Sunday, 24 October, 2021

Motivation for Second Language Acquisition

M Matiur Rahman

Motivation for Second Language Acquisition

Popular News

Second language learning is influenced by a number of factors. However, learner's motivation and desire to learn a particular language is singled out as the most important factor in the whole process. Motivation has been widely accepted by both teachers and researchers as one of the key factors that influence the rate and success of second/foreign language (L2) learning. Without sufficient motivation, even individuals with the most remarkable abilities cannot accomplish long-term goals, and neither are appropriate curricula and good teaching enough on their own to ensure student achievement.

Apart from the role that intellectual capacity and language aptitude play in a second or foreign language learning (Gardner & Lambert, 1972 cited in Xu 2008), motivation is a major factor for the successful study of language acquisition. It is considered goal directed and defined as “the combination of effort plus desire to achieve the goal of learning the language plus favorable attitudes toward learning the language” (Gardner, 1985, p. 10 cited in Xu 2008).


Motivation derives from the Latin verb “movera” which means move and it influences to perform action and make some choices.

Researchers seem to agree that motivation is responsible for determining human behavior by energizing it and giving it direction, but the great variety of accounts put forward in the literature of how this happens may surprise even the seasoned researcher.

Motivation involves various mental processes that lead to the initiation and maintenance of action; as it is defined, 'Motivation is the process whereby goal-directed activity is instigated and sustained'.

Whether motivation is defined in terms of language learning or achieving planned goals at any domain, it is a need that leads a person to a certain behavior to guarantee reaching his/her ends.

Types of Motivation

Motivation plays a role in various ways in the process of learning a second language. Such a role depends on the type of motivation a learner has. Different researchers have classified motivation from different points of view. From a cognitive viewpoint, two types of motivation are recognized: extrinsic and intrinsic.

Extrinsic motivation is related to doing an action in order to receive an extrinsic reward or to avoid punishment, whereas intrinsic motivation is about an action that is done for its own sake to experience satisfaction.

An example of extrinsic motivation would be the case of a learner who studies English as a foreign or second language because she/ he will be sent to England for higher studies, and if it were not for that sake, she/he would not study it. On the other hand, intrinsic motivation would be learning English as a second or foreign language because one is interested in the language itself, and nobody has asked him or her to do so (Ng, 2015).

Motivational Theories

The study of motivation has been influenced by various psychological theories. Each of these theories state different sources of motivational needs, and each have certain drawbacks. Let us examine some of these theories that have developed over the years.

(a)          Behavioral Views

                Behavioral views of motivation concentrate on extrinsic factors (external rewards or punishments) and reinforcement of desired. An extrinsically motivated student performs "in order to obtain some reward (good grades, teacher approval, etc.) or avoid some punishment external to the activity itself," as opposed to a student who is intrinsically motivated and undertakes an activity "for its own sake, for the enjoyment it provides, the learning it permits, or the feelings of accomplishment it evokes” (Lepper, 1988 as cited in Shirkey,2003).

(b)  Cognitive Views

                Cognitive views on motivation propose that behavior is influenced by the environment and self-perception. Compared to the behavioral view of external stimulus/response, cognitive views tend to be more internal and information processing based.

(c)           Humanistic Views

                Humanistic views of motivation can be attributed to Abraham Maslow. Maslow described (1970) a hierarchy of needs that drove motivations. First, at the lowest level of Maslow’s hierarchy, are physiological needs (need to satisfy hunger and thirst), second are safety needs (need for safety, security, organization and predictability), third comes belongingness and love needs, fourth comes esteem needs (self-esteem, achievement, competence, recognition, respect), and fifth, at the highest level, are self-actualization needs (living up to one’s fullest potential).

(d)  Self-Determination Theory

                Self-determination theory, developed by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, focuses on the importance of intrinsic motivation in driving human behavior. Like Maslow's hierarchical theory and others that built on it, SDT posits a natural tendency toward growth and development.

The Importance of Motivation in Language Learning

Motivation determines the extent of active, personal involvement in L2 learning; research shows that motivation directly influences how often students use L2 learning strategies, how much students interact with native speakers and how long they persevere and maintain L2 skills after language study is over (Oxford & Shearin, 1994, as cited in Huang 2007). Conversely, without sufficient motivation, even individuals with the most remarkable abilities cannot accomplish long-term goals, and neither are appropriate curricula and good teaching enough on their own to ensure students achievement (Dörnyei & Csizér, 1998, as cited in Huang 2007).

The Effect of Motivation on Second Language Acquisition

Reece & Walker (1997 as cited in Gomleksiz 2001), express that motivation is a key factor in the second language learning process. They stress that a less able student who is highly motivated can achieve greater success than the more intelligent student who is not well motivated. Sometimes students may come highly motivated and the task of the teacher is to maintain motivation of the students. The task of the teacher is to maximize the motivation.

Motivation depends on the social interaction between the teacher and the learner. To be able to create an effective learning environment having highly motivated students necessitates strong interpersonal and social interaction.

Krashen's monitor model considers attitudes and motivation most influential in unconscious language acquisition. The learner's motivational level acts as an affective filter on language intake (Krashen 1981:102 as cited in Madrid et al. 1993).

Expectancy of Success

Researchers emphasizes various different factors that form the individual's cognitive processes; from an educational point of view, the most important aspects include processing past experiences (attribution theory), judging one's own abilities and competence (self-efficacy theory), and attempting to maintain one's self-esteem (self-worth theory).

The Role of Teachers in Promoting Motivation in ESL Classrooms

Motivation is a powerful tool that can be utilized by ESL teachers because they are one of the most determined factors of L2 learners' motivation. This leads to the fact that teachers should be motivated in the first place in order to be able to motivate their learners.

The teacher’s level of enthusiasm and commitment is one of the most important factors that affect the learners’ motivation to learn. (Dornyei, 2001, p. 47)

Parental Encouragement in Language Learning Motivation

According to (Dornyei 1998), motivation in language learning is affected by various external influences such as the school environment which constitutes factors such as teachers, peer-groups and instructional material. However, social and contextual factors such as immediate family and friends also have an effect on motivation.

Gardner posits that parental influence can be categorized into two forms of encouragement which is active or passive. Parents who provide the active form of encouragement can provide positive or negative parental influence toward their children's language learning experience. A negative parental attitude toward the L2 speaking community would have an impact on their children‘s attitude and would not give necessary opportunity for motivation to develop.


The main conclusion emerging from this overview is that motivation is indeed a multifaceted rather than a uniform factor and no available theory has yet managed to represent it in its total complexity. This implies that researchers need to be particularly careful when conceptualizing and assessing motivation variables, and should be well aware of the fact that the specific motivation measure or concept they are focusing on is likely to represent only a segment of a more intricate psychological construct. As Williams (1994: 84) succinctly states: 'there is no room for simplistic approaches to such complex issues as motivation'.


The writer is a former Principal, Teachers’ Training College, Cumilla