Motivation is one factor that has a considerable bearing on how quickly and successfully German as a foreign or second language can be learnt. However, it is not easy to identify the different components of motivation in language learning, factors such as individual learning biography, attitudes towards language and culture, and indeed external factors such as the learner’s sociocultural life circumstances all playing their part. A distinction also needs to be made between initial motivation and the motivation to continue learning.
There are different reasons why a person decides to learn a foreign language in general or German in particular: when a pupil chooses or has to learn German at school, motivation and willingness to learn may result from external factors – though this does not necessarily mean that pupils will be unmotivated. Nonetheless, teachers should know what prompted the student to attend GFL or GSL lessons.
Those who voluntarily learn languages such as German outside school may have other reasons for doing so: an interest in the culture associated with the language, for example, or indeed job-related goals, family or other private reasons, or a simple ambition to master a (further) foreign language. Which components come into play here and how they are weighted will differ hugely from learner to learner. People often learn German for what are known as instrumental reasons: the language is considered to be useful. In many cases, learners hope that German will improve their job prospects, either in the short or longer term, because a knowledge of German – often in combination with languages such as English – allows them to demonstrate a broader language profile.
Generally speaking, the more desirable and achievable the targeted language proficiency is, the greater will be the motivation to learn a language like German. Recent studies also emphasize the fact that language learning has a personal development aspect: if learners have an ideal image of themselves as someone with knowledge of a foreign or second language, this appears to result in lasting motivation to continue learning.