There are numerous issues that predetermine the success or failure in second language acquisition. On one hand, there are unconditional demographic factors such as ethnicity, gender, or age. On the other hand, there is motivation or the desire to learn, which is conditioned both intrinsically and extrinsically. Although there are numerous studies that investigate each factor separately as well as clusters of factors, there is still no agreement on how language fluency is affected in each case.
The literature review at hand will cover a number of articles related to the effects of age and motivation on ultimate language proficiency since the combination of the two factors has rarely been studied and requires further exploration.
According to Gömleksiz (2001), age and motivation of students (alongside with their linguistic abilities, socio-economic and cultural background, and personal level of cognitive development) are crucial for second language learning. The researcher claims that the influence of age is strong but indirect. The point is that the older the learner is, the more proficient he/she is in the first language. Those students who are fluent in their first language tend to be much more successful in learning another language. That accounts for the fact that students aged between 8 and 12 show better results in English language studies than those aged between 4 and 7. The latter need much more time to master basic skills since they are still in the active process of acquiring their mother tongue, which continues up to 12. As far as motivation is concerned, the researcher concludes that highly motivated students can achieve better results even being less talented than more intelligent but motivationally deficient learners. Motivation not only increases students’ persistence and involvement but also facilitates the task of the teacher.
Although the research covers a wide range of materials devoted to the topic, the author still fails to provide any personal insight on the connection of the two selected factors. Neither is there any explanation why age and motivations are placed higher than other determinants. However, the results of the review can be used in the future research to give general ideas related to age and motivation that different scholars share.
Another comprehensive study conducted by Palea (2015) attempts to cover the assumptions of the key social, psychological, and linguistic theories, which alternately dominated the field of second language learning. The author associates the change of theories with the approaches to teaching. Unlike the previous study, this one provides grounds for selecting age among the primary factors influencing the process of learning. The point is that age indicates both biological and neurological maturity of an individual. Furthermore, cognitive changes and social adaptation occur, which cannot help affecting the ability to perceive information and develop communicative skills. That makes the interpretation of the role of age a highly complex issue. It is suggested to refer to several factors within the category of “age” instead of perceiving it as a single indivisible variable. The author of the study states that there is no evidence that young learners demonstrate faster language acquisition as compared to adults. On the contrary, the latter are supposed to have certain advantages as far as speed of learning is concerned. However, the cognitive capacity of children makes it possible for them to surpass adults since they can achieve native-like proficiency.
The study is highly valuable for the future research as it is much more meticulous than the majority of retrospective reviews. Moreover, it steps away from generalizations on the topic and considers age in connection with motivation, which is believed to be more powerful than demographic characteristics.
Ruyffelaert and Hadermann (2012) go even further in their research, claiming that age produces an impact not only on linguistic abilities but also on the level of motivation. Motivation is admitted to be the factor of the highest importance in mastering the target language since motivated students learn much faster. Less motivated learners are likely to drop their studies as soon as they achieve the intermediate level. However, the researchers state that motivation is far from being an independent variable. On the contrary, it is predetermined simultaneously by age and gender. The French language was used for the analysis. The questionnaire consisting of 50 questions was developed to assess instrumental and integrative motivation. The results show that the level of motivation reaches its peak in young learners (especially in girls) since they believe that mastery in a foreign language will allow them to travel and communicate in other countries. Moreover, it will increase their chances to find employment.
These conclusions could be used in my study to compare the dependence of motivation on age in European and in Saudi students and make generalizations as far as adult learning is concerned.
According to Ghenghesh (2010), students’ involvement and achievements in the process of learning are particularly affected by various factors when they enter the senior high school. The author hypothesizes that motivation undergoes certain changes during this period. The major strength of this study is that students and teachers representing thirty five different nationalities completed the questionnaire developed by the researcher, which means that the ethnicity factor was excluded as an extraneous variable. The results obtained were also verified by conducting semi-structured interviews. Moreover, the combination of qualitative and quantitative approaches allowed making the research more grounded in statistics. The study concludes that motivation of students of all nationalities decreases with age. Older students had considerably lower scores on motivation, which was supported by the results obtained in the course of the interview. However, the author does not ignore the influence exerted by external factors, such as the learning context and the role of the teacher.
The study presents another perspective on age and motivation, showing them as factors that are independent from nationality or ethnicity. That is why the results will be taken into account while studying peculiarities of Saudi learners.
Kormos and Csizér (2008) approach closer to the topic of adult language acquisition. Unlike other studies that explored motivation of different age groups of school students, this research attempts to compare three distinct populations of learners: secondary school student, university students, and adults. As a result of the analysis, it is concluded that the level of motivation generally remains unchanged regardless of the age group. All the three populations demonstrated rather favorable motivational characteristics. However, the nature of their willingness to learn was different. It was determined by two factors: their attitude to the studied language and their Ideal L2 Self (the image of oneself as a speaker of a second language). School students turned out to be more interested in foreign culture, traditions, and values, whereas university students and adults considered international posture as the major reason for learning a new language. The results of the study imply that teachers, activities, and materials (as well as students’ self-image) rather than age or other demographic characteristics are the factors predetermining the level and nature of motivation.
The research presents an alternative view on the influence of age on students’ engagement in the learning process. Moreover, it directly relates to the hypothesis of the research at hand.
Finally, the study conducted by DeKeyser (2013) attempts to find a solution to conflicting views on the age effects upon language acquisition. The author provides an overview of the existing approaches to age in the given field and concludes that there are two reasons for the dispute: methodological complications and conceptual misunderstanding. The major value of the article is that it provides a list of suggestions concerning the ways to improve subject selection, instrumentation, and data collection methods for both sides to reach a compromise. However, there is no conclusion on the effects of age on language learners provided.
Nevertheless, the methods suggested by the study will allow making the analysis of adult population more objective.
The review of literature revealed that there is very little agreement on the influence of age on motivation of students and the outcomes of their learning. While some researchers claim that young learners are more motivated and more likely to achieve native-like results, others are positive about linguistic abilities and a high motivation level of adult learners. At the same time, there are also those who claim that age is unrelated to motivation, which actually depends on external and internal factors but not demographic characteristics. There is also a considerable gap of knowledge on the peculiarities of Saudi learners that has to be bridged by the future research.
DeKeyser, R. M. (2013). Age effects in second language learning: Stepping stones toward better understanding. Language Learning, 63(s1), 52-67.
Ghenghesh, P. (2010). The motivation of L2 learners: Does it decrease with age? English Language Teaching, 3(1), 128-141.
Gömleksiz, M. N. (2001). The effects of age and motivation factors on second language acquisition. Firat University Journal of Social Science, 11(2), 217-224.
Kormos, J., & Csizér, K. (2008). Age‐related differences in the motivation of learning English as a foreign language: Attitudes, selves, and motivated learning behavior. Language Learning, 58(2), 327-355.
Palea, L. L. (2015). Age and its influence on second language acquisition. Land Forces Academy Review, 20(4), 428-432.
Ruyffelaert, A., & Hadermann, P. (2012). The impact of age and gender on the learners’ motivation and attitudes towards French in secondary education in Flanders. IATED, 6(1), pp. 159-165.