Motivation and Learning a Second Language

Learning a second language is a complex cognitive process. Breaking down psychological concepts and theories is a complicated process, when it comes to second language (L2) acquisition, and this is very much reflected in Zoltan Dornyei’s article “Understanding L2 Motivation: On with the Challenge!”Ã? Dornyei discusses two main problems in Gardner and Trembley’s analysis on motivation/integrativeness and its relationship with learning an L2: “construct validation and pertinent empirical research”Ã? (p. 522, 1994).

I agree that breaking down the learning process in psychological terms is problematic in some ways. There is value, however, to the relationship between motivation and success in learning an L2. I have been taking American Sign Language classes, casually, for a couple years now. Initially, I was just interested in ASL and wanted to take the classes for fun, but once my interest in the language increased and I began to consider a career in teaching for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, my motivation also increased. It was very obvious that once I was more motivated and serious about ASL, my performance dramatically increased.

Motivation, in my opinion, is directly correlated not only with desire but also with need. My ASL courses are designed as complete integration into the language. My professors have always been deaf, and the only way to communicate with them is to sign. At first this was intimidating, in a sense, but I feel as though the process in learning the language has been a lot easier than it would be if, for example, a hearing professor explained everything using his or her voice. I think that is the problem for most FSL classes in Canada, these days. It would be a lot easier for students to speak French if the teachers refused to use English, or better yet, if they could not understand English at all. After all the French Immersion classes I have taken in my life, I still do not feel comfortable or fluent in French, and I feel as though I could get more out of moving to France for a month than I got in 12 years of French classes.

When I consider motivation, then, I feel as though to enhance L2 learning, we must increase both the desire and the need factors of motivation. Since it is difficult to increase desire in language learners, I think that the focus should be more directed toward creating a need than it is in schools today. Maybe in French Immersion schools, half the announcements could be made in French, or perhaps half the teachers solely speak French. Or in core French classes, the teacher could speak only in French, depending on the level. Teachers of a second language are actually very lucky that they can resort and tap in to their students’ motivation and needs more than other teachers can. A Math teacher, for example, could not create that sense of urgency through integration that a second language teacher could. This should be used with discrepancy, however, because some students may feel incredibly intimidated or unresponsive to that sort of integration. Overall, teachers should learn what motivates and interests their students, and how they can incorporate it into their classrooms, no matter the subject.


Dornyei, Zoltan. (1994). Understanding L2 Motivation: On With the Challenge! The Modern Language Journal. Vol. 78, No. 4. Winter, 1994. pp. 515-523. Accessed through JSTOR:

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