"What’s the fastest/best/most foolproof method for learning a new language? We are recommending that people make the most of something that is crucial for language learning: motivation." -Allison Mackey

Students may have a variety of reasons for learning a new language, but the secret to their success is rooted in how motivated they are to learn. Researchers who study the relationship between language learning and motivation explain that some learners are intrinsically motivated, meaning they are driven by internal rewards, such as communicating with grandparents who live in another country or peers who speak another language. Other learners are extrinsically motivated. These students may need to fulfill a language requirement at school, pass an exam or apply to a program with specific language demands. Learning a new language after the early childhood years is difficult. Most people who achieve a high level of success are very strongly motivated.

Professors Robert Gardner and Wallace Lambert studied the effect of aptitude on the motivation to learn a new language. They found that some learners are “wired” for second-language learning. These students feel a natural affinity for languages, want to associate with people who speak other languages and are interested in the culture associated with a new language. In contrast, Dr. Zoltán Dörnyei’s research shows that students who can positively visualize themselves as capable and multilingual are better able to achieve their goals. Dörnyei’s model also recognizes that motivation is not static but is a dynamic part of learning. Motivation fluctuates as it’s affected by various factors, such as the types of conversation partners—for example, native speakers or fluent friends—new language learners are exposed to.

After school programs can leverage students’ motivation and facilitate second-language learning. Here are some important considerations for after school educators:

  • Talk to your students and identify if they are intrinsically or extrinsically motivated to learn.
  • Provide a clear roadmap of specific strategies and engaging tasks to follow when learning a new language.
  • When possible, tailor language instruction to match students’ abilities and interests.
  • Become a motivator and trainer for your students.

Research suggests that motivation is contagious. Educators who are highly motivated will project an enthusiasm for learning a second language that will surely rub off on their students!