Different kinds of motivation

The importance of different kinds of motivation in SL learning

The presence of different types of motivation can be really helpful for the language learner to achieve the best possible results in the learning process. Indeed, it is difficult to think of any kind of learning without motivation. Although too high levels of enthusiasm may backfire (and cause anxiety), it is inevitable to possess a healthy level of motivation in order to achieve results. Although students’ motivation is obviously not entirely under the teacher’s control, the instructor should do whatever is possible to increase this factor.

It is commonly acknowledged that motivation can positively influence language learning. People are heavily dominated by their emotions, even in such seemingly dispassionate issues as language learning is. No wonder that “student feelings have as much power to affect their learning success as their styles and strategies” (Ehrman, 1996, p.135.). According to the definition of Ehrman (1996), motivation is “the perceived ‘payoff’ for the student’s investment of time, energy, and effort.”(p.137.). Apparently, if this “payoff” is low, the student will either stop learning the language for good or, if they do not have an option, they will be caught in a web of bad feelings and even worse grades. Then, the failures will only generate further disappointment. On the other hand, a student who finds at least one legitimate reason for continuing their language study is already on the right track.

Anyone who has attempted language study is able to think of a number of such “reasons.” Yet, the scientific study of motivation is extremely challenging, since all the factors influencing motivation are interrelated and continually changing. They cannot very well be categorized according to the degree of their power. Therefore, motivation for learning a foreign language has usually been classified according to its possible sources.

A common way of categorization is to distinguish extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. According to definition (and closely connected with its name) intrinsic motivation is “thought of as being within the task itself: a sense of achievement, self-esteem, pride in solving the problem, enjoyment of the class, being able to use the language as desired.” (Johnson & Johnson, 1998, p.220.) Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is connected with “other consequences of success on the task” (Johnson & Johnson, p.220.), such as promotion at one’s workplace, good grades, and so on.

Read also  Discourse of Language in Our Lives

Another model of classification is that of Robert Gardner’s (as cited in Ehrman, 1996). He divided motivation into instrumental and integrative types. The first may be equated to extrinsic motivation, while the other is more interesting; it “has to do with the desire to become part of a target language community.” (Ehrman, 1996) As the research of motivation in language learning progressed, many other theories have been drawn up, using similar and new motivating elements as well.

An especially intricate model of motivation has been created by Zoltán Dörnyei. It is called the L2 Motivational Self System and “it consists of three main components: ideal L2 self, ought-to L2 self and the L2 learning experience.” (as cited in Csizér & Kormos, 2009, p.99.). The ideal L2 self is an image of how students would like to see themselves, in this case, as fluent speakers of a given language. This component includes Gardner’s integrative motivation as well. The ought-to L2 self includes the characteristics of an ideal person who is able to evade failure in language study. The notion of L2 learning experience is quite easy to grasp, it basically means the motivating force of the learning settings. An experiment that Csizér and Kormos (2009) conducted with the participation of secondary school and university students in Budapest gave the results that the main factors influencing language learning were the ideal L2 self and the learning experiences, while “the role of the ought-to L2 self seemed marginal” (Csizér & Kormos, p.109.). Although this study is bound to be somewhat narrow to draw too general conclusions from, it clearly demonstrates an important idea: the learning environment has a great influence on student motivation.

Read also  Monolingual and bilingual childre

As is shown by the experiment of Csizér and Kormos (2009), some motivation types have an implication for language instruction, because they may be influenced by teaching strategy. However, there are several problems with enhancing motivation. In the first place, as it has been mentioned before, it is not an easy task to study motivation: motivation types are notoriously difficult to isolate and motivation is problematical to measure. Moreover, “the relationship of theory and research to classroom situation” (Johnson & Johnson, 1998, p.223.) is also questionable, that is, the theories are often difficult to prove and apply in real life situations. What is more, although motivation is generally considered to be necessary, teachers might not be able to devote enough attention to it, because of the large size of the learning group or other unfavourable circumstances. Finally, there are cases when motivation simply cannot be influenced from the outside, as in the case of integrative motivation of a person who pointedly dislikes a culture associated with a language or feels aversions to the language itself.

In spite of all these complications, “there has been a consistent move towards motivation-enhancing learning activities” (Johnson & Johnson, 1998, p.224.). The ways Ehrman (1996) suggests to deal with lack of motivation are the following: most importantly she advises “listening to the anger, tension, and mixed motivations” (p.142) of the unenthusiastic students and helping them cope with their destructive emotions using, for example, “relaxation exercises”(p.143). Another idea of Ehrman (1996) is to motivate students with activities that are in accordance with their interests and pastimes. These strategies sound very practical and sensible, however, they have considerable limitations taking into account the varied composition of the class and the fact that the teacher is not a psychologist. There are other, more theoretical means that are thought to boost motivation as well. According to Stevick (as cited in Johnson & Johnson, 1998) “relevance” of material to the students’ language requirements, “completeness” of the syllabus, “authenticity” of the information provided, “satisfaction” of students beyond learning and “immediacy” of the knowledge gained are “five types of reward that could be built into materials and would encourage students to persevere and succeed.” (Johnson & Johnson, 1996, p.224.). Some of Stevick’s ideas, namely that of relevance, authenticity and immediacy have already been adopted (the first two by the Language for Specific Purposes movement and the last one in Notional Functional Syllabuses), while completeness and satisfaction are more debated (Johnson & Johnson, p.224.)

Read also  Literature review on learning styles

In summary, motivation is a slippery notion that can be neither measured properly, nor examined very precisely, as it changes from community to community, from person to person, and may even change in the learning history of a single student. Still, there are ways to study motivation and as it is admittedly an important factor of language learning, research and practice, hand in hand, should try to find ways to make it as high as possible.


Csizér, K., & Kormos, J. (2009). Learning Experiences, Selves and Motivated Learning Behaviour: A Comparative Analysis of Structural Models for Hungarian Secondary and University Learners of English. In Z. Dörnyei & E. Ushioda (Eds.), Motivation, Language Identity and the L2 Self (pp. 98-119). Bristol, England: Multilingual Matters.

Ehrman, M. E. (1996). Understanding Second Language Learning Difficulties. London: SAGE.

Johnson, K., & Johnson H. (Eds.). (1998). Motivation. In Encyclopedic Dictionary of Applied Linguistics. (pp. 219-225). Oxford, England: Blackwell.

Order Now

Order Now

Type of Paper
Number of Pages
(275 words)