Motivation in the English Language Learning

Aadesh Bhetwal

This article explains the thematic aspect of motivation in short and lists factors that motivate students in general.


Motivation is one of the driving forces to do something. Motivation in language learning can be defined in terms of the learner’s overall goal or orientation. Motivation is the factor that determines a person’s desire to learn a second language.  According to Gass and Selinker (2009), “A social-psychological factor frequently used to account for differential success in learning is motivation. This has an intuitive appeal.” (p.426)

There are different kinds of motivation and all of them role in language learning. Of all, intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation are thought to have important role in  language learning.

Intrinsic motivation influences learners to choose a task, get energized about it, and persist until they accomplish it successfully, regardless of whether it brings an immediate reward. Intrinsic motivation is present when learners actively seek out and participate in activities without having to be rewarded by materials or activities outside the learning task.

All the external factors that inspires us to learn something that could be language also is extrinsic motivation. If I am learning English by watching other’s achievement or by others advice then there extrinsic motivation is working. The social factor, reputation, value of that language which inspires us is extrinsic motivation. These all factors are extrinsic motivation. Here in those cases extrinsic motivation also plays key role to learn second language.

It is clear that motivation is also one of the most affecting factors in second language learning. Students with strong motivation learn language better than those who have weak motivation. Desire for communication is the strongest motivating force that urges one to learn the function of the language.

Antecedents of the motivation

Ortega (2009) opines that integrativeness, orientation and attitudes are the antecedents which give form the notion of motivation. Integrativeness is the one which plays the central role in the development of a theory of foreign language motivation but attitude and orientation also matters a lot. Here, attitude means the response towards language learning, if s/he has positive attitude towards learning then s/he will be motivated in language learning, but if she/he has a negative attitude then she/he will not be motivated to learn that language. Gardner (2001, p.5) “a genuine interest in learning the second language in order to come closer to the other language community is integrativeness” (as cited in Ortega, 2009, p. 172). As Ortega (2009, p. 173) explains “Integrativeness refers to reasons for learning the L2, because they contribute to the setting of the goals that will propel and sustain motivation of varying intensities and qualities”.

These antecedents are interrelated with motivation. So, to achieve better in language learning, teachers should plan to develop positive attitude in their language learners towards second language. It’s the attitude of a learner towards language which must be positive or teacher should try to make it positive, then only s/he will be motivated towards learning. To have a positive attitude, s/he must have good reason to learn, which is also known as orientation. In these regard, teacher should provide a good reason, if s/he doesn’t have one. Out of three, integrativeness is a must, which is an interest to come in contact with that language speaking community. If a learner has these three antecedents then s/he will be highly motivated in learning.

The factor that motivates the students

Gass and Selinker (2009), “Motivational arousal or initiation of motivation is likely to base on a person’s assumption of how much effort is needed to perform an activity correctly.” (p. 479)

Aforementioned statement depicts that the affecting factor for the motivation. Similar opinion has been provided by Dornyei (1998) also. Keeping Dornyei (1998) ideas in consideration, some factors are provided below.

  1. The proper teaching method:

A proper teaching methodology can increase student motivation. Hence, the teacher should be aware that the method s/he employs will have some effect on the students’ motivation.

  1. The practical teaching materials:

The English reading materials should include a lot of interesting stories and practical current affairs. First, stories, full of fun, may attract them to read as they are easy to remember. Second, the practical current events are the focus that everyone likes to talk about and cares. Linguistically, English language learning has the purpose of communication. If they can communicate with others about the focus things, they will be more delighted. So these affairs, such as the World Cup Football Games, the policies of the government, the movies and so on, can be very attractive for them. These can stimulate them to communicate widely. This purpose of using practical teaching materials is to arouse the students’ interest to learn foreign language well. Furthermore, local or international news in the target language is very helpful for students to learn English.

  1. The relationship between the teacher and the students:

If the students love you, they will love your teaching and pay their attention. This can arouse their motivation in foreign language learning. On the contrary, if they hate you, they will have no interest in your course, and even refuse to learn. This can make a psychological resistance. So the teacher should set a good example to the students and get along well with them.

  1. Success in language learning:

The tasks should be set not too difficult or too easy to ensure that students get it done with some effort. The activities which are beyond their abilities may have a negative effect on their motivation. It is also true that activities aimed below the level of the students are demotivating. So the teacher has to pay serious to select activities which will challenge the students at the proper level.

  1. Having a communication purpose:

Once the teacher has provided a class in which students demonstrate their understanding, and have confidence in their ability to succeed, the language teacher can continue to strengthen the students’ motivation by providing classroom activities which contain a practical communicative purpose. The purpose is to allow learners to behave as if they are using the language to communicate their own experiences about their lives and careers. They talk about topics which they like. The most important thing is participation, because everyone tries to show their interest, when the task is of their interest.


Hence, motivation is a necessity for successful language learning. Although, you, as a teacher, try to make learning fun, your students should understand that learning has a goal. The fun part is nice to have, but most people can be intimidated when it comes to doing or learning something new – they would just prefer to maintain the status quo; it’s easier. You as a teacher, must develop and encourage classroom motivation, i.e. think of and find ways to motivate students to reach their potentials, their goals and their dreams. Teachers should realize that only when their students have the motivation; one of the main determinants of foreign language learning achievement, and learn actively, then can hope for successful results in the ELT.


Dornyei, Z. (1998). Motivation in second and foreign language learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gass, S. M. and Larry S. (2009). Second language acquisition: an introductory course. London: Routledge

Ortega, L. (2009).Understanding second language acquisition. UK: Hodder Education.

(Mr. Adesh Bhetwal holds a master’s degree in ELT from Kathmandu University, School of Education. He is involved in teaching, training and research activities)


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