Motivation and L2 Acquisition of German: Analytical Essay

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In the 21st century, English continues to be the dominant “world language” because it is the most widely spoken language in the world. A considerable amount of linguistic studies has been conducted on various aspects of English acquisition, and the number of learners of English as a second language is soaring in non-English-speaking countries like China. This dominance of English has been undermining the status of “non-world languages” such as German. Consequently, most of the contemporary research on second language motivation predominantly focuses on English, which makes motivational studies on German particularly scarce. It is vital for researchers to know what motivates students who do study German as a second language. A clear understanding of motivational issues concerning the German language could, in turn, facilitate German instructors to motivate their students effectively. This research paper aims to investigate the sources of motivation for learning German, the causes of declining motivation, and approaches to motivate German learners in the context of second language acquisition.

Literature Review

Current studies on the relationships between second language acquisition and motivation are mainly built on Robert Gardner’s social-psychological model. According to the dichotomous model, language learners’ motivation to learn languages can be classified into two distinct orientations: either integrative or instrumental (Gardner, 1985). Integrative orientation is about a learner’s positive impression of the target language; the learner has a keen interest in learning the target language and wants to communicate with the speakers of the target language. Learners with integrative orientation are motivated to learn the language so that they can fit into the target language community (Lay, 2008). On the contrary, those who possess instrumental orientation study the target languages for pragmatic reasons such as looking for jobs; they are motivated by external factors (Lay, 2008). In particular, Gardner and his colleagues assert that integrative orientation plays a more critical role, even though both types of orientations can lead to successful L2 acquisition outcomes.

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However, later studies have revealed that these two orientations “are not opposite ends of a continuum but on the same continuum to different degrees and that there are other orientations for learning a second language” (Liu & Li, 2018). As a result, more theories have emerged, and more types of motivation have been studied. The field of second language motivational studies has become increasingly inclusive. Notably, researchers have investigated the role played by motivation on learners’ acquisition process and learning outcome. The following sections summarize what they have found about German learners’ motivations to learn German as a second language.

Sources of motivation for learning German

Generally, students of German possess both instrumental and integrative motivations. Their motivations for learning the language were influenced by their will to gain German proficiency, and the notion of ideal self encapsulates their motivation more effectively than both instrumental and integrative orientations do (Busse & Williams, 2010). Also, students who can envision themselves speaking adeptly in the future are more likely to maintain their motivation. Teachers are another source of motivation because their teachings give students a basic understanding of German culture, which further spurs the latter’ enthusiasm (Busse & Williams, 2010). Having a heritage in German helps learners to grow their motivation since they may feel imperative to use the language to interact with the German community, which means learning German contributes to heritage-learners’ formation of self-concept (Noel, 2005). Positive learning experiences with other foreign languages contribute to students’ build-up of motivation (Lay, 2008). Moreover, contacts with German-speaking persons motivate students to learn the language for real-life applications. Last but not least, learners who wish to travel to or continue their higher education in Germany tend to have higher levels of motivation compared to those who do not (Liu & Li, 2018).

Questions with respect to the sources of motivation should be analyzed from different geographical perspectives as Germen students from Asia may have different cultural backgrounds from their Western counterparts. For example, Taiwanese learners of German tend to have a high level of instrumental learning orientation due to the influence of Confucian values (Lay, 2008).

Causes of the declining motivation

Vera Busse has been conducting research on the changes in first-year university students’ motivation to learn German in the United Kingdom. She discovers that although students tend to have a growing will to become proficient German speakers, their effort to acquire German decreases during the semester (Busse & Walter, 2013). Busse’s studies are based on self-determination theory and the notion of intrinsic motivation. According to the qualitative interviews conducted by Busse (2013), students decide to study German because they enjoy learning the language, and this factor motivates them to continue their studies. As the result of the study shows, students’ motivations for learning German do not remain the same over the period analyzed. There is a considerable reduction in their motivation in the middle of the semester (Busse, 2013). Busse attributes this decease to students’ perceived challenges in taking German courses, and there are three specific types of challenges. Firstly, students find German literature provided in the curriculum extremely difficult to comprehend since the difficulty of their reading materials sometimes surpasses their current reading ability (Busse, 2013). They do not have enough storage of vocabulary in their brains and sophisticated understanding of the German syntax, which makes their reading time-consuming (Busse, 2013). The second challenge comes from students’ inability to complete German essay assignments caused by their limited German vocabulary; they consider their writing skills as insufficient to meet essays’ requirements, especially for those students who do not have prior experiences in writing in German (Busse, 2013). Lastly, as Busse (2013) indicates, students are troubled by explicit grammar tuition, which leads to their aversion towards learning German. Nevertheless, students who manage to cope with these challenges successfully regain their enjoyment, leading themselves back to a phase of intense motivation.

Besides, decreasing motivation towards learning German could result from factors other than difficulties of the language. For instance, as a study by Meihua Liu and Mingming Li shows, Chinese college students studying German as an elective feel less motivated to learn the language at the end of the semester because of the pressure from their major coursework (2018).

Approaches to motivating German learners

One of the problems that lead to students’ decreasing motivation is that German classes are held exclusively in English (Busse, 2013). If instructors use German to teach the courses, students could be offered with more German input and more opportunities to practice their listening and speaking skills, which helps students maintain their motivation (Busse, 2013). Moreover, teachers could use educational games to nurture students’ motivation. For instance, the implementation of marble games for teaching German in Turkey makes German lessons more appealing to students and thus motivating students to put more effort into learning the language (Coşkun, 2013). However, it is worth noting that the design of such a game should take students’ first language and specific cultural background into account. Finally, according to Liu & Li (2018), German instructors could recommend good German cultural and artistic artifacts to students and combine German acquisition with students’ major studying.


Previous studies have shown that motivation plays an essential role in influencing German learners’ acquisition outcomes. Robert Gardner’s binary motivational model should be modified when analyzing various factors that impact students’ motivation, which indicates that motivation could take on different forms and originate from distinct sources. The role of teachers in influencing students’ motivation should receive more attention since German instructors are able to design their classes into a fashion that positively affect students’ motivation. Indeed, they are also mentors who can stimulate German learners beyond traditional classroom settings. Moreover, knowledge into causes leading to students’ shrinking motivation could help instructors reflect upon their teaching methods so that they can formulate their pedagogies into healthier ones, which could sustain students’ motivation despite the existence of difficulties in acquisition processes.


There are various sources of motivation of students learning German as a second language, ranging from having a German heritage to tourist interests (Noel, 2005; Liu & Li, 2018). Future investigations on motivation and German learning should be based on but not limited to the social-psychological model proposed by Gardner. The major problem causing students’ declining motivation can be attributed to the fact that their German abilities do not match with the difficulties of their German courses. And hopefully, instructors could realize these issues and construct their classes by using German to teach and incorporating educational games. Consequently, those studying German would sustain and increase their motivation, and those who are still deciding which language to study would choose German as their second language of pursuit.


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