Sunday, 17 July 2011


The work surveys the so called characteristics of a good second language learner. Generally it is divided into four parts each having its own importance on its own right.

Here the general trend of linguistic situation in Tanzania has been clearly traced and spelt out. The conflicting status of both English and Kiswahili as second languages in Tanzania has also been given special attention.

This being the central part of the discussion, some of what we may term as characteristics of a good second language learner have been discussed in depth. Local Tanzanian examples have been adapted/cited to meet the requirement of the question. The characteristics discussed include:
 A good language learner seeks out all opportunities to use the target language.
 Is prepared to experiment by taking risks, even if this makes the learner appear foolish.
 Possesses a strong reason for learning L2 which may reflect an integrative or an instrumental motivation and also develop a strong task motivation.
 Possesses sufficient analytic skills to perceive, categorize and store the linguistic features of language two and also monitor errors.
 A good second language learner is patient.
 A good language learner will be an adolescent or an adult rather than a young child at least as far as the early stage of grammatical development are concerned.
 A good language learner considers extroversion and introversion.
 A good second language learner also uses the first language as a learner resource.
 A good language learner makes use of learning strategies.
 A good L2 learner should be able to respond to the group dynamics of the learning situations so as not to develop negative anxiety and inhibitions.

This part centers on how language learning affects the style of learning, and the understanding that learners of different competence levels learn differently and thus possess at least slight differences.

Includes the readings used in the completion of this work.
A second language or L2 is any language learned after the first language or mother tongue. Weltalmanach (1986)
Second language is also termed as a language that somebody learns to speak well and that they use for work or at school, but that is not the language they learned first. Advanced Learners dictionary. (2006-7th ed)
Generally speaking, a second Language is any language that a person learns, mostly from adolescence and uses it for special purpose like to communicate with people mostly who are not of his/her mother tongue.
Most people do acquire their mother tongue/first language but they need to learn the second language. The learning of second language can never be taken for granted. It is process that involves a learner’s commitment and willingness to learn. It involves learner’s manipulation of the opportunities given to him/her by nature in addition to those created by a learner himself/herself through his/her own efforts.
Unlike L1, second learning can be a lifelong process for many. Although some learners try hard to exercise all the efforts to learn a second language, the truth is, they can never become fully native-like in it, although, with practice considerable fluency can be achieved. In Tanzania, the specific second language is not yet clearly defined because in some cases the learners having their vernaculars as their first languages may learn Kiswahili as a second language while in other cases Kiswahili occupies the position of the mother tongue for some(especially the town dwellers) and therefore English becomes a second language.
However, considering the linguistic variations of English and Kiswahili, those learning Kiswahili as a second language in Tanzania will face little difficulty in learning it, since in a great deal, Bantu languages share the syntactic, morphological, semantic and phonological features with Kiswahili. On the other hand, as they move from Kiswahili to English or more specifically speaking, those learning English as a second language will considerably face more difficulties, if we are to consider the linguistic variations of the two languages (Bantu languages and English)
This paper will chiefly examine the characteristics of a good second language learner paying much attention on the Tanzanian context where both Kiswahili and English are treated as second languages depending on the individual learner or speaker.
Characteristics of a good second language learner
A good language learner seeks out all opportunities to use the target language. A good language learner must seek to use all the opportunities surrounding him/her to learn his or her target language. These include the mass media, language competent speakers around, the target language books and other peers. For example in Tanzania most of the people learn Kiswahili as a second language, while others learn it as a first language and English as L2. Whatever language is involved the good second language learner seeks to learn the language through the opportunities outlined above. A person learning English as a second language in Tanzania may make use of media broadcasting in English like BBC, CNN, KISS FM, Daily News, Capital TV. and the like. Additionally, he/she may make use of the language with people around him/her like secondary school students and college or university peers.
A good L2 learner is prepared to experiment by taking risks, even if this makes the learner appear foolish. When learning a language a learner may sometimes find him/herself at risk of misusing the language and the competent members (speakers) may consider him/her foolish. In Tanzanian context for example, many people have a negative attitude towards those speaking English especially in public places where most speakers speak Swahili. In such a context people consider learner’s practices as showing off. A good language leaner will not consider this but always works out to strive for excellence in the target language.
A good language learner is willing to practice. Language learning requires a lot of exposure to different contexts where the language is used and a lot of practice of various kinds. The good second language learner varies the practices she/he does in ways that are as meaningful as possible. The second language learners in Tanzania have little chances to practice the English they learn in classrooms since even on the school premises, college or university campuses learners are not willing to practice their English. The situation is worse at home where in most cases the vernaculars or Kiswahili are used for communication. But if at all a good language learner exists she/he does not care about this. They always practice provided that all the college mates and schoolmates are assumed to be speaking English.
A good L2 learner should possess a strong reason for learning L2 which may reflect an integrative or an instrumental motivation and also develop a strong task motivation (that is respond positively to the learning tasks chosen or provided.)
The most extensive research into the role of attitude and motivation in second language acquisition has been considered by Gardner and Lambert. Where motivation is concerned, they draw a basic distinction between an integrative and instrumental orientation to L2 learning. The former occurs when the learner wishes to identify with the culture of the L2 group… Instrumental motivation, occurs when the learner’s goals for learning the L2 are functional. For instance learning directed at passing an examination, furthering career opportunities, or facilitating the study of other subjects through the medium of L2 are all examples of instrumental motivation. Ellis (1985)
Language learning is always associated with a purpose for learning that particular language and motivation for learning the language. A good L2 learner will choose the learning style depending on the purpose of learning the language. In Tanzania learners of English as a second language may learn it for academic purpose, travelling abroad and so forth. These reasons will strongly influence their learning styles. For example those learning for academic reasons are strongly motivated to learn so as to pass their exams and if possible to go for their further studies abroad.
A good L2 learner should possess sufficient analytic skills to perceive, categorize and store the linguistic features of L2 and also to monitor errors. Analytic skills involve the ability to visualize, articulate and solve complex problems and concepts and make decisions that make sense based on available information. A good second language learner in Tanzania will make use of dictionary, use punctuations and observance of common errors so as to make their English effective. No any language user may speak with completely error-free sentences but a good language learner will always try to sort out the errors and correct them. For example Kiswahili speakers face difficulties in pronouncing English words since there is no one-to-one correspondence between the two languages. A good second language learner may use dictionaries to correct his pronunciation.
A good second language learner is patient. Realistically speaking, language learning is a long term process. Whenever we learn something new even our native languages, the new learning always comes with the new language. Language learning is domain specific, which means that every individual has the ability only in those areas about which they are able to function. This means that no one may reach all the competence that is possible in any language; first, second or subsequent. “Ambiguity tolerance is a learning style that has been correlated to students’ achievement”. Brown (2000:120). “it allows learners to temporarily disregard some perceived contradictions or confusions, not get frustrated and thus proceed with the learning.” Larson-Freeman & Long (1991:191). It always takes time for one to become competent. In Tanzania English is taught as a subject from standard one to university and is a medium of instructions to secondary and tertiary levels. But most of the learners of English become competent during their high school, college and university years.
A good second language learner will be an adolescent or an adult rather than a young child at least as far as the early stage of grammatical development are concerned. Ellis (1985). The adult language learners differ from young children, in that adult learners learn the language purposely. For example, in Tanzania, mostly secondary school learners, colleges and university learners learn English as a second language purposely. They always have a clear purpose for learning the language specifically for academic purpose, tourism and for studying abroad. These being the case adult learners always connect their learning styles to their purposes for learning a language. It should be remembered that children tend to have fewer domains of language competence than adults, as no one expects that a three-year child will be able to discuss the political situation in Tanzanian context.
Another characteristic of a good second language learner is to consider extroversion and introversion. Sewell (2003). The assumption here is held that extroverts learn the second language quicker than their introvert counterparts. “It is reasonable to suggest that extroversion may facilitate the learning of spoken English, but introverts have more patience and thus may excel in areas of pronunciation, reading and writing” (Brown 2000: 255-6). This is specifically true if we are to consider Tanzanian context. The extroverts who interact with other people who are Swahili/English speakers especially in urban areas, at schools, or colleges, develop more spoken Kiswahili/ English as their 2nd language. On the other hand, the introverts may excel especially in exams where they score quite excellently in Kiswahili/English exams though they may not be good speakers of the languages.
A good second language learner also uses the first language as a learner resource. The learner may use his/her first language as a resource for learning the second language, especially when the two have similar linguistic aspects. But even when the two languages do not possess similar/the same linguistic features still the learner can make a contrastive analysis to notice the areas of similarities and differences. For a good language learner, more emphasis/efforts will be placed on areas that are different so as to master the dissimilarities of the target second language. For Tanzanians, mostly being Bantu language speakers, may use their first language (Kiswahili inclusive) to learn English. For example by knowing that unlike Kiswahili, English words are not pronounced the way they are written, also in some syntactic constructions like Nouns and adjectives, in English adjectives come before nouns while in Kiswahili adjectives come after nouns. These are the areas to work diligently. For example
Mvulana mzuri alioa msichana mrembo.
N Adj N Adj
A handsome boy married a beautiful girl.
Adj N Adj N
A good language learner makes use of learning strategies. Ruben (1975:43) uses the term
Learning strategies to mean “The techniques and devices which a learner may use to acquire knowledge” They are of three areas.
The first are meta-cognitive strategies that deal with the awareness and ability to control the process of learning; which include monitoring production, being self aware, being realistic and being organized. The second are cognitive strategies that relate more directly to learning itself and include the acts of memorization and integration. These include mnemonic vocabulary learning. Lastly are the socio-affective strategies that are related to the actual use of language. These include making errors work for them not against them; learning chunks of learning to go beyond their competence, compensation for their weaknesses and avoidance of areas of weakness. Thompson (1982 in Brown 2000:123)
Even the Tanzanian learning any second language may make use of the strategies above. For example it is common to hear Kiswahili speakers uttering English sentences like “don’t disturbance me”, ‘He go to school every day,” They plays football” These are errors that a good second language learner will work for to ensure that his/her sentences in future are error free.
A good L2 learner should be able to respond to the group dynamics of the learning situations so as not to develop negative anxiety and inhibitions. Group dynamics seem to be important in classroom second language acquisition.
Bailey (1983 in Ellis 1985) records in some detail the anxiety and the competitiveness experienced by a number of diarists. “Some classroom learners make overt comparisons of themselves with other learners. In other kinds of comparisons learners match how they think they are progressing against their expectations. Often these comparisons result in emotive responses to language learning experience. Competitiveness may be manifested in a desire to out-do other language learners by shouting answers in class or by racing through examinations to be the first to finish”
If the situations described above exist in group dynamics, some learners may feel anxiety and discouraged in learning the language. But a good language learner responds to these situations and makes use of them in learning. Tanzania for example some learners fear to express themselves because they think their English is poor as compared to their learning peers. Since most of them use Kiswahili, it comes that those who exercise English speaking and make use of group interactions are likely to develop the language successfully.

While it is easy to suggest that someone who has learned to read, write, speak, and listen effectively in English or any other second language in a relatively short time is a good language learner, it is unclear whether someone who has only learned one or two of these skills is also a good second language learner. So the criteria which count someone as a good language learner seem unclear and make comparisons difficult. When we are actually determining if someone is a good language learner, the students’ goals should also be considered. A student of medicine of Muhimbili University or Engineering at UCLAS may never need to speak English but may need to be able to read English textbooks when translations are not available. For such a learner reading comprehension skills may be all that are needed.
Additionally it should be noted that, it may be misleading to believe that the characteristics associated with a good advanced learner would also apply to good beginner learner. For Tanzanians, most of whom learn English specifically for academic purposes, (Excluding few who learn it for tourist activities, travel purposes etc) need to be able to properly utilize the available resources for learning English. While in some domains English receives a relatively negative connotation, good language learners should consider the differing learning situations, goals and levels of students, interactions of differing personalities, styles and strategies.
So a good second language learner may simply be the leaner who has an open mind, the willingness to try new learning strategies and is always learning how to learn. The teacher of such students whether of English or Kiswahili may simply give students a toolbox of styles and strategies that appear to be beneficial along with the ability which work for them. Teachers can approach their students with helpful well designed tasks to help students become better second language learners.


Advanced Learners Dictionary 6th ed New York. Oxford University Press

Brown, H. D (2000) Principles of Language Learning and Teaching. (4th ed) New York:

Ellis R (1985) Understanding Second Language Acquisition. London: Oxford University Press

Larson Freeman, D & Long, M (1991) An Introduction to Second Language Acquisition
Research. London: Longman.

Ruben, J (1975) ‘What the good Language Learner Can Teach Us’ TESOL. Quarterly 9:41-51

Sewell, H,D (2003) ‘The Good Language; Learner; Second Language Acquisition’. Question
PG/03/09. PDF online Available

Weltalmanach (1986) ‘Second Language’ in language



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