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Date: Fri, 2 Dec 2005 15:00:05 -0000 From: Robert Mayr Subject: The Psychology of the Language Learner
AUTHOR: Dörnyei, Zoltán TITLE: The Psychology of the Language Learner SUBTITLE: Individual Differences in Second Language Acquisition PUBLISHER: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates YEAR: 2005
Robert Mayr, University of Wales Institute, Cardiff, United Kingdom
As the title suggests, Dörnyei's monograph deals with the psychological aspects of second language learning, thereby focusing on factors that account for individual differences (ID) between L2 learners. In the preface, the author points out that although several anthologies on learner issues have recently been published (e.g. Breen 2001, Cook 2002, Robinson 2002), this monograph has a number of advantages compared with anthologies. For example, it can provide a unified voice and avoid repetitions and gaps.
The book comprises a total of eight chapters, followed by an extensive references section. In addition to author and subject indices, it also features a 'definition index' which, given the large number of definitions used in the book, was considered more useful than a standard glossary. Chapter 1 introduces the reader to the study of individual differences, Chapter 2 deals with personality-related variables, Chapter 3 is dedicated to language aptitude, Chapter 4 deals with motivation, Chapter 5 with learning/cognitive styles, Chapter 6 with language learning strategies, and Chapter 7 with several other variables. The book ends with a short concluding chapter. Since the author is particularly renowned for his research on motivation (e.g. Dörnyei 2001, 2003), it is not surprising that Chapter 4 is the longest one (54 pages).
In structural terms, the book is very consistent and all chapters are organised in similar ways. Thus each chapter starts out with a definition and explanation of particular ID variables, followed by a general discussion of these variables within the framework of cognitive and educational psychology. They are then examined with reference to SLA research, depicting a multitude of both established and very recent models. These models are not only discussed in theoretical terms but also in terms of their practical applicability, which enables the reader to establish a link between the abstract concepts that underlie the models and the concrete tasks that (purportedly) measure them. Throughout the book, the author also voices his opinion concerning the pros and cons of the various models.
In the introductory chapter (Ch.1), Dörnyei mentions that his ''primary purpose […] has not been to provide a book-length literature review [although that is a component] but rather to offer conceptual clarification'' since ''the greatest problem in using these variables in L2 studies has been […] the lack of sufficient theoretical coherence'' (p.3). His ''second objective […] has been to show that IDs are related to some of the core issues in applied linguistics and that they can be meaningfully linked to the most important processes underlying SLA'' (p.3). Thus with this book the author wants to convince SLA researchers/ applied linguists that in-depth knowledge of ID variables is important, since, as he claims, applied linguists have fallen prey to the ''almost irresistible temptation […] to adopt somewhat simplistic psychological models'' (p.219). The author exemplifies this by pointing out that motivation is often viewed as no more than the sum of 'instrumental' and 'integrative' orientation.
As mentioned above, each chapter commences with basic conceptual introductions and definitions. In other words, the author does not presuppose any previous knowledge of ID research. On the other hand, Dörnyei also introduces new concepts, such as his 'L2 Motivational Self System'. Therefore this book is intended for readers with little or no background in this field and for experts alike. Since ID research operates at the interface of several different disciplines, the intended readers are, amongst others, educational psychologists, cognitive psychologists, SLA researchers, applied linguists, and teachers, or more broadly speaking, anyone with an interest in learning.
SUMMARY OF INDIVIDUAL CHAPTERS
Chapter 1 opens with a general introduction to ID research, in which the author defines ID constructs as ''dimensions of enduring personal characteristics that are assumed to apply to everybody and on which people differ by degree'' (p.4). He then critically summarises the history of ID research in general, followed by an historical account of studying IDs in SLA. The last section discusses the organisation of the book and explains the decision not to include the variables of 'age' and 'gender' because they affect all other ID variables.
In Chapter 2 ('Personality, Temperament, and Mood'), Dörnyei defines the three terms in the title, adding that due to insufficient research findings, the remainder of the chapter only deals with personality proper. He then points out that the majority of psychologists are in agreement concerning the main dimensions of human personality, as represented by the 'Big Five Model' (e.g. Goldberg 1992), but states that the latter model is not informative on personality development. After a detailed discussion of the model, its usefulness and practical applicability in the form of the 'NEO-PI', he describes the 'Myers- Briggs Type Indicator' (MBTI). In the subsequent section, Dörnyei raises the question of whether personality traits affect academic achievement and concludes on the basis of empirical studies that the evidence is mixed. Finally, the author analyses the role of personality in SLA and reviews a variety of SLA studies, most notably those on the most widely studied personality variable in SLA research: extraversion-introversion.
In Chapter 3 ('Language Aptitude'), Dörnyei clarifies the terms 'ability', 'aptitude' and 'intelligence', and then discusses the history of language aptitude research up to the 1990's. This section features a detailed examination and critique of Carroll & Sapon's (1959) 'Modern Language Aptitude Test' (MLAT) and Pimsleur's (1966) 'Pimsleur Language Aptitude Battery' (PLAB), as well as a variety of post-Carroll aptitude models. He then investigates a variety of different aptitude issues, such as the question what language aptitude actually determines, the difference between L1 and L2 aptitude, the relation between language aptitude and age, and that between aptitude and intelligence. After considering the various purposes of language aptitude tests, Dörnyei analyses new directions in recent aptitude research. He suggests that what unifies them is an attempt to investigate specific cognitive ID factors in detail, rather than looking at aptitude as an umbrella term. In this context, he discusses Grigorenko et al.'s (2000) CANAL-FT, Sparks' (1995) LCDH, and recent research on working memory capacity (e.g. Miyake & Friedman 1998). Towards the end of the chapter, Dörnyei presents Robinson's (e.g. 2002) research on the aptitude-treatment interaction as well as Skehan's (e.g. 2002) research, which links specific SLA stages (e.g. noticing) to specific aptitude constructs (e.g. phonetic coding ability).
Chapter 4 ('Motivation and Self-Motivation') is about the author's specialist area and in addition to a detailed historical review of motivational research it also features a new theory: Dörnyei's 'L2 Motivational Self System'. The chapter begins with an overview of the three chronological phases of motivational research: (1) the 'social psychological period' up to 1990, (2) the 'cognitive-situated period' during the 1990's, and (3) the 'process-oriented period' of the last five years. This is followed by a discussion of new conceptual issues, such as the relation between motivation and group dynamics, research into the notion of demotivation, motivational self-regulation, and the neurobiology of motivation. In the subsequent section, Dörnyei introduces his new model, which relates L2 motivation to a theory of self and identity. A key aspect of the model is the notion of the 'possible self', which represents an ''individual's ideas of what they might become, what they would like to become, and what they are afraid of becoming'' (p. 99, italics in original), while the 'ideal self' represents ''the attributes that someone would like to possess'' (p.101) and the 'ought self' refers to ''the attributes that one believes one ought to possess'' (p.101). According to Dörnyei, motivation ''involves the desire to reduce the discrepancy between one's actual and ideal or ought selves'' (p.101). By drawing on the concept of the 'ideal self', the author explains an apparently curious finding in Cziser & Dörnyei's (2005) study, i.e. that 'integrativeness' is related to 'instrumentality' and 'attitudes to the L2 community'. In view of this, he suggests that the concept of 'integrativeness' requires a broader definition and, most crucially, that it ought to be relabelled as the 'ideal L2 self'. He then goes on to link this notion with Noels' (2003) and Ushioda's (2001) conceptions of L2 motivation, and proposes the 'L2 Motivational Self System'. This model is composed of (1) the 'Ideal L2 Self' (2) the 'Ought-to L2 Self', and (3) the 'L2 Learning Experience'. Following a detailed commentary on the role of L2 motivation within the domain of SLA research in general, Dörnyei lists several practical implications of motivational research.
In Chapter 5 ('Learning Styles and Cognitive Styles'), Dörnyei introduces the notions of 'learning style' and 'cognitive style', before describing Riding's (2001) and Kolb's (1999) models. He then presents assessment methods of cognitive styles, which he considers to be ''the Achilles heel of the concept'' (p.131). This section features a critical evaluation of Kolb's 'Learning Style Inventory' and Riding's 'Cognitive Styles Analysis'. The remainder of the chapter is dedicated to a discussion of the role of cognitive and learning styles in SLA, commencing with the most widely studied style variable in SLA research, 'field dependence-independence'. After describing the familiar concept of 'sensory preferences', Dörnyei discusses various learning style measurement instruments, such as Reid's (1995) 'Perceptual Learning Style Preference Questionnaire', Oxford's (1993) 'Style Analysis Survey', and Cohen et al.'s (2001) 'Learning Style Survey'. This is followed by a depiction of the Ehrman & Leaver Construct (2003) and Skehan's (1998) distinction between 'analysis- oriented learners' and 'memory-oriented learners'. Finally, Dörnyei evaluates the usefulness of the notion of learning styles in instructed SLA, pointing out that there are still severe problems that have ''prevented styles from becoming accessible and practical for classroom use'' (p.157). However, ''it may be possible for future research to come up with style-based teaching suggestions that are both useful and do-able'' (p.159).
In Chapter 6 ('Language Learning Strategies and Student Self- Regulation'), Dörnyei introduces the reader to the controversial nature of learning strategies and raises the question as to whether they actually exist. His assessment suggests that they do, although they are difficult to define. Generally, learning strategies are seen as important since they potentially shed light on the actual processes and mechanisms of learning. In an historical review of learning strategy research in SLA, Dörnyei states that after a period of general interest in strategies in the 1980's, it went out of fashion since ''the necessary theoretical clarification about the nature of the language learning concept did not happen'' (p.170). As a result, it was replaced by language teaching methodology in L2 research, and by the study of 'self-regulation' in educational psychology. This latter concept, which refers to ''the degree to which individuals are active participants in their learning'' (p.191), is then discussed in some detail, including an investigation of the role of self-regulation in ID research.
Finally, Chapter 7 ('Other Learner Characteristics') focuses on five additional ID variables: 'anxiety', 'creativity', 'willingness to communicate', 'self-esteem', and 'learner beliefs'. According to the author, these areas ''do not warrant a chapter of their own'' (p.8).
Given the sheer amount and complexity of the information provided in this book, readers could easily feel overwhelmed and confused. However, due to the coherent structure of the book, the reader is always clear about the relevance of specific contents in relation to other areas. This is, of course, of paramount importance since one of the objectives of this book is to demonstrate the link between ID research and applied linguistics. The small number of typos is further evidence of the author's attention to formal accuracy.
As far as the content of this book is concerned, a number of factors make it a must-read for anyone with an interest in language learning: First, all chapters contain an historical dimension. As a consequence, specific approaches/ models are not (merely) portrayed as the result of a 'sudden brainwave' on the part of a few scholars (although I do not want to dispute that), but rather as extensions of prior research and thus embedded in specific research traditions. Second, the book includes a multitude of very recent research findings and models, not least the author's 'L2 Motivational Self System'. Since this model constitutes a radical departure from traditional accounts of motivation in language learning, it is almost certain to spark a great deal of discussion and controversy. Third, the book contains lucid definitions and explanations of basic concepts. This is particularly helpful for readers with no prior knowledge of ID research, and I would certainly recommend the book as an introductory textbook in any course on ID variables. In fact, even in courses that do not focus on language learning at all, the more general introductory sections in each chapter will prove useful. This not withstanding, the book was primarily written for readers with a background in applied linguistics (like myself) and this latter group will find the conceptual clarifications throughout the book absolutely essential. After all, it is these conceptual issues that provide us with knowledge of the very variables that we wish to relate to language.
My only (minor) criticism concerns Dörnyei's evaluation of the models he presents. Naturally, it is impossible to do this without introducing a certain element of bias. However, by criticising some accounts (e.g. Kolb's model), but not others, Dörnyei implicitly accepts the validity of the latter. For example, when discussing Schumann's (2001) research, he states that through neuroimaging methods cognitive processes are directly observable (p.92). Despite the new avenues that recent technological advances in neurology have opened up, such a direct equation of neurolinguistic data and cognitive processes is questionable. This not withstanding, it would be grossly unfair to penalise the author for not raising all possible objections, not least because of the huge amount of concepts and models that he has reviewed.
Taken together, this is a very well-structured informative book that fulfils all the objectives that the author set out to achieve. To my mind, its most significant contribution is the author's success at bridging the gap between educational and cognitive psychology, on the one hand, and applied linguistics, on the other. From the point of view of applied linguistics, the publication of this book has made our lives 'utterly miserable' since it bereaves us of the excuse to draw on simplistic conceptualisations of ID variables.
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ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Robert Mayr is a lecturer in linguistics at the Centre for Speech and Language Therapy, University of Wales Institute, Cardiff, UK. He teaches undergraduate courses in a range of areas in linguistics. Prior to that he worked as a foreign languages teacher in secondary and higher education. His research interests include SLA research, phonetics, phonology, and psycholinguistics. He has recently completed his doctoral thesis on the acquisition of German monophthongs by British learners of German.