I recently was invited to a meeting of an autonomous English-learning group in my neighbourhood. The members are all middle-aged women who for various reasons are interested in English, and don't want to pay the fees of a language school. The founder also said another reason was that, while many language schools employ native English-speakers as teachers, the "teachers" are sometimes just people who happen to speak English fluently, and are not necessarily intellectually stimulating or knowledgeable. I introduced myself as someone interested in autonomous language-learning, and asked them to introduce themselves and briefly say why or how they became interested in learning English. Here's a summary of the notes I took.
The first lady said she had been interested in English since Junior high school, though she could not say exactly why. She enjoys trying to think in English, rather than thinking in Japanese and then translating into English.
The second said she learned English in rebellion against her parents who wanted her to go to pharmaceutical college! The harder her parents tried to get her to improve her grades in maths and sciences, the harder she studied English!
The third said she had a wonderful JHS English teacher who not only taught English but also the culture behind the language, and she found that fascinating. She now teaches JHS students at her home, and also tries to instil in them an interest in more than just knowledge to pass exams.
The fourth said her children were studying for the STEP (Eiken) test and she decided to take it as well in order to help them, or to at least know what they were going through. Now her children have grown up but she maintained her interest in English, and now is trying to understand English news programs on TV.
The fifth said she was interested in English in high school, but failed to enter the English Department of the Foreign Languages University she had hoped for, so she entered the Russian Department instead! She had thought that she would have some time (and some classes) to study English, but unfortunately she did not. However, she did not give up, and went back to learning English after graduating from university. She now teaches English in a kindergarten.
A sixth said she had loved English in JHS but got a rude shock in SHS: everything was so much harder and less interesting. She has never been abroad, yet has taught herself to speak quite fluently. She learns English mainly for fun, to meet people from other countries, and as a preventative measure against senile dementia (this last was said half in jest, but I've heard it said many times, and I think it's become a kind of urban legend).
Another lady was impressed by an interpreter she saw on TV when she was about 10 years old. The (female) interpreter was translating for a visiting sports star (I think), and the girl was amazed to see how this woman understood the strange sounds coming out from the foreigner's mouth and turned them all into perfectly understandable Japanese! She was also inspired by a JHS English teacher who lived nearby.
The last story was of a woman who hated English in JHS and SHS, and did not study it at university. It was not until she married, and her husband was posted to England and took his wife with him (their two children were born in the UK) that she had any interest in English, and at first it was only out of necessity. However, she discovered that learning, and trying to speak it, was fun! And she has continued to learn it since her return 4 years ago. She now is aiming to get a qualification as a tour guide.