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Sources and Significance of Motivation in Second Language Learning

Sources and Significance of Motivation in Second Language Learning | ITTT | TEFL Blog

In acquiring a second language, the end goal of the student and teacher should be shared. The student ultimately wants to acquire at least some level of proficiency in the second language, while the teacher wants to assist them in that task. For most learners, this is a difficult journey that includes a lot of rote memorization and potentially anxiety-causing first-hand practice. Without sufficient motivation, it can be extremely difficult for students to consistently study for the long hours that may be required. It may also prove overwhelming for them when they try to practice the language in the real world. If they are embarrassed about making mistakes, they will need some sort of incentive to overcome those uncomfortable feelings.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Reid N. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

Types of Motivation

Motivation can be separated into two different types, which are extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation comes from an external source and can be characterized as a type of pressure pushing the student to succeed. Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is an internal force that drives the student to study the language. Both extrinsic and intrinsic sources of motivation can be compelling to students. Imagine, for example, that someone has been granted a working visa to a country, the renewal of which is contingent on their ability to pass a general external examination. This person, as a student of English, would likely be highly motivated to study by this external condition. This is an extreme example though and, generally speaking, the most effective forms of motivation for learning a foreign language are intrinsic. People are usually most strongly motivated by their unique passions and interests.

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Teacher’s Role

Ultimately, some source of motivation is essential for a student to be successful at learning a second language and this extends to the classroom as well. Teachers can play a valuable role in cultivating these motivations. For many students, interacting with the teacher can have a major impact on motivation. If the teacher conducts class in a way that is patient, kind, and fair, they will be approachable. For some students, the chance to interact with a high-level speaker of the second language is very rare. They may be excited about the country that the teacher comes from, or in the path in life they took to become extremely capable in the target language. In short, with the right teaching technique, the teacher’s personality can interest students.

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Student’s Background

Additional interests are likely to come from preexisting things in the individual student’s life. To better understand these, it is possible to give the students a diagnostic type test at the beginning of the course. Not only can you assess the language skills that the students already know, but also why they want to learn. With this information, you can better tailor your lessons to subjects that will feed the student’s motivations. You can thus feel confident in including exciting elements that are unique to the culture of the language you are teaching, such as movies or games. The introduction of these elements may motivate other students as well, even without a preexisting interest.

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In conclusion, motivation is essential to attain a level of proficiency when learning a second language. For teachers to help students be successful, it is, therefore, necessary to try and cultivate student’s motivations. This can either come from extrinsic sources or intrinsic sources. Since intrinsic sources are usually more compelling, teachers should strive to develop intrinsic motivation to study a second language. This can be achieved in part by developing the relationship between student and teacher and leveraging the teacher’s personality. It can also be accomplished by assessing the student’s preexisting motivations and building lessons around those exciting topics. In short, awareness and cultivation of motivation in the classroom is an important tool in the teacher’s goal of assisting students to reach second language proficiency.

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