Individual Learner Differences In Second Language Acquisition English Language Essay


Language is defined by scholarly linguists as a “part of growing up” (Cook 2001, p. 46). It is an element of culture regarded as providing motivation to individuals in its own right. It has also been identified as necessary for effective communication and integration into a particular environment. I noted that second languages are different from the primary languages. Second language learning involves some form off acquisition. This is a process by which an individual can effectively learn a second language also known as an additional language. Cook (2001, pp. 41 – 48) argued that “learning second languages requires some form of motivation” (2001, p.43). Motivation in this context involves encouraging the individual to overcome all challenges in pursuit of learning another language. Mostly, individuals undergo the hustles of learning a second language for them to conform to the immediate environment.

In this paper, I explore Individual learner differences in Second Language acquisition (SLA). I apply Gardner’s socio-educational model in discussing second language acquisition. The paper also details the significance of motivation and its impact on learning second languages. It applies motivation as the learner’s orientation regarding learning a second language. The paper divides motivation into two basic types including integrative and instrumental. It relates integrative motivation as being dependent on the positive attitudes of the learner. On the other hand, it relates instrumental motivation as being influenced by a reward in learning second languages. Both forms of motivation in this paper are analyzed and researched to establish the impact of motivation on second language acquisition.

The essay will be structured into subsections with a flow expounding on the relevance of motivation as one element that explains individual learner difference in second language acquisition. The first part explains a general overview of individual learner differences. The second part integrates the models of motivation including the works conducted by Gardner and clement in analysing motivation’s impact on SLA. The last subsection is an overview of the Chilean cultural setting and its impact of motivation for second language learners. This is followed by some suggestions and recommendations of how motivations can be cultivated within such a cultural setting.

Individual learner differences in SLA

There are diverse learner differences in learning a second language. For one, in learning a second language, there must be the involvement of a second or even a third party. The second party assists in disseminating the knowledge to the individual who wants to learn the language. However, “The process of second language acquisition is dependent on what the learner does and very little on what teachers does” (Schmitt 2002, p.50). The goals of the individual also bring out the individual learner differences. In learning a second language, some individuals go for communicative competence. This might include basic communication skills, which is the main goal of the individual. I am of the view that the goal of an individual learner is critical because it determines what level the individual has the will to go in learning a second language.

My analysis of current debates on SLA reveals that they have embarked on individual differences. Doman (2006) contributed vast literature on this topic asserting that not a single individual is similar to the other physically, psychologically or mentally. Therefore, these differences reveal the reason why individuals learn second languages differently. He supports Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, which asserts that the human mind is different from the other even in the process of learning.

Therefore, I argue that problems, frustrations and challenges as being part of SLA affect the individuals differently. The individuals differ in the way they handle such issues, which ultimately determines how they learn a second language. Generally, Individual learner differences are evident in SLA, explanations have been provided by major scholars in this context. However, the ideal way to explain these differences is through developing an understanding of some of the models espoused by scholars on motivation and SLA.

Conversely, second languages are difficult to learn, which has been a huge challenge for many individuals. Motivation is therefore defined as critical in the entire process. Motivation is defined by major scholars including Hedge (2000, pp. 17 – 28), Ellis (2005, pp. 305-352), McDonough (2007, pp. 369-371) and Celce-Murcia (2002, pp. 119-134) as the psychological quality essential for fostering individual goal achievement. Therefore, I can argue that in second language acquisitions, language proficiency is the main goal. The individual’s desire to master a language is the main goal, which motivates him or her to work towards its achievement. Scholars have supported this argument by asserting that coaches can motivate learners and vice versa in the process of learning. With such assertion, there is a clear view that motivation varies between individuals. An individual is therefore unique in his own way depending on his or her stipulated goal of learning the second language.

Motivation is also a transitive concept. In this context, the coach motivates the learners and their reception also motivates the coach to teach the language. Gottlieb (2006, pp. 56) asserted that “the long-drawn out process of learning a second language is the reason why individual differences exist in SLA”. In his article on Teaching and Researching Motivation, Dornyei (2001, pp. 28 – 30) argued that people have diverse cognitive behaviours. In this case, individuals respond differently to diverse environments. Therefore, it is arguable that individuals always differ in their reception to language learning situations. The book by Lightbown & Spada (1993, p.135) also supported this notion asserting that individuals have diverse preferences. The environment in itself is a great determinant of the diverse response by individuals, and this has a great impact in language learning.

Conversely, I argue that both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation determines the level of individual learning. Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations subject the individual to a particular level of acceptance in second language acquisition. In the same light, individuals handle intrinsic and extrinsic pressures differently, which makes them different in the way they learn a second language. Ellis (2005, pp. 305-352) supported these arguments by writing an article on individual differences in second language learning. He was of the view that an individual is subjective to internal and external pressures even in the process of learning a language. Earlier, Skehan (1991, pp. 12 – 19) had written a book on Individual differences in second-language learning. He was of the same view. It is therefore notable that the way the individual handles these pressures is what determines the level of success in second language learning.

Models of Second Language Acquisition

For decades, studies of motivation as a factor of SLA have covered issues related to reasons for learning. Empirical evidence from major case studies reveals that most of the people strive to acquire a second language in order to integrate with the speech an identified community. “Research over the last thirty years has ignored the role of motivation in SLA” (Mitchell and Myles 2004, p.71 – 85). However, other scholars have concentrated on motivation as a determinant factor in SLA. I therefore note that motivation is viewed as being affected by various issues in the process of SLA. Some of these issues include demands of self-instruction, overwhelming requirements, and challenges of coping with the new materials and personal progress assessment, inadequacy of feedback, among other frustrations. In this context, the individual is either motivated or de-motivated into learning a second language.

Mitchell and Myles (2004, pp. 71 – 85) identified Gardner’s model of SLA as covering major issues in the area of motivation. Gardner’s works were influenced by Mowrer (1950) who had earlier discussed more on first language acquisition. My argument draws that the success of learning a language is attributed to the desire to learn it. A child struggles to learn a language to gain identity within the family. The objective is similar to Gardner’s argument who asserted that acceptance into the wider language community fosters the need to learn a new language. Using this argument Gardner’s model aimed at investigating second language acquisition and how motivates influences the same. Before examining motivation as an element that has an impact on second language learning, Gardner acknowledged that it is a single variable that is subject to other factors. My point is that motivation alone does not affect the SLA process. The socio-educational model as espoused by Gardner identified several factors that also influence language learning. Gardner’s model identified a structured classroom setting as the main setting for learning a second language. He prefers the foreign language classroom as compared to a natural setting arguing that the earlier is dependent more on motivation.

Second Language acquisition is therefore pertinent to many issues and factors. Like Gardner argues, his model interrelate second language acquisition with at least four features including individual learner differences, social and cultural milieu, the setting in which learning process is facilitated and the linguistic outcomes (Gardner 1982). The social or cultural milieu is the immediate environment where the learner is situated. Cook (2001, pp. 41 – 48) was of the view that, the learner’s environment subjects him or her to beliefs about a particular language or culture. I also analyze that beliefs impact the way and individual perceives the language and his or her willingness to learn a new language. Gardner gave an example of Britain as a monocultural setting. In this context, the British have a notion that they are the superior culture. Therefore, they do not acknowledge learning another language as critical. Rather, they have a notion that other minority cultures should learn their language and assimilate into the system. This culture instils these believes in the context of becoming the dominant language of the country. Larsen-Freeman (2001, pp. 12-24) noted that there are many cultures across the globe, which regards themselves as mighty cultures. In this context, they tend to influence other cultures other than assimilating into them. Therefore, individuals within the majority culture are lowly motivated to learn new languages. Patsy and Nina (2006, pp. 86 – 102) regarded these cultures as monocultural communities. However, Gardner’s social and cultural milieu applies differently in other countries. I have come to note that in some countries such as Canada and Australia, bilingualism and biculturalism is encouraged among the people. The society is therefore motivated into acquiring new languages. On the other hand, Gottlieb (2006, pp. 52 – 76) supported this notion noting that the social settings develop certain attitudes towards learning another language. I assume that these attitudes are the basis of an individual’s motivation towards learning another language.

The second phase of the model discusses individual differences including intelligence, motivation variable, language aptitude, and situational anxiety (Giles and Coupland 1991). These variables differ from one setting to the other and are closely interrelated. Mitchell and Myles (2004, pp. 71 – 85) argued that it is critical for second language teachers to set the learning places appropriately for effective learning to take place. Two contexts are identified in discussion the setting. They include formal instruction and unstructured language acquisition. The identified variables have diverse impacts depending on the context. For instance, intelligence and aptitude influence the formal setting within a classroom. On the other hand anxiety and motivation are variables which have an impact on both the formal and informal setting.

Gardner’s model explains the final phase of SLA as linguistic and non-linguistic outcomes. The linguistic outcomes are regarded as the actual language including the skills and knowledge acquired. Hurd, Beaven, and 2001, pp. 341-355) supported the definition by giving examples of linguistic outcomes as including test indices such as proficiency tests. On the other hand Dornyei (2001, pp. 28 – 30) defines non-linguistic outcomes as the attitudes, which an individual develops towards the language. This is subject to the values and beliefs of the individual. Therefore I can argue that integrating both the linguistic and non-linguistic outcomes develops success in SLA. It develops a form of motivation and an individual can develop a higher degree of L2 proficiency. Gardner’s model asserted that motivation is composed of three elements. The identified elements include effort, affect and desire. He describes effort as an individual’s devotion in terms of time and resources used. Desire on the other hand is the willingness to acquire L2 proficiency. Finally, effect includes the response of the individual pertinent to the emotional reactions with regard to SLA.

An almost similar model of SLA is espoused by Clement. Clements’s Model of motivation espouses that self-confidence is the most critical element in motivation of SLA. The model asserts that, it is critical for individuals to develop self-confidence when learning a second language. Therefore learning a second language is hugely challenging. Conversely, any level of success is dependent on how much an individual is willing to commit him into the process. In this context, it depends with the level of sacrifice that an individual can sustain in order to achieve a desired goal.

In a book titled how languages are learned Lightbown & Spada (1993, p.135) argued that self-confidence motivates an individual to achieve the ultimate goal of learning a new language. The individual is successful in learning a new language by developing own initiatives. These initiatives develop from the individual’s confidence to learn a language and the persistence even with the challenges involves. The individual is therefore the determinant of how he or she learns a language. I have come to value the assertion that the level of persistence and confidence in learning the second language structures the trend of learning a new language.

Having understood the models of motivation in SLA, it is critical to develop this context and apply it within a cultural setting. Applying the models brings out the real sense and understanding of the types of motivates and the existent challenges. It also gives an opportunity to understand how these challenges can be overcome to support second language learning. The Chilean cultural setting has been identified in this discussion as critical for assessing motivation as a critical element of language and acquisition.

Chilean Cultural Setting and SLA

The Chilean cultural setting is evident of low attendance in classes. In this context, the students are lowly motivated to learn English as a second language. Low attendance in classes means that the individual students do not ascribe to the goal of learning second languages. They are not motivated to attend classes, which challenges the process of learning a second language. In the same line of argument teachers are also lowly motivated by the students’ behaviour. They are therefore tired of devoting their time to teaching in these classes. A Chilean teacher works for over 44 hours a week in front of a class, which is quite tiring because they do not have enough time to rest. The teachers therefore are unmotivated in delivering class lessons. Therefore, they do not have the zeal to motivate students in learning. The huge classes in Chilean contexts are also a huge challenge for both teachers and students in the process of learning. The class population is between 38 and 45 students per class, which is a huge number that a single teacher can handle. In this context, both teachers and students are unmotivated in the learning process.

In considering learning English as a second language, the Chilean context is quite difficult. Within the system, English classes take only 90 minutes per week. This is less time compared to other lessons and the time assigned for the same. The time assigned for learning English as a second language is not enough to deliver effective learning. Time therefore, limits both the teachers and the students in the process of learning a second language. It is also a big challenge for students to learn English as a second language because they have low levels of interest. The learners also portray a negative attitude toward English learning, which is an indication that learners are hugely challenged. Students within this culture do not consider English as a useful tool for everyday life. They tend to value their local language more to English, which is an aspect that challenged the process of learning a second language. The remote geographical location of the country is also a huge challenge for SLA because the Chileans cannot access other English-speaking countries easily. They are therefore entrenched into the same culture without external influences, which could provoke a need for SLA.

Types of Motivation in SLA

There are diverse forms of motivation which can be applied within the Chilean context in handling the issue of second language acquisition. The three mostly identified types of motivation include integrative, instrumental motivation and integrative vs. instrumental motivation.

Integrative Motivation

Mitchell and Myles (2004, pp. 71 – 85) identified motivation as the learner’s orientation regard his or her goal of learning a second language. In this line of argument, it was identified that students who develop interest in learning a second language become more successful. There is need to develop huge interest among Chilean students in learning a second language. Celce-Murcia (2002, pp. 119-134) argued that the idea is to enforce an integration of cultures in order to provoke need for learning a second language. The students need to be provoked to admire another culture for them to develop an interest of learning another language. The students would also be provoked to integrate into the wider society and this entails learning a second language. This is what Doughty (2001, pp. 206-257) regards as integrative motivation. Integrative motivation assists the learner to develop and increase language proficiency for him or her to integrate into the system. This kind of motivation forces the individual to operate socially and become a part of the vast community.

In an EFL setting such as Chile it is critical to develop an understanding of the term “integrative.” As Hudson (2000, pp. 18 – 25) suggests, integrative motivation develops when an individual desires to become bilingual in nature. This is the same as becoming bicultural and living within the limits of the two cultures. Skehan (1991, pp. 12 – 19) argued that the ultimate result is to add another language to the identity of the learner. As Chile is more of a monocultural society, the biggest challenge is to engage integrative motivation in order to overcome the challenges involved in (L2) acquisition.

Instrumental Motivation

Doughty (2001, pp. 206-257) concentrated more on explaining instrumental motivation. He argued that this type of motivation is in contrast to integrative motivation. The major characteristics of this kind of motivation are individual desires to obtain something practical after learning a second language (Mitchell and Myles 2004, pp. 71 – 85). In the Chilean context, this type of motivation can be applied diversely. Within this culture, globalization has led to the introduction of new companies. Within these companies, most of the employees have to be outsourced locally. With English being mandatory as a requirement when applying for these jobs, the Chileans can be motivated to learn it as a second language. Hedge (2000, pp. 17 – 28) noted that instrumental motivation is provoked by issues such as job application, graduation in various institutions and other work related issues including pay rise. It might be the desire of individuals to learn a second language but circumstances force them to do it and even equip them to handle challenges. With students in the Chilean context not willing to learn a new language, the introduction of English as a requirement for graduation would be a motivating factor to learn it as a second language. It is my view that this type of motivation is ambitious in nature and compelling. The individual learner has a choice to avoid it but external pressures are too strong and compel him or her to learn the second language.

Conversely, integrative and instrumental motivation has been identified as both applicable in different context. When applied appropriately, both types of motivation lead to certain levels of success. However, integrative motivation is regarded by Ehrman and Dörnyei (1998, pp. 34 – 41) as ideal for long-term success in second language learning. Integrative motivation works best in both formal and informal situations. Within the natural setting and the classroom situation, integrative motivation is better compared to instrumental motivation. Dornyei (2001, pp. 28 – 30) identified instrumental motivation as weak because it sometimes does not reflect the individual will to learn. Individuals in this case rely more on circumstances than their will to learn. It is a short term type of motivation and thus not very effective.


Various scholars have identified that there are individual learner difference in second language acquisition. As part of culture, language is described as an element of growing up. Language is also regarded as an element of culture that provides motivation to individuals in its own right. Just like any other cultural element, language is acquired differently from one individual to another. A similar case has been identified for second languages. In learning second languages, motives, goals and motivation have been identified and developing differences among individuals. In learning second languages integrative and instrumental types of motivation influence the individual differently. On the other hand, individuals conceptualize these types of motivation differently. Gardner’s socio-educational model, Clements’s Model of motivation and Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, explain into detail how motivation influences SLA. The broad argument is that there is a great correlation between SLA and motivation. Motivation is a variable that determines the level and success of learning a second language.

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