Individual Differences in Second Language Acquisition (SLA)


 One of the most confusing and debatable issues in second language acquisition (SLA) is the issue of individual differences that affect the success of mastering a L2. There is much evidence that all individuals without any mental disabilities can acquire their first language L1 successfully. Some of the  widely recognized differences which play an important role in the SLA are age, motivation, aptitude, personality traits, individual preferences in learning process, and others. The major purpose of the report is to explore individual differences in SLA and how they affect the effectiveness of SLA.

The 5 learners who participated in the study include 3 males and 2 females. Identifying each learner by code, it is possible to present detailed information about them:

  1. John, L1 English (national status), L2 Spanish (educational status)
  2. George, L1 English (national status), L2 French (educational status)
  3. Tom, L1 English (national status), L2 Chinese (educational status)
  4. Julia, L1 English (national status), L2 Spanish (educational status)
  5. Angel, L1 English (national status), L2 German (educational status).

Language status varies, according to Ethnologue language of the World. If the language is utilized in the field of education, working environment, mass media sources, and government at the national level, the status of language is educational (Ethnologue language of the World). If the language is in “vigorous use, with standardization and literature being sustained through a widespread system of institutionally supported education”, it is educational status of language (Ethnologue language of the World). Other language statuses are international, provincial, wider communication, developing, threatened, shifting and extinct.

In our study, the interviewees shared their second language learning experiences, providing different answers to the set questions (20 questions). In general, three individual differences were considered in assessment of the interviewees’ responses on their second language learning experience, including age, motivation and aptitude. The interviewees provided clear and comprehensive answers.

Synthesis and interpretation of findings


In this study, 3 participants (1,3, 4) had the most success with learning foreign languages in early years, from 6 to 10. They reported their positive academic achievements in pronunciation and language fluency. Actually, age is an important individual difference in SLA. This factor has a strong impact on the effectiveness of SLA because of considerable influence of intellectual abilities of individuals. Research study on the impact of age on SLA shows that younger learners are more successful in SLA than older learners (Bialystok, 1997). During the first ten years of life, learners are the most successful in learning foreign languages because of the plasticity of the brain, which makes it possible to ensure natural process of learning. Researchers state that young learners are able to receive good, native-like pronunciation (Scovell, 1988). A group of researchers point out to the fact that age affects the effectiveness of acquisition of syntax and morphology as young learners are less productive in their areas than older leaders (Krashen et al., 1979). Our research findings are consistent with the findings provided by Scovell (1988) and  Krashen et al., 1979).


The second important individual difference that affects SLA is motivation. In this study, 4 interviewees (3,4,5) reported their positive experiences associated with motivation to learn foreign languages.  Motivation can be defined as a reason or incentive to perform certain tasks. It is based on self-determination to participate in certain type of activity (Pfenninger & Singleton, 2016). Both teachers and learners recognize the importance of motivation in SLA (Dornyei, 1990). Mastering a language proficiency depends of motivation which is associated with the need for personal achievement (Dornyei, 1990; Pfenninger & Singleton, 2016). Our research findings support the findings provided by Dornyei (1990) and Pfenninger & Singleton (2016).


 The third important factor that plays its role in SLA is aptitude. In this study 5 interviewees (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) reported the significance of aptitude in their personal experience in learning second language. Aptitude can be defined as an individual’s ability or skill to learn new things. It has direct relation with intellectual capacity of an individual (Robinson, 2005). Research studies show that some learners have exceptional aptitude for learning foreign languages (Robinson, 2005). The cognitive abilities of learners affect academic performance and information processing, according to Robinson (2005). This fact means that academic achievement of learners in the field of SLA depend on aptitude of a learner. 

According to Gardner and Lysynchuk (1990), there are certain correlations of aptitude, attitude, motivation, and language anxiety with language proficiency. Our findings are consistent with those provided by Gardner and Lysynchuk (1990) and Robinson (2005).


Thus, it is necessary to conclude that most research on SLA has been focused on assessment of the aptitude or ability of an individual for second language learning. At the same time, motivation and age were considered as two other factors that affect the success in SLA. Hence, hhere are several individual differences that affect the success of SLA, including age, motivation and aptitude. The participants (5 interviewees) in our study provided their responses on the set questions. They supported the idea that the key individual difference that affects SLA is aptitude. Motivation is the second important factor that helps to achieve success in the process of learning.  Age is another individual difference that may affect the success of SLA, especially in terms of pronunciation accuracy. 


Bialystok, E. (1997). “In structure of age: in search of barriers to second language acquisition,” Second Language Research,

Dornyei, Z. (1990). “Conceptualizing Motivation in Foreign-Language Learning,” Language Learning, A Journal of Research in Language Studies, 40(1): 45-78.

Gardner, R. C. & Lysynchuk, L. M. (1990). “The role of aptitude, attitudes, motivation, and language use on second-language acquisition and retention,” Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science / Revue canadienne des sciences du comportement, 22(3), 254-270.

Krashen, S. D., Long, M. A. & Scarcella, R. C. (1979). “Age, rate and eventual attainment in second language acquisition,” TESOL Quarterly,  13: 573-582.

Language Status. Ethnologue language of the World. Retrieved from:<>

Pfenninger, S. E. & Singleton, D. (2016). “Affect trumps age: A person-in-context relational view of age and motivation in SLA,” Second Language Research, 32(3): 311-345.

Robinson, P. (2005). “Aptitude and Second Language Acquisition,” Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 25: 46-73.

Scovell, T. (1988). “A time to speak: a psycholinguistic inquiry into the critical period for human speech,” Newbury House.

The terms offer and acceptance. (2016, May 17). Retrieved from

[Accessed: May 6, 2021]

"The terms offer and acceptance.", 17 May 2016.

[Accessed: May 6, 2021] (2016) The terms offer and acceptance [Online].
Available at:

[Accessed: May 6, 2021]

"The terms offer and acceptance.", 17 May 2016

[Accessed: May 6, 2021]

"The terms offer and acceptance.", 17 May 2016

[Accessed: May 6, 2021]

"The terms offer and acceptance.", 17 May 2016

[Accessed: May 6, 2021]

"The terms offer and acceptance.", 17 May 2016

[Accessed: May 6, 2021]
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