Dimitrios Thanasoulas: "The Classroom: Forum or Arena?"


In our attempt to gain useful insights into the various factors that are responsible for students' learning, we will take account of three main areas of investigation:

  • Age, cognitive and learning factors
  • Social and affective factors
  • Learners' needs and interests Age, cognitive and learning factors

Age variation in foreign language learning and learning differences between children and adults are significant factors that must be taken into account in choosing the right approaches, design and procedures. Experiments have shown that there are a lot of biological factors at work in language learning. In young learners, both hemispheres of the brain are responsible for the language function, while at puberty it is only the left hemisphere that takes over, which makes language acquisition and learning more difficult. This process is called lateralization and it may be responsible for learning differences between children and adults.

Cognitive and learning styles, already acquired through mother tongue, may influence foreign language learning.

Of all personality characteristics attributed to individuals, certain cognitive and learning variables have been researched to determine the degree of their influence on successful foreign or second language learning. These are: field-dependence and field-independence, formal operations, the monitor and foreign language aptitude (Papaefthymiou-Lytra, 1993: 84-85).

Field-independent individuals are more analytical by inclination and tend to learn through reasoning faculties, whereas field-dependent individuals view learning in toto, acquiring knowledge subconsciously.

Piaget's "formal operations" theory relates to adults' more mature cognitive capacities as opposed to the "unconscious automatic kind of learning" (Genessee, 1977, 148, cited in Papaefthymiou-Lytra, 1993: 85) that characterizes young learners' less mature cognitive system. According to this theory, adults are thought to deal with the abstract nature of language more easily than young learners; it is very often the case, though, that young people may prove better learners in the long run.

Another factor that influences language learning is the monitor use employed by learners.

Three types of monitor users have been identified: overusers, underusers and optimal users. Overusers are associated with analytical conscious learning■On the other hand, underusers are associated with subconscious learning and extrovert personalities■Finally, the third category is that of optimal users who seem to be the most efficient (ibid., p. 85- 86).

Pertaining to foreign language aptitude, we could say that it is the rate at which we learn a foreign language.

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AS/SA Nº 6/7, Article 3 : Page 7 / 10

© 1999, AS/SA

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