Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Individual Differences in L2 Achievementmirror Individual Differences inL1 skillsandL2aptitude: Crosslinguistic Transfer of L1 toL2 Skills

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Individual Differences in L2 Achievementmirror Individual Differences inL1 skillsandL2aptitude: Crosslinguistic Transfer of L1 toL2 Skills

Article excerpt

For many years, L2 researchers have assumed that L2 learners vary in both speed of acquisition and achievement in the target language but that "everyone learns his first language with a fair degree of success" (Rubin, 1975, p. 41). Likewise, they have claimed that while "children vary in their rate of [L1] acquisition ... all, except in the case of severe environmental deprivation, achieve full competence in their mother tongue" (Ellis, 2004, p. 525). However, this view of L1 learning is simplistic. Although most children learn to communicate-that is, talk effectively, in their L1-there is normal variation not only in their rate of acquisition but also in their communication skills at every point in development, for example, size of vocabulary and complexity of sentence structures (Gilkerson et al., 2017; Hoff, 2006, 2013; Huttenlocher, Waterfall, Vasilyeva, Vevea, & Hedges, 2010; Kidd, Donnelly, & Christiansen, 2018). In addition, individual differences (IDs) in L1 skills are large and stable across development (Bates, Dale, & Thal, 1995; Bornstein & Putnick, 2012). Moreover, these L1 differences are related to students' later acquisition of L1 literacy skills (Kendeou, van den Broek, White, & Lynch, 2009).

L2 researchers have proposed numerous theories to explain why learners who appear to have "full competence" in their L1 exhibit different outcomes in their L2 achievement and proficiency. These theories have included affective, social, and cognitive factors (Dörnyei, 2005; Ellis, 2004). In particular, the cognitive factors that explain IDs in L2 achievement and proficiency focus on differences in L2 aptitude and L1 skills. L2 aptitude, as measured by aptitude tests such as the Modern Language Aptitude Test (MLAT; Carroll & Sapon, 1959), has been found to be a strong predictor of L2 achievement and proficiency (Skehan, 1998; Stansfield & Reed, 2019; Wen, Biedroń, & Skehan, 2017), and language aptitude research has been complemented by recent investigations demonstrating the influence of students' L1 skills on their L2 aptitude and L2 achievement and L2 proficiency. For example, Sparks and colleagues have shown that skills such as L1 word decoding, reading comprehension, spelling, and vocabulary developed in elementary school are strongly related to students' subsequent level of L2 aptitude and are also predictive of L2 achievement many years later in high school (e.g., see review by Sparks, 2012). In addition, this body of research has supported the existence of longterm, crosslinguistic transfer of L1 to L2 skills (Sparks, Patton, Ganschow, & Humbach, 2009).

The present study examined the relationships among U.S. high school students' L2 achievement and their L1 skills, L2 aptitude, L1 cognitive processing, and L1 reading-related skills. The unique contributions of the present investigation and the ways that it differs from previous studies with U.S secondary L2 learners are as follows: (a) participants' L1 achievement and L2 aptitude were measured at the time they began their first-year L2 (Spanish) course; (b) measures of cognitive processing, including working memory, phonological memory, and metalinguistic knowledge were included in the test battery; (c) participants' L2 achievement was measured with a standardized measure of Spanish normed with native Spanish speakers, and participants' performance was compared to that of native Spanish speakers; and (d) participants were followed over 3 years of Spanish courses. The purposes of the study were to (a) investigate the relationship between students' levels of Spanish achievement at the end of each year and their L1 achievement, L1 cognitive processing skills, and L2 aptitude; and (b) determine the L1 skill and L2 aptitude measures that best discriminated IDs in L2 achievement for students who had completed 2 years versus 3 years of Spanish.

1 | LITERATURE REVIEW

This study is framed by existing literature on IDs in L2 learning and studies of L1-L2 relationships. …

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