Motivation in second language acquisition

Term Paper, 2009

13 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of contents


Definition of motivation

Different kinds of motivation and motivation theories
Integrative Motivation
Instrumental Motivation
Intrinsic Motivation
Extrinsic Motivation

Motivation in the classroom




This paper is about motivation in second language acquisition. First the term “motivation” will be defined and explained. Afterwards this paper will explain what different kinds of motivation exist and how they help to learn language. I will focus on the work of Rod Ellis and Robert C. Gardner as well as the works of Kimberly A. Noels.

The final part of the paper will discuss motivation in the classroom and how to improve the motivation of students as a teacher. For this part I will focuse on the works of J. Brophy.

Definition of motivation

Motivation is often named together with aptitude. Therefore it is vital to define the difference between aptitude and motivation.

Ellis (2008:75) states while aptitude describes the “cognitive abilities that underlie successful L2 acquisition, motivation involves the attitudes and affective states that influence the degree of effort that learners make to learn an L2”.

So aptitude is a more or less stable component which the individual can not directly interfere with. Motivation on the other hand is a component that can change comparatively fast and can be altered by the learner himself.

Gardner (2001) writes that motivation describes the driving force behind the effort of a learner. Motivation consists of three elements. The first element is “effort”. A more motivated learner will put more effort in his or her studies. He will be open to do extra work in order to improve his language skills, spend more time with studying for the language and even deal with the subject on a subconscious level.

The second element is “desire”. A learner desires to achieve a goal – in this case to successfully learn a second language.

The last element is called “affect”. The learner enjoys learning the language.

Learning the language is a fun and challenging task which might even lead to enthusiasm.

Each element on its own is not enough to be called motivation. If a learner lacks one element, he will not be entirely motivated and therefore learning will be more difficult for him.

Example: A learner that fulfills the elements “effort” and “desire”, but does not enjoy the language at all will maybe study hard, but will have problems to advance. His affective filter would be up.

We know now what motivation is, but not what motivation is caused by. Why is someone more motivated than somebody else? There are different kinds of motivations, ones that can stand alone as well as go together with each other. In the following paragraphs I will explain the different kinds of motivation.

Different kinds of motivation and motivation theories

Integrative Motivation

The integrative motivation describes the motivation of a L2-learner to integrate himself in the target language group.

In other words: An integrative motivated learner likes the target language group and probably even wants to be a part of it.

Ellis (2008:75) names English speaking Canadians learning French as a good example. He also states, that integrative motivation seems not to be that important as studies have shown. Even Gardner, who in general seems to be a big supporter of the integrative motivation theory admits that it does not have to be the only motivation and that other motivational factors can influence a learner to a high degree.

A twisted form of the integrative motivation is the “Machiavellian motivation”. In that case, the learner does not like the target language group and wants to be a part of it. He merely wants to “manipulate and overcome the people of the target language” (Ellis 2008:75)

This theory is supported by a study by Oller, Baca and Vigil from 1977, which found out that poor Mexican women in California who liked the Americans had less success in learning English than those who disliked Americans. (see Ellis 2008:75 and CM/OldLectures/L11_Affective_Filter.htm)

The graphic below is from the essay of Gardner. It shows the – in his opinion – strong influence of integration to motivation and therefore to language achievement. Other influencing factors are attitude to the learning situation (which could for example be the relationship with the teacher), language aptitude (the cognitive ability) and “other factors and other support”. In my opinion these last two factors might be more important than Gardner admits.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Picture: Z. Dörnei & R. Schmidt (Eds.). Motivation and second language acquisition, p.5

Instrumental Motivation

The instrumental motivation says, that the learner sees the language or the language learning as a tool to achieve a certain goal. According to Ellis (2008:75) this could be “to pass an examination, to get a better job, or to get a place at university.” Ellis adds that this motivation “seems to be the major force determining success in L2 learning.” While Gardner sees the integrative motivation as the most reliable predictive power behind L2 learning Noels (2001:44) argues that studies have shown “that the instrumental orientation was an equivalent or better predictor than the integrative orientation”.

In my opinion the integrative motivation could be handled as a part of the instrumental motivation. As the definition of instrumental motivation states, the integrative motivation uses language as a tool to achieve a goal – in this case to be integrated into the target language group.

In fact Noels (2001:44) explains, that both kinds of motivation “are not mutually exclusive, and that both orientations could sustain effort”.

Furthermore there are a great number of other motivational factors, that do not fit in either of the before mentioned categories. Noels (2001:44) lists the following:

”to be intellectual stimulated, to show off to friends, because of fascination with aspects of the language […], because of a need for achievement and stimulation […], interest and curiosity […], or a desire for assimilation. […] Many other orientations have been described empirically, including travel, friendship, and knowledge orientations […], identification-influence […], prestige influence […], career and school instrumental […], media usage […], national security […], as well as a combination of these”.

Therefore the need for more categories of motivation arose. Two of those categories implemented areIntrinsic Motivationand ExtrinsicMotivation. The following chapter will describe those.

Intrinsic Motivation

As Noels (2001:45) describes, the Intrinsic Motivationrefers to the “inherent pleasure and interest in the activity”. The learner chooses a certain field of interest and feels joy and satisfaction to develop his skills in this area.

Ellis (2008:76) writes that “[a]ccording tothis view, motivation involves the arousal andmaintenanceof curiosity and can ebb and flow as a result of such factors as learners' particular interests and the extent to which they feel personally involved in learning activities”

There are at least three subcategories ofIntrinsic Motivation: Intrinsic- Knowledge, Intrinsic-Accomplishment and Intrinsic-Stimulation.

A student driven by Intrinsic-Knowledge feels satisfaction in gathering knowledge of a certain topic. He does not learn things, because there is any immediate need for, but because he enjoys knowing them.

Intrinsic-Accomplishment describes the joy of a learner to achieve something. As Noels (2001:45) describes “the emphasis is on the process of achievement and not the end result.”

The Intrinsic-Stimulation is a bit vague to describe. Noel (2001:45) describes it as “characterized by a sense of “flow” […]. In the language learning context, this orientation might be characterized by the student who delights in the sound, melody, and rhythm of a piece of prose or poetry in foreign language.”

The main point in all of those subcategories is the pleasure a learner feels – only distinguished by the different parts of the experience that pleases them.


Excerpt out of 13 pages


Motivation in second language acquisition
University of Hildesheim  (Englisch als Fremdsprache)
Language Acquisition
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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467 KB
Eine englischsprachige Arbeit über Motivation im Zweitspracherwerb.
Motivation, Second Language, Zweitspracherwerb, Englisch, zweitsprache, intrinsische Motivation, exxtrinsische Motivation, Intrinsic and extrinsic Motivation, Language Acquisition
Quote paper
Björn Saemann (Author), 2009, Motivation in second language acquisition, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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