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The Importance of Motivation in Language Learning

A Personal Reflection as an Indonesian Teacher of English as a Foreign Language

by Waliyadin Nuridin

It is undeniable that motivation plays a key role in second or foreign language learning. Extensive research confirms that motivation becomes one of the determining factors of second or foreign language learning success (Bradford, 2007; Dörnyei, 1998; Engin, 2009). However, motivation in learning a second or foreign language is not as simple as we think since motivation is complex and has a ‘multifaceted nature’ (Dörnyei, 1998 p.118). Furthermore, motivation is dynamic, which means that there are ups and downs during the process of language learning, as Dornyei (2001) conceptualized in the three phases of his process-oriented motivational model.

I would like to offer my own language learning experience as an example. I experienced moments when I had very high motivation in learning English but I also had bad experiences when I was reluctant to learn English and had no self-confidence to actualize my motivation. In learning English, I have some intrinsic and extrinsic motivation as well as motivating and demotivating factors. In this article, I would argue that motivation is crucial in my foreign language learning and that if learners face some demotivating factors, they need to deal with them before they cause problems.

My second language learning is inextricably linked with the two types of motivation explained by Gardner and Lambert (1972) (cited in Lightbown & Spada, 2013 p.87):
instrumental and integrative orientation.

Firstly, I have a clear instrumental motivation in learning English as a foreign language. This motivation refers to a pragmatic orientation or utilitarian orientation (Bradford, 2007; Gardner & Lambert, 1972). I want to learn English since I believe that English is the key to success in the future. When I was in junior high school my sister told me that If I could master English, I would be able to get a good job and a successful career.

In addition to that, I was lucky to have a very good English teacher at a junior high school who was very friendly and very enthusiastic. He often triggered the students’ motivation levels by giving points or presents when we were able to answer the question of the quiz at the beginning of the class activity. Secondly, my motivation in learning English changed to be integrative motivation, meaning the desire to be able to interact or become part of the community where English is spoken (Gardner & Lambert, 1972).

In the first semester of my undergraduate study, I dreamt of being able to go and study abroad. This orientation was partly influenced by my seniors who had been to the USA to take a short course. To achieve the dream, I worked hard to learn English concentrating in particular on how I could get a good TOEFL score since the study program required it. Every day I learned English independently. I went to the library and read a TOEFL preparation book. I also practiced writing English essays. I studied very hard since I had high motivation to go abroad and study English and my dream finally came true. In the fifth semester, I had an opportunity to go to the USA to Colorado State University to take a short course for eight weeks. Both instrumental and integrative motivation become a persistent stepping stone to arousing my motivation to learn English.

My motivation for earning English comes from my intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation as explained by Vallerand et al (1989, cited in Dörnyei, 1998) comes  from many sources such as knowledge, accomplishment and stimulation. For me, the accomplishment is the main trigger of my intrinsic motivation. Whenever  I had difficulties in learning English, for example, in understanding an English passage, I would struggle until I had overcome the problem. Whenever I could accomplish a task well, it increased my motivation and made me want to solve another task. Another example is when I  was finally able to study abroad and take a short course, I was motivated to continue my master’s degree at an overseas university. I received some extrinsic motivation from my parents, my sisters, and my friends.

My parents always advised me to study hard since by studying hard I could get knowledge and experiences.

English was one of the skills that my parents suggested that I acquire since, according to my parents, language is the key to open the world insights. My sisters also motivated me to study hard because I am the only one in my family who was able to go to college to study. My friends and my seniors’ successful stories of studying in a foreign country also motivated me to learn English, since they always said that in order to study abroad the key was mastering English. Whenever I remember this advice, my motivation increases, so that triggers me to regulate my own learning so that I can be successful in learning English.

However, the issue that we should remember is that motivation is not constant; it is dynamic and we can experience high or low motivation. It has been proven by some empirical studies, for example, Lamb (2007) in a longitudinal study, that at the beginning of a period in the research the learners were very motivated. They had high expectations of being successful in learning English but at the end of the research period, the learners felt their motivation had deteriorated.

Several factors contributed to the alteration of their motivation. One of them is the learning experience. At school, the learners did not have good learning experiences, for example, the teacher was not interesting and the learning activities were boring. I had such an experience when I was in senior high school. At the beginning of the semester, I was really keen on learning English, since my  xperience of learning English in junior high school had been very positive. I had high expectations of being able to speak English fluently and carrying a good argument when there was a discussion. Unfortunately, my expectations were not met by the teaching strategies conveyed by my English teacher. In fact, my English teacher was very boring. He seldom attended the class or whenever he attended the class he only gave us assignments or tasks from the textbook. Due to those circumstances, my motivation for learning English declined.

There are some other factors that could demotivate learners’ language motivation as suggested by some researchers. For example, Dornyei (1998, cited in Yan, 2009 p.110) identified some types of de-motivating factors namely “the teacher (personality, commitment, competence, telling method), inadequate school facilities (group is too big or not the right level; frequent change of teachers), reduced self-confidence (experience of failure or lack of success), negative attitudes towards the L2”. In my learning experience, the teachers’ competence and personality were very influential factors in deteriorating my motivation. In addition to that, the negative attitude of people towards the foreign language community become challenging. Such demotivating factors of L2 learning need to be tackled.

To tackle the demotivating factors, particularly in relation to my own English experience as an undergraduate, I made several endeavours. Firstly, I created a good relationship with my teachers. I communicated with my teachers about my problems regarding motivation. I shared with my teachers what I wanted to learn. In addition, since I needed good English learning resources, I often went to the common library which had American Corners that provided abundant learning English resources not only books but audio and visual media that I could utilize to improve my English. Also, I was involved in a community-based English Club called Walisongo English Club. Here, I practiced English with my seniors and friends. The comfortable atmosphere of learning English elevated my motivation. In this club, the learning process was so democratic. We could determine the topic or issue that we needed to learn. Interestingly, this club often conducted fun events such as a camps and English contests such as speech contests or debates.

Moreover, the learning process was conducted outside of classrooms which made them more enjoyable.

In conclusion, I would like to say that it is important to realise that motivation is made up of intrinsic and extrinsic factors which can cause it to ebbs and flow. As a learner it is important for us to recognise when these factors are effecting our motivation in an negative way and try to deal with them as they occur. It is also important to to take action to prevent future deterioration of motivation by making use of the positive resources around us.  


  • Bradford, A. (2007). Motivational orientations in under-researched FLL contexts: Findings from Indonesia. RELC Journal, 38(3), 302-323.

  • Dornyei, Z. (2001). Motivational strategies in the language classroom: Cambridge University Press Cambridge.

  • Dörnyei, Z. (1998). Motivation in second and foreign language learning. Language Teaching, 31(3), 117-135.

  • Engin, A. O. (2009). Second language learning success and motivation. Social Behavior and Personality, 37(8), 1035-1041.

  • Gardner, R. C., & Lambert, W. E. (1972). Attitudes and Motivation in Second-Language Learning.

  • Lamb, M. (2007). The Impact of School on EFL Learning Motivation: An Indonesian Case Study. TESOL Quarterly, 41(4), 757-780.

  • Lightbown, P., & Spada, N. (2013). How languages are learned (4th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Yan, H. (2009). Student and teacher de-motivation in SLA. Asian Social Science, 5(1), 109.

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