... We see that the word 'commitment' has two almost opposite meanings.
1. A willingness (being extremely prepared) to give your time and energy to something that you believe in, or a promise or firm decision to do something. Here we find our marriages, our doctors, our PhD students.
2. Something that you must do or deal with that takes your time. Here we find those daily parts of our life which take up our time. If you are a student, it is studying for exams you probably don't care too much about. If you are an adult, your commitments might be all of the things you need to do to give your child the best possible life.
Let us look at the differences between the two definitions, and what they mean for how you are learning your language.
Both definitions follow, in some way, a well-known separation of what it is that can motivate us, as discovered by psychological study:
Extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation.
OK, cool, so what do these words exactly mean?
Extrinsic motivation means 'something that comes from outside of us to make us work, study or to get to a place'. We are usually motivated to avoid punishment, or to win a reward.
Examples of extrinsic motivation are:
- Studying for an exam
- Training for a sport to win something
- Needing a B2 level, etc, for your job
There is something you can see in the distance. You want it, or you don't want it. To achieve this goal, you maybe won't enjoy every hour of studying, exercising and training. Yet the reward or the fact that there is no punishment, means that it is all worth it in the end.
On the other hand, intrinsic motivation means 'something essential, inside, that comes from within.' We do this thing because we really, genuinely just want to do it. There is nobody to tell you off if you fail. There is no other reward than simply doing the thing.
Examples of intrinsic motivation are:
- Playing, learning how to play a game for the joy of it, like chess for example
- Learning a language simply because you are interested in the culture
- Playing a sport at the weekend with your friends
Your behavior is your own reward.
Between the definitions of the word 'commitment' and the understanding we now have of motivation, we can see that our commitment can take two forms.
One, extrinsic, we have no choice. We are committed to the second definition, to the commitments, with an 's', in order to reach our goal. To take classes in the evening after work to get a language certificate to be able to get a better job. To wake up early to train so you can be the one who wins the race. To stay in whilst your friends are partying to pass an exam.
Another, which we choose for ourselves. The first definition, giving your time and energy yourself to something you believe in. So we become committed to - what?
Speaking for myself, I recently became aware that my own intrinsic motivation for learning Spanish has changed considerably in the year and a half that I have been learning the language. Like many of us, I fell in love with somebody from another country, Spain, and my motivation was to have a simple conversation with this lady, to respect the fact that she had spoken with me so long in my own language.
Now, this lady is no longer in my life, and having a simple conversation in Spanish is not a problem for me.
So, I need to see, to look again - am I still intrinsically motivated in some way any more? Or would my learning progress be more effective if I made myself extrinsically motivated by taking a certificate in Spanish, even though I do not need to? In all honesty, I believe that extrinsic motivation would be a far greater help for me now.
Neither is better than the other. You might experience a greater feeling of joy learning a language with an intrinsic motivation, but you also might not learn as fast. At the same time, you might resent all the hours you need to attend on your English course... Yet, would you learn as much without it?
However, we must be careful not to mix the two. If you already have an intrinsic motivation to learn a language, studies have suggested that placing an extrinsic motivation on top can lead to an 'overjustification effect'.
We can become confused in our reason for doing something. What was once for pleasure, starts to feel like something we are forced to do, and we end up like always doing nothing.
This is why it is essential for you, as a learner of a language, to examine your study and to see if your commitment is extrinsic or intrinsic.
I am of the belief that some certain people, some certain books, have given the impression that learning a language is easier than it is. As we all know, it is certainly easier now than it was 20 years ago. Although that still should not hide the fact that learning a language takes lots of time, is a very messy process and takes a great deal of commitment.
Are you prepared for what lies ahead? Will you stay on the path doing the un-sexy things when others fall away? Do you know what your commitment is?