What motivates us to learn languages?

06/10/2022 Keyword: motivation

Motivation is one of the most important factors in learning any language. Learners with a good attitude towards English are more likely to work hard and keep going when learning becomes challenging.

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Useful vocabulary

to stem from sth: to originate from sth

reward: a positive compensation or prize

to quote sb: to write words that another person has said

whose: of whom (possessive)

more likely: more probable

neither A nor B: not A and not B

to feel defeated: to feel demoralised because you cannot complete sth successfully

to set sth up: to organise or start sth

to get hooked on sth: to become addicted to sth

to get the ball rolling: to begin a process

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What motivates us to learn languages?

There are two main types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation comes from within the learners themselves. Learning English because you enjoy learning and making progress tends to be the most effective form of motivation. Learners who feel this way tend to find meaning and pleasure in the learning experience itself.

Meanwhile, extrinsic motivation stems from some kind of external reward or obligation. For example, you might need to learn English in order to pass an exam, to apply for a university course, to facilitate travel, or to find or keep a job.

While extrinsic motivation might initially be the reason you want to study or practise English, it’s your intrinsic motivation that will allow you to find the fun in each challenge. To quote Mary Poppins, “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun”; and Steve Jobs, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

You will also feel more motivated if you have a positive of impression of English-speaking people and cultures. If you like the music, films and sports you associate with the countries whose first language is English, you’re more likely towant to learn it.

In addition, you will feel most motivated when your learning experience offers you:

  1. ENGAGEMENT. You feel that the learning activity is interesting and meaningful, and you have opportunities to discuss your interests in English.
  2. CHALLENGE. The learning activity is neither too easy nor too difficult, so you don’t get bored or feel defeated when trying to complete the task.
  3. CONTROL. You have some influence over how to do the activity, some creative choices that give you a sense of responsibility. You can take an active role in your learning by making suggestions for what to do in class and how.
  4. SUPPORT. You receive positive feedback from someone whose opinion you value, whether this is a teacher, a family member or your friends and colleagues.

Remember, outside class, you can read a book from the library, set up a speaking group with friends, change your phone’s language to English, and get hooked on learning with apps like Duo Lingo. Once you get the ball rolling, you won’t want to stop!

Adapted from this article by ECP coach Ali Keable

Let’s chat about that!

1. Can you explain the two main types of motivation?

2. What motivates you to learn English?

3. What English-learning experiences do you enjoy most? Why?

4. How much control do you feel you have over your English learning?

5. Are there any learning situations that make you feel defeated?

6. Do you use books, apps or social gatherings to practise English?

7. What positive action can you take in order to enhance your motivation?