- The Psychology of the Language Learner: Individual Differences in Second Language Acquisition
Second language acquisition (SLA) researchers have included individual difference variables in their research for decades. Although it seems that SLA researchers have acknowledged the importance of individual differences, there has been little cohesion in defining concepts and building theoretical foundations. Zoltán Dörnyei's book The Psychology of the Language Learner: Individual Differences in Second Language Acquisition attempts to shed light on this issue.
The book is divided into eight chapters. The first chapter is dedicated to a definition, brief history, and taxonomy of individual differences, effectively narrowing the scope and setting the tone for the rest of the book. Dörnyei devotes chapter 2 to what is undeniably one of the most prominent individual characteristics - personality. This chapter begins with definitions of personality and moves on to a discussion on the various approaches that have been taken in studying personality, such as the Big Five Model and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. The latter part of the chapter describes how researchers have linked personality aspects, specifically the introversion-extraversion dimension, with language learning and use. In general, chapter 2 points to the flaws (e.g., simplistic models, methodological issues) in the research on personality and language learning. It is Dörnyei's opinion, however, that recent studies have been more promising and that including personality traits in L2 studies is still a worthwhile endeavour.
Chapter 3 concerns learning aptitude and its role in L2 acquisition. The chapter begins with a description of the earlier research concerning language aptitude and moves into a discussion on more recent issues, such as the relationship of aptitude to age, intelligence, teaching methods, and learning situations. The latter part of the chapter relates [End Page 629] to new research directions and perspectives on language aptitude, with a focus on working memory, linguistic coding differences, and the various stages of the L2 acquisition process and how they relate to language aptitude. Dörnyei points to several trends that can be observed in language aptitude research: an increased focus on psycholinguistics and neurolinguistics, a narrowed conceptualization of the term 'language aptitude,' an interest in the language aptitude-context relationship, and the use of context-specific language aptitude measures. He concludes the chapter by suggesting future research possibilities, such as studying language aptitude's interaction with other variables and examining the cognitive skills associated with L1 learning and how these relate to learning an L2.
Chapter 4 tackles another predominant individual difference variable in L2 acquisition - motivation. The first part of this chapter is divided into three sections related to the three phases of motivational research: the social psychological period, the cognitive-situated period, and the process-oriented period. The discussion then turns to the relationship between motivation and the self and identity. Specifically, Dörnyei provides a reinterpretation of integrativeness and integrative motivation, a description of the research on possible and ideal selves, and a presentation of the L2 motivational subsystem. The final section of the chapter is devoted to L2 motivation and its relationship to L2 acquisition research. This section focuses on the development of motivational strategies. Dörnyei's final thoughts in this chapter centre on the possibility of a two-tiered approach - world-language learning versus non-world-language learning - to the study of L2 motivation. His argument is that the L2 motivation system may be more relevant to one than to the other.
Dörnyei introduces learning and cognitive styles in chapter 5, which begins with a discussion on conceptual issues, specifically the difference between learning styles and learning strategies. This discussion moves on to the inclusion of learning styles in L2 studies with emphasis on field dependence/independence. The final section relates to the practical value of learning styles. The message of this chapter is that research on learning styles is fraught with weaknesses (unreliable measures, ambiguous theory) that have resulted in an inability to draw general conclusions; thus, researchers need to decide what it is they want...