The Learner : Lesson 2
Motivation Predicts Success
Although many people believe that successful language learners have special cognitive abilities, research in second language acquisition actually tells a different story. A number of studies by R. C. Gardner and his colleagues, as well as by researchers in many parts of the world, have found that motivation is a consistently strong predictor of successful language learning. [See Masgoret and Gardner (2003) and Gardner, Tremblay, and Masgoret (1997) for reviews and analysis of this literature.]
It certainly makes sense that motivation would be associated with second language achievement since language learning requires a long-term time commitment, and motivated individuals would be more likely to devote the time required to language learning. It is also true that having a specific goal in language learning helps students focus their efforts and maintain their motivation.
Motivation predicts success.
People have many different reasons for studying a foreign language; sometimes people study a language for practical reasons while other times people have a special affinity for the particular language and its people. Language teachers are often very aware of the career advantages that language proficiency can bring, but to many language learners, studying the language is only an abstract undertaking required for an academic degree.
Since the seminal work of Gardner and Lambert in 1972, language teachers and researchers have recognized the important role that motivation plays in language learning. Gardner and Lambert are responsible for proposing the most commonly used framework for understanding the different motivations that language learners typically have. They distinguish two types of language learning motivation: instrumental motivation and integrative motivation.
Learners with an instrumental motivation want to learn a language because of a practical reason such as getting a salary bonus or getting into college. Many college language learners have a clear instrumental motivation for language learning: They want to fulfill a college language requirement! Integratively motivated learners want to learn the language so that they can better understand and get to know the people who speak that language. In the North American context, integrative motivation has proven to be a strong impetus to successful language learning.
The new language teachers in this video clip discuss their own and their students’ instrumental motivations for language learning. The motivations described here range from using the language to study philosophy to imagining a career in beer production. In addition to having different reasons for language learning, some of the learners described here are more strongly motivated than others.
Think of the instrumental reasons your students might have for studying your target language.
Responses to the question: “What motivated you to learn a second language?”
Some learners have a personal affinity for the people who speak a particular language. This is the second type of language learning motivation described by Gardner and Lambert and is called integrative motivation.
Learners who are integratively motivated want to learn the language because they want to get to know the people who speak that language. They are also interested in the culture associated with that language. Integratively motivated learners may have significant others such as a boyfriend or girlfriend or family members who speak the language, and heritage language learners typically have a particularly strong integrative motivation for language learning. Several studies have found that language learners who are integratively motivated are more successful than those who are instrumentally motivated; it is likely that integratively motivated language learners are more successful because their motivation is stronger than that of instrumentally motivated students especially in North America.
The beginning teachers in this video offer various examples of integrative motivations for language learning. The teacher at the end of the clip notes how her motivation increased when her family moved to the U.S.
Think about your own motivation(s) for language learning. Was your motivation primarily integrative or instrumental?
Responses to the question: “What motivated you?”
As noted previously, student motivation does not remain perfectly constant over time. Students tend to retain their motivation when the class content matches their goals and they have positive feelings about the target language and its speakers.
Discussion of why students lose motivation.
Student motivation tends to be stronger when the learner has specific rather than general goals for language learning. It can be very helpful when teachers help learners develop more specific goals for language learning. Many language learners start language study with a desire to use the particular foreign language, but by the time they have studied the language for a few semesters, they have lost their original motivations and become concerned only with their grades.
Attitudes Toward a Language Affect Motivation
Motivation for language learning can be lessened when students have negative attitudes or prejudices toward the target language and/or the people who speak that language. Students may have positive feelings about learning Spanish but negative feelings about learning varieties of Spanish that are spoken within the United States. A student might want to learn Castilian Spanish but not what they refer to as “Spanglish” or “TexMex.” It is unrealistic to think that prejudices towards specific languages or groups that exist outside of the classroom will not enter the classroom.
It is usually helpful to touch base with your students from time to time to be sure that they don’t lose track of their reasons for learning the language while immersed in the day to day details of a language class.
[Module Instructor Dr. Elaine Horwitz]. 2010. [Language Learner]. In Foreign Language Teaching Methods. Carl Blyth, Editor. Texas Language Technology Center, University of Texas at Austin. http://coerll.utexas.edu
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