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Why Intrinsic Motivation Is Decisive for Mastering a New Language [Quick Read]

Main image for the blog entry "Why Intrinsic Motivation Is Decisive for Mastering a New Language", showing a young man focused on his laptop.

Good day and welcome back, my lingua-didici people! To be honest, I had wanted to write an article about another topic. But, as I was listening to some polyglot videos on YouTube, I realized that intrinsic motivation and language learning must go hand in hand by all means! I even dare to say that this is the single most important factor! You might remember, I have already talked about intrinsic motivation earlier. I will illustrate its importance by telling you a personal story.

The Story of My Parents

My father and my mother both arrived in Germany as so-called “Gastarbeiters” in 1973. They did not know each other back then and also ended up in totally different parts of Germany. Both spoke only Serbo-Croatian at that time (well and some negligible level of Russian). My father merely needed a couple of months to learn German (almost accent-free). Meanwhile, it took my mother twice the time and she, as of yet, has neither mastered its grammar nor the correct use of the letter “ü.” What happened?

Image of rails shown in order to illustrate my parents' coming to Germany.

Neither one of them attained any German language course upon arriving. When I asked my mother about this period, she told me that in the beginning, she would not communicate with the local population. She would go to work and back home. After a couple of weeks, she would finally force herself to enter into simple everyday conversations and, also, eventually build up friendships with German women. But still, my mother would eventually need two years to reach a decent language level.

What was my father doing in the meantime? He started talking from day one. His first German word was “Platz” (= seat, place), which he would respond when everyone on the train to Germany was being checked. In Germany, he was eager to understand and speak like the Germans immediately. So, he listened to the native-speakers at work and imitated their pronunciation and choice of words. After three months, he was able to get through the day without uttering any word in Serbo-Croatian.

What Is the Difference Between Them?

At first glance, you might say: Well, both had the same reasons. Both went to Germany for work and learned German in order to understand their surroundings. Your father has more “talent”, that’s all! Those of you who have read some earlier articles of mine know: I don’t believe in talent but in motivation and work ethic.

But, what was the true reason my mother learned the language? It was her feeling disconnected from the world around her. Did she learn this language because she found German to be captivating in general and/ or because mastering it would provide her with some direct internal reward? The answer is no. German was only the means to one single end: being to talk to people. And that’s that. It only served a functional purpose.

Wait a minute… But, wasn’t that the same my father wanted? Yes, but not only! He not only wanted to be able to understand and communicate with people, he wanted to integrate fully into the German work environment.

Moreover, but he also wanted people to not underestimate him due to poor German skills. Last and most importantly, he appreciated and liked the German language. Even today, he says that German allows for incredibly precise expressions of what you want to say. I can confirm that. Do you understand now why the right motivation is so crucial?

Intrinsic Motivation and Language Learning: The Secret to Learning any Language

The secret to mastering a new language is very simple, and I can put it in a single sentence: You have to enjoy learning it. Full stop.

Did we enjoy sitting in an English or Spanish class with our neat textbooks? No! Who wanted to listen to what Robert was telling Sarah on the phone? Who cared how Miguel ordered his food in an Argentinian restaurant? Nobody. Of course, there is nothing wrong with doing such exercises. However, we did not do such exercises because we intrinsically wanted it. We mainly did them because we were obliged to pass an exam. You don’t agree? Ok, then, how many of us sat down after school to do these exercises on their own? I thought so.

What Would Be Examples of Intrinsic Motivational Factors?

  • You love anime and want to watch it in Japanese.
  • Your partner comes from another country, and you want to express your love and to be able to talk to his/ her family.
  • You are into 19th century literature and want to read Tolstoy in Russian.
  • You love Christina Aguilera and want to understand “Lady Marmalade” (This one is only a joke).
  • You have always dreamed about living in Rome due to your unbreakable love for pizza and the Italian language.
  • You are into mythology and want to read the original Greek version (well, not in the ancient Greek language).
  • You are very religious and want to read the bible in Latin.
  • You have ancestors from some country, and you are genuinely interested in finding out more about that part of yours.
  • You love Bollywood and want to see the movies in the original language.
  • You simply love to learn languages and derive great satisfaction from mastering them.

Read the last sentence once more. You have found the motivational factor number 1 amongst all polyglots. We enjoy it in the purest of ways, which is why our brain learns languages so fast and with ease. This is why intrinsic motivation and language learning need to go hand in hand!

Many sitting in bed, representing a polyglot with intrinsic motivation to learn languages.

Thus, ask yourself: Why am I learning this language? Am I sufficiently interested in mastering it? Would I study it if not for some external reason (e.g., your job)?

Why Intrinsic Motivation Is Decisive for Mastering a New Language – The Happening of a New Blog

In this blog, you will discover a bunch of proven tips on how to crack the language-learning game! Anyway, I hope you understand better now why or why not you are succeeding in a language. Bye, for now!

There will be a loooooot more articles coming! 

Are you asking yourself: “Who is this guy whose words I am reading right now?” You will find some information about me here.

Photo showing a TV and books as examples for you to find your intrinsic motivation to learn a language.
#8 QuickTip: Find your personal intrinsic motivational factor(s) for learning a language. Remind yourself of it/ them, especially, when you feel like you are advancing slowly.

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1 Comment

  • 1burning


    February 17, 2022 at 17:00
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