Age and Motivation in Second Language Acquisition


In the acquisition of the second language, learners are affected by many factors. Some of the factors include age and motivation factors. There are studies that have explored how the two factors affect language acquisition. However, the studies have concentrated on the critical period. Therefore, this research proposal will explore how age and motivation affect learning acquisition in adult learners. The study will be based on the Critical Period Theory and Fundamental Difference Theory. A cross-section study will be applied to help in making comparisons across the age groups and time. The data collection method will be by use of assessment tools for language learning.


The study of how an individual learns to communicate in a language other than the first language is called second language acquisition. This can take place in a classroom setting. There are different factors that influence learning. Some of the factors include age and motivation. According to Gomleksiz (2010), the age of the learner influences successful language acquisition. On the other hand, motivation entails the desire for learning and enabling environment. Mabila (2014) expressed that it is very difficult to teach the second language if the learner does not have the desire to acquire the language. There are various researches that have been carried in relation to the two factors and their role in the L2 acquisition. Despite the studies, researchers have not come up with a conclusive stance on how age and motivation affect the eventual fluency level of the learner.

Problem Statement

Some studies have indicated that there exists a fundamental difference in the way young learners acquire a second language compared to adult learners. In addition, there are other researchers that have considered the differences to be related to motivation and other affective factors. These issues have been investigated under different conditions. However, most of the investigations have focused on the critical period i.e. early childhood development to 12 years. As a result, there are very few studies that have explored the process of language acquisition among adults. This points to a gap in research that can be filled to make a decided conclusion on how age and motivation factors affect second language acquisition.


Studies that relate to the factors that affect second language acquisition have focused on identifying the effects in early childhood development up to puberty. The findings have established that there is a gradual decline in the degree of attainment of L2 fluency as the age progresses. As noted, the studies have centered on the critical period. Therefore, the context of this study will be to explore the effects of age and the motivation factors among adult learners. The operational definition of adult learners in this context will entail learners aged 15 years and above.


The advent of globalization has led to increased interactions between people. As a result, the modern learning classroom environment is characterized by diversity in terms of ethnic affiliation. Adult learners from different spheres of the globe find themselves in new learning environments where the instructional languages are not their first language. This presents challenges to the learners, and the teachers tasked with helping the students to be proficient in the second language. Thus, there is a need for adequate knowledge of how different factors influence the L2 acquisition process. Therefore, the study of how motivation and age factors influence the process of L2 acquisition will provide important information that can be used by people tasked with preparing the learning instructions and education policymakers. In addition, the information will add to the existing knowledge.

Literature Review

There are myriad of researches that relate to second language acquisition. The studies have explored how cognitive and affective factors influence the process of language acquisition. In relation to motivation, Mabila (2014) carried a research that demonstrated the importance of the motivational constructs. Mabila (2014) noted that goal setting and causal attributions play a critical role in language learning. Similarly, Gomleksiz (2010) found that motivation plays an important role in the learning of the second language. In the study, Gomleksiz (2010) compared the effects of motivation on a less able student and an intelligent student. According to Gomleksiz (2010), “less able students who are highly motivated can achieve greater L2 fluency compared to more intelligent learners who are not well motivated” (p. 219).

In yet another study that investigated the role of motivation, Stefansson (2013) expressed that attitude is an ingredient for learning a language. Stefansson (2013) argued that effective learning takes place if certain affective conditions are present. The conditions include self-confidence, positive attitude, and low anxiety. Furthermore, the study established that acquisition of the second language was faster for learners who have high levels of integrative motivation than those with relatively low levels.

In relation to the age factor, DeKeyser (2013) stated that “the acquisition of language is an innate process determined by biological factors, which limit the critical period for acquisition of a language from roughly two years of age to puberty” (p. 2). The statement limits the process of language acquisition to the development of the brain. This study formed the basis of critical age which stems from the theorization by Lenneberg in 1967. However, studies to compare language acquisition in different age groups within the critical period have resulted in mixed results. For instance, some studies have shown that learners aged between 11 and 12 years are better in acquiring English as the second language compared to those aged between 6 and 10 (Ghenghesh, 2010).

The literature review shows that age and motivation factors have a substantial role in the process of L2 learning. However, the studies have centered on the critical age. This leads to lack of knowledge of how the factors affect learners beyond the critical period.

Theoretical Framework

There are different theories that have been used to explain the factors that influence the L2 acquisition. This study will be based on the Critical Period Theory by Lenneberg and the Fundamental Difference Theory. In relation to the Critical Period Theory, DeKeyser (2013) states that “during the early age two sides of the brain develop specialized functions through lateralization at puberty, the brain’s elasticity reduces and hence the lateralization of the language is completed at puberty” (p. 53). This makes the acquisition of language to be difficult past the adolescent age. On the other hand, the Fundamental Difference Theory states that there is a difference in the way children and adults acquire language. It stipulates that adults learn language explicitly while the children learn implicitly. Thus, the affective factors such as motivation matter in the acquisition of language among the adults.

Methods and Procedures

This section will include the methodology and the study design. The methodology involves the approaches that are applied in the collection of data. It also includes the approaches applied in the data analysis. According to Denk (2010), study methodology is systematic planning of actions that are applied to the collection of information. It also includes the subsequent analysis of data in a logical manner that helps in the realization of the research purpose. Study methodology entails the use of different research designs to inform the process of the data collection.

In this study, cross-sectional research design will be used. The study will investigate the acquisition of English as the second language. The sampling design to be used will be the simple random sampling. The study participants will include learners in age brackets of 6 to 25 years. The participants will be divided into three groups. They will include age groups of 6-12, 13-18, and 19-25. The individual motivation of participants will be analyzed at the start of the study in order to understand their levels in the acquisition of L2. During the study, the learners will be subjected to different learning environments for five months. Follow up on vocabulary acquisition and fluency of English language will be assessed on a monthly basis. At the end of the study, the results will be analyzed using statistical tools to determine correlations.

Limitation of the study

The main limitation of the study will relate to the timeframe. The five months study time may not be adequate to determine substantive changes in language acquisition among the learners aged 6-12. In addition, there are other environmental factors that may influence the findings such as the different home conditions.


DeKeyser, R. (2013). Age effects in second language learning: Stepping stones toward better understanding. Language Learning, 63(1), 52-67.

Denk, T. (2010). Comparative multilevel analysis: proposal for a methodology. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 13(1), 29-39.

Ghenghesh, P. (2010). The motivation of L2 learners: Does it decrease with age? English Language Teaching, 3(1), 128-132.

Gomleksiz, M. (2010). The effects of age and motivation factors on second language acquisition. Firat University Journal of social science, 11(2), 217-224.

Mabila, T. (2014). Age-related versus motivational factors in second/foreign language learning: Some evidence from Immigrant Learners of English as a second language. Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences, 5(23), 13-40.

Stefánsson, E. (2013). Second Language Acquisition: The Effect of Age and Motivation. Web.