What do adult learners make of their own errors? Understanding individual differences in foreign language learning

Fernandez-Toro, Maria (2009). What do adult learners make of their own errors? Understanding individual differences in foreign language learning. Reflecting Education, 5(2) pp. 66–84.

URL: http://www.reflectingeducation.net/index.php?journ...


Errors are not only inevitable, but essential in any form of learning, yet some people are better than others when it comes to learning from their own mistakes. Intake of new knowledge is determined not only by learners’ existing knowledge and skills (cognition), but also by their own assumptions about learning (metacognition) as well as the emotions that the learning process brings about (affect). The aim of this paper is to define learner differences in terms of individual patterns of interaction between cognition, metacognition and affect during the process of analysing one’s own errors. From a methodological perspective, it also aims to propose a preliminary taxonomy for categorising learning styles through direct observation within the specific context of error self-analysis (ESA) as an alternative to learning style inventories based on self-reported data. Sixty Spanish degree finalists were asked to identify, correct and explain the errors they made in a Spanish speaking assignment. As part of a course component in liaison interpreting, the students were trained to interpret conversations which simulated exchanges between two monolingual speakers of Spanish and English, each using their own language. The students’ interpreting performance was recorded and the following data collected: (1) Audio-recording of students’ interpreting performance; (2) Word-for-word transcript of the students’ recording (written by the students themselves afterwards); (3) Students’ detailed analyses of their transcript, indicating what errors they made, what corrections they proposed in each case, and why. Four hypothetical dimensions of learning styles in ESA are proposed: depth of analysis (errors noticed-corrected-explained), voice (personal-impersonal), orientation (reactive-proactive), and affect indicators in discourse (negative-positive). The study discusses the patterns of interaction between these dimensions in relation to cognitive theory, current research on metacognitive knowledge, Bandura’s self-efficacy theory, and Weiner’s theory of attribution, whereby the explanations (‘causal attributions’) that we produce in order to account for our success or failure on a previous task determine how we feel about our own performance. The paper concludes with a method for learner training that addresses all four dimensions.

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