What Motivates People to Learn a Second Language; And How to Stay Motivated



There are many reasons why people want to learn a second language. Research shows that business, personal enrichment and travel are the top reasons in Canada.

Learning another language for work is primarily externally motivated. Employers sometimes pay for language and cultural learning to enhance an employee’s chances for success in a foreign assignment, or, to help him or her to develop better management skills. For the employee, this can mean better opportunities for promotion, increased salary and opportunities.

Travel and personal enrichment are more internal. People want to learn another language for some personal motivation in addition to enhancing the travel experience:

  • To learn more about your family heritage; language learning should include information about culture
  • Intellectual curiosity
  • For health; a wide variety of research shows that challenging your brain (including language learning) helps keeps you vital and healthy as you age, staves off dementia, improves memory and can even make you smarter. Remember the old adage, “use it or lose it.”
  • Some people simply want to impress others

It’s actually more difficult to stay motivated if you’re learning for internal reasons. You can always quit with no ramifications except for yourself.

In fact, more than half of language students stop learning before reaching their goals. Here are a few ways to keep going:

  • First, make sure you pick the right learning environment and instructor

    Select a proven process and a good, experienced teacher; one who not only knows your target language, but also knows how to teach it while making classes fun. People sometimes underestimate the importance of fun in learning.

    Spending hours memorizing verb conjugations, tenses and vocabulary can be monotonous, and can hinder your motivation. Good teachers go to great lengths to make learning enjoyable, including drawings, games and even play acting.

    Berlitz, for example, often uses workbooks showing various scenes and situations for student/instructor role playing, which is often fun to do.
  • Take your language learning beyond the classroom

    Make learning part of your everyday life. For example, imagine you just finished a phone call. Sit back for a minute and think about how you would describe it in your target language; or, describe a sporting event you saw, or the scene while walking down the street. Say it out loud. This helps you learn in a more real-world situation.

    If you can’t think of a way to say something; look for an alternative way to express yourself.
  • Study the culture as well as the language

    Learning about the country, lifestyles, popular activities, history, etc., will make you curious about culture and, perhaps, provide additional motivation to keep learning.

    A good instructor will incorporate cultural learning into his or her teaching. Many instructional texts include sections about culture. Reading them out loud will also help improve comprehension and diction, as well as help you to become more knowledgeable.
  • Immerse yourself; watch and listen

    Many TV cable networks offer foreign-language stations at a reasonable cost. For example, most systems offer the Italian network RAI, and many others. Even keeping it on as background noise can improve your listening and comprehension skills.
  • Don’t get frustrated if you don’t immediately become a fluent speaker

    Listening and understanding generally come first; speaking comes last.

    Speak into a voice recorder about something in your workday, what you did with friends, a hobby, anything. This also helps work on your pronunciation skills.

These suggestions may help keep you on track in your language learning journey. Keep it up; the hard work will pay off.