Motivation to Study a Second Foreign Language: A Case of Chinese University Learners of German

Meihua Liu (Tsinghua University)

Article ID: 1333



Not much research has been done on motivation to study a second, third or even fourth foreign language though learners of such languages have been increasing. To contribute to this, the present study examined German learning motivation of Chinese university students at different proficiency levels. A total of 297 German learners at three different proficiency levels at a university in Beijing filled in the questionnaires, of whom 191 answered the open-ended question and 50 were informally interviewed. Analyses of the data revealed the following major findings: (1) most respondents at each proficiency level had limited access to and little chance to use German, liked the language, studied it (very) hard and did not think the language was difficult, (2) students at different proficiency levels studied German for similar reasons such as major study/research, further education, future career, interest in foreign language learning and German, and (3)students at higher proficiency levels perceived German to be more difficult and worked harder on it. Students at higher proficiency levels were both integratively and instrumentally more motivated to study German and had greater motivation intensity as well. It is clear that students at different proficiency levels were motivated to study German and that students at the advanced level tended to be more integratively motivated than those at the beginning level. Based on these findings, some suggestions are discussed.


Motivation, Foreign language, German

Full Text:



[1] Cai, S., & Zhu, W. (2012). The impact of an online learning community project on university Chinese as a foreign language students’ motivation. Foreign Language Annals, 45(3), 307-329.

[2] Creswell, J. W. (2014) Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches London: SAGE Publication.

[3] Cruz, S., &Al Shabibi, N. (2019). The L2 motivational self: A case of college students at Ibra College of Technology. TESL Reporter, 52(1), 30-51.

[4] Csizér, K., & Dörnyei, Z. (2005). The internal structure of language learning motivation and its relationship with language choice and learning effort. The Modern Language Journal, 89(1), 19-36.

[5] Deci, E., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum Press.

[6] Dörnyei, Z. (2005). The psychology of the language learner: Individual differences in second language acquisition. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. Publishers.

[7] Dörnyei, Z. (2009). The L2 motivational self system. In Z. Dörnyei & E. Ushioda (Ed.), Motivation, language identity and the L2 self (pp. 9-42). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

[8] Dörnyei, Z., & Ryan, S. (2015). The psychology of the language learner revisited. London: Routledge.

[9] Dörnyei, Z., & Csizér, K. (2006). Motivation, language attitudes and globalization: A Hungarian perspective. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

[10] Field, A. (2013). Discovering statistics using IBM SPSS statistics (4th ed.). London: SAGE Publications Ltd.

[11] Flemens, K. (2009). Motivation, language-learning strategies, and course performance among English-speaking college students learning a romance language. Ann Arbor: ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.

[12] Gardner, R. C. (1985). Social psychology and second language learning: The role of attitudes and motivation. London: Edward Arnold.

[13] Gardner, R. C., & Lambert, W. E. (1972). Attitudes and motivation in second language learning. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.

[14] Grant S., Huang H., & Pasfield-Neofitou, S. (2018). Engagement in second life: language anxiety and motivation. In S. Gregory & D. Wood (Eds.), Authentic Virtual World Education (pp. 95-115). Singapore: Springer.

[15] Heckhausen, H. (1991). Motivation and action. Berlin: Springer-Verlag.

[16] Hernández, T. A. (2010). The relationship among motivation, interaction, and the development of second language oral proficiency in a study-abroad context. The Modern Language Journal, 94(4), 600-617.


[18] Lasagabaster, D. (2017). Language learning motivation and language attitudes in multilingual Spain from an international perspective. The Modern Language Journal, 101(3), 583-596.

[19] Liu, M. (2012). Motivation in Chinese university EFL learners in varying learning contexts. TESL Reporter, 45(2), 17-40.

[20] Liu, M. (2019). Understanding Motivation for Learning German among Chinese College Students: Comparing in-China and Study-abroad Contexts. Creative Education, 10, 163-177.

[21] Liu, M., & Li, M. (2018). A study of changes in German learning motivation by Chinese university learners. College Student Journal, 52(1), 49-64.

[22] Martinsen, R. A. (2008). Short-term study abroad: Predicting changes in oral skills. Foreign Language Annals, 43(3), 504-530.


[24] Matsumoto, M. (2017). Learners of English as a second language in Australia: Their perceptions of learning environment and factors having affected their motivation. Paper presented at 6th University of Malaya Discourse and Society International Conference, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

[25] Morreale, S. G. S. (2011). The relationship between study abroad and motivation, attitude and anxiety in university students learning a foreign language. Ann Arbor: ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.

[26] Muftah, M., &Rafik-Galea, S. (2013). Language learning motivation among Malaysian pre-university students. English Language Teaching, 6(3), 92-103.


[28] O’Reilly, E. N. (2014). Correlations among perceived autonomy support, intrinsic motivation, and learning outcomes in an intensive foreign language program. Theory and Practice in Language Studies, 4(7), 1313-1318. DOI: 10.4304/tpls.4.7.1313-1318

[29] Polat, N., Balog, R., & Mahalingappa, L. (2013). Anonymity and motivation in asynchronous discussions and L2 vocabulary learning. Language, Learning and Technology, 17(17), 57-74.

[30] Qin, L., & Dai, W. (2013). Construction of self-system model on college English learning motivation based on the activity theory. Foreign Language World, 6, 23-31.

[31] Richards, L. (2009). Handling qualitative data. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

[32] Spolsky, B. (2000). Anniversary article language motivation revisited. Applied Linguistics, 2, 157-169. DOI: 10.1093/applin/21.2.157

[33] Thompson, A. S., & Erdil-Moody, Z. (2016). Operationalizing multilingualism: language learning motivation in Turkey. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 19(3), 314-331,

[34] Tremblay, P. F., & Gardner, R. C. (1995). Expanding the motivation construct in language learning. The Modern Language Journal, 79(4), 505-518.


[36] Ushioda, E. (2011). Language learning motivation, self and identity: current theoretical perspectives. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 24(3), 199-210.

[37] Weiner, B. (1986). Attribution, emotion and action. In R. M. Sorrentino & E. T. Higgins (Ed.), Handbook of motivation and cognition: Foundations of social behavior (pp.281-312). New York: The Guilford Press.

[38] Wen, Q. (2001). Changing patterns and features of English learners’ motivation, beliefs and strategy use. Foreign Language Teaching and Research, 3, 105 -110.

[39] Wesely, P. M. (2009). The language learning motivation of early adolescent French immersion graduates. Foreign Language Annals, 42(2), 270-286.


[41] Waninge, F., & Dörnyei, Z., & de Bot, K. (2014). Motivational dynamics in language learning: Change, stability, and context. The Modern Language Journal, 98(3), 704-723. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-4781.2014.12118.x

[42] Wigfield, A., & Eccles, J. S. (2000). Expectancy–value theory of achievement motivation. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25, 68-81. doi:10.1006/ceps.1999.1015

[43] Winke, P. (2013). An investigation into second language aptitude for advancedChinese language learning. The Modern Language Journal, 97(1), 109-130.

[44] doi: 10.1111/j.1540-4781.2013.01428.x

[45] Xiao, J. (2011). Tutors’ influence on distance language students’ learning motivation: Voices from learners and tutors. Distance Education, 33(3), 365-380.


[47] Zhou, Y., Gao, Y., & Zang, Q. (2011). Development in motivation of junior and senior university students. Foreign Language Teaching and Research, 43(2), 251-321.


  • There are currently no refbacks.