For foreign language learners to succeed, they need to use different learning strategies along the way to help them adapt to the constantly renewing situations they will encounter.There are specific attitudes and reactions to learning a foreign language which researchers have called “affective”. This term has been described by Gardner and McIntyre) as “emotionally relevant characteristics of the individual that influence how she/he will respond to any situation”.

Stern (1983) focused mainly on three traits which are anxiety, self-esteem and the role of motivation in language learning, which is our focus. Motivation is generally considered important in learning a foreign language. “It’s the most important single factor influencing continuing development in oral proficiency” affirms Lennon (1993). Motivation helps students establish the goals they want to achieve.

  • 1- Sometimes the students ‘goal is to move to a country where the language is spoken, or simply to identify themselves with a particular community.
  • 2- In other occasions, the language is just a means to an end, such as to enhance their career or for educational goals.

It has often been observed that the motivation in the first group will last longer and the students will be more likely to achieve their objectives. Therefore, the best language learners will belong to that group. In group 2, motivation is influenced by external factors like rewards or good grades.

When students have low-motivation, the amount of linguistic input they receive can be diminished and consequently this will affect the acquisition of the second language. The level of anxiety students experiment during their learning session can also have an adverse effect on their motivation and Gardner and McIntyre (1993) pointed out that it will lead to less use of learning strategies and have an overall negative effect on their learning.

Another contributing factor to the level of motivation may be the way in which learners assign causes to their success or failure. People tend to explain their performance either in terms of their ability, the difficulty of the task, the effort they make, or to luck. The people with lower levels of motivation are usually the ones who choose ability or task difficulty, because these factors are perceived as beyond the learner’s control, thus it is not his/her fault.On the other hand, the people who are motivated tend to attribute success or failure to effort. They know that they are in control of the outcome.

Motivation is linked to achievement in language learning. Motivation favours achievement and at the same time achievement boosts motivation. It is imperative though, to have a realistic view of what language studies entail, because a “poor understanding of the objectives of the learning process, may reduce the will to succeed” (Dickinson 1987)

In summary, motivation is linked to:

  • The degree of interest of the student to the process of learning
  • The expectation of the student regarding success and failure
  • The perceived relevance of the learning activity to their needs and aspirations
  • The outcome (rewards, achievements)

Highly motivated students take risks, use the language orally, are not afraid of making mistakes, communicate their thoughts in the target language and most importantly persist and persevere because all they want is to fulfil their pre-established goals.