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Learner Motivation

A paper by “Parakmiako Ergaleio” for the course of Applied Linguistics


I. Defining Motivation and Identifying its Importance for Learning and for
Language Learning More Specifically--------------------------------------------------------3

A. Concept of Motivation --------------------------------------------------------------3

1. Definition of Motivation -----------------------------------------------------3
2. Types of Motivation ----------------------------------------------------------4
3. Four Conditions for Motivation --------------------------------------------4
B. Characteristics of Motivated Learners---------------------------------------------5
C. Importance of Motivation ----------------------------------------------------------6

II. Developing and Sustaining Student Motivation in the Greek EFL Class-----------7

A. Characteristics of the Greek Learner ----------------------------------------------8

B. Role of the Teacher ------------------------------------------------------------------8
C. Curriculum and Assessment -------------------------------------------------------9
D. Teaching Methods/Strategies -----------------------------------------------------10
E. Classroom Climate -----------------------------------------------------------------11
F. Technology and Motivation ------------------------------------------------------12

III. Conclusions -------------------------------------------------------------------------------13

IV. Bibliography -----------------------------------------------------------------------------14

I. Defining Motivation and Identifying its Importance for Learning and for
Language Learning More Specifically
A. Concept of Motivation

1. Definition of Motivation

Modern educational and psychological point of view provides evidence of these dimensions for
effective learning: motivation, self-assessment, psychological atmosphere, perception of learning
significance and development of skills (www.coactivity.vgtu.It, 96).

Motivation is a conscious or unconscious driving force that arouses and directs action towards the
achievement of a desired goal. Motives are the needs, the desires, etc. that cause a person to act
(Longman Dictionary, 956). Motivation is a range of an individual’s behaviours in terms of the
way they personally initiate things, determine the way things are done, do something with intensity
and show perseverance to see something through to an end (, 1).

Motivated students develop positive attitudes towards learning: they are interested, excited and
motivated to learn, or have a zest for learning. Moreover, they develop their own learning
strategies: they adapt and change the way they learn, they persevere and have an ‘energy and
drive’ to learn. They also have ambitions and aspirations: they know what they want to achieve
and are willing to pursue those goals, even in the face of difficulties (, 1-2).
Motivation has three components: attitudes towards learning the second language, desire to learn
the language, and effort made to learn the language. All three are involved if the student is ‘truly
motivated’ (Spolsky, 154). A well-motivated learner will probably be a successful learner (Tarone,
135). Motivation in the present context refers to the combination of effort plus desire to achieve
the goal of learning plus favorable attitudes towards learning the language. Motivation itself is a
complex construct, as Gardner remarks (Spolsky, 150).

2. Types of Motivation

A distinction has been made in the literature between ‘integrative’ and ‘instrumental’ motivation:
the desire to identify with and integrate into the target-language culture, contrasted with the wish
to learn the language for purposes of study or career promotion (Ur, 276).

Another distinction is that between ‘intrinsic’ and ‘extrinsic’ motivation. Intrinsic motivation
concentrates on learning (, 3). It is the motivation that is generated inside the
classroom through the choice of instructional activities (Davies, 536). Extrinsic motivation
concentrates on performance (, 3). It is the motivation that students bring to the
language classroom (Davies, 536). The most important features in raising extrinsic motivation are:
success and its rewards, failure and its penalties, authoritative demands, tests and competition (Ur,

A third distinction which has been made (Brown, 1987) is that between ‘global’, ‘situational’ and
‘task’ motivation: the first is the overall orientation of the learner towards the learning of the
foreign language; the second has to do with the context of learning (classroom, total environment);
and the third the way the learner approaches the specific task in hand (Ur, 276).

3. Four Conditions for Motivation

Included in Crookes’ and Schmidt’s (Crookes, Schmidt 1991) discussion of the definition and
measurement of L2 learning motivation are four conditions for motivation introduced by Keller.
Keller’s four conditions are: ‘Interest’ (in the topic and activity), ‘Relevance’ (to the student’s
lives), ‘Expectancy’ (expectations of success and feelings of being in control) and ‘Satisfaction’
(in the outcome). These four conditions contain elements of each of the major approaches to
motivational psychology. The expectancy-value theory is represented in each condition.
Expectancy itself is treated as a condition and Relevance, Interest, and Satisfaction are all related
to the value placed on the task. Autonomy, an integral tenet of the self-determination theory, is
included in the condition of Expectancy. Goal-directed theories are represented in the condition of
Satisfaction in the outcome, the extent to which goals are met (, 95).

B. Characteristics of Motivated Learners

Researchers have come to the conclusion that the most successful learners are not necessarily those
to whom a language comes very easily; they are those who display certain typical characteristics,
most of them clearly associated with motivation. Some of these are:
1. ‘Positive task orientation’: The learner is willing to tackle tasks and challenges, and
has confidence in his or her success.
2. ‘Ego-involvement’: The learner finds it important to succeed in learning in order to
maintain and promote his or her own (positive) self-image.
3. ‘Need for achievement’: The learner has a need to achieve, to overcome difficulties
and succeed in what he or she sets out to do.
4. ‘High aspirations’: The learner is ambitious, goes for demanding challenges, high
proficiency, top grades.
5. ‘Goal orientation’: The learner is very aware of the goals of learning, or of specific
learning activities, and directs his or her efforts towards achieving them.
6. ‘Perseverance’: The learner consistently invests a high level of effort in learning, and
is not discouraged by setbacks or apparent lack of progress.
7. ‘Tolerance of ambiguity’: The learner is not disturbed or frustrated by situations
involving a temporary lack of understanding or confusion; he or she can live with these
patiently, in the confidence that understanding will come later (Ur, 275).

C. Importance of Motivation

Various studies have found that motivation is very strongly related to achievement in language
learning (e.g. Gardner and Lambert, 1972; Gardner, 1980) (Ur, 274). The significant message of
research in this area is the sheer importance of the factor of learner motivation in successful
language learning (Ur, 275).

Motivation is more of an affective than a cognitive factor and is adaptable. Not surprisingly
teachers recognize the importance of motivation, both with regard to extrinsic motivation and
intrinsic motivation. Similarly, motivation has attracted increasing attention from researchers,
reflected in a growing number of theoretical models of L2 motivation and in consequent research
studies. In the last decade, motivation has attracted more attention from teachers and researchers
alike than any other individual difference factor, a reflection not just of its importance for
understanding language learning but also of the potential for maximizing its success (Davies, 536).

II. Developing and Sustaining Student Motivation in the Greek EFL Class.
A. Characteristics of the Greek Learner

It is obvious that the Greek learners have different needs compared to the needs of foreign
students. We should identify the social environment in which the Greek students live, their values,
their interests, their character, their behavior etc. All these factors are connected with their

The social situation indirectly affects second language learning by determining the learner’s
attitudes and motivation (Spolsky, 164). It is a common phenomenon that Greek families urge their
children to learn a foreign language, usually English, at an early age (for instance, seven years
old). In this age, children have not yet reached a sufficient level of acquisition of their mother
tongue and they have difficulties in understanding the structure (grammar, syntax, vocabulary etc.)
of two languages at the same time. Moreover, seven-year-old learners are not able of
understanding the reasons of learning a foreign language, thus they hardly have any motivations.
However, we should have in mind that it is easier to interest and motivate children than adults (Ur,

Students in the Greek EFL class need a teacher to guide them, give them motives, explain things in
a simple way and at the same time link their previous knowledge (for example, knowledge of the
structure of the Greek language) to their new knowledge of the foreign language. Moreover, the
teacher should develop teaching strategies that sustain the learner’s interest by letting them use
their creativity, by offering them authentic material to deal with etc. An ethnographic study of
learners in and out of class may show a number of issues which learners themselves find
important, such as the desirability of native-like fluency and pronunciation, interest in colloquial
and idiomatic expressions, comparisons between languages, the importance of television and rock
music, and so on. Conversation among language learners frequently turns to issues of language
learning and language use, and a wealth of anecdotes about in-class and out-of-class experiences is
displayed (Leo van Lier, 87).

B. Role of the Teacher

Several studies show that teachers are not aware of the influence they can have on learner
motivation. Continuity of teaching, teacher enjoyment, teacher role in mediating challenge and
teachers’ awareness of their pupils’ motivation, all have an effect (, 4).

Strategies that support teachers might be just as important as those that support learners. Indeed,
teacher training and professional development was seen as a priority by many countries around the
world. In Finland, for example, teachers are given support to encourage learning through a positive
school ethos. And in Singapore, the initiative ‘Teach Less, Learn More’ allows teachers more time
and space to develop innovative teaching methods. It encourages teachers not to overload students
with homework, revision lessons and tests (, 4).

The exact opposite happens in Greece. Greek learners are most of the times overloaded with
exercises, extra reading at home, frequent revisions and tests. In this way, students are afraid of the
constant assessment and study harder in order to not disappoint their parents and their teacher. The
role of the Greek teacher should be to turn the learner’s anxiety into enthusiasm of learning
another language.

C. Curriculum and Assessment

Concepts such as attitude, motivation, self-confidence and anxiety are frequently invoked in
discussions of what makes a successful language learner (Tarone, 133).
The most important areas for learner motivation include:
Firstly, the need to make learning relevant to real life, young people’s interests and the world of
work. Secondly, ‘assessment for learning’, which includes the tools and techniques that help
students to evaluate their own learning and progress. Thirdly, the enriched curriculum and
extracurricular activity, particularly for gifted and talented students. Finally, thinking skills,
creative development and the arts (, 4). Class tests and feedback may motivate some
students, but may have a negative effect on the students who fail to reach a certain standard. This
is especially important for assessments that have high stakes attached (, 3).
Assessment should not be the only goal of the teacher. Learners may also show what they have
learned so far through their participation in class, answering questions orally etc.

D. Teaching Methods/Strategies

An international research shows that governments in different countries have common areas of
concern, but they also adopt a variety of approaches to motivating students. The literature review
reveals that there are many small-scale projects and studies on learner motivation. The study shows
how learner motivation is linked to other policy areas such as assessment for learning, the
personalised learning agenda and lifelong learning. It also shows how different teaching
approaches, learners’ own attributes and the curriculum can all have an effect on learner
motivation. Given this melting pot it is likely that no one single initiative, theme or strategy alone
would improve learner motivation. Countries are likely to adopt a variety of strategies and adapt
them to suit the particular circumstances of their own students (, 4).

Concerning intrinsic motivation, students are motivated through targeting individual learning
styles, becoming involved through group participation and collaborative evaluation, choosing how
they learn, assessing their own performance and adapting the way they learn. These strategies are
successful if students can develop their own learning strategies and regulate their own learning
(, 3). Concerning extrinsic motivation, students are motivated through rewards and
incentives, grades and assessments, potential social status. These strategies are successful if they
reflect students’ interests, if they are implemented consistently and if students believe there is a
chance of success (, 3).

Dörnyei’s (2001) process model of learning motivation for the L2 classroom distinguishes a
“preactional stage” involving “choice motivation”, which relates closely to the idea of orientation;
an “actional stage” involving “executive motivation”, which concerns the effort the learner is
prepared to invent to achieve the overall goal and is heavily influenced by the quality of the
learning experience; and a “postactional stage” involving “motivational retrospection”, where the
learner forms attributions out of the learning experience which influence the preparedness to
continue. Such a model is able to account for how motivation changes over time and, as such, is far
superior to the static models of motivation that have dominated research to date (Davies, 538).

E. Classroom Climate

It is clear that the classroom does not occur in a vacuum: before the lesson the learners come from
somewhere and after the lesson they go somewhere else. What happens in those other places
inevitably has important repercussions on what happens in the classroom (Leo van Lier, 86).

Classrooms that feel safe, non-controlling and that support learners’ autonomy, wellbeing and self-
esteem seem to encourage learner motivation (, 4). The teacher in the Greek EFL
class should introduce a friendly climate in the class by encouraging his student’s cooperation, by
providing them with authentic material concerning their interests, by encouraging them to ask
questions on the introduced material, by asking them to do group projects not only for extra
credits, but also for their own pleasure and in order to feel more familiar with the foreign
language. The teacher’s role is not to be a distant authority figure in the Greek EFL class but a
helpful, encouraging teacher that cares both for knowledge itself and the pleasure of learning.

F. Technology and Motivation

Introduction of technology in education has offered new, unlimited teaching opportunities and
strategies. When referring to technology in relation to education we mean the use of computer
programmes, DVD players, tape recorders, music CDs, websites etc. All these devices are
important in sustaining learner’s motivation and making teaching more interesting.

Unfortunately, even nowadays, most Greek schools are not equipped with such useful devices and
most teachers are still teaching following the traditional methods. In this way, learners may get
more easily bored during the lesson and lose their attention. However, if the teacher uses
technology during his teaching, learner’s motivation rises.

Teachers in the Greek EFL class may develop motivation through the use of technological means.
If the school provides its students the opportunity to use computers with connection to the internet,
then the teacher may give his students feedback and authentic material via specific sites on the
internet. This is very useful because in this way, all students are given the opportunity to see the
foreign language in its context and begin to feel more familiar with it. Moreover, the teacher can
prepare on the computer exercises connected with the material he teaches or even tests. Young
learners prefer writing on the computer keyboard than their exercise books. Possible rewards for
correct answers could be: watching a movie on the DVD player, listening to a song in the foreign
language, borrowing authentic material (such as magazines) and of course higher grades.

III. Conclusions

So far we understand that there are several opposing views on the most effective way to
motivate learners and each teacher may introduce different strategies in order to develop

The most important themes that lead to the development of motivation are about the need
to: improve the personal and vocational relevance of the curriculum, give greater flexibility
and choice in the curriculum, emphasise differentiation and support for each student. Other
themes are about the need to: enhance students’ involvement and say in their learning,
broaden the range of qualifications and courses available, assess learning in an appropriate
way, improve understanding of learning styles and preferences and finally encourage gifted
and talented learners (, 2).

It is also important to motivate students not only for a specific lesson, but also to create a
passion for lifelong learning. The way learners are motivated to engage in a lesson or task is
similar to the way they might be inspired to learn throughout their lives. However, creating
a passion for learning also seems to need extra attention, for example through relating
topics to real life and encouraging learners’ self-esteem and aspirations. It is possible that
striving for lifelong learning might encourage classroom motivation. Certainly, a number of
governments are encouraging lifelong learning and see this as a key policy in their
education strategy (, 4).

Finally, out-of-hours study in study centres, community-based programmes, and flexibility

in the site of learning, particularly for older students, were all found to be beneficial
(, 4).


Chaudron, C. Second Language Classrooms. U.S.A.: Cambridge University Press,

Davies, A. and Elder, C. (eds.) The Handbook of Applied Linguistics. UK: Blackwell
Publishing, 2004.
Spolsky, B. Conditions for Second Language Learning. Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1989.
Taron, E. and Yule, G. Focus on the Language Learner. Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1989.
Ur, P. A Course in Language Teaching Practice and Theory. UK: Cambridge
University Press, 1996.
Van Lier, L. The Classroom and the Language Learner. New York: Longman Group,