Motivation Essay: Second Language Learning


Effects of Motivation in Second Language Acquisition

Motivation Essay: Introduction

People could be divided into two. Some motivate themselves to achieve a goal, and others expect the motivation from an outer source in order to complete a duty or a work. Therefore, it is quite valid to claim that motivation is a factor in achieving a goal. Surely, motivation has an influence on learning things as well, and there has been a question about this that is being researched for a while; the effects of motivation in second language acquisition. As it has on many activities in life, motivation is claimed to be a large effect on learning, especially the language learning process as well.

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In its broadest definition, motivation is a core reason to behave in a certain way, complete a task, or achieve a goal. One other definition for it is that motivation is an inner or outer source of the feeling of responsibility that makes people act in a certain way or complete a goal. Motivation is quite a goal-oriented type of behaviour. This means that people, who tend to analyze the possible outcomes of an act or the efficiency rate of an effort, are more likely to look for a solid motivation to complete a task (Krapp, 1999). Therefore, for people who has a sceptical approach towards cases, it should be an expected behaviour that they tend to look for a cause-and-effect relation. Ultimate causation is a good source of motivation for some people.

Motivation is often linked to physical or emotional parameters such as psychological, social, biological and cognitive causes that make people behave in a certain way. However, in everyday usage, the meaning of motivation is reduced to be the reason why a person does something. On the other hand, there are two main and distinct approaches to the language acquisition process. One side claims that learning a language is a natural process, and it does not require an extra source of motivation to do or achieve it. On the contrary, the other side claim that learning is a process that works under the chain of command of reasoning (Rollnick, 2000).

The first approach might be correct in terms of learning a language starting from birth and defining it as a mother tongue. However, in terms of second language acquisition, it is accepted to be a controversial claim. The second approach matches up better with both mother tongue acquisition and second language acquisition (Nunan, 1999). However, both of these approaches are not a hundred per cent accepted to be unquestionably correct. As a result, since it is still a controversial suggestion, it is better to check over the process of learning and the differences between acquiring the mother tongue and a second language to abstract facts from the literature and take a position in this controversy.

Learning, in its most broad definition, is building new neural bridges in the brain. Adler & Clark (1991) defines learning as creation since learning a piece of information requires creating new neural links in the brain. However, learning is so complex of a process that its definition could not be simplified to basically creating new neural links in the brain. For example, learning information in different subjects requires the collaborative work of different parts of the brain. Language learning is often regarded to be a social skill, even though it is profoundly linked to the part of the brain that processes mathematical information. Therefore, it is better to visualize the brain and the learning process as a factory that receives many different raw materials and picks and sorts the incoming parts that are useful to build a final product, instead of picturing it as a recycling facility that does not filter incoming material and processes all.

At this point, the idea of cognition becomes an issue to be considered. Cognition could be defined as the filtering process in the above analogy. If there were no filter of cognition, the brain would work like a recycling facility that receives an uncountable number of inputs and create a standardized output no matter what the inputs are and at what different combinations they are received. However, cognition, which is a whole complete process that works in a totally complex way, acts like an empirical filter and both select what kind of information is taken into the brain facility and in what combinations these raw pieces of information will be used (Bayton, 1958). Therefore, it is possible to see cognition as cache memory or a pre-brain.

As learning is roughly defined, it is now time to introduce a more specific process, which is learning or acquiring the language skill. Except for some extraordinary examples, language acquisition is a two-way process for most people. As a result of the way the human brain has evolved into its current state and works in the way it works today, it tends to prioritize information and automize the skills. As a result of this fact, most of the people who can speak two or more languages possess a portion in their brains that hosts their mother tongue and another distinct place where the additional or secondary language-related information is stored. The second language portion is still somewhere in the same part of the brain that linguistic or mathematical skills are stored, but it is not in the same place where the mother tongue skills of an individual are stored. Thus, learning a second language and being able to spontaneously using it is more or less the same for most people.

The difference of a language that a person has been exposed to since birth from another language that the same person decides to acquire on his or her own will is that the mother language has been learned since it was a must and it is automized as riding a bike or swimming. Therefore, it is possible to define the mother tongue as the cognition in language learning (Krapp, 1999). Since the mother tongue or the primary language of a person sets the standards and shapes the way of thinking in terms of linguistics, it defines what type of linguistic information is useful and welcome and which are not. For example, there is an experiment by Sandlin (2015), which is called a backwards bicycle. Sandlin started to post a series of vlogs on his YouTube channel named SmarterEveryDay in 2015. In the videos, he tries to learn to ride a bike again, but this time with a significant difference. Sandlin (2015) set up an experiment to research motor skills and learned to ride a bicycle with a handlebar that moves the opposite way to its normal.

Learning to ride a bike and to speak a language is quite similar in terms of scientific approach. Both require physical inputs, both are automized after learning, and both require planning and sensory adjustments while performing. Thus, the backwards or reverse bike experiment is quite useful as an example for language learning studies. In his experiment Sandlin, a bike rider of twenty-five years started to try riding a bike with a handlebar that moves the opposite way to the rider’s input. Thanks to the basic gear mechanism that Sandlin’s friend has executed, the front tire of the bike rotates to the left if Sandlin rotates the handlebar to the right and vice versa. This experiment gives an enormous number of clues of the staticity and one-sidedness of the human brain. In his experiment, Sandlin put a considerable amount of effort to adapt what he has been applying for twenty-five years and achieves his goal after struggling for a long time. At this point of the experiment, it is proven that the human brain is not fully static and is able to adapt to radical changes. However, the last part of the experiment resulted in another question. The one-sidedness of the human brain. As Sandlin mastered riding the bike with the new ordonnance, his brain attempted to erase the motor skills of twenty-five years, and he failed to ride a standard bike.

Sandlin’s experiment provides a lot of information and possibly new ideas in the context of this paper. Modelling riding a standard bike as speaking the mother tongue and learning to ride the backwards bike as acquiring a second language would be an efficient approach to understanding the learning mechanics of languages. For sure, learning a language is a process that is achieved in a longer scope of time compared to learning to ride a bike, and the number of motor skills and cognitive skills used while performing those actions is different. However, it is a common example that people who move to another country, where a language different than his or their mother tongue is spoken as the native language, tend to fail in grammar and pronunciation of the original mother tongue of his or her own, after living for too long of a time in the secondary language speaking country. The mother tongue is not forgotten or totally erased from the brain, but it is not as fresh and perfect as it used to be too.

Thus, learning a mother tongue is a process that people are exposed to without their consent. It is a must for a person to learn, just like walking or swimming. On the other hand, acquiring a second language is almost a totally different process, where an individual consent to. Therefore, a new term has to be defined here, and the term is the “motivation”. There is no need to look for motivation or consent for learning a mother tongue since it is a must that helps a person to satisfy one of the basic needs of a human being, which is communication. There could be many different causes or motivations to learn a second language; it might be just out of interest, related to career goals, or any social causes. However, there should be some logical reason to have the desire to learn to speak a new language. No one wakes up the next morning and feels the need of learning a language that is completely extinct or spoken by only a thousand people in the world.

There are similarities between learning a mother tongue and learning a second language. Since both are languages, the information related to both languages activates the same regions in the brain, which means almost the same parts are intensively used in the brain. However, there are differences in success rates between different languages, and this could be linked to the backwards bicycle experiment in an additional way. For example, learning Dutch for a person whose mother tongue is German is much less challenging compared to learning Turkish. Similarly, a person whose mother tongue is Persian would learn the Urdu language much easier compared to someone whose mother tongue is Russian. The difference is caused by language science. There are language families, and types that are set up on the same grammatical basis uses similar cases and words. On the other hand, some languages are greatly distinct from each other. As a result, acquiring a second language has its own dynamics that affect the success rate and determine the easiness level.

Other than the structural effect caused by the science of linguistics effects of acquiring a second language, Gardner (2010) claims that motivation has a great influence on second language acquisition as well. For many, the cause-and-effect principle or reasoning is an important factor in second language acquisition. Most people experience difficulty achieving a goal without any motivation. Whatsmore, there are many people who are not successful at motivating themselves or creating motivations, so that they need an outer source of motivation in order to complete a duty or achieve a goal. Therefore, a difference in terms of success rate and speed of the process is claimed to be present among people with and without a valid motivation to learn the second language. Since second language learning without motivation would be an optional activity or a hobby to spend idle time, the possibility of failure or backing out of learning the second language is higher.

By nature, humankind is prone to rationalize actions. People, although men and women tend to have different internal processes in terms of their biochemistry and emotional responses, naturally look for a logical reason to complete a task. Tokan and Imakulata (2019) state that most of the people in the world tend to question the reason for an action and look for a valid cause to act up. Some very basic examples are eating to assuage hunger, develop ways to communicate in order to socialize and solve problems, sleeping to get rest, and studying to be successful or overcome curiosity. Thus, looking for reasons is an evolutional heritage to us from our fathers, and it is completely natural.

Similar to their basic instincts, people tend to look for a valid reason to acquire a second language, as well, and the ones who have the motivation to learn the second language are claimed to be more successful overall. Athletes that train in order to participate in a challenge are reported to perform better compared to ones who train without the aim of any competition (Tokan and Imakulata, 2019). Similarly, athletes that compete at higher levels are expected to have a greater determination and success rate compared to ones, including top-level athletes without the motivation of a challenge, compete at a lower level or fail on the earlier stages (Lemyre, Treasure, & Roberts, 2006). Thus, motivation is an important factor in human behaviour, concentration, and success rate (Tokan and Imakulata, 2019). Similar to feeling the urge to satisfy a need such as eating or getting rest, a source of motivation has a considerable influence on acquiring a second language as well. “With four two-dimensional categories, 16 personality profiles, or combinations, are possible. Disciples of the Myers-Briggs research (Keirsey & Bates, 1984, for example) described the implications of being an "ENEJ" or an "ISTP," for example Managers may be aided in their understanding of employees by understanding their character type. ISTJs, for example, make better behind-the-scenes workers, while ENFPs might be better at dealing with the public, they stressed the importance of a teacher's understanding the individual differences of learners in a classroom: Es will excel in group work; Is will prefer individual work; SJs are "linear learners with a strong need for structure" (p. 52); NTs are good at paper-and-pencil tests. The generalizations were many.” (Brown, 1993)

Second language acquisition could be taken into consideration from two main perspectives that are clearly different. The first perspective is accepting second language acquisition as a challenge, where the other is considering it as an optional process. Considering second language acquisition as a challenge is more suitable for ambitious people who like to achieve difficult goals or compete and beat others. However, this approach is closer to the motivation seeker type. Therefore, first, start with the optional process type of learners. These people tend to be more laid-back in their daily life or professional life as well. Not everyone was born with the ambition level of a champion. As a result, the optional process type of learners does not like pressure, deadlines, and obligations. This type of learners performs better at a relaxed pace. On the other hand, the competitive type seeks for competition to be better and a target to reach. Deadlines, checkpoints, and pressure are the source of motivation for competitive people.

Regarding about acquisition of a second language, Gardner (2000) states that valid motivation is an important factor in second language acquisition success rate and speed. This statement is an acceptable approach for competitive people. However, it actually concerns laid-back learners too. As Lepper & Greeneoffers (2015) offers, the motivating factor is an important variable for humankind to act in a certain way and especially learning new information and Gardner (2000) adds motivation is a key factor in learning a second language, it is shown by studies and real-life examples that people on a tight schedule or possess an important motivation factor to have higher chances of being successful and achieving their goals in a shorter period.

In short, the motivation on acquiring a second language skill is considered to have a great amount of positive effect on the learning process in accordance with the theory of the power of persuasive models of social learning theorists. Therefore, a motivation is an inner or outer source of a persuasive power for the learner to study, improve, and build new neural connections. Although this does not mean learners with weaker motivations or the ones that study without a solid motivating factor are obligated to fail, motivation is profoundly has a positive influence on the second language acquisition process. Since mother language learning is partly related to the cognitive learning process and motor skills, the difference between the mother language learning and the second language acquisition should be considered. This difference and the structural state of learning a second language makes motivation a key factor in terms of success rate.

Motivation Essay: Conclusion

To sum up, motivation in second language learning is quite an important factor. However, it is not the main or the decisive factor. It is scientifically proven that motivation, just like it has on any other action or behaviour of people, has a positive effect on second language acquisition. This means someone who is supposed to learn a language as a second language is more likely to be successfully completing the task at least with the minimum specified requirements, compared to someone who practices a language just because he or she has free time and would like to make use of it by practising a language that he or she liked since childhood. Therefore, deadlines and goals are always good motivations to achieve a goal, and this works the similar way while acquiring a second language as well. Second language acquisition is a process of which an important portion has been revealed by neuroscience and psychology. Thus, an approximate map of learning a language as a second language could be drawn, and steps to follow for success could be listed. But without the will and consent of the learner, following the correct path is not very probable. The possibility of success, the correct or shortest path to follow in order to learn a new language, is always there; it has been studied, experienced, and experimented with for a long time. However, the probability, which is the second language acquisition, in this case, is highly related to motivation.


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Bayton, J. A. (1958). Motivation, cognition, learning—Basic factors in consumer behavior. Journal of Marketing, 22(3), 282-289.

Brown, H. D., & Brown, H. D. (1993). In Principles of language learning and teaching (pp. 153–185). essay, Prentice Hall Regents.

Gardner, R. C. (2000). Correlation, causation, motivation, and second language acquisition. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie Canadienne, 41(1), 10.

Gardner, R. C. (2010). Motivation and second language acquisition: The socio-educational model (Vol. 10). Peter Lang.

Krapp, A. (1999). Interest, motivation and learning: An educational-psychological perspective. European journal of psychology of education, 14(1), 23-40.

Lemyre, P. N., Treasure, D. C., & Roberts, G. C. (2006). Influence of variability in motivation and affect on elite athlete burnout susceptibility. Journal of sport and exercise psychology, 28(1), 32-48.

Lepper, M. R., & Greene, D. (Eds.). (2015). The hidden costs of reward: New perspectives on the psychology of human motivation. Psychology Press.

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Sandlin, D. (2015, Feb 25). SmarterEveryDay Channel YouTube Channel. The Backwards Brain Bicycle - Smarter Every Day 133.

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