Language Learning Motivation: What Drives You?

Image source: Morguefile

Image source: Morguefile

There's been an awful lot of research into language learning motivation, with scholarly articles, curriculum changes and millions of research funding spent on working out what makes us learners tick. Motivation is one of the most significant factors for successful language learning, so there is a lot of value in sitting down and having about yourself and what makes you tick. Here are my ideas about the motivation groups - which camp are you in?

2 camps of learners

To me, there are two key camps, let's call them Camp Requirement and Camp Acquisition. Those who learn for a practical application and out of necessity. They may not feel the joy of learning a language from the word Go, but keep going anyway because they are working towards a clear goal. They have the motivation of requirement.

And those who learn because they are curious about a language and simply learning because they want to get good at this. These guys often love the process of learning just as much as applying their new knowledge and will feel happy with the "lifelong learner" label. They have the motivation of acquisition.

None of these types of motivation is any more valid than the other, and I don't believe that either one will make you a better, more skilled learner. It's simply important to understand your driving forces. Be clear about why you are in this learning process. Make sure your motivation is clear to you, and you'll find it will help you kick through those dips and keep going even in the boring drills. If you have a tutor or teacher, why not try and catch them for a conversation about what motivates you and gets you going. That way, they may be able to support you better - even a busy school teacher is likely to jump at that chance of understanding how to get more out of a student.

No Success without Motivation

You have GOT to stay motivated, you have got to stay excited or keen about learning your target language. This is the only way that you will actually look for chances to speak, you'll listen to things you only half understand and in effect the only way that you can keep going once the lesson is over and you have a whole week to forget all you've just been told.

For me as a language tutor, this brings in an extra responsibility. It's my job to understand, as well as I can, the motivations of my students and help them work towards goals that are important to them. Teachers may sometimes make assumptions about language learners which don't match up with their own inner drivers, and that results in both steering in different directions. I want to make sure that I understand where my students stand, so I'll be my best at supporting them reach their goals, and at facilitating a real sense of achievement.

My Allegiances

I have drawn you a little graph to show just how much variation I find in my own language learning motivations:

You can see how far I was in Camp Acquisition at some points, for example when I took Italian. That was my third language, it was an optional offer, afternoon lessons at school doing something new and fun, with friends - I was in it for social reasons. Later when I took Spanish, the main motivation was more about where it was in my curriculum and my career. I wasn't desperate for another new language, but there was a clearer requirement. These days, my lifelong learner is very keen and I'd say it's nearly all that drives my Russian learning.

This was actually a bit tougher to work out than I thought. It's a great exercise to have a little think about the question "Why is it that I'm putting the effort into this language?" Be clear with your answer about this question and review it on a regular basis. What is your personal language learning driver?