Date of Award

11-8-2004

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)

Degree Program

Global Leadership - with a specialization in Educational Leadership

Department

College of Education

First Advisor

Frederick Dembowski

Second Advisor

Richard B. Cohen

Third Advisor

Timothy Chung

Abstract

Second language acquisition (SLA) research, the study of how people learn to communicate in a language other than their native language, encompasses a broad range of questions from a wide variety of perspectives. One of the most widely recognized facts about SLA was that some individuals are more successful in learning a second language than are others (Gass & Selinker, 2001). Students with the same initial linguistic abilities, who receive the same education, even in the same institution, often do not achieve the same linguistic competency levels at program completion (Dornyei, 1998). This phenomenon cannot be explained purely by linguistic factors. Rather, nonlinguistic factors also should be explored to observe what causes the difference in achievement and ways to take advantage of those factors to help second language learners achieve a better outcome (Birdsong, 1999).

A great deal of research has been conducted on linguistic factors that influence SLA. Traditional linguistics and psychology have delved into the area from the perspectives of theoretical linguistics and psycholinguistics. They explored the areas based on Noam Chomsky's (1965) theory of human essence, the distinctive qualities of mind that are, so far as we know, unique to humans (Thomas & Nathan, 2001). In a similar vein, psycholinguistics has also examined SLA from different hypotheses generated from different models in hopes of explaining the century-old question: How is a second language acquired and what can be done to improve the acquisition of a second language?

The main purpose of this research was to observe and research how much influence affective variables exert on student performance in second language acquisition.

There are two main objectives of this research: I. to determine the relationship between the non-linguistic affective variables, (i.e., age, aptitude, and motivation), and the acquisition of a second language? 2. To determine how these affective variables could be better utilized to facilitate the acquisition of a second language by educational authorities and students in Taiwan?

The variables measured in this study were four independent non-linguistic variables: age, aptitude, motivation/attitude, and personality, and one dependent variable, the TOEFL test. These variables were measured by means of questionnaires and tests taken by selected foreign language students from a southern Taiwan university. Using the information gained from the statistical evaluation of these variables, the outcomes can be used by researchers and teachers to develop curricula that fully utilize the advantages of the effects of the researched non-linguistic variables in order to help students achieve better results in learning second languages.

The research used a convenience sample of more than 200 students in the foreign language study program at a university in southern Taiwan. The design of the research was based on quantitative, non-experimental inquiry into an identified problem, based on testing a theory, measured with numbers, and analyzed with statistical techniques. Methods for achieving the goals of the study had to do with the sampled students completing background questionnaires and taking a series of tests.

The results obtained from this research study indicated that motivation, aptitude and some aspects of personalities did have statistically significant effects on the outcome of a successful learning experience in second language acquisition. More importantly, age was an important factor in helping learners achieves better performances in second language acquisition.

 
 

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