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Motivation of the English student

By Cattleya Mendoza


When it comes to learning a foreign language, motivation plays a key role

to achieve this desired goal. Many theories on this topic have been
developed since the late 1950’s, but there is still a gap between theory and
practice and this is the aim of this research paper, to explain how teachers
can initiate and maintain learner’s motivation in their teaching practices
(intrinsic motivation) and how they can sustain the motivation that
students bring into the classroom from outside (extrinsic motivation)
throughout the learning process. Finally, several suggestions regarding
motivation in this area have been highlighted.

When English input outside the classroom is not available, students’ motivation may be
affected and feel demotivated to learn this language. Therefore, it must be sustained
through interesting classrooms tasks and activities, taking into consideration that each
student has different interests and expectations, in which the growth of English skills take
place; otherwise they can become bored or may find English more difficult than they
thought it would be, especially in a foreign language setting. It is known that students’
motivation fluctuates, and it is challenging to keep English students’ motivation at a high
level, with the same persistence and determination, all the time.
A variety of factors can create the desire to learn, turning it into the bedrock of motivation.
It could be influenced by the attitude of society, family and peers; or by the teacher’s
methods, the activities the students take part in or the perception they have of their own
success or failure (Harmer, 2007). It consists of such factors as the attached value of a
task, the rate of success expected by learners, whether learners believe they are competent
enough to succeed, and what they think to be the reason for their success or failure at the
task (Dörnyei & Ushioda, 2011). Motivation “provides the primary impetus to initiate
learning the second language and later the driving force to sustain the long and often
tedious learning process” (Dörnyei, 1998). “Motivation represents one of the most
appealing, yet complex variables used to explain individual differences in language
learning” (MacIntyre et al. 2001, p. 462).

In the light of these definitions, we can regard motivation, not only as a complex process
that activates and maintains students’ behavior towards a goal over time, but as one that
influences the success of learning a second language (L2), in this case, English. However,
certain motivational strategies, identified by research on motivation, can help learners
adopt more positive attitudes towards English learning. This research paper synthesizes
main theories on motivation of English students, analyses the impact of motivation on
English language learning in terms of the various motivational theories, discusses the role
of teachers in motivating students, and presents a comprehensive review of motivational
strategies that can be used by teachers in their classrooms.

Overview of Theories on Motivation

Robert Gardner (1985) was really influenced by Mower’s focus on first language (L1)
acquisition, who believed that a child learns his first language to fulfill his desire to
interact with his family and society at large; so Gardner proposed three key components
of L2 motivation:

(a) Motivational intensity or effort : refers to the drive of the learner.

(b) Desire to learn the language : refers to the want of the learner.
(c) Attitudes towards learning the language : refers to the learner’s emotional
Gardner distinguished between motivation and what he called orientation, where
orientation stands for a goal. Orientation is an incentive that gives rise to motivation and
steers it towards a set of goals. Strictly speaking, orientations are not part of motivation
but function as “motivational antecedents” (Dörnyei & Ushioda, 2011, p. 41). Gardner
identified two main motivations through his research:

- An integrative motivation: it is an interest in interacting with the L2 language

group; in other words, integrative motivated learners want to learn the target
language so that they can better understand and get to know the people who
speak the language, integrate with a particular language community and mix
up in their culture because this is their desire and want to fulfill it.

- An instrumental motivation: it is an interest in the more materialistic and

practical advantages of learning a new language, such as aspiration for a better
career, getting a salary/bonus or getting into college; in other words, as a
means to get social and economic reward.
So, it can be stated on one hand, that learners who are instrumentally motivated seem to
be more driven by incentives, which, as believed, are less stable; and on the other hand,
that the learners with positive attitude towards English Language learning are highly
motivated both instrumentally and integratively. The difficulty arises from the fact that
Gardner (2010) does not argue anymore that integrative motivation is essentially more
advantageous than instrumental motivation; rather he simply states that learners who are
integratively motivated may become more proficient in a language than learners without
this kind of motivation. Besides, another aspect of Gardner’s description of motivation—
affective component—is associated with variables like anxiety, self-esteem, and risk-
taking (Kline, 2006).
Through previous studies it has been revealed that dichotomy of integrative and
instrumental motivation has been the focus of many researchers. Motivation has been
classified as intrinsic and extrinsic. Woolfolk (1998) defines intrinsic motivation as
“motivation that stems from factors such as interest or curiosity “(p.374). According to
Santrock (2004), “extrinsic motivation involves doing something to obtain something else
(a means to an end)” (p.418)
Oxford and Shearin (1994) have examined a number of motivational theories and six
variables that influence motivation in language learning:

 Attitudes (i.e. sentiments towards the target language).

 Beliefs about self (i.e. expectations about one’s attitudes to succeed, self-
efficiency, and anxiety).
 Goals (perceived clarity and relevance of learning goals as reasons for learning).
 Involvement (i.e. extent to which the learner actively and consciously
participates in the learning process).
 Environmental support (i.e. extent of teacher and peer support).
 Personnel attributes (i.e. aptitude, and language learning experience)

So, it can be differed that learners, once they have set a clear, specific goal, it is necessary
to assess them so they become more involved in the learning process and therefore
become more autonomous learners. It is clearly noticed that many secondary school and
university students are learners who are more concerned with getting good marks rather
than really learning the language. If learners are asked to assess their performance in the
classroom they may begin to perceive the language more in terms of what they can do
with the language (praxis) rather than what they know about the language (theory).
As stated by Dörnyei (2001), “teacher skills in motivating learners should be seen as
central to teaching effectiveness”. That is to say, if learners feel motivated, they also feel
eager, willing to work hard, concentrate on the tasks given and most importantly, they do
not require anybody to encourage them, feel eager to confront challenges, and could even
motivate their classmates, in this way learning English becomes a collaborative learning.
At the same time, it should be noticed that motivation is an extremely complex area of
human behavior, and therefore what motivates one student will be unlikely to motivate
the whole class. However, the teacher has to activate motivational components in the
students and that is the precise problem. How can it be done every day in class?

Researches on Second Language Acquisition have shown that learners have differences
in mastering skills. While one student is good at drawing, another can be good at
expressing ideas verbally; a third other student can be good at role play and imitation.
Besides, some students find it less stressful to learn certain rules or usages of language
from their classmates than from their teacher. Small-group activities and pair work boost
students' self-confidence and are excellent sources of motivation. A communicative
language teaching requires a sense of community and an environment of trust and mutual
confidence which “pair work” or “group work” can provide. Students learn by doing,
making, writing, designing, creating, and solving. Students' enthusiasm, involvement, and
willingness to participate affect the quality of class discussion as an opportunity for
learning. Group work can give quiet students a chance to express their ideas and feelings
on a topic because they find it easier to speak to groups of three or four than to an entire
class. (Karaoglu, 2008). Once students have spoken in small groups, they usually become
less reluctant to speak to the class as a whole. Group activities allow students not only to
express their ideas but also to work cooperatively, which increases class cohesion and
thus motivation. For instance, teachers can do a vocabulary exercise in which students
are in groups of four, then distribute vocabulary words on flashcards, and each student
must choose one of the flashcards without showing the word to fellow group members.
After that, each student explains his/her word by giving three clues to the group without
using the actual word. Using the clues, the other students must draw pictures that reflect
the meaning of the word. This activity gives students flexibility to use other skills for
their language development. It also gives quieter students a chance to express themselves
within their groups, even when they are not confident enough to do so in front of the
entire class.
Moreover, the way the students are seated in the classroom will often determine the
dynamics of the lesson, it could be in:
 separate tables: in small groups at individual tables, it is much easier for the
teacher to work at one table while the others get on their own work.
 circle : the teacher’s position is less dominating and there is a far greater feeling
of equality than when the teacher stays out at the front.
 orderly rows : in large groups, it implies the teacher working with the whole
class, makes lecturing easier, also to maintain eye contact; the teacher can also
walk up and down monitoring students.
 horseshoe : all the students can see each other, good for pair work and easy
access to individual student.

Always teacher should maximize eye contact and make sure students are seated at a
comfortable distance from each other. Also, teachers should be aware of when to correct
errors and how to do it without any hurt and humiliation; as the teacher’s methodology,
personality and ways of interacting with the students also play a key role to keep students
motivated. Teachers must be motivated in the first place, no matter how challenging the
task is, otherwise do not expect students will be. Teachers should know how to “whet the
students’ appetite” and attract their attention to learn the language (Dörnyei & Ushioda,
2011, p. 114). The target culture is also a useful tool to generate the integrative orientation
of the learners through introducing authentic materials which reflect the target culture and
community of the target language.

Another technique is to connect language learning to students’ interests outside the

classroom, in a high-tech learning environment. It would be unfair to limit students to
traditional methods. Encouraging students to relate their classroom experience to outside
interests and activities makes developing language skills more relevant. For instance,
computer-assisted language learning could be linked to playing computer games, or to
computer programs that the students are interested in using. Listening to English language
songs, watching English language films or videos, and reading English language Web
sites can lead students to broaden their perspective on their language acquisition process.
In addition to this, teachers could take this opportunity to teach grammar, vocabulary,
pronunciation and community building because the students like songs and they motivate
the students to learn the English language in an attention-grabbing way. Moreover,
teachers can elicit students’ ideas about the song through activities such as prediction or
mind maps. Students can discuss questions such as the feelings in the song or what will
happen next and write their responses in an interesting manner. Students may write and
present how the song makes them feel and then draw a picture of their feelings while
listening to the song. Teachers respond to this presentation and ask questions. Then,
feedback is provided from the group.

For the reasons stated above, it can be concluded that a second language learning is a
complicated task affected by external and internal forces. Motivation is one of the primary
forces influencing and enhancing second language learning and has been broadly
recognized as a major aspect which determines the success and level of second language
learning. Besides, the English learning process can be a motivating experience for both
the teacher and the student as long as the former (the teacher) plans, selects an appropriate
level of challenge for the task (neither too easy nor too difficult) and creates interesting
lessons that excite the latter’s (the student) curiosity and provoke his/her participation, as
well as constant assessment and feedback. Therefore, as variety is the spice of life, trying
a variety of motivational strategies over a period of time, implementing those which
appear most successful, until they become an automatic part of teaching is one way to
motivate English students. Teachers can promote their students’ self-motivation by
drawing their attention to useful strategies, such as favorable expectations, incentives,
dealing with procrastination and boredom, eliminating distractions and providing variety
in the activities,

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