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A presentation by ferhad m as ad ma student on

A presentation by Ferhad M. As’ad, MA Student on

The Individual Variation in Language Performance

March 8, 2011

Variation in language performance
Variation in Language Performance

  • We have discussed several times the fact that some learners appear to be “better” at languages than others and that some people attain higher levels of achievement than others.

  • This presentation looks at some of the non-linguistic factors that might influence these facts.

Non language influences factors
Non-language influences (Factors)

  • Social distance

  • Age

  • Aptitude

  • Motivation and Attitude

  • Anxiety

  • Locus of control and Autonomy

  • Socio-pyschological (personality) factors

  • Learning strategies

  • Where do we stand in terms of what we know about these variables?

Age variations
Age Variations

  • Critical Period Hypothesis(or Sensitive Period Hypothesis)

    • There is an age-related point beyond which it becomes difficult or impossible to learn a second language to the same degree as Native Speakers of that language.

  • Problems:

    • If younger learners are better learners, what do we mean by “better”?

      • Speed? Accuracy?

    • What areas are affected?

    • Is it gradual or sudden?

Age variations research
Age Variations - research

  • Snow & Hoefnagle-Hole (1978) – although adults and adolescents outperformed children after 3 mos. residence in TC, children caught up after 10 months.

  • Tahta, Wood & Loewenthal (1981) – ability to replicate intonational patterns decreases after age 8.

  • Moyer (1999) – in spite of positive learning attributes, phonology (especially suprasegmental phonology) of adult L2 learners remains problematic.

Age variations research1
Age Variations - research

  • Neufeld (1979) – argued that L2 learners can be taught to perform (pronounce) native-like after training.

  • Patkowski (1980) – later learners also have trouble achieving native-like mastery of syntax.

  • Johnson & Newport (1989)- syntactic performance related linearly to age of arrival up until puberty; postpubescent subjects performed poorly regardless of AoA.

  • White & Genesee (1996) – native-like competence is possible even in adult learners

Age variations research2
Age Variations - research

  • Slavoff& Johnson (1995) – Length of stay is important variable rather than age of arrival.

  • Johnson & Newport (1991) – suggest critical period for access to UG Universal Grammar information

  • Bialystok (1997) – adult/child differences are due not to age but to processing differences

  • Coppieters (1987) – although production is similar, NS and NNS have different perceptions about and attitudes toward language.

  • Birdsong (1992) – also found differences on GJ tasks between NS and very fluent NNS.

Age variations research3
Age Variations - research

Long (1990) – reviewed available literature and concluded:

  • Rate of acquisition and level of attainment depend on age at which learning begins.

  • Age-related loss in linguistic is cumulative and gradual, not sudden.

  • Deterioration in linguistic ability begins as early as age 6 (not puberty).

Age differences research
Age differences - research

  • So… WHY are children better learners?

  • Non-L1 related reasons:

    • Social psychological reasons: adults more reluctant to give up sense of identity, surrender their ego.

    • Cognitive factors: adults rely on cognitive skills while children rely on language acquisition device.

    • Neurological changes: loss of plasticity in the brain prevents adults from using their brains like children do.

    • Input: children are exposed to better input than adults are.

  • L1-related reasons

    • Use it then lose it – language learning skills are not available for adults since after we use them we no longer need them and they atrophy or disappear.

    • Learning inhibits learning – L1 associations (i.e., connectionism) are too strong for new associations to be formed correctly

Aptitude and l2 success
Aptitude and L2 success

  • Aptitude has consistently been linked with L2 success (i.e., Skehan 1989), but remains one of the underinvestigated areas of SLA. Why?

    • What is aptitude?

    • How to measure it?

    • How do determine correlation?

Language aptitude
Language Aptitude

  • J. B. Carroll originated a four-component view of aptitude:

    • Phonemic coding ability (discriminate among and encode foreign sounds)

    • Grammatical sensitivity (recognize functions of words in sentences)

    • Inductive language learning ability (infer or induce (conclude) rules from samples)

    • Memory and learning (make and recall associations between words and phrases in L1 and L2)

  • Skehan collapsed #2 and #3 into one category

Language aptitude research
Language Aptitude - Research

  • Assuming these skills are beneficial in SLA and making that connection empirically are two different things…

  • MLAT (Carroll and Sapon 1959)

    • Part I: Number Learning (aural) - Listen on tape to pseudo-words for numbers and then transcribe numbers of up to three digits.

    • Part II: Phonetic Script (aural) - Learn and then demonstrate recognition of correspondences between speech sounds and orthographic symbols.

    • Part III: Spelling Clues - Read words that are spelled as they are pronounced and choose synonyms for them.

    • Part IV: Words in Sentences - Note selected words in model sentences and locate words that have similar functions in other sentences.

    • Part V: Paired Associates - Memorize a lexicon of 24 words from another language, practise, and then be tested on those words.

Language aptitude research1
Language Aptitude - Research

  • Aptitude and Intelligence

    • Are language aptitude and intelligence the same thing?

    • Studies show that they are not (MLAT ~ IQ), although some researchers deny there is such a construct as general intelligence…

  • Aptitude and external factors

    • Series of British government studies found that social class and parental education correlate highly with language aptitude (and language achievement).

Language aptitude research2
Language Aptitude - Research

  • Problems with MLAT:

    • How do we know the sections are testing what they mean?

    • Models of memory employed then are no longer accepted in SLA theories

    • Social and regional dialects impact performance

    • Do we consider aptitude in terms of formal learning only? No, in fact aptitude should be more important in the absence of classroom help, but few studies examine this.

    • Where does aptitude come from? Can it be trained or taught?

Motivation and sla
Motivation and SLA

  • Motivation is the second strongest predictor (after aptitude) of FL success.

  • But what is motivation?

  • Gardner & Lambert (1972, later Gardner et al. …) classify four aspects:

    • A goal

    • Effortful behavior

    • A desire to attain the goal

    • Favorable attitudes toward the activity

    • (Effort includes need to succeed, good study habits, desire to please, etc.)

Motivation and sla1
Motivation and SLA

  • Brehm & Self (1989) define motivation differently:

    • “Potential motivation is created by needs and/or potential outcomes and the expectation that performance of a behavior will affect those needs and outcomes. Motivational arousal occurs, however, only to the extent that the required instrumental behavior is difficult, within one’s capacity, and is justified by the magnitude (size) of potential motivation.”

    • I.e., effort is a RESULT of motivation (not part of it, as Gardner assumes). Also note that this view allows us to deal with motivation to accomplish small goals (vocabulary list, etc.)

Motivation types
Motivation types

  • Gardner (and others) distinguish between two types of motivation:

    • Integrative = desire to integrate with the TL community

    • Instrumental = desire to gain benefits of learning

    • Others have proposed a third category of motivation for those students who are taking a language class to fulfill a requirement…

Motivation research
Motivation – Research

  • How to test motivation?

    • Usually questionnaires that require self-reporting and self-ranking

      • Likert scale (agree – disagree): “French is my least favorite course . . . French is my most preferred course”

      • Multiple choice: “When you have an assignment to do in French, do you….”

  • Self-reporting is clearly problematic (accuracy, awareness, answering what you think you’re supposed to), but how else can we test motivation?

Motivation issues
Motivation – Issues

  • Short-term and Long-term

    • Is long term motivation (i.e., wanting to become fluent in L2) a good enough predictor of success in the short term (i.e., learning verbs, vocabulary, doing homework, etc.)? Or are these two different things?

  • Motivation, success, the chicken and the egg…

    • Does motivation lead to success, or does success lead to motivation? Or both? Or neither?

  • Changes over time

    • Can motivation change over time? How? Why?



“Second language acquisition is complex, being influenced by many factors, both linguistic and nonlinguistic”


  • Consider the factors discussed in this presentation (age, motivation, aptitude)…

    • How does your language partner’s linguistic ability relate (or not) to these factors? Explain.

    • Which two seem the most relevant to SLA? Why?

    • How would you set up a study to examine these factors empirically?

    • Data analysis

A presentation by ferhad m as ad ma student on

Accessed by Ferhad M. Asad on March 8th, 2011