Individual Factors that Affect Learning English


Of course, many factors affect an individual’s ability to learn English. The most important ones are age of acquisition, amount of education in the student’s primary language, motivation to learn English, and language learning aptitude.
Age of acquisition
Children under the age of about eight learn language differently from older learners. Younger children use innate language learning abilities and can acquire native-like fluency, including pronunciation. Older learners rely on general cognitive learning strategies. They can learn to speak, read, and write perfectly well; however, after about the age of 13, they will begin to lose the ability to completely acquire standard English pronunciation (Lightbown & Spada, 1999).
Education in the primary language
Schooling and literacy level in the primary language influence a student’s ability to learn English. Take the case of a high school student from Mexico who had a strong background in the sciences and spoke very little English. When she arrived in the United States, she was placed in a tenth grade biology class that covered material she was familiar with. She earned a B in the course. How? She was not learning concepts, but rather how to express these concepts in English. A strong primary language background is a key element in being able to learn English, because the student is not struggling to accomplish two tasks at the same time—learning English and learning in English;
rather, the student can focus on the single task of learning English. The underlying concept of bilingual education rests on developing strong primary language and literacy skills that the student can then apply to another language. The student whose example we used here experienced what Krashen (1996) refers to as de facto bilingual education— a solid primary language education in her home country, followed by education in English. She did not have to learn concepts all over again; rather, she learned how to express what she already knew in English.
One of the most challenging teaching assignments is working with older English learners, say 12 years or older, who have had little or no formal education. These students are burdened with the two tasks mentioned above—learning English and learning in English. Here are some suggestions to help you and your students in this type of situation:
• Provide survival English—basic fundamental phrases that will help the students navigate their environment in school and in the community.
• Teach students how to read and write the basic phrases they learn.
• Develop a print-rich classroom that suits their developmental level. Bumper stickers, advertisements, cartoons, posters, and recipes are some examples (Schiffini, 1996).
• Use the Language Experience Approach (see Chapter Five) and other ways to do shared reading and writing.
• Teach to your students’ interests.
• Find ways to let students share their developing English skills, such as reading simple books to
kindergarten or first-grade students.
Motivation
Motivation to learn English that is internally driven is more powerful than externally driven otivation. Internal motivations can include a desire to make or play with friends, to understand popular music, or to embrace the culture. External motivations may include a parent’s desire for the student to learn  nglish, or the desire to learn just enough English to get by with the hope of returning to the home  ountry (Lightbown and Spada, 1999).
Aptitude
You may find that some of your students seem to quickly pass through stages of English development while other students proceed more slowly. Some individuals have an innate aptitude for language learning that can account for different rates of development among your students. We have discussed factors that impact your English learners outside of school. Now let’s look at schoolrelated factors that influence your students.

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