Motivation is one of the most important, yet most overlooked, factors in determining success with learning Spanish.
The number of people who want to learn Spanish is far greater than the number who actually succeed. What explains the difference? Most people look for excuses: I didn’t have time. I’m not good at languages. I have no one to speak with.
While all of these excuses may be valid, beneath them is one underlying truth: If you’re sufficiently motivated, you’ll look for solutions to the obstacles in your way. No time? Make time. Not good at languages? Work harder and smarter. No one to speak Spanish with? Find someone.
Russian café, Mexico City
Without a good reason to improve your Spanish, you almost cetainly won’t make much progress. They’ll always be a more comfortable alternative to putting in the hard work. Your motiviation — the reason you are learning Spanish — is what usually makes the difference between staying focused on your progress versus floundering and giving into distractions that don’t take your Spanish to the level you desire.
In the psychology of language learning, it is traditional to consider internal and external motivation separately. Someone who is internally motivated is driven by an intrinsic joy for learning Spanish. They have a positive feeling towards Spanish-speaking people and may want to identify in some way with Spanish-speakings culture or participate in their communities.
If you enjoy language learning, you’ll do more of it. Over time, that naturally leads to improvement. Internal motivation can take you a long way in your journey to proficiency.
Someone who is externally motivated to learn Spanish will have a specific non-language goal in mind that better Spanish will help them achieve. Perhaps they need to improve their Spanish in order to take advantage of certain career opportunties in their field, everything from social services to international business.
External motivation can be a powerful force in driving you to work on your Spanish and put yourself in situations where you can improve.
Why are you learning Spanish?
Successful language learners may be motivated by either internal or external factors. Both pathways can lead to success. It is not uncommon to start out learning Spanish for work or travel yet continue with it because you are enjoying learning the language. Or vice versa. Many people have a combination of motivations that drive them to work on their Spanish. That’s good.
The Coolness Motivation
What’s important is being clear on why you are learning Spanish and keeping your focus there. One common ‘motivation’ that I have never seen lead to success is the coolness factor, learning Spanish because you think it will make you look good or because you feel that it will make you look like a better person somehow. Making progress with Spanish is way too hard to survive being based on such a shaky foundation. You’ll give up before you even get out the door.