The aim of the present article is to find
out the significance of motivation as a contributing factor in second language
acquisition. This article offers a general overview of available research
literature, followed by some pedagogical implications to improve and develop
motivation. Learning of foreign languages is a long and complicated process.
There is no question that learning a foreign language is different from
learning any other subject. This is mainly because of the social nature of such
a venture. Language, after all, belongs to a person’s whole social being: it is
part of one’s identity, and is used to convey this identity to other people.
The learning of a foreign language involves far more than simply learning
skills, or a system if rules, or a grammar; it involves an alteration in
self-image, the adoption of new social and cultural behaviors and ways of
being, and therefore has a significant impact on the social nature of the
learner.(Williams, 1994: 77).
Speaking about the interaction of motivation
and successful foreign language acquisition first of all we should define the
main terms. What acquisition means, and how it differs from simple learning.
There is a hypothesis, which states that we have two different and independent
ways of developing ability in second language. We can acquire and we can learn.
Stephen D. Krashen defines ‘acquisition’ as the process children use to acquire
first language. This process is subconscious; we are usually not aware that we
are acquiring while we are acquiring. We have the impression that we are doing
something else, such as having an interesting conversation or reading an
interesting book. We are also not always aware that we have acquired something;
the knowledge itself is subconscious. ‘Learning’ is defined as conscious or
explicit knowledge about language. Learning is developed, it is thought, by
explicit or formal instruction, and is thought to be aided by the practice of
error correction. Error correction, supposedly, helps the learner come to the
correct mental representation of a rule. In everyday language, acquisition is
“picking up” a language, while learning is “grammar,” or “rules.”
Now we should find out the importance of
motivational factors for successful second language acquisition. But what is
“motivation”? This word derived from a Latin word meaning “to move”. In common
usage motivation refers to a driving force that moves us to a particular action.
Motivation can affect the nature of an organism’s behavior, the strength of its
behavior, and the persistence of its behavior.
Motivation cannot be separated from reinforcement
and punishment; we are motivated to perform a behavior to gain (or to avoid
losing) a reinforce or to avoid (or escape from) a punisher. Some reinforces
and punishers are obvious, such as food or pain; others are subtle, such as
smiles or frowns.
It is the general psychological definition
of motivation, but what is its role in particular process – language
In the classroom context, motivation can be
seen as a continuous interaction process between the learner and the environment.
It can be conceptualized either as an impulse arising from the organism or as
an attraction arising from an object outside the individual (Nuttin, 1985,
p.15). Anthony Papalia in his “Research Report on Motivating the
Language Learner” gave such definitions of motivation:
- the willingness to persevere
in a learning task;
- the drive or impulse that
causes one to act in a certain manner;
- the process of providing with
a motive or motives;
- the force or incentive within
a person that stimulates him/her to have an active interest;
- the inner drive, impulse,
intention that causes a person to do something or act in a certain way.
Gardner defined motivation as the
learner's orientation with regard to the goal of learning a second language.
Motivation is divided into two basic types: integrative and instrumental.
Integrative motivation is characterized by the learner's positive attitudes
towards the target language group and the desire to integrate into the target
language community. Instrumental motivation underlies the goal to gain some
social or economic reward through L2 achievement, thus referring to a more
functional reason for language learning. Both forms of motivation are examined
in light of research which has been undertaken to establish the correlation
between the form of motivation and successful second language acquisition.
Motivation does not only affect the selection
and conceptualization of a specific goal in the beginning of an activity. Its
main role is in controlling and directing an activity. In directing and
coordinating various operations towards an object or goal, motivation
transforms a number of separate reactions into significant action. Learners
build object-directed means-end structures, such as tasks, plans, projects,
intentions, and interests. (Klausmeier, 1979; Nuttin, 1976).
There is a large body of research focused
on different motivation theories. We can innumerate such theories as
Behavioral, Cognitive, Cognitive Developmental, Achievement Motivation,
Psychoanalytic, Humanistic, Social Cognition and Transpersonal/ Spiritual.
We want to mention one theory.
It is Self-Determination Theory (Deci & Ryan, 1985) that is based on the
relationship between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation and the basic human
need for autonomy. It proposes that a person must be able to initiate and
regulate, through personal choice, the effort expended to complete a task in
order for the task to be intrinsically rewarding. Intrinsic motivation is the
performance of a task for its own sake. It values rewards gained through the
process of task completion, regardless of any external rewards. Extrinsic motivation
is the pursuit of some reward external to the completion of the task, such as
good grades. It is believed to undermine intrinsic motivation; individuals will
often lose their intrinsic interest in a task if the task is seen as a means to
In this paper we try to observe what motivational
factors influence foreign language acquisition. Because of the prominent social
dimension of second language acquisition, the study of the broad sociocultural
context (macrocontext) of L2 learning has been an important research direction
for over two decades, and some of this research has direct motivational
relevance. However, far less attention has been paid to analyzing the microcontext
of L2 learning – the classroom milieu and the school environment. But speaking
about intrinsic motivation we can not ignore such factor as self-esteem,
because it is probably the most pervasive aspect of any human behavior. It
could easily be claimed that no successful cognitive or affective activity can
be carried out without some degree of self-esteem, self confidence, knowledge
of yourself, and belief in your own capabilities for that activity. Malinowski
(1923) noted that “all human beings have a need for phatic communion – defining
oneself and finding acceptance in expressing that self in relation to valued
If we want to overview self-esteem in the
social, communicative domain we should say, that every individual, especially
young person, builds sets of defenses to protect the ego. When a student begins
to learn a foreign language, he/she should overcome many obstacles. For example
first-year students of the institutes and colleges – they usually have different
level of knowledge of the language because they studied at different schools
with different marks or never learned English. So some students automatically
become “good”, they are in the top of the class. It makes it quite problematic
for the rest of the group to have achievements. And usually they get accustomed
to be the less able ones. But as it is known, performance in many kinds of
tasks is affected by the extent to which a person desires to do well. This
source of influence has been systematically investigated in research that began
with some studies undertaken by a psychologist named David McClelland, who
investigated achievement motivation (McClelland; 1978). He introduced that term
to refer to the desire to perform well and reach high standards.
While teachers and school systems have
drawn on both of the first two sources of motivation, the third source is
perhaps under-exploited in language teaching. This is the simple fact of
success, and the effect that this has on our view of what we do. As human
beings, we generally like what we do well, and are therefore more likely to do
it again, and put in more effort... In the classroom, this can mean that
students who develop an image of themselves as ‘no good at English’ will simply
avoid situations which tell them what they already know – that they
aren’t any good at English. Feelings of failure, particularly early on in
a student’s school career, can therefore lead to a downward spiral of a self-
perception of low ability – low motivation – low effort – low achievement
– low motivation – low achievement, and so on.
Up to the point it is true to say that everyone
wants to do well and strives to achieve. Yet people vary in the extent to which
this is so. Measures of people’s differing achievement motivation provide
useful predictions of future success, even when their intelligence levels are
Sometimes students are afraid to speak in
front of the class, or just to pronounce foreign words, because they do not
want to be laughed at.
Murray and his colleagues were attempting to catalog
the sources of human motivation, including those arising in social situations
in which a person would be evaluated by other people. Murray
believed that all people had social needs but that their levels varied from
individual to individual. In addition, events occurring in the environment
could interact with these needs. For example, if a person with a reasonable
high level of need for recognition saw someone else receive an honor or an
award, the observer’s motivation to receive some sort of recognition would be
increased. Or in a less competitive example, a person with a reasonable high
level of need for nurturance would become motivated upon seeing someone who
obviously needed care and attention.
It is very hard to motivate students with different
social needs and learning possibilities. The teacher should take into consideration
that every student is an individual – i.e. bear in mind his/her abilities and
The problem of considering individual abilities and
bridging the gap between the so-called “strong” and “week” students may be
solved if the teacher is able to combine and use in proper way individual work,
pair and group forms of the class work. For this purpose special means – organizational
methods – should be used to teach the whole class and, at the same time, to
create the best conditions for every student. For example, the teacher may help
in “critical points” of a lesson, paying special attention to the level of the
students’ skills (the whole class spelling phonetic drills in chorus, and then
the teacher works individually with the group of students with low skills of
perception and imitation).
Also very useful are different hand-outs, individual
home-tasks, additional material for so-called “strong’ students and another material
for “weak” ones. To make the lesson really interesting and to motivate every student
taking in consideration his or her individuality, the teacher should foresee
everything and carefully plan the lesson. And, otherwise, the teacher should
create a friendly atmosphere in the class because one of demotivating factors
is bad relationships between a teacher and a student. In the list of main demotivating
factors identified by Dornyei (1998) the teacher (personality, commitment,
competence, teaching method) is on the first place. In order to make the
language learning process a more motivating experience instructors need to put
a great deal of thought into developing programs which maintain student
interest and have obtainable short term goals.
The teacher should raise both integrative and
instrumental motivation. But the author of this paper considers that the
students of our country have very low integrative motivation. A very small
number of Kazakhstani students learn English because they like the people that
speak the language, admire the culture and have a desire to become familiar with
or even integrate into the society in which the language is used. Though this
form of motivation is constantly linked to successful foreign language
acquisition, opportunities to use the English language in daily verbal exchange
in our country are relatively restricted. There is also limited potential for
integrating into the target language community. More often our students are
moved by the instrumental motivation, i.e. want to obtain something practical
or concrete from the study of a second language. With instrumental motivation
the purpose of language acquisition is more utilitarian, such as meeting the
requirements for school or university graduation, applying for a job,
requesting higher pay based on language ability, reading technical material,
translation work or achieving higher social status. Instrumental motivation is
often characteristic of second language acquisition, where little or no social
integration of the learner into a community using the target language takes
place, or in some instances is even desired. The peculiarity of Kazakhstan students is that they learn English as a foreign
language, in comparison with people living in an English-speaking
community/country and learning English as their second language. "The
learner of the second language is surrounded by stimulation, both visual and
auditory, in the target language and thus has many motivational and
instructional advantages" (Oxford & Shearin, 1994). As for those who are not living in an English-speaking
community/country, they are learning English as a foreignlanguage.
"Foreign language learners are surrounded by their own native language and
have to go out of their way to find stimulation and input in the target
language. These students typically receive input in the new language only in
the classroom and by artificial means, no matter how talented the teacher is"
(Oxford & Shearin, 1994). So the teacher should help students find
integrative motivation. At university level, this may include, as suggested by
Berwick et al. (1989), any number of foreign exchange programs with other
universities, overseas "homestay" programs, or any other activities
which may help to motivate students to improve their target language proficiency.
Many of the students do poorly on assignments because they do not understand
why to learn a foreign language. Teachers should spend more time explaining why
it is important, that it is not only fulfillment of university requirements,
but it will help them to function and compete effectively in the global economy
of today and the future, will increase job opportunities and salary potential,
will develop their intercultural sensitivity, increasing global understanding,
will give them the opportunity to enjoy great literary and musical masterpieces
and films in their target language, will help them to gain social power
(prestige) and many other reasons. But of course it shouldn’t be done in a
boring form of a monotonous lecture; the teacher may show real examples or
invite interesting people who will share their experience. It is very important
not to forget about some simple rules. Every teacher should try to create a
good and friendly environment in the classroom; they shouldn’t forget to reward
correct behavior and answers, give the opportunity to choose, be flexible, be creative, involve students into active participation,
and one more rule - students are motivated when they experience more success
than failure. If they feel incapable, they will give up. In the present paper
we examined motivation as an important variable in successful second language
acquisition. We observed the works of the leading scientists in this domain and
found out some of the features of this phenomenon. Also we tried to analyze
some peculiarities of the Kazakhstan students. It is almost impossible to
achieve very high levels of accomplishment without being strongly motivated. Wilga
Rivers said: "Motivation springs from within; it can be sparked, but not
imposed from without." And our main destination as teachers is to burn
this fire in the hearts of our students, to help them to set goals and to
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