University language students' motivations for their language of study

  • Anne Dahl


While there is abundant research on motivation in second-language learning, we know little about what motivations students may have for choosing a specific language of study in the Norwegian university context. The number of students who apply to English study programs every year is high, while the numbers for the traditional foreign languages beyond English, especially German and French, are concerningly low. The present study surveyed students in their first year of university language study, asking key questions about their reasons for choosing their language of study. Overall findings are that students of English are particularly instrumentally motivated, believing that English will be useful for future work. Students of French and Spanish, on the other hand, are more affectively motivated, while German students fall in between the other languages in responses to questions of motivation. While all students generally feel that knowledge of foreign languages beyond English is important, Spanish students were especially consistent in this response. In terms of interest in sub-disciplines of university language study, all student groups were relatively similar in showing a stronger interest in learning about the cultural and social aspects of countries where the language is spoken compared to literature formal aspects of language. The main conclusion is that motivations may be different for studying different foreign languages beyond English, and that in order to recruit more students to academic language programs, focusing on each specific language and its potential motivations is necessary.

Keywords: foreign language, motivation, language studies, English, French, Spanish, German