* Motivation 1


An article by Dörnyei and Csizer (1999) “Ten commandments for motivating language learners: results of an empirical study” in the LTR journal ( (see the Articles section of this website for a copy) predates all Dörnyei’s more recent work, where he develops an “integrated theory” of motivation (see, for example, Dörnyei, Z., & Ushioda, E. (2011). Teaching and researching motivation (2nd ed.). Harlow: Longman).

The authors say in the abstract “Two hundred Hungarian teachers of English from various language teaching institutions were asked how important they considered a selection of 51 strategies and how frequently they used them in their teaching practice. Based on their responses we have compiled a concise set of ten motivational macrostrategies, which we have called the ‘Ten commandments for motivating language learners’”

It makes interesting reading because it seems very intuitive, almost obvious. The 10 commandments are:

1 Set a personal example with your own behaviour.
2 Create a pleasant, relaxed atmosphere in the classroom.
3 Present the tasks properly.
4 Develop a good relationship with the learners.
5 Increase the learners’ linguistic self-confidence.
6 Make the language classes interesting.
7 Promote learner autonomy.
8 Personalize the learning process.
9 Increase the learners’ goal-orientedness.
10 Familiarize learners with the target language culture.

The authors discuss these “commandments” and conclude that “the frequency of the actual classroom use of the proposed commandments shows that promoting goal-setting and goal-orientedness was a rather neglected area in the participating teachers’ practice. The data also point to the fact that the teachers’ own behavioural modelling could be exploited more thoroughly in motivating learners. Some additional subfields where improvements were considered desirable included: creating regular opportunities for students to experience success; making learning activities challenging and thus involving; and giving clearer instructions”.

They also point out that these commandments have a rather Western European cultural bias (not their words).

The questions that occur to me are:

1. How much would teachers benefit from reading this study? To what extent might they think “That’s obvious!”, and to what extent might it help them to actually change their teaching practice for the better?
2. How does this approach compare with Dörnyei’s more recent work? Is his, and his co-writers’, more recent work as accessible to teachers as this article, and is it more or less helpful?
3. To what extent does studying for an MA in Applied Linguistics, where one reads and mulls over and maybe even writes a paper on subjects such as “Motivation”, help one become a better teacher?
4. How does one reply to experienced teachers who say that doing an MA is not worth the effort?

But let me address the article itself.

All attempts to pin down slippery constructs like “motivation”; “attitude”; “aptitude; and “culturalisation” have so far led not very far. Dörnyei’s recent works seem to me to be evidence of a man charging down a blind alley. Dörnyei is a master of research methods, and yet, in his latest theory of L2 motivation, much of it sounds like it’s inspired by the I Ching or some other mystic view. Here’s a slide of Dörnyei’s new view:


So if the “L2 Ideal Self” is OK, well you’ll learn the L2 better, faster, whatever, than if it isn’t. But what’s this vital construct “L2 Ideal Self”? Read Dörnyei, and I bet you can’t tell me what it is without that boiling down to “Feeling good about learning an L2”. In other words, it’s in danger of becoming circular, and it amounts to little. As a theory, Dörnyei’s is too often couched in badly-defined constructs which support each other in a circular manner – much like Krashen.

If you look at the SLA page of this website, you’ll see 2 “lists” of questions that a theory of SLA should address. Both agree that “The role of psychological variables: how do individual characteristics of the learner affect the learning process?” is one. Dörnyei obviously addresses this question. And what he’s trying to do is look at what makes somebody want to learn the target language. It’s in many ways a brave attempt. But, in the end, how much further have Dörnyei and his collegues got since their rather mundane 10 commandments?

Dörnyei’s reputation as a marvellous scholar is beyond question: his scholarship and impressive collection of writing speak for themselves. But, if I ever had the pleasure of meeting Prof Doryei, I’d quote Groucho Marx: “I may be wonderful, but I think you’re wrong”.


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