Why Motivation Is Key for Second Language Learning Success

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Why student motivation is key to foreign language learning success

Author: Christopher Merrifield
August 2008

"Acquisition requires meaningful interaction in the target language - natural communication - in which speakers are concerned not with the form of their utterances but with the messages they are conveying and understanding." Stephen Krashen.

The principles of L2 teaching philosophy has greatly changed from the ancient principles of the Grammar-Translation approach historically used for teaching Greek and Latin. All the teaching philosophies and subsequent methodologies are reactions to this limited due to three major drawbacks 1) L1 is translated to L2 which is highly inaccurate losing much of the sociocultural detail resulting in parrot fashion language production 2) Low exposure to the target langugue. No teaching is done in the target language meaning there is very little L2 exposure. Students don’t relate to the language well. There is no phatic communion taught. 3) Motivation. The classroom is difficult and stressful. Meaning little motivation. 4) Testing method. Students are assumed to have learned well when they can translate a text to their native language. This is a poor way to learn, translation doesn’t necessarily mean a student can produce or understand the language. Rather it means the student has a good memory! - Thuleen(1996)

Although this may seem to be out of place in today’s learning environment one should be reminded that this ancient philosophy of teaching has seen major success in oriental countries such as China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan but this is arguably a cultural conditioning. However these countries via this method have found some success and great success in some cases putting serious contradiction to modern methods such as the Communicative AKA Functional-Notional Approach by Finocchiaro and Brumfit (1983), Total Physical Response by Asher (1979) and Community Language Learning by Curran and Charles (1976) which appear mainstream in today’s L2 learning environment. The modern basis for these three methodologies has come from the research theories of four main people who greatly differ in opinion and specialization nevertheless equally agree study of a child’s development of L1 is vital to unlocking the key to language learning as a whole contestable hypothesis. The organic structure changes as the human brain experiences and develops with aging –How people Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience , and School, National Research Council (2000), Stern & Laura(2000). The main philosophers of L2 teaching and learning are Stephen D. Krashen, L.S. VYGOTSKY, Jean Piaget, J.Bruner, B.F Skinner and Noam Chomsky. Although they differ greatly in approach and underlying reasoning all agree that language is a common phenomenon for all humans above and beyond that of other mammals apart from perhaps birds. However even with certain birds there lacks the ability to expand beyond onomatopoeic language or imitation to abstract concepts - Krashen (1987/1988), Krashen and Terrel (1983), Norlander (1992), Bruner, J (1966/1973), Piaget (1972), Skinner (1957), Vygotsky (1978/ 1985), and Chomsky (1968).

The base theories of modern teaching methods has a significant focus on studying a child’s acquisition of its native language which at its initial stage takes the form of a mixture of onomatopoeic language and “parentese”. In all cases this is resultant of their intrinsic ability and has no relation to their extrinsic environment as this happens universally. - Norlander (1992), Snow (1977). L1 acquisition occurs due to several factors;

a) natural human ability
b) the brain’s natural development
c) necessity/desire to communicate.

The acquisition of language is a natural occurrence which takes place biologically and has been labelled by Chomsky as the “Language Acquisition Device” however because Chomsky was unable to give a detailed account of the L.A.D this is still the topic of much...
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