Personal & Social Factors in Second Language Development

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  • 0:03 Learning a Language
  • 0:34 Age
  • 1:30 Motivation
  • 2:27 Learning Style
  • 3:23 Culture
  • 4:54 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

Personal and social factors play an important role in the development of a second language, and, in this lesson, you'll learn about some of these factors.

Learning a Language

If you've studied a foreign language, you know it requires focus and commitment. The best method for learning a new language varies with every person, and there are several personal and social factors that affect second language learning. Some of these include age, motivation, learning style, and culture. Among other things, these factors can determine which major type of second language teaching is best: implicit, which is communication-based teaching, or explicit, which is formal instruction.


One major personal factor for second language development is age. Younger children pick up second languages more quickly than adults. The younger the child is when they start learning the language, the more likely it is that they will retain fluency throughout their lifetime. Younger children also do better with implicit learning. That is, one of the best ways to teach a child is to talk to them in the second language rather than focusing solely on formal instruction, such as memorizing vocabulary or verb conjugations.

Some adults, of course, also do better with implicit learning. In addition, adults can help themselves through the learning process by determining which method of learning works best for them. In general, for any age, the best method tends to be a combination of explicit and implicit instruction. As the student gets older, having more explicit instruction can be beneficial because a conscious, studied focus on learning a language adds to the learning process.


Motivation, the reason why a student is learning a second language, is one of the most influential factors in their language development. For example, a student in an American high school might be taking Spanish because it's required. They will learn far less quickly and develop less fluency than a person who moves to Spain and has to learn Spanish for everyday communication.

Motivation can also be a social factor. For example, a student might be pressured by their parents or society to learn a certain language in order to increase their chances of social and professional success. This is especially common for immigrants who have moved to a country with a different major language than their own.

Learning a language out of necessity or a personal desire to speak it leads to more studying and practicing outside of the classroom and more personal commitment. This in turn leads to a quicker, more complete language development and a higher likelihood that the student will retain what they learn long-term.

Learning Style

Another aspect of language learning is personal style. Different people learn better in different ways. You know from your own experiences as a student that certain types of activities help you learn better than others. There are seven major learning styles:

  • Visual/spatial - students learn through images
  • Aural - students learn through listening or through music
  • Verbal - students learn through speaking and writing
  • Physical/kinesthetic - students need movement
  • Social - students learn best in groups
  • Logical - students learn through systems and reasoning
  • Solitary - students work best alone

Of course, many students have a combination of these learning styles. In a second language classroom, just as with any classroom, a variety of activities that address multiple learning styles is the best method of teaching. That way, all students can benefit.

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