Motivation in Second Language Learning as a Possible Research Issue

*Suman Laudhari

Motivation is multifaceted in nature. Often, it is associated with different aspects of behaviour. A person who is motivated has a goal, expends effort to achieve it, wants to achieve it, has favorable attitudes concerning the activity of doing so, is persistent, is focused and attentive, and makes attributions about success and failure (Gardener, 2013). Motivation is thought to be the drive to start and succeed in a task. For an example, it is believed that if an athlete wins a race, we often tend to make remarks that the athlete is motivated, so she/he exercises regularly and keeps himself/herself fit. Likewise, if a hungry animal runs a maze seeing food, we say that the animal is motivated because of hunger. Similarly, teachers oftentimes exclaim that a student did not do well because he/she is not motivated. Hence, it can be said that motivation “impels an organism to action” (Gardener, 2013, p.443).

Motivation in second or foreign language learning is thought to be a socio-psychological attribute and is considered to be the predictor of language learning success (Gass & Selinker, 2008). It has an intuitive appeal in that a person who is motivated is likely to learn a language faster and to a greater extent

The field of motivation is one of the most explored research areas in second language acquisition. Initially, championed by Robert C. Gardner, his research explored the motivation of language learners in bilingual context of Canada. His first research dates back to 1959, in which he and his associates found out that motivation in second language learning consists of integrativeness (the desire to become the member of the target community), and attitudes towards the learning situation. Later, Gardner (1985) established “Motivation involves four aspects, a goal, effortful behaviour, a desire to attain the goal and favourable attitudes toward the activity in question” (Gardner, 1985, p. 50).

Further, Gardner and his associates categorized motivation into two types: integrative and instrumental. Integrative motivation reflects one’s interests in language learning because of the interest in the people and culture represented by the target language; and an instrumental orientation mean the pragmatical benefits of learning an additional language. (Ushioda & Dornyei, 2012). 

Most of the post 1959 research followed the model presented by Gardener, and examined motivation from socio-psychological perspective. However, in the late 80s, cognitive theories of mainstream motivational psychology were integrated to complement the findings and to guide further studies in the field. Besides, a score of scholars voiced that the studies should also consider the situation in which learning takes place, as the day-to-day learning scenario affects the language learning motivation of learners.

Also attention was paid to the temporal nature of motivation. Because language learning is a lengthy and tedious process, the level of motivation is never static; it is always fluid. Because the theoretical models and corresponding design of motivation were mostly designed to explore the motivation at a particular point of time, they could not tap into the fluidity of motivation. Only recently attempts have been made in exploring ever changing nature of motivation. Dornyei (2002), and Dornyei and Otto (1998) proposed a model which was comprehensive in nature as it considered motivation at different point of time during learning. This model considers pre (motivation in choice), while (executional) and post (evaluation) motivation.

Though there were shifts from one theoretical model to other, and there were innovative developments in the motivational models, they were not free of shortcomings. All the models developed until the dawn of the century failed to touch upon the situated complexity of motivation and how motivation develops over the time with its interaction with multiple internal, social, and contextual factors. To explore the dynamic nature of motivation, Dornyei and his associates (2006) and Dornyei (2009) designed an all-encompassing model of motivation called L2 Self System. This model focuses on self-perceptions and consists of L2 Ideal Self, L2 Ought-to Self and L2 learning experience. The ideal L2 self refers to one’s vision of the self in the future. In other words, it is about how one projects his/her future in the future in relation to the language he/she is learning. The ought-to self is concerned with the obligations foisted externally to develop proficiency in the language being learnt, and the vision associated with it. The L2 learning experience is one’s motivation that is inspired by the present language learning experience (See, Dornyei, 2009 for more information).

As can be seen from these different model, motivation is a very important construct and is positively related with one’s success in language learning. Unlike other subjects such as mathematics or science, language learning is also learning the features of other (target) cultural communities such as vocabulary, pronunciation and other speech features, hence a positive attitude towards the target language community and the sense of integrativeness is important in learning the language to a greater extent. Different models have different perspectives regarding motivation and might vary from each other in what they postulate, but, in the end, their objective is the same in that they all attempt to answer why some students are more successful and others are less.

Though there is plethora of research studies in the field of motivation, not a lot of studies have been done in the context of Nepal hence the next section introduces a few issues that could be investigated by interested scholars, students who need to write dissertation and researchers.

Possible issues 

  1. Language learning motivation

As every individual learns a language for certain reason, it would be a matter of interests to read why students of different level study English or any other second language. Given that, English is taught as a compulsory subject in schools, and students are not matured enough, this question can be best answered by using mature students as the research participants as their goals are set well and they know for what they need a good knowledge of English. One can follow a quantitative or qualitative design if decided to answer this question. As both the approaches have their merits and demerits, the choice will be based upon the researchers’ objectives. One thing that is worth considering is that there have been many quantitative studies in the area of motivation, whereas the number of qualitative studies is less. Besides, as motivation is multifaceted, is organic in nature, qualitative studies could be equally revealing.

  1. English language teachers’ motivation

The other intriguing issue that could be explored is what motivates English language teachers to make a decision to become an English teacher and enjoy their profession. There are only a few research studies in this area and a little is known about how teachers’ motivation differs from students’ motivation, and what factors come into play when one talks about English language teachers’ motivation. Hence, this could be one of the areas which could be investigated further.

  1. Use of motivational strategies in the language classroom

As students’ motivation is influenced by what happens in day-to-day classroom, teachers’ use of motivational technique in the language classroom could be another interesting area of research within the area of language learning motivation. It is a matter of wonder for teachers and scholars to read what techniques other teachers use to motivate their students in the classroom. This is one of the least explored areas in the field of motivation and holds a great deal of potential for pedagogical implications.

  1. Demotivation

While we discuss about motivation, we should not overlook the other side of the coin. While many students are motivated to learn English, there might be a few students who are less motivated or not motivated towards learning English. The teaching community would highly benefit if this issue could be teased out in detail and given recommendations as to how the problem of demotivation could be addressed. This is an area of high interest as it would save a lot of time, money and energy.

  1. Motivation and language tasks

Because motivation is never static and the different language tasks needs orchestration of different sets of skills, one could investigate how students react to different tasks. For an example, one can study how motivation affects written output or spoken output. Findings from such studies would be of interests as they could help teachers make more effective lesson plans.


Dörnyei, Z. (2002). The motivational basis of language learning tasks. In P. Robinson (Ed.), Individual differences and instructed language learning (pp.137–158). Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing.

Dörnyei, Z. (2009). The L2 Motivational Self System. In Z. Dörnyei & E. Ushioda (Eds.), Motivation, language identity and the L2 self (pp. 9–42). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Dörnyei, Z., & Otto, I. (1998). Motivation in action: a process model of L2 motivation. Working Papers in Applied Linguistics, 4, 43–69.

Dörnyei, Z., Csizer, K., & Nemeth, N. (2006). Motivation, language attitudes and globalization: A Hungarian Perspective. Bristol, UK: Multilingual matters.

Gardner, R.C. (1985). Social psychology and second language learning: The role of attitudes and motivation. London: Edward Arnold Publishers.

Gardener, R.C. (2013). Motivation. In P. Robinson (Ed.),The Routledge encyclopedia of second language acquisition (pp. 443-447). New York: Routledge.

Gass, S. M. & Selinker, L. (2008). Second language acquisition: An introductory course (3rd ed). New York: Routledge.

Ushioda, E., & Dörnyei, Z. (2012). Motivation. In S. Gass & A. Mackey (Eds.), The Routledge handbook of second language acquisition (pp. 396–409). New York: Routledge.

(*Mr. Suman Laudari is a life member of NELTA and a PhD scholar at Lancaster University, UK . His research interests are motivation in second language learning, planning and task performance, and TBLT.)


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