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The Role of Aptitude in FLL (Foreign Language Learning) at University. TFG Estudis Anglesos Supervisor: Dr Elisabet Pladevall Ballester

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The Role of Aptitude in FLL (Foreign Language Learning) at University TFG Estudis Anglesos Supervisor: Dr Elisabet Pladevall Ballester Maria Antònia Bernad Sureda June 2015 ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS This piece
The Role of Aptitude in FLL (Foreign Language Learning) at University TFG Estudis Anglesos Supervisor: Dr Elisabet Pladevall Ballester Maria Antònia Bernad Sureda June 2015 ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS This piece of work has been an outcome of a maturity journey full of emotions. I have been aware of the great importance of hard work and I hope this will be useful for me in the near future. First and foremost I am grateful to my supervisor, Dr Elisabet Pladevall, who has been my teacher, tutor and supervisor in this journey. Both her teaching and research expertise have influenced both my academic life and my emotional state. She has always been supportive in every moment. I thank her deeply for her support and encouragement. She has always been able to calm me when I felt frustrated and helped me to overcome many difficulties along the way. I would also like to thank my examiners, Alan Davidson Reeves and Dr Elisabet Pladevall Ballester for their comments on my study. Their feedback will help me gain a better understanding of my work. I am really fortunate to be able to get their opinions and suggestions and integrate them to my work, which will improve the quality of my work. TABLE OF CONTENTS Abstract Introduction Background literature Individual Differences (IDs) Classification of IDs Motivation Learner anxiety Learning strategies Foreign Language Aptitude Previous research on Foreign Language Aptitude Method Participants Instruments Background questionnaire LLAMA test IDS questionnaire Procedures Data analysis Results Descriptive statistics for aptitude and course scores Correlations Qualitative data on motivation, anxiety and learning strategies i 5. Discussion Conclusion Limitations References Appendix A. Consent Form Appendix B. Background questionnaire Appendix C. LLAMA Aptitude Test Appendix D. Online questionnaire ii INDEX OF TABLES AND FIGURES Table 1. Llama test and course scores Figure 1. Visual representation of the 1 st and 2 nd year s aptitude and course scores Table 2. IDs (motivation and anxiety) Table 3. 1 st year correlations Table 4. 2 nd year correlations Figure 2. Visual representation of the 1 st and 2 nd year correlations of aptitude and course scores Figure 3. Motivation and anxiety in 1 st and 2 nd year iii ABSTRACT This paper explores the role of aptitude in foreign language learners (FLLs) in language courses in a university setting and how the relationship between aptitude and course scores might be affected by the students motivation, anxiety and learning strategies. A small-case study was conducted in Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) with a sample of 15 students (7 1 st year students and 8 2 nd year students) in the Degree in English Studies. Results show that aptitude does not seem to play a role in the course scores obtained by 1 st year students due to the students individual differences (i.e. motivation and anxiety), which act as mediating factors. However, aptitude seems to play a more significant role in 2 nd year students, who apparently feel less anxious and more motivated and students aptitude is generally correlated with course scores. 1 1. INTRODUCTION A considerable amount of research has been carried out within the field of Second Language Acquisition (SLA) in relation to the study of Individual Differences (IDs) so as to identify the outstanding traits relevant to the mastery of an L2. Research supports the idea that IDs do have an influence on second language acquisition: IDs have also been found to be consistent predictors of success in second language acquisition (SLA), yielding multiple correlations with language attainment in instructed settings (Dörnyei, 2006: 42). More specifically, DeKeyser (2000) pointed out that aptitude scores are an important predictor of proficiency in acquisition contexts, although it has to be noted that aptitude could be even more relevant in naturalistic than in instructed SLA, because of the greater amount of input that the learner has to process and the pressure to discover regularities and make generalizations merely from L2 exposure (Granena, 2013: 180). Motivation, anxiety and learning strategies also play a crucial role in foreign language success and are clear mediating factors in the influence of aptitude on the process of foreign language learning. The aim of this research paper is to explore the role of aptitude in foreign language learners (FLLs) degree of success in language courses. The role of motivation, anxiety and learning strategies as meditating IDs will also be considered. A small-case study has been conducted in Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) with a total of 16 students in their first (N=7) and second year (N=8) of their degree in English Studies. Participants will be tested on their foreign language aptitude and their aptitude scores will be correlated with the scores obtained in their language courses. Qualitative information on the participants motivation, anxiety and learning strategies obtained by means of a questionnaire will be used to account for the results. The 2 information gained may help improve subsequent teaching methods taking into account individual factors by attempting to answer the following research questions: (1) Is aptitude a good predictor of foreign language proficiency as measured in English language, grammar and phonetics and phonology courses? (2) Do other individual variables, such as motivation, anxiety and learning strategies, elucidate the reasons why language aptitude scores might not be related to course scores? This paper is organized as follows. Section 2 presents a review of the most relevant literature to this paper, with a focus on language aptitude and its main instruments of analysis. Section 3 addresses the methodology used in the current study and describes the context, participants, instruments, data collection procedures and data analysis. Section 4 reports on the results in relation to the two research questions. Section 5 deals with the discussion and interpretation of the results and Section 6 draws concluding remarks, identifies limitations of the study, considers the implications of the findings, and provides suggestions for future research. 2. BACKGROUND LITERATURE 2.1.Individual differences (IDs) Individual differences (IDs) in language learning are referred to as dimensions of enduring personal characteristics that are assumed to apply to everybody and on which people differ by degree. In other words, they concern stable and systematic deviations from a normative blueprint. (Dörnyei 2006: 42). The interest in learners differences has evolved over the last few decades. The labels used to describe different kinds of learners have radically changed: The terms good and bad, intelligent and dull, motivated and unmotivated have given way to a myriad of new terms such as 3 integratively and instrumentally motivated, anxious and comfortable, field independent and field sensitive, auditory and visual (Horwitz, 2000, cited in Ellis, 2004: 525). Similarly, the perspective from which IDs are seen and the purpose of their study have also changed: To this end, the main purpose of individual difference research was to predict which learners would succeed. ( ) More recent research on motivation or on learning strategies, however, has sought to explain why some learners succeed more than others. (Ellis, 2004: 526). Since the 1970s, individual differences have been explored separately from mainstream SLA research and embodied in several articles. The difficulty or ease of the path with which some learners have to cope so as to achieve the same learning outcomes has completely long bewildered FL teachers (Ganschow et al., 1994). There is great amount of variation among learners success while learning a language in terms of rate of acquisition and in their achievement of native-like competence. While some students may put a great effort throughout the learning process, others achieve a high level of L2 with relative ease (Borodkin and Faust, 2014) Classification of IDs Since Carroll and Sapon's work on aptitude (1959), many learner variables account for individual differences in language learning. These attributes have been grouped, according to Ellis (2006) and Lightbown and Spada (2006), into different categories: (1) Abilities: Intelligence, language aptitude and memory. (2) Propensities: learning style, motivation, anxiety, personality and willingness to communicate. (3) Learner cognitions about L2 learning: learner beliefs. (4) Learner actions: learning strategies. 4 As Lightbown and Spada (2006) point out, social factors such as identity and ethnic group affiliation, have an effect upon the above categories. Hence, age and social factors do not belong to a classification as such but they rather have an effect upon the other individual variables. A brief overview of motivation, anxiety and learning strategies is first presented followed by a more in-depth review of aptitude and relevant previous research Motivation Motivation is a primary affective variable and it usually refers to the amount of effort, enjoyment and personal investment people employ on L2 learning, (Ortega, 2009). Several studies have shown that motivation is dynamic and it keeps changing and evolving throughout the learning process (Ellis, 2004). The questions why, how long and how hard perfectly fit with the description of motivation since Motivation concerns the direction and magnitude of human behavior, or, more specifically (i) the choice of a particular action, (ii) the persistence with it, and (iii) the effort expended on it (Dörnyei and Skehan, 2003: 614). According to Gardner and Lambert s work (1985), three major dimensions of motivation were distinguished: integrativeness, which accounts for a wish to understand and form part of the target language culture, and instrumentality, which consists of a functional need, such as getting a job and attitudes towards the L2. During the mid-1990s a distance from the emphasis on quantity to a deeper exploration on the quality of motivation arose. In the Self-Determination Theory (Deci and Ryan, 1985) two different types of motivation can be distinguished: intrinsic, which refers to an inherent motivation that seeks learning and extrinsic, which is said to be externally imposed and impelled into action (Ortega, 2009). More recently, Dörnyei (2005, 2009) 5 developed the L2 Motivational Systemwhich is made up of the following three dimensions: (1) The Ideal L2 Self, which represents the type of L2 learner one desires to be. (2) The ought-to L2 Self, which refers to the specific abilities one should hold for external purposes. (3) The L2 Learning Experience, which concerns learners attitudes towards the language learning process and which can be influenced by situation-specific causes. Research suggests that the correlation between scores on motivation and measurements of achievement in SLA is positive. More specifically, integrative motivation promotes success in SLA, as has been observed in many studies (Gardner, Tremblay, & Masgoret, 1997; Masgoret and Gardner, 2003, among others) Learner anxiety Learner anxiety refers to the stress and even worry that some students suffer from throughout the learning process (Lightbown and Spada, 2006). Anxiety and L2 proficiency are undoubtedly related but causal direction between the two still has to be determined (MacIntyre, 2002). Spielman and Radnofsky s (2001) ethnographic study showed that there are two types of anxiety: euphoric/non-euphoric, which consists of stressful events that are viewed as positive and dysphoric/non-dysphoric, whose events can be viewed negatively on performance. As Lightbown and Spada (2006) also point out, there is a positive aspect about anxiety that can be helpful pedagogically. For example, before an oral presentation, it might not be that detrimental to experience anxiety since it can provide focus and thus success. The most well-known measure of anxiety is the Foreign Language Classroom Anxiety Scale (FLCAS) (Horwitz et al, 6 1986), which has been vastly used to examine to relationship between anxiety and (poor) L2 performance. Research suggests that scores on anxiety scales are generally related to course grades and more specifically, students with high levels of anxiety generally receive lower grades in their foreign language courses than students with lower anxiety levels (Granena, 2009) Learning strategies According to Oxford (2003), learning strategies are the tools or techniques learners use consciously to facilitate their learning process. The first studies of L2 learning strategies did not emerge until the mid-1970s. The aim of the most well-known group of researchers (Naiman et al., 1978) was to understand the factors that help people achieve a good, or not so good, mastery of an L2. A case-study conducted by Chamot (1990) proposed a classification of learning strategies: cognitive, metacognitive and social-affective strategies. Oxford (1990), who based his work on the Strategy Inventory for Language Learning (SILL), came up with a different classification: (1) Affective strategies: identifying one's mood and anxiety, e.g.: encouraging and rewarding oneself. (2) Social strategies: asking for clarification, e.g.: using the L2 with native people. (3) Metacognitive strategies: identifying one s own style learning preferences, e.g.: arranging a schedule, gathering and organizing materials, etc. (4) Cognitive strategies: manipulating the material in direct ways, e.g.: guessing from context. (5) Memory-related strategies: learning or retrieving lexical items or structures via sounds, images, etc. 7 (6) Compensatory strategies: guessing from the context in listening and reading, using synonyms, etc. Learning strategies have been studied as a source of L2 success. Research has shown evidence that learning strategies can be used as a training tool for language learners since they contribute to success in the L2 (Dörnyei and Skehan, 2003). 2.2.Foreign Language Aptitude The most relevant ID in the present study is foreign language aptitude, which is generally defined as a capacity or cognitive ability that enables humans to master a foreign language (Carroll, 1993, cited in Skehan, 2012; Dörnyei, 2005). The meaning of aptitude has had different meanings within the SLA field. First, aptitude was thought to be made up of different personal traits that dealt with the learning process (Snow, 1992, cited in Kormos, 2013). In a more recent study, Robinson (2005) pointed out that aptitude is a synthesis of both cognitive abilities and performance at different stages. The cognitive psychologist Carroll (1962) realized that language learning aptitude was not a unitary ability, but rather a conglomerate of at least four relatively independent abilities (Carroll, 1991): 1. Phonemic coding ability an ability to identify different sounds, and to form correlations between them and their respective picture stimuli. 2. Grammatical sensitivity the ability to distinguish the grammatical function of words in sentence structures. 3. Associative memory the ability to assimilate associations between sounds and to retain them. 4. Inductive language learning ability which is the capacity to infer or induce the rules from diverse language materials. 8 Some decades after, Skehan (1998) adopted Carroll s classification and created another model (1998), proposing that the components of language aptitude are related to the stages of information processing, or in other words, that modularity in the L2 case is based on three modules, each of them connected to an aptitude component (Skehan, 2002: 82), which is briefly explained below. a. Auditory processing: converting acoustic input into what might be termed processable input, connected to the phonemic coding ability. b. Language processing: or central processing, which is connected to Carroll s grammatical sensitivity and inductive language learning ability, is the capacity to infer rules of language and make linguistic generalizations. c. Memory: or output, which is connected to the functioning of memory, is concerned with acquisition of new information, with retrieval, and with the way the elements are stored. The very first instrument that was ever created to measure aptitude was created by Carroll (1959). After much research in the area of foreign language aptitude, he created the Modern Language Aptitude Test (MLAT) together with Sapon. They set up this test by devising predictor tests of foreign language learning. These tests comprehended five sub-tests, respectively: Number Learning, Phonetic Script, Hidden Words, Words in Sentences and Paired Associates, which were generally related to the four components of language aptitude outlined above. Although the MLAT is the most influential aptitude battery test, other aptitude measurement tests were created, such as the Language Aptitude Battery (PLAB) (Pimsleur, 1966) or the CANAL-F test (Cognitive Ability for Novelty in Acquisition of Language-Foreign) (Grigorenko, Sternberg and Ehrman, 2000). 9 A recent development is the LLAMA aptitude test (Meara, 2005). The LLAMA test was created by students of English Language and Linguistics at the University of Wales, Swansea (Granena, 2013). It is a free computer-based aptitude test (, which is based on an adapted British- Columbian indigenous language and a Central-American language since it facilitates test administration to speakers of any L1 without the need for translations that may threaten the validity and reliability of the test (Granena, 2013: 107). The testing phases are not timed and the score range is between 0 and 100. It includes a set of four subtests, loosely based on Carroll s (1991) taxonomy of sub-components: LLAMA B, a vocabulary learning task, LLAMA D, a test of phonetic memory, LLAMA E, a test of sound-symbol correspondence, and LLAMA F, a test of grammatical inferencing. 2.3.Previous research on Foreign Language Aptitude A considerable number of research studies have been devoted to the study of language aptitude (Harley and Hart, 1997; Ranta, 2002; Kiss and Nikolov, 2005; Erlam, 2005; Sáfár and Kormos, 2008; Granena, 2014, among others). Some of the central studies on this area will be provided below. Harley and Hart (1997) conducted an empirical study of th grade students in a French immersion program, who were divided into two groups. One of the groups began an early immersion program in grade 1 and the other one in a late immersion program as adolescents in grade 7. Both groups were administered the same three tests that included associative memory, memory for text, related to Skehan s (1998) memory ability, and analytical ability. The dimensions of L2 knowledge and use that test-takers were assessed on were obtained by means of a vocabulary recognition task, a listening comprehension task, a cloze test, a written production task and finally an individual oral test. The findings obtained in the earlier immersion group yielded significant 10 correlations between the memory-oriented aptitude scores and general achievement. For the late immersion students, analytical language analysis was the only predictor of L2 proficiency scores. Some tests of L2 proficiency were not significantly related with any of the aptitude measures used. Kiss and Nikolov (2005) aimed to develop an aptitude test for young learners. This study focused on how aptitude scores relate to learners performances on a proficiency measure, motivation, age and grades in English by means of a study conducted by 419 sixth graders studying in 26 groups in 10 different primary schools in Hungary. Data were collected on English proficiency tests, the aptitude test and on learners motivation. Results showed that a strong relationship was found between participants scores on the aptitude test and the English language proficiency test, whic
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