Internet TESL Journal
The Practice of TESOL & The Effect of Individual Variables
Upon TESOL Students
David B. Kent
When the term second language acquisition is employed, what is being indicated
is one's capability of developing the facility to communicate spontaneously
in a learnt foreign language in unplanned discourse.
Individual variability consists of such factors as the age of students,
their motivation for learning the target language, and their personality.
All of which effect their language learning style.
It is essential to recognise that there are individual differences between
learners. As a result different learning and studying approaches are exhibited
by different cultures and individuals from those cultures. Additionally
certain variables that effect language learning operate on individuals
to different degrees. For example, `transition anxiety' may generally hit
one ethnic group more so than another. Developing this point further, the
need for a secure and stable family life that provides support to the student,
may not be present or present only to a limited degree. This sort of learning
base for a student would impinge upon their ability and prove detrimental
to their language acquisition. ESL teachers should be aware that students
possessing this background may not progress quickly.
Certain learning characteristics are possessed by all learners of a foreign
language, but there are also social and emotional factors to deal with.
Social meaning interaction with the `native' community and use of the target
language (combined with the anxiety of having to learn this language).
Emotional factors show concern for the handling of stress and the ability
to cope with unknown situations that may arise as a result of exposure
to, and interaction within the native (as well as their own language) community.
The variables within students themselves, effecting second language acquisition
basically consist of personal and general factors that relate to all human
Initially personal factors include interaction with a group, in terms of
me asuring ones own progression and fostering an environment of competitiveness
for oneself. High interaction within a group for an individual may see
that learner develop the target language faster as a result of continued
use and practice of the language. Alternatively a student not saying anything
may fall behind due to inadequate practice and use of the language. The
use and perceived ability of other class members for an individual student
may provide them with a framework in which to locate their own language
ability in relation to the rest of the class. Another personal variable
that may arise is that of conflict between a student and teacher, resulting
from the preference of the student for another teaching method or teaching
materials other than those presented by the teacher. In this case within
reasonable expectations the teacher may look at modifying their lesson
style, along with the methods they use to approach the teaching of a second
language. A final variable within personal factors involves the techniques
employed by an individual in their language learning, in this case the
implication for the practice of TESOL may be to initiate a successful program
of self study along with a mode of achieving motivation for students to
approach this. Self-study may be guided through lessons and the course
of study the student is participating in.
General Variables that Affect All Human Individuals
Alternatively general variables that affect all human individuals when
learning a language consist of such things as age, intelligence, aptitude
and cognitive ability, in addition an individuals personality also plays
There is a general belief that aptitude for developing a second language
dissipates as a learner gets older, contrary to the results of some studies.
This notion would have psychological affects upon learners, retarding learning
ability. What may be affected by age however is the rate and success of
second language acquisition, with older learners able to concentrate on
actively learning structures of language in a context. Linked to this notion
is the intelligence and aptitude of the learner, as active learning of
a second language in a classroom context requires the use of cognition
and intelligence. These cognitive factors relate to problem solving strategies
employed by the learner in language development; stemming from this and
the ability to acquire the second language, comes motivation and the attitude
of the learner to the importance of acquiring the target language. Obviously
when high importance or desirability is attached to the acquisition of
something then the yearner will desire to acquire the article as fast and
as soon as possible. A variable in language acquisition concerned with
the attainment of a second language is an individuals personality. Elements
of the personality include the learners social and interactive skills,
where the more interactive and outgoing a learner may be leads to higher
use, exposure and hence quicker acquisition of the target language.
The Implications for TESOL
The implications for TESOL as a result of reviewing the general variables
that effect the acquisition of a second language, show that for adult learners
there should be a strong focus on the teaching of grammar so that language
can be placed structurally and syntactically within their minds. Also communicative
teaching and learning tasks should be encouraged to initiate students use
and practice of the target language, along with the development of a self-confident
personality in terms of giving students the confidence to continually use
the target language within and outside of the classroom and its context.
What must be remembered by the TESOL teacher is that the acquisition of
a second language not only alters the learner's current linguistic state,
but alters their perception of the environment and the world around them.
Further implications arising from the exhibition of these variables within
students, and the extent to which they may or may not be present within
individual learners within a class group, poses a problem for the TESOL
teacher. The teacher must be aware of the numerous variables that can effect
students learning and be willing to assist students in their acquisition
of the second language , as well as providing the support needed to aid
students working through the difficulties of second language acquisition,
and the problems arising from any of the variables discussed briefly in
this paper. Teachers should also be prepared to modify their teaching programs
within reasonable expectation to accompany and meet the needs, along with
the expectations and desired goals of learners, whilst being conscious
of the numerous factors that can improve or impinge upon second language
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University Press), 1992.
2. HUBBARD, et.al., A Training Course for TEFL., (OXFORD: Oxford
University Press), 1991.
3. JOYCE, et al., Models of Teaching, 3rd Ed., (SYDNEY: Allyn &
The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. IV, No. 4, April 1997