Motivation as a Factor in Second Language Acquisition

Term Paper, 2012

24 Pages, Grade: 2,3


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. What is Motivation?

3. Motivation Theories
3.1 Gardner’s Motivation Theory
3.2 The Process-Oriented Model by Dörnyei and Ottó
3.3 Self-determination theory by Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan

4. Influences on Second Language Learning

5. Motivation in the Classroom - How can Teachers influences the Motivation of their Students?
5.1 The Teacher’s Personality
5.2 Fulfilling Student’s Needs
5.3 School Concept
5.4 Methodology
5.5 Dörnyei’s Motivational Strategies

6. Summary

7. References

8. List of Figures

1. Introduction

“The limits of my language are the limits of my world.” [1]

This quotation by Ludwig Wittgenstein, a famous philosopher of the 19th century, shows how important second language learning is in our modern society. Language is one of the main components of the society and culture of the people who speak it. People speaking different languages are important for the community in which they work and live, because they can connect different cultural groups. Besides this social factor, there is an economic need for multilingual people as well. Apart from the requirement of translators and interpreters, there are an increasing number of jobs where people are required to interact with people from foreign countries. The ability of communicating in two or more language can be an essential reason for getting your dream job. Another advantage of speaking different languages is that it makes travelling much easier and gives you the opportunity of maintaining friendships with people from all over the world.

Nowadays most children start learning a second and even a third language when they are still very young. Mostly they are not aware of the benefits of speaking different languages for their later lives. They simply learn it because it is in the curriculum of their school, which is designed for the needs of society rather than for the learner’s interests. This does not seem like a good point of departure for a successful learning process. So it is the teacher’s major challenge to motivate the students to put effort in learning the foreign language.

But how does motivation influence second language learning? This paper will define motivation and introduce different motivation theories. Then it will discuss the influences of motivation on second language learning and answer the question what teachers can do to motivate their students.

2. What is Motivation?

A definition of the term “motivation” is difficult to give, because it is such a multifaceted term and there is disagreement about its precise meaning. There are lots of different definitions. This is a problem, because the clarification of a definition is the first step to any further investigation. According to the Oxford English Dictionary “ motivation” in the p sychological and social sense is “the general desire or willingness of someone to do something”.[2] The original psychological and a bit more precise definition says, that motivation is “the (conscious or unconscious) stimulus for action towards a desired goal, especially as resulting from psychological or social factors; the factors giving purpose or direction to human or animal behaviour”[3].

The desired goal, which is part of both definitions, can be all kinds of achievements or improvements in the general definition. As for the motivational research in the field of second language acquisition it is of course learning a foreign language.

Besides this general definition there are specific definitions for second language learning. Gardner and Lambert define motivation as including three components: desire to achieve a goal, effort expended, and attitudes to learning a language.[4] Chambers writes about motivation that it “explains why people decide to do something, how hard they are going to pursue it and how long they are willing to sustain the activity”.[5]

In the past there have been many attempts to describe what motivation is and find an appropriate model to facilitate this. In the nineteenth century the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud claimed that human behaviour was motivated by two instincts: the life instinct, which is the basis for sexual motivation and the death instinct which caused aggressive motivation.[6] Both instincts are, according to Freud’s model, unconscious. However, it is hardly mentioned in current research, such unconscious instincts could influence human behaviour and therefore motivation in a significant way. Freud’s theory was followed by the “drive theory” in the twentieth century and by Maslow’s humanistic approach, which proposed a hierarchy of fundamental motivational bases. 1957 followed Skinner’s “behaviourist approach”, which concentrated on stimulus-response associations. He mainly used experiments on rats for his research and focused only on the observable responses. Whereas the “cognitive approach” argued, that action can only be understood in connection to unobservable cognitive factors, such as attitudes, thoughts, beliefs and interests.

All these models are just examples for many theories, which made attempts to describe the nature of motivation. All of them made useful contributions, but none really succeeded. Human behaviour is very complex and so it is almost impossible to include all factors influencing it in one model.

Now I want to have a closer look at some selected theories starting with the most famous model by Robert Gardner, which is specific for second language learning. Then I will go on with Dörnyei and Ottó’s process-oriented motivation model, which integrated several lines of research. Finally I will describe the self-determination theory by Deci and Ryan, which is the most influential theory in motivational psychology.

3. Motivation Theories

3.1 Gardner’s Motivation Theory

The pioneers of the research on second language learning motivation were Robert Gardner and Wallace Lambert. They conducted their first study on attitudes and motivation in second language learning in 1959. In 1972 they published a report, which was groundbreaking in this field.[7] In it Gardner and Lambert proposed that motivation was a significant cause of variability in language learning success, and that its effect was independent of ability or aptitude factors.[8] Moreover, they speculated about a social and psychological dimension of second language learning. “In the acquisition of a second language, the student is faced with the task of not simply learning new information (vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, etc.) which is part of his own culture but rather of acquiring symbolic elements of a different ethnolinguistic community.”[9] Thus, identification with the other culture becomes important in the process of second language acquisition.

Gardner’s motivation research was initiated in Canada, where speakers of English and French live closely together. In this multicultural setting language is an instrument for the communication between the communities. This makes it important for many people to learn a second language. Gardner uses the word “orientation“ for what was above called the “desired goal”. He distinguished between two kinds of orientation: integrative and instrumental orientation.

People who have the desire to learn a language in order to communicate with a group of people or even become a part of them have integrative orientation. Whereas instrumental orientation means that someone has a pragmatic aim, for example getting a better job. The role of orientation is to help to inspire motivation and direct it.

Gardners and Lamberts hypothesis was that “an integrative orientation would sustain better long-term motivation needed for the very demanding task of second-language learning”[10].

Gardner’s motivation theory consists of four areas: the integrative motive, the socio-educational model, the attitude/motivation test battery and the extended second language motivation construct. The latter was developed together with Paul Tremblay in 1995.

The integrative motive is the “motivation to learn a second language because of positive feelings towards the community that speaks that language”[11]. It consists of three components: integrativeness (integrative orientation, interest in foreign languages, attitude towards the L2 community, willingness and interest in social interaction with members of the L2 group), attitudes towards the learning situation (teacher and course) and motivation (as above defined: effort, desire and attitude towards learning).

The socio-educational model is concerned with the role of various individual characteristics of students in the learning of a foreign language. It divides the language learning process into four distinct aspects: antecedent factors (such as gender, age, learning history), individual differences/learner variables (intelligence, language attitude, language learning strategies, language aptitude, motivation, and language anxiety), language acquisition context (formal or informal), and learning outcomes (linguistic or non-linguistic).

The attitude/motivation test battery is a questionnaire with which Gardner and Lambert tried to measure levels of motivation. Hence it is a quantitative approach. The test is made up of 130 items, for example the students have to correspond to statements like: “I plan to learn as much French as possible”[12] on a 7-point scale of agreement. But there are also multiple-choice questions to measure motivational intensity, orientation and desire. For example: “When it comes to French homework, I… a)…put some effort into it, but not as much as I could; b) …work very carefully, making sure I understand everything; c) …just skim over it.”[13] The answers are scored with different amounts of point and these are added to a mathematical index showing the level of motivation, the higher to score, the stronger the motivation. The results can then be used for statistics comparing the level of motivation to the learning outcome. This test is still the only published standardised test for second language motivation. It includes the main points of Gardner’s theory and also other points, like language anxiety and parental encouragement. It has a good structure and validity and was used for many data-based studies of second language motivation. One point of criticism to the test is that it measures motivation only in terms of quantifiable components. It is still a controversy if something as complex as motivation can be scored.

In 1995 Tremblay and Gardner extended Gardner’s theory. (see figure 1) They included three new variables into the process of language attitude, motivational behaviour and achievement.[14] Moreover, they included three mediating variables between attitude and behaviour. These are: “goal salience”, which refers to the learner’s particular goals and the frequency of his goal-setting strategy use. The second is “valence”. It denoted a second-language-learning-related value component, which consist of the desire to learn a second language and the attitudes towards learning it. The third mediating variable is “self-efficacy”, which refers to anxiety and the expectancy to reach a certain level in the language performance by the end of a course. The new model has been empirically tested and its adequateness has been demonstrated by a statistical sample.

Critic points of Gardner’s theory are that it is very theoretical and has no practical dimension. It also can be difficult to classify the motives of language learners, such as learning a language for travel reasons, into the two categories. Moreover, the integrative motivation, defined as desire to integrate in a community, is irrelevant to students learning a second language in school, where they usually have no contact to native speakers at all.

3.2 The Process-Oriented Model by Dörnyei and Ottó

The theory that Dörnyei and Ottó developed in 1998 is process-oriented and synthesise different lines of research.[15] It integrated several sources into one comprehensive scheme. The process-oriented model organises the influences on motivation into a chain, which has two dimensions: action sequence and motivational influence. (see figure 2) “Action Sequence” refers to the behavioural processes. Wishes, hopes, opportunities and desires are transformed into a goal, then into intentions, leading to action and to the accomplishment of the goal. Finally, there is an evaluation of the process. The second dimension, “motivational influences”, includes the energy source and the motivational forces which incite the processes of the first dimension.

Dörnyei and Ottó divided their model into three main phases: the preactional phase, the actional phase and the postactional phase. A key tenet is that these three phases are associated with largely different motives. The first preactional phase is made up of three subphases: goal setting, intention formation and the initiation of intention enactment. In this phase motivation is generated and it leads to the selection of the goal or task that the learner will pursue. The second phase is the actional phase. It refers to the action and in to the motivation needs to be maintained. This executive motivation is important to sustain the learning activities and keep the student from distracting himself. The preactional phase consists of the postactional evaluation. It follows after the completion of the action. This phase will determine the kind of activities the student will be motivated to pursue in the future.

This model emphasises that motivation shows different characteristics depending on the stage the learner has reached in pursuing his goal. It breaks down the motivational process into different steps which stresses the temporal aspect of motivation and shows the complexity of the motivational process. Motivation cannot be defines as constant, because it changes in time. This can be caused my many factors, such as the weather or season, the daytime, the type of activity or the daily mood of the student. Concerning this the process-oriented approach is a step into the right direction, because it involves many factors on second language learning.

But the model has its limitations as well. It does not consider unconscious or irrational motives. Moreover, the process is presented as being isolated from other simultaneous actions. It does not illustrate parallel actions or actions with multiple goals.

3.3 Self-determination theory by Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan

Another very common model is the classification of motivation into intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. In it the intrinsic motivation is defined as coming from within the student. He acts out of interest and volitionally. Whereas extrinsic motivation is caused by external reasons, for example for a reward or to avoid negative consequences, such as a bad mark.[16] The advantage of the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is, that is can be easily used for the motivation in school contexts. The terms are also used in many theories, sometimes with slightly different definitions. Now I want to have a closer look at one of those theories.

The self-determination-theory of motivation by Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan is one of the most influential theories in motivational psychology. It says that effective learning is based on intrinsic motivation.[17] This theory is not specific language learning oriented, but deals with motivation in a general psychological way. Deci and Ryan claim, that intrinsic motivation originates from the basic need for self-determination, social integration and competence. These three areas have to be promoted in order to increase the motivation of the students. The feeling of self-determination can be reached by autonomous leaning with much freedom and selection options for the student. Social integration can be achieved by giving the student as much recognition, attention and support as possible, not only by the teacher but also by the parents and fellow students. The feeling of competence can be generated by an ideal standard of requirements.[18] This means that the level of difficulty must be appropriate. For example, the tasks and texts used in the lesson may not include too many unknown vocabulary.

If the basic needs are not fulfilled it can lead to frustration of the students. When this lasts for longer periods it will lead to stagnation in the personal development, to a feeling of alienation, to a disordered identity or even to psychical disorders. The satisfaction of the basic needs is crucial for the student’s personal development and mental balance.[19] Other researchers devoted themselves to the aspect of learner autonomy of the self-determination theory as well. A number of reviews, for example by Ehrman and Dörnyei, prove that learner autonomy and language learning motivation go together. Ushioda even goes so far to define autonomous language learners as motivated learners.[20]



[2] “motivation, n.” Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989. OED Online. Oxford University Press. 10 March 2012 <>.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ushioda, Ema. The role of motivation. Dublin: Authentik Language Learning Resources, 1996. p.8.

[5] Chambers, G. Motivating Language Learners. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters,1999. p.7.

[6] Ibid.p.15.

[7] Ushioda, Ema. The role of motivation. Dublin: Authentik Language Learning Resources, 1996. p.4.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Gardner, Robert. Social psychological aspects of second language acquisition. In: H.Giles and R. St. Clair. Language and social psychology. pp. 193-220. Oxford: Blackwell, 1979. p.193.

[10] Gardner, R. and W. Lambert. Attitudes and Motivation in Second-Language Learning. Rowley: Newbury House, 1972. p.132.

[11] Dörnyei, Zoltan. Teaching and Researching motivation. Harlow: Longman, 2004. p.50.

[12] Gardner, R. C. Social Psychology and Second Language Learning: The Role of Attitudes and Motivation. London: Edward Arnold, 1985. p.179.

[13] Ibid. p.180.

[14] Dörnyei, Zoltan. Teaching and Researching motivation. Harlow: Longman, 2004. p.53.

[15] Ibid. p.85.

[16] Peter Köck. Handbuch der Schulpädagogik. Für Studium- Praxis- Prüfung. 2.Auflage. Donauwörth: Auer Verlag 2005. S. 54.

[17] Deci, E. L., Ryan, R. M. Die Selbstbestimmungstheorie der Motivation und ihre Bedeutung für die Pädagogik. In: Zeitschrift für Pädagogik, 39.Jahrgang Heft 2 (1993).S.223-238.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ushioda, Ema. The role of motivation. Dublin: Authentik Language Learning Resources, 1996. p.2

Excerpt out of 24 pages


Motivation as a Factor in Second Language Acquisition
College  (Anglistik/Amerikanistik)
Second Language Learning
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ISBN (Book)
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Motivation, Unterricht, Sprachunterricht, motivational theories
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Katharina Ochsenfahrt (Author), 2012, Motivation as a Factor in Second Language Acquisition, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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