by Marc Anderson, CEO talktocanada.com
Let’s face it. Some students learn a second language more quickly and easily than others. Some learners show more determination. Some work harder. Some are more persistent. But there are other factors that influence language learning. These all play a role in the speed and acquisition of the new language.
Factor #1 Age
Children who have literacy skills in their native language seem to be able to acquire other languages easily. Older learners can be successful, too, with the right type of inner motivation, but they generally do not achieve the native-speaking pronunciation and intonation that younger children naturally do.
Factor #2 Personality
More outgoing students who don’t worry too much about mistakes and are more willing to take risks seem to do better. They get more practice, are more immersed with native speakers, and gain more confidence. Introverted or anxious learners tend to make slower progress, most noticeably in their oral language skills.
Factor #3 Motivation
Whether intrinsic or extrinsic in nature, motivation plays a significant role with language achievement. If a student enjoys the language and learning or does well in this area of study, he/she will continue to excel.
Additionally, if the language is needed to further a certain goal (acceptance at a desired university, career goal, speaking to relatives, etc.) then those students will make greater efforts to learn the language and in turn, they will make quicker progress. Those students who are encouraged by their teachers and families and those students in environments that encourage education, learning and languages make more progress.
Factor #4 Experiences
Any student who has lived in other countries and/or has been exposed to travel, diverse cultures, and languages has a stronger base for learning. Students who might have a pen pal, opportunities to Skype or interface with native speakers, and those who have English-speaking friends will learn more easily.
Factor #5 Native Language
Students who are learning a second language which happens to be from the same language family and may even use the same alphabet system and many of the phonetic sounds as their native language are apt to have an easier time.
Factor #6 General Aptitude/Cognitive Abilities
Students with greater aptitude and cognitive abilities will learn faster. They can grasp language patterns and structure more easily. They acquire new vocabulary words quicker and are more fluent speakers and writers of their new language.
Factor #7 Curriculum and Instruction
Allowing the students to gain language from all curricular areas is key to language success. To keep a child out of regular mainstream classes because their language level is beneath the level of instruction does not afford the student the opportunity to be exposed to content rich areas and native speakers commensurate to their age. Teachers who naturally differentiate content and provide needed language support help contribute greatly to these children’s linguistic development.
Perhaps not everyone can be a “Juano” when it comes to learning language, but we can do our part as educators to help all ESL students learn to their abilities. We can motivate, offer experiences, teach content rich curriculum, and differentiate learning for our students. These are the factors we as teachers can bring to guarantee success for all of our ESL students.
Image attribution flickr user zaps06; The Factors That Impact The Learning Curve Of English-Language Learners