Motivation and Language Acquisition

  The result of globalization has heightened the need to learn additional language(s) and has resulted in an increasing number of foreign language programs launching in public and private schools around the world. As we witness more students acquiring a second or a third language, we might want to better understand the relationship between motivation and language learning. What motivates our learners to learn additional language(s)? Let’s check out what we have found in our survey ( after collecting the results from 20 respondents, and explore more into the topic of motivation and language acquisition. What is Motivation? Why is Motivation Important? Motivation drives action. In the field of SLA (Second Language Acquisition), it refers to “The desire to initiate second language (L2) learning and the effort employed to sustain it” (Ortega, 2009, p. 178). Since learning is influenced by various factors, the effect of motivation on learning and achievement is rather indirect.  As is demonstrated in the chart below, motivation could arouse certain learning behaviors that affect learning outcomes and achievements. Teachers or parents often impact learning outcomes by monitoring students’ learning behaviors, setting classroom routines to increasing students’ engagement, requiring students to finish homework on time, etc. However, parents, teachers, or peers can also amplify or reduce the effect of motivation, thus influencing the outcome(s) of learning. What We Found in Our Survey
  • Motivation is key to language acquisition
We collected responses from people around the world, including teachers, administrators, and language learners. In response to the question of motivation in language acquisition, all of our respondents believe that motivation is important in language learning. Some believe that motivation is more important to adults than to young learners.
  • Personal interest motivates learning
Motivation to learn another language varies from person to person. As you can see in the chart below, personal interests and understanding another culture are why most respondents desire to learn another language. In other words, people learn another language for personal reasons and purposes. On the other hand, our data shows 82% of language instructors, parents, and school administrators want their students/children to be globally prepared and gain 21st century skills. Under the background of globalization, learning a second language and/or multiple languages help learners gain access to another culture and “a passport to the world,” as described from one of our respondents.
  • Learning another language: the earlier, the better?
Another interesting issue is age and language acquisition. In response to the question “when is the best time to start learning another language”, 47% of our respondents chose “Pre-K” and 35% chose “There is no best time”. It seems that age does matter in language acquisition. You can start learning another language whenever you like, but your performance might differ depending on your age. According to ACTFL Performance Descriptors for Language Learners, if you start learning another language in kindergarten, in cases where the language learning is consistent, there is a potential to reach advanced levels in the target language. However, if learning begins in ninth or tenth grade,  the average learner may be limited to reaching a novice high level in the target language. On the other hand, there are also controversies in the field of SLA regarding the Critical Period Hypothesis, and more research is needed to verify the connection between age and language acquisition.
  • Context for practice is crucial to develop native-like proficiency
According to the language acquisition survey conducted, a common challenge for language learning is insufficient "context for practice". Most of our respondents are language teachers with more than three years of experiences, and they believe that “context for practice” is crucial in the development of native-like proficiency. In addition, length of exposure and effective instruction are also important factors in developing native-like proficiency of the target language. As teachers, how do we motivate our students? Some respondents reported that it was difficult to remain motivated outside the language classroom and learn independently. As language instructors, how do we motivate our students? The following are some useful tips from our respondents.
"I motivate my students to learn through a variety of ways to keep their interests peaked. The best way i have found so far is through stories. Children, teens and even adults love to listen to stories so that's where I start. Later, they will be able to slowly tell their own stories and eventually become fluent in the language. Music/songs is also very important. Chanting/poetry gives the listener also a chance to absorb the language. Drawing/artworks are also an important element to bring into any language learning. I think we look at language learning too logically and not enough artistically. Eg. we break down sentences, we analyze, we study grammar etc... But in general, language is an art ~ to be listened to , appreciated , and to be shared in a beautiful way without grading the experience with a percentage. which actually "degrades" the experience (haha). So, language acquisition for me is best done through the arts." - Survey Respondent
Apart from what we have reported above, how do you keep yourself motivated while learning another language? How do you motivate your students? Do you find the results of our survey interesting? Tell us more by leaving a comment!   Reference Ortega, L. (2009). Understanding Second Language Acquisition. London: Hodder Education.  


Write a comment

Comments are moderated