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Language learning is influenced by both internal and external factors. Internal factors include cognitive and affective factors such as intrinsic motivation, intelligence, anxiety, previous language learning experience and age.

What are important external factors in formal language learning (i.e. in a classroom), based on second language acquisition literature?

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I found this nifty paper created by the International Journal of Modern Language Teaching and Learning (the paper though, includes internal factors).

Let us start with a simple definition of external factors and the abstract view of this paper:

They are factors that come from outside the individual. Based on Browns′ definition (2007), external factors can be different for each individual, but their common attribute is that they are based solely on the circumstances outside of the control and influence of the learner.


Internal and external factors are generally referred to the elements that exist inside and outside every individual. Internal factors are dealt with those elements every individual brings with himself to the learning context and these components are influenced by other factors which persist in the environment that a learner lives. Not only environment affects the process of acquisition, but also the second/ foreign language itself brings some other factors into this complex process of learning. This paper aims to mention some of the factors which are under categorization of the internal/external in second language acquisition (SLA).

Motivation is quite often seen in the paper. This is well-summarized in the following table:

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As you can see, external "forces" (for a lack of a better term) cause the learner to strive to learn the language. But isn't motivation an internal factor? Well, in this case, the table shows external factors that motivate the learner to learn rather than forms of motivation itself. These factors simply drive motivation. Let us take the definition of an internal factor:

They are factors which come from inside the individual. According to Brown (2007), these factors are specified by the individual students like motivation, attitude, personal practice and study habits. Each of these factors is an individual element of learners′ ability to acquire a foreign language but each component also interacts with another.

So if you're still confused, think of this: external factors like the teacher or that cute girl who is a native speaker of a romance language (the latter is extreme but still external) act to drive with internal factors to gain results. Motivation is driven with and by external factors (i.e the pressure of impressing a girl [external] pushes one to learn faster [external factor fuels motivation, an internal factor]). In other words, they can be sources of motivation.

With that cleared, let's move on. A lot of these external factors drive extrinsic motivation:

It is the desire to perform and succeed for the sack of accomplishing a specific result; it is that which drives from the influence of some kind of external outcomes behind self-wishes like; grades, rewards, and teachers‘ support. Learners see that success should be rewarded so, they draw expectations and do their best efforts in order to achieve them.

We can correlate this with the 8 main external factors the table has presented:

  • School Curriculum: As mentioned, the requirement of the language causes the student to learn to achieve high grades (of course, why the student chose such a language if a choice is given can be either extrinsic or intrinsic)

  • Parental and society's expectations: For both, the student wishes to meet requirements set out by parents and/or society. This of course, if accomplished will either allow the student to get praise and/or respect from the respective owner of such expectations.

  • Test and exams: This can go along with school with the student attempting to reach high grades in order to meet requirements set out by such test or exam.

  • Immediate Certification and Make Money!: Both can be seen as job-based and for the money: with a certification, the student can be hired and thus make money to support one's living in the adult life.

  • Competition: The simple presence of a challenge to one's superiority can cause one to "fight back" in essence: the student reaches to be the best and gain the respect of fellow peers. This can be seen as a result of another external factor that is not mentioned: peer-pressure.

  • Never fail: This attitude drives the student to achieve self-set (or maybe set by peers) goals of perfection (or practically flawless).

Here, we can now set three other main factors that may fall in the above eight:

Motivation to learn English can be affected by the attitude of a number of people, since; they form part of the world around the students.

  • a-The society we live in: outside any classroom there are attitudes toward the language learning and the English language in particular. Is the image of English in the society positive or negative? All these attitudes will affect the student‘s attitudes toward the English language and the nature and the strength of these attitudes affect the motivation of the students.
  • b-Significant others: the attitude of the student to language learning will be affected by the people who are close to him, the attitude of parents and older siblings will be effective, in addition, the attitude of a student‘s peers, if they criticize some subjects or activities, the student‘s motivation may be influenced.
  • c-The teacher: clearly the important factor in the continuance of student‘s motivation is the teacher. His attitude towards the language and the task of learning will be vital. He is considered as responsible about the positive classroom atmosphere.

TL;DR: Go look at the table to see important external factors that can fuel (extrinsic though not limited to) motivation for formal language learning for a secondary language.

  • I also saw that paper. It's not quite good; the good parts—e.g. the table from Brown, 2007—are from other sources. – Christophe Strobbe Sep 8 '17 at 15:42
  • @ChristopheStrobbe Time to add more sources for a more steady wall of text – Anthony Pham Sep 8 '17 at 15:43

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