Motivation, Intelligence Essay

Second language learning is the process of learning a different language other than one’s mother tongue resulting in the ability of an individual to use one or more languages different from his first language. It can take place in a natural setting or through classroom instructions; however, the degree of proficiency differs (Gomleksiz, 2001).

Learning is a conscious process that includes thorough explanation of grammar rules, practice of those rules, as well as memorizing lists of vocabulary, usually in a classroom setting (Wisniewski, 2007).

Learners usually use their culture, first language, environment, background and personal experiences among others to learn a second language.

Second Language learning is necessitated by the different situations of different people. For instance, it can be for social or academic purposes. Learners are affected by many factors in the second language acquisition process such as level of cognitive development, socio-economic and cultural background, age, motivation or ability and intelligence (Gomleksiz, 2001; Wisniewski, 2007). This paper will however concentrate on how intelligence or aptitude and motivation affect the learning of a second language.

According to (Wisniewski, 2007), second language learning process differs from first language acquisition, with the latter taking place usually from infancy in a community using a    specific language and affected mainly by neurological developments in the brain (McCain, 2000) while the former taking place usually in schools or later in life and affected by age and associated characteristics (McCain, 2000).

It is necessary to draw a distinction between foreign language and second language learning. According to (Wisniewski, 2007), a language learnt in a community that uses a different mother tongue, is said to be a foreign language, and the process, a foreign language learning. For instance, a Kenyan student learning French in Kenya is said to be learning a foreign language, since French is not the common language in Kenya. In contrast, a language learnt in a community that uses the language, is said to be a second language. For instance, a Kenyan student studying is Spain will study Spanish as a second language.

According to Holt (2001), motivation in second language learning is the learner’s orientation with regard to the goal of learning a second language. It is a desire for learning (Gomleksiz, 2001). That is, it is the inner force or strength that drives an individual toward learning a second language. A below average student with the motivation to learn a second language is likes to succeed than an intelligent student not motivated. Motivation is divided into two basic types- integrative and instrumental (Holt, 2001; McCain, 2000).

Integrative motivation is the learner’s positive attitude towards the target language group and the desire to integrate into that target language community. For instance, if an individual loves and would like to identify with the Maasai community, he would learn their language. It is thought that students most successful in learning a target language are those who like the people that speak the language, admire the culture and have a desire to become familiar with or even integrate into the society in which the language is used (J. Falk 1978) cited in Holt (2001).

This kind of motivation is essential in helping an individual assimilated in a community to develop some proficiency in the language and also in developing a social life with the people in the community, especially if it is the only language widely spoken. It becomes a necessity.

Instrumental motivation on the other hand, underlies the goal to gain some social or economic reward through the second language. It is a more functional reason for language learning. For instance, an individual who would like to be an air hostess may learn other languages to enable her easily get the job.

The end of instrumental motivation is basically utilitarian such as meeting the requirements of a school, job or achievement of higher social status (Holt, 2001). In this case, the second language acquisition takes place with little or no integration in the community using the language; however, this knowledge comes in handy if one is to ever visit the community. Factors other than social integration necessitate the acquisition of the second language.

Both forms of motivation are essential for success in the learning of a second language, however, integrative motivation has been found to sustain long term success (Crookes and Schmidt, 1991). Instrumental motivation has only been acknowledged as a significant factor in some research, whereas integrative motivation is continually linked to successful second language acquisition (Holt, 2001). According to Holt (2001),

Generally students select instrumental reasons more frequently than integrative reasons for the study of a second language. Those who choose an integrative approach to language study are usually more highly motivated and in overall more successful. (n.p)

Instrumental motivation can only be successful if the student is provided with an opportunity to actively use the language and possibly interact with the community of the target group; otherwise, the language is easily forgotten as it was only a means to an end. Interaction with the community of the target language helps the student learn more than what is learnt in class such as accent, expression and a whole new words and the context of usage; usually, the student is exposed more to language users than in a class setting. Interaction helps the learner solve his or her problems in the learning process.

The language becomes part of the student and the degree of proficiency is higher, this is why integrative motivation has far higher long term success rates. The knowledge of the language becomes more than just professional. For students however, instrumental motivation is usually the major underlying factor for the study of the language (Holt, 2001).

Holt (2001) in citing H. D. Brown (2000) states that, both integrative and instrumental motivations are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Learners rarely select one form of motivation when learning a second language, but rather a combination of both orientations. For instance, a Spanish student wishing to study in the U.K will learn English both as a requirement for academic purposes and also to enable her integrate well in the English community.

According to Teepen (n.d), intelligence and aptitude are significant virtually in all aspects of second language learning. Regardless of all other factors like age, personality, attitude and motivation, some people happen to be better at learning a second language than others (Bot, Lowie, and Verspoor, 2005).

The writers at (n.d) refer to intelligence as the mental abilities measured by an Intelligence Quotient (IQ) test, usually measuring the Verbal or Linguistic and Mathematical or Logical intelligence and in some cases, Spatial, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal and Musical intelligence (Bot, Lowie, and Verspoor, 2005).

Research findings indicate that intelligence, is a strong factor in language learning that involves language analysis and rule learning. In this case, intelligence has a strong positive relation with second language learning (Teepen, n.d.). It was however found to be of less importance in language learning that focuses on communication and interaction (, n.d.). Intelligence is complex as it has various dimensions thus giving people different abilities and strengths. Therefore, an individual with strong academic performance does not necessarily make a second language learning success story.

The writers at (n.d.) also describe aptitude as the potential for achievement and that it is designed to make a prediction about an individual’s future achievements. Aptitude can be seen as a characteristic that is similar to intelligence, which cannot be altered through training (Bot et al. 2005).

Aptitude for language learning is usually composed of; the ability to identify and memorize new sounds, the ability to understand the function of particular words in sentences, the ability to figure out grammatical rules from language samples and finally, the ability to memorize new words and phrases (Bot et al. 2005). A person’s inherent capability of second-language learning is called Language Learning aptitude (Bot et al. 2005).

A number of language aptitude tests have been developed to assess language aptitude, the most common being the Modern Language Aptitude Test (MLAT) by Carroll and Sapon (1959) and the Pimsleaur Language Aptitude Battery (PLAB) by Pimsleaur in 1966. Both tests have shown high correlations with proficiency scores in schools, however, the tests are completely geared towards formal second-language learning and in particular, the way in which the language is taught in classrooms (Bot et al. 2005).

Past researches have also revealed significant findings. A significant positive relationship between aptitude for language learning taught with grammar translation or audio-lingual methods, but irrelevant to second language learning taught with a more communicative approach, that is, with a focus on meaning rather than on form (, n.d). Just like in intelligence, successful language learners are not necessarily strong in all the components of aptitude.

In conclusion, success in second language learning depends on many factors; motivation, aptitude and intelligence are just a number of important ones. For motivation, it has been found that, motivated students are more successful than those not motivated. Motivation is the most important factor compared to intelligence and aptitude, though it has to be considered in light of other factors. This is because, as long as an individual is motivated, even if his IQ and aptitude are low, he will be able to succeed in language learning. In a nutshell, the greater the motivation, intelligence and aptitude levels of a student, the greater the chances of succeeding in learning a second language.


Bot, D. K., Lowie, W. and Verspoor, M. (2005). Second Language Acquisition: An advanced

Resource Book. Madison Avenue, New York: Routledge Applied Linguistics

Crookes, G., & Schmidt R.W. (1991). Motivation : Reopening the research agenda. Language

Learning, Vol. 41, No. 4, p. 469-512.

Gomleksiz, M. N. (2001). The effects of Age and Motivation in Second Language Acquisition.

Firat University Journal of Social Science, Vol. 11, No. 17, p. 217-224

Factors affecting Second Language Learning. Accessed April 29, 2010 from, n.d)

Holt, J. N. (2001). Motivation as a Contributing factor in Second Language Acquisition. The

Internet TESL Journal, Vol. 7, No. 6. Accessed April 28, 2010 from

McCain, J. (2000). Language Acquisition and affective Variables. Accessed April 28, 2010 from

Teepen, J. (n.d.). On the Relationship between Aptitude and Intelligence in

Second Language Acquisition. Columbia University Working Papers in TESOL & Applied Linguistics, Vol. 4. Accessed April 29, 2010 from

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