Is motivation the best answer for explaining the success or failure of second language learning?
Motivation has been recognised by teachers and researchers as “one of the key factors that influence the rate and success of second/foreign language (L2) learning” (Dörnyei, 1998, p.117). It can be said to be the key to success in learning a second language for the following reasons:
· Motivation is needed to start and continue the “long and often tedious process” of SLL and other individual factors generally ‘presuppose’ some form of motivation (Dörnyei, 1998, p.117)
· It is possible for a teacher to influence students’ motivation in a positive way whereas other determining factors such as intelligence, aptitude, and age are less susceptible to a teacher’s influence.
· Even the most able learners will not succeed without motivation, while high motivation on the other hand, can make up for deficiencies in aptitude and learning conditions (Dörnyei, 1998).
Recent research into psychological theories of action-control, expectancy-value, self-worth, goal orientation and setting, self-determination (see Dörnyei, 1998, for an overview) emphasises the complex character of motivation as a individual factor that is not static or stable, but rather a dynamic, cyclic process of continuous change with “at least three distinct phases” (Cohen and Dörnyei, 2002, p.140). This three-phase taxonomy (pre-actional, actional, and post-actional) will be used to discuss the centrality of motivation within the various stages of the SLL process.
Pre-actional phase or choice motivation
This relates to the initial motivation of why someone is learning an SL and also includes learners’ beliefs, perceptions, ‘linguistic self-confidence’ and goal direction (what they think they can achieve, or how they will cope). Attitudes towards an SL community, its people and language, may initiate, increase or inhibit integrative motivation SLL (Gardner, 1985). Instrumental motivation (i.e. to learn the language as a means to an end such as career advancement, academic research etc) may be more important in certain contexts (Lukmani, 1972, cited in USQ LIN8001 Study Book, 2008), so it is important for teachers to be aware of, and encourage, both integrative and instrumental motivations of students. Some students begin with a strong integrative or instrumental motivation, some develop this over time (revealing the importance of actional phase motivation), and some never develop either, nearly always resulting in them fossilising or dropping out of study. It is therefore important to get to know my students so that I can find ways to encourage the development of both integrative motivation (e.g. by organising language exchange conversation classes; using interesting authentic materials; presenting different aspects of the culture through music, movies, discussion topics etc. that fit with learners’ ages and interests), and instrumental motivation (e.g. pointing out opportunities for them to further their goals, working with them to break down larger goals into smaller more easily attainable goals, and incorporating learning activities that fit with their goals).
Actional phase or executive motivation
Dörnyei (2001, p.116) agrees with Keller (1983) that motivation is the "neglected heart" of our understanding of how to design instruction, with the teacher bearing primary responsibility for motivating or demotivating students. Even students with high initial motivation can lose their motivation if the actual learning process does not provide the following (using criteria from Crookes, 2003, citing Keller, 1983):
1) Interest – Crookes (2003) emphasises the importance of providing variety, stimulation, and explanatory mapping when beginning lessons and framing activities, and avoiding too-regular patterns of classroom routines, so that “learners’ curiosity is aroused and sustained” (p. 130).
2) Relevance – a “prerequisite for sustained motivation requires the learner to perceive that important personal needs are being met by the learning situation” (Crookes, 2003, p.130). These are not only instrumental needs, but also needs for “power, affiliation, and achievement” (Crookes, 2003, p.132). Although different cultures value these needs differently (see Q. 5), cooperative learning structures appear to reduce anxiety and increase self-confidence and motivation compared to competitive or individualistic structures of learning (Dörnyei, 2001). It is also important that learning occur within a relaxed and supportive atmosphere (Good and Brophy, 1994), with sufficient structure to ensure that the environment feels safe and non-threatening.
3) Expectancy – learners who think that they are likely to succeed and who attribute success or failure to their own efforts are more highly motivated (Crookes, 2003). Learner autonomy seems “to foster intrinsic goal orientation, task value, and self-efficacy, all of which are critical components of ‘continuing motivation’” (Garcia & Pintrich, 1996 p. 477). As Cooke (2003, p.130) writes, “(i)ntrinsic motivation can be closely related to expectancy, meaning that the teacher should ensure that materials and how they are used are pitched at the level of the learners so as to be sufficiently challenging without being frustrating and de-motivating.
Post-actional or motivational retrospection
This relates to how learners “evaluate how things went” (Cohen and Dörnyei, 2002, p.175), which influences their future actions and motivations in SLL. In an educational setting this self-evaluation may largely be determined by marks/grades, feedback or praise. Dörnyei (2001) suggests the importance of:
· fostering the belief that competence is a changeable aspect of development (e.g. by connecting students with students/community members who have successfully achieved similar goals; dialoguing with students regarding learning strategies)
· providing regular experiences of success to promote favourable self-conceptions of L2 competence (breaking large tasks down into more easily achieved smaller tasks; having students set and record weekly or even daily goals in their language learning journals so they have a sense of moving forward)
· promoting attributions to effort rather than to ability (“I can see that you’ve really been working to build up your vocabulary and you’ve been able to express more complex ideas as a result – well done” cf. “You’re good at writing”)
· providing motivational and specific feedback
Crookes (2003, p.133) adds that “teachers may need to discourage a concern with grades because otherwise unsolicited participation and risk taking will be low”.
In conclusion, it can be seen even from this very condensed discussion of its varied and interconnected impacts, that motivation is central to learner success at all stages of the SLL process. Teachers may appreciate the student who is intrinsically motivated to learn, but they cannot rely on all students possessing such motivation, nor that any initial enthusiasm for SLL will continue if students find the process itself boring or unrewarding. It is therefore essential for an SL teacher to recognise and nurture the diverse motivations learners bring to and develop both in and outside of the SL classroom.
Cohen, A. D., & Dörnyei, Z. (2002). Focus on the language learner: Motivation, styles, and strategies. In N. Schmitt (Ed.), An introduction to applied linguistics (pp. 170-190). London: Arnold.
Crookes, G. (2003). A practicum in TESOL: Professional development through teaching practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Dörnyei, Z. (1998). Motivation in second and foreign language learning. Language
Teaching, 31, 117–135.
Dörnyei, Z. (2001). Teaching and researching motivation. England: Pearson Education Limited.
Garcia, T., & Pintrich, P. R. (1996). The effects of autonomy on motivation and performance in the college classroom. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 21, 477-86.
Gardner, R. C. (1985). Social psychology and second language learning: The role of attitude
and motivation. London: Edward Arnold.
Good, T. L., & Brophy, J. E. (1994). Looking in classrooms (6th ed.). New York: Harper Collins.
University of Southern Queensland. (2008). LIN8001 Principles of second language learning study book. Toowoomba: USQ.