Motivation is more complex than you think
Note to self, motivation is one of the most important factors for success in language learning. Yet, beyond the fact that everyone tells us to “be more motivated,” how much do we really know about it? First off, you should be aware that there is more than one kind of motivation. Secondly, know who this guy is because he literally wrote the book (or in this case the article) on motivation and language learning: Richard Gardner.
There are 4 kinds of motivation
Integrative- The title says it all. People who posses integrative motivation want to learn a foreign language in order to integrate with native speakers. They are interested in communicating with people and learning about their culture and language.
Instrumental- With this type, language becomes a tool (or instrument if you will) that allows you to achieve some goal such as passing your French exam or getting a job promotion.
Intrinsic- Motivation to learn comes from within.
Extrinsic- You are motivated to learn a language because someone else is either going to reward you or penalize you for it. Where as intrinsic motivation tends to correlate with long-term success, extrinsic is linked to more short term gains.
What the research says …
Gardner said that it’s hard to define motivation but it’s easy to list the attributes of motivated people (they tend to be driven, goal oriented, self-efficacious, not afraid to make mistakes). He also said that motivation impacts the thought processes, feelings and behavior of learners and went on to create the Attitude and Motivation Test Battery to use in his studies, a tool that tries to get at the different types of motivation learners have. He focused much of his research on the distinction between integrative vs instrumental and in Gardner and Lambert (1959, 1972) showed that integrative motivation correlated with greater success in language learning.
5 Steps for becoming a Motivation Guru
So, considering that researchers today say you can’t always tease the instrumental from the integrative, how can you motivate yourself to have more of the “awesome” kind of motivation that correlates with success in language learning?
1. Ask yourself why you are learning a language.
Is it just for school or work or because you are actually interested in the culture? If it’s not the latter then become interested. Learning about the people and places where a language is spoken helps, but so does relating this knowledge to topics you already care about. For example if you fancy your morning Starbucks look into how Italians take their coffee. In this way you will develop both integrative and intrinsic motivation to learn more. If you are already interested in the culture, keep up the good work! Pick up a book on the local music, culinary, or religious traditions and read it in parallel to your language study.
2. Seek out people who speak the language or come from the target country.
This one is a no-brainer. Humans are social creatures and we like company, especially new friends we can communicate with. Making contacts outside of your mother tongue language circle will not only encourage incidental learning and up your exposure to language input, but it will foster more integrative emotions and expand your perspective at the same time.
3. Watch a soap opera or romantic comedy in the target language.
Do the characters seem like-able? If at the end you’d like to tell them off or invite them over for dinner, you’re on the right path. The goal of this activity is to make you want to communicate with speakers of the target language, even if at the end of the day they are only characters played by actors.
4. Focus on speaking and listening and don’t sweat the small stuff.
We tend to engage in more informal communication with people verbally. And guess what? With speaking and listening there is no record of any mistakes you may have made. So you can feel free to let loose, even if you don’t make a whole lot of sense all of the time.
5. Take a step back and appreciate the language for what it is.
Language learning can be both tedious and overwhelming at times. To fall in love with a language, its culture and its speakers, sometimes we have to step away from it and see it in a more global context. For example, if Spanish has been giving you a hard time, you might take a quick look at Chinese and then develop a new found appreciation for the alphabet and rolled rrrrrr’s.