Perspectives on Individual Characteristics and Foreign Language Education 9781614510932, 9781614510956

Learner characteristics have been at the center of second language acquisition and foreign language education research i

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Perspectives on Individual Characteristics and Foreign Language Education
 9781614510932, 9781614510956

Table of contents :
Chapter 1. Individual characteristics and foreign language education: An introduction to the book
Part 1: Cognitive variables
Chapter 2 Attention, awareness, and individual differences in language learning
Chapter 3 Language learning aptitude and foreign language learning
Chapter 4 Understanding L2 reading: A cognitive perspective
Chapter 5 The effects of motivation and proficiency on pragmatic and grammatical awareness in foreign language learning
Chapter 6 Differentiated instruction for language and learning strategies: Classroom applications
Chapter 7. Characterising individual learners on an empirically-developed can-do system: An application of Latent Rank Theory
Part 2: Beliefs, assumptions and attitudes
Chapter 8. Learner language in unrehearsed communication: Nurturing individual differences in the classroom
Chapter 9. Exploring Australian Japanese language teachers’ perceptions of intercultural language learning
Chapter 10. Assumptions about learning and teaching languages amongst Australian pre-service teachers: A pedagogical process allowing reflection for teacher learning
Chapter 11. Individual difference and context in study abroad
Part 3: Motivation, identity and anxiety
Chapter 12. The role of stories in teacher development
Chapter 13. Language identity as a process and second language learning
Chapter 14. Fostering learners’ affective development through process drama
Chapter 15. Implementing a goal setting program for EFL students: The design, process and results
Chapter 16. A study of foreign language classroom anxiety at a Taiwanese university
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Perspectives on Individual Characteristics and Foreign Language Education

Studies in Second and Foreign Language Education 6


Anna Uhl Chamot Wai Meng Chan

De Gruyter Mouton

Perspectives on Individual Characteristics and Foreign Language Education

edited by

Wai Meng Chan Kwee Nyet Chin Sunil Kumar Bhatt Izumi Walker

De Gruyter Mouton

ISBN 978-1-61451-095-6 e-ISBN 978-1-61451-093-2 ISSN 2192-0982 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A CIP catalog record for this book has been applied for at the Library of Congress. Bibliographic information published by the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek The Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in the Deutsche Nationalbibliografie; detailed bibliographic data are available in the Internet at ” 2012 Walter de Gruyter, Inc., Boston/Berlin Cover image: Creatas/Thinkstock Printing: Hubert & Co. GmbH & Co. KG, Göttingen ⬁ Printed on acid-free paper Printed in Germany


This book brings together fifteen papers selected from CLaSIC 2010, the Fourth Centre for Language Studies International Conference, held at the Orchard Hotel in Singapore on December 2–4, 2010. Since its inception in 2004, the CLaSIC series of biennial conferences, organised by the Centre for Language Studies (CLS) of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the National University of Singapore (NUS), has gained the unwavering support of scholars, researchers and practitioners in foreign language education and related disciplines from around the world. CLaSIC 2010 was devoted to the theme “Individual Characteristics and Subjective Variables in Language Learning,” thus acknowledging the undoubted importance of learners’ – and teachers’ – individual characteristics in foreign language education. Altogether, over 240 proposals were received, from which 100 papers and posters were eventually selected for presentation at CLaSIC 2010. The Asia-Pacific Symposium for the Teaching of Asian Languages, which was conducted within the framework of CLaSIC 2010, deserves special mention. This symposium was initiated jointly by The Australian National University and NUS, and was first held as part of CLaSIC 2008. Following the resounding success of the inaugural symposium, it was expanded in 2010 to include additional partners in the University of Hawaii, La Trobe University and Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. A selection of the 14 papers presented at the symposium has since been published in a special issue of e-FLT, the Electronic Journal of Foreign Language Teaching, in December 2011. The fifteen chapters that follow the introduction to this book were selected for publication based on the expert reviews of a Scientific Committee comprising the following eight distinguished scholars from Asia, Europe and North America: Karin Aguado (Universität Kassel), Naoko Aoki (Osaka University), Anna Uhl Chamot (The George Washington University), William Littlewood (Hong Kong Baptist University), Richard Schmidt (University of Hawai’i), Elaine Tarone (University of Minnesota),



Weiping Wu (The Chinese University of Hong Kong) and Minglang Zhou (University of Maryland). We feel immensely indebted to the many who have contributed to the success of CLaSIC 2010 and the preparation of this book. In particular, we would like to thank the following persons and organisations: the Guest-ofHonour, Professor Brenda Yeoh, Dean of the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences; members of the Scientific Committee for the selection of papers for this book; the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences for the generous grant (Project No. N-127-000-012-021) in support of the conference; our other sponsors and partners, including the Char Yong (DABU) Clan Association Singapore, the Lee Foundation, the Goethe-Institut Singapore, the Japan Foundation, and the Chinese Language Teaching and Research Fund administered jointly by CLS and the Department of Chinese Studies at NUS; and Nicole Tew, Serah Soon and Beatrice Lam for their assistance in proof-reading and formatting the manuscript. Above all, we would like to salute the untiring efforts and total dedication of our colleagues in the CLaSIC 2010 Organising Committee and the CLS’ administrative support team, who gave of their best before, during and after the conference.

Wai Meng Chan, Kwee Nyet Chin, Sunil Kumar Bhatt and Izumi Walker Singapore, June 2012


Chapter 1 Individual characteristics and foreign language education: An introduction to the book Wai Meng Chan, Kwee Nyet Chin, Sunil Kumar Bhatt and Izumi Walker


Part 1: Cognitive variables Chapter 2 Attention, awareness, and individual differences in language learning Richard Schmidt


Chapter 3 Language learning aptitude and foreign language learning Karin Aguado


Chapter 4 Understanding L2 reading: A cognitive perspective Swathi M. Vanniarajan


Chapter 5 The effects of motivation and proficiency on pragmatic and grammatical awareness in foreign language learning Boonjeera Chiravate


Chapter 6 Differentiated instruction for language and learning strategies: Classroom applications Anna Uhl Chamot




Chapter 7 Characterising individual learners on an empirically-developed can-do system: An application of Latent Rank Theory Naoki Sugino, Kenichi Yamakawa, Hiromasa Ohba, Kojiro Shojima, Yuko Shimizu and Michiko Nakano


Part 2: Beliefs, assumptions and attitudes Chapter 8 Learner language in unrehearsed communication: Nurturing individual differences in the classroom Elaine Tarone


Chapter 9 Exploring Australian Japanese language teachers’ perceptions of intercultural language learning Caroline Mahoney


Chapter 10 Assumptions about learning and teaching languages amongst Australian pre-service teachers: A pedagogical process allowing reflection for teacher learning Lesley Anne Harbon


Chapter 11 Individual difference and context in study abroad Phil Benson


Part 3: Motivation, identity and anxiety Chapter 12 The role of stories in teacher development Naoko Aoki


Chapter 13 Language identity as a process and second language learning Minglang Zhou




Chapter 14 Fostering learners’ affective development through process drama Indrianti


Chapter 15 Implementing a goal setting program for EFL students: The design, process and results Shan-mao Chang, Yi-ting Huang and Hsiu-chen Wu


Chapter 16 A study of foreign language classroom anxiety at a Taiwanese university Ming Chang


Authors and their affiliations




Chapter 1 Individual characteristics and foreign language education: An introduction to the book Wai Meng Chan, Kwee Nyet Chin, Sunil Kumar Bhatt and Izumi Walker

1 Learner characteristics in second language acquisition and foreign language education Learner characteristics have always been at the focal point of second language acquisition (SLA) and foreign language education (FLE) research, for many of them have been identified through the efforts of countless researchers as determinants of second/foreign language (L2) learning achievement. Much research has been directed at identifying L2 learning processes and how various learner characteristics mediate these processes and contribute to the theoretical models that result (for accounts of major SLA theories and models, see Ellis, 2008; Lightbown & Spada, 2006; Mitchell & Myles, 2004). For example, in establishing their Socioeducational Model, Gardner and MacIntyre (1992, 1993) attempt to incorporate ten learner characteristics to provide an account of how a second language is acquired. Gardner and MacIntyre (1992) group these ten characteristics into three broad categories – namely, cognitive variables (such as language aptitude and language learning strategies), affective variables (such as attitudes, motivation and language anxiety) and those variables which could affect learners’ cognition or affect (examples given by Gardner and MacIntyre for this category include age and socio-cultural experiences). Others have drawn on findings from SLA research on learner characteristics to propose foreign language instructional models. For instance, Cohen (1998, 2003), in proposing his Styles and Strategies Based Instruction Model, examines how various variables – primarily language learning styles, but also other variables including age, personality, motiva-


W. M. Chan, K. N. Chin, S. Kumar Bhatt & I. Walker

tion, prior learning experience and proficiency level – can interact with and influence learners’ strategy use in L2 learning processes. The bulk of the research done in SLA and FLE has in the past focused on establishing general principles and deriving pedagogical theories and implications from the study of learner characteristics which can be applied to language teaching and learning as a whole. Citing Alexander and Murphy (1999), Dörnyei (2005) describes this as the dominant development trend in education in general, which has primarily sought to “characterize the teachers and students who populate classrooms as ‘learning communities’ and to think in terms of the collective more than the individual” (p. 2). In a similar vein, Skehan (1991) points to the long-standing approach in psychology to study and identify structures and processes common to all people, and states with specific reference to applied linguistics and SLA: Linguistics, for example, has tended to emphasize common, even universal, features in language (especially syntax), and the autonomy and modularity of the language system. Similarly, in pedagogy, researchers have attempted to identify the general (and even unique) “best methodology,” or best approach to teaching, with less attention paid to constraints on the operation of (say) methodology or the way it may affect people in different ways. In studies more directly concerned with acquisition, researchers have tried to identify universal sequences in development, or common processes such as transfer, cross-linguistic interference, overgeneralization, fossilization, and so forth, that affect everyone in the same way. (p. 276)

Perhaps the most extreme example of this hunt for highly generalisable – and even universal – language acquisition theories and models is Chomsky’s (1976, 1986, 1993) Universal Grammar Model, which is based on a “system of principles, conditions, and rules that are elements or properties of all human languages” and thus “invariant among humans” (Chomsky, 1976, p. 29). Another example is the good language learner research in the 1970s and early 1980s (Naiman, Fröhlich, Stern, & Todesco, 1978; Rubin, 1975, 1981; Stern, 1975). Though these studies were motivated by the urge to explain obvious performance differentials among L2 learners despite receiving the same instruction and sharing the learning environment, the researchers set out initially to seek a set of learning behaviours, essentially strategies and techniques, that are “proven” to be effective and can therefore be taught to less successful learners (Chamot, 2004; Grenfell &

Individual characteristics and foreign language education


Macaro, 2007; Skehan, 1991). Such efforts were thus essentially directed at finding straightforward pedagogical solutions that would be widely applicable to L2 learners with learning difficulties to help them overcome these difficulties and achieve the desired outcomes. 2 Research into individual differences Research such as the good language learner studies represents a response to the puzzling question why there are often large differences in L2 learning achievement and why many learners do not succeed in learning a L2 though they are proficient speakers of their respective first languages (Dörnyei, 2005; Segalowitz, 1997). The search for answers to these questions have led to, in Skehan’s (1991) view, a second approach in psychological and SLA research, which attempts to investigate differences in various learner characteristics and to relate these to performance differentials among individual learners. Skehan contends in his book titled “Individual differences in second-language learning,” published in 1989, that this approach had produced far less research than the aforementioned trend towards the study of common processes and the formulation of universal principles of L2 learning. While research into individual differences (IDs) has received much greater attention since the early 1990s, as evidenced by the vast number of studies reported and discussed by Dörnyei (2005) in his comprehensive book on ID research and its implications for FLE, Skehan’s contention about the imbalance in the volume of research generated through the two contrasting approaches arguably still holds true today. Although the first integrated view of ID research was delivered only in the late 1980s by Skehan (1989), the interest in individual factors which can potentially contribute to one’s learning outcomes and account for differences in attainment levels can be traced to the 1920s and 1930s. In the United States, language aptitude tests were first developed between 1925 and 1930, and applied subsequently in schools for the selection of students for foreign language classes (Spolsky, 1995, cit. in Dörnyei, 2005). This was followed by a second major test development phase in the 1950s and 1960s, during which two large-scale research and developmental projects led to the design and publication of two highly influential tests of lan-


W. M. Chan, K. N. Chin, S. Kumar Bhatt & I. Walker

guage aptitude, the “Modern Language Aptitude Test” (MLAT; Carroll & Sapon, 1959) and the “Pimsleur Language Aptitude Battery” (PLAB; Pimsleur, 1966). Karin Aguado, in Chapter 3 of this book, provides a brief overview of the development of language aptitude tests since the 1950s, including the MLAT and PLAB, and the components that constitute these tests (see also Dörnyei, 2005). Two other important ID factors for which there are long research traditions are language learning strategies and motivation. As mentioned above, the good language learner research in the 1970s provided the early impetus for the extensive research on the contributions of learning strategies to L2 learning. In fact, Rubin (1987) traces the beginnings of the language learning strategy research to the studies of Carlton (1966, 1971), which focus on the use of inferencing as a language learning technique. Similarly, early interest in L2 motivation research dates back to pre-1980 days with the pioneering work of Gardner and Lambert (1959, 1972), who take a social psychological view of L2 motivation and postulate the significance of learners’ attitudes towards the target language community for their learning orientations and success. Not unexpectedly, in the early foundational years, research on the various ID factors was confined within the boundaries of the respective fields and there was little interfacing between research efforts in the various ID areas. Neither did researchers take a more integrated view of IDs until the pioneering work of Skehan (1989, 1991) and the efforts of other scholars in the last two decades (e.g. Dörnyei, 2005, 2009; Ehrman, Leaver, & Oxford, 2003; Gardner & MacIntyre, 1992, 1993; Oxford & Ehrman, 1993). For an integrated approach to the study of IDs, a good working definition of what constitutes an ID is indispensible. Broadly speaking, an ID could be any characteristic or attribute that “marks a person as a distinct and unique human being” (Dörnyei, 2005, p. 3). However, in order to make IDs more researchable, it is necessary to narrow this definition and to consider which ID factors – out of an almost endless array of differences which may exist between learners – would justify the considerable investment of time and resources necessary for scientific research. As Dörnyei (2009) puts it: … ID research has traditionally focused only on those personal characteristics that are enduring, that are assumed to apply to everybody, and on which

Individual characteristics and foreign language education


people differ by degree. In other words, ID factors concern stable and systematic deviations from a normative blueprint ... (p. 231)

Thus, from the perspective of ID research, attention is directed mainly at those characteristics that can be assumed to 1) be present in all or most learners, 2) be relatively stable over time, and 3) demonstrate an impact on learning processes and outcomes that will differ to some extent from learner to learner. Which of the variables that could possibly affect L2 learning would meet these criteria and thus merit inclusion in an integrated ID research framework? In the first comprehensive discussion of ID research that presents an integrated model and explores the interactions between various ID factors, Skehan (1989) includes language aptitude, motivation and language learning strategies as key variables of his model. That these three factors should form the basis of his model is hardly surprising, given that they have the longest research histories among the various learner characteristics studied in SLA research. To this list of key ID factors, Skehan (1991) later adds a fourth major variable – namely, learning styles (see also Dörnyei & Skehan, 2003). Other ID factors touched upon briefly in Skehan’s model (1989) include cognitive attributes such as intelligence and cognitive style, the affective influence of anxiety, and personal variables such as extroversion, risk-taking and sociability. In their socioeducational model of L2 learning, Gardner and Lambert (1992, 1993) distinguish between cognitive and affective IDs, listing intelligence, language aptitude and language learning strategies in the former category, and language attitudes, motivation and language anxiety in the latter. In a more recent paper on the contributions of IDs to L2 learning, Ehrman et al. (2003) – while acknowledging other ID factors such as language aptitude, gender, culture and age – focus primarily on learning styles, learning strategies and a group of affective variables, including motivation, selfefficacy, tolerance of ambiguity, and anxiety. The most comprehensive account of ID research to date, provided by Dörnyei (2005), also takes a selective focus, paying particular attention to five learner characteristics. Of these, he considers personality, language aptitude and motivation to be “principal learner variables,” which must be closely examined when “addressing individual differences from an educational perspective” (p. 7). Similar to earlier accounts of IDs, Dörnyei also


W. M. Chan, K. N. Chin, S. Kumar Bhatt & I. Walker

includes learning styles and language learning strategies in his framework because of the long-standing tradition of research into these factors. He considers five other characteristics – anxiety, creativity, willingness to communicate, self-esteem and learner beliefs – to be of potentially much theoretical and practical importance, but discusses them only briefly, as he believes that insufficient research has been done to date on their role and nature. The papers included in the present book reflect to a considerable extent the traditionally strong research interest in the three key factors of language aptitude, language learning strategies and motivation. Three of the 17 chapters are devoted to the discussion of language aptitude (Chapter 3 by Aguado) and cognitive variables identified in recent ID research as components of one’s capacity for language learning, such as noticing, attention, awareness and working memory (Chapters 2 and 4 by Richard Schmidt and Swathi M. Vanniarajan, respectively). In addition, in Chapter 5, Boonjeera Chiravate reports on a study of the aspect of grammatical awareness, which is similar to the attributes of grammatical sensitivity and verbal intelligence considered by Carroll (1981) and Pimsleur (1966) to be key constituents of their respective models of language aptitude. Chapter 6 by Anna Uhl Chamot looks at language learning strategies as a key ID factor and considers how the needs of learners with varying degrees of strategy knowledge and use can be met in the L2 language classroom. The third of the three key ID factors, motivation, forms the primary or secondary concern of four chapters – namely, Chapter 5 by Chiravate Chapter 13 by Minglang Zhou, Chapter 14 by Indrianti, and Chapter 15 by Shan-mao Chang, Yi-ting Huang and Hsiu-chen Wu. Among the array of characteristics and variables covered in the other chapters in this volume are learner language, identity, anxiety, beliefs, assumptions and attitudes. Since the adoption of a more integrated approach to ID research, insights into the nature and contributions of ID factors as well as the ensuing theoretical models have attained a high level of sophistication. For instance, in the area of language learning strategies, researchers have long since rejected the simple, linear view that less successful learners can emulate the success of “good language learners” just by being instructed in the use of “effective” strategies displayed by the latter. Instead, many researchers now recognise that it is not as much the quantity of the strate-

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gies available to a learner that makes the difference as the quality of his/her strategy use (e.g. Chamot in Chapter 6 of this volume; Grenfell & Macaro, 2007). The general view held currently is that any given strategy is neither good nor bad, but that strategy use can lead to positive learning outcomes only if the strategies selected are appropriate for the learning tasks at hand, match the learners’ learning styles and are effectively employed (Ehrman et al., 2003). In a recent review, Cohen (2007) comes to the conclusion that “for a strategy to be effective in promoting learning or improved performance, it must be combined with other strategies either simultaneously in strategy clusters or in sequence, in strategy chains” (p. 35). There is also general agreement today about the pivotal role of metacognition, another learner attribute, in effective strategy use. A welldeveloped metacognition is considered a key prerequisite and a linchpin of successful learning (Chan, 2000, 2010; Macaro, 2001). Indeed, Grenfell and Macaro (2007) describe it as “the orchestrating mechanism for combining strategies effectively in any given situation” (p. 23). Drawing on findings from educational psychology, Dörnyei (2005) relates the effective use of learning strategies to another ID factor, the learner’s capacity to self-regulate, which he views as a “multidimensional construct,” consisting of “cognitive, metacognitive, motivational, behavioral, and environmental processes” (p. 191). The current view of the contributions of ID factors to L2 learning is thus highly dynamic in nature, involving complex processes and interrelations between numerous variables, which cannot be adequately investigated and described through linear correlational research methods seeking to link learning achievement to single ID factors. Another example of the trend towards a more differentiated and dynamic view of ID factors is provided by the language aptitude research, which began attracting renewed interest among psychologists and SLA researchers in the 1990s. Since then, researchers have been distancing themselves from the view that language aptitude is a “monolithic, static trait” (Robinson, 2007, p. 257) which can be measured by a single, straightforward aptitude test and possesses universal predictive value for all learning situations. Instead, the prevalent view is that language aptitude is very much a complex, multidimensional construct – much like the current notion of language learning strategies – and is closely related to other cognitive variables, most notably working memory, attention and noticing


W. M. Chan, K. N. Chin, S. Kumar Bhatt & I. Walker

ability (e.g. Miyake & Friedman, 1998; Sawyer & Ranta, 2001; see also Schmidt in Chapter 2 and Aguado in Chapter 3 of this book). Sawyer and Ranta (2001) explain how these variables are closely interrelated in determining one’s capacity for learning: “Assuming that noticing is crucial to learning, and attention is required for noticing, and attention at any moment is limited by WM capacity, then there must logically be a close relationship between amount of learning and size of WM.” (p. 342) Robinson (2001, 2007) conceives language aptitude as a collective capacity comprising clusters of IDs, which he calls aptitude complexes, a term he borrows from Snow (1994, cit. in Robinson, 2007). He postulates the existence of four aptitude complexes, which are combinations of five cognitive ability factors, namely, the capacity for noticing the gap, memory for contingent speech, deep semantic processing, memory for contingent text, and metalinguistic rule rehearsal. Each aptitude complex is assumed to be a determinant of a learner’s ability to adapt to a particular learning situation (such as learning through focus on form, incidental learning, and explicit rule learning) and to cope with the specific tasks and task demands typical of this situation. For example, Robinson reasons that the first of the four aptitude complexes, consisting of one’s capacity for noticing the gap and memory for contingent speech, provides key support for learning through recasting in an instructional situation involving focus on form. 1 Key to successful L2 learning is thus contingent upon matching a learner’s strengths in specific aptitude complexes to the conditions that favour these strengths or, in other words, the kind of instructional approach or learning tasks that draw on these aptitude complexes. What clearly emerges from the above discussion of recent trends in ID research is the complex and interrelated nature of ID factors, which can no longer be considered in isolation, but must instead be studied as constituents of a dynamic system contributing to learners’ ability to adapt to and learn in different environments and under varying conditions of learning. What has also become clear is the influence of the context on learning as well as the interactions of IDs with contextual factors, including the instructional approaches employed and the dynamics of the respective L2 classroom situations (Dörnyei, 2005, 2009). Such interactions cannot be 1. See Robinson (2001, 2007) for a detailed account of his hierarchical model of aptitude complexes, ability factors and cognitive abilities.

Individual characteristics and foreign language education


discounted and need to be elucidated through further research, as Dörnyei (2005) reasons: The most striking aspect of nearly all the recent ID literature is the emerging theme of context: It appears that cutting-edge research in all these diverse areas has been addressing the same issue, that is, the situated nature of the ID factors in question. Scholars … are now increasingly proposing new dynamic conceptualizations in which ID factors enter into some interaction with the educational parameters rather than cutting across tasks and environments. (p. 218)

In Chapter 11, Phil Benson examines precisely the interplay between a learner and the context in which she was immersed while participating in a study abroad programme to show how 1) her experience of the external context negatively affected her perceptions of and attitudes towards aspects of this context and interactional opportunities within it, and 2) how she – in response to this – actively constructed new subjective contexts for interactions and created conditions that facilitated language learning and use. 3 Individual “characteristics” versus “differences” Findings from ID research have led to efforts in FLE to create more favourable conditions for learning that correspond better to learners’ varying aptitudes, abilities, styles, preferences, motivations, and so forth. This could involve the modest efforts of an informed teacher, sensitive to such differences among his/her learners, to provide some measure of variability and flexibility in his/her L2 lessons and thus opportunities for learners to benefit in their own way. At the other extreme could be teachers or institutions which may undertake more radical attempts to provide “complete individualization so that each student has his or her own unique course” (Cook, 2008, p. 153). One such institutional initiative to put in place a highly individualised programme was implemented at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) in the U.S. Established by Madeline Ehrman, the FSI Language Consultation Service provides counselling to students on an individual basis to help them acquire and apply learning strategies that best match their respective learning styles, motivations, as well as levels of anxiety and self-efficacy (Ehrman, 2001; Ehrman & Leaver, 2003). This


W. M. Chan, K. N. Chin, S. Kumar Bhatt & I. Walker

individualised programme does not however supplant regular classroom instruction administered to whole groups of students, and Ehrman is quick to acknowledge that “the success of the Learning Consultation Service (LCS) depends on the cooperation of the regular classroom teachers” (Ehrman & Leaver, 2003, p. 403). The increased interest and exponential growth in the study of IDs since the 1990s has helped to address to some extent the imbalance in research, which had traditionally favoured the study of common processes and characteristics in L2 learning. Despite the vast inroads achieved by ID research in recent years, this by no means render the “mainstream” approach to focus on universal factors irrelevant or insignificant; in fact, such research continues to perform a key role in informing theory and practice in FLE. For instance, the highly individualised FSI Learning Consultation Service is intended to complement, and not to replace, whole-class instruction with common syllabi and materials for students. Moreover, while such an elaborate programme may be possible at an institution as large as FSI, it would be difficult to implement in standard educational institutions with far more modest resources. The lack of suitably qualified specialist teachers may present another obstacle, as it is probably beyond the abilities of most teachers to design lessons involving the kind of matching instruction employed in Wesche’s (1981) study, which used language aptitude tests to identify different learning styles and then sought to match the kind of instruction provided to the learners’ preferred approach to learning. (Ellis, 2005, p. 203)

In truth, both approaches have their rightful places in SLA and FLE research and are equally capable of contributing to instructed L2 acquisition. Lightbown and Spada (2006) provide, for example, an account of how SLA research – especially studies that have focused primarily on the collective – has shaped language teaching methodologies and impacted classroom instruction. While research into L2 motivation has now established its highly individual nature and postulates a close link to a learner’s self-image, or more specifically, to his/her possible selves 2, there are also 2. Drawing on work done in personality psychology, Dörnyei (2005) describes “possible selves” as the “specific representations of one’s self in future states, involving thoughts, images, and senses, and are in many ways the manifestations, or personalized carriers of one’s goals and aspiration (or fears, of course)” (p. 99).

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findings that show that group dynamics in the L2 classroom and group motivational conditions can have a significant influence on, and support or override the motivation of individual learners (e.g. Dörnyei, 1997; Dörnyei & Murphey, 2003; Ehrmann & Dörnyei, 1998; Ushioda, 2003). Studies investigating the effect of whole-class intervention on the motivation of collective groups of learners, such as those reported by Indrianti in Chapter 14, and Shan-mao Chang, Yi-ting Huang and Hsiu-chen Wu in Chapter 15, thus remain highly relevant. Recognising the equal importance of both research approaches, this book presents a range of papers that look at curricular interventions addressing collective deficiencies in learner characteristics as well as variations in individual learning processes and outcomes. The title of the book and the choice of the word “characteristics” instead of “differences” thus reflect the dual perspective it is taking in the study of the contributions of learners’ attributes to L2 learning. In a quote above (see p. 10), Ehrman and Leaver (2003) allude to the important role of the teacher, the other major actor in the foreign language classroom, in ensuring the success of any programmes that seek to apply the findings of ID research. Indeed, as Ehrman et al. (2003) emphasize, “it is expert teachers with flexible but clear syllabi who can most systematically provide for the individual differences among their students” (p. 324). In Chapter 8, Elaine Tarone describes a programme and materials that are designed to inform teachers about the importance of learner language, an ID factor, and to guide them on the use of unrehearsed communicative tasks in the foreign language classroom to develop learners’ implicit linguistic knowledge. Of equal significance in FLE are the individual attributes of the teacher, which will undoubtedly influence the way they approach teaching and thus also impact learning processes and outcomes in their classrooms. For instance, the motivation of teachers to teach and the level of their enthusiasm and commitment have considerable bearing on their learners’ motivation (Dörnyei, 2001). As Ehrman et al. (2003) point out, “just as students vary, so do teachers, in motivation, in overall attitude, in self-efficacy as teachers, in teaching/learning style, and in preferred strategies” (p. 324). Other attributes that are of significance include their beliefs and assumptions about teaching and learning, their self-image and identity as teach-


W. M. Chan, K. N. Chin, S. Kumar Bhatt & I. Walker

ers, and their metacognition and self-regulation. Three chapters in this book – Chapter 9 by Caroline Mahoney, Chapter 10 by Lesley Anne Harbon and Chapter 12 by Naoko Aoki – are thus aptly devoted to the description of teacher characteristics and programmes designed to raise teachers’ awareness of these characteristics. Given that its scope extends to the teacher as well, the broader term “individual characteristics” is preferred in the book title to “learner characteristics,” which is more commonly encountered in SLA and FLE terminology. 4 The structure and contents of this book The 15 chapters that follow this introduction shed light on the individual characteristics of learners and teachers of foreign languages. These chapters are organised in three main sections, with Part 1 focusing on a broad range of learner variables that are generally considered to be cognitive in nature. The chapters in this section present theoretical discussions of and empirical research into these cognitive variables and how they impact L2 learning. Part 2 of the book includes a collection of papers on the beliefs, assumptions, perceptions and attitudes of students and teachers with regard to L2 teaching and learning. Recent literature generally tends to relate beliefs and assumptions to one’s cognitive knowledge structures (Woods, 1996) or, more specifically, even to metacognitive knowledge (Dörnyei, 2005; Wenden, 1999). They are seen to provide part of the basis for one’s perceptions and attitudes, which will in turn influence their teaching and learning behaviour (Borg, 2006; Woods, 1996; see also Harbon in Chapter 11). The third and the final section of the book, Part 3, discusses the individual characteristics of motivation, identity and anxiety, which are closely related and thus often studied together. For instance, in Chapter 13, Zhou postulates a direct link between a learner’s identity and his/her L2 learning motivation. At the same time, a number of recent studies (e.g. Ehrman, 2000; Horwitz & Young, 1991; Young, 1998) have pointed to a close, but inverse relationship between motivation and anxiety, with a high level of anxiety often leading to reduced motivation, while the lowering of one’s anxiety will usually contribute to improved motivation.

Individual characteristics and foreign language education


4.1 Part 1: Cognitive variables The six chapters in Part 1 of the book look at variables that differentiate learners in their cognitive abilities, including two of the two most widely researched ID factors (language aptitude and language learning strategies) as well as the various attributes that have been identified more recently as constituents of aptitude complexes (e.g. working memory capacity, attention and noticing ability). The authors of the chapters examine these cognitive variables theoretically and empirically, or present practical applications derived from research for the language classroom. In Chapter 2, Richard Schmidt provides a comprehensive account of the Noticing Hypothesis, which states that input does not become intake for language learning unless it is noticed, that is, consciously registered. First proposed more than two decades ago, this hypothesis has generated and continues to generate much further research and discussion, both in support of and in opposition to it. Schmidt reviews some of the evidence for the hypothesis, as well as the major objections that have been raised against it from a variety of perspectives: linguistic, psychological, sociocultural, and philosophical. Thereafter, he focuses his attention on the discussion of how individual differences among learners in their noticing abilities, attention and awareness may be related to performance differentials among L2 learners. He concludes the chapter by explaining how these attributes are related to various ID factors and constructs such as aptitude, working memory, motivation, and implicit and statistical learning abilities. Chapter 3, contributed by Karin Aguado, is devoted to the construct of language learning aptitude and traces its development since the early work done by Carroll and Pimsleur (e.g. Carroll, 1973; Carroll & Sapon, 1959; Pimsleur, 1966), the creators of two widely used and highly influential language aptitude tests, MLAT and PLAB. Aguado further shows how the early static view of language aptitude as an innate and fixed ability has been gradually revised since the re-discovery of this construct in the 1990s among L2 researchers. In fhe final part of the chapter, she gives an overview of two recent attempts by Robinson (2002, 2007) and Skehan (2002) to analyse and re-define language aptitude as a highly dynamic and situated complex of related, but different ID variables.


W. M. Chan, K. N. Chin, S. Kumar Bhatt & I. Walker

Swathi M. Vanniarajan, in Chapter 4, relates the results of an experimental study on the relationship between L2 learners’ reading performance and their working memory, identified in recent research (see also Schmidt and Aguado in the current volume) as a key variable in L2 learning. The experiment compared the performances of non-native subjects in two L2 reading comprehension exercises – one with limited and the other with unlimited time allowance. The results indicate that the subjects differed greatly in their L2 reading abilities, as indicated by their scores under the limited time condition. When given unlimited time, 13 of the 30 subjects immediately improved their scores significantly. The results of Vanniarajan’s study seem to corroborate earlier research findings that working memory capacity is a key factor contributing to fluency and proficiency in L2 reading. It also shows that L2 readers at the controlled end of the “automatic-controlled continuum” of reading development, who are assumed to have smaller working memory capacities, can overcome this limitation if they are given sufficient time to process all the information in a passage. In Chapter 5, Boonjeera Chiravate reports on an investigation into how learners’ motivation and proficiency level influence their pragmatic and grammatical awareness in the foreign language setting. She collected data from 120 Thai learners of English as a foreign language, using a contextualised judgement task consisting of 32 scenarios eliciting four speech acts to ascertain the level of learners’ pragmatic and grammatical awareness, which are key attributes contributing to communicative competence. The results reveal that high-motivation learners are more aware of pragmatic errors than low-motivation learners, indicating that there is a positive correlation between motivation and pragmatic awareness. On the other hand, learners’ proficiency level seems to correlate positively with their awareness of grammatical errors, but not with their awareness of pragmatic errors. The results achieved by Chiravate thus seem to support findings by other researchers that learners’ motivation has a positive effect on their pragmatic development. In Chapter 6, Anna Uhl Chamot makes a strong case for a curricular proposal to meet the needs of individual learners with different levels of language proficiency and learning strategy knowledge in the L2 classroom. Drawing on the findings of language learning strategy and other

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relevant research, Chamot highlights the importance of identifying differences in learners’ proficiency and strategy knowledge/use, as well as their personal interests and backgrounds in planning and designing L2 instruction. To cater to their individual needs ascertained through this process, she proposes that the pedagogical approach of differentiated instruction be applied to provide a range of language and strategy learning options. She lists a number of planning and learning activities suggested in FLE research, ranging from complexity ladder to learning stations, to support the implementation of differentiated instruction. In Chapter 7, Naoki Sugino, Kenichi Yamakawa, Hiromasa Ohba, Kojiro Shojima, Yuko Shimizu and Michiko Nakano argue that the language proficiency of individual learners is far too fuzzy and complex a construct to be adequately differentiated by test scores on a continuous scale, as most tests are designed to do. Connected to this is the further problem of providing can-do statements which can accurately describe what these learners are capable of doing in the target language at the various test score levels. They present an alternative method of analysing, classifying and characterising individual learners according to their proficiency in terms of what they are able to perform (or “can do”) in the target language. Using a newly developed statistical model called Latent Rank Theory (LRT), they categorised 40,000 learners – randomly selected from 387,447 senior high school takers of a national university entrance examination – into 10 latent ranks and developed unique can-do statements for each of these ranks based on the learners’ response patterns, the test item specifications and statistical measures of their LRT model. 4.2 Part 2: Beliefs, assumptions and attitudes The four chapters in Part 2 of the book are connected by their common focus on the more subjective elements among the individual characteristics of learners and teachers. While one’s beliefs and assumptions are generally considered to form part of his/her knowledge structures, they do not however have the status of knowledge that is generally viewed by most people as a fact and is supported by some form of acceptable, factual evidence. According to Woods’ (1996, p. 195), the term assumptions “refers to the (temporary) acceptance of a ‘fact’ (state, process or relationship)


W. M. Chan, K. N. Chin, S. Kumar Bhatt & I. Walker

which we cannot say we know, and which has not been demonstrated, but which we are taking as true for the time being,” while by the term beliefs, we mean the “acceptance of a proposition for which there is no conventional knowledge, one that is not demonstrable, and for which there is accepted disagreement.” Beliefs and assumptions are thus situated on the subjective end of the continuum of one’s knowledge structures. Similarly, by definition, perceptions, which refer to the way we experience and understand the world, and attitudes, which describe our predispositions towards certain realities or notions, are also subjective in nature. These four variables are also closely interrelated through their mutual impact on each other. For instance, a learner’s beliefs about the value of a particular language will influence his/her attitudes towards that language and the learning of that language, while a teacher’s assumptions about how languages are learned will undoubtedly have a bearing on the way s/he perceives students’ learning behaviours. The relationship is bi-directional, as the critical reflection and analysis of one’s perceptions and learning/teaching experiences will invariably also lead to the revision and restructuring of one’s beliefs and assumptions. In Chapter 8, Elaine Tarone identifies learner language as an important learner characteristic and shows how research into the development of learner language has led to the insight that unrehearsed oral interaction can contribute to the growth of learners’ implicit language knowledge and thus overall language proficiency. In the focus of this chapter is the description of a teacher development approach which involves the (student) teacher as an active researcher and challenges his/her prior notions of language teaching. Using video and transcription data collected through learner language research, teachers are guided to observe, and reflect on, how learners’ implicit language ability develops through unrehearsed oral activities. The chapter presents examples in the form of transcripts of such interactions taken from materials developed by Tarone and her associates (Tarone, Cheon, Horii, Khanzadi, & Wang, 2011) to enable this exploratory and inductive approach to teacher education. In Chapter 9, Caroline Mahoney provides rich descriptions of and insights into individual teachers’ experiences, and explores the factors that underlie their perceptions of, and thus attitudes towards, Intercultural Language Learning (IcLL), the core philosophy of the Australian lan-

Individual characteristics and foreign language education


guage teaching framework, and its implementation in the classrooms. The data were drawn from interviews with four Japanese language teachers in New South Wales who participated in a familiarisation programme called the “Intercultural Language Teaching and Learning in Practice.” Three factors were identified as having shaped the teachers’ perceptions of IcLL: their students, the teaching environment and their personal histories. Mahoney concludes that despite there being many barriers preventing the implementation of IcLL in the classrooms, IcLL remains relevant in the NSW context due to the diverse backgrounds of learners and teachers. She believes that the findings of her study can promote other teachers’ own critical reflections of their perceptions of IcLL. Chapter 10 by Lesley Anne Harbon reports on Australian pre-service teachers’ participation in short-term overseas teaching programmes in Indonesia, South Korea and Thailand, which gave them not just the opportunity to experience teaching in contexts very different from Australian classrooms, but also an understanding of their own assumptions about teaching and learning. Citing qualitative data collected through reflective journals, focus group discussions and interviews, Harbon demonstrates how the overseas teaching experience helped participants to gain an awareness of their own assumptions and to acknowledge the impact of these assumptions on their practice. The critical reflection of their prior subjective notions about language teaching, learners and language learning, as well as teaching and learning materials led to changes to some of their assumptions and thus to their teaching practice as well. The author concludes that the research instruments employed in her study seem suited as pedagogical tools to encourage and enable such vital reflective processes among teachers. Phil Benson, in Chapter 11, presents the results of a study which employed a narrative approach to collect data on a female Hong Kong student’s L2 study abroad experience. The student’s narrations of her expectations prior to and experiences during the overseas stay were captured through pre-/post-trip interviews and weekly blog postings. When her initial experiences in her host country ran contrary to her original expectations and negatively affected her perceptions of and attitudes towards this context and the interactional opportunities within it, she responded by seeking alternative interactional opportunities (e.g. with her host family


W. M. Chan, K. N. Chin, S. Kumar Bhatt & I. Walker

and with others when making trips out of her place of residence). Benson argues that, in doing so, the student had actively constructed new contexts for interactions and thus conditions favourable for language learning and use. This student’s personal experience of and her response to the study abroad context constitutes the individual difference that forms the focus of Benson’s chapter. In a study abroad situation, where the interplay between a learner and the context becomes crucial for the success of the programme, the effect of this individual difference becomes amplified and can consequently lead to substantial variations in learning outcomes and individual progress – a problem that warrants considerable attention in the planning and implementation of L2 study abroad programmes. 4.3 Part 3: Motivation, identity and anxiety Part 3 of the book directs readers’ attention to the important and much researched variables of motivation, identity and anxiety. The intricate interrelationship of these factors has been discussed above (see pp. 12–13). The first two of the five chapters in this section discuss the construct of identity and its impact on teacher development and L2 learners’ language attainment, respectively, while the remaining three present pedagogical approaches and measures supported by empirical investigations to address issues related to learners’ motivation and anxiety. In Chapter 12, Naoko Aoki looks at the topic of teacher development and explains why the narrative approach of storytelling is well suited to guiding teachers to reflect on and effect changes to their teaching. Drawing on extensive previous research on teacher knowledge and teacher development, the author shows that teaching is an expression of the teacher’s identity, which explains why it is difficult to get teachers to change their teaching styles and behaviours. She proposes the use of storytelling, a narrative process she had employed with success in her own teacher education practice, as a means to help in-service teachers make sense of events and actions from their classroom experiences by joining them into stories. On the basis of these stories, teachers can then plan and modify their future actions and behaviours. Aoki closes the chapter by discussing conditions which needs to be fulfilled for teacher development through storytelling to be effective and successful.

Individual characteristics and foreign language education


Chapter 13, contributed by Minglang Zhou, addresses the relationship between identity, motivation and L2 learning. To clarify this relationship, Zhou proposes a conceptual framework which postulates language identity as a two-way process of constant and dynamic mapping between the multiple identities which an individual has for the various roles he plays in society and the codes (languages, language varieties, registers and styles) available to him in his linguistic repertoire. According to him, each identity will seek to be represented and articulated through a particular linguistic code. Conversely, a linguistic code will need to be matched to an identity or identities to be constantly used. The author further posits that, for successful L2 learning, the newly learned L2 code needs to be underpinned by an identity from the learner’s inventory of identities or requires a new identity to be established. The further construction of this identity provides in turn the impetus for the corresponding development of the L2 code necessary for its articulation. In this way, identity is an antecedent of motivation and creates the need for L2 learning. Zhou argues that individual variations in L2 attainment can be explained by whether one’s L2 knowledge can be successfully matched to an identity. In Chapter 14, Indrianti provides an account of how process drama was used in an elementary Indonesian as a foreign language course as a means to lower learners’ anxiety and enhance their self-esteem and learning motivation. The participants of this course who signed up for process drama in fulfilment of their project requirement were engaged as a group in the scripting, rehearsal and performance of a play based on an Indonesian folktale of their choice. A range of quantitative and qualitative instruments, consisting of a questionnaire, semi-structured interviews and field notes, were used to elicit data from ten volunteers pertaining to their perceived anxiety, motivation, self-esteem and self-efficacy. The analysis of the data produced results which suggest that process drama – with its potential for social interactions, self-expression and creative activities – can contribute positively to learners’ affective development. Shan-mao Chang, Yi-ting Huang and Hsiu-chen Wu relate in Chapter 15 how a special programme was designed based on the Goal Setting Theory and implemented in a Taiwanese senior high school. The target group of this programme comprised 45 students with low levels of motivation and achievement in their EFL learning. In the course of this pro-


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gramme, students were assigned group and individual goals (performance targets for their English quizzes), and were also guided to make study plans and evaluate their own performances. Teacher feedback and rewards in the form of small gifts were also provided in recognition of the students’ improvements, and to enhance their motivation and sense of selfefficacy. The success of the programme was evident not only in the improvements in the students’ grades, but also in the more positive motivations and attitudes they displayed towards English learning and the English tests, as well as their improved relationship with their teacher. The final chapter of the book, Chapter 16, authored by Ming Chang, focuses on Taiwanese university students’ foreign language anxiety, which has been established in ID research as a major factor contributing to performance differentials among L2 learners. Chang presents a study aimed at identifying the level of anxiety experienced by his sample of 157 EFL learners, as well as the sources of their anxiety. Adopting a mixed methods approach using the “Foreign Language Anxiety Scale” developed by Horwitz, Horwitz and Cope (1986) and semi-structured interviews with selected students and teachers, he found that a high percentage of the students suffered from at least a moderate level of anxiety, which is caused by three main factors: 1) their fear of failing their tests; 2) their fear of speaking English in public; and 3) their self-perceived low proficiency in English. Among the strategies employed by the interviewed teachers to counter anxiety in their classrooms were the use of group work for increased cooperative learning, providing optimal input that challenges rather than overwhelms learners, and encouraging and supporting more risktaking in class. References Borg, S. (2006). Teacher cognition and language education: Research and practice. London: Continuum. Carlton, A. (1966). The method of inference in foreign language study. New York: The Research Foundation of New York. Carlton, A. (1971). Inferencing: A process in using and learning language. In P. Pimsleur & T. Quinn (Eds.), The psychology of second language learning (pp. 45–58). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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Carroll, J. B. (1973). Implications of aptitude test research and psycholinguistic theory for foreign language teaching. International Journal of Psycholinguistics, 2, 5–14. Carroll, J. B. (1981). Twenty-five years of research in foreign language aptitude. In K. C. Diller (Ed.), Individual differences and universals in language learning aptitude (pp. 83–118). Rowley, MA: Newbury House. Carroll, J. B., & Sapon, S. M. (1959). Modern Language Aptitude Test. San Antonio, TX: The Psychological Corporation. Chamot, A. U. (2004). Issues in language learning strategy research and teaching. Electronic Journal of Foreign Language Teaching, 1(1), 14–26. Chan, W. M. (2000). Metakognition und der DaF-Unterricht für asiatische Lerner. Möglichkeiten und Grenzen. Münster: Waxmann Verlag. Chan, W. M. (2010). Learner strategies for CALL – what are these and which should be taught? In C. Ward (Ed.), The impact of technology on language learning and teaching: What, how and why (pp. 141–167). Singapore: SEAMEO Regional Language Centre. Chomsky, N. (1976). Reflections on language. London: Temple Smith. Chomsky, N. (1986). Knowledge of language: Its nature, origin and use. New York: Praeger. Chomsky, N. (1993). A minimalist program for linguistic theory. In K. Hale & S. J. Keyser (Eds.), The view from Building 20: Essays in linguistics in honor of Sylvain Bromberger (pp. 1–52). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Cohen, A. D. (1998). Strategies in learning and using a second language. Harlow: Longman. Cohen, A. D. (2003). The learner’s side of foreign language learning: Where do styles, strategies, and tasks meet? International Review of Applied Linguistics, 41(4), 279– 291. Cohen, A. D. (2007). Coming to terms with language learner strategies: Surveying the experts. In A. D. Cohen & E. Macaro (Eds.), Language learner strategies: 30 years of research and practice (pp. 29–45). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Cook, V. (2008). Second language learning and language teaching (4th ed.). London: Hodder Education. Dörnyei, Z. (1997). Psychological processes in cooperative language learning: Group dynamics and motivation. Modern Language Journal, 81, 482–493. Dörnyei, Z. (2001). Teaching and researching motivation. Harlow: Longman Dörnyei, Z. (2005). The psychology of the language learner: Individual differences in second language acquisition. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. Dörnyei, Z. (2009). Individual differences: Interplay of learner characteristics and learning environment. Language Learning, 59(suppl. 1), 230–248. Dörnyei, Z., & Murphey, T. (2003). Group dynamics in the language classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


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Dörnyei, Z., & Skehan, P. (2003). Individual differences in second language learning. In C. J. Doughty & M. H. Long (Eds.), The handbook of second language acquisition (pp. 589–630). Malden, MA: Blackwell. Ehrman, M. E. (2000). Affect, cognition, and learner self-regulation in second language learning. In O. Kagan & B. Rifkin (Eds.), The teaching and learning of Slavic languages and cultures: Toward the 21st Century (pp. 109–133). Bloomington, IN: Slavica. Ehrman, M. E. (2001): Bringing learning strategies to the student: The FSI language learning consultation service. In J. E. Alatis & A.-H. Tan (2001), Learning in our times: Bilingual education and official English, ebonics and standard English, immigration and the Unz Initiative (pp. 41–59). Washington, DC: Georgetown University. Ehrman, M. E., & Dörnyei, Z. (1998). Interpersonal dynamics in second language education: The visible and invisible classroom. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Ehrman, M. E., & Leaver, B. L. (2003). Cognitive styles in the service of language learning. System, 31, 393–415. Ehrman, M. E., Leaver, B. L., & Oxford, R. L. (2003). A brief overview of individual learner differences in second language learning. System, 31, 313–330. Ellis, R. (2005). Principles of instructed second language learning. System, 33, 209–224. Ellis, R. (2008). The study of second language acquisition (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Gardner, R. C., & Lambert, W. E. (1959). Motivational variables in second language acquisition. Canadian Journal of Psychology, 13, 266–272. Gardner, R. C., & Lambert, W. E. (1972). Attitudes and motivation in second language learning. Rowley, MA: Newbury House. Gardner, R. C., & MacIntyre, P. D. (1992). A student’s contributions to second language learning. Part I: Cognitive variables. Language Teaching, 25, 211–220. Gardner, R. C., & MacIntyre, P. D. (1993). A student’s contributions to second language learning. Part II: Affective variables. Language Teaching, 26, 1–11. Grenfell, M., & Macaro, E. (2007). Claims and critiques. In A. D. Cohen & E. Macaro (Eds.), Language learner strategies (pp. 9–28). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Horwitz, E. K., Horwitz, M. B., & Cope, J. (1986). Foreign language classroom anxiety. Modern Language Journal, 70, 125–132. Horwitz, E. K., & Young, D. J. (1991). Language anxiety: From theory and research to classroom implications. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. Lightbown, P. M., & Spada, N. (2006). How languages are learned (3rd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Macaro, E. (2001). Learning strategies in foreign and second language classrooms. London: Continuum. Mitchell, R., & Myles, F. (2004). Second language learning theories (2nd ed.). London: Arnold. Miyake, A., & Friedman, D. (1998). Individual differences in second language proficiency: Working memory as language aptitude. In A. F. Hardy & L. E. Bourne

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(Eds.), Foreign language learning: Psycholinguistic studies on training and retention (pp. 339–364). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. Naiman, N., Fröhlich, M., Stern, H. H., & Todesco, A. (1978). The good language learner. Toronto: Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. Oxford, R. L., & Ehrman, M. E. (1993). Second language research on individual research. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 13, 188–205. Pimsleur, P. (1966). The Pimsleur Language Aptitude Battery. New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovic. Robinson, P. (2001). Individual differences, cognitive abilities, aptitude complexes and learning conditions in second language acquisition. Second Language Research, 17(4), 369–392. Robinson, P. (2002). Learning conditions, aptitude complexes, and SLA: A framework for research and pedagogy. In P. Robinson (Ed.), Individual differences and instructed language learning (pp. 113–133). Amsterdam: John Benjamins. Robinson, P. (2007). Aptitudes, abilities, contexts, and practice. In R. DeKeyser (Eds.), Practice in a second language: Perspectives from applied linguistics and cognitive psychology (pp. 256–286). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Rubin, J. (1975). What the “good language learner” can teach us. TESOL Quarterly, 9, 41– 51. Rubin, J. (1981). Study of cognitive processes in second language learning. Applied Linguistics, 11, 117-131. Rubin, J. (1987). Learner strategies: Theoretical assumptions, research history and typology. In A. Wenden & J. Rubin (Eds.), Learner strategies in language learning (pp. 15–30). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. Sawyer, M., & Ranta, L. (2001). Aptitude, individual differences, and instructional design. In P. Robinson (Ed.), Cognition and second language acquisition (pp. 319–353). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Segalowicz, N. (1997). Individual differences in second language acquisition. In A. de Groot & J. Kroll (Eds.), Tutorials in bilingualism (pp. 85–112). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. Skehan, P. (1989). Individual differences in second-language learning. London: Arnold. Skehan, P. (1991). Individual differences in second language learning. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 13(2), 275–298. Skehan, P. (2002). Theorising and updating aptitude. In P. Robinson (Ed.), Individual differences and instructed language learning (pp. 69–93). Amsterdam: John Benjamins. Stern, H. H. (1975). What can we learn from the good language learner? Canadian Modern Language Review,31, 304–318. Tarone, E., Cheon, Y., Horii, S., Khanzadi, S., & Wang, A.F. (2011). Learner language: Second language acquisition research for teachers. Web-based multi-media materials, Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA), University of Minnesota. Retrieved from


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Ushioda, E. (2003). Motivation as a socially mediated process. In D. Little, J. Ridley & E. Ushioda (Eds.), Learner autonomy in the foreign language classroom: Teacher, learner, curriculum, assessment (pp. 90–102). Dublin: Authentik. Wenden, A. (1999). An introduction to metacognitive knowledge and beliefs in language learning. System, 27, 435–441. Woods, D. (1996). Teacher cognition in language teaching: Beliefs, decision-making, and classroom practice. New York: Cambridge University Press. Young, D. J., (1998). Affect in L2 learning: A practical guide to dealing with learner anxieties. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Part 1 Cognitive variables

Chapter 2 Attention, awareness, and individual differences in language learning Richard Schmidt

1 Introduction The Noticing Hypothesis – an hypothesis that input does not become intake for language learning unless it is noticed, that is, consciously registered (Schmidt, 1990, 2001) – has been around now for about two decades and continues to generate experimental studies, suggestions for second language (L2) pedagogy, and controversy. To many people, the idea that second language acquisition (SLA) is largely driven by what learners pay attention to and become aware of in target language input seems the essence of common sense. In the simplest terms, people learn about the things that they attend to and do not learn much about the things they do not attend to. Others consider the hypothesis to be undesirably vague, lacking in empirical support, or incompatible with well-grounded theories. In this chapter, I will review some of the evidence for the hypothesis, as well the major objections that have been raised against it from a variety of perspectives: linguistic, psychological, sociocultural, and philosophical. I will conclude the discussion by considering the role of individual differences in noticing and awareness and the ways that these may interact in the process of second language acquisition. 2 Origins of the Noticing Hypothesis and evidence for it In the 1980s, the dominant theories of language and of SLA overwhelmingly emphasized the unconscious nature of linguistic knowledge and unconscious processes of learning. Two case studies that I carried out in those years led me to question those assumptions. The first was a case study of an adult naturalistic (uninstructed) learner of English, an artist


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from Japan who immigrated to the U.S. at age 30 for a mix of personal and professional reasons, to whom I gave the pseudonym “Wes” and whose acquisition of English I documented over a period of several years (Schmidt, 1983, 1984). Wes was a remarkably good learner of English in many ways. His pronunciation was good from the beginning, and he developed quickly along the dimensions of fluency, lexical development, listening comprehension, conversational ability, pragmatic appropriateness, and especially strategic competence, the ability to get his message across in spite of the limitations of his interlanguage. If language is seen as a medium of communication, as a tool for initiating, maintaining and regulating relationships and carrying on the business of life, then Wes was (and has continued to be) a very successful language learner. Looking at Wes through a socio-cognitive lens, seeing language as social practice to accomplish social action and viewing SLA as alignment, fitting oneself to one’s environment, mediated and scaffolded by various actors and structures (Atkinson, 2010) also allows us to see Wes as a very good learner. His development in the area of grammar – morphology and syntax – was very limited, however. I did not know and still do not know the reasons for this for sure, but one possible explanation may be that he didn’t care much for the small grammatical details of language. Or perhaps he just didn’t notice them. For example, after several years of exposure he continued to say things like “Yesterday I’m go beach” and “Tomorrow I’m go beach” (with no articles, no prepositions, and no tense marking), even though he surely heard people say things like “I went to the beach yesterday,” but apparently without registering the forms. In other cases, it seemed that he probably did notice grammatical forms in input and tried to figure them out, but his guesses were often inaccurate. For example, after some time, I became aware that he never produced any utterances with the English possessive pronoun our, and eventually realized that this was not because of egocentrism or a fondness for the English word my, but simply because he did not know the form. Instead, he would say things like “We are come back here early, we are apartment” apparently meaning “We came back early to our apartment.” My best guess is that this resulted from a mis-identification by Wes of their (as in their apartment) as “they are” and your (as in your apartment) as “you are” – therefore, we are meaning “our,” an analysis supported by the fact that he also

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said things like “she’s name” (meaning “her name”) and “your friend is house” (“your friend’s house”). More generally, looking at nine English grammatical morphemes and taking 80% correct as a criterion for acquisition, I found that none moved from unacquired to acquired status in three years of observation. In trying to understand why Wes had such persistent problems with grammar (morphology, specifically), it seemed to me that affective factors such as motivation were probably not the answer. Indeed, his very good development in overall communicative competence seemed a reflection of his strong drive to communicate, coupled with a gregarious personality and willingness to take risks in speaking and learning. To explain why Wes did not develop much morphology, therefore, I considered two main possibilities: lack of aptitude and over-reliance on an implicit learning strategy, learning through interaction alone, with little attention to language form and little conscious reflection about language structure. I concluded by proposing that, at least in the case of adult learning of grammar, wholly unconscious learning of a language is probably not possible. Because “adults do seem to have lost the still mysterious ability of children to acquire the grammatical forms of language while apparently not paying attention to them” (Schmidt, 1983, p. 172), some level of conscious attention to form is required. The second case study concerned my own learning of Portuguese during a five month stay in Brazil (Schmidt & Frota, 1986). I took a class for five weeks, and the rest of my language learning was through interaction with native speakers. The results of this study indicated that classroom instruction was very useful, but presence and frequency in communicative input were more important. In addition, based on comparisons among notes that I kept in a journal, records of what I was taught in class, and monthly tape-recordings of my developing L2 production and interaction abilities, Frota and I found that some forms that were frequent in input were still not acquired until they were consciously noticed in the input. This was the origin of the Noticing Hypothesis, the claim that learners must attend to and notice linguistic features of the input that they are exposed to if those forms are to become intake for learning. In addition, we found that although I was frequently corrected for my grammatical errors in conversation with native speakers, in many cases, this had no effect because I was unaware that I was being corrected. This suggested a slight-


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ly different hypothesis that we called “noticing the gap,” the idea that in order to overcome errors, learners must make conscious comparisons between their own output and target language input. Subsequently, I attempted to flesh out these descriptions and informal proposals by matching them with the psychological literature on conscious vs. unconscious learning, which turned out to be a complicated matter, with several different but partly overlapping distinctions in the psychological literature. Reviewing the literature up to the end of the 1980s, I framed the issues in terms of consciousness as intention, consciousness as attention, and consciousness as awareness (Schmidt, 1990), putting forth some claims about each. Consciousness as intention is reflected in the distinction between incidental learning, referring to the fact that people can learn things without having any particular intention to learn them, vs. intentional (goal-directed) learning. Incidental learning is certainly possible and often effective. The classic example is the fact that we learn most vocabulary through reading, although our goal in reading is usually understanding and enjoyment, not vocabulary acquisition. However, the facilitative effect of focused attention on stimulus detection is “all but undisputed” (Roehr, 2008, p. 83), and deliberately paying attention may be necessary in some cases, for example, when L2 learners fail to notice cues that are not salient or failing to notice cues that need to be processed differently from the way they are in the first language (Ellis, 2006, 2008). Consciousness as attention (whether intentional or not), then, seems to be heart of the matter, but like many psychological constructs based initially on common experience, attention does not refer to a single mechanism but to a variety of mechanisms or subsystems, including alertness, orientation, detection within selective attention, facilitation, and inhibition (Schmidt, 2001; Tomlin & Villa, 1994). What these have in common is the function of controlling information processing and behavior when existing skills and routines are inadequate. Learning, establishing new or modified knowledge, memory, skills, and routines is therefore largely, and perhaps exclusively, a side effect of attended processing. Still, the question of whether all learning requires attention remains problematic, and conceptual and methodological issues have combined to make a definitive answer elusive, even after a century of psychological experimentation.

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Some psychologists have expressed the opinion that this dispute will never be settled, because zero-point questions are not answerable (Baars, 1988). Baars argues that the important question is not whether there can be any learning without attention and conscious involvement (unanswerable) but rather whether more attention results in more learning. There does not appear to be any evidence at all against the weaker claim that people learn about the things they attend to and learn much less about the things they do not attend to (Logan, Taylor, & Etherton, 1996). Logan, Taylor and Etherton have also proposed a much more controversial hypothesis, that only those stimulus attributes that are attended in processing are encoded. This suggests that attention must be directed to whatever evidence is relevant for a particular learning domain, that is, that attention must be specifically focused and not just global. In order to acquire phonology, one must attend to the sounds of target language input, especially those that are contrastive in the target language, and if one’s goal is to sound like a native speaker, one must attend to phonetic details as well. In order to acquire vocabulary, one must attend to both word form (pronunciation, spelling) and to whatever cues are available in input that can lead to identification of meaning. In order to acquire pragmatics, one must attend to both the linguistic form of utterances and the relevant social and contextual features with which they are associated. In order to acquire morphology, one must attend to both the forms of morphemes and their meanings, and in order to acquire syntax, one must attend to the order of words and the meanings they are associated with. The role played by consciousness as awareness in SLA is most controversial. On the one hand, awareness and attention are closely linked – what we are aware of is what we attend to, and what we attend to determines what enters phenomenal consciousness (Baars, 1988) – so if attention is required for learning, then perhaps awareness is as well. On the other hand, awareness of abstract rules of grammar cannot be a prerequisite for learning, since native speakers clearly have some intuitive understanding of subtle points of grammar that they cannot verbalize, and some advanced naturalistic L2 learners also have intuitive knowledge that may be closer to native speaker intuitions than to the simplified “rules” that are taught in language classes (Rothman, 2008). In psychology, the usual term for this is implicit knowledge, knowledge that is acquired without con-


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scious effort to learn, without awareness that learning has occurred, and without the ability to describe the acquired information (Reber, 1993). The solution I proposed (Schmidt, 1990, 2001) was to distinguish between “noticing” as a technical term limited to the conscious registration of attended specific instances of language, and “understanding,” a higher level of awareness that includes generalizations across instances. Knowledge of rules and metalinguistic awareness of all kinds belong to this higher level of awareness. My proposal is that noticing is necessary for SLA, and that understanding is facilitative but not required. These notions are in wide circulation, do not belong to me, and surface (not always with the same definitions) in numerous accounts of SLA in the past few decades, including but not limited to the exploration of basic issues of implicit and explicit learning in SLA (Hulstijn, 2003, 2005; N. Ellis, 1994, 2005, 2006, 2008; Robinson, 1995a, 1995b, 1996, 2002); relationships between explicit/implicit learning and explicit/implicit teaching (R. Ellis, 2001, 2005; Ellis, Basturkmen, & Loewen, 2001; Thornbury, 1997); Swain’s (1995) incorporation of the concepts of noticing and noticing the gap into a sociocultural model of learning; VanPatten’s (1996, 2004) proposals for input processing instruction; Long’s (1996) revised interaction hypothesis and the focus on form literature (Doughty, 2001; Doughty & Williams, 1998; Long & Robinson, 1998); and Gass and Mackey’s (2006) model of input, interaction and learning. Most empirical studies have been supportive of the Noticing Hypothesis. For example, using a clever crossword puzzle task to manipulate the focus of learners’ attention when exposed to instances of Spanish stemchanging verbs, Leow (1997, 2000) found that those who exhibited a higher level of awareness (“understanding”) learned the most; those who noticed instances but attempted no generalization learned next most; and there was no learning in the absence of noticing instances. Mackey (2006) used multiple measures of noticing and development to investigate whether feedback promotes noticing of L2 forms in a classroom context and whether there is a relationship between learners’ reports of noticing and learning outcomes. The findings of this study were that learners reported more noticing when feedback was provided, and learners who exhibited more noticing developed more than those who exhibited less noticing. Izumi (2002) conducted an experimental study to compare the effects of

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output and enhanced input on noticing and development. Izumi found that subjects demonstrated more noticing and more learning than did controls, and that enhanced input subjects exhibited more noticing but not more learning, suggesting that noticing is only a first step in the learning process. The claim that “noticing” but not “understanding” is required for learning implies that both explicit and implicit learning of generalizations are possible. In the case of explicit learning, attended and noticed instances become the basis for explicit hypothesis formation and testing. Implicit learning is also hypothesized to depend on attended instances in the input, but generalization beyond the instance is held to depend on a basic human learning mechanism that automatically detects regularities across instances, resulting in an intuitive form of knowledge that goes beyond what can be verbalized. Experimental evidence for implicit second language learning, in this sense of learning generalizations without awareness and without the ability to express them, is actually quite limited. N. Ellis (1993) failed to find implicit learning effects in a task designed to promote the learning of a Welsh soft-mutation rule, and DeKeyser (1995) found no implicit learning in an experiment involving a miniature artificial language with rich inflectional morphology. In the classic miniature artificial grammar learning experiments in psychology (“sentences” in these experiments consisting of meaningless strings of letters), participants learn implicitly in the sense of being able to judge the acceptability of untrained items without being able to verbalize the rules the researcher used to generate the sentences, but the current consensus is not that subjects internalize the rules and abstract structure of the grammar, as originally believed. Rather, people pick up lower-level knowledge about permissible chunks, repetitions, alternations, and so on, that allow above chance performance (Perruchet & Pacton, 2006; Schmidt, 1994, 1995). As Williams (2009) points out, to date, very few language studies have even attempted to establish that implicit knowledge was acquired in the absence of awareness. So it is somewhat surprising that many SLA scholars assert that implicit learning is the default mechanism in adult SLA (Long, 2010; Ortega, 2009). However, Williams points out that “the term implicit learning is often simply used to refer to a mode of learning that is incidental and inductive … even if the implicitness of the resulting knowledge was not ac-


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tually established” (Williams, 2009, p. 327). If the question is just whether incidental inductive learning is possible, well yes, of course it is, although some learners do better at this than others. Implicit learning is also sometimes defined simply as uninstructed learning, “learning without the benefit of rule explanation” (Ortega, 2009, p. 157). Of course, it is also possible to learn without instruction, but that does not mean that the learning takes place without awareness (self-instruction) at the point of learning. However, more recently, evidence of implicit learning in the sense of learning without awareness has come from experiments in statistical learning, an approach that sees acquisition as the unselective and passive absorption of statistical regularities in the environment, for example, the transitional probabilities between phonetic units or syllables in speech, which leads to the discovery of phonemes and words (Kuhl, 2004). The dominant interpretation of these studies is that people unconsciously tally these probabilities (N. Ellis, 2006), and since subjects have no sense of doing so, the learning is unconscious in that sense. 3 Major challenges and objections to the Noticing Hypothesis Although the Noticing Hypothesis has generated interest and support from many in the fields of both SLA and language teaching (implications for teaching are beyond the scope of this chapter), it has also encountered some strong objections. For reasons of space, here I will only summarize some of the more important objections, together with my responses. Objection 1: The temporal granularity of diary studies is too coarse. This objection was raised early on, in a critique of the Noticing Hypothesis (Tomlin & Villa, 1994) that was sympathetic to the proposition that attention is essential for learning, but argued that diary studies encompass spans of time as long as weeks or months, while attentional processes take place in seconds or microseconds. Response: The criticism was valid at the time – although one could also argue that a weakness of laboratory studies in SLA is that language learning in the real world takes place over days, months, and years – but is not any longer, since a wide range of methods have been brought to bear on these issues, including retrospective reports, stimulated recall, and online measures such as note-taking, think-aloud protocols, and the fine-

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grained analysis of eye-movements when reading (Godfroid, 2010; Godfroid, Housen, & Boers, 2010). Objection 2: Attention/awareness may be necessary for some kinds of learning but not others. Gass (1997) has countered the claim that attention is a necessary condition for all learning with the observation that some learning does not even depend on input. Citing studies showing that ESL learners who are instructed on one type of relative clause perform well on other types of relatives that are higher in the relative clause accessibility hierarchy, Gass points out that input on those constructions was not available to the learners in the study and asks, “If no input existed, how could attention to input be a necessary condition for all aspects of learning” (1997, p. 16). Response: The Noticing Hypothesis needs to be more carefully formulated. The basic claim is that in order for input to become intake it must be attended and noticed. If there are true cases where input is not needed for learning (which is attributed instead to UG or some other internal resource), the Noticing Hypothesis is not relevant to that case rather than wrong. A somewhat different version of the argument that not all learning requires attention has been formulated by Schachter (1998): “… although I (among many others) am perfectly willing to agree that learning individual words (the lexicon), individual sounds (the phonetic inventory), and writing systems must be via attentional focus, I am not the least willing to say that learning phonological, morphological and syntactic rules requires this attentional focus” (p. 574). Response: Although some implicit learning studies have claimed that some forms of learning do not require attention, the bulk of the evidence supports the opposite conclusion: that no learning occurs in these experiments without attention (Perruchet & Pacton, 2006). However, it is certainly true that some kinds of learning require more focused attention than others. For example, in statistical learning experiments, participants are able to learn dependencies between adjacent stimuli (analogous to phoneme identification and word segmentation) easily, while learning nonadjacent dependencies (more analogous to syntax) is more difficult and seems to depend on whether the separated items can be brought into adja-


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cency through attentional processes (Perruchet & Pacton, 2006; Williams, 2009). Objection 3: Of the three functional subsystems of attention (alertness, orientation, detection), detection is crucial, but detection does not require awareness (Tomlin & Villa, 1994). Response: Although it is true that detection (registration of a stimulus) can occur below the level of subjective awareness, this is generally the case only for already established representations, that is, while there is subliminal perception, there is no subliminal learning (Schmidt, 1995, 2001). However, Williams (2005) has reported a very interesting experiment examining the learning of form-meaning connections under conditions where the relevant forms (determiners) were attended and noticed, but the contingencies (whether the head noun was animate or inanimate) were not. During the training, some participants became aware of this contingency and performed nearly perfectly on a post-test with new items. Other subjects seem to remain completely unaware of the conditioning factor but still exhibited a small but statistically significant animacy bias in their responses. Even though it cannot be conclusively claimed that these subjects had no awareness whatsoever at the point of learning, and although both an earlier experiment by Williams (2004) and a recent replication study by Hama and Leow (2010) failed to find evidence of learning without awareness, Williams’ findings are interesting and intriguing, suggesting that “implicit learning of form-meaning connections is possible, at least in principle” (2004, p. 298). Williams’ finding that implicit learning in these experiments was correlated with participants’ prior knowledge of languages with grammatical gender is equally intriguing, suggesting that prior experience in language learning may play a role in implicit learning. Objection 4: Attention to environmental stimuli does not play a direct role in acquisition because most of what constitutes linguistic knowledge is not in the input to begin with. This objection has been most elegantly expressed by Carroll (2006a, 2006b), who points out problems associated with the idea that “input” for language learning is something objective and observable in the environment, whereas in reality the stuff of acquisition (phonemes, syllables, morphemes, nouns, verbs, cases, etc.) consists of mental constructs that exist in the mind and not in the environment at all. If not present in the external environment, there is no possibility of notic-

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ing them. This argument is framed within a more general stance, common to many generativists, that acquisition is “not mediated by conscious awareness, explicit instruction, feedback, or correction” (Carroll, 2006a, p. 17). Similar arguments have been made by Truscott (1998) and by Schwartz (1993), who suggest that noticing is related to metalinguistic knowledge but not to linguistic knowledge (competence), to “learning” but not to “acquisition” in Krashen’s (1981) sense. Response: In general, ideas about attention, noticing, and understanding seem more compatible with instance-based, construction-based and usage-based theories (Bley-Vroman, 2009; Bybee & Eddington, 2006; Goldberg, 1995) than with generative theories. Bybee (2010), arguing for exemplar-based representations of language, comments that what learners experience is specific instances or tokens of constructions. Similar tokens (repeated occurrences) are mapped together to establish exemplars, which according to Bybee (2010) are “rich memory representations … [containing] at least potentially, all the information a language user can perceive in a linguistic experience” (p. 14), including phonetic detail, lexical items, their meanings, properties of the physical and social context, even sometimes voice quality (p. 21). These exemplars are subsequently grouped together to form categories that represent both fixed and open slots in constructions. This suggests a role for both “noticing,” in the registration of exemplars (because rich memory representations require extended attentional processing), and both explicit (aware) and implicit (unaware) processes of generalization as constructions acquire more abstract meaning. In addition, nowadays, even some generativists find an important role for noticing, explicit learning and form-focused instruction in SLA, especially for the learning of functional morphology, increasingly identified as the “bottleneck” in SLA. Ladiere (2009) proposes that the basis for detectability of both interpretable and uninterpretable features in SLA (as defined by the Minimalist Program of the generative paradigm) is the noticing of any formal contrast, such as the difference between studentstudents. “In other words, the learner will associate a difference in a minimally contrasting form with some difference in meaning or grammatical function and construct some sort of representation for it” (Ladiere, 2009, p. 214). Slabakova (2008) goes further, endorsing a return to explicit grammar practice in the language classroom, and suggesting that practic-


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ing inflectional morphology “should happen in meaningful, plausible sentences where the syntactic effects and the semantic import of the morphology is absolutely transparent and non-ambiguous” (p. 281). In summary, none of these objections to the Noticing Hypothesis can be easily dismissed and some clearly have merit. Some forms of learning do require more focused attention and higher levels of awareness than others. For example, a considerable amount of learning has to take place before learners can successfully segment the stream of speech into words that can be noticed by the learner. In this case, the input stream is clearly attended, but whether one subscribes to an account of this learning that stresses an innate rich inventory of potential cues (Carroll, 2006a) or one that proposes a non-language specific ability to compute statistical probabilities across instances, most of the learning will be thought of as unconscious (Perruchet & Pacton, 2006). One can mount a similar argument, that attention is necessary but awareness is not, for the gradual learning of other sequential phenomena, including the recognition of common collocations and semantic valence phenomena such as the fact that the English verb cause is more commonly associated with negative outcomes than positive ones (Onnis, Farmer, Baroni, Christiansen, & Spivey, 2008). On the other hand, to the best of my knowledge, no study has ever shown that people learn better in dual task conditions than in single task conditions, or that ignoring grammatical forms in input results in better learning outcomes than noticing forms and forming hypotheses about them. Indeed, explicit knowledge (whether gained through instruction or through conscious induction) should have mostly positive influences on learning through exposure and interaction, since “learning with advance organizers and clues is always better than learning without cues” (MacWhinney, 1997, p. 278). In addition, since many learners who rely on learning through interaction and exposure alone fail to come close to native-like norms of grammatical accuracy (as in Wes’ case), there remains more than sufficient reason to hypothesize that individual differences in the degree to which learners pay attention to and notice grammatical features of the input may partly account for their relative success in this aspect of language learning. In the following section, I will review evidence and proposals regarding the links between attention, awareness, and individual

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differences, arguing that attention and awareness are in fact crucial constructs for linking learning and individual differences. 4 Individual differences in noticing and awareness Do some second language learners notice more than others? If so, do individual differences in noticing ability correlate with rate of learning and/or ultimate attainment? The evidence from case studies suggests that the answer is yes to both questions. A comparison of Wes with another wellknown language learner – “Julie,” a native speaker of English who immigrated to Cairo at the age of 21 when she married an Egyptian – is instructive. As reported by Ioup, Boustagui, El Tigi and Moselle (1994), who studied Julie’s acquisition of Arabic after 26 years of exposure, Julie is a purely naturalistic learner who has had no formal instruction in Arabic. Like Wes, she obtained abundant comprehensible input and is socially outgoing. Like him, she also has good pronunciation and excellent communicative skills. Unlike Wes, however, she displays native-like grammatical competence in her second language, not only passing as a native speaker in everyday life but performing at native-like or near native-like levels on grammaticality judgment tests that tap intuitions on some of the most remote properties of the language. Why has Wes acquired English grammar so slowly, while Julie acquired Arabic grammar rapidly and essentially perfectly? Many of my students, after reading my detailed report of Wes’ personality, motivation, daily life and accomplishments in language learning, comment that he probably did not acquire a lot of grammar because he didn’t need to, the grammatical trimmings being mostly unnecessary for communicative interaction. However, the idea that people learn just what they need to learn doesn’t hold up well to the evidence. Wes’ grammatical competence in English is not really adequate for all his needs, a fact he is well aware of, and Julie’s accomplishments go well beyond any argument from need. In my description of Wes’ learning and Ioup et al.’s (1994) discussion of Julie’s learning, we find a number of candidates for differences that may have made the difference. From the beginning, Julie kept a copybook that she filled with notes, lists of verbs, nouns and adjectives, and observations about gender, number and person. I never observed Wes doing


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anything similar and although he owned an English-Japanese dictionary he told me that he seldom, if ever, consulted it. Julie reported that she consciously manipulated the grammatical structure of the language, paid attention to morphological variation, and kept careful track of corrections and expanded repetitions from native speakers and greatly appreciated the feedback. Wes, in contrast, has never appreciated being corrected. One of the things I have admired about him is his attitude that if native speakers do not understand him, it is as much their fault as his and they need to try harder, but this attitude may not be ideal for language learning. In their analysis of the reasons for Julie’s success, Ioup et al. (1994) identify two factors that they believe were decisive: attention to form, and innate talent. They conclude, as I did when analyzing Wes’ linguistic development, that “adults, unlike children, appear to require conscious attention to grammatical form” (Ioup et al., 1994, p. 93). But even with attention to form, most L2 learners do not achieve native-like proficiency, and Ioup et al. (1994) note that Julie reported having all the traits associated with the “Geschwind cluster,” identified in a study of another exceptionally talented language learner, “C. J.” who was studied by Novoa, Fein, and Obler (1988), including left-handedness, allergies and a family history of twinning. For the rest of us – for whom twins, allergies, left-handedness, and exceptional talent for languages may not run in our families – there are still likely to be differences in both inclination and abilities that affect what we notice (Godfroid, 2010) and what we learn. Consider motivation. Virtually everyone would agree that motivated learners learn more (all else being equal) than unmotivated learners. But why? How does motivation work? What is the mechanism? It seems to me that there are two somewhat competing accounts. Motivation may act as part of an affective filter that prevents input from reaching that part of the brain where the language acquisition device (by some accounts, more-or-less equivalent to the human capacity for implicit learning) is located, as Krashen (1985) proposes. Or, motivation may be viewed as something much less passive, as Gardner (1988) would have it: motivated learners are successful because they are active learners. Gardner proposes that motivated learners learn better than unmotivated ones because they pay attention more and selectively attend to morphosyntactic information, not only content information. Paying at-

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tention results in more noticing, and motivated learners may also try harder and more persistently to understand the significance of noticed language, achieving higher levels of awareness and enhanced learning as a result. Tremblay and Gardner (1995), arguing that models of motivation can be improved by the identification of mediators that explain why one variable effects another, propose that three motivational behaviors mediate between distant factors such as language attitudes and motivation and achievement: effort, persistence, and attention. Other studies (e.g. MacIntyre & Noels, 1996; Schmidt, Boraie, & Kassabgy, 1996) have found links between motivation and learning strategies, particularly cognitive and metacognitive strategies, which are either strategies for focusing attention on some aspect of the target language or for sustaining attention while doing something else in addition: inferencing, looking for patterns, or monitoring – paying attention to output, as well as one’s progress in learning. Noticing can also be related to the contemporary focus on the self-system in the study of L2 motivation (Dörnyei & Ushioda, 2009), since the self-discrepancy theory that underlies the theory attributes an important role to the importance of noticing discrepancies between the ways we see ourselves and the ways we want to see ourselves (the ideal self). As for aptitude, various theories have proposed different relationships among aptitude, noticing, and SLA. According to one account, the fundamental difference between first language acquisition and adult language learning, is that child first language acquisition depends on implicit learning, which is unaffected by differences in aptitude, while adult language learning depends more on explicit learning, which is affected by aptitude (Bley-Vroman, 1989; Krashen, 1981; Reber, 1993). A different account has been proposed by Robinson (1995b, 2002), who argues that, for adults, aptitude makes a difference across all conditions of learning (implicit, explicit, incidental), because the same basic cognitive abilities (including noticing and rehearsal) are involved in all learning. Skehan (2002) has proposed a model of language learning aptitude that is especially compatible with the views on attention, noticing and awareness presented here, linking SLA processing stages including noticing, pattern identification, and achieving fluency with aptitude components such as attention management, grammatical sensitivity, and proceduralization, respectively.


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Recent studies have produced significant evidence that aptitude, noticing, and explicit and implicit learning mechanisms are indeed linked, even if the patterns among components of aptitude and learning outcomes in different studies have been quite variable (Ortega, 2009; Skehan, 1998, 2002). Mackey, Philp, Egi, Fujii and Tatsumi (2002), for example, reported relationships between individual differences in working memory, hypothesized to be an important component of language aptitude and the noticing of interactional feedback (recasts). It has been suggested, in fact, that the name “working memory” may be a misnomer, and that a more appropriate label may be “working attention” (Baddeley, 1993). Given the central position that working memory holds in current theorizing about aptitude for language learning in particular and cognitive processing in general (Miyake & Friedman 1989; Miyake & Shah, 1999; Robinson, 2002) and the fact that attention and noticing (awareness of instances of language encountered in real time) are conceptually related to the working memory components of the phonological loop, the central executive, and the episodic buffer, it is likely that experimental studies of this type will continue. Studies of naturalistic learners tend to focus on components of language aptitude that focus on what happens after noticing, emphasizing the importance of such factors as grammatical sensitivity. In a large scale study of L1 Spanish learners of Swedish, Abrahamsson and Hyltenstam (2008) reported small yet significant aptitude effects in child SLA, and very large effects for adult SLA, confirming the hypothesis proposed by DeKeyser (2000) that a high degree of language aptitude is required if adults are to reach near-native proficiency. In this study, language aptitude was measured by a battery of tests assessing phonetic memory, lexicalmorphological analytic skills, aural memory, and the ability to form sound-symbol associations. Abrahamsson and Hyltenstam (2008) also comment that an outstanding characteristic of their two highest proficiency participants was an unusual interest and devotion to language structure and language learning: “Their professional lives have provided them with extraordinary opportunities to reflect consciously and explicitly on the linguistic structure of Swedish, which has made it possible for them … to beat the predictions of the critical period hypothesis” (p. 502). For example, their participant with the highest score on their proficiency measures

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had lived in Spain, France, Ireland, and Sweden, studied German, English, Latin, and Italian as foreign languages, worked professionally for 10 years as an interpreter, and described herself as very communicative, linguistically observant, sometimes preferring to listen to the linguistic structure rather than the content when someone speaks beautifully. It would seem that most of these cases of very successful learners illustrate the use of explicit modes of learning to compensate for age-related declines in implicit learning abilities. However, to the degree that noticing is hypothesized to also be involved in at least some kinds of implicit learning (Perruchet & Pacton, 2006), it is possible that individual differences in implicit learning abilities may exist and that these are also related to noticing. Research on individual differences in implicit and statistical learning is in its infancy but appears promising. Although it is generally thought that individual differences in implicit learning are minor compared to differences in explicit learning ability (Reber, 1993; Stanovich, 2009), Hoyer and Lincourt (1998) have reported age-related declines in the efficiency of instance learning; and Feeney, Howard and Howard (2002) have demonstrated age-related deficits in implicit learning of higher order sequences. These studies concerned differences between middle aged and elderly people compared with college students, but among younger populations as well, some recent research has shown that implicit learning is an ability with meaningful individual differences that may be linked to language processing and language learning. In a study of English 16–17 year olds, Kaufman, DeYoung, Gray, Jiménez, Brown and Mackintosh (2010) investigated associations between individual differences in implicit learning (measured by a probabilistic sequence learning task) with a variety of cognitive and personality variables. In this study, implicit learning was found to be related to two components of psychometric intelligence (verbal analogical reasoning and processing speed) as well as performance on French and German foreign language exams. In another recent study, Misyak and Christiansen (in press) investigated the relationship between individual differences in statistical learning and language comprehension. Participants were administered statistical learning tasks involving adjacent and nonadjacent dependencies, along with a language comprehension task and a battery of other measures assessing verbal working memory, short-term memory, vocabulary, reading experience,


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cognitive motivation, and fluid intelligence. Strong relationships were found among statistical learning, verbal working memory, and language comprehension, establishing an empirical link between individual differences in statistical learning and (first) language processing. 5 Conclusions Attention and noticing (the subjective correlate of attention) are crucial concepts for understanding second and foreign language learning. As Baars (1997) puts it, “paying attention – becoming conscious of some material – seems to be the sovereign remedy for learning anything ... It is the universal solvent of the mind” (p. 304). For SLA, the allocation of attention is the pivotal point at which learner external factors (including the complexity and distributional characteristics of input, the discoursal and interactional context, instructional treatment, and task characteristics) and learner internal factors (including motivation, aptitude, learning styles and strategies, current L2 knowledge and processing ability) come together. What happens then within attentional space largely determines the course of language development, including the growth of knowledge (establishment of new representations) and the development of fluency (access to those representations). Evidence continues to accumulate that noticing has a strong impact on second and foreign language learning. Individual differences are an important part of the story, and both inclinations and abilities affect who notices what. Aptitude for explicit learning plays a role in overcoming age-related weaknesses in implicit learning. Much remains to be done to relate “noticing” to related constructs such as cognitive style, depth of processing, self-regulation, and executive attention. Individual differences in implicit learning ability also seem to exist. These have hardly begun to be explored, but this is a promising area for future research, which could also profitably include a research plan to identify the ways that both explicit and implicit learning ability are affected by life histories and literacy (Bigelow, Delmas, Hansen, & Tarone, 2006), and multilingualism.

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References Abrahamsson, N., & Hyltenstam, K. (2008). The robustness of aptitude effects in nearnative second language acquisition. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 30, 481–509. Atkinson, D. (2010). Extended, embodied cognition and second language acquisition. Applied Linguistics, 31, 599–622. Baars, B. J. (1988). A cognitive theory of consciousness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Baars, B. J. (1997). In the theatre of consciousness: Global workspace theory, a rigorous scientific theory of consciousness. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 4, 292–309. Baddeley, A. D. (1993). Working memory or working attention?. In A. D. Baddeley & L. Weiskrantz (Eds.), Attention: Selection, awareness and control (pp. 152–170). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Bigelow, M., Delmas, R., Hansen, K., & Tarone, E. (2006). Literacy and the processing of oral recasts in SLA. TESOL Quarterly, 40, 665–689. Bley-Vroman, R. (1989). What is the logical problem of foreign language learning? In S. M. Gass & J. Schachter (Eds.), Linguistic perspectives on second language acquisition (pp. 41–68). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Bley-Vroman, R. (2009). The evolving context of the Fundamental Difference Hypothesis. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 31, 175–198. Bybee, J. (2010). Language, usage and cognition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Bybee, J., & Eddington, D. (2006). A usage-based approach to Spanish verbs of “becoming”. Language, 82, 323–355. Carroll, S. E. (2006a). Salience, awareness and SLA. In M. G. O’Brien, C. Shea, & J. Archibald (Eds.), Proceedings of the 8th Generative Approaches to Second Language Acquisition Conference (GASLA 2006) (pp. 17–24). Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Proceedings Project. Carroll, S. E. (2006b, May). The “micro-structure” of a learning problem: Prosodic prominence, attention, segmentation and word learning in a second language. Paper presented at the Canadian Linguistic Association, Toronto. DeKeyser, R. M. (1995). Learning second language grammar rules: An experiment with a miniature linguistic system. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 17, 379–410. DeKeyser, R. M. (2000). The robustness of critical period effects in second language acquisition. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 22, 499–533. Dörnyei, Z., & Ushioda, E. (Eds.). (2009). Motivation, language identity and the L2 self. Bristol: Multilingual Matters. Doughty, C. (2001). Cognitive underpinnings of focus on form. In P. Robinson (Ed.), Cognition and second language instruction (pp. 206–257). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


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Doughty, C., & Williams, J. (1998). Focus on form in classroom second language acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Ellis. N. C. (1993). Rules and instances in foreign language learning: Interactions of explicit and implicit knowledge. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 5, 289– 318. Ellis, N. C. (1994). Vocabulary acquisition: The implicit ins and outs of explicit cognitive mediation. In N. C. Ellis (Ed.), Implicit and explicit learning of languages (pp. 211– 282). London: Academic Press. Ellis, N. C. (2005). At the interface: Dynamic interactions of explicit and implicit language knowledge. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 27, 305–352. Ellis, N. C. (2006). Selective attention and transfer phenomena in L2 acquisition: Contingency, cue competition, salience, interference, overshadowing, blocking, and perceptual learning. Applied Linguistics, 27, 164–194. Ellis, N. C. (2008). Usage-based and form-focused SLA: The implicit and explicit learning of constructions. In A. Tyler, Y. Kim, & M. Takada (Eds.), Language in the context of use: Cognitive and discourse approaches to language and language learning (pp. 93–120). Amsterdam: Mouton de Gruyter. Ellis, R. (2001). Introduction: Investigating form-focused instruction. Language Learning, 51, 1–46. Ellis, R. (2005). Measuring implicit and explicit knowledge of a second language: A psychometric study. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 27, 141–172. Ellis, R., Basturkmen, H., & Loewen, S. (2001). Learner uptake in communicative ESL lessons. Language Learning, 51, 281–318. Feeney, J. J., Howard, J. H., & Howard, D. V. (2002). Implicit learning of higher order sequences in middle age. Psychology and Ageing, 17, 351–355. Gardner, R. C. (1988). The socio-educational model of second-language learning: Assumptions, findings, and issues. Language Learning, 38, 101–126. Gass, S. (1997). Input, interaction, and the second language learner. Mahway, N.J.: Erlbaum. Gass, S., & Mackey, A. (2006). Input, interaction and output: An overview. AILA Review, 19, 3–17. Godfroid, A. (2010). Cognitive processes in second language acquisition: The role of noticing, attention and awareness in processing words in written L2 input (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Vrie Universiteit Brussel, Brussels, Belgium. Godfroid, A., Housen, A., & Boers, F. (2010). A procedure for testing the Noticing Hypothesis in the context of vocabulary acquisition. In M. Putz & L. Sicola (Eds.), Cognitive processing in second language acquisition: Inside the learner`s mind (pp. 169–197). Amsterdam: John Benjamins. Goldberg, A. (1995). Constructions: A construction grammar approach to argument structure. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Hama, M., & Leow, R. P. (2010). Learning without awareness revisited: Extending Williams (2005). Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 32, 465–491.

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Hoyer, W. J., & Lincourt, A. E. (1998). Ageing and the development of learning. In M. A. Stadler & P. A. Frensch (Eds.), Handbook of implicit learning (pp. 445–70). Thousand Oaks: Sage. Hulstijn, J. H. (2003). Incidental and intentional learning. In C. Doughty & M. Long (Eds.), Handbook of second language acquisition (pp. 349–381). Oxford: Blackwell. Hulstijn, J. H. (2005). Theoretical and empirical issues in the study of implicit and explicit second-language learning. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 27, 129–140. Ioup, G., Boustagi, E., El Tigi, M., & Moselle, M. (1994). Reexamining the critical period hypothesis: A case study of a successful adult SLA in a naturalistic environment. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 16, 73–98. Izumi, S. (2002). Output, input enhancement, and the noticing hypothesis: An experimental study on ESL relativization. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 24, 541–577. Kaufman, S. B., DeYoung, C. G., Gray, J. R., Jiménez, L., Brown, J., & Mackintosh, N. (2010). Implicit learning as an ability. Cognition, 116, 321–340. Krashen, S. D. (1981). Second language acquisition and second language learning. Oxford: Pergamon. Krashen, S. D. (1985). The input hypothesis. New York: Longman. Kuhl, P. K. (2004). Early language acquisition: Cracking the speech code. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 5, 831–843. Ladiere, D. (2009). Some thoughts on the contrastive analysis of features in second language acquisition. Second Language Research, 25, 173–227. Leow, R. P. (1997). Attention, awareness, and foreign language behavior. Language Learning, 47, 467–505. Leow, R. P. (2000). A study of the role of awareness in foreign language behavior. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 22, 557–584. Logan, G. D., Taylor, S. E., & Etherton, J. L. (1996). Attention in the acquisition and expression of automaticity. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 22, 620–638. Long. M. H. (1996). The role of the linguistic environment in second language acquisition. In W. C. Ritchie & T. J. Bahtia (Eds.), Handbook of second language acquisition (pp. 413–68). New York: Academic Press. Long, M. H. (2010, October). Towards a cognitive-interactionist theory of instructed adult SLA. Paper presented at the Second Language Acquisition Research Forum (SLRF), College Park, Maryland. Long, M. H., & Robinson, P. (1998). Focus on form: Theory, research and practice. In C. Doughty & J. Williams (Eds.), Focus on form in classroom second language acquisition (pp. 15–41). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. MacIntyre, P. D., & Noels, K. A. (1996). Using social-psychological variables to predict the use of language learning strategies. Foreign Language Annals, 29, 373–386. Mackey, A. (2006). Feedback, noticing and instructed second language learning. Applied Linguistics, 27, 405-530.


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Mackey, A., Philp, J., Egi, T., Fujii, A., & Tatsumi, T. (2002). Individual differences in working memory, noticing of interactional feedback, and L2 development. In P. Robinson (Ed.), Individual differences and instructed language learning (pp. 181– 209). Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins. MacWhinney, B. (1997). Implicit and explicit processes. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 19, 277–281. Miyake, A., & Friedman, N. (1998). Individual differences in second language proficiency: Working memory as language aptitude. In A. Healy & L. Bourne (Eds.), Foreign language learning: Psycholinguistic studies on training and retention (pp.339–365). London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Miyake, A., & Shah, P. (1999). Models of working memory: Mechanisms of active maintenance and executive control. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Misyak, J. B., & Christiansen, M. H. (in press). Statistical learning and language: An individual differences study. Language Learning. Novoa, L., Fein, D., & Obler, L. (1988). Talent in foreign languages: A case study. In L. Obler & D. Fein (Eds.), The exceptional brain: The neuropsychology of talent and special abilities (pp. 194–302). New York: Guilford Press. Onnis, L., Farmer, T., Baroni, M.. Christiansen, M., & Spivey, M. (2008). Generalizable distributional regularities aid fluent language processing: The case of semantic valence tendencies. In A. Lenci (Ed.), From context to meaning: Distributional models of the lexicon in linguistics and cognitive science [Special issue]. Italian Journal of Linguistics 20, 129–156. Ortega, L. (2009). Understanding second language acquisition. London: Hodder. Perruchet, P., & Pacton, S. (2006). Implicit learning and statistical learning: One phenomenon, two approaches. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 10, 233–238. Reber, A. S. (1993). Implicit learning and tacit knowledge: An essay on the cognitive unconscious. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. Robinson, P. (1995a). Attention, memory, and the noticing hypothesis. Language Learning, 45, 283–331. Robinson, P. (1995b). Aptitude, awareness, and the fundamental similiary of implicit and explicit second language learning. In R. Schmidt (Ed.), Attention and awareness in foreign language learning (pp. 303–357). Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii, Second Language Teaching & Curriculum Center. Robinson, P. (1996). Learning simple and complex second language rules under implicit, incidental, rule-search, and instructed conditions. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 18, 27–67. Robinson, P. (2002). Effects of individual differences in intelligence, aptitude and working memory on adult incidental SLA: A replication and extension of Reber, Walker and Hernstadt (1991). In P. Robinson (Ed.), Individual differences in instructed language learning (pp. 211–266). Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins. Roehr, K. (2008). Linguistic and metalinguistic categories in second language learning. Cognitive Linguistics, 19, 67–106.

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Rothman, J. (2008). Aspect selection in adult L2 Spanish and the Competing Systems Hypothesis: When pedagogical and linguistic rules conflict. Languages in Contrast, 8, 74–106. Schachter, J. (1998). Recent research in language learning studies: Promises and problems. Language Learning, 48, 557–583. Schmidt, R. (1983). Interaction, acculturation and the acquisition of communicative competence. In N. Wolfson & E. Judd, (Eds.), Sociolinguistics and language acquisition (pp. 137–174). Rowley, MA: Newbury House. Schmidt, R. (1984). The strengths and limitations of acquisition. Language Learning and Communication, 3, 1–16. Schmidt, R. (1990). The role of consciousness in second language learning. Applied Linguistics, 11, 129–158. Schmidt, R. (1994). Implicit learning and the cognitive unconscious: Of artificial grammars and SLA. In N. Ellis (Ed.), Implicit and explicit learning of languages (pp. 165–209). London: Academic Press. Schmidt, R. (1995). Consciousness and foreign language learning: A tutorial on the role of attention and awareness in learning. In R. Schmidt (Ed.), Attention and awareness in foreign language learning (pp. 1–63). Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii, Second Language Teaching & Curriculum Center. Schmidt, R. (2001). Attention. In P. Robinson (Ed.), Cognition and second language instruction (pp. 3–32). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Schmidt, R., & Frota, S.N. (1986). Developing basic conversational ability in a second language: A case study of an adult learner of Portuguese. In R. R. Day (Ed.), Talking to learn: Conversation in second language acquisition (pp. 237–326). Rowley, MA: Newbury House. Schmidt, R., Boraie, D., & Kassabgy, O. (1996). Foreign language motivation: Internal structure and external connections. In R. Oxford (Ed.), Language learning motivation: Pathways to the new century (pp. 9–70). Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii, Second Language Teaching & Curriculum Center. Schwartz, B. D. (1993). On explicit and negative data effecting and affecting competence and linguistic behavior. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 15, 147–163. Skehan, P. (1998). A cognitive approach to language learning. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Skehan, P. (2002). Theorizing and updating aptitude. In P. Robinson (Ed.), Individual differences and instructed language learning (pp. 69–93). Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins. Slabokova, R. (2008). Meaning in the second language. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. Stanovich, K. E. (2009). Distinguishing the reflective, algorithmic, and autonomous minds: Is it time for a tri-process theory? In J. Evans & K. Frankish (Eds.), In two minds: Dual processes and beyond (pp. 55–88). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.


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Chapter 3 Language learning aptitude and foreign language learning 1 Karin Aguado

1 Introductory remarks There is a great variability in the rates, the routes, the processes, and the outcomes of different individuals’ attempts in learning foreign languages. What is responsible for this enormous variation? Is it the learners’ affective predisposition, their motivation, their intelligence or other cognitive factors or abilities? A number of studies have provided convincing evidence for the assumption that aptitude is one of the strongest predictors of academic success. For example, in their large-scale survey of individual differences, Ehrman and Oxford (1995) found that aptitude measures were the variables that most strongly correlated with second or foreign language (henceforth L2) proficiency. According to their findings, 25% of individual difference variation can be predicted and explained by aptitude scores. Sparks, Patton, Ganschow, and Humbach (2009) also describe L2 aptitude as the “single best predictor of achievement in an L2” (p. 727). It is thus not surprising that the investigation of language aptitude is considered one of the most promising areas of SLA research. At the same time, there is a great deal of questions to be answered. For instance, it is still not clear how the basic construct language aptitude (henceforth LA) should be conceptualized. Note that while a remarkable amount of effort has been put into the development of tests to measure L2 aptitude, much less work has been invested into defining the underlying construct. Such a defini1. I dedicate this chapter to Prof. Dr. Brigitte Handwerker (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin) on the occasion of her 60th birthday. Inspired by her work on chunks, I became increasingly interested in aspects such as working memory and analytic ability, which are the two central components of the language aptitude construct discussed in this chapter.


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tion, however, is an indispensible prerequisite for its operationalization and further empirical investigation. The aim of the present chapter is to give an overview of recent developments and the state of the art in language learning aptitude research, addressing, among other things, the following questions: What is language learning aptitude and how can it be tested? After providing a brief account of some of the most influential aptitude tests, their basic assumptions and underlying constructs, major recent findings and their impact on the teaching of foreign languages will be described. In particular, two recent approaches in conceptualizing language aptitude – namely Robinson’s (2002) framework of aptitude complexes and language learning conditions and Skehan’s (2002) model which integrates cognitive L2 processes with aptitude constructs – will be discussed in some detail. Finally, a number of unanswered questions and future research perspectives will be presented. 2 Language aptitude – basic concepts, underlying constructs and test instruments 2.1 What is language aptitude? According to John B. Carroll and Stanley Sapon, who in the 1950s developed the most influential aptitude test of all times – the “Modern Language Aptitude Test,” also well-known as MLAT – LA is an innate and relatively fixed ability which controls the rate of progress an adult individual will make in learning a foreign language under conditions of instruction. In 1973, Carroll assumed that adult high aptitude learners, that is, those with a “knack” for learning languages, are still taking advantage of their innate language learning ability – he thus considered L2 aptitude a residual of L1 skills (see the discussion in Section 3.1 below). A number of questions arise here such as the following: First, is it adequate to exclusively focus on the speed of acquisition? What about the quality of the learning process, the proficiency or the ultimate attainment? Second, is aptitude really an innate, monolithic and stable trait which is deeply rooted in the individual’s predisposition, does not develop over time and cannot be manipulated by external factors? Third, is it adequate

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to assume that aptitude only applies to adults? What about the fact that children and adolescents also show large inter-individual differences in their foreign language learning processes and the respective outcomes (see e.g. Harley & Hart, 1997). Last, but not least, is aptitude really only relevant under instructed learning conditions? These are only some of the issues that have been discussed recently in second language acquisition (henceforth SLA) research. As a consequence of the empirical evidence about individual differences, current approaches no longer consider aptitude a unitary and static construct. Instead, it is defined as a dynamic and complex construct, “a form of developing expertise” (Dörnyei, 2006, p. 45), which reflects the interrelationship of clusters of learner variables with the cognitive demands of specific L2 learning environments. This componential and dynamic nature of aptitude may result in very individual learner profiles with differential scores which then require individual consideration or treatment. 2.2 Why and how is foreign language aptitude tested? In the 1950s and 1960s – the so-called “golden period” of language aptitude testing (see Rees, 2000) – a number of powerful paper-and-pencil testing tools were developed. Originally, the main goal of language aptitude test development was to increase the cost-effectiveness of language education. As space in language training programs and financial resources were limited, only individuals with above-average language aptitude scores were selected, because it was assumed that they would benefit most. Also, on the assumption that individuals with high aptitude scores will attain high language proficiency faster, particularly good results were used to place personnel in training programs for more distant and thus more difficult languages. In sum, aptitude was originally tested to identify and select especially gifted personnel for intensive language training programs. For example, the US Government has always tested individuals’ potential for learning a foreign language in order to determine who may pursue training as a military linguist. In fact, in the 1970s, the Department of Defense had a specific test, the “Defense Language Aptitude Battery,” also known as DLAB, developed by Petersen and Al-Haik (1976).


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However, aptitude tests can also be used to place low-score students in classes that move at a slower pace or make use of special teaching methods or materials. Thus, language aptitude tests can aid teachers and counselors to provide individual advice or guidance for their students. The abovementioned MLAT is a highly standardized, psychologically motivated test for adults, which comprises five subtests constructed to measure four factors (see below for more details) and the administration of which takes about 60–70 minutes. The second well-known test, called PLAB, an acronym for “Pimsleur Language Aptitude Battery,” was developed in 1966 by Paul Pimsleur of Ohio State University in order to predict student success in foreign language learning as well as diagnose language learning disabilities. After many years of theoretical and empirical research at the end of the 1950s, Pimsleur and his colleagues identified two central factors of language aptitude, namely verbal ability and auditory ability which, in addition to the factors motivation and grade point average, were considered to reliably predict learning success. The PLAB was developed for school students in Grades 7 to 12. 2 It consists of six parts with multiple-choice and identification tasks, and takes about 60 minutes to complete. The individual sections of the test are: 1. Grade Point Average (grades the test takers had received in areas other than language learning); 2. Interest in Foreign Language Learning (5-point scale measuring the student’s motivation to learn a foreign language); 3. Vocabulary (a test of word knowledge in English); 4. Language Analysis (a test measuring the student’s ability to reason logically in terms of a foreign language), 5. Sound Discrimination (a test measuring the student’s ability to learn new phonetic distinctions and to recognize them in different contexts); and 6. Sound-Symbol Association (a measure of the student’s ability to associate sounds with written symbols). While Sections 3 and 4 measure the individuals’ verbal ability, Sections 5 and 6 test their auditory ability. 3

2. Pimsleur was particularly interested in finding out why students failed in foreign language courses when they were doing well in other subjects. Interestingly, he found that the majority of these students were weak in their auditory ability – a limitation which can certainly be remedied by means of adequate teaching technology. 3. For the latest version of the PLAB, see Pimsleur, Reed, and Stansfield (2004).

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The MLAT was developed after 5 years (1953–1958) of intensive empirical research at Harvard University, in the course of which about 5000 individuals were tested. Still, it seems that this test has no explicit theoretical basis, but is grounded on an intuitive “trial and error” process (see e.g. Dörnyei, 2005). Nevertheless, ever since this test was introduced, it has been used as an instrument to successfully predict language learning rate in formal settings (see e.g. Ortega, 2009; Robinson, 2007; Wen & Skehan, 2011). The MLAT consists of a number of subtests evaluating the following cognitive abilities: phonetic coding, grammatical sensitivity, inductive language learning, and memory capacity – all of which are undoubtedly important components of successful L2 learning. Due to space limitations, the MLAT cannot be described in detail here, but in the following paragraphs, some basics shall be discussed briefly. The first factor, Phonetic Coding Ability, refers to an individual’s ability to process unfamiliar auditory input and store it in long term memory for later retrieval. This component comprises the following abilities: noticing the incoming stream of auditory input; segmenting and discriminating distinct sounds; identifying their meanings and associating them with their graphic representations; and then encoding them in such a manner that they may be recalled and used subsequently. In sum, this ability is undoubtedly an indispensible prerequisite for learning a language. The next factor. Grammatical Sensitivity, refers to the ability to identify the grammatical functions of words in a linguistic context, that is, a sentence. To be grammatically sensitive means to be able to recognize whether or not items in different contexts have the same function. That is, the individual must process and analyze the input in order to make analogies. The third factor, Inductive Language Learning Ability, refers to the ability to identify and induce grammatical patterns or rules from a given samples of previously unknown linguistic material, and then to transfer them to the creation of new sentences. The last factor of language aptitude in the MLAT is Memory Capacity, a widely recognized factor of major importance in language learning. It is an individual’s memory that determines how quickly and how well new linguistic material is noticed, stored, retrieved, and used. What is measured in the MLAT is the test takers’ capability for rapid rote learning of


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decontextualized sound-meaning associations of previously unknown lexical items. 4 In terms of predictive power, none of the aptitude tests developed until the 1990s was considered superior to the MLAT, which led Carroll (1990) to the following statement: Since 1959, the publication date of the MLAT, there has been considerable research that throws light on the components of foreign language aptitude and that provides information that might be useful in revising this and other batteries of foreign language aptitude tests. For the most part, this research has not suggested any major change in the components of foreign language aptitude that have been recognized from the start. (p. 14)

As we know today, due to new insights and developments, this view is no longer adequate. 5 Even though I cannot go into further detail here, some critical remarks about the first aptitude tests must be put forth: First, the MLAT as well as the PLAB also partly measure first language knowledge which is absolutely inappropriate for such a test. For example, in the “spelling clues” subtest of the MLAT and in the “vocabulary” subtest of the PLAB, L1 spelling or word knowledge is tested. Also, contrary to what the authors intended, the “phonetic script” subtest of the MLAT does not measure the ability to identify and store unfamiliar sounds. Instead, it is a test of the ability to process first language sounds. Another methodological “flaw” of the MLAT is the fact that the five subtests are not clearly distinct measures of the four factors mentioned above; that is, the factors and the individual tests are not clearly matched. For example, the subtest “number learning” measures two abilities simultaneously, namely, rote memory as well as inductive learning. At the same time, however, there is only one test measuring the test takers’ analytical ability. In sum, the MLAT is not a balanced test instrument. Also, I would 4. While this may have been sufficient in the audiolingual language classroom of the 1960s and 1970s, such a limited memory construct is considered somewhat outdated and no longer adequate in current, more communicative L2 classrooms. For more details, see below. 5. Since then, further aptitude tests have been developed such as the CANAL-FT, which stands for “Cognitive Ability for Novelty in Acquisition of Language as applied to Foreign Language Test” (Grigorenko, Sternberg, & Ehrman, 2000). In contrast to the two aptitude tests described above, this test has a clear theoretical basis, assuming three subtypes of intelligence, namely analytical, creative, and practical intelligence.

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agree with Skehan (1989, 1998) who suggested that Carroll’s constructs of grammatical sensitivity and inductive language learning are, in fact, two facets of the same cognitive ability which should be combined into a single factor called analytical ability (see also Ortega, 2009). 3 The re-discovery of language aptitude in the 1990s and recent developments After its boom in the 1960s, the aptitude construct was somewhat neglected in the 1970s and the 1980s, before it was rediscovered in the 1990s. According to Skehan (2002), there are three main reasons why aptitude had not been in the focus of interest for quite some time: x Ever since the principle of learner-centeredness was introduced in modern language pedagogy in the 1970s, language aptitude was considered an undemocratic idea which had to be abandoned. x In times of communicative, meaningful language teaching, a concept of language aptitude, which was associated with a behaviorist approach to foreign language learning, was no longer considered appropriate. x Since language aptitude was explicitly restricted to formal learning contexts, it was considered irrelevant and inadequate for naturalistic contexts (Krashen, 1981). Today, almost the exact opposite is assumed: Since in naturalistic contexts, no help is provided by a teacher who selects and prepares the input, develops tasks and exercises, provides rules, and gives support in identifying them, the learners are forced to learn from mere exposure and infer all the rules themselves. That is, under naturalistic conditions, aptitude appears even more relevant than under instructional conditions. Or to put it more generally: No matter what the learning conditions are, aptitude always plays a role (see also de Graaff, 1997). In the 1990s, remarkable research activities were undertaken which led to numerous highly interesting publications, which took a fresh look at the aptitude construct. For example, for quite some time, it had simply been taken for granted that language aptitude is what language aptitude tests measure. Recently, however, a long overdue critical discussion was initi-


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ated which resulted in a re-analysis of the aptitude construct and its adaptation to current conceptions of L2 learning. At least two developments must be mentioned here. First of all, significant progress has been made in cognitive psychology, especially in the empirical research on working memory (henceforth WM) and its relevance for language learning (for more details, see Section 3.1 below). Wen and Skehan (2011) therefore declare WM a fruitful and promising idea to reopen the research agenda of foreign language aptitude. Second, in the last 20 years, SLA research became increasingly interested in individual differences and their influence on the L2 learning process. According to Robinson (2005), current SLA research is, in terms of aptitude, interested in the following two aspects: first, the role of aptitude in explaining learners’ differential potential to achieve the highest possible level of ultimate attainment; and second, the relevance of aptitude across different learning conditions, such as learners’ differential abilities to learn from implicit versus explicit instruction or under naturalistic versus decontextualized conditions (for more details, see Section 3.2). 3.1 Some major findings In order to illustrate the progress SLA aptitude research made in the past 20 years, the most important findings and their pedagogical impact will be briefly described here: x Ever since the 1970s there have been speculations about the interrelationship between L1 skills, L2 proficiency and language learning aptitude. According to the Linguistic Coding Differences Hypothesis (henceforth LCDH) proposed by Sparks and Ganschow (1991), there is a strong relationship between an individual’s L1 learning skills and his or her L2 learning capacity. Especially when learning how to read and write their native language, many children face problems, which, if not solved during the acquisition of L1 literacy skills, are likely to reappear when the individual learns a foreign language: “Thus, the quality of automaticity and fluency when handling literacy in the L1 appears to be related to, and to be largely predictive of, the facility exhibited by schoolchildren in learning a foreign language” (Ortega, 2009, p. 153; see also Hummel, 2009, p. 239). What we have here is some

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kind of interlingual transfer on the skill level which provides us with the first pedagogical implication: Since good L1 skills are a necessary prerequisite for good L2 skills, L1 abilities should be assessed – and if necessary improved – as early as possible. Success in L2 learning can thus be purposefully prepared and enhanced in preschool or elementary school. x In contrast to the minor and somewhat reduced role memory played in the aptitude concepts of the 1960s, it is now considered central for all kinds of learning. WM, in particular, has emerged as being of major importance not only for language learning in general, but also for L2 learning in particular. Numerous studies have provided evidence for the central role of WM in L2 performance and development (see, among other works, French & O’Brien, 2008) and according to Miyake and Friedman (1998), WM for language “may be one (if not the) central component of this language aptitude” (p. 339). According to Juffs and Harrington (2011), WM is an active system for “temporarily storing and processing information while performing higher order cognitive tasks such as comprehension, learning, and reasoning” (p. 137). Thus, it has a dual function: It is a workspace to facilitate ongoing processing as well as a gateway to long term memory. According to Baddeley (2003), it comprises the following components: – The phonological loop is a verbal component which is responsible for the temporary storage of rapidly decaying verbal information. As an articulatory rehearsal system, it refreshes the contents of the store in order to retain it. – The visuospatial sketchpad is a visual component which is in charge of the temporary storage of visual information for more than two seconds. – The episodic buffer is a mechanism which controls the storage process without having itself any storing capacities. It combines information from long term memory and the two abovementioned short term stores in order to create integrated episodes. – The central executive coordinates the phonological loop and the visuospatial sketchpad, and thus controls the complex processes of encoding, storing, and retrieving information. It is responsible for the allocation of resources and attentional control, that is, focus,


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switch, or divide attention. The central executive is furthermore particularly important as a troubleshooter in cognitively demanding or difficult situations. In sum, making effective use of one’s WM means to control attention and to resist interference. According to Juffs and Harrington (2011), “this ability to control attentional resources and suppress competing information sources, rather than memory per se is the key to differences in language learning success” (p. 158; see also Conway, Kane, & Engle, 2003). In addition to being limited (see e.g. Miller, 1956, on the “magical number 7”; or Cowan, 2000, on the “magical number 4”), WM capacity is characterized by measurable individual differences (Willis & Gathercole, 2001). These are particularly obvious in L2 beginners who often show great difficulties in simultaneously focusing on form and meaning (VanPatten, 2004). Hence, a complex cognitive task such as L2 processing requires high WM capacity in order to cope with the real-time problem, especially when trying to learn from the input, and to modify and restructure the underlying interlanguage system (see Chan, Skehan, & Gong, 2011). Since the incremental process of language processing requires the ability to temporarily store linguistic information, a well-developed WM allows for a more effective input (and output) processing. The faster an individual can process, memorize and retrieve unfamiliar linguistic material, the faster he or she can acquire new language patterns (Dörnyei, 2006; Miyake & Friedman, 1998; Sawyer & Ranta, 2001). It has been shown that the role of WM changes in the course of the L2 acquisition process. According to the findings of O’Brien, Segalowitz, Collentine, and Freed (2006), in the beginning, WM is particularly helpful in acquiring new vocabulary, while later on – when the mental lexicon has been built up and word retrieval has become more or less automatic – WM enhances the acquisition of L2 grammar (see also Masoura & Gathercole, 2005). According to Hummel (2009), as soon as the basic sound patterns, vocabulary and grammar have been acquired and certain thresholds are reached, WM no longer plays a central role. Instead, other factors such as L2 knowledge come into play, so that the dependence on WM is continually reduced. WM capacity and target knowledge are obviously complementary (for more details, see Conway et al., 2003).

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Juffs and Harrington (2011) describe WM capacity as a “mixture of trait and state variable, like anxiety, in which stable patterns of performance across tasks are evident, but that performance can be affected at any particular time by a specific task condition” (p. 157). Also, the capacity and efficiency is affected by individual factors such as domain knowledge, L1, and learner goals and motivation. In sum, I would not go as far as Miyake and Friedman (1998), who speak of “memory as language aptitude,” but I also consider it a core element of aptitude. I would thus agree here with Ortega (2009), who warns not to simplify the state of affairs, because “the ways in which memory facilitates differential rate and success of L2 learning may be more complex than a simple correlation between memory tasks and proficiency measures can capture” (p. 156). So, what we need here is further empirical research. 3.2 Two new approaches in language aptitude conceptualization With regard to the re-conceptualization of the aptitude construct, some interesting recent developments must be mentioned. For instance, inspired by the ideas of Richard Snow (1987, 1994), Robinson (2002) proposes a theoretically well-based hierarchical model of aptitude complexes, ability factors and cognitive abilities. This framework is based on the following three principles: 1. Human aptitude consists of a complex of abilities which are hierarchically related; 2. Differential cognitive processing abilities are intertwined with the respective contexts and environmental conditions; and 3. In order to explain differential aptitude, motivational and affective factors need to be taken into account. According to Robinson, the basic cognitive abilities such as pattern recognition, processing speed, and phonological working memory jointly facilitate processing and learning in a specific learning context. On the basis of two closely related hypotheses – the aptitude complex hypothesis (Snow, 1994), which states that “certain sets or combinations of cognitive abilities are drawn on in learning under one condition of instructional L2 exposure versus another” (Robinson, 2007, p. 274), and the ability differentiation hypothesis (Deary et al., 1996), which claims that some L2 learners have more clearly differentiated abilities than others and that it is


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therefore important to match these learners to conditions in which their strengths are favored – Robinson proposes his framework, predicting optimal matching of learners and instructional approaches. He assumes the following four aptitude complexes: The first aptitude complex, aptitude for focus on form (i.e. learning from recasts), is a combination of the aptitude for noticing the gap (NTG) and memory for contingent speech (MCS). In this complex, a learner needs to be able to keep the interlocutor’s feedback in memory while comparing it to his or her own prior utterance (Mackey, Philp, Egi, Fujii, & Tatsumi, 2002). Of course, the two ability factors involved here – NTG and MCS – are themselves based on primary abilities such as perceptual speed, pattern recognition as well as phonological working memory capacity and speed. The second aptitude complex, aptitude for incidental learning from oral input flood, consists of MCS (see above) and deep semantic processing (DSP), which comprises the ability to infer word meaning from input or to construct analogical representations of meaning. The third aptitude complex, aptitude for incidental learning from written input flood, only differs from the aforementioned complex in that memory for contingent text (not speech; MCT) is integrated with DSP. In the fourth aptitude complex, aptitude for explicit rule learning on the basis of explanation, MCT as well as metalinguistic rule rehearsal (MRR) are required. Altogether, five ability factors (NTG, MCS, DSP, MCT and MRR) are assumed here which are based on ten primary cognitive abilities. namely, perceptual speed, pattern recognition, phonological working memory capacity, speed of phonological working memory, analogies, inferring word meaning, working memory for text, speed of working memory for text, grammatical sensitivity and rote memory, all of which contribute to the L2 acquisition process differently and can be measured by tests that are already available. The main point here is that language aptitude is defined in the context of specific teaching situations, or as Segalowitz (1997) puts it, “language ability is not a fixed characteristic of a person but rather a complex reflection of the learning situation” (p. 108). Accordingly, Robinson (2007) concludes that “aptitude for learning from opportunities for practice draws on more than cognitive abilities and involves affective and cognitive fac-

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tors which may also be consistent determinants of an individual’s engagement with the L2” (p. 256). In sum, Robinson’s approach is about matching cognitive demands, learner profiles and teaching methods. By investigating the interrelations between aptitude and specific instructional situations, he is attempting to bring together SLA research and instructed language learning, or cognitive abilities and learning conditions, respectively. Another new SLA related approach to language aptitude was proposed by Skehan (2002), whose intention was to integrate aptitude components such as attentional control, working memory, language analysis, phonemic coding, and automatization with the various stages of the L2 acquisition process. This componential model is based on the information processing theory, in which noticing, patterning, restructuring, controlling and integration are considered central processes. What is needed for noticing are attention management, working memory, and phonemic coding ability. Patterning involves the formulation, testing and revising of hypotheses, which may then lead to rule formation and its integration in preexisting knowledge. The following step, restructuring, requires grammatical sensitivity. In the process of controlling, the learner has to make use of the newly discovered patterns or rules, thus gaining control over them. What is needed here are good retrieval and application abilities. The last process in Skehan’s model, integration, involves the transformation of the aforementioned patterns into fluent and automatic behavior, which is achieved either through memory or by means of quick rule application. According to Skehan, different stages of the SLA process require different aptitudinal components. 6 As yet, not all of them have been addressed by the language aptitude tests currently available. What is missing, in particular, is a differentiated memory component which accounts for attention control, working memory, chunking, automatization, and retrieval. Here, further empirical research is urgently needed. In sum, different learning stages require different aptitude components or different degrees thereof. Thus, after having identified which problems may occur in which stages and after diagnosing a learner’s individual L2 learning aptitude, adequate support can be provided. For example, for 6. For an updated version of Skehan’s model, see Wen & Skehan (2011).


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learners with a limited WM, specific explicit instruction may be very helpful. Sawyer and Ranta (2001), therefore, suggest the following: “Drawing learner’s attention in the appropriate directions may not only facilitate learning of the particular features of language, but may ease the overall burden on WM so that more attention is available for additional learning.” (p. 345) In trying to answer the question of why aptitude tests are in fact so predictive, Sparks et al. (2009) brought up an interesting idea which should be investigated further: “L2 aptitude tests may draw their predictive value from tapping into students’ metalinguistic skills, which is the ability to think about, reflect on, and manipulate language.” (p. 746) Thus, Ranta’s (2002) statement that language analytic ability (a skill tested in all aptitude tests) and metalinguistic ability are closely intertwined leads to another pedagogical implication: If aptitude can be enhanced by improving metalinguistic skills, then these skills should be trained in school from the very beginning of L1 and L2 teaching. 4 Conclusion and final remarks Recent research in the exciting field of language aptitude has revealed a number of highly interesting ideas, findings and proposals which draw a much more differentiated and certainly more adequate picture of the aptitude construct than the one which originally underlay the MLAT or the PLAB. What follows from the differentiated view that aptitude is a multidimensional and dynamic construct is a much more detailed, multi-faceted picture of the individual learner. The identification of learners’ aptitude profiles can be helpful for teachers to provide optimal input, exercises, goals, and so forth. It has been shown that when the learner’s profile and the method of L2 instruction match, the learning results will be better and the learners – as well as the teachers – will be much more satisfied with the L2 learning process and its outcome. 7 As we all know, eventually it is the learner – not the teacher – who decides whether or not he or she wants to learn. Therefore, teachers should address the learners’ individual needs and provide adequate materials, 7. See, in particular, Robinson’s (2002, 2005, 2007) ideas in terms of Aptitude Treatment-Interaction programs or Wesche’s (1981) insightful study.

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tasks and techniques to enhance this process. Also, learners should be enabled to set their own learning goals and make informed decisions in terms of their individual learning process so that they will assume more individual responsibility (see Ushioda, 1996). Thus, by informing learners about what aptitudinal components are required in the different L2 acquisition stages or for the various instruction types, teachers can support their learners in controlling their own language learning process and thus make them more autonomous in the long run. That is, learners should be enabled to take over responsibility for lifelong language learning and continuously work on their individual learning profile. Since we do not know as yet whether and how aptitude can be improved by means of external measures, we should concentrate on adapting the teaching to the specific aptitude profile, that is, modify L2 instruction to accommodate individual differences according to the motto: Strengthen the learner’s strengths! In the following paragraphs, some ideas for future research shall be put forward: First, since most aptitude tests have so far been constructed for the beginners’ level only, an aptitude test for advanced learners is needed, which may help teachers or counselors to provide specific support in an ongoing L2 learning process. Also, since research has mainly focused on literate learners, it is time for the L2 learning potential of non-literate learners also to be investigated. Hence, aptitude tests are needed to measure the relevant sub-abilities of this target group without using written language. Another very important issue brought up recently by Chan et al. (2011) concerns the fact that all-purpose aptitude tests are practical, but not fully reliable. Therefore, since the speed and the success in learning an L2 depends on the (typological, geographic, genetic or other) relationship between L1 and L2, target language-specific aptitude tests such as the one recently developed by Chan et al. (2011) should be the focus of future research. Last, but not least, what is definitely needed in order to empirically test Robinson’s (2002) and Skehan’s (1998, 2002) models are more L2 classroom studies to investigate the following pedagogically highly interesting questions initiated by the work of Peter Robinson (2007):


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x Is there a “causal” correlation between aptitude scores, the teaching method, and proficiency scores? And closely related to that: x Which cognitive demands are associated with which learning tasks and which aptitude complexes are required to meet the respective cognitive processing conditions? References Baddeley, A. D. (2003). Working memory and language: An overview. Journal of Communication Disorders, 36, 189–208. Carroll, J. B. (1973). Implications of aptitude test research and psycholinguistic theory for foreign language teaching. International Journal of Psycholinguistics, 2, 5–14. Carroll, J. B. (1990). Cognitive abilities in foreign language aptitude: Then and now. In T. Parry & C. Stansfield (Eds.), Language aptitude reconsidered (pp. 11–29). Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall Regents. Carroll, J. B., & Sapon, S. M. (1959). Modern Language Aptitude Test (MLAT). New York, N.Y.: The Psychological Corporation. Chan, E., Skehan, P., & Gong, G. (2011). Working memory, phonemic coding ability and foreign language aptitude: Potential for construction of specific language aptitude tests – the case of Cantonese. Ilha do Desterro: A Journal of English Language, Literatures and Cultural Studies, 60, 45–73. Conway, A. A. R., Kane, M. J., & Engle, R. W. (2003). Working memory capacity and its relation to general intelligence. Trends in Cognitive Science, 7, 547–552. Cowan, N. (2000). The magical number 4 in short-term memory: A reconsideration of mental storage capacity. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 24, 87–185. De Graaff, R. (1997). Differential effects of explicit instruction on second language acquisition. Utrecht: Vrije Universiteit. Deary, I. J., Egan, V., Gibson, G. J., Austin, E. J., Brand, C. R., & Kellaghan, T. (1996). Intelligence and the differentiation hypothesis, Intelligence, 23, 105–132. Dörnyei, Z. (2005). The psychology of the language learner: Individual differences in second language acquisition. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum. Dörnyei, Z. (2006). Individual differences in second language acquisition. AILA Review, 19, 42–68. Ehrman, M. E., & Oxford, R. L. (1995). Cognition plus: Correlates of language learning success. Modern Language Journal 54(3), 311–327. French, L. M., & O’Brien, I. (2008). Phonological memory and children's second language grammar learning Applied Psycholinguistics, 2, 463–487.

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Grigorenko, E., Sternberg, R., & Ehrman, M. E. (2000). A theory-based approach to the measurement of foreign language learning ability: The Canal-F theory and test. Modern Language Journal, 84(3), 390–405. Harley, B., & Hart, D. (1997). Language aptitude and second language proficiency in classroom learners of different starting ages. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 19 , 379–400. Hummel, K. (2009). Aptitude, phonological memory, and second language proficiency in nonnovice adult learners. Applied Psycholinguistics, 30, 225–249. Juffs, A., & Harrington, M. W. (2011). Aspects of working memory in L2 Learning. Language Teaching: Reviews and Studies, 42(2), 137–166. Krashen, S. (1981). Second language acquisition and second language learning. Oxford: Pergamon. Mackey, A., Philp, J., Egi, T., Fujii, A., & Tasumi, T. (2002). Individual differences in working memory, noticing of interactional feedback and L2 development. In P. Robinson (Ed.), Individual differences and instructed language learning (pp. 181–209). Amsterdam: John Benjamins. Masoura, E. V., & Gathercole, S. E. (2005). Contrasting contributions of phonological short-term memory and long term knowledge to vocabulary learning in a foreign language. Memory, 13, 422–429. Miller, G. A. (1956). The magical number seven, plus or minus two: some limits on our capacity for processing information. Psychological Review, 63, 81–97. Miyake, A., & Friedman, D. (1998). Individual differences in second language proficiency: working memory as language aptitude. In A. F. Healy & L. E. Bourne (Eds.), Foreign language learning: psycholinguistic studies on training and retention, (pp. 339–364). Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum. O’Brien, L., Segalowitz, N., Collentine, J., & Freed, B. (2006). Phonological memory and lexical, narrative, and grammatical skills in second language oral production by adult learners. Applied Psycholinguistics, 27, 377–402. Ortega, L. (2009). Understanding second language acquisition. London: Hodder Education. Peterson, C. R., & Al-Haik, A. R. (1976). The development of the defense language aptitude battery (DLAB). Educational and Psychological Measurement, 36, 369–380. Pimsleur, P., Reed, D. J., & Stansfield, C. S. (2004). Pimsleur Language Aptitude Battery: Manual 2004 edition. Bethesda, MD: Second Language Testing, Inc. Ranta, L. (2002). The role of learners’ analytic abilities in the communicative classroom. In P. Robinson (Ed.), Individual differences and instructed language learning (pp. 159–180). Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins. Rees, J. (2000). Predicting the future of foreign language aptitude. In S. Cornwell & P. Robinson (Eds.), Individual differences in foreign language learning: Effects of aptitude, intelligence, and motivation (pp.187–197). Tokyo: Aoyama Gakuin University.


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Robinson, P. (2002). Learning conditions, aptitude complexes, and SLA: A framework for research and pedagogy. In P. Robinson (Ed.), Individual differences and instructed language learning (pp. 113–133). Amsterdam: John Benjamins. Robinson, P. (2005). Aptitude and second language acquisition. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 25, 46–73. Robinson, P. (2007). Aptitudes, abilities, contexts and practice. In R. M. DeKeyser (Ed.), Practice in second language: Perspectives from applied linguistics and cognitive psychology (pp. 256–286). Cambridge. Sawyer, M., & Ranta, L. (2001). Aptitude, individual differences, and instructional design. In P. Robinson (Ed.), Cognition and second language instruction (pp. 319–353). New York: Cambridge University Press. Segalowitz, N. (1997) Individual differences in second language acquisition. In A. de Groot & J. Kroll (Eds), Tutorials in bilingualism (pp. 88–112). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Skehan, P. (1989). Individual differences in second-language learning. London: Edward Arnold. Skehan, P. (1998). A cognitive approach to language learning. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Skehan, P. (2002). Theorising and updating aptitude. In P. Robinson (Ed.), Individual differences and instructed language learning (pp. 69–93). Amsterdam: John Benjamins. Snow, R. E. (1987). Aptitude complexes. In R. E. Snow & M. Farr (Eds.), Aptitude, learning, and instruction: Conative and affective process analysis. (Vol. 3, pp. 11–34). Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Snow, R. E. (1994). Abilities in academic tasks. In R. J. Sternberg & R. K. Wagner (Eds.), Mind in context: Interactionist perspectives on human intelligence (pp. 3–37). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Sparks, R. L., & Ganschow, L. (1991). Foreign language learning differences: Affective or native language aptitude differences?. Modern Language Journal, 75, 3–16. Sparks, R. L., Patton, J., Ganschow, E., & Humbach, N. (2009). Long-term relationships among early first language skills, second language aptitude, second language affect, and later second language proficiency. Applied Psycholinguistics, 30, 725–755. Ushioda, E. (1996). Developing a dynamic concept of motivation. In T. J. Hickey (Ed.), Language, education and society in a changing world (pp. 239–245). Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters. VanPatten, B. (2004): Input processing in SLA. In B. VanPatten (Ed.), Processing instruction: Theory, research, and commentary (pp. 5–31). Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum. Wen, Z., & Skehan, P. (2011). A new perspective on foreign language aptitude research: building and supporting a case for “Working Memory as Language Aptitude”. Ilha Do Desterro: A Journal of English Language, Literatures and Cultural Studies, 60, 15–44.

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Wesche, M. (1981). Language aptitude measures in streaming, matching students with methods, and diagnosis of learning problems. In K. Diller (Ed.), Individual differences and universals in language aptitude (pp. 119–154). Rowley, MA: Newbury House. Willis, C. S., & Gathercole, S. E. (2001). Phonological short-term memory contributions to sentence processing in young children. Memory, 9, 349–364.

Chapter 4 Understanding L2 reading: A cognitive perspective Swathi M. Vanniarajan

1 Introduction Reading is a complex cognitive skill. For cognitive psychologists, working memory capacity and reading skills are synergetically related to each other. Findings in reading research experiments set within the framework of cognitive psychology indicate that reading in the first language (L1) develops along what is called the controlled-automatic continuum. The consensus among reading researchers is that L1 readers who are at the automatic end of the continuum have larger working memory capacities and, in contrast, those who are at the controlled end of the continuum have smaller working memory capacities. Research also indicates that those readers who are at the controlled end of the continuum do not generally do well in certain reading tasks such as overall reading comprehension, garden path sentence interpretation, pronoun computation, and unknown word meaning inference (Daneman, 1987, 1991). Compared to L1 reading research, there have been very few research studies in second language (L2) reading within the framework of cognitive psychology. The experimental study presented here attempts to fill the gap. Its primary purpose is to place the developmental patterns of reading skills of nonnative speakers of English who were graduate students at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) in the controlled-automatic continuum. A crucial assumption made in this chapter is that the reading proficiency level of nonnative speakers even at this level of education, unlike educated native speakers at this level of education, may vary. Also, it is possible that all of the subjects in this study have the necessary linguistic knowledge; yet, the reading skills of some of them may not have reached the level of automaticity due to various factors. The results of the study indeed show that, unlike the reading skills of educated


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native speakers who are generally considered a homogenous group, the reading skills of the nonnative speakers even at this high level of education varied and ranged from the controlled to the automatic end of the continuum. In other words, the subjects under study had to be considered a heterogeneous group. The chapter is divided into five sections. Section 1 describes the most important characteristics of working memory and how they play a significant role in reading processes and reading development. Section 2 describes the research experiment. Section 3 contains the results of the study. Section 4 makes an attempt to interpret the nature of the reading processes of the L2 readers in terms of the data collected. Section 5 contains the conclusion, and the implications and limitations of the study. 2 Working memory and reading The current models of working memory are based on two important constructs: (i) it serves as a temporary store of relevant information for later use in the performance of cognitive tasks; and (ii) it is a limited capacity transient attentional system to be defined in functional rather than structural terms (Baddeley, 1981a, 1981b, 1989). According to cognitive psychologists, these two constructs together make working memory an important variable in the development of cognitive skills (Schneider & Shiffrin, 1977). 2.1 The storage theories of working memory and reading Kintsch and van Dijk (1978) propose that readers process text in cycles, working with at most several propositions or meaning units at a time. Furthermore, as propositions in one cycle frequently relate to propositions in the previous cycles, readers must integrate the related propositions if they are to establish a coherent representation for the text. In terms of working memory theory, integration (a coherent representation) is more easily accomplished if the earlier relevant propositions are still active in working memory; otherwise a more difficult and time-consuming reinstatement search must be attempted. One consequence would be that the reader would be continually backtracking to reread parts or even whole sentences

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and passages. Apart from integrative reading, Daneman and Carpenter (1980) show that the storage theories of working memory play a particularly important role in at least two other crucial aspects of reading: (i) pronoun computation; and (ii) revision of comprehension errors. Daneman and Carpenter (1980) assessed L1 readers’ ability for pronoun computation by interrogating them about the referent of a pronoun mentioned in the last sentences of passages they had just read. The finding was that unskilled readers were less accurate than the skilled readers. Moreover, unskilled readers were particularly unsuccessful in computing the antecedent for a pronoun, especially when the pronoun and its antecedent were separated by six or seven sentences. By contrast, skilled readers were always able to identify the referent even at longer distances. “Monitoring and revising one’s comprehension errors is another skill that involves the integration of successive ideas in a text” (Daneman, 1987, p. 63). Daneman and Carpenter (1980) examined the integration skills of L1 readers by assessing their ability to detect and recover from apparent inconsistencies, as in the following sentences (as cited in Daneman, 1987, p. 64): The violinist stepped onto the podium and turned majestically to face the audience. He took a bow that was very gracefully propped on the music stand.

The results indicated that most readers initially interpreted the word bow as a bend at the waist because “this is the meaning more strongly primed by the preceding sentence” (Daneman, 1987, p. 64). However, when required to disambiguate, while beginning readers at the controlled end of the continuum could not resolve the inconsistency, advanced readers at the automatic end of the continuum could detect the inconsistency and recover the correct interpretation (Daneman, 1987). 2.2 The functional structure of working memory and reading skill The functional structure of the working memory hypothesis claims that individuals do not differ in the number of items or chunks of information they can passively store in their working memories, but in the size of the chunks they can effectively process (Baddeley, 1981b). What this means is that although the capacity of working memory is severely limited in the


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number of chunks that can be held simultaneously, it is possible to expand the total amount of information by packing more and more information into each chunk. Therefore, the size of the chunk one is able to process can vary from task to task (intra-person variability), and from language to language (inter-language variability). LaBerge and Samuels (1974), and Schneider and Shiffrin (1977) suggest that at the initial stages of reading, the combined energy of processing (decoding) and storage generally exceeds the functional capacity of beginning readers’ working memory. As such, beginning readers would have less residual capacity for temporarily storing the intermediate products of the reading processes such as storing the meanings of preceding sentences, keeping the foreground information alive, remembering what the antecedent is, and so on (Daneman, 1987). Research (Samuels & LaBerge, 1983), however, indicates that beginning readers can overcome working memory capacity limitations by dividing the task into multiple sub-units. Thereby, they can put their attention first onto the decoding of the task, then to the extraction of lexical meanings, then to the integration of meanings, and so on. For cognitive psychologists, a combination of divide-and-conquer strategy and frequent backtrackings is a necessary condition for automating a complex cognitive task such as reading. In short, as beginning readers continue to practice, the attentional demands for decoding decrease. Eventually, with the increasing ability to work on larger and larger chunks, they can decode, store, integrate, and comprehend simultaneously, just as the skilled readers do without any backtrackings. 2.3 Developmental reading processes Samuels and LaBerge (1983) propose that reading as a skill develops along the controlled-automatic continuum and that the continuum has three stages: (i) non-accurate non-automatic stage; (ii) accurate nonautomatic stage; and (iii) accurate automatic stage. Non-automatic reading processes are generally considered to be conscious, capacity-demanding, form-oriented (primarily bottom-up processing), sequential, inefficient, time-consuming, and involve smaller chunks. In contrast, automatic processes are generally considered to be unconscious, capacity-undemanding,

Understanding L2 reading: A cognitive perspective


meaning-oriented, parallel, efficient, less time-consuming, and involve larger chunks. Reading research in L1 suggests that high-school-and-beyond educated native speakers can be considered to be primarily in the accurateautomatic stage, as they are faster and automatic at most of the components of reading. This includes encoding, lexical access, and higher level semantic and syntactic processing (Daneman & Carpenter, 1980). Robeck and Wallace (1990) suggest that reading skill in native speakers may attain automaticity when they are near their secondary school graduation and are about to begin their college career. With adequate exposure to language in varied real life situations and with years of receptive and productive experiences, educated adolescent native speakers have been shown to be able to process information quickly and smoothly so that they can have sufficient space in their working memories to work on the retention and integration of relevant contextual cues/information. (LaBerge & Samuels, 1974). Akin to L1 reading researchers, L2 reading researchers working in the cognitive psychology framework also suggest that like L1 reading in the early stages of its development, L2 reading processes also require a great deal of functional capacity of working memory. For Geva and Ryan (1993), “for the L2 learner, reading in L2 requires higher degrees of analyzed linguistic knowledge and cognitive control than does reading in L1” (p. 9). For them, syntactic processes are less automatized in L2 than in L1. Also, during this stage, lexical access requires a longer time and meanings do not emerge automatically. For Bialystok and Ryan (1985), The necessity to achieve automatic control is particularly evident for second-language learners. In the early stages of using a new language, the effort to retrieve existing knowledge of that language is great; responses require time to formulate, words are not always available on demand, structures do not emerge naturally. Practice using the language improves the learner's access to knowledge, and this improvement is reflected in greater fluency. The important distinction here is that fluency need not require any new or different information; rather, it requires more automaticity in the retrieval of existing information … (p. 215; italics mine)

For these researchers, furthermore, nonnative speakers are mostly at stage 2 (accurate, non-automatic) in their reading skills (1985) because in L2 acquisition literature (Cziko, 1980; Favreau & Segalowitz, 1983; Geva &


S. M. Vanniarajan

Ryan, 1993; Segalowitz, 1986), it is frequently claimed that very rarely do nonnative speakers attain automaticity comparable to those of native speakers in their reading processes. In sum, in light of the working memory model of reading, it could be claimed that nonnative reading processes could range from the controlled to the automatic end of the continuum. Also, while reading a passage, when they are required to hold the intermediate processes in their working memories, nonnative readers may encounter problems depending on the nature of their reading skills. Also, significant differences may exist among them at both higher (top-down) and lower level (bottom-up) processes. These differences can be attributed to many external constraints, such as the amount of exposure they have to the language, the cultural knowledge with which they attempt to understand the L2 reading materials, the amount of receptive and productive experiences they have in the language, the uses to which they put the language, the extensiveness of their reading experiences, and so on. 3 The experiment The experiment reported here is part of the vocabulary acquisition-cumreading research carried out in a laboratory-like setting at UCLA. This article will report only the relevant parts of the research which bear on the proposed hypotheses. 3.1 Critical questions The critical question that was explored here was whether the nature of the reading processes of highly educated nonnative speakers could be captured in the controlled-automatic continuum. Also, what would be the effects of the intervening variables such as schema memory (concept familiarity) or inability to perceive available information in real time (due to lack of automaticity) on their respective reading processes? In order to study these questions, it was assumed in this research that, when required to infer the meanings of unknown words in reading passages in real time reading conditions (without backtrackings), nonnative subjects would be less able to construct the meanings from cues provided in the verbal contexts because of overexertion of their working memories for bottom-up

Understanding L2 reading: A cognitive perspective


processing. They would have less capacity in their working memories for identifying and storing the relevant contextual cues, as there would have been a trade-off between processing and storage. For them, the integration of cues could be accomplished only by backtrackings and re-readings of the relevant information. In other words, for this to happen, they would need significantly more reading time. 3.1.1 Subjects The subjects were 30 nonnative graduate students from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). It was decided to conduct the experiment with graduate students for two reasons: (i) that it would be possible to obtain subjects who were at the same level of education; and (ii) that their verbal reasoning capacities would be high enough to work on the types of tasks designed. The average age of the nonnative speakers was 27.96 years. The nonnative subjects were all international students who had come from the following three Asian countries, China, Korea, and Taiwan. The mean number of years the nonnative subjects had been studying and using English as an academic language was 10.9 years. No restrictions were made with regard to the disciplines they would belong to, and whoever responded to the advertisement in Daily Bruin, the official student-run newspaper at UCLA, was invited to take part in the experiment after a verification of his/her student identification card. All subjects were informed that they should strictly follow the instructions given by the researcher at every stage of the experiment. 3.2 Primary tasks The tasks used in the experiment required the subjects to infer the meanings of unknown words that fit in well with the ongoing pragmatic and linguistic contexts. The tasks were chosen for two reasons: (i) L1 reading research suggests that in an online (real time) discourse, while inferring the meanings of unknown words, a skilled reader decodes (bottom-up processing), and at the same time works out the meanings of unknown words which fit in well with the ongoing linguistic and pragmatic contexts (top-down processing) without any conscious effort. Unskilled readers, on


S. M. Vanniarajan

the other hand, find this process of inferring the meanings of unknown words a very difficult, frustrating, and capacity-demanding (conscious) experience. However, they also eventually end up with the meanings of unknown words, but only after adopting divide-and-conquer strategies through frequent backtrackings and by devoting a lot of time and attention to each of the individual intermediate processes involved. Considering that the nature of tasks would make considerable demands on both processing and storage components of one’s reading skill, it was hypothesized that if the tasks were well constructed, they would, on the one hand, fairly characterize the reading processes of L2 readers under study; on the other hand, they would also serve as valid instruments to find out whether or not the subjects were able to keep the contextual cues in their working memories for later computations of meanings. Also, more importantly, such tasks could be very well administered on a computer. Apart from practicality and reliability considerations, by doing the experiment on a computer, it would also be possible to control as well as measure the subjects’ processing time. 3.3 Vocabulary words used in the experiment 24 low frequency words were selected from two dictionaries of low frequency and unusual words (Heifetz, 1974; Dickson, 1982), out of which 12 were used in passage tasks and 12 others in sentence tasks. This report will concern itself only with the passage tasks. Though the words chosen were unusual, their meanings, however, were not; in other words, their concepts were not totally uncommon or unfamiliar. The words were chosen in such a way that they could not be substituted by synonyms and that they represented multi-concepts (not polysemous, i.e. multiple meanings, but a meaning that has multi-dimensions). The tasks required subjects to infer all the embedded concepts in the words in terms of the contextual (including linguistic) cues provided in the reading passages, and in certain tasks, also in terms of their background knowledge. For an example of the kinds of words used in the experiment, consider the word “ghooming.” It means “hunting wild animals in the dark.” The word cannot be substituted by a synonym and it has three familiar concepts: (i) to hunt; (ii) wild animals; and (iii) in the dark. What is important is that such words enable

Understanding L2 reading: A cognitive perspective


researchers to construct passages and sentences with contextual cues that are well spread out so that readers will have to read the entire items to infer their meanings. The words used in the passage tasks and their meanings are presented in Table 1. Table 1. Novel target words used in the passage tasks and their meanings. Words


agio (1:17)

the percentage or the commission/rate of exchange for changing, i.e. converting an inferior currency into a more valuable one in private or illegal transaction

agunah (1:18)

a married woman whose husband has deserted her and she cannot remarry without divorce or proof of his death

anacampserote (1:20)

something prepared (made) by psychic readers which can bring back lost love

anacrisis (1:21)

police brutality during interrogation

chummage (2:334)

money or favours or both given to an oldie (old prisoner) by a newcomer for protection from other oldies in a prison

drilligate (v) (2:52)

to detain somebody against his/her will from leaving by continuing the conversation endlessly (or to detain a person when s/he wants to get away by talking endlessly)

gazump (v) (2:334)

to raise, increase the price (of something) after a verbal agreement (i.e. after a sale transaction has been finalized)

ghoom (v) (1:84)

to hunt wild animals in dark

groak (v) (1:87)

desire for an invitation to join in a meal

mithridatism (2:169)

art of obtaining immunity from poison that is realized (built up) after (through) taking (ingesting) it in a series of small doses

qualtagh (1:174)

the first person seen after leaving the house in the morning (or for the first time during the day)

shebeen (1:196)

a place where unauthorized liquor is sold

In the table, the numbers within parentheses next to the words used in the experiment refer to the dictionary from which the word is taken and the page on which it occurs. For example, for the word “anacampserote,” the numbers (1:20) indicate that the word is taken from “Mrs. Byrne's Dictionary of Unusual, Obscure, and Preposterous Words” (Heifetz, 1974) and that it occurs in that dictionary on page 20. For the word


S. M. Vanniarajan

“chummage,” the numbers (2:334) indicate that the word is taken from “Words” (Dickson, 1982) and that it occurs in that dictionary on page 334. 3.4 Passage construction The passages were written with the minimal requirement that they contained sufficient unambiguous contextual and pragmatic cues for inferring the intended overall contextual meanings and that the reader had to read the entire passages to infer the meanings of the underlined words. In order to fulfill this requirement, the items were pilot tested with 10 monolingual native speakers of English and 10 advanced level nonnative speakers of English to make sure that (i) the subjects would not come up with unanticipated meanings, that is, definitions that differed from the ones intended by the researcher but that could have been plausible in their respective contexts and (ii) the successful completion of tasks required the entire reading of the passages. The length of the tasks ranged from 209 to 325 words; the position of the target word whose meaning is to be inferred varied across all the tasks. 3.4.1 Sample passage task: Agio What follows is a sample passage that was used in the experiment: Mr. Kwan was a longtime aspirant for U.S. immigration. His dream came true when at last his application was approved. He was instantly ready to move, but for his huge savings in the bank. He knew very well that it was very difficult to convert his savings into the equivalent U.S. dollars not only because his country's currency enjoyed no great reputation in the money exchange market but also because there was a lot of local restrictions with which to comply, most of which did not qualify Mr. Kwan for an official transaction. What could he do? Should he leave behind all his savings in his home country and go to the United States or should he remain in his home country because he couldn't afford to lose them? Luckily, when Mr. Kwan told a friend who was working in a travel agency of his dilemma, the friend told him not to worry; the problem was not uncommon and the solution was simple. The friend would look for people coming from abroad, and if they preferred to exchange their money privately, Mr. Kwan could pay them a higher agio, much higher than what was generally asked for in the money exchange market, and in this way he could slowly overcome his anxiety.

Understanding L2 reading: A cognitive perspective


Mr. Kwan was happy despite the fact that he would lose a substantial portion of his savings in the transaction because he would be able to take along in major currencies a greater proportion of his savings to the United States.

3.5 Tasks 3.5.1 Primary tasks: Research hypotheses The tasks were presented under two different reading conditions: (1) in one condition with no time allowance for backtrackings (hereafter time restricted setting or time controlled condition, i.e. restricted reading time condition – RRTC); and (2) in another condition with unlimited time allowance for backtrackings (hereafter time unrestricted setting or time uncontrolled conditions, i.e. unrestricted reading time conditions – URTC). The URTC followed the RRTC after a lapse of time and tasks in between to get rid of the practice effect and memory traces. The following hypotheses were made: Hypothesis 1: There would be significant differences between the amount of time made available to the subjects for processing the passages under RRTC) and the actual time required by them under URTC. Hypothesis 2: The subjects’ definitions given under URTC would significantly differ from their definitions given under RRTC. In other words, the definitions given by the subjects under URTC would be significantly better than the definitions given by them under RRTC. 3.5.2 Secondary tasks Apart from providing the contextual meanings for the target words, the subjects were also required to provide information on a rating scale of 1 to 3 on (i) how sufficient was the time made available to them in time restricted settings, (ii) how adequate was the given information in the passages for inferring the meanings of target words under both the conditions, and (iii) how familiar they were with the concepts embedded in these words. They were also required to answer a question on whether or not they backtracked while working on the task and, if so, how many times it might have been in their opinion.


S. M. Vanniarajan

To ensure that subjects did not differ in their prior knowledge of the target words under study, the subjects were handed a list that contained target words that would appear in the experiment prior to the administration of the experiment and were asked to put a checkmark against the words they already knew. No subject happened to know the meaning of any of the target words in isolation. After the experiment, the subjects were handed a list containing low frequency words which appeared in the reading passages. The list was prepared using the “The American Heritage Word Frequency Book” (Carroll, Davies, & Richman, 1971). The subjects were asked to put a checkmark against the words they did not know. Finally, they were asked to comment on the experimental design and/or any aspect of the experiment in an informal interview. 3.6 Timing methods The computer program was written in such a way that in the time controlled settings, as soon as the time was up, the screen would scroll over to the next screen. In order to decide on the appropriate amount of time to be provided in the time controlled settings for that level of readers, the program was pilot-tested with five monolingual native speakers of English and five advanced level nonnative speakers of English. After a few trials, it was decided to present each task on one full screen at the rate of 188 words per minute. In time unrestricted settings, the computer kept track of the amount of time each subject took for processing the passages, from the time the passage appeared on the screen to the time the subjects pressed the “Enter” button to indicate that they were ready to provide the meaning of the word. 3.7 Administration of the experiment After the subjects filled in the subject information sheets and checked the known words on the pre-experiment list, they were brought to the computer. They were then asked to be at ease and were clearly informed that their performance in the experiment would be strictly confidential and that they would not be rated for grammar, spelling, or organization. The sub-

Understanding L2 reading: A cognitive perspective


jects were then asked to work on two sample tasks. The practice passages illustrated the kinds of meanings expected of them and the details of the kinds of definitions required. The practice passages had another effect. They made it clear to the subjects that they would have to carefully read the entire passages from the beginning to the end, store the contextual cues provided at various places in the passages in their working memories, and then determine the meanings of the target words. Also, the subjects came to understand that there was no single word synonym for any of the target words. As soon as the subjects became familiar with the types of tasks they were going to work on and with the computer program, they were again clearly informed that they would see the passages on the screen at the reading speed which they had experienced while doing the sample tasks, and that the passages would automatically disappear from the screen once the time allocated for them to stay on the screen was over. They were then made to understand that they could take any amount of time for typing their definitions and that these could be of any length. They were also informed that they should answer the feedback questions as well. Once the subjects completed the first part of the experiment, they were asked to relax for an hour or more, and were then asked to continue with the second part of the experiment. To almost all of them, it came as a surprise that they would be working on the same tasks but with no time limits. After the experiment, the subjects were asked to check the words which they did not know from the post-test word list and were also asked to take part in a brief informal interview. With these, the proceedings of the experiment would come to an end. 3.8 Data The software was developed in such a way that the answers were automatically recorded on both hard disk and a flash drive. This was a preventive measure to ensure that even if the data were accidentally erased from one of the disks, the other would still contain them.


S. M. Vanniarajan

3.9 Scoring of definitions The definitions were evaluated by two native speakers, who were graduate students in the Department of English at UCLA. In order to obtain scorer reliability, before the evaluation was made, a meeting was held between the native speaker graders and the researcher. It was agreed by all three that the number of meaning components the word contained would be its maximum score; in other words, for “ghooming,” since the word has three meaning components, the definitions given for that word would be rated along a scale of 0 to 3. This was done to ensure that the graders perceived the number of meaning components used in the definition. A final value was given to each definition by averaging the ratings of both the graders. An analysis of the score patterns of the two scores indicated that there was a high correlation between the two scorers (r=.89) 4 Results 4.1 Findings with regard to primary tasks Hypothesis 1 The findings with regard to hypothesis 1 indicated that the nonnative subjects as a group took significantly more time to process all the 12 tasks under URTC in time-unrestricted settings. Compared to the mean time of 80.667 seconds provided for processing a task in time controlled settings, they took a mean time of 131.441 seconds (t = í17.07, df =11, p