Motivation in Second Language Acquisition (SLA)

Motivation is always preceded by a goal.  For example the baseball player’s goal is to have a place in the hall of fame.  The overweight individual’s goal is to lose weight. The student’s goal is to get a good grade.  Those are some of many reasons that people decide to motivate themselves.  What happens when a person needs to learn a second language?

Let’s first understand the term in its general sense. Motivation can be explained as the degree to which an individual strives to do something because the person desires to and because of the pleasure and fulfillment derived from the activity.  There has been considerable research conducted on the topic of attitudes and motivation in L2 (2nd language) learning. It stands to reason, and research has corroborated, that motivation is one of the essential learner’s characteristics that determine the rate and success of L2 learning. 

Gardner’s socio-educational model indicates that motivation is divided into two basic types: integrative and instrumental. Integrative motivation is characterized by the learner's positive attitudes towards the target language group and the desire to integrate into the target language community. Meanwhile instrumental motivation underlies the goal to gain some social or economic reward through L2 achievement, as a result referring to a more functional reason for language learning.

Gardner’s model looks specifically at SLA in a structured classroom.  The model relates to four features of SLA.  These are (1) socio-cultural environment (2) individual learner differences, the setting or context in which learning takes place and linguistic outcomes (Gardner 1982).  

The socio-cultural environment is when an individual is situated in a monocultured place where there is no need to assimilate another language.  The individual must adapt and learn the language. 

There are four individual differences that are important for a person who is trying to acquire a second language.  These could be the capacity, capability, the motivation or level of anxiety, to learn a new language.    The setting or context can be identified in two, the formal instruction and the more natural setting.  The formal setting is the intelligence and capacity to learn, while exhorting a weaker influence in the informal or natural setting. 

Linguistics outcomes refer to the actual language knowledge and language skills, which include proficiency tests and course grades.  Gardner also adds “Individuals who are truly motivated not only strive to learn the material but also seek out situations where they can obtain further practice”. 

Masgoret (2003) stated that “learning a second language requires the adoption of word sounds, pronunciations, word orders, and other behavioral and cognitive features that are part of another culture. Individuals who want to identify with the other language groups will be more motivated to learn the language than individuals who do not”.  This is why immigrants who arrive in a country against their will because of war or political problems often do not show the same rate of language acquisition as their fellow countrymen who voluntarily left their homeland. However, even in negative situations like incarceration abroad, if the desire to integrate with the surrounding people is strong enough, language acquisition will occur.

Dornyei (2002a, p. 8) identifies motivation as “why people decide to do something, how long they are willing to sustain the activity and how hard they are going to pursue it”.  Crookes, Schmidt, Gardner and Tremblay explored four other motivational orientations which are, (1) reason for learning, which could be integrative or instrumental, (2) desire to attain the learning goal, meaning the drive the individual has to learn a second language, (3) positive attitude toward learning situations, the word attitude is the key to learning a second language, (4) effort behavior is the performance in which an individual acts towards the SLA.

Oxford and Shearin (1994) identified six factors that impact motivation in language learning: (1) attitudes, i.e., sentiments toward the learning community and the TL (target language); (2) beliefs about self, i.e., expectations about one’s attitudes to succeed, self-efficacy, and anxiety; (3) goals, i.e., perceived clarity and relevance of learning goals as reasons for learning; (4) involvement, i.e., extent to which the learner actively and consciously participates in the language learning process; (5) environmental support, i.e., extent of teacher and peer support, and the integration of cultural and outside-of-class support into learning experience; and (6) personal attributes, i.e., aptitude, age, sex, and previous language learning experience.

To finalize the subject here are some sujestions I would like to share. (1)In order to make the language learning process a more motivating experience, instructors need to put a great deal of thought into developing classes which maintain student interest.  (2)As much as possible relate assignments and class projects to real life situations.  (3)There are many school books that speak about one’s culture that assimilate to actual circumstances.  (4)Encouraging students to become more active participants in a lesson can sometimes assist them to see a purpose for improving their communication skills in the target language. (5)Successful communication using the target language should result in students feeling some sense of accomplishment.  (6)Lowering the anxiety in the students by laughter is a good strategic move from the facilitator.  (7)Praising the student mainly in the elementary level is very important in motivating and accomplishments in the task.  (8)Having students create their own knowledge is very important, s/he will think about the environment and culture in which the individual lives and will make the learning fun and pertinent in the motivation towards a second language.  

Essay by Ivonne R. English Teacher, BA in Language Arts. 


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