Factors Affecting Second Language Learning
in Primary Schools


  What is it? Implications for Teachers:

Aptitude refers to the special ability involved in second language learning (Douglous et al 1995). The relationship between aptitude and second language learning success is a very important one and various studies, such as Gardner (1980) and Skehan (1989) have reported that aptitude is a major factor determining the level of success of second language learning (Douglous et al 1995).

Students can have a ‘good aptitude for learning’. This can infer various things, such as:

  • The understanding of the function of words in sentences.

  • The ability to understand and use grammatical rules.

  • Memory of key words, what they mean and how to use them.

An important point regarding aptitude and second language learning is that successful learners may not be strong in all the components of aptitude and can still succeed at learning a second language. For example, some individuals may have strong memories but only average abilities in the other components of aptitude (Spada 1999). Top

As Coleman (et al 2005) explains, teachers cannot influence language aptitude, they can only measure it. There are specific tests that can ‘measure’ aptitude, however it is important that the teacher recognises and understands that aptitude can be in everyone, just in different forms.



  What is it? Implications for Teachers:


The social psychological factor of motivation has been proven to account for differential success in second language learning.  A motivated student can be defined as someone who:

"Expends effort, is persistent and attentive to the tasks at hand, has goals, desires and aspirations, enjoys the activity, makes attributions concerning success or failure, is aroused and makes use of strategies to aid in achieving goals”   (Dornyei 2003, p.173).

It makes sense that those individuals who are motivated to learn the second language will learn faster and to a greater degree than those who are not.  Considering most primary schools now have a compulsory second language program, this can result in students who are learning a second language either resenting or being enriched by the learning.   This is supported by Gass (1993): “If the student’s only reason for learning a second language is external pressure, a student’s motivation may be minimal and result in lack of success”(p.11).  Furthermore, if students feel that they are not going to need the language in their lives, students may not be motivated and attitudes toward leaning that language may be negative (Gass et al 1993).  Top


As a second language teacher, it is important that you adopt strategies to motivate the students to learn.  The following are key steps to promote motivation and learning in your classroom:

1) Creating the basic motivational conditions:

  • Create a safe, non-threatening and supportive environment for students (Spada et al 1999).

  •  Develop a good relationship with learners  (Spada et al 1999).

2) Generating initial motivation:

  •  Increasing learner expectancy of success.
  • Use relevant and exciting teaching resources that will capture student’s attention.
  •  Create realistic learning beliefs (Spada et al 1999).

3) Maintaining and protecting motivation:

  • Make learning stimulating and enjoyable-games, songs, fun activities (Spada et al 1999).
  •  Set class and individual goals.
  •  Promote co-operation among learners (Spada et al 1999).
  •  Present tasks in a motivating way - Has relevance to the students lives/ personalize the learning process (Spada et al 1999).

4) Encouraging positive retrospective self-evaluations:

  • Promote motivational attributions (Spada et al 1999).
  •  Provide motivating feedback/constructive criticism (Spada et al 1999).
  What is it? Implications for Teachers:

Learning Strategies:

As in all school topics, learning strategies are a factor of second language learning. One definition of learning strategies is:

“Steps or actions taken by learners to improve the development of their language skills” (Gass et al 1993, p.265).

Different learning strategies work best for different people when learning a second language.  For example, one student may learn vocabulary through writing and practicing the vocabulary using cue cards, whereas another student may only read the vocabulary and learn that way.

Although it is clear that students can be more successful in second language learning if they adopt particular learning strategies to suit them, theorists such as Bialystok (1990) and Cohen (1992), have found the learning strategies field to have its problems, as some aspects are not yet clear.  These problems include that it is difficult to separate the conscious from the unconscious and the difficulty of showing what contributions they have on language learning (Gass et al 1993).  As Grass (1993) insights, learning strategies is clearly an important area but there needs to be more theoretically sound research. Top

The implications on teachers include that it is important that the teacher acknowledges that there are various learning strategies which can be used.  Second language teachers should encourage students to experiment with a range of learning strategies and decide what they feel comfortable using or one that leads to success.

 Learning strategies in the classroom include:

  • Clarification

  • Monitoring

  • Memorising

  • Guessing

  • Emphasing one thing over another

  • Practice and production of “tricks”

  What is it? Implications for Teachers:

Learners’ emotional states have a powerful influence on their behaviour and performance in the classroom and other learning situations.  There are various theories that claim that personality factors are important predictors of success in second language learning.  Personality traits such as extroversion, introversion, risk-taking, independence and empathy have been the basis of discussions and disputes relating to this topic (Ellis 1986).


Theorists such as Guiora, Brannon and Dull (1972) have considered empathy to be important and Krashen (1981) argues that an out-going personality contributes to language learning (Ellis 1986).  Research, such as that done by Krashen (1981), have found that introverts generally perform better academically whereas an extrovert appears more likely to take advantage of social opportunities for second language input (Coleman & Klapper 2005).

Despite these theories, the available research does not demonstrate a clearly defined affect on second language learning.   Rather, we all have different and unique personalities and each personality trait can affect our second language learning in different ways (Ellis 1986). Top


Although there is not much research linking personality directly to successful language learning, it is important that the teacher:

·        Understands his/her student’s personalities.

·        Takes learners individual personalities and learning strategies into account. 

Through doing these, it can assist in creating a learning environment in which virtually all learners can be successful in learning a second language” (Dornyei 2003, p.69).



  What is it? Implications for Teachers:
Learning Difficulties

Many people believe that students with learning difficulties or are Negotiated education plans can not successfully learn a second language.  Research has found that students on a NEP often benefit from learning another language.  It allows students to re-visit the basics of how a language is constructed which helps students with their native tongue.  Research has proven that second language learning is not linked to intelligence and therefore (most) students with learning difficulties can succeed in second language learning (DECS 2003, p.5). Top

Second language teachers need to promote inclusivity, so all students are able to learn successfully. Teachers need to be understanding of difference and cater for the needs of all students.  Teachers should implement modifications that also incorporate multi-sensory activities, to help students learn experimentally as well as linguistically.