The Importance Of Motivation In The Language Classroom Education Essay

Motivation is one of the biggest drives of learning a second language and it is a fundamental part of what a teacher faces every day. The English syllabus for primary and secondary school clearly states that it is a teacher’s responsibility to enhance and stimulate each and every student’s will to learn and to grow. ‘Being able to encourage students and gain support from colleagues and parents is an integral part of the role of MFL teachers.’ (Teaching Agency, 2012)

The MFL subject hasn’t played such an important role in the National Curriculum in the past that might be due that taking a language as a GCSE subject is and was not compulsory.

What is the EBC?

‘The EBacc was introduced as a performance measure in the 2010 performance tables. The measure recognises where pupils have secured a ‘C’ grade or better in GCSEs or accredited international GCSEs (iGCSEs) across a core of subjects – English, mathematics, two sciences, history or geography and a language (including Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) or ancient languages).’ (Sam Clemens, 2011)

However, studies found that with the introduction of the new English Baccalaureate Certificates (EBCs) students’ motivation to learn a language could change.

It seems to me that at the pupils do not see the purpose for learning a language as the general assumption is “every one speaks English” ‘For many in the UK, English is their first and only language. On grounds of functionality, why would they want to get their heads around the grammar, vocabulary and literature of foreigners? They comfort themselves with the belief that “everyone speaks English” – when that’s not true of 75% of the world’s population.’ (The Observer, Sunday 26 June 2011)

This paper will explore motivation in the secondary school class room with the focus specifically on learning a second language, L2. First I will explore what is meant by Motivation, I believe it is utterly important that the reader understand what is meant with the term motivation as this term is examined throughout this research paper. The second part of the essay will analyze motivational factors and motivational problems. It will look at what motivates human beings and what does not motivate them. This is valuable as it is part of a teacher’s tool box if he/she wants to influence their students’ motivation. In conclusion this essay will look at motivational strategies a teacher can employ to influence students’ motivation.

What is meant with the term Motivation?

To answer the question of what is motivation one has to discover that the team is very versatile. The Latin verb “motivus”, a form of movere which means to move and as a result is related to the importance of motivation. Generally Motivation is described as goal orientated behaviour. A definition of the word motivation might be “factors within a human being or other animal that arouse and direct goal-oriented behaviour” (, Motivation). Gardner and Masgoret put forward that Motivation refers to ‘goal-directed behaviour (cf , Heckhausen, 1991), and when one is attempting to measure motivation, attention, can be directed toward a numbers of features of the individual.'(Gardner and Masgoret, 2003)

A wide range of literature has been written on that topic and there are many different ideas out there on what Motivates people and students’.

Every human being has different commitment needs. Those need differ from individual to individual as everybody has their individual desires to motivate themselves. Depending on how motivated we are, it can determine the effort we put into our work and therefore increase the standard of the productivity.

Motivation has been contemplated as one of the most important components contributing to language learning success. Research over the last decades has over and over again underlined the important position of motivation in successful language learning. (Gardner & Lambert ,Deci and Ryan, Ushioda, Dörnyei ).

Two of the leading theories dealing with second language acquisition were proposed by Stephen Krashen and J.H. Schumann.

Krashen’s idea was that language learning is a subconscious and natural process during which the learner improves with real-life practice. “Grammar-translation violates nearly every component of the Input Hypothesis, and it is therefore predicted that this method will have the effect of putting the student “on the defensive”(Stephen D Krashen, p 129, 1982)

While Schumann’s acculturation model highlights an integrating of the learners’ target language, culture and community. According to Schumann the learner regards the TL speakers as a reference group whose life style and values he consciously or unconsciously desires to adopt. (Schumann, p 340, 1986)

Both theories can be applied in the classroom for a positive effect.

What does Motivation mean for the language classroom?

I believe it is extremely important to understand how motivation works in the classroom. There are dateless procedures teachers use to accomplish desired effects from their students, but there are overall patterns these motivational tools follow. In ordination for teachers to transmit with their students, they must identify with their needs on an idiosyncratic basis.

This intent is corresponding to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which states basic needs must be met to obtain rich motivation. These needs, in ascending order, are as follows: Physiological Needs, Safety and Security Needs, Love and Belongingness Needs, Self-Worth and Self-Esteem Needs, the Need to Know and Understand, Aesthetic Needs, the Need for Self-Actualization (D. Martin and K. Joomis, Building Teachers: A Constructivist Approach to Introducing Education, pp. 72-75.1997).

The most important point about Maslow theory is for students to have a educational goal and that learning is taking place.

Another important factor is to make this newly gained knowledge and information purposeful as well as meaningful to students so that it may be retained. Also students should see the purpose for retaining the knowledge and how they could use it throughout their lives.

An essential factor involved in meeting these goals is motivation. If the students are unmotivated in one way or another, it is likely that hardly any learning will take place or it is very likely that knowledge will not be retained.

This theory had a great impact on educational structures. In his later years, Maslow realised that an environmental precondition of stimulation, or challenge, was needed to motivate individuals.

Maslow’s first need of physiological satisfactoriness is very basic. This question simply asks if students are in a comfortable and safe surrounding for their learning. In plain English, are students hungry, too cold, too hot and is the environment stimulating to learn in? If a student’s physical surrounding does not match properly with the student’s need, he/she will not be encouraged to learn or to reach any higher need.

Similarly, if students do not feel safe (via the second need, security), they will not be able to focus learning something. Consistent expectations and the accepting and non-judgmental attitude of the teachers can also produce students who feel secured and confident in their teachers. On the occasion that a student feels threatened by another student or by the teacher, he/she may not progress as well as hoped. Furthermore in many cases, he/she reverts from the education rather than responding to it. In order to lessen feelings of threat, a teacher can manifest feelings of protection and love, which is the third hierarchal need.

The need for the sense of love and belonging in students are important either in the teacher-student relationships or in the student-student relationships. A teacher’s personality should be empathetic, considerate and interested in the individuals, patient, fair, having positive attitude and being good listener. Teachers who have these characteristics will provide the students with more confidence and consequently pupils will be able to learn and improve better in their studies. With regard to the student to student relationships teachers should encourage peer tutoring or class meetings. By having good relationships with teachers and peers, students will have fulfilled their need to belong, and also have the feeling of being cared and loved.

In Maslow’s fourth need, esteem, a teacher must be careful not to overload on both criticism and praise. Students must feel as if they deserve praise in order for them to assimilate hard work with praise. Teachers also should not forget that criticism, even when applied correctly, can damage pupils’ feelings and can create a lack of motivation. Students must feel the need of self-respect and to be respected by the others. Teachers should start develop new knowledge based on the background knowledge, they also have to help to ensure success (scaffolding) and to pace instructions to fit individual needs. Teachers should also focus on the individual’s strengths and assets when planning lessons and carrying them out.

To satisfy the next need of understanding and knowledge, the teachers should allow the students’ time to explore areas of curiosity and to provide lessons that are intellectually challenging. By using the discovery approach topics, the students can learn to be independent and learn from various angles. By getting involved intellectually, the students can satisfy their need to fulfil their need to explore, discover and solve new things. Teachers must also be careful to assert authority; however, they must also respect students for their efforts.

The need for aesthetic is also very important for the students. By organizing classroom materials in a neat and appealing way, the students will be attracted to learn about the things related to the materials. Pleasing, well maintained and fresh smelling classrooms with attractive wall hangings can create stability in the students who will feel comfortable to study in such surrounding.

The highest need in the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is the need for self actualization.

Teachers expecting the students to do their best will push the students to utilize their own potential and at the same time to satisfy their own need of self fulfilment.

By giving the students freedom to explore and discover on their own, the teachers are able to make learning more meaningful for the students

A student who fails to achieve any of the previous four needs may not be motivated to continue in the academic setting because of the connotations of frustration and distrusts in the education system.

While Maslow’s hierarchy makes sense from a sociology point of view, there are flaws in his theory.

When Maslow undertook his research he didn’t take 3rd world countries in consideration. There often safety is not given or their might not even feel comfortable with in their environment, however, learning is still taking place, as students are motivated by other factors. Thus might be hope of a better life, being aware that acquiring a second language will allow them to leave their surroundings one day. Even in the UK as witness and my first school placement the first basic need of Physiological Need was not fulfilled. Their some students came to school without having had breakfast in the morning. The environment they had to learn in was not in my point of you educational stimulating as windows could be closed or opened. Therefore, often students were to hot or too cold. Nevertheless and this is important to point out learning took place. Therefore, the question arouses why is that so if the first need wasn’t fulfilled why didn’t students reach a higher level anyway?

As mentioned before a wide range of literature has been written on Motivation and there are many different ideas out there on what Motivates students’. Every student has different needs. Those need differ from individual to individual as everybody has their individual desires to motivate themselves.

Gardner and Lambert (1959, 1972) have done revolutionary work to look at the nature of motivation specifically to language studies. Gardner highlights in a paper from 2007 ‘that Motivation to learn a second language is not a simple construct.

It cannot be measured by one scale; perhaps the whole range of motivation cannot be assessed by even three or four scales. It definitely cannot be assessed by merely asking individuals to give reasons for why they think learning a language is important to them.’ (Gardner, 2007)

In 1982 Gardner and Lambert (1972:3) defined two different types of motivation:

1) Instrumental motivation: the desire to learn a language because it would fulfill certain utilitarian goals, such as getting a  job, passing an examination, etc.

2) Integrative motivation: Gardner’s view is based on that the ‘ integratively motivated student is one who is motivated to learn the second language, has an openness to identification with the other language community, and has a favorable attitude towards the learning situation.’ (Gardner and Masgoret, 2003)

Distinctions have been made in the literature between ‘integrative” and ‘instrumental’ motivation. However, Penny suggests (2005:276) that, research since then has cast doubt on the application of this claim to foreign language learners in general.  In any case, at least one other study has indicated that it may be impossible in practice to distinguish between the two.

An alternative distinction, possibly more useful for teachers, is that between ‘intrinsic’ motivation (the urge to engage in the learning activity for its own sake) and ‘extrinsic’ (motivation that is derived from external incentives).  

Human beings in general are so different from each other. This doesn’t only apply to people but to students also. Different students get motivated by different factors, thus might be motivated intrinsically or extrinsically.

Up to a certain age students tend to get motivated by the possibility of receiving a treat. Those treat could be in the form of sweets or more frequently used as witnessed by myself merit stickers. When I was a child within the German education system we would receive little stamps in the form of bees in the back of our homework diary. We also received grades from the first year onwards. This also was highly motivating. Even so it only extrinsically motivated us as students until we saw the purpose of learning and our motivation changed into intrinsic motivation. We both types of motivation I can see flaws. What happens if no rewards system is introduces with in the classroom environment through grades, sweets or merits stickers will learning still take place? And on the other hand how do you motivate a child to engage in learning for its own sake?

Captured within extrinsic and intrinsic motivation are the ideas of positive and negative reinforcement. These motivators are commonly used in classrooms in order to elicit a desire to achieve in students. Positive reinforcement is a way of adding a pleasurable experience to a pupils mind in order to engage that pupil. Praise is a common form of this; a teacher who properly utilizes praise commends the pupil for his or her particular piece of work, not personal qualities that make the work special.

However, a teacher must be equally sensitive to different cultures as to the majority culture. Hitz and Driscoll (1989) point out that students from different socioeconomic classes, ability levels, and genders may not respond in the same way to praise and may make students feel less worthy if they do not constantly receive praise.

Self-determination Theory

Deci and Ryan (1985) introduced self-determination theory and claimed that motivation has three orientations namely amotivation, extrinsic, and intrinsic. Amotivation takes place when students do not value the activity that they are doing, do not feel competent, and do not think that the activity will benefit them or lead to a desired outcome (Deci & Ryan, 2000).

Extrinsic and intrinsic orientations are distinguished by whether the reward received is external such as receiving good grades or avoiding punishment, or internal, such as enjoyment and satisfaction in doing a certain activity (Dörnyei, 1994). When students are motivated because of a reward or consequences that they will receive for doing or not doing an activity, they are said to be extrinsically motivated.

Deci and Ryan (2000) put extrinsic motivation into four regulations according to their level of orientation toward self-determination. External regulation is the least self-determined extrinsic motivation. Students who are externally regulated are those who do an activity due to an external reward or other considerations. The next level is introjected regulation. Students in this level of extrinsic motivation do not enjoy doing an activity but they have a system of reward and punishment that is internally governed. The third level is identified regulation where students are more self-determined. Students in this level are engaged in an activity because they perceived that the activity is valuable to them. Finally, the most self-determined of extrinsic motivation is integrated regulation. This regulation is performed by students who do not simply do the activity because the social value says it is of value to them, but they do it because they themselves value the activity. This orientation resembles Dörnyei‟s ideal self (2005) in that all the attributes that one would like to possess can function as a very powerful motivator. It is also very similar to intrinsic motivation, yet at this stage students do not necessarily enjoy doing the tasks.

In some situations, however, praise is not appropriate to monitor and modify students? behaviours. In general, behaviour and attitude are extremely important facets in the realm of motivation, and teachers must be aware of means to stop conduct that is harmful to his, or other students learning. In some cases, the use of negative reinforcement is appropriate. The concept of negative reinforcement is difficult to teach and learn because the word negative confuses the meaning, but the concept refers to strengthen[ing] a behaviour because a negative condition is stopped or avoided as a consequence of the behaviour.? (Levine, 1999).

In the classroom, this would be admonishing a student to stop a disruptive behaviour, such as researching inappropriate websites on the Internet. Rather than use a reward to bribe students to stay on task, teachers can take away a positive force to take away the negative action. Many students are motivated by the prospect of pleasing the teacher, therefore avoiding negative reinforcement, which can be embarrassing to a student.

These general patterns of motivation are useful in the classroom, but teachers must also be aware of a changing society in order to cater to students needs. In today’s world where ten year olds can easily manipulate through the internet, teachers must he trained in ways to utilize technology in a classroom setting


Ushioda (2001) claimed that autonomy is the need to feel volitional.

It is the state in which students perceive themselves as having some choices in doing a certain task including a choice not to do the task.

Autonomy is one of the metacognitive elements that are needed in motivational behaviour when learning. It is an attitude towards learning where students are responsible for their own learning. It has been closely tied with the fulfilment of one’s needs that creates intrinsic motivation (Deci & Ryan, 1985). Dickinson (1995) argued that it leads to a better and more effective achievement. Dörnyei and Csizér (1998) listed promoting students‟ autonomy as one of the Ten Commandment that teachers have to keep in mind in enhancing students‟ motivation.

Motivational Strategies

Lastly, Dörnyei and Csizér (1998:215) performed an extensive survey where they investigated how 200 Hungarian teachers of English worked with motivating their students during class. They came up with 10 of the most used strategies and these can be seen as a concise overview of what has previously been presented:

1. “Set a personal example with your own behaviour”.

If the teacher acts as he/she would want the students to act, the chances are greater that they actually will so by showing that the subject is fun, interesting and important this attitude might be transmitted to the students.

2. “Create a pleasant, relaxed atmosphere in the classroom”.

If the atmosphere is pleasant, the students are more likely to have the courage to express themselves in a second language, something which can often feel intimidating for many.

3. “Present the tasks properly”

If the tasks are presented properly the students are less likely to find content and assignments to be confusing and thereby lose motivation to work because they do not understand what to do.

4. “Develop a good relationship with the learners”.

If the teacher has a good relationship with the students, they are more likely to feel comfortable and secure during class. This will then increase the chances of the students feeling motivated to learn the subject.

5. “Increase the learners’ linguistic self-confidence”.

If the students’ self-confidence is increased, they are more likely to feel it is worth their while to study and learn. Without self-confidence, the students tend to think that it does not matter whether they study or not, they will not succeed in the end anyway.

6. “Make the language classes interesting”.

If the content of the English classes are perceived as interesting by the students, they are more likely to want to learn it.

7. “Promote learner autonomy”.

If the students learn how to work by themselves during class and to succeed after having taken charge of an assignment themselves, this might make them see that they accomplished this by themselves and thereby motivate them to continue learning.

8. “Personalize the learning process”.

If the learning process is personalized, which in this case refers to the using of relevant material and the integration of the students’ own personalities in the content of the subject, the students are more likely to embrace what is to be learned.

9. “Increase the learners’ goal-orientedness”.

If the teacher helps the students to set goals for themselves of what they want to accomplish and learn, it becomes easier for the students to concretize how they need to go about it in order to reach the goal. This way, a goal does not resemble an insurmountable obstacle which might interfere with the students’ motivation to learn an L2.

10. “Familiarize learners with the target language culture”.

If the students know about the English countries and their cultures, the students’ attitudes towards the language might improve and thereby rendering the language more interesting and motivating to learn.

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