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Learning Difficulties in L1 and L2

This is my posting on the discussion board of "Second Language Acquisition" course of TESOL program. It's fresh from the press, so to speak ;-) Hope you enjoy reading it.


It seems to me that we are more or less aware of differences in individual foreign language aptitude or existence thereof from our learning and teaching experiences. Obviously, there are people who are equipped with extraordinary so-called “talent” to learn a language realizing near-native ultimate attainment like Julie. USLA Chapter 7 attempts to present various approaches to delve into this issue, among which the following remark makes me reconsider what the issue of foreign language aptitude entails; language aptitude partially overlaps both with traditional intelligence and with early L1 ability, and language-related learning difficulties when learning to read in L1 resurface later on when learning L2.

USLA chapter 7-6 introduces “Linguistic Coding Differences Hypothesis” developed by Sparks and Ganschow (2006) which posits that people differ in ability to handle phonological-orthographical processing operations in their L1 as much as L2, meaning difficulties in L1 may become apparent in the early school years, and later in school or even in college, those who experienced language-based learning difficulties, whether diagnosed or undetected, will face difficulties in learning a foreign language. This hypothesis sounds very reasonable in a sense that people who do not manipulate their mother tongue fully will have hard time learning an additional language. The thing is, however, how to approach this type of learners as a language teacher.

I’m a type of teachers who believe in “Quantity overrides quality”, meaning that regardless of learners’ potentials, to be more specific, “aptitude” they will learn L2 to a certain degree if they try hard enough. This “positive” attitude, unfortunately, sometimes fails to be applied to certain learners. I remember one of the students who had to achieve more than 700 on TOEIC as a graduation requirement struggling with the TOEIC reading section. She was not a bad speaker of English, or rather, has a fairly fluent command of the language in oral discourse. When it comes to reading comprehension though, she demonstrated her ability so poorly that some of the teachers went so far as to suspect if she was dyslexia. She finally managed to achieve the requirement in the last minute due to her hard work and teachers’ attentive support, but the gap between her oral ability and reading comprehension ability was rather shocking to us all.

Some of the universities in Japan require that students earn certain scores on TOEIC or other English proficiency tests by the time of graduation or some other points. I’m concerned about how the students with language-based learning difficulties will overcome a situation in which they have to demonstrate their foreign language proficiency in specific tests under time constraint. As far as I know, there seems to be no convincing rationale or accounts for Japanese universities to set requirements based on certain English proficiency tests, mainly TOEIC, to begin with. I hope those who bear this kind of commitment will see their given circumstances as an opportunity to learn the language as seriously as possible, and hopefully there will be a remedial solution for non-achievers, such as certain score gains can be redeemed as fulfilled requirements.
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