I’ve made two attempts to talk about motivation (see the list of pages on the right) and here’s another. This time I offer a brief story of theory development which you might find interesting. I rely on Sam Croft’s (2014) excellent dissertation throughout; Much of the text is his, although I’ve butchered it and beg his pardon.
Research into motivation took a big step forward in 1972 when Canadian researchers Gardner and Lambert published their seminal work on the motivation of French and English speaking language learners in Canada (Gardner & Lambert, 1972). The authors suggested that understanding the relationship between the two communities was crucial in understanding their motivation to learn each other’s languages. This approach departed from previous conceptions of motivation, which focussed on the individual, and further drew a distinction between language learning and other subjects. Williams (1994) highlights the significance of this research, suggesting that it led to the conceptualisation of language learning as a process involving a fundamental alteration of self-image that was not part of the learning experience of other subjects in the curriculum.
Gardner introduced two terms which endure. The first is instrumentality, which refers to the pursuit of language study as a means to an end, for example in order to improve job prospects or to pass exams, the second is the concept of integrativeness, which Gardner (1972: 135) defines as the willingness to “identify with members of another ethno-linguistic group.” Gardner and Lambert’s work advanced the theory that intergative motivation was the key to success in second language learning.
A series of longitudinal studies conducted in Hungary by Dörnyei and Csizér between 1993 and 2004 (Dörnyei & Csizér, 2002; Csizér & Dörnyei, 2005) aimed to empirically test integrativeness as a predictor of motivation. Hungary, a country with a small enough English speaking population to make integration with a target L2 community a practical impossibility, provided an excellent context in which to test their hypothesis that integrativeness was not, in fact, the best predictor of motivation. And here comes the kicker. The results of the study showed integrativeness to perform extremely well in predicting motivated behaviour, leading Dörnyei, (2005) to call it the “integrativeness enigma.” As Ryan (2009) explains, the fact that this finding was obtained in a context where the possibility of integration didn’t exist made no sense, and thus the need for a reinterpretation of the concept of integrativeness became clear.
So Dörnyei and his associates developed the L2 motivational self system which refocused motivation theory away from the integrative paradigm towards a more internal approach directed at individuals hopes and aspirations for the future. Based on the psychological desire to “reduce the discrepancy between our current and future possible selves” (Ushioda and Dörnyei, 2009: 4), the new framework consisted of three central elements.
First, the ideal L2 self. This variable represents learners’ “ideal self image expressing the wish to become a competent L2 speaker” (Csizér and Kormos, 2005: 99). This variable, according to Ryan (2008), is the theoretical pivot of the entire framework, intended to replace integrativeness as the main variable in understanding motivated behaviour among language learners. The second component is the ought-to self, representing what learners believe their obligations and responsibilities as language learners to be. The third component is the L2 learning situation, which refers to a collection of variables such as the teacher, learner group and methods of instruction and the influence that these can have upon motivation.
It spoils the narrative a bit, but we must note, as Sam Croft faithfully does, that alongside the integrativeness enigma, one of the challenges tackled by the L2 self motivational system was distinguishing integrativeness from instrumentality (Csizér & Kormos, 2005). As Lamb (2004) points out, variables such as ‘desire to meet with westerners’ or ‘desire to use English websites,’ are increasingly difficult to categorise as driven by either instrumentality or integrativeness, and are in fact clearly linked to both. With the L2 self motivational system, there is a temptation to divide the ideal and ought-to L2 selves along similar lines. This is a temptation that must be resisted however, as recognising the interconnectedness of the all strands is necessary to avoid allowing the L2 self motivational system to become “yet another dichotomous, reductionist model of language learning motivation” (Ryan, 2009: 121).
So the outcome of a study which set out to falsify a theory (integrativeness is the dominant variable in predicting motivated behaviour) actually lent support to it. Surely, following Popper, we should expect this failed attempt to falsify a theory to have the positive effect of adding to its strength, no? Well no. As we’ve seen, what actually happened (and this is pretty typical of what happens in theory construction) was that the authors of the study decided that Gardner and Lambert had got it all (well, mostly) wrong anyway. While the original theory based itself on external factors such as target language speakers and communities, the L2 self motivational system turned the theory on its head (another favourite term in the history of theory development!) and focused instead on learners’ internal hopes and aspirations. Job done! Dornyei and associates, noteably Ushioda, have gone on to develop their theory and are now considered the leading lights in explaining how motivation affects SLA.
Poor old Gardner, eh? Theory construction in SLA is a tough world, make no mistake, and justice has a small part to play in its rough and tumble. It leads many, particularly those of a relativist bent, to confuse the sociology of science with progress in understanding the matters under investigation. But in this case, I wonder how much progress has been made. Dörnyei has certainly made some progress in pinning down the notoriously difficult construct of motivation, and perhaps his work can be incorporated into an eventual overarching theory of SLA, though I doubt it. But in rejecting Gardner and Lambart’s attempts to see motivation from a social psychological perspective, much has been lost. There are, after all, limits to the realms of science, and maybe a more political perspective can throw more light on things. If there is evidence of integrative motivation to learn English in places like Hungary and Japan, maybe it can be better explained by globalisation. To quote a post from Torn Horns “the mania for English” in these countries “is not due to the fact that English is the language of things like the internet, academia and air traffic control; rather, it is due to the political decision to open up to the world market. The demand for English is a product of the demand for wealth.”
Csizér, K. & Dörnyei, Z. (2005) Language Learners’ Motivational Profiles and their Motivated Learning Behaviour. Language Learning, 55/4: 613 – 659.
Csizér, K. & Kormos, J. (2009) Learning Experiences, Selves and Motivated Learning Behaviour: A Comparative Analysis of Structural Models for Hungarian Secondary and University Learners of English, Chapter 5, 67 – 98, in Dörnyei, Z & Ushioda, E. (eds.) (2009) Motivation, Language Identity and the L2 Self. Bristol: Multilingual Matters
Croft, S. (2014) Fostering Communicative Incompetence: A look at the role of entrance exams in reducing motivation to develop communicative competence at the pre tertiary level in Japan. Unpublished MA dissertation, University of Leicester.
Dörnyei, Z. (2005) The Psychology of the Language Learner: Individual Differences in Second Language Acquisition, Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum
Dörnyei, Z. & Csizér, K. (2002) Some Dynamics of Language Aptitudes and Motivation: Results of a Longitudinal Nationwide Survey. Applied Linguistics, 23: 421 – 462.
Gardner, R. C & Lambert, W.E. (1972) Attitudes and Motivation in Second Language Learning, Rowley, MA: Newbury House.
Lamb, M. (2004) Integrative Motivation in a Globalizing World. System, 32: 3-19.
Ryan, S. (2009) The Ideal L2 selves of Japanese Learners of English. Ph.D. Thesis, University of Nottingham. Retrieved on May 29, 2011 from http://etheses. nottingham.ac.uk/550/1/ryan-2008.pdf
Ushioda, E. & Dörnyei, Z (2009) Motivation, Language Identities and the Ideal L2 Self: a Theoretical Overview, Chapter 1, 1 – 9, in Dörnyei, Z & Ushioda, E. (eds.) (2009) Motivation, Language Identity and the L2 Self. Bristol: Multilingual Matters