Can personality predict success in foreign language learning?
Have you ever wondered? From and educational point of view, the function and impact of personality factors seem to be of minor importance compared to those produced by other ID variables such as aptitude and motivation.
In fact, Dörnyei (2005), asserts that the amount of research carried out on the impact of personality in L2 has been minimal compared to the other ID variables. The term personality is so broad that it is used in a different way by different scholars.
However, the standard personality definition given by Pervin and John’s (cited in Dörnyei 2005 p.11), seems to represent the intricate facets of all the features that characterise a unique individual. In fact, according to the scholars, personality embodies all the traits of a person that “account for consistent patterns of feeling, thinking and behaving” Pervin and John’s (cited in Dörnyei 2005 p.11).
The two main personality models, extensively tested by empirical research and finding a general consensus among scholars, are the Eysenck’s model and the big “five” model. These two models were created focusing on the “consistent personality traits” of an individual and provide a good representation of the core features of personality.
The Eysenck’s model
The Eysenck’s model identifies three main personality features, contrasting among them. 1) extraversion with introversion, 2) neuroticism and emotionality with emotional stability, and 3) psychoticism and toughmindedness with tender-mindness. The big “five” model maintains Eysenck’s first two features but substitutes psychoticism with three additional characteristics: consciousness, agreeableness, and openness to experience.
The big “five” model seems to be the prevailing construct in current literature, although it does not constitute an absolute personality parameter and cannot reveal the whole complexity of the matter. Indeed, of relevant importance to the study of personality in second language acquisition is the impact of situational factors on the variations of personality and behaviours.
In fact, Pervin and John (cited in Dörnyei 2005 p.13) sum up this crucial concept by stating: “to a certain extent people are the same regardless of context, and to a certain extent they are also different depending on the context”.
In order to obtain a more complete picture on the subject, Dörnyei (2005), suggests that it is essential that static trait centred theories are complemented with more dynamic theories able to describe the processes associated with personality specific contexts.
The most researched personality facet in second language acquisition and language learning has been the extraversion-introversion aspect, given the major role it plays in the personality constructs previously analysed. In fact, research has found that extravert are more talkative and show less hesitation than introverts, who tend be more cautious when formulating grammatical constructions and tend to use a more formal speech.
However, in current literature there is still no robust evidence to prove that a particular personality trait could be a predictor of successful L2 language learning. Both extraversion and introversion for instance may produce positive effects on L2 learning depending on a particular task involved.