Module 1| Background to Language Learning | Learner characteristics

learnercharactertistics

The role of learner characteristics in language learning

Every student is different from the other. Learner characteristics are different between students. These differences influence the student’s attitude towards learning a language and also how they learn it. They also affect how the student responds to different styles of teaching and approaches in the classroom as well as how or otherwise successful they are at learning the language. Some of these differences are: the motivation of the student, the student’s personality, language level, learning style, learning strategies, previous experience with language and age. 

Think carefully about the ways in which you would like to learn. Can you think of how you have learnt in the past and how your age might affect how you would like to learn a language.

Learning Styles

Learning styles are ways that a student would naturally take in, process and remember information and skills. A person’s learning style affects how that person likes to learn and how he or she learns best. According to experts’ suggestions, there are several different ways of classifying learning styles regarding the physical sense we like to use in order to learn, the method we use to interact with others and our style of thinking. Given in the table below are some learning styles that are very common.

Visual

The learner learns best through seeing

Auditory

The learner learns best through hearing

kinesthetic

Kinaesthetic / Tactile

The learner learns best through hearing

Group

The learner learns best through working with others

Individual

The learner learns best through working with others

Reflective

The learner learns best when given time to consider choices

impulsive

Impulsive

The learner learns best when able to respond immediately

As is obvious from the descriptions, students who have different learning styles learn in various ways and therefore must be taught in various ways. It is important to keep in mind however, that students might not fall into any specific category of learning style. Different cultures might use some learning styles less than others and students may always change or develop their learning styles. 

Learning strategies

learningstrategies

Learning strategies are the methods students choose and use to learn a language. These include methods of helping ourselves to recognize what is needed to learn, process new language and work with other people in order to learn. Use of the correct strategy at the appropriate time can aid us to learn the language better and also make us more independent (autonomous) learners. Given below are a few learning strategies:

  • Repeating words that are new to you over and over in your head until you commit them to memory.
  • Guessing the meaning of words that are unknown to you
  • Asking someone who speaks the language to repeat what they have said
  • Making a recording of yourself speaking, then listening to it and analyzing and correcting your speaking and pronunciation
  • Experimenting and taking risks by using the language that you have just learnt in conversations with others
  • Making the decision to use the foreign language as much as you can by talking to tourists
  • Asking the teachers or your friends or classmates to give you their opinions about how well you use your language
  • Recognizing which area of vocabulary that you need to learn or practice and then learning it
  • Paraphrasing (using other language to say what you need to)
  • Making the decision to write all the new words you come across in every lesson on a separate card

Role of maturity and past experience in language learning

Different students use dissimilar strategies. According to experts, the strategies that are used by students most successfully are dependent on the student’s personality and learning style. Therefore, it means that there are no strategies to be considered ‘best’. However research shows clearly that use of strategies is sure to make the learning more successful and that students can be trained to use them.

Maturity

maturity

Maturity means growing up physically, mentally and emotionally. Small children, adults and teachers all have dissimilar learning characteristics. Because of this, they learn in dissimilar ways. In the table below are some of the major dissimilarities in maturity that affect language learning.

Children

Teenagers

Adults

Need to move

Starting to keep still for longer periods but still need to move

Able to keep still for longer periods

Can concentrate for shorter periods

Concentration developing

Can concentrate for longer periods

Learn through experience

Beginning to learn in abstract ways, i.e. through thinking, as well as experiencing

Learn in more abstract ways

Are not very able to control and plan their own behavior

Beginning to control and plan their own behaviour

Usually able to control and plan their own behavior

are not afraid of making mistakes or taking risks

May worry about what others think of them 

Not so willing to make mistakes or take risks

Are not aware of themselves and/or their actions

Sometimes uncomfortably aware of themselves and/or their actions

Aware of themselves and/or their actions

Pay attention to meaning in language

Pay attention to meaning and increasingly to form

Pay attention to form and meaning in language

Have limited experience of life

Beginning to increase their experience of life

Have experience of life

Each student is different from the other. Therefore, it is possible to come across one or more of them who may not fit the descriptions in the table exactly. The descriptions given are generalizations. They show characteristics which are likely to be found in everyone, but they are not fixed. When we take a look at these differences, we can see that each age group is different and therefore must be taught using different methods that will suit them.

Past language learning experience

pastexperience

Some students might have learnt the English language before in their lives, such as teenagers and adults for example. Sometimes, they may be used to learning in a specific way and they may have precise ideas on how they can learn best. Therefore, they may not like learning in different ways other than what they are used to. Teachers who are teaching adults and sometimes teenagers, must be aware and pay attention to their students previous learning and their learning preferences now. Some students may not mind a slight change in the method of learning. However, they may want to continue in the same way as they did previously. Therefore, teachers need to talk with the students and describe their teaching methods to them if they are unhappy with the new methods. Teachers may need to alter their teaching as well in order to make the student more comfortable and confident in learning.

The nerd baby says ...

  • All students are different from each other and learn in different ways.
  • In order to teach teenagers and adults rather than children, some student characteristics like past language learning experience and learning strategies are more relevant.
  • It is best to discover our students’ characteristics by asking them or observing them. Teachers could also give them questionnaires at the end of a lesson asking whether they like the activities that were done in the class and why. They could also ask them what methods they did not like and what they did.
  • Since characteristics of learners may not be fixed, the teacher must not make the mistake of thinking that the student can learn only in a specific way. This is limiting the student.
  • It is possible to train the students to try using dissimilar learning strategies and to be aware of them.
  • A teacher who is teaching a large class cannot always meet the learner characteristics of each student. Therefore, teachers can try to change their teaching methods and vary them. In this way, they can match the learner characteristics of a range of students.
expert

Test your knowledge

What do you think is your learning style?

Did you use any strategies to help you to learn the English language? If so, what were they?

What experience of learning English have you had in the past?

Questions 1-7 are things that learners do, whereas listed in the box from A-D are learning strategies. Match them together. Some options will need to be used multiple times.

 

Learning Strategies

A.     Taking risks

B.     Getting organised

C.     Judging your own performance

D.     Working with others

What the student does

  1. The student gathers new vocabulary on cards. Then he/she sorts the cards into topics.
  2. The student tries to say something that is beyond his level of language by paraphrasing.
  3. The student tries guessing a word from the context that he does not know.
  4. The student takes an old composition and a recent one of his to see whether or not he has made any progress.
  5. The student makes the decision to buy a dictionary to use while at home.
  6. The student finds a solution to a problem with his friends or classmates.
  7. The student makes a recording of his or herself reading something loudly. Then he/she listens to it to see if his/her pronunciation is good or has improved.