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Individual Learner Difference In Second Language Acquisition Education Essay

3124 words (12 pages) Essay in Education

5/12/16 Education Reference this

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SLA (Second language acquisition) is a process through which an individual learns a second language as an additional language after having learned a native language already. SLA involves broad research and is considered a branch of applied linguistics. The concept is also related to education, neuroscience sociolinguistics, and psychology. Learning a second language is not an easy task, this is a practice that involves commitment, study, dedication, patient as well as time in order to develop. People who learn a second language do not do it because is just a compulsory subject at school, but because they feel encouraged to learn it , considering factors such us, communication with foreigners, academic studies and better opportunities to find a good job.

Research has shown that there are differences among second language learners that significantly affect language learning success. As a result, the study of individual differences (IDs) especially in language learning motivation and language aptitude has been attributed to researches on L2 studies dating back to the 1960s. Motivation is what guides people to accomplish and be successful in all areas of life. Regarding the classroom environment, this term is the basis of how enthusiastic or unwilling students are to learn and the guidance force to maintain the extensive and sometimes tiresome learning process. Both the degree of motivation and educational success frequently seem to go hand in hand, which can be clearly observed throughout the teaching practice.

This essay seeks to explore and discuss in detail one individual learner difference in second language acquisition, which is motivation. Apart from defining the term, regarding different authors, the essay will also include the analysis of the various types of motivation, as well as, the role motivation plays in second language classrooms. And finally, ways of fostering motivation will be proposed.

The term Motivation in SLA

One of the individual learner differences in SLA is motivation, which is a term difficult to define, since its meaning could depend on the individuals and their cultures. Dörnyei (2002: 1) says that motivation “is best seen as a broad umbrella term that covers a variety of meanings”, but simultaneously this author also describes motivation as the factor in charge of determining why individuals decide to carry out an action, the amount of effort people invest in the tasks as well as the rate of perseverance people put when completing various activities. Alike Dörnyei, Passer and Smith (2004: 327) perceive motivation as “a process that influences the direction, persistence and vigour of goal-directed behaviour”. According to Gardner (1985), motivation is what makes people to act towards a given situation. Taking into consideration all these definitions which state what the term of motivation is, it can be deduced that the concept refer to some type of energy that guides individuals to undertake a task in their lives.

The motivated language learner

Lightbown and Spada (2002) point out that motivation is a factor that plays an important role in language learning success. In the context of language learning is what pushes a pupil to gain knowledge of the English language. The importance of motivation in relation to achieving the goals of learning English as a Second Language according to Naiman et al, (1978) is that it gives the learner the ability to tolerate ambiguity; a need for achievement; a positive orientation towards the task; high aspirations; ego involvement; perseverance and goal orientation. Therefore, a motivated language student is a person who has positive attitudes towards the target language. These attitudes are shown when the second language learner makes efforts to acquire the language and has a consistent desire of studying and discovering new and additional material. Moreover, looking for opportunities and ways where he or she will be able to put in practice the target language. An additional way of defining a motivated learner is when learning the second language is a comfortable situation for the apprentice, taking pleasure in the tasks involved. Furthermore, a pupil that experience a high level of motivation will doubtless feel pleased about learning the language.

Researchers have arisen several explanations of what encourages learners to study a foreign language; they have found that motivational factors are fundamental at the time of speaking about second language success.

Types of motivation

As it was mentioned before, there are diverse meanings for motivation in SLA, regardless of the words they basically refer to the same notion. Also, there are different factors which somewhat vary depending on the authors’ points of view. I will refer in this essay to the different types of motivation, taking into consideration different authors.

Extrinsic and Intrinsic motivation:

The words extrinsic and intrinsic are to some extent complicated, given that both terms do not seem to have a clear definition in the field of second language acquisition. Passer and Smith (2004) cite extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, even though Noels (2002) uses the terms extrinsic and intrinsic orientations. For these authors, Passer and Smith and Noel, extrinsic signifies that people carry out an action to accomplish an external goal or evade punishment, while by intrinsic motivation the authors altogether mean that students do activities, due to the satisfaction they get from the tasks themselves. Activities that motivate students intrinsically are likened to enjoyable activities, fun, or things that students do out of their own choice. Some of the conducted studies assert that intrinsically motivating activities lead to improved learning by the students. The difference between Passer & Smith (2004) and Noels (2002) is just the notion motivation and orientations, in view of the fact that both terms involved different approaches of motivation. The initial term proposes that the motivation itself comes from outside or within; while the term orientation suggests that it is rather the different triggers of motivation that comes from outside or within.

Although, Glasser (1996) does not use the terms intrinsic and extrinsic, he provides a third route to see where motivation comes from. He states that motivation is produced trying to satisfied the essential desires which all human beings own. For instance, the need of entertainment. He points out that even if a person is influenced by the environment, all motivation still comes from inside the individual, because it is he or she who really choose whether or not and how to carry out an activity. Though I concur with Glasser that just the individuals are the ones who make their own decisions, I think that what motivates people, are factors which can be both external and internal.

Alternatively, Garden and Lambet (1972) coined the following terms to classify motivation.

Integrative Motivation

Garden and Lambet (1972) describe this term as the desire that the learners have to familiarize themselves with the culture of the ethnic group that speaks the language they intend to learn. Gardner (2002) himself perceives Integrativeness as one of the factors that conduct to motivation for second language learning, and by this he suggests that whether learners have the hope to come nearer the L2 community they will have real desire in learning and studying the second language. Besides, the term also refers to the degree at which the learner desires to understand the target community. Essentially, integrative motivation refers to a learner’s desire to expand their association with the community that they are targeting. Saville – Troike, (2005) affirm that the main triggers of this type of motivation are emotions or affective factors. For instance, a Chilean boy who come to live in London for a time, meet an English girl and fall in love with her. He will have the desire and motivation to learn English in order to communicate with his girlfriend and integrate into the new culture and become part of the community.

As Chile is mainly a monocultural society, chances to utilize the second language in daily conversations are fairly limited. Therefore, learners do not feel motivated to learn the second language to become part of the community, since they just need their first language to interact.

It can be discussed that integrative motivation is an intrinsic factor, because it implies that learning a second language is more a final aim itself rather than a mean to accomplish a final goal, due to the authentic desire on the learning tasks (Noels (2002).

Instrumental Motivation:

One more term that Gardner and Lambert made up is instrumental motivation which Lightbown & Spada (2002: 56) introduce as “language learning for more immediate or practical goals”. Very similar to integrative motivation, instrumental motivation also sees language learning as an instrument to accomplish a goal rather than the satisfaction in the action itself. However, what distinguishes both terms is the final aim, which in integrative motivation is the interaction in the L2 community while in instrumental motivation the ultimate goal is more practical, for instance, obtaining a better job, career developmental or passing exams. For most Chilean learners of English instrumental motivation is the key element at the time to learn English as a second language.

For Lightbown & Spada (2002) both types of motivation are important , they say that whether the students feel the necessity to interact in the second language in various social situations or to accomplish academic and professional aspirations, the communicative value of the foreign language will be perceived and therefore, they will feel encouraged to get proficiency in the language. I agree with the authors that both types of motivation are important to acquire a second language, However for Chilean people integrative motivation is far to be seen as a reason to study the second language due to the fact that Chile , as I mentioned earlier, is a monocultural and monolingual society.

Classroom Learning Motivation vs. Language Learning Motivation

When considering second language acquisition and motivation, it is important to put two motivational constructs into consideration. Research has shown that there are two categories of motivation that should be put into account when discussing SLA. This mainly deals with the difference that exists between classroom learning motivation and language learning motivation. Language learning motivation refers to the desire to learn a second language. Language learning motivation includes evaluated second language acquisition, socio-educational representation (Gardner, 1985), the preparedness to converse model (Clement, Dornyei, MacIntyre & Noels, 1998) among others. It is the universal type of motivation that applies to any context of learning a language. The universal attributes of the learner relate to the need to learn the language. Clement’s (1980) social context model, Gardner’s (1985) SLA social-education model among others, agree that the motivation or desire to learn a second language is a characteristic that has considerable effects on the individual although they are different when it comes to assessment, correlates and antecedents.

The other type of motivation is the learning motivation in a classroom. According to Heckhausen and Kuhl (1985), classroom-learning motivation is the general educational psychology as described by Dornyei’s model of post-actional, actional, and pre-actional motivation model. Although it is seen to be an important part to motivation as a whole, the SLA socio-educational model by Gardner, (1985), characterizes it. The main focus is the person’s view on the mission to be achieved and to a large extent, it is state oriented. This means that a number of issues that are related to the language class will affect the individual’s perception. As a result, the atmosphere in the class, the teacher, the contents of the course, facilities and materials combined with the student’s personal attributes will affect the person’s motivation when it comes to classroom learning.

It is hard to differentiate between the two categories of motivation because they control the individual at any particular time. Therefore, it is important to consider both classes of motivation operative. Just as hard as it is to define motivation, it is equally difficult to give an explanation to the meaning of learning a second language. According to Gardner, the motivational strength can only be estimated from questionnaires based on an individual’s attitude and is considered to be a hidden psychometric characteristic. Other educational practices have applied the use of indicators that have been observed from individual’s behavior in response to a given task. This depends on the person’s selection of tasks, which is determined by the level of difficulty, the persistency of the learner to tackle the problem at hand, the extent at which an individual participates in a group or class activities, the span of attention and focus, or the qualitative information available on spoken reports of self-regulation and self-monitoring.

The new research program by Crookes and Schmidt (1991) includes the advancements made in the universal educational, which has narrowed to the field of language learning motivation. This directs its focus on individuals, the approaches that the learner might implement in the learning process, the learning contexts, and the observable conduct of class members. Following the inception of the new outline, the areas of interest have shifted to the learner as an individual. In Covington’s self-worthy theory (1998), the importance of the learner’s ideas were emphasized, their own beliefs, the strategy they use, and the level of their desire to deal with the task at hand. The self- efficacy concept by Bandura (1997) is a very important related characteristic which assesses the level at which learners gauge their potential and their own management. Individuals who have this ability come up with an efficient motivational thinking strategy and are able to reduce the risk of failure and increase their chances of success while depending less on outside obligatory measures and strategies.

Motivation: Individual Learner Difference in Chilean Culture

Clement and Noels (1996) indicate that the cultural settings present different language learning and individual learner differences. In the Chilean cultural setting, the motivation to learn the English language offer some challenges to the learners due to most of the students who attend Chilean public schools are in social risk. In addition, many of the learners may be discouraged to put personal effort in learning the language because of the fact that they may not find the language useful outside the educational setting. Others may be of the opinion that their chances of travelling to a country where English is spoken as a native language are rather minimal. Furthermore, challenges that come with teaching a class that has many students may affect the effectiveness of the teachers and the quality of the lesson. This together with the little interest towards learning the English language may influence negatively the motivation to teach as well as the motivation to learn.

Fostering Motivation

The best ways to foster motivation is to create a good environment, which is beneficial for second language learning. This can be done by reducing the number of students per class to ensure that the instruction given by the English teachers is of good quality. The teachers should also come up with plans that apply to both slow learners and fast learners so as to ensure that those who do not grasp quickly are not left far behind because this may demotivate them to continue learning. The schools may consider initiating exchange programs with schools where English is the native language. This would give students the feeling that studying English is not an effort in vain but a step in the right direction since it would help them in securing jobs and touring other parts of the world. Moreover, teachers should come up with a timetable that gives us enough time to prepare for our classes by getting the necessary materials as well as reflecting on the success of the program. This would help us in coming up with a better plan to teach hence improving our teaching methodology. It would also help teachers find ways of motivating their own students. With the relevant authorities ensuring that, schools are well equipped to teach English as a second language, students will be motivated to learn and teachers will be motivated to teach.


The above discussion has provided an analysis of motivation as an individual learner difference. There have been numerous research studies exploring individual learner differences, which have indicated that the main reason why many L2 students fail while others succeed effortlessly is the presence of different student characteristics such as language aptitude, motivation, or personality traits. The motivation of the student is very important in the learning process and is regarded as the key factor that contributes to the success of SLA. Research has revealed that intrinsic motivation is more successful than external or extrinsic motivation over the long term. Some students’ learning rate is higher as compared to others. Some learners are able to grasp quickly and they go on to the level of reaching near-native competence while slow learners experience difficulties in the early stages of the learning process. Recently conducted research has shown that this disparity is caused by the particular strategy adopted by the learner, motivation, anxiety, personality, as well as societal and social influences.

Research has clearly shown that the intensity of the student’s motivation to its highest level, including the cognitive, affective, and behavioral components are the most important aspects towards success in SLA. Since the integrative motive incorporates the aspect of being open to cultural identification as part of the process, it tries to imply that integration may be more connected to achieving highest level of achievement as compared to other types of motivation that do not have this component. Classroom learning motivation seems to be a system that encourages individuals to acquire specific language elements but for the students to be masters of the language, more is needed. In my opinion, the integrative motivation provides the students with a better platform for SLA.

A teacher’s role in the process of learning a second language is rather complicated but very important. It surpasses the provision of reward since the whole experience is dependent on the self-efficacy of the student. The teacher’s role entails providing challenging yet supportive environment to allow the students to learn and explore their potential. The teachers are also supposed to help their students to develop their own motivational thinking by discovering their original orientation. The most challenging aspect in all of this is trying to avoid anything that may de-motivate the students. Although it is very much possible to imagine other forms of motivation, the type of motivation does not matter very much. The difference that emerges between instrumental and integrative motivation, or between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation does very little in helping us to understand the role that motivation plays in second language acquisition.

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