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Motivation n Second Language Learning

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 2578 words Published: 27th Jun 2017

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It is natural that students achieve differently in the same class, learning from the same teacher. How students learn and why they achieve differently has been a field of interest among many scholars, especially in the field of second language (L2) learning. Many studies have been conducted about the different factors that affect learner variables, both cognitively and affectively. On a general basis, there are mainly three factors that contribute to the individual differences in L2 learning experience: learning styles, learning strategies and affective variables; Motivation being one of the most important issues in affective variables. (Ehrman et all, 2003) According to Wigfield (1994), motivation is based on how much the individual expect to succeed and their value of their success. Gardner defined motivation as the combination of effort plus desire to achieve the goal (learning the language) and favorable attitudes towards it. (Gardner, 1985) Although the theories and researches concerned on motivation have never been free from criticism, it is generally agreed that motivation have great impacts and influences on individual learners. Based on the classification of different types of motivation, this essay aims to explore how it affects a student’s learning experience, particularly in L2 learning. This essay also provides some suggestions on teaching which might provide help to the formation of a positive motivation.

The different types of motivation

Theories and models of motivation began to appear in the 1950’s, when Gardner and Lambert proposed the Socio-Educational model of language learning, which contained two types of motivation: integrative and instrumental. (Gardner & Lambert, 1959). Such model laid the ground work for further research, being developed by following scholars. Deci and Ryan (1985) distinguished between intrinsic and extrinsic motivations; the motivation inside and outside the individual. And based on Skehan’s (1989) four hypothesis, Ellis (1994) categorized four types of motivation: integrative motivation, instrumental motivation, resultative motivation and motivation as intrinsic interest. (Ellis, 1994)

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While Lambert described integrative orientation as ‘a sincere and personal interest in the people and culture represented by the other language group’, (Lambert, 1974) Ellis (1994) emphasized that ‘orientation’ and ‘motivation’ are two concepts which need to be considered separately. While ‘Orientation’ refers to the underlying reasons for studying an L2, i.e. the effort plus desire; ‘motivation’ is the directed effort that learners make. (Ellis, 1994) In other words, integrative motivation is the desire for students to want to become part of a speech community, an important aspect of which is using the target language for social interaction. Immigrants are usually examples of people with high integrative motivations. Integrative motivation is normally considered oppose to instrumental motivation, and often believed to be more powerful in its effects than the latter. Gardner and Lambert studied English speakers learning French in Quebec and argued that integrative motivation led to greater success in L2 learning. (Gardner and Lambert, 1959)

Instrumental motivation developed from Skehan’s (1989) ‘The Carrot and Stick Hypothesis’, which originally implies ‘external influences and incentives’. (Ellis, 1994) Different from integrative motivation, which appears to be less achievable and requires longer time as well as effort; instrumental motivation is more centered on concrete goals such as a job, diploma, or the ability to read academic articles. This form of motivation is thought to be less likely to lead to overall success than integrative motivation, as the ultimate goal is more feasible. Rewards could also be seen as an instrumental motivation, which could aid the learning process to some extent. Gardner and MacIntyre (1991) reported a study for a vocabulary task in which the group of students who were offered awards did significantly better than the comparable group, although the positive effects decreased as soon as the reward stops. Generally, the effects of instrumental motivation tend to maintain for a shorter time period. Unless the individual pushes himself further by setting up new goals, the effect ends as soon as the goal is achieved. Despite the differences in integrative and instrumental motivation, some (Muchnick & Wolfe, 1982) argued that it is impossible to separate the two in certain occasions, when students have strong motivations for both. (cited from Ellis, 1994)

Resultative motivation is concerned with the relationship between motivation and achievement, which Ellis (1994) identified as interactive. Learner’s motivation is strongly affected by their achievement. Students who perform well in classrooms are more likely to gain confidence and to be more willing to participate. However, Gardner, Smythe and Clement (1979); suggested that ‘while greater motivation and attitudes lead to better learning, the converse is not true’ (Cited from Ellis, 1994). But ‘the vicious circle of low motivation = low achievement = lower motivation’ could always develop. (Ellis, 1994) Interest is a powerful psychology tool in receiving attention from students and urging them to make efforts. There are various ways that teachers could help students to develop their intrinsic interest motivation, such as welcoming students with a big smile, or introducing new activities into the classroom.

The effects of motivation

From the psychological perspective, motivation could also be categorized as positive and negative motivation. Positive motivation means an optimism and upbeat response towards the tasks being assigned to. Negative motivation implies unwillingness and is often companied with anxiety. Nearly all students will experience both positive and negative motivation in some level of their studies; therefore, it is important for them to understand that both positive and negative motivations could be helpful or harmful.

  • Positive motivation

It is generally believed that positive motivation leads to better results in the learning process. Students who enjoy learning a L2 or have a clear aim tend to work harder that those who have no interest. However, one of the limitations of the studies in motivation is that the main tool is normally questionnaires, which has questionably validity. There is always the possibility that students would write down what the teacher hopes them to, or what makes them look good, even if the questionnaire is confidential. Also, motivation is different from the actual effort that people make. A student could be ‘highly-motivated’ judging from his questionnaire but might not have made any efforts in his studies. (Ellis, 1994) In terms of the learning process, motivation itself is not enough. It is just an urge which pushes the student work harder, which means nothing if not taken action. Adoring the teacher and enjoying the class does not necessarily imply that the student understood what he should have learned. Also, motivation is quite changeable; making it difficult to measure which against time and persistence. Besides, a positive attitude might lead students to be overly relaxed or improperly prepared and perform worse than they could have. There is a thin line between confident and arrogance.

  • Negative motivation

Negative motivation is normally associated with anxiety, unsatisfactory performance and low achievement. But it might not necessarily be like that for every one. Oller and Perkins suggested that negative motivation might be more powerful to some learners in motivating them to excel, which they referred to as “Machiavellian Motivation”. (Oller & Perkins, 1978) I recall a similar situation from my own learning experience. When I was studying English in primary school, one of the strongest motivations that drove me to work harder was a Korean girl who used to make fun of me. I had the urge to show her that I was capable of learning the language. Although Machiavellian Motivation did not always work that way. I did not like my French teacher when I was studying French as a L2 in my university. But I was never intrigued by the idea of working hard and proving to her that I could manage to learn the language properly. Instead, I got trapped between Ellis’s ‘vicious circle of low motivation = low achievement = lower motivation’. (Ellis, 1994) Supposable Machiavellian Motivation is more likely to domain when the “imaginary opponent” is of the similar level. When the “opponent” is far more advanced than the learner himself, the idea to “conquer” would not easily arise, although there could always be exceptions.

The formation of a positive motivation

Although negative motivation may lead to positive results in the learning process, Machiavellian Motivation is quite risky which might not be suitable for all learners as well. It is generally more simple and beneficial to form a positive attitude when learning an L2. As Pintrich and Schunk (1996) indicated, motivation depends greatly on context, the people involved and specific circumstances. (cited from Ehrman et all, 2003) Motivation is never a fixed dimension; teachers could always help students to form positive motivations.

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Not all L2 learners have the opportunity to be integrated in a country where the target language is used as L1. However, there are other methods which teachers could use to help students form integrative motivation, such as introducing the culture, using authentic reading material, or asking students to watch foreign movies in the target language. One of the methods that my English teacher used when I was in primary school was asking us to write letters to our American pen pals. We were all deeply engaged in the activity and highly motivated by the desire to communicate with our friends on the other side of the world.

Teachers could help their students to form instrumental motivation by setting up clear goals and aims. There could be little steps for beginners, and gradually help students to form the habit of setting up goals for themselves. Realistic and feasible short term goals are very helpful to students in finding their weakness and knowing where they want to be. Teachers could also encourage students to set up long term goals and set up study journals to record their progress.

Motivation is always closely linked with performance. To avoid the ‘vicious circle of low motivation = low achievement = lower motivation’, (Ellis, 1994) it is necessary to form a positive motivation towards all learning process. In helping students to form a positive resultative motivation, teachers should always consider the difficult of tasks. Students could easily be depressed by their work and put in less effort or all effort when they have decided that it is too difficult for them. The instructions should also be clear so that they would understand what they are expected to do. The tasks should be deigned to suit the demand of the majority of the class, within their cognitive ability and slightly out of their reach so that they would make an effort to accomplish it. Also, how to give feedback and what type of feedback should be given to students is another important issue. An assignment all in red marks would easily discourage anyone. What the teachers could do, particularly for writing class is to have one focus each week such as “future tense” or “pronouns” and only look for mistakes in the specified area. The errors could be marked by letters or underlined and ask the students to correct them by himself. Teachers need to understand that errors are inevitable in the learning process and actually a sign that ‘learning is taking place’. (Broughton et all, 1980) In SLA theories, error analysis (EA) is a technique which aims to describe and explain the systematic nature of errors generated in the learner’s language which was established in the 1970’s by Stephen Pit Corder. (Corder, 1967) The errors that people make reveal patterns of L2 language development and the differences between L1 and L2 acquisition. Errors provide valuable feedback to both teachers and learners regarding learner strategies and the learning progress; help the teachers to understand the student’s level and reflect on their own teaching methodology. They also indicate whether the students are ready to further their studies. Moreover, errors provide insights into the nature of SLA process.

As mentioned before, interest is a powerful tool in L2 learning. To start with, teachers should always try to create a comfortable atmosphere within the classroom. A teacher with a good personality, someone who is adored by the students could make the class much more enjoyable. To boost students’ interest, teachers could always being new activities into the classroom. Task based learning combined with stories and games would easily attract young learners. For more advanced learners, teachers could occasionally bring culture and drama into the classroom for a change. Also, according to a study by Bachman (1964), students are more motivated when are involved in decision-making, which lead to overall productivity. (Cited from Ellis, 1994) As indicated, students will show more interest in their studies when they feel that they have made decisions. Consequently, teachers could ask for the students’ opinions to decide on a particular subject for their assignments. Group work also has significant values in increasing students’ interests, providing with the students an opportunity to interact with each other and share their opinions. Small group tasks are particularly motivating as the students know that their peers are working towards the same project. (Dörnyei, 2001) By working cooperatively, students will be urged to perform better, being a representative of their own group.


As how motivation works and the effects of motivation differ among each individual, also being influenced by many variables, the studies regarding motivation have never been free from criticism, including its classification. However, the impact and value of motivation is generally impossible to ignore. Although both positive and negative motivation could lead to higher achievement in L2 learning, students should be encouraged to form positive motivations as it is more likely to encourage success than “Machiavellian Motivation”. (Oller & Perkins, 1978) Motivation is not an unchangeable domain; teachers could help students form motivation in all of the four categorizes identified by Ellis: integrative motivation, instrumental motivation, resultative motivation and motivation as intrinsic interest. (Ellis, 1994) Also, it is important for students to learn to control their motivation and use it in an active way; to maintain longer motivation for greater success.

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