Learning a Second Language Psychological Aspects of Term Paper

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Learning a Second Language

Psychological Aspects of Learning

Psychological Aspects of Learning a Second Language

A foreign or second language "L2" can be defined as a language that is studied in such environment where it is not the common language for daily interaction. The reasons for learning second language (L2) vary from person to person because different people learn a second language for different purposes. Some learn it for enjoyment and internal satisfaction that they gain from learning a new language while others may learn for getting an extrinsic reward like promotion or increment in salary. Therefore, people have different motives and goals for leaning a second language, which are the central concepts in learning a second language. however, there are several factors like age, aptitude, anxiety, personality traits, learning strategies and learning styles etc. that play a critical role when learning a second language.


Learning a second or foreign language is a difficult task for the people. Some learners have special ability 'aptitude' which makes it easier for them to learn second language quickly. In contrast, others find it extremely difficult and are not able to take advantage from the opportunity. This is due to the reason that different factors are responsible behind the second language learning process. These include the internal/individual as well as external psychological factors that affect the learning of a second language (L2). This paper explores and describes the different psychological aspects of learning a second language in the light of deep research conducted by the experts. The factors discussed in this paper include internal factors; age, aptitude, motivation, anxiety and the external factors; learning styles and learning strategies.


The age factor is one of the important factors to be considered for exploring the individual differences in learning a second language. In order to know the effects of age in learning the second language, it is important to consider the effect of age on the rate of learning, the route of learning and the ability or proficiency of learning the second language.

Adults have advantage of learning quickly, especially grammar of the second language. According to the studies performed by the experts, adults perform better than the children where their exposure to the second language is controlled (Lownthal and Bull, 1984). However, a study conducted by Snow and Hoefnagal-Hohl in 1978 give different results. The results of the study indicated that the teenage group (12-15 years) showed quick learning compared to the adult group (15 years and above) and the children group (3 to 10 years), when they were taught second language in an unstructured way for three months. The study also showed that the old learners do not have advantage for the long-term because the children group taught second language for 10 months was ahead of the adult group. Some authors have therefore reported child learners for having advantage of learning quickly (Cochrane, 1980) while most experts have not found any differences in the rate of learning second language between the children and adults.


Aptitude or the memory capacity of an individual defines the rate of progress the learner will make in learning a second language under the most favorable conditions. Different learners have different rate and therefore some learners learn a second language very quickly while others fail to take advantage from the opportunity.

According to the John Carroll's (Carroll, 1981) theory, the language aptitude is comprised of following several abilities which are independent from each other:

1. Phonetic coding ability: It is the ability to recognize and memorize different sounds, the linked sounds and the symbols used for representing the sounds.

2. Grammatical sensitivity: It is the ability to identify and remember the grammar function of the words used in the sentences.

3. Rote learning ability: It is the ability to remember the connection between the different sounds and their meanings.

4. Inductive language learning ability: It is the ability to know the different patterns and rules of the foreign language.

Despite the fact that these factors are considered independent and not affected by any other factor but some experts believe a strong association between aptitude and motivation. Aptitude is an important factor because it has the ability to influence the interpersonal communication skills of the individuals that also include the speaking power. A very good quality of teaching skills can counteract the effect of aptitude on learning a second language. However, the role of aptitude might be positive when learning under the poor teaching conditions. This is due to the reason that aptitude plays a different role in different methods of teaching a second language.


Teachers and researchers both consider motivation as the key factor which has a great influence on the success rate of learning a second language. At the beginning level, motivation provides the primary force to start learning the second language while in the later level; it is driving force to sustain the learning process.

In order to understand the significance of this factor in learning second language, it is important to know what motivation means. Despite the fact that term 'motivation' is used very frequently in the educational contents; it is surprising to know that there is conflict in the literature on its meaning. However, most of the researchers agree on the point that motivation plays a critical role in determining the behavior of human and giving it direction. According to Dornyei (1996), the fundamental theories of motivation just explain the answer of the question as why humans behaved in a particular way.

Role of Motivation in Boosting Aptitude

Since last several decades, the researchers of the social psychology have thrown light on the importance of motivation for learning second language (Gardner and Clement 1990). Indeed, motivation is considered such an important and affective variable for learning a second language, as the aptitude of the learners. Individuals with high aptitude and extra ordinary capabilities can also not achieve their long-term goals if they lack motivation.

The motivation factor therefore, is extremely important for learning the second language. Indeed, high motivation has the ability to fill the deficiencies in the learning conditions and aptitudes of individuals. Gardner and Lambert (1972) pointed out decades back that the language aptitude covers a considerable percent of the individual's ability in learning the second language but the increased motivational level has the ability to rule over the aptitude effect.

Motivation to Learn a second Language

The important role of motivation in learning the language was initially researched by social psychologists due to their deep understanding of the cultural and social effects of learning a second language ( Dornyei, 2003). These psychologists introduced several models that focused on the role of motivation in language learning. However, the most influential model from these is the Socio-educational Model that was developed by Gardner and his assistants. According to Gardner (1985, p.10), motivation is a "combination of effort plus desire to achieve the goal of learning the language plus favorable attitudes towards learning the language."

Gardner discussed two types of motivations in his model; the integrative motivation and the instrumental motivation. However, he focused more on the integrative motivation by stating that it refers to the desire of the learners to at least communicate with the members or at most integrate with the members of the desired language. Integrative motivation was the backbone of Gardner's model he considered the role of attitudes towards the language, the learning situation and the speakers of the language as the important parts of integrative motivation. The instrumental motivation on the other hand is concerned with the functional reasons of learning the second language; for instance passing exam, getting promotion or high salary (Gardner, 1985).


Nervousness, inhibition and anxiety are very common feelings expressed by the second language learners when trying to learn the second language. Anxiety that is associated with the second language learners is called 'second language anxiety'. These feelings have strong negative effect on the communication of the learners trying to learn or speak the second language. McIntyre & Gardner have defined it as "a subjective feeling of tension, apprehension, nervousness, and worry associated with an arousal of the automatic nervous system" (1994: cited in 1999: 217).

Learning Styles

The learning styles of a second language are one of the main external factors identify, how well the individuals can learn the second language. Cornett (1983, p.9) defined learning styles as "the overall patterns that give general direction to learning behavior." Dunn and Griggs, however explained Learning style is the biologically and developmentally imposed set of characteristics that make the same teaching method wonderful for some and terrible for others" (1988, p. 3).The learning style has nine different aspects of learning second language (Ehrman and Oxford, 1990). However, this paper will discuss only the four most important dimensions; that include sensory preferences, desired degree of generality, personality types and biological differences.

1. Sensory Preferences: These are the perpetual and physical learning channels of the learner with which suits him most. Sensory preferences can be…[continue]


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