Why do people learn languages?

Learning another language opens up new opportunities and gives you perspectives that you might never have encountered otherwise. Personal, professional, social, and economic considerations all point to the advantages of learning foreign languages.

What are the reasons for learning a language?
There are many reasons but we can consider some of them.

1-Many students want to learn a language for to belong to the target language community (temporarily or permanently). For example, for a student of English, the target language community would be an English-speaking country like England, Australia, or Canada, etc.

2-English for special purposes: Students may have some specific reasons to learn language.
For example, English for Occupational Purposes (EOP) that refers to the specific ways English is used in different work and professional situations. For instance, an air traffic controller needs English to guide an aircraft, and a businessman may needs English for international trade.
Another example is the English for Academic Purposes (EAP) that involve training students, usually in a higher education, to use language appropriately for study. For instance, the student who is going to study at an English university may of course needs English, and the student of medicine or nuclear physics studying in his own country, may needs to be able to read articles and textbooks about that subject in English. This last one is often referred as English for Science and Technology (EST).

3-Many students study English only because they have to (English as a part of the school curriculum).

4-Others study a language because they are attracted by the culture of the target language community. They learn the language because they want to know more about the people who speak it and the place or places in which it is spoken.

5-Some people want to study a foreign language because they think it offers a chance for advancement in their daily lives and that a good knowledge of a foreign language will help them to get a better job. For example, the case of the businessmen.

There are many reasons for study a language, and not all the students can necessarily be treated in the same way. For example, the student whose interest is some form of ESP may be taught in a different way from the student who want to learn a language just ´for fun´.

Success in language learning

Why students achieve success in language learning? Of course we don´t have the answer to that question but there are a number of factors that we can mention that seems to have a strong effect on success and failure in language learning.


The motivation of the student is the most important thing that she/he brings to the classroom.
Motivation is some kind of internal drive that encourages somebody to pursue a course of actions.
A goal is an aspiration or something that we wish to achieve, and if that goal is sufficiently attractive, we will be strongly motivated to reach that goal.
A language learner who are motivated, perceive (may have) goals of various types. Short-term goals require a short period of time to be accomplished and might include such things as the urge to pass an exam; the Long-term goals require a long period of time to be accomplished. For example, a student who wish to get a better job or become a member of the target language community.
Basically, the difference between a short term goal and long term goal is the time it takes to accomplish each. Whilst a short term goal can take days or weeks to accomplish, a long term goal can take months or even years.

We will separate motivation into two types: extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic motivation (Which is concerned with factors outside the classroom)

In the extrinsic motivation we have two types of goals:

1) Integrative motivation:
The wish of a student to integrate himself into the target language community would be a strong form of integrative motivation. A weaker form of such motivation would be the student´s desire to know as much as possible about the culture of the target language community.

2) Instrumental motivation:
Here, the instrumental motivation would be if the language is seems as an instrument to be used by such student. For example, to get a better job or position.

There are other factors that have an effect on the extrinsic motivation.
One of them has to do with the student´s attitude to the language. A student´s attitude to the target language will be influenced (positively or negatively) by those around him/her.
Another factor that will influence the student´s attitude will be his/her previous experiences (positive or negative experiences) as a student.

The role of the teacher with the motivation and the student´s attitude:
(What can the teacher do about the extrinsic motivation and student attitude?)

Even though the extrinsic motivation Is the result of factors outside the classroom, the teacher can have an effect on that motivation with his/her attitude to the target language (if he/she is negative or positive about the culture of the target language) and the teacher´s treatment of the student.

Intrinsic motivation (Which is concerned with what takes place in the classroom)

Many students bring no extrinsic motivation at all to the classroom and they may have neutral or even negative feelings about language learning.
What happens in the classroom will be importance in determining their attitude to the language.

We can consider factors affecting intrinsic motivation: the physical conditions, the method, the teacher and the success.

1) Physical conditions: the physical conditions have a great effect on learning and can alter a student´s motivation (positively or negatively). For example, an overcrowded classroom with it´s also badly lit, can be de-motivating.
Even where conditions are bad, teachers may improve the atmosphere with materials such as posters or the student´s work.

2) Methos: the methos by wich the students are taught must have some effect on their motivation. For example, if they find it boring, they will probably become de-motivated.
The student´s confidence in the method is in the hands of the teacher, the most important factor affecting intrinsic motivation.

3) The teacher: the teacher and the qualities that need s to help in providing intrinsic motivation has to do with how interesting is the class, the equal treatment for all, the teacher as a good user of the target language and his techniques that should encourage/stimulate the whole class.

4) Success: The teacher´s work in the classroom concerns getting the level of challenge right. Success or lack of it plays a vital part in the motivation of a student. For example: if the students have a very high challenge activities for them, it may have a negative effect on motivation. Of course, a student´s success or failure is in his own hand, but the teacher can influence the course,

Motivational differences

Some general statements about motivational factors for different ages and levels of leaners of English as a foreign language: Children, adolescents and adults (adult beginners, adult intermediate students and adult advanced students).

1) Children: Children are curious but at the same time their span of attention /concentration is considerable less than of an adult. Because of that, they need constant changes of activity, and they need activities which are exciting, stimulate their curiosity and can involve them in something active. The teacher´s appreciation for them is important because children seek for approbation.
2) Adolescents: Here, the student´s attitude towards the teacher´s approval is not really important for them anymore. Also, they will probably no longer be inspired by mere curiosity and the teacher may no longer be the leader. Something that characterizes adolescents is the communication and grouping with the peers. At this age, getting the level of challenge right is very important.
3) Adults:
A- Adults beginners= they come to the classroom with a high degree of extrinsic motivation and they usually succeed very quickly. Also the goals for them are easy to perceive and to achieve.
B- Adult intermediate students= they also are motivated extrinsically and the perception of having more advanced English may be a primary goal. The problem is that the intermediate student may not perceive any progress. Here, the teacher´s job would be showing them that there is a lot to learn.
C- Adults advanced students= these students are often highly motivated but like some intermediate students, they will find progress more difficult to perceive. Most of the time, they learn better how to use what they already know instead of anything new.



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