Individual differences in adult second language learning: a cognitive perspective

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    What makes some people more successful language learners than others? Scholars and practitioners of adult second language learning traditionally have cast the issue of individual differences in terms of such constructs as aptitude, motivation, learning strategies, learning styles, meta-linguistic awareness, and personality traits (e.g., extraversion), as well as a range of other social and affective variables (Ehrman, Leaver & Oxford, 2003). These are complex constructs that often lack a clear description of the underlying mechanisms. In this short overview we will take a cognitive perspective and link individual differences in adult L2 learning to individual differences in cognitive abilities. Examining cognitive factors that are predictive of L2-learning success can help to illuminate the mechanisms that underlie the learning process. At the same time, recognising and understanding the links between cognitive abilities and language learning may help teachers and learners to adjust their teaching methods and the learning environment in ways that are beneficial to individual learners. Although we are still far from being able to make specific evidence-based recommendations, reviewing what is known about cognitive predictors of successful language learning may be a useful start.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)15-22
    Number of pages8
    JournalScottish Languages Review
    Issue numberSpring 2011
    Publication statusPublished - 2011


    • Language learning
    • Cognition
    • Learning strategies
    • Adult learners


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