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Identity and motivation for language learning

Motivation is one of the important characteristics of successful language learners. Dornyei's (2009) L2 Motivational Self System is relevant for our study because it directly concerns language learning. It includes three components. First, the L2 ideal self refers to a projected idea of the self as user of the target language. As Dornyei puts it, 'if the person we would like to become speaks an L2, the ideal L2 self is a powerful motivator to learn the L2' (Dornyei, 2005, p. 105). Second, the L2 ought self 'concerns the attributes that one believes one ought to possess to meet expectations and to avoid possible negative outcomes' in language learning (Dornyei, 2009, p. 29). Third, the L2 learning experience 'concerns situated "executive" motives related to the immediate learning environment and experience (e.g., the impact of the teacher, the curriculum, the peer group, the experience of success)' (ibid.). This model was developed in the context of a study conducted in formal pedagogical settings with teenagers learning a foreign language at school. The context of our research is rather different since it deals with young adults learning French while living in France.

Another approach to motivation is particularly relevant to our study. It is what Ushioda calls 'a "person-in-context-relational view" of motivation' (2011, p. 12). Motivation is seen as 'an organic process that emerges through the complex system of interrelations' (ibid., p. 13). In order to understand learners' motivation, it should be taken into account that they are not only learners, but are above all real, rounded and agentive persons with an identity, a personality, thoughts and feelings. As persons, learners have a history, a background, goals, motives and intentions. They take part in social activities in various and multiple micro- and macro-contexts and are embedded in a net of social relations and experiences. This model of motivation is dynamic in that it links motivation, identity and participation. It stresses the fact that motivation is both socially and historically grounded and that, consequently, changes in motivation can occur over the course of time (Menezes, 2011) depending on the people we meet or the experiences we have. Ushioda's identity and motivation perspective is complementary to Dornyei's L2 Motivational Self-System. It also closely relates to learner autonomy in language learning, which is of particular interest for our study.

 
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