LINGUIST List 23.587

Sat Feb 04 2012

Review: Applied Ling., Language Acquisition: Arabski and Wojtaszek (2011)

Editor for this issue: Anja Wanner <anjalinguistlist.org>



Date: 04-Feb-2012
From: Tim S. O. Lee <soltim.eltgmail.com>
Subject: Individual Learner Differences in SLA
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Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/22/22-3503.html
EDITORS: Arabski, Januszl, Wojtaszek, AdamTITLE: Individual Learner Differences in SLASERIES TITLE: Second Language AcquisitionPUBLISHER: Multilingual MattersYEAR: 2011

Tim S. O. Lee, Department of English, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, HongKong

SUMMARY

Publications in the area of individual differences in second language acquisitionhave expanded substantially in the last decade, and the issues that frequentlyreappear have been framed and discussed by, for instance, Dörnyei (2005) andRobinson (2002). The present volume, “Individual Learner Differences in SLA” editedby Janusz Arabski and Adam Wojtaszek, offers 20 chapters to present the latesttheoretical and empirical input under the broad umbrella of individual differences.The first part of the book provides the theoretical groundings necessary forunderstanding research into individual differences. The second part is concernedwith teachers’ involvement in fostering learner autonomy. The third part shifts thefocus to how learners apply strategies successfully in institutionalized settings.After that, the fourth part goes on with the theme of strategy application, but insituations where learners have to put their knowledge into practice. The fifth partlooks into individual variation in phonological attainment in production. The final part,which is the longest, encompasses three chapters related to reading skills and threefocusing on writing abilities.

Chapter 1, “Individual Learner Differences and Instructed Language Learning: AnInsoluble Conflict?” by Dieter Wolff is an attempt to deal with foreign languageteachers’ reluctance to consider individual differences. It first describes the currenttaxonomies used to account for individual differences. Next, it looks into individualdifferences with respect to cognitive and learning psychology, which covers keyissues such as nature versus nurture, and how certain features are more open tochange. The third part illustrates how the six parameters (learning contents, learningaims, the learning environment, social forms of learning, learning strategies, and theevaluation of the learning results) can be used to contrast between traditionallearning and approaches that take individual differences into consideration. The finalsection, with reference to four of the parameters, explains how content andlanguage-integrated learning can be adapted to realize learner autonomy.

In Chapter 2, “Research into Language Learning Strategies: Taking Stock andLooking Ahead,” Mirosław Pawlak addresses the complexities involved in languagelearning strategies research from different angles. The definition and interpretation ofthe notion 'strategy' have changed over years, but more precision is called for asthere are still problems and criticisms. Another major concern covered is theindividual (such as age and motivation) and contextual variation (such as culture,the language being learnt, and the learning task), which is the basis for uncoveringthe relationship between strategy use and target language attainment. Strategytraining has also drawn controversies, as it has been advocated by specialistsirrespective of conflicting and inconclusive research findings. As for researchmethodology, the over-reliance on the Strategy Inventory for Language Learning as adata collection instrument has been found problematic, so there is a need to refineexisting tools and search for other ways of assessing strategy use.

As the first chapter on supporting learner autonomy, Chapter 3, “Teachers’Perceptions of Individual Differences in Turkish Primary School EFL Classes” byHasan Bedir, reports on how 123 primary school teachers perceived individualdifferences and modified their teaching accordingly. Motivation, learning styles, andaptitude were the most frequently perceived individual differences, which wereaffected by the education system, materials, the teaching and learning environment,and the crowded classrooms. As regards modification, audio-visual materials andvarious teaching techniques were the preferred means to cater for individualdifferences, although issues such as crowded classrooms and examination basededucation prevented some participants from differentiating their teaching. Suchfindings highlight a conflict between theory and practice in language classrooms.

Chapter 4, “Learning Autonomy Support by Foreign Language Teachers” by MariaStec and Anna Studenska is an investigation into 215 teachers’ level of learningautonomy support. Such support was gauged using the Learning Autonomy Supportby Teachers Inventory, and the data collected from foreign language teachers werecompared with those from teachers of other subjects. The results revealed thatforeign language teachers were less ready to teach how to learn, allow for students’feedback, and let students make decisions concerning formal lessons. In responseto this, the authors conclude that foreign language teachers need more training inshifting responsibility to students, particularly for choosing tasks.

Chapter 5, “Personality and Parenting Styles as Predictors of Self-Regulation inForeign Language Learning” by Anna Studenska presents a study investigating thelevel of foreign language self-regulation difficulty of 160 pedagogy and art students,together with which personality traits and parenting styles were its best predictors.Controlling emotions and maintaining learning motivation proved to be difficult, whilethe least difficult elements were identifying strong and weak points and choosing theway and place of learning. Personality traits, but not parenting styles, were found tobe significant in predicting difficulty in self-regulating foreign language learning.Among the numerous personality traits, consciousness and openness were the mostbeneficial, whereas neuroticism hindered self-regulation.

Moving on to Part 3 of the book, Chapter 6, “The Development of Implicit Knowledgethrough Structured Input Activities: The Importance of Individual PerceptionsConcerning Grammar Instruction” by Anna Mystkowska-Wiertelak, summarizes thedichotomy between explicit and implicit knowledge and the criteria that characterizethem. It then reports on the effectiveness of reception-based and production-basedgrammar teaching on 57 students’ explicit and implicit knowledge. Four tests wereused to measure the participants’ knowledge of the meaning and use of causative'have,' and an interview was conducted to ascertain the participants’ view on thetreatment, the target structure, and the testing procedure. The analysis showed thatthe cognitions and perceptions held by the participants were of great significance,and success was attributed to positive learning characteristics rather than thetreatments.

Chapter 7, “Awareness of Cognate Vocabulary and Vocabulary Learning Strategiesof Polish Multilingual and Bilingual Advanced Learners of English” by AgnieszkaOtwinowska-Kasztelanic, focuses on the use of cognates, which does not alwayslead to enhanced vocabulary mastery of the target language. This chapter firstsurveys how advanced bilingual and multilingual learners of English perceivedlanguage distance between cognates, and then looks at the difference in vocabularylearning strategies between the two groups. The multilingual participants showedbetter awareness of cognates, and appropriate training could change the attitudesand vocabulary-learning strategies of the bilingual participants. This study shedslight on how to make use of cognates and facilitate positive transfer.

The fourth part of the book is concerned with experienced learners, and it beginswith Chapter 8, “A Study of Gender-Related Levels of Processing Anxieties overThree Years of Secondary Grammar School Instruction” by Ewa Piechurska-Kuciel.It first offers an introduction to the effects of anxiety and gender on SLA and howthe two factors interact. Next, it presents a longitudinal questionnaire study with theaim of comparing the two genders’ levels of processing anxieties. The data collectedfrom 393 students showed that females generally declared higher levels ofprocessing anxieties than males, but the two genders displayed different trends inthe three types of anxiety (input, processing, and output) over time.

In Chapter 9, “Challenge or Threat? A Study of Perceived Self-Efficacy of PolishEFL Teachers,” Joanna Bielska examines if more years of teaching experienceresulted in higher levels of teacher self-efficacy and satisfaction. Data werecollected from 232 participants with limited teaching experience using the Teachers’Sense of Efficacy Scale. The average levels of teachers’ sense of efficacy werefound not very high, and the participants with least experience reported the lowestconfidence, especially in maintaining classroom discipline. Unsurprisingly, theteachers with higher levels of self-efficacy were more satisfied with the teachingprofession and also more certain of their career choice.

Chapter 10, “Managing Criticism and Praise by Trainee Interpreters: Looking forGender Differences” by Andrzej Łyda, Krystyna Warchał, and Alina Jackiewiczfocuses specifically on trainee interpreters. It aims to see how male and femaleconsecutive interpreters used deictic shifts differently to deal with open criticism anddirect praise in monologic, formal addresses. In general, deictic manipulation wasfound more frequent among the female participants. The male participants shifteddeictic centre more often in laudatory contexts whilst the female counterparts used ahigher number of shifts for negative judgement. When identification with thereceivers was assumed, both genders changed deictic perspective more frequently,particularly by using YOU to THEY shifts.

Chapter 11, “Student Needs Assessment in Teaching English at the Tertiary Level:An Individual Learner Differences Perspective” by Zbigniew P. Możejko, begins bydefining learner needs, connecting learner needs to motivation, and overviewing thepractice of needs analysis. The second half is a report of part of a large projectlooking into learner needs and satisfaction, language proficiency, and quality ofEnglish instruction. In sum, the participants had well-formed and stable expectationsfor instruction, but there were also contradictory postulates which merit furtherstudies, such as the participants’ demand for more translation training but lesswriting tuition.

The first chapter in the book that confronts the topic of individual variation in secondlanguage (L2) phonological attainment is Chapter 12, “Regularity and IndividualVariation in Native English and Polish Learners’ Wh-Question Suprasegmentals” byAndrzej Porzuczek. It describes a study in which 13 participants read aloud thesame passage before and after their first academic year, and the utterance in focus-- ‘Why are you crying, my dear?’ -- was analyzed. Some hypothesized problemsamong Polish learners were confirmed. For instance, the participants’ performancewas slower than that of native speakers, redundant glottal stops and velar plosiveswere inserted, and the auxiliary verb ‘are’ was often not reduced.

Chapter 13, “Time-Limited Verbal Fluency Task with Polish-English UnbalancedBilinguals” by Arkadiusz Rojczyk, gives an overview of how unbalanced bilingualsuse an integrated lexicon and switch between languages by means of inhibition.After that, it details a time-limited verbal fluency experiment, in which 25 participantswere required to generate words in both their first language (L1) and L2 that beginwith a given sound. The comparison of the number of words generated revealed asignificant advantage of L1 performance over L2. Moreover, individual differencewas proved crucial as the participants who performed well in L1 were often equallygood in L2.

In Chapter 14, “The Acquisition of English Vowel Length Differences before Word-Final Stops by Greek Learners of English” by Eleni Tsiartsioni, the researchquestion is whether extrinsic vowel length can be effectively taught to learners atdifferent ages. A group of 36 participants received instruction in vowel length,whereas the other group of 36 participants took the regular English classes. Thedata confirmed the hypothesis that there was little difference in vowel length beforevoiced and voiceless stops prior to the teaching intervention. After the treatment,only the experimental group showed improvement, yet there was inadequateevidence showing that any age group improved more than the others.

Chapter 15, “Individual Differences in Foreign Language Reading Comprehension:Gender and Topic Interest” by Sıla Ay and Özgür Şen Bartan, marks the beginningof the final part of the book, which is on reading and writing. The objective of thischapter is to examine the relationship between readers’ gender, topic interest, andforeign language reading comprehension. An interest scale was administered to findout the gender-oriented topic interests, and then 159 participants read thecorresponding reading texts and completed the comprehension assessment tasks.While both genders got the highest marks from their most interested topic texts,they also performed better in the least interested topic texts than in the neutral topictext. Such findings are contradictory to the results of some previous studies, sothere might be a need for both positive and negative emotions for better readingcomprehension.

Chapter 16, “Individual Differences in L2 Readers’ Strategic Behaviour whilePerforming Reading to Learn Tasks: A Case Study” by Halina Chodkiewicz, takes acloser look at the key issues of reading comprehension. The first half discusses thepurposes and processes of reading, instruments for measuring awareness andperceived use of strategies, and different aspects of highlighting, note-taking, andsummarizing. The second half is a presentation of a case study in which fouradvanced learners were guided to perform a sequence of reading tasks usinghighlighting, note-taking, and summarizing strategies. All the strategies proveduseful to the participants, but editing a summary was particularly difficult to them.The findings of this study imply that even advanced learners require adequatestrategy training to handle productive content-oriented reading tasks well.

As motivation has always been one of the major concerns in individual differences,Chapter 17, “Current Views on Foreign Language Reading Motivation” by LilianaPiasecka summarizes the most influential motivational theories in the area of SLA.It also argues that reading motivation comprises unique components that are yet tobe identified. In view of the scarcity of reading motivation research, the authorconducted a questionnaire study to examine the reading motivation of 64 universitystudents with reference to academic texts. Extrinsic motives were found todominate, and the participants appeared to keep their reading motivations for L1 andL2 separately. This chapter concludes with suggestions for strengthening learners’self-concept as academic readers.

Chapter 18, “From Oral Input to Written Output: On Individual Differences in ExternalStoring of Information” by Danuta Gabryś-Barker, sets out with the assumption thatnote-taking is a developmental skill, and appropriate training can turn learners intomore competent note-takers. The purpose of the study described was to investigatethe content and form of 27 advanced learners’ notes, as well as the role ofinstructional training. The notes taken by the control group were neither adequate forpractical use nor as evidence of how langauge had been processed from aural inputto written output. In comparison, the treatment group showed evidence of attentionalprocessing and exhibited clearly visible idiosyncratic styles. The findings lead to therecommendations for more facilitative awareness raising instruction and listeningactivities.

Unlike many other chapters, which involve large numbers of participants, Chapter19, “Accounting for One Student’s Failure and Another’s Success on a WrittenAcademic Assignment” by Jan Zalewski analyzes carefully two final take-homeexam papers, one by a low achiever and one by a high achiever. A key requirementof the exam was to use only the course textbook, so the same pool of exampleswould make the comparison between the participants’ ability of argumentconstruction more reliable. The more successful student not only presentedknowledge but also demonstrated metacognitive control of the conceptual content,and such control is pivotal in turning writing experience into learning experience. Theauthor believes that the essay-type take-home exam can prompt learners to developmetacognitive writing skills in a stress-free environment.

Chapter 20, “Online Revisions in FL Writing: General Rules and IndividualDifferences” by Iwona Kowal, wraps up the book by reviewing the taxonomies,analyzing tools, and current research on writing revision. It then examines therevisions made by seven beginner L3-learners and associates them with individualdifferences and language skills. As expected, the participants made online revisionsfrequently, spelling corrections were the most common, and less skilled learnersrevised more at the normative level (spelling, grammar, and vocabulary). However,the author suggests further longitudinal studies because the relationship betweenwriting competence development, formal revisions, and conceptual revisionsremains unclear.

EVALUATION

The first thing that stands out in the book is the large number of recent contributionsincluded. This is inevitable because new branches and frameworks continue toemerge, and this volume does a good job in balancing the variety and homogeneityof its content. Both teachers’ and learners’ role have been investigated, and threebroad language skills have been covered. What’s more, most selected contributionsbegin a concise but substantial review, followed by clearly stated researchquestions, detailed research procedures, and findings presented with appropriategraphs. The homogeneity in format enhances greatly the readability of this book.

Another salient feature of this volume is its emphasis on studies examining the roleof individual differences in specific language skills, in contrast with books usingtheories and learner characteristics (intelligence, aptitude, personality and so on) asthe foundations. The chapters on pronunciation, reading, and writing are of highpractical value to in-service teachers who have been facing ongoing problems inhandling these skills.

One thing that struck me is the highly similar background of the authors andparticipants -- the majority of them are from various Polish universities. While somemight worry that this would limit the usefulness and generalizability of the book, thisproblem is mitigated by, again, the rich variability of content and methodsintroduced. For example, the book discusses individual differences both inside andoutside classrooms; participants of diverse proficiency levels were recruited; andintensive studies with few participants were reported alongside with large-scaleresearch. This ensures that most potential readers, regardless of their purposes,would get something they need in the end.

As there is a need to free up more space for the 18 empirical studies, the first partof the volume, which informs readers of common learning strategies and theincessant tension between theory and practice, receives a mere 38 pages. While itserves as a nice introduction for seasoned researchers, novices who are lessfamiliar with language development models, learning styles, and theoreticalapproaches to explaining SLA would have difficulty in understanding some chaptersthat follow. These readers might consider consulting Lightbown and Spada (2006)and Shore (1995), among other references that appear in Part 1 of the book. Anotherdownside of packing so many chapters into one book is that it finishes abruptlywithout a conclusion section. Those who are looking for directions for futureresearch might need to read several times before they could see any general trendsor research gaps.

Overall, this volume makes an up-to-date contribution to the study of individuallearner differences in SLA, as well as the development of more individualizedlanguage teaching. In particular, experienced researchers and teachers would benefitfrom its wide array of content. Beginner teachers and linguistics students, on theother hand, might need considerable guidance in order to make good use of it.

REFERENCES

Dörnyei, Z. (2005). The psychology of the language learner: Individual differences insecond language acquisition. Mahwah: NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Lightbown, P. M., & Spada, N. (2006). How languages are learned (3rd ed.). Oxford;New York: Oxford University Press.

Robinson, P. (Ed.). (2002). Individual differences and instructed language learning.Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Shore, C. M. (1995). Individual differences in language development. ThousandOaks, CA: Sage Publications.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER Tim S. O. Lee is currently undertaking a PhD in Applied English Linguistics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He is also a visiting lecturer at the Hong Kong Community College, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and he has been teaching adults and sub-degree students since 2006. His previous research has focused on the use of communicative tasks and written exercises in vocabulary teaching and learning in tertiary institutes.


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