Lesson 1: Why FL Teachers Need to Know about Learners

Learner Characteristics

Three learner characteristics have consistently been found to be consequential for language learning: motivation, anxiety, and beliefs about language learning.


Motivation involves both the reasons that learners have for learning a language as well as the intensity of their feelings. For example, some learners only study the language because of a language requirement, while others expect to use the language in their future career. In addition to having different reasons for language learning, people who hope to use the language for career purposes probably have a stronger motivation than those people who simply hope to pass a language requirement.

Think about why you chose to study your target language in the beginning? What made you decide to become serious about learning your language?


Anxiety includes uncomfortable feelings when learning or using the new language. Several studies have found that approximately 1/3 of American foreign language learners experience anxiety in response to language learning (Horwitz, Tallon, and Luo, 2009). Most anxious language learners feel uncomfortable when speaking or listening to the new language, but some language learners also find writing or even reading to be anxiety-provoking.

Did you ever feel anxious when using your target language? What did you do to overcome that anxiety?

Learner Beliefs

Beliefs about language learning are important because they influence how students approach language learning and the language learning strategies that they choose to use. Many language learners, for example, think that they are too old to learn a foreign language well.

Think about some of the advertisements for language study, such as ads for Rosetta Stone or Berlitz that you have encountered. What do these advertisements imply about how long it takes to learn a language? How might such advertisements influence your students' expectations?