Understanding Second Language Learning Difficulties


Madeline Ehrman

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  • Back Matter
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    List of Boxes

    • Box 4.1 Learning Situation Taxonomy (Transportation Metaphor) 56
    • Box 7.1 Defense Mechanisms 152
    • Box 9.1 The Modern Language Aptitude Test and Its Subscales 203
    • Box 9.2 High MLAT Scores and Learning Activity Categories 205
    • Box 9.3 Learning Situations and Learner Variables 216
    • Box 11.1 Signs of Possible Learning Disability 270
    • Box 11.2 Common Approaches to Working With Learning Disabilities 282

    List of Figures

    List of Tables

    • Table 4.1 Characteristics Associated With the Left and Right Hemisphere Metaphor 74
    • Table 6.1 Characteristics of the Four MBTI Scales 99
    • Table 6.2 Ellis and Miriam: Differences (Ego Boundaries) and Similarities (Psychological Type) 113
    • Table 8.1 Principles for Addressing Study Skills 185
    • Table 8.2 Taxonomy of Areas Affecting Learning 192
    • Table 8.3 A List of Some “Study Tips” 194
    • Table 10.1 Summary of Information About Janet, Karen, and Shirley 253


    Why I Wrote This Book

    For the past 25 years, I have worked with adult foreign language learners at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) in a variety of capacities: language training supervisor (leader of a team of teachers), department chair for the FSI Department of Asian and African Languages, curriculum and training specialist, and now as director of the FSI School of Language Studies Center for Research, Evaluation and Development. Under my leadership, my unit has recently begun to accept referrals of students in over 60 languages who are having learning difficulties.

    In the course of all this work, I have come to realize that students are often referred when the teachers and supervisors are not able to look beyond the “presenting problem,” for example, emotional outbursts or learning blocks, to find an underlying cause or set of causes. Often, the section is focused on its own methodology and view of the teaching process. Many times, my role is to listen to the student and then help the language section do the same. I then try to help both student and teachers see that there are many ways to reach the learning goal.

    Many of the difficulties ultimately stem from mismatches of student learning styles or patterns of abilities and the section's teaching methodology. By the time the students reach me, however, the situation has usually become quite complex, with strong feelings on the part of student and teachers. The causes of the difficulties frequently are multiple, involving cognition, personalities, and feelings. I undertake to sort them out and then work with the student and the teachers.


    This book is intended to make available some of the insights, techniques, and skills I have developed to understand what is going on with adult students who are having difficulties with learning. My premise is that what appears on the surface is often not the real source of the learner's difficulty.

    In writing this book and working with the cases in it, I will attempt to help the reader look at learner difficulties in a similar way to those that have worked for me and seek similar kinds of solution. A unifying theme is that teaching and other interventions should be student driven, not methodology driven. This means that it is important to understand students in all their diversity as well as learn to understand the methodologies by which we teach.

    Who Can Use the Book

    This work is usable by a range of people involved in the learning process: classroom teachers, teacher trainers, program administrators, consultants who may be called in to help, and students themselves, who may find material in this book that is useful to them in working with their own difficulties. It is, however, designed for use primarily by classroom teachers, so you ordinarily refers to teachers unless otherwise specified.

    Because the material is aimed at classroom teachers primarily, it does not emphasize use of diagnostic instruments restricted to professionals or go deeply into such technical subjects as learning disabilities. Instead, it is intended to help teachers and others to distinguish between what they can deal with alone and what they need more help with—for example, further consultation or even referral of the student. Principles are illustrated throughout by case material.

    Most of the material in the book can apply to subjects other than second language acquisition. After all, styles, personality, and feelings have an effect on most of the things we do, learning not least. Although the cases are drawn from the world of second- and foreign language learning, much of the discussion is relevant to other subjects and skills. I urge the reader to go through the material that follows from the point of view of appropriate adaptation by teachers and teacher trainers in other disciplines.

    What the Book is about

    The emphasis is on diagnosis, in that this is the foundation on which effective interventions are designed. However, I include a number of suggestions throughout on addressing the difficulties that emerge from the diagnostic process.

    My focus is on learning styles, affective factors, and learning strategies, because I have found that these have permitted me to diagnose the bulk of the learning difficulties I have encountered without getting into highly technical knowledge areas. (Chapter 11 addresses some situations that may be beyond the diagnostic tools I offer.)

    The language learners discussed herein are all either late teenagers or adults. Most have reached the stage of “formal operations” (Piaget, 1967), in which they can handle abstract concepts. People usually reach this stage at adolescence.

    Many of the students described here are learning foreign languages, and some are working on second languages, particularly English as a second language (ESL). For the most part, the issues with which the teacher must deal are the same, but when they are different, they are noted.

    The book is addressed primarily to classroom teachers. Many suggestions and case descriptions are given as if each teacher can go into the needs of each student in depth. For some of you, this will be true. For others, however—for example the high school teacher with a student load of 150 students a day—such detailed treatment may be much less realistic. For the latter, I hope you will take away some ideas that can be used for many of your students and will gain some help in working with 3 to 5 of your most difficult students, for whom a more in-depth treatment may be appropriate.

    Multiple Theories and Models in the Book

    Human beings are complex. No two are alike. Psychologists have devoted lifetimes to finding ways to describe some of the systematic differences among us and have come up with many different systems. All the systems are valuable, but they are not all equally applicable to a given person or situation at a given time. For student A, theory X may provide just the right information, whereas for A's classmate B, theory Y may be more explanatory today. In both cases, the alternate theory adds useful information that helps illuminate the dominant theory; in this case we can say that, for instance, in the case of student A, theory X is in the foreground, and theory Y is in the background, and vice versa for student B. In a few weeks, it may be theory Y that better helps us understand what is going on with student A and is thus in the foreground, whereas theory X, though still useful, is now in the background.

    Because of this kind of complexity both between individuals at one time and between times for one individual, this book will present multiple theories and models of learning in Chapters 4, 5, and 6 and will adduce several of those models in each of the cases in Chapters 7 through 12. If you find the number of models confusing, choose one or two and keep your focus on them throughout the book. I recommend in particular, field independence-field sensitivity (Chapter 5), the psychological type model, and tolerance of ambiguity (Chapter 6).


    A variety of methodologies are described in this book. Students come from classes where a variety of approaches are used, some very current, and others more dated. It is not my intention to advocate or attack any methodology; instead, I aim to indicate that every approach matches some learners better than others. When a student is having difficulty, it is important to look at the match or mismatch between the prevailing methodology and the student.


    Most of the cases represent real people or composites of actual individuals, but they all are real people who are typical of the students we meet. Names have been changed, as have important identifying details, to protect the privacy of those on whom cases are based. Biographical details are minimized to make the cases as universally applicable as possible.


    This book represents the contributions of a multitude of colleagues and friends. High on the list is the Foreign Service Institute, its staff and students, from whom I have learned so much. My colleagues in Research Evaluation and Development have worked with me on much of the research that led to this book and with students who provided some of the cases, as well as providing much encouragement and useful critique. They are Lucinda Hart-Gonzalez, Christina Hoffman, Frederick Jackson, Anjum Khilji, Joselyn Pegues, Lydie Stefanopoulos, and Bob Wilson. Other FSI colleagues have also joined with us in thinking about languages and referred students whose difficulties are reflected in the cases; my work with these colleagues has helped shape my thinking about how languages are learned. Among them are Neire Johnson, Marsha Kaplan, Mary Kim, Beatrice Litt, Masako Nanto, James North, David Red, Maureen Riley, Gerd Ritchie, Sigrun Rockmaker, Joseph White, as well as the many other training supervisors and language instructors with whom I have worked as colleague, supervisor, trainer, or consultant. Former colleague Ann Welden, now with the United States Information Agency, has had an influence she will recognize in a number of places in this book, not least because of our sharing an atypical learning style.

    The content of this book does not represent official policy of the U.S. Department of State, the opinions and observations are my own. Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® and MBTI® are registered trademarks of Consulting Psychologists Press, Inc., Palo Alto, California.

    I have worked with students in programs under my supervision, as research participants, as workshop members, and as clients in individual consultations. They have taught me at least as much about learning as I have imparted to them.

    Rebecca Oxford of the University of Alabama—co-author and good friend—took a special role in this book: Its genesis was a conversation about the case material that each of us had and how it could be used. Rebecca has provided unfailing encouragement throughout the project and, just as valuable, insightful critique that made the book much better. A number of my ideas have been affected by the work we have done together over the past 10 years.

    Mary Lee Scott (Brigham Young University) and Robert Sternberg (Yale University) provided encouragement and valuable critique, both much appreciated. The book benefited a great deal from Frederick Jackson's careful reading and his discussions with me about a number of points in it. Kara VanHooser Dodge, M.S., CCC-SLP, speech language pathologist, contributed very helpful comments on the sections treating learning disabilities.

    Much of my thinking bears the influence of Earl Stevick, now retired from FSI. Earl began to inspire me to pursue my interest in the psychology of learning 20 years ago, and his sensible, humane approach continues to inform my work.

    My work with Sage Publications has been greatly facilitated by editor Alex Schwartz and editorial assistant Nancy Hale. Alex had the intuition to guess that I might have “something for Sage” when I was enthusiastically inspecting the Sage display at a convention with a day-old outline of this book in my pocket, and he has been the source of good advice and much-appreciated encouragement ever since. Nancy has distinguished herself by her dependability and her excellent “people skills” that enhanced the review process.

    Finally, without my mate, Bill Dodge, master of household logistics, gourmet cook, source of unfailing common sense, and on-the-spot draftsman (Figure 6.4), this book would have been much longer in the making. Bill's willing efforts—from trips to copy shop and post office through grocery shopping and cooking to cat care—made it possible for me to devote my time away from the office to this project. To him I dedicate this book.

  • Appendix A: Sample Biographic Background Questionnaire

    Language Background Questionnaire


    • Name:_____2. School, Company, Agency1:_____
    • Expected position (or date of graduation):2_____
    • Date of Birth:_____5. Native Language:3_____
    • Countries lived in previously, and purpose of stay:____

    • Education:

    • What were your favorite subjects?______

      And your least preferred subjects?______

    • What were your SAT or GRE scores (most recent)?____
    • When did you last attend a class or take a course of any sort?

      from mo/yr_____to mo/yr____

      What was the class?_______

    • Which languages do you speak and read, and how well? (If you know the ILR/ACTFL level, please use it. If an estimate, please so indicate.)


    • How did you learn the languages (e.g., through college classes, work, travel, on own, tutor)? (Continue on back if necessary)

    • Were you ever in contact with other languages while growing up?


      If yes, please describe briefly

    • Do you find learning foreign languages easy?_______
    • Is there anything that might interfere with your learning and using another language? (dyslexia, vision or hearing difficulties, etc.)

    • Please add any additional comments about your past or anticipated language learning experience that might be helpful:

    Thank you.


    1. Use whichever organizational unit is appropriate for you.

    2. Use whichever information about onward plans is appropriate to the setting.

    3. For adult programs and programs that have students of nontraditional age.

    Appendix B: An Instrument for Sequential and Random Processing

    Problem Integration Strategy Test

    This is neither an intelligence nor an aptitude test. It is intended to help determine how you can develop your study methods. Do not attempt to read anything into the questions but give the first answer that comes to mind. Above all, be honest—there is no grade or score for this test.

    Part I

    Shown below are 20 arithmetic problems, some in addition and some in multiplication. Your task is not to solve these problems, but to determine the order of solution which would please you most. Assume that, were you actually solving the problems, there would be no time limit. Indicate next to the letters a through t in the box below the problems your order of solution by writing the numbers 1 to 20 next to the corresponding problem letters. For example, if you would do problem f first, then write the number 1 in the box next to f, and so on.

    Do not change any answers!

    Part II

    Answer the following questions:

    • Which problem irritates you most?______
    • Which problem is more irritating to you, k or s?____
    • If you were actually solving these problems, would you check your work?

      (If yes, answer the following:

      When would you check?—

      If you found an error, would you erase the incorrect answer or cross it out?

    • Have you enjoyed taking this test? (Be honest)______
    Memorization Steps—Line Integrators
    • Familiarize: Listen to the material—for example, a dialogue from a textbook—several times.
    • Imitate: Carefully imitate each utterance, one at a time, in order, until you are satisfied you can repeat it perfectly. If you have difficulty with any sentence or utterance, go to step 2a.

      2a. Analyze: Listen to the sentence on the tape. Mark the syllables that seem loudest. Between each pair of marks there is a slight pause, which may or may not be marked by a space between words or a punctuation mark. Find these pauses and mark them with a slash (/). Remember that some slashes may go right through the middle of a printed word. You have now divided the sentence into phrases. Now, memorize the last phrase. Next, memorize the next to last phrase. Put it together with the last phrase. Go one phrase further back, memorize it, and “assemble” it to the last two. Repeat this process until you have learned the entire sentence.

    • Anticipate: Stop the tape just before the first sentence begins and say the sentence. Then play the tape as a confirmation of your utterance. If you are right, try to say the next sentence before the tape does. If you can't get it in the time allowed, go back and keep trying until you can. Repeat this until you can anticipate all the sentences in order.
    • Participate: Take the part of only one of the speakers in the dialogue, and use the tape as a “conversation partner.” You should find this easy if you have done Steps 1 through 3 correctly.
    Memorization Steps—Point Integrators
    • Familiarize: Listen to the material—for example, a dialogue from a textbook—several times.
    • Imitate: Repeat the first sentence that comes to mind or that seems easiest. Continue listening to the entire set until you can repeat all the sentences.
    • Anticipate: Still playing the entire segment of tape material, start trying to anticipate the sentences before you hear them, regardless of the order. If you have trouble with any particular one, go to step 2a above.
    • Participate: Take the part of one of the characters, and, still using the entire sequence, try to learn the part. Do not attempt to learn in order, but do “what comes naturally.”
    • Associate: While or just after participating, try to associate what you are saying with something else. “Something else” may be another line of dialogue, a native-language translation, or something completely silly. It doesn't make any difference, as long as the result seems logical to you and results in a complete performance of the material.
    SOURCE: Adaptation of material received from Allen Weinstein (1978).

    Appendix C: Motivation and Strategies Questionnaire



    Part I: Aptitude and Motivation
    • How do you rate your own ability to learn foreign languages relative to others in general?
      • Poor
      • Below average
      • Average
      • Above average
      • Superior
    • How well do you think you will do in this language course?
      • Poor
      • Below average
      • Average
      • Above average
      • Superior
    • How motivated are you to learn this language?
      • Not at all motivated
      • Not motivated
      • Sufficiently motivated
      • Very motivated
      • Highly motivated
    • Why are you taking this language?_____

    • How much do you want to do what you described in Item 4 above?
      • Not at all
      • Not very much
      • Sufficiently
      • Very much
      • Really looking forward to it
    • Students have indicated that they are motivated to learn languages by one or more of the following. Please check off those that apply to you now. (TL = target language, the language you are studying now.)

      ___ Meeting a program requirement___ Language learning is fun
      ___ Getting a payment for proficiency___ Like country where the TL is used
      ___ Need it to do my job___ This is a real challenge
      ___ Want to be top in my class___ Enjoy talking with TL people
      ___ Hope to get an award___ Love to learn something new

      Other motivations:_____

    • I would say my anxiety about learning this language is:
      • None at all
      • Not very much
      • A fair amount
      • A lot
      • Really nervous about it
    • My anxiety about speaking in class (answering questions, giving reports, asking questions, etc.) is about this level:
      • None at all
      • Not very much
      • A fair amount
      • A lot
      • Really nervous about it
    MSQ Part IIa: Learning and Teaching Techniques

    A variety of techniques may be used to help you learn, by you and by your teachers. How helpful do you think you will find these ways of teaching/learning? Please use the following scale to rate each item.

    1. Waste of time 3. Neither/nor 5. Nearly indispensable

    2. Not very helpful 4. Helpful

    • The instructor systematically follows a textbook or syllabus.
    • A written in-class exercise in which students fill in the correct form of verbs in sentences, for example:

      (walk) Martha___ to school every day.

    • The class breaks up into smaller groups to talk.
    • Students ask each other questions in pairs.
    • Students interview language X speakers and report on the interviews.
    • Teacher explains grammar in English, with examples and a handout.
    • Teacher reads new material in the textbook aloud, followed by students reading it aloud one by one.
    • Each student finds and reports on an interesting news or magazine article in language X.
    • Students are given a list of words that will appear in an article they will read later. They look up the words in the dictionary and copy out the translations.
    • Students select an article of interest to them to read in class, guessing the meanings of unknown words from context, without a dictionary.
    • Teacher speaks in language X while explaining grammar.
    • Teacher gives a sentence, to which entire group responds orally, changing the sentence in some way indicated by the teacher, for example making it negative:

      Teacher.John walks to school.
      Class.John doesn't walk to school.
      Teacher.John is walking to school.
      Class.John isn't walking to school.

      1. Waste of time 3. Neither/nor 5. Nearly indispensable

      2. Not very helpful 4. Helpful

    • Students have a classroom discussion of some topic such as the economy or social problems. The emphasis is on exchanging personal opinions.
    • Students read a number of sentences, finding and correcting the mistakes.
    • The teacher calls on each student in turn to make a change in a target sentence in some specified way, for example:

      Teacher.John walks to school. Monica.
      Monica.John doesn't walk to school.
      Teacher.Good. John is walking to school. Victor.
      Victor.John isn't walking to school.

    • Teacher corrects all mistakes in students' writings.
    • The teacher pays attention to the ideas and feelings in students' writings.
    • There are chances to get up and move around in the classroom.
    • The class takes field trips to places where we can use the language outside the classroom.
    • The teacher corrects all our mistakes when we speak.
    • Students help design the program as it goes along.
    • We learn dialogues by heart.
    • The class goes away for several days or more for an “immersion” learning experience.
    • Sometimes we are forced to use what we know to communicate, however little, even though it isn't exact.
    • I discover grammar patterns for myself.
    • We do roleplays, simulations, and skits in class.
    • I listen to material that is “over my head.”
    • I read material that is “over my head.”

      1. Waste of time 3. Neither/nor 5. Nearly indispensable

      2. Not very helpful 4. Helpful

    • There is plenty of early pronunciation drill, so it will be perfect early.
    • We master one thing before going on to more material or a new grammar point.
    • Group study with classmates is part of the lesson.
    • The program takes it step-by-step, so I won't be confused.
    • The teacher has the main responsibility to see that I get what I need.
    • I use language X at the training site as much as I can.
    • I use language X outside the training site as much as I can.
    • I study alone.
    • I study with others outside class.
    • Classroom exercises use my hands (drawing, pointing, construction, etc.)
    • I use audiotapes in the language lab or at home.
    • I use videotapes at school or outside.
    • I use computer-assisted instruction.
    MSQ Part IIb: Personal Learning Techniques

    You may do various things to help yourself learn. How often do you think you are likely to do the following? Please use the following scale to rate each item.

    1. Almost never 3. Sometimes 5. Most of the time

    2. Rarely 4. Often

    • I usually plan out what I will cover and how I will study when I start to study.
    • I need to take study breaks.
    • I remember better if I have a chance to talk about something.
    • I have a number of projects going on, in varying states of completion.
    • Mental images help me remember.
    • I like to know how the “system” works and what the rules are, then apply what I know.
    • I like to work with some background music.
    • I try to keep my mistakes and reverses in perspective.
    • If I write things down, I can remember them better.
    • I like to be able to move around when I work or study.
    • I don't mind it when the teacher tells us to close our books for a lesson.
    • I can trust my “gut feeling” about the answer to a question.
    • I take a lot of notes in class or lectures.
    • I find ways to fill in when I can't think of a word or phrase, such as pointing, using my hands, or finding a “filler” word (such as “whatchamacallit” or equivalent in the target language).
    • I hear words in my mind when I read.
    • I work better when it's quiet.

      1. Almost never 3. Sometimes 5. Most of the time

      2. Rarely 4. Often

    • I look at the ending when I start a book or story.
    • If I use a computer to learn, I like programs with color and movement.
    • My mind wanders in class.
    • Figuring out the system and the rules for myself contributes a lot to my learning.
    • It's useful to talk myself through a task.
    • I feel the need to check my answers to questions in my head before giving them.
    • I forget things if I don't write them down quickly.
    • I consider myself a “horizontal filer” (e.g., my desk has piles of papers and books all over it),
    • but I can find what I need quickly, (answer only if #24 is 3, 4, or 5).
    • When I need to remember something from a book, I can imagine how it looks on the page.
    • I can do more than one thing at once.
    • I prefer to jump right into a task without taking a lot of time for directions.
    • I am comfortable using charts, graphs, maps, and the like.
    • I try to be realistic about my strengths and weaknesses without dwelling on the weaknesses.
    • I like to complete one task before starting another.
    • I prefer to demonstrate what I've learned by doing something “real” with it rather than take a test or write a paper.
    • I have trouble remembering conversational exchanges word for word.
    • Hearing directions for a task is better for me than reading them.
    • I like to be introduced to new material by reading about it.
    SOURCE: Adapted from Ehrman and Christensen (1994).

    Appendix D: Interpretations of MSQ Items

    The following indicate some of the learning style dimensions that seem to be associated with items in the MSQ, based on low to moderate correlations (20s to 40s) with other instruments and experience in consultation interviews with students. Interpretations immediately follow the item summary description. Correlations are listed in parentheses.

    The interpretation suggests that people with the named learning style preference are somewhat more likely than not to find this kind of activity at least comfortable and perhaps necessary. People of the opposite preference may well reject the item, perhaps even describing it as a waste of time. These interpretations are tentative and should all be treated as hypotheses to be explored with the person who filled out the questionnaire.

    High scores on the Hartmann Boundary Questionnaire indicate thin boundaries, and low scores indicate thick boundaries. The 12 subscales address boundaries between states of wakefulness (“sleep”), between thinking and feeling (“thoughts”), among memories of earlier ages (“child”), as well as to experiences of ESP (“unusual (experiences)”), sensitivity to slights (“sensitive”), interpersonal receptivity (“interpersonal”), need for neat surroundings (“neat”), preference for sharp or fuzzy lines in visual images (“edges”), opinions about various age groups (“opinions”), lines of authority (“authority”), ethnic groups (“peoples”), and abstractions such as beauty or truth (“abstractions”). High scores on “neat and edges” indicate low need for neatness and preference for fuzzy visual lines, respectively. (See Chapter 6.)

    The MBTI subscales are extraversion-introversion, sensing-intuition, thinking feeling, and judging-perceiving, as described in Chapter 6. The MLAT subscales are Part 1 (Number Learning); Part 2 (Phonetic Script); Part 3 (Spelling Clues); Part 4 (Words in Sentences); Part 5 (Paired Associates). They are described in Chapter 9.

    The abbreviation (neg.) indicates a negative correlation: that is, if the item tends to be high, the correlated scale will tend to be low, and vice versa.

    Number of cases for correlations in parts I and II: MBTI 250, HBQ 249, MLAT 118.

    EOTS:End-of-training proficiency in speaking and interactive listening (oral interview)
    EOTR:End-of-training proficiency in reading (interactive reading test)
    HBQ:Hartmann Boundary Questionnaire (Chapter 6)
    MBTI:Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (Chapter 6)
    MLAT:Modern Language Aptitude Test (Chapter 9)
    TOA:Tolerance of ambiguity.

    Not all the items in this questionnaire have interpretations.

    Part I: Self-Efficacy, Motivation, Anxiety
    • [overall aptitude]: Previous success, self-efficacy. (MBTI intuition; HBQ thin esp. neat; EOTS, EOTR; MLAT Pts. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, Total)
    • [how well will you do in this course?]: Previous success, self-efficacy. (MBTI intuition; HBQ thin esp. neat; EOTS, EOTR; MLAT Pts. 2, 3, 4, 5, Total)
    • [how much want to learn the language]: Motivation for the language. (MBTI thinking; HBQ thin; MLAT Pt. 2)
    • [why learning the language]: Gives information on nature of motivation, how voluntary.
    • [importance of reason for learning]: Weight for student of end goal. (HBQ thin)
    • [List of motivators]: Column 1: extrinsic motivators; Column 2: intrinsic motivators.
    • [anxiety about this experience]: Overall language learning anxiety. (MBTI feeling; HBQ thin, esp. sensitive, abstractions; EOTS (neg.), EOTR (neg.); MLAT Pt. 4, Total (both neg.))
    • [anxiety about speaking in class]: Anxiety about oral performance, often the most threatening part of language study. (MBTI feeling; HBQ thin, esp. sensitive, abstractions; MLAT Total (neg.))
    Part IIa: Learning and Teaching Activities
    • [systematically follow syllabus]: Sequential learning, need for external structure. (MBTI thinking, judging; HBQ (all neg.) edges, interpersonal, sleep, thoughts, unusual experiences, Total; MLAT Pt. 2)
    • [fill-in exercise for verb forms in-class]: Analytic processing. (MBTI thinking, judging; HBQ (neg.) neat)
    • [small-group conversation]: (HBQ interpersonal, opinions about different ages, peoples)
    • [ask each other questions in pairs]: (HBQ (neg.) sleep)
    • [interview native speakers and report): High TOA, random, open-ended learning.
    • [explain grammatical rule in English, with handouts]: Need for external structure, field dependent.(MBTI judging; HBQ (all neg.) neat, edges)
    • [teacher reads aloud; students read same material aloud one by one]: Sequential, need for external structure. (MBTI sensing, judging; HBQ (all neg.) neat, edges)
    • [each student finds and reports on article in target language]: Open-ended learning.
    • [look up words on list & copy translations]: Low TOA, high need for external structure. (MBTI sensing, thinking; HBQ (all neg.) neat, edge, abstractions, Total; MLAT Pt. 4 (neg.))
    • [find article, guess words without dictionary]: Open-ended learning, high TOA, random. (HBQ thoughts, unusual, interpersonal, sensitive, Total)
    • [explain grammar in target language]: Field sensitive, global learning, high TOA or high level of proficiency. (HBQ organizations, thoughts; MLAT Pt. 2, Total)
    • [choral transformation drill]: High need for external structure. (MBTI thinking; HBQ thoughts; MLAT Pt. 4)
    • [classroom discussion on controversial subjects, emphasis on opinions]: High TOA, low need for external structure, random, global. (MBTI intuition; HBQ sleep, thoughts, unusual, neat, abstractions, interpersonal, Total; EOTR.)
    • [find and correct mistakes in written sentences]: Analytic, field independent.(HBQ (all neg.) child, peoples, Total)
    • [transformation drill, one student at a time]: Need for external structure. (HBQ neat)
    • [teacher corrects all mistakes in writings]: Perfectionism; analytic. (MBTI thinking)
    • [teacher pays attention to student feelings]: Rejected by analytic learners.(MLAT Pt. 3 (neg.))
    • [chances to move around classroom]: Kinesthetic learning. (MBTI feeling; HBQ opinions, peoples, Total; MLAT Pt 2 (neg.))
    • [field trips]: Open-ended learning, kinesthetic, global, low structure. (MBTI extraversion; HBQ opinions, sensitive; MLAT Pt. 4 (neg.))
    • [correct all oral mistakes]: Perfectionism; analytic.(MBTI thinking; HBQ (all neg.)) neat, interpersonal, Total)
    • [students help design program]: Open-ended, low need for external structure. (HBQ interpersonal, opinions, peoples, thoughts, sensitive, Total; MLAT Pt. 1)
    • [memorize dialogues]: Sequential, high need for external structure, low TOA (MBTI thinking, judging)
    • [immersion]: Open-ended, global, kinesthetic, low need for structure. (MBTI extraversion, intuition, perceiving; HBQ neat, interpersonal, opinions, peoples, sensitive)
    • [use what one knows to communicate even if not exact]: Open-ended, global, high TOA (EOTS (neg.))
    • [discover grammar patterns for self]: Field independent, analytic, high TOA, inductive. (MLAT Pt. 4)
    • [roleplays, simulations]: Open-ended, low need for structure, global, big picture. (HBQ interpersonal, opinions, sensitive, thoughts, Total; MLAT Pt. 5)
    • [over-the-head listening]: Open-ended, global, high TOA.(HBQ neat, organizations, sleep, Total; MLAT Pts. 3, 4, 5, Total)
    • [over-the-head reading]: Open-ended, global, high TOA (HBQ neat, sleep; MLAT Pts. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, Total)
    • [early pronunciation drill so it will be perfect]: High need for external structure, perfectionism, low TOA (?). (MBTI thinking)
    • [master one thing before moving on]: Sequential, low TOA, high need for external structure. (MBTI judging; HBQ (neg.) edges, neat, organizations; MLAT Pt. 4 (neg.))
    • [group study is part of program]: Global, extraversion?
    • [step-by-step program]: Sequential, low TOA, high need for external structure. (MBTI sensing, judging; HBQ (all neg.) edges, neat, organizations, Total; MLAT (all neg.) Pts. 1, 2, 4, Total)
    • [teacher has main responsibility to see that I get what I need]: High need for external structure, low TOA. (HBQ (neg.) edges, organizations, peoples; MLAT Pt. 4 (neg.))
    • [talk at training site in target language]
    • [talk outside training site in target language]
    • [study alone]: Analytic, introversion? (EOTR)
    • [study with others outside class]: Extraversion. (MBTI extraversion)
    • [use hands in classroom activities]: Kinesthetic learning. (MBTI extraversion; HBQ (neg.) organizations)
    • [use audiotapes): Auditory. (HBQ (neg.) child)
    • [use videotapes]: (MBTI extraversion, intuition, perceiving; HBQ opinions)
    • [use computer-assisted instruction]
    Part IIb: Personal Learning Techniques
    • [plan task]: Metacognitive strategies, reflective.
    • [frequent study breaks]: Extraversion, kinesthetic.
    • [remember better if talk about it]: Auditory, (Kinesthetic}), extroversion.
    • [multiple incomplete tasks]: Random, multitasking (doing more than one thing at once).
    • visualize images]: Visual (objects, actions).
    • [know system, rules, then apply]: Deductive learning.
    • [work with background music]: Multitasking).
    • [keep reverses in perspective]: Affective strategies (affective self-management).
    • [remember better if write it down]: Visual (text), possibly kinesthetic.
    • [study better if can move around]: Kinesthetic, possibly extraversion.
    • [doesn't mind closed book]: Auditory.
    • [trust intuitions]: Intuition, impulsivity, global.
    • take a lot of notes]: Visual (text), possibly kinesthetic.
    • [fill in for missing word]: filler word may be intuition; use of hands may be kinesthetic; compensation strategies.
    • [when reading, hear in head]: Auditory.
    • [quiet place]: Low on multitasking, distractible.
    • [look at ending in book]: Random; most sequential learners reject this.
    • [color and movement on computer]: Kinesthetic.
    • [mind wanders in class]: Multitasker, kinesthetic.
    • [figure out system, rules]: Inductive learning.
    • [talk self through tasks]: Auditory.
    • [check answers]: Reflective.
    • [write down in order not to forget]: Visual (text), distractible.
    • [“horizontal filer”]: May be a random learner, perceiver.
    • but knows where things are] (answered if #24 is 3, 4, or 5): Random perceiver.
    • [visualize image of text on page]: Visual (text).
    • [do more than one thing at once]: Multitasking.
    • [start by doing]: Kinesthetic, impulsive.
    • [remember verbatim]: Low-auditory.
    • [comfortable with charts, graphs]: Visual (schematics), possibly field independent.
    • [complete one task before starting another]: Sequential.
    • [realistic view of strengths and weaknesses]: Affective strategies, affective self-management.
    • [demonstrate knowledge by applying it]: Kinesthetic, random, concrete, global.
    • [hearing directions]: Auditory, extraversion.
    • [start by reading about new material]: Visual.

    Appendix E: Case Data Highlights

    These snapshots are organized roughly as follows: MBTI type, ego boundary thickness, field independence type, sensory channel style, cognitive style, verbal or quantitative orientation, tested language aptitude, affective factors, learning strategies, other information. Data are not available in every category for each case.

    Some of the terms used below:

    • Myers-Briggs type categories: INTJ, ESFP, etc. (Chapter 6)
    • Thick and thin ego boundaries. (Chapter 6)
    • Verbal versus quantitative orientation (Chapter 8)
    • Field independence types: Type 1—field independent and field sensitive; Type 2—field independent and field insensitive; Type 3—field dependent and field sensitive; Type 4—field dependent and field insensitive. (See section 5.2.)
    • Conceptual tempo: reflective, impulsive, often combined with accurate and inaccurate; fast-accurate describes an impulsive who is also accurate. (See section 6.4.1)
    • Alice: ENTP. Type 1, random, exceptionally independent learner, needs an unusual amount of autonomy, high language learning self-efficacy, experienced language leaner, knows how languages work.
    • Angela: ENFJ, generally thin boundaries, Type 3?, overall satisfactory MLAT but with Parts 3—Spelling Clues—and 5—Paired Associates—low, extrinsic, instrumental motivation at a moderate level, angry, anxious, defense by withdrawal of emotional energy.
    • Bernice: ESTJ, generally thick ego boundaries, very sequential and goal oriented, foreign born with many years of classroom English, uneven MLAT profile, intrinsic motivation, endorses use of deep strategies,.
    • Bert: INTP Type 2, reflective, relies on cognitive flexibility and control, anxiety—especially interpersonal, defense through avoidance/inhibition, independent learner.
    • Betty: ENTJ, abstract, older learner, example of adult resistance.
    • Beverly: ENTJ, average ego boundaries, Type 3? visual learner, sequential, concrete, deductive, strong MLAT, on which the weakest part is 5—Paired Associates, surface strategies, good previous language exposure.
    • Calvin: ISTJ, relies on surface strategies.
    • Celia: ISFJ, intense anxiety, self-sabotage, defensive acting out.
    • Corwin: ESFP wants a lot of external structure, dependent learner, low self-efficacy as language learner, indirect expression of anxiety, withdrawal defenses.
    • David: ISTJ, Type 3, concrete, low tolerance of ambiguity.
    • Deborah: ISTP, describes self as “dyslexic,” auditory retention difficulties.
    • Dennis: ISTJ, needs a lot of external structure and scaffolding, doesn't know how to learn.
    • Ellis: INTP, thick ego boundaries, Type 2, kinesthetic, visual, reflective, quantitative orientation, little anxiety.
    • Elsa: Probably N, thin ego boundaries, Type 3, strongly global, previously diagnosed as language-learning disabled, not motivated for language of study though highly motivated for another, extremely anxious, prefers open-ended learning activities.
    • Evan: ENTJ, average ego boundaries, kinesthetic, reflective, average tolerance of ambiguity, verbal orientation, previous in-country learning success, high educational level, high general intelligence but somewhat below average tested language aptitude, hearing loss, previous diagnosis as dysgraphic, anxious, high extrinsic motivation began with ineffective strategies, wants social learning.
    • George: INTJ, history of confrontational problem solving.
    • Holly: ISTJ, Type 4, inexperienced language learner, needs a lot of external structure and scaffolding, doesn't know how to learn.
    • Janet: INFP Type 1?, random, inductive, previous successful learning experiences, resists classroom routine.
    • Jenny: INFP, thin ego boundaries, Type 3, verbal orientation, experiences anxiety, does not prioritize, information “mushes” together, relies on interpersonal skills.
    • Joe: ESTJ, very thick ego boundaries, Type 4, kinesthetic, visual, detail oriented and concrete, very low tolerance of ambiguity, quantitative/technical orientation, first-time foreign language learner, extremely low tested aptitude, highly motivated, low anxiety, good general study skills but few deep strategies, relies on repetition, history of avoiding unusual verbal demands in life.
    • John: ESTJ, thick ego boundaries, Type 4, sequential, concrete, low tolerance of ambiguity, almost entirely extrinsic motivation, defensive of self-esteem, indirect expression of anxiety, defense through avoidance and displacement, relies on control and hard work, surface strategies, needs external structure, childhood stutter.
    • Karen: ISFJ, thickish ego boundaries, Type 3?, auditory, random, average MLAT with low Part 3-Spelling Clues, needs some external structure, good previous language learning background, effective learning strategies.
    • Keith: ESTJ, thick ego boundaries, Type 4, sequential, concrete, low tolerance of ambiguity, little anxiety.
    • Kelly: INFJ, visual, form before meaning, low tolerance of ambiguity in listening, defends by withdrawal of emotional energy.
    • Laurie: ENTJ, tested aptitude in average range but below classmates, extreme anxiety, very high need for achievement, low language learning self-efficacy, high need for control, externalizing defenses, anxiety expressed in body symptoms, relies on social skills and social learning strategies as well as intense effort.
    • Linda: ISFJ, perfectionism, increasingly low self-efficacy as language learner, high need for achievement, anxious, defense by preemptive pessimism.
    • Logan: ESTP independent learner, assertive in class.
    • Lonnie: ENTJ, thick ego boundaries, Type 4, sequential, concrete, quantitative, very weak on MLAT Part 3-Spelling Clues, anxious, needs external structure.
    • Mari: ESFJ, extrinsic motivation, little expectancy of long-term payoff, anxiety, influence of family's culture of origin.
    • Mark: ENFP average ego boundaries, kinesthetic and auditory, sequential, previous language learning background, slightly above average tested aptitude, high extrinsic motivation, extremely anxious, low sense of self-efficacy as language learner.
    • Matthew: ISTP, thick ego boundaries, Type 4?, sequential, perfectionistic, low tolerance of ambiguity, good tested aptitude but with uneven MLAT profile, high need for achievement, extrinsically and instrumentally motivated, anxious, defensive fantasy, childhood stutter.
    • Melvin: ESFJ, adequate aptitude, frustrated and angry, high anxiety, externalizing defenses, wants external guidance and structure, help-seeking and help-rejecting
    • Miriam: INTP thin ego boundaries, Type 1, visual, kinesthetic, very random, impulsive/fast-accurate, verbal orientation, some anxiety (social), very strong tested aptitude, intrinsic, assimilative motivation, high language learning self-efficacy, experienced language learner, knows how languages work.
    • Olivia: INFJ, Type 2, visual, sequential, deductive, reflective, perfectionistic, anxious, withdrawal defense, prefers to study alone.
    • Patricia: ESTP, Type 3?, very high proficiency in two languages, describes self as dyslexic, learns in context, uses global strategies.
    • Roger: INTJ, average ego boundaries, Type 2, deductive, quantitative orientation.
    • Sandy: ISFP thin internal ego boundaries, medium to thick external ego boundaries, field independence and field sensitivity about the same, thus something similar to a Type 1 when not under stress, otherwise similar to a Type 4, strongly kinesthetic and somewhat visual, good tested language aptitude, not initially anxious but later very much so, emotional outbursts, defensive acting out, little need for external structure.
    • Sheldon: INTJ, Type 2?, visual, sequential, previous history of successful language learning, angry.
    • Shirley: INFP thin ego boundaries, Type 3?, auditory, sequential, concrete, low tolerance of ambiguity, strong need for external structure, very self-aware, uses wide range of strategies
    • Simon: ENFJ, inefficient learning strategies.
    • Suzanne: ESTP good language aptitude, extrinsic motivation, externalizing defenses.
    • Sylvia: ENFP Type 3, abstract, externalizing defenses.
    • Terry: ESFP Type 3 global style, bilingual from childhood in cognate language, first time in formal language class, defensive avoidance, ineffective strategies, uses interpersonal skills, little stylistic flexibility, possible learning dysfunction (sequencing).
    • Vanessa: INFP average ego boundaries, Type 1, visual, inductive, multitasker, verbal orientation, makes use of cognitive flexibility and interpersonal approaches, extrinsic, instrumental motivation, defense through detachment, independent learner.
    • Victor: INTJ, average ego boundaries, probably Type 2, visual and low auditory, sequential, moderate tolerance of ambiguity, quantitative orientation, non-native speaker of English, strong MLAT for a nonnative speaker, low anxiety.


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    Case Index

    About the Author

    Madeline Ehrman combines a background in applied linguistics and clinical psychology. She has worked at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) of the U.S. Department of State in a variety of capacities. She has supervised instruction in nearly all the languages of East and Southeast Asia, during which time she developed textbooks in Cambodian and Indonesian as well as supplementary material in Japanese. She served as Department Chair for Asian and African Languages and is now the Director, Research Evaluation and Development for FSI's School of Language Studies, where she is heads a staff responsible for institutional research, staff and program development, language proficiency testing, and consultations for students having special learning difficulties.

    Dr. Ehrman's PhD is in Clinical Psychology from the Union Institute, and her Bachelor's and Master's degrees are in Linguistics from Brown and Yale Universities. She received post-doctoral training from the Washington School of Psychiatry in psychoanalytic psychotherapy. In addition, she is an experienced administrator and trainer for the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.

    She has published a book on the semantics of the English modal auxiliaries (The Meanings of the Modals in Present-day American English), several textbooks in Southeast Asian languages, and multiple articles on individual differences in second language learning. She headed a task force that recently designed a minicourse for language teachers on enhancing learner independence, and she is currently working with Robert Sternberg of Yale University on a language aptitude test that examines ability to cope with the unfamiliar.

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