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Motivation for Language Learning

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By Dr. Mary Hood

Geo Trekking

There are a number of factors to consider when contemplating studying a foreign language. I was raised in a German environment. My grandfather lived at a German old-age home, and my mother frequently spoke German around the house. I never really "studied" the language, except for a one-year stint in high school, when I had little motivation for learning any academic subjects. To this day, although I really am not capable of reading, speaking, or writing German, I can understand most of what people are saying when I'm confronted with German speakers, either in person or on the television. I believe that the fact it was a natural part of my environment, rather than a "learning experience", made the learning stick more than it would have if it had been part of a "unit study in German".

When my own children were young, I introduced them to the sounds of many languages. One of the reasons I did this was to train their ears to hear the sounds of other languages. Obviously, to accomplish that, it was important that I was pretty good at pronunciation myself, or I would have had to use other resources. At that point, we certainly weren't striving for fluency. I also tried to tie in information about other cultures, religions, and people. I believe that these early experiences laid the foundation for later work in foreign languages

When learning a foreign language, self-motivation is extremely important. Right now, I'm trying to increase my own proficiency in Spanish and learn Korean on an intermediate level. My motivation for learning Spanish is to communicate with the many Hispanics in our area, and to be able to help Hispanic mothers consider the possibility of homeschooling their children. I'm learning Korean because one of my own children lives in Korea and two of my books, The Relaxed Home School and The Joyful Home Schooler, are being translated and published in Korea sometime soon. Those are powerful motivators. Back when I was trying to learn Russian, the only real reason I had is that I thought it sounded cool. That wasn't nearly enough motivation to persevere when things got tough, so I wound up giving up.

That being said, I believe in allowing children to study any foreign language that they would like to learn since internal motivation is so important. However, don't feel like YOU have to learn the language they want if you would rather learn another one!  The challenge, of course, will be to find the people, experiences, etc., which will help them to learn, especially if you don't want to put in the time to learn the same language yourself.

One of the keys to success in learning a foreign language is getting into a habit where the study of the language is a normal part of your daily routine. I've set tons of goals in the past few years that never happened. My goals for foreign language study have been met because I have been able to build the learning into my daily routine. I also try hard to either watch a few minutes of Spanish television at night (I prefer the news or weather, because I recognize more words in those situations), and I spend a little bit of time reading in Spanish each day, especially the local Hispanic newspaper. Another thing I've done is to get several books in both Spanish and English and read them one paragraph at a time, first in Spanish and then in English.

I believe that learning at least one foreign language makes a person more well-rounded.  The only thing better is to travel abroad. My trip to Africa was a life-changing event, and I hope to continue growing as I begin doing more speaking outside the U.S., now that my own children are grown.

If you have one student who has no internal motivation to learn a language, and you are simply doing it to get it on a high school transcript, I recommend doing it during the last two years of high school, because they may have to pass a placement test. If they have zero motivation, they won't remember it for long. However, if they are motivated at any age, the learning should be much deeper and longer lasting.

Hasta luego…and with apologies to any real Korean speakers, Anyoungeegesayo!

Mary Hood, Ph.D. is the author of The Relaxed Home School and The Joyful Home Schooler. More information can be found about Dr. Hood at

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