Can the Language Service Industry Create Motivation?

Posts1637Likes1093Joined18/3/2018LocationBellingham / US
Learning German
Other Chinese - Mandarin, French, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swahili, Tagalog, Thai

I’m a bit disappointed in the large number of language learning materials available that seem to do nothing but suggest ways to manufacture motivation while recycling basic study strategies. Why am I disappointed? Well, of course I’m not interested in recycled learning techniques, although they might be useful to beginners. But my main point of contention is with the motivation stuff. Can motivation really be created like they suggest?

Motivation can definitely be created. For example, lets say a child from an English speaking family in the US spends a summer in Mexico, meets a lot of Spanish speaking friends, and ends up really liking the culture. They might not learn Spanish while in Mexico, but when they return home and need to choose a foreign language to learn in high school, they could be sufficiently motivated to start studying and keep it up until they reach a high level.

Learning a language to a high level takes a long time, and requires strong, long-lasting motivation to accomplish. That kind of motivation most likely takes months or even years to develop. Imo the tips given in these language programs aren’t the type that create motivation sufficient to do the job in the amount of time that they lead you to believe is possible. The advice seems to fall into two categories – 1) ways to develop strong motivation that actually take months or years, and 2) ways to re-awaken pre-existing motivation, or re-frame the learning process. 

Most of the advice falls under 2), and after a possible initial spark just doesn’t work for learners who’ve never had motivation to begin with. For example, advice such as watch movies or go to meetups is often given. If the person doesn’t have strong motivation under the surface, this is sort of like asking them to do something they don’t like so that they’ll like it more. On the other hand, if deep motivation truly exists, these activities could wake up the old interest, or make the learner see the task in a different light. But by my way of thinking this in no way is creating strong motivation of the magnitude needed to learn a language. It’s fluffy advice that can do nothing more than re-awaken existing motivation and outside of that it bothers me. Why? Because it’s just one more tool the language teaching industry deceives beginners into believing that it’s just a walk in the park. Not motivated? No problem – just follow this simple advice and you're good to go!

For the type 1) advice, not only does it take too long, it seems backwards. These are usually the things that people have already done or had to do that resulted in them having motivation in the first place. For example, the advice to go live in the target country. Living in country can be great motivation, but it’s often the reason people begin to learn a language. Good luck in convincing someone who isn’t motivated to move to the target country. Same thing with finding a lover who is a native speaker. Great motivation, but I doubt anyone thinks “I’m not really motivated to learn Japanese. I’ll just hook up with a Japanese girl though and that will motivate me.” Instead, it’s more common for that to be the reason one starts to learn the language. And both of these suggestions are very time consuming; probably not what a casually unmotivated person is seeking.

In conclusion, beware of language teaching websites and companies that are mostly selling motivation. Support programs that mostly offer other products and services. Learn a language because you are highly motivated, not the other way around.   

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The motivation for each student is likely to be different. I can remember one young man who was completely uninterested in learning English, didn't wish to be on the course .... After a few days he met a young lady from another country and the only way they could communicate was English. Instant motivation, 100% in class and lots of practice outside!!!

There is a place for motivation but as my old DoS said - You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink.


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