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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

[62] Further comments on motivation: the psycholinguistic perspective

We`ve already had two posts in the realm of psychology, both penned by Raszka. I thought that it would be a nice idea to shed some more light on motivation as a mental process. Those who got interested in what these posts were devoted to can possibly find some more interesting information in the present one. Enjoy!

What is motivation (again:)?

Let`s begin with defining (or more or less repeating the Raszka`s definintion of motivation which can be found here) the phenomenon of motivation. Motivation is considered to be a sort of inner drive, impulse or emotion that moves people to a particular action. In light of the language-learning context, motivation means the attitudes and affective states which influence the degree of effort that learners make to learn a foreign language. According to some psycholinguists, motivation is the second strongest factor of succesful learning a foreign language after aptitude (uzdolnienie). 

What do our basic needs have to do with motivation?

What can best explain human motivation in scientific terms is what is called in psychology a Maslow`s hierarchy of basic human needs, which graphically is very often presented as a pyramid, like below*: 

The potential sources of motivation can be found in at least three categories of the pyramid. These are: 

  • SELF-REALIZATION, in which we naturally want to develop our skills, master new ones, etc.
  • SELF-ESTEEM - here we aim at being recognized, respected etc.
  • BELONGING - we may want to belong to particular groups of people, whose interests might   revolve around  learning language, for instance, a course in a foreign language

Motivation: types and divisions

Researchers differentiate between two types of motivation, or orientation of a learner (so, in other words, what the learner is oriented at; what he/she wants to achieve). These are intrumental and integrative orientations, or types of motivation. The instrumental type of motivation is connected with a need to acquire a language as a means of pursuing a professional career, reading texts in this language and so on. The integrative  motivation (orientation) consists in wanting to be integrated with the culture of the language the learner learns - by for example speaking with the members of this culture. In other words, this type has to somewhat do with identifying oneself with such social groups. It is however unlikely to claim that learners follow either type of motivation, when the other is completely unemployed. Rather, it is believed that these two types of motivation are complementary; not mutually exclusive

The other, and probably better known division of motivation is the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Put simply, when a learner studies for his/her own needs (e.g. a strong desire for speaking fluently, self-improvement) we talk about the intrinsic motivation. On the other hand, when learner`s  goals are externally motivated, such motivation is called extrinsic. Among these goals we may find money, rewards, or prizes that can be won by a learner as a result of his/her studying. Avoiding punishment is also regarded as an instance of extrinsic motivation. It seems at first glance that the two divisions that I discussed above overlap and there is no point in having them one next to another. It is true that they indeed overlap but this fact helps describe the type of motivation better and more precisely. The following chart should then clear up any doubts: 

A learner wants to integrate with the culture of the language he/she learns (e.g. marriage).
Someone wants the learner to know the language for integrative (e.g. personal) reasons. For example, parents from different countries who want their kid to know both languages.
A learner who wishes to achieve something by means of the language he/she studies (e.g. better career).
Some external power wants a learner to know the language (e.g. a corporation which wants to send its employee abroad and sends him/her to the language course).

Of course, this is quite detailed a description and it encourages you to identify your motivation or to find its drawbacks, if there are any, rather than to just memorize it. Also, for those who are more interested in the topic I`m providing a list of references which helped me to complete this post. Thank you!!!

Selected works: 

Brown, H.D. 2007. Principles of Language Learning and Teaching. Fifth Edition. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall Regents.

Lambert, W.E. 1972. Language, Psychology and Culture: Essays by Wallace E. Lambert. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Maslow, A.H. 1970. Motivation and Personality. Second Edition. New York, Harper & Row.

*There exist various realizations of the hierarchy; I used one of the simplest, canonical model.


  1. Hey! I'm Kotuch, and I'm writing blog on blogspot in two languages. yes... every post in two languages, polish and English, so i came here, and I probably will be visiting you're blog regularly so I wanted leave one symbolic comment on the beginning ;]

    Great idea :)
    Have a nice day,

    PS and I linked you on my blog :)

  2. Yep. Motivation is a very important aspect of doing anything, esp. learning a foreign language. Why I am writing though is because I would love to read on your blog about ways of motivating students... What would you suggest?

  3. Yeah... A post about ways of motivating learners of languages has already been written and above you may find a link (just in case, here it goes: http://pleasure-of-english.blogspot.com/2012/09/xx-how-to-effectively-learn-languages.html) Maybe you`d like to read more about this topic. If so please let me know what specifically interests you and then I can think of writing something new. I`m of course open to any suggestions :)

  4. Without motivation we probably can do nothing which needs from us more strenght. The hardest thing is when we try to do something on our won.

    It is very good, interesting post. Maybe a bit too difficult for people who think that English is only school subject. But, maybe it's better?

    1. Yes, indeed, it is a difficult post but it only shows what some theory says about it. I believe everyone has his/her own definition of motivation and knows what he/she does well and what needs to be improved:)