Second Language Learning Motivation


It has been widely recognised by researchers and teachers that the concept of learning motivation is one of the most important factors that influence the success in the acquisition of the second language (L2). Without enough motivation, even the most knowledgeable and skillful individuals cannot accomplish their goals set for the long-term; furthermore, learning motivation can potentially restore the gaps in the learning conditions of L2. Therefore, studying motivation in the second language learning is crucial for understanding what role does it play in new language acquisition.

With the help of a literature review, it is proposed to analyse key findings of the previously conducted findings to account for the gap in research in the future. Further areas for investigation can also be outlined as the result of the literature review.

Literature Review

The modern science tends to recognise the importance of learning motivation and provides numerous approaches to its investigation. It is believed that to achieve great results, a student has to obtain the great level of intrinsic motivation to be interested in the acquisition of additional information and becoming successful. Besides, Gilakjani, Leong, and Sabouri (2012) stated that motivation is the “neglected heart” of language teaching (p. 6), which is often forgotten by teachers and other educational stakeholders when trying to teach students a second language. It is important to distinguish the study conducted by Gilakjani et al. (2012) for presenting a practical approach towards L2 learning motivation and developing a framework, which teachers can use in their practice.

Similar to the conclusions made by the previous study, Anjomshoa and Sadighi (2015) found that motivation in second language acquisition is a complex construct that needs further exploration by psychologists and professionals in the educational practice. Moveover, Anjomshoa, and Sadighi (2015) distinguished the high need in transferring theoretical knowledge about L2 learning motivation into practice in order to achieve positive student outcomes. It was also mentioned that student’s motivation is a flexible phenomenon that can be influenced externally; thus, teachers should pay extra attention to how can they impact the motivation of students in learning a second language. This study and the study conducted by Anjomshoa and Sadighi (2015) will benefit current research for differentiating between internal and external factors that influence students’ motivation in acquiring the second language.

When exploring the concept of motivation in second language learning, it is important to distinguish the study conducted by Guerrero (2015), who outlined the key theories and approaches towards the subjects. Among them, the most popular theory is the L2 Motivational Self theory proposed by Dornyei, who stated that there are three approach levels towards second language learners: ideal L2 self, ought-to L2 self, and L2 learning experience (Guerrero, 2015). Guerrero’s (2015) study was also connected L2 learning motivation to the high school environment in terms social, language policy, and personal contexts. This means that in the context of the school environment motivation can be exhibited in a variety ow ways, so it is the job of educators to implement all available strategies for increasing students’ motivation when learning a second language.

In the modern science, the idea that learning motivation should be the major concern of the whole L2 studying process is supported by numerous scientists. For example, the study conducted Kormos, Kiddle, and Csizer (2011) concluded that the process of second language learning is complex and calls for the presence of many factors that facilitate. Researchers found that the concept of ‘self-guides’ can potentially impact the persistence and motivation of the L2 learner, who will then invest extra effort and persistence for acquiring the necessary level of language competency. Another important component in an L2 acquisition is the overall attitude towards the process. Al Kaboody (2013) also dedicated his research to finding out what concepts facilitate the acquisition of the second language. In his study, he mentioned that teachers had a great impact on students’ motivation and offered a framework by following which teachers can increase learning motivation in students studying the foreign language. Thus, it can be summarised that L2 learning motivation is approached from different angles and is influenced by the variety of factors that either limit or facilitate it.

Research conducted by Elsheikh, Babiker, & Abla Khalaf (2014) agreed with the previous studies in that effective motivational strategies should be present in the methodological background of any second language teacher. The findings also suggested that there is a gap in research on L2 learning motivation since the majority of studies are focused on analysing and validating the theoretical background of motivation rather than developing practical methods for increasing motivation among second language learners. Therefore, the current research should look into creating innovative methods for motivating students learn the second language instead of reviewing what has already been done previously.

Despite the fact that different researchers study the process of second-language acquisition in various ways, the majority of them agree that without motivation the achievement of success in L2 acquisition will be nearly to impossible. According to Zareian and Jodaei (2015), while researchers defined motivation differently, it can be concluded that the term plays the key part in creating a learning framework for acquiring the second language. By investigating various theories related to learning, Zoreian, and Jodaei (2015) concluded that motivation is a concept that binds all theories together. Similarly to the previous study, Dornyei (2009) aimed to review the theoretical background of motivation to determine new emerging trends. According to the findings, there has been a large shift in the L2 motivation research that resulted in the emergence of a new ‘L2 Motivational Self System’. It was concluded that the system develops in language learners that passed adolescence; therefore, the new approach can be only applicable to secondary students and older.

Kornos and Csizer (2008) also explored the concept of the L2 Motivational Self System in three learning populations. Supported by attitudes towards language learning and the ‘Ideal L2 self’, the Self-System varied in the studied populations, suggesting that the age of the language learner can significantly impact motivation. When examining the differences in second language learning in different age groups, researchers found that secondary school students learning English were motivated by the English-language cultural products while only the oldest age groups were motivated by the variable of the ‘international’ posture (Kormos & Csizer, 2008). It is also important to mention the research conducted by Sung (2013), who also focused on exploring the L2 Motivational Self System introduced by Dornyei. Sung (2013) moved forward from Kornos and Csizer (2008) and investigated not only the age differences of second language learners but also gave attention to studying gender differences as well as the starting age when students began learning a new language.

The study is significant for its findings. First, the researcher distinguished four motivational constructs such as leaner’s perception of their parents’ proficiency in the language, the instrumentality-dominant construct, the attitude towards the L2 speaker/community-dominant, and milieu (Sung, 2013). Second, the study found that there is a significant connection between the age when a student starts learning the second language and the grade level. The last interesting finding is that younger students perceive the proficiency of their parents in the language as higher compared to older students. This finding suggests an increased optimism of younger students who think that the proficiency of their parents in a language is higher than it is. This study is significant for exploring the L2 Motivational Self System from a variety of angles that relate to second language learning. Because the research found no dependence between the L2 motivational differences and gender or age of the respondents, a conclusion can be made that this study contradicted others in these aspects.

The study conducted by Al-Ghamdi (2014) aimed to explore the full framework of models and aspects of students’ motivation that affect their success in second language acquisition. It was found that the majority of L2 teaching practices were targeted on improving internal (integrative) factors, which facilitate language acquisition. However, the study clearly stated that there were external (instrumental) factors that may greatly affect student’s success in acquiring a second language. It was concluded that it is hard to predict or identify which type of motivation a student would choose for L2 learning and whether it would bring more success compared to other types.

The researcher had come to a conclusion that the choice of either internal or external motivation for second language acquisition should only be made by every individual separately, despite the fact that these types may intertwine between one another. Thus, students should be educated about the importance of motivation in second language learning in order to drive themselves towards a successful outcome. This study will benefit the current research for presenting a full picture of how motivation in second language acquisition occurs as well as how the type of motivation can influence the success in learning a new language on the long-term basis.

Similar to the study conducted by Al-Ghamdi (2014), Carrio-Pastor and Mestre (2014) dedicated their research towards finding differences between integrative and instrumental motivation to achieve long-term success when learning a second language. Researchers found that the application of integrative motivation could be used much more efficiently for sustaining the results of L2 learning in the long run. On the other hand, while integrative motivation is associated with a much broader framework of second language acquisition, instrumental motivation brings more success when a student is interested in learning a particular language. Therefore, it has been found that many students in L2 learning gravitate towards instrumental motivation to study a new language and are motivated to a greater degree compared to integrative motivation.

To conclude the literature review on the topic of student motivation in second language learning, it is important to mention the study conducted by Bernard (2010), who focused on examining learning motivation in the context of the university environment. While the majority of the previously-mentioned studies explored school-related settings or examined L2 learning motivation in general, Bernard (2010) presented a unique view that is often overlooked by researchers. It was concluded that L2 learning motivation in a university setting could be treated both as independent and depended variables that influence students’ success in language acquisition. It was found that teachers could increase the motivation of their students by modifying the curriculum design. The potential ability of the curriculum to influence students’ motivation is noteworthy since the majority of students find motivation in study time as well as whether they will choose to learn the language in the next semester. Integrating Bernard’s (2010) findings into the current research will be beneficial for presenting a unique approach to L2 learning motivation associated with a university setting, which is a step up from the popular point of view.


The review of the relevant literature on the topic of L2 learning motivation showed that all researchers support the hypothesis that motivation is one of the most important aspects that facilitate the achievement of success in acquiring a foreign language. It is crucial to distinguish Dornyei’s L2 Motivational System as the key theoretical framework for facilitating and improving motivation among students. The literature review has shown a significant gap in literature as to the practical application of interventions and strategies that can improve L2 motivation. Therefore, instead of exploring the theoretical background of motivation that has already been researched, the aim should be put on developing cohesive plans and interventions that will help teachers increase students’ level of engagement and motivation. By combining both theory and practice into one system, it will be possible to increase students’ motivation in learning a secondary language as well as sustain it on a long-term basis.


Al Kaboody, M. (2013). Second language motivation: The role of teachers in learners’ motivation. Journal of Academic and Applied Studies, 3(4), 45-54.

Al-Ghamdi, A. (2014). The role of motivation as a single factor in second language learning. ARECLS, 11, 1-14.

Anjomshoa, L. & Sadighi, F. (2015). The importance of motivation in second language acquisition. International Journal of Studies in English Language and Literature, 3(2), 126-137.

Bernard, J. (2010). Motivation in foreign language learning: The relationship between classroom activities, motivation, and outcomes in a university language-learning environment. Dietrich College Honors thesis. Web.

Carrio-Pastor, M., & Mestre, E. (2014). Motivation in second language acquisition. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 116, 240-244.

Dornyei, Z. (2009). Motivation, language identity and the L2 self. Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.

Elsheikh, F., Babiker, A., & Abu Alhassan, A. (2014). A proposed strategy to improve the Saudi University – Students’s motivation towards learning English as a foreign language. American Journal of Research Communication, 2(4), 32-50.

Gilakjani, A., Leong, L-M., & Sabouri, N. (2012). A Study on the role of motivation in foreign language learning and teaching. I. J. Modern Education and Computer Science, 7, 9-16.

Guerrero, M. (2015). Motivation in second language learning: A historical overview and its relevance in a public high school in Pasto, Colombia. HOW, 22(1), 95-106.

Kormos, J., & Csizer, K. (2008). Age-related differences in the motivation of learning English as a foreign language: Attitudes, selves, and motivated learning behavior. Language Learning, 58(2), 327-355.

Kormos, J., Kiddle, T., & Csizer, K. (2011). Systems of goals, attitudes, and self-related beliefs in second-language-learning motivation. Applied Linguistics, 32(5), 495-516.

Sung, K-Y. (2013). L2 motivation in foreign language learning. Journal of Language and Linguistic Studies, 9(2), 19-30.

Zareian, G., & Jodaei, H. (2015). Motivation in second language acquisition: A state of the art article. International J. Soc. Sci. & Education, 5(2), 295-308.