired, one can never learn a second language successfully without learning the culture of that language. In the article “Talking across culture” in 1981, Richards argues that those who are supposed to know a foreign language must have linguistic competence, communicative competence and social competence as well. By social competence, he means that the learner is expected to know how to behave in a speech community of speakers of the target language. In other words, he must be familiar with the culture of the native speakers otherwise, he will be

shocked, or fail to understand native speakers even though he is linguistically competent. It can be concluded that anyone decides to learn a certain language properly, culture is something he cannot avoid in the process. In teaching English, we need to be aware of the cultural assumptions that the students already possess. We also need to be aware of the cultural assumptions that surround the use of English. Functions and structures used to be examined for cultural content, it cannot be assumed that they are neutral. II. 2. Language teaching implications.

For the reason that motivation plays a very important role in second language achievement, the task of the teacher is to maximize the motivation. Teachers should raise students’ interest in learning English so that they no longer learn English to pass the exam or to fulfill curriculum’s requirement but for the desire to interact and communicate with foreigners… In order to achieve these goals, teachers should vary the activities, tasks and materials, provide students with opportunities for interaction in the target language in and outside the language learning environment through preplanned, and authentic activities.

As a result, students will be more interested in learning English. Not many researchers have carried out research about language aptitude because it is something that teachers are powerless to alter. Students vary in terms of aptitude so teachers should categorize them according to their aptitude profiles. For example, one group was identified as having particularly good memory abilities (relative to other abilities), and another group was identified as being high in verbal analytical abilities.

It is the duty of teachers to select appropriate teaching approaches and activities based on learners’ aptitude profiles to accommodate their differences in aptitude. If the methodology matches students, they will learn better otherwise it may decrease students’ second language achievement. We all know that different ages have different ways of learning and different ways of achieving language. The differences among the three age groups (children, adolescents and adults) are really existent and the biological L2 learning conditions are unchangeable.

Learners of different ages and stages should use different strategies. Thus, the teacher’s duty is different in the three groups and the teaching approaches and strategies should cater for the traits of students. For example, children use strategies unconsciously and their teacher should help them form good learning habits in this period. Some adolescents might be unable to be aware of using learning strategies, and others use too many complex and sophisticated learning strategies in L2 language learning, which might not ensure to achieve high level.

Adult learners prefer analytic-style strategies such as comparative and contrastive analysis, generalization rules learning, and dissecting words and phrases. As a result, teachers should manipulate a number of options according to the aim of the teaching and learning, such as different reading materials, the speed of teaching procedures, etc… Suitable approach and strategies for each trait of age will help learners achieve language better, compensate the shortcomings and take good advantage of in three groups. As the results listed in the previous part indicate, learners differ in terms of personality.

Some students are very reserved, some are self- confident, some are ready to take a risk but others do not. Understanding each student’s personality is extremely important to every teacher not except for teacher of English. When teacher know students’ characteristics, they can use appropriate methods for each of them. For example, most of Vietnamese students are still basically shy and withdrawn. Then teachers should involve a lot of pair and group work instead of using the teacher- students questions and answers.

Teachers should use cooperative rather than competitive goals to create a supportive and non-threatening learning atmosphere. Besides, teachers should encourage and support students all the time especially when they are struggling or lacking confidence in certain areas. Good teachers will know how to adapt their methods of teaching to different learners’ personalities to have best results in second language achievement. It cannot be denied that social context has a big influence on situation of second language teaching and learning of each nation.

Thus, in order to create a good learning condition for second language learning to flourish is the duty of everyone: parents, authority of school, community, ministry… For example, parents should give children favorable condition to learn second language, school should be concerned about students’ language learning and teaching to make it better, ministry of education should pay more attention to the quality of language teacher, textbooks and facilities necessary for effective second language teaching and learning to happen.

Culture is very important in second language learning so the duty of teachers is to raise students’ awareness of cultural differences between countries. When teaching a foreign language such as English, teachers should teach students language competence along with socio- cultural competence. Both teachers and authorities should bear in mind that learning about other cultures does not mean changing one’s own values and world outlook.

On the contrary, by comparing some aspects of cultures in different societies, students may better appreciate their own culture and tradition and avoid false stereotypes which may result in either prejudice against other culture or blind belief that other cultures are superior. A successful language learner is a person who not only knows how to make grammatical and meaningful sentences but also knows how to use them in appropriate situations and a good language teacher is a person who knows how to help them do so successfully.


In conclusion, the success in second language acquisition depends largely on many factors but some of the most important factors can be mentioned are motivation, language aptitude, learner’s age and personality, social and cultural context. Thus, knowing these factors and how they influences learners’ second language achievement is very crucial to teachers of foreign languages in general and English in particular. Their language can be greatly improved when teachers have a better understanding of the learner, of the learning process and of the variables that may help or hinder learner’s language achievement.

IV. REFERENCE Krishna K. B , “Age as an Affective Factor in Second Language Acquisition”, Troy Universityn Press. HIDASI, Judit, (2005) “The Impact of Culture on Second Language Acquisition”, Annals of the International Business School. Hoan, P. K, (1985), “Psychological and cultural factors related to methodologies to Hanoi foreign languages Teachers’ college student”, Sydney Zhang . J, (2006) Sociocultural Factors in Second Language Acquisition, Sino-US English Teaching, Volume 3, No. 5 (Serial No. 29) Mehmet, N. G, (2001) “the effects of age and motivation factors on second language acquisition” F? rat University Journal of Social Science. tic


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  • University/College: University of California

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 12 September 2016

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