A Review of Traditional and Current Theories of Motivation in ESL

Curtis Kelly




Motivation is the great, unspoken problem of English education in Japan.  It is “great” because it is probably the most difficult single problem classroom teachers face.   Whereas motivation is rarely a problem for ESL students studying in English speaking countries, it is the major problem for EFL students studying English in their home countries (Wigzell & Al-Ansari, 1993).  In English-speaking countries, frequent interaction with native speakers and a desire to integrate with the local community creates a need for language competence, but such stimuli do not exist in Japan.  Since the benefits of mastering English are distant and uncertain (certain employment opportunities and a chance to communicate with native speakers if one goes abroad) motivation tends to be slack.  Wigzell and Al-Ansari call this problem “the problem of wastage and low productivity in foreign language courses" (p. 303).  In Japan, in particular, where college English students are generally considered lackadaisical and unmotivated (Wigzell & Al-Ansari, 1993), and where “carrot” approaches to motivating students are preferred to “stick” approaches (Singleton, 1993), classroom teachers are constantly in need of ways to motivate their students. 

And yet the problem of motivation remains “unspoken” because research has failed to tell us what it is.  Despite raised hopes in the sixties when identification of integrative, instrumental, intrinsic, and extrinsic motivation made the path of future research seem clear, little progress was made in the following two decades.  Studies based on these concepts not only failed to provide us with new insights, they also cast doubt on the validity of these very concepts.  Therefore, for the last twenty years, motivation has been pretty much abandoned as an ESL research construct.  Until recently, that is.  New approaches psychology have led to new models of motivation.  The purpose of this study will be to examine both the traditional and current theories and suggest possibilities for future areas of research.

Methods of Studying Motivation

Motivation is a “soft” construct – it only can be inferred rather than observed directly.  Pintrich and Schunk (1996) list a number of research paradigms, including correlational, experimental, qualitative, laboratory, and field; and also a variety of motivation indexes, which include choice of tasks, effort, persistence, and achievement.  Self-reporting through questionnaires by far the most common method used to assess motivation in language students (Crookes & Schmidt, 1991), but as a number of studies have shown (Cameron, 1988; Davidman, 1991), self-reporting methods are not always reliable.  This especially seems to be the case with when assessing motivation with Japanese students (Teweles, 1996).  Therefore, although questionnaires are still widely used, English achievement rates might be more reliable.  “Students who choose to engage in a task, expend effort, and persist are likely to achieve at a higher level (Pintrich & Schrauben, 1992; Schunk, 1991)” (Pintrich & Schunk, 1996, p. 16). 

Definition of Motivation

 Despite the divergence of the approaches used to study motivation, its definitions are surprisingly uniform.  In simple terms, motivation, based on the Latin verb for “move,” is the force that makes one do something.  It is a process that involves goals, physical or mental activity, and is both instigated and sustained (Pintrich & Schunk, 1996, pp 4-5; Williams, 1997).  It is characterized in terms of direction, duration and intensity.  Earlier theorists, such as behavioralists, tended to portray motivation mechanistically, related to needs satisfaction (Altman, Valenzi, & Hodgetts, 1985; Maslow, 1987; Owens, 1987), while the more recent cognitive psychologists portray motivation as a product of conscious decision (Williams, 1997).

However, the definition of motivation used in second language (SL) studies is less uniform.  As Crookes and Schmidt (1991) point out, even though almost every text has a chapter on motivation, it is used more as a general catch-all rather than a precise construct. They quote McDonough in pointing out that “motivation” is used “as a general cover term – a dustbin – to include a number of possibly distinct concepts” (Crookes & Schmidt, 1991).  Whatever the case, it has been traditionally equated with and measured by proficiency.  It is also defined as producing “engagement in and persistence with the learning task” (Crookes & Schmidt, 1991)  This is especially true amongst teachers rather than second language researchers, who “would describe a student as motivated if he or she becomes productively engaged in learning tasks and sustains that engagement, without the need for continual encouragement or direction” (Crookes & Schmidt, 1991, p. 480).

A summary of definitions offered by Mitchell (1982), even though he is not an SL researcher, is succinct, modern, and seems to cover the definitions offered in both fields.  It is, in fact, quite similar to the definition offered by Williams and Burden (1997), who are SL researchers.  Mitchell’s definition is: "Motivation becomes those psychological processes that cause arousal, direction, and persistence of voluntary actions that are goal-related" (p. 81).

As the definitions of motivation in the field of second language education do not always conform with those in psychology, neither do the theories.  Therefore, the theories in these two fields must be examined separately.  Schisms also exist, in both fields, between current and recent views.  Theories of motivation have changed drastically in the last ten to fifteen years.  Therefore, the examination of theories of motivation has four parts: traditional theories in psychology that dominated the field up until the mid-eighties; current theories in psychology; traditional theories in second language education; and current theories in second language education.

Traditional Theories of Motivation in Psychology

The scientific concept of motivation has a long history.  Some early theorists have traced it back to Plato and Aristotle (Pintrich & Schunk, 1996), who discuss “willingness.”  Nineteenth century scholars associated motivation with will, volition, or instinct, depending on how deterministic their worldview was.   The theory that all behavior was instinctual lost popularity in the 1920’s, when it could not stand up to scientific scrutiny (Altman, et al., 1985).  Volition as motivation concurs with many of today’s views, but offers no insight into the process of motivation.  Motivation is also one of the founding constructs of psychology,  where Freud discussed “trieb,” which means moving force.  At the time, the term was translated as instinct but closer in meaning to “drive” or “motivation” (Pintrich & Schunk, 1996). 

Following Freud, a number of theories of motivation arose.  Early psychological approaches to motivation have been summarized by  a number of scholars (Altman et al., 1985; Mitchell, 1982; Owens, 1987; Pintrich & Schunk, 1996), of which Pintrich and Schunk’s is the most informative and up-to-date.  A modified version of their catalog is as follows:

Early Theories. (discussed above) Early theories include Volition/Will Theories, Instinct Theory, and Freud’s theory (pp. 27-31). 

Conditioning Theories.  All behavior caused by response to stimuli; thus motivation is subsumed to response.  Conditioning theories include Connectionism, Classical conditioning, and Operant conditioning (pp. 31-37).

Drive Theories.  Drive is a force propelling behavior.  It is activated by needs and deactivated with satisfaction.  Its charactistics are intensity, direction and persisitence can still be found in modern definitions. Drive theories include Woodworth's theory, Systematic Behavior Theory, Incentive Motivation, Mowrer's Theory, and Acquired Drives (pp. 38-42).

Purposive Behaviorism Theory.  This approach is based on Tolman’s theory that behavior is more goal-directed than responsive, the following of cognitive maps based on expectancies.  Learning can occur without reward (pp. 42-43).

Arousal theories.  Motivation is construed as emotional arousal, affective processes, and thus neither behavioral nor cognitive. Arousal theories include James-Lange Theory, Optimal Level of Arousal, and Schacter’s Theory of Emotion (pp. 43-48).

Field Theory.  In Lewin’s Field Theory, behavior is a mechanism for restoring homeostasis in psychological and physical needs as an individual interacts with forces in the environment (pp. 48-49).

Cognitive Consistency Theories.  Cognitive Consistency Theories assume motivation results from an need to establish consistency between cognitions and behavior in response to a tension.  They include Balance Theory and Cognitive Dissonance Theory (pp. 49-51).

Trait and Humanistic Theories.  These theories are based on the concepts that all individuals are evolving and striving towards actualization, or completeness.   Motivation is more than a response.  It is the continuous everpresent condition that defines life.   Trait and Humanistic Theories are based on Allport’s Functional Autonomy of Motives and Roger’s Client-Centered Therapy (pp. 51-57).

Although Pintrich and Schunk covered dozens of theories, they were rather brief on one, Maslow’s theory, and left another out altogether, an early Expectancy-Valence Theory.  These two theories were dominant in the eighties (Altman et al., 1985; Bolman & Deal, 1997; Owens, 1987) and are still taught in many education and psychology courses.   Both will be discussed below.

Maslow’s Needs Hierarchy Theory.  Abraham Maslow’s needs hierachy theory spans arousal and trait theories.  It also represents the content approach to motivation,what motivates people, versus the process approach, describing how behavior is “initiated, redirected and halted” (Altman et al., 1985,  p22).  One reason for its popularity was that it deviated from simple stimulus-response mechanism at the same time cracks began to appear in the monolithic behavioral approach.

Maslow (1987) identifies a hierarchy of  five needs: physiological needs, safety needs, affiliative needs, esteem needs and self-actualization needs.  Basically, lower level needs obscure or even restrict upper level needs until they are satisfied.  Thus, a hungry person will focus on food rather than safety, esteem, or actualization. The theory has been confirmed by research, but also criticized and modified (Altman et al., 1985; Owens, 1987).  Porter (Porter, 1961) added an additional level between esteem and self-actualization, the need for autonomy.  Alderfer’s ERG theory (Alderfer, 1972; Alderfer, 1977) simplified the model into three categories – Existence Needs (Maslow’s physiological and safety needs), Relatedness Needs (Maslow’s social and esteem needs), and Growth Needs (Maslow’s self-actualization needs).  Alderfer also incorporated the concepts of frustration and satisfaction, and delineated a more accurate series of relationships between the levels. 

Other content theories inlude McClelland’s Need Achievement Theory (McClelland, 1985), in which he identifies three basic motives for behavior: Achievement, Power, and Affiliation; and Hertzberg’s controversial Two-Factor Theory (Hertzberg, 1971; Hertzberg, 1982).  Hertzberg, as a result of his research on engineers, discovered that motivation is derived from two sets of factors.  He termed experiences that made the engineers feel good about their job as motivators, which include recognition, advancement, achievement and other factors.  Experiences that caused dissatisfaction with a job, such as working conditions, salary and relationships with peers, did not correspond to motivators and so, were named hygeine factors.  Hertzberg’s main contribution is the notion that satisfaction and dissatisfaction are not on a continuum, but separate and distinct: “two different attitudinal feelings based upon different dynamics and different origins” (Hertzberg, 1982).

It is important to note that while the content/needs approach dominated research on motivation in the sixties and seventies, according to Pintrich and Schunk (1996), it has been pretty much abandoned today.  Research on needs is plagued by the same problem as research on instincts.  There is no scientifically acceptable way to determine what a need is, or how it is linked to behavior.   The logic of using needs to describe behavior eventually becomes tautological.  

“...almost any behavior can be referenced to a need as the cause of the behavior, and in turn, when someone has these needs, they cause the behavior.  The logic is circular and does not provide any real explanation of the behavior” (p. 207).


By contrast, process theories, focus on goals, expectancies and self-efficacy instead of needs, and tend to analyze the strength of the motivation.  Traditional process theories include the Goal-Setting Theory, Equity Theory and the Expectancy-Valence Theory (Altman et al., 1985; Mitchell, 1982).

Goal-Setting Theory.   In 1979, Latham and Locke reported two studies in which specific goals were set for loggers and productivity increased.  Based on these findings, they presented the Goal-Setting Theory.  The basic premise is that conscious objectives will influence an employee’s work behavior.  The goals must be specific, as opposed to “doing your best,” short-term rather than long term, challenging rather than easy, with feedback on performance, and without punishment for failure.  “Goals” not only fit the current cognitive and social orientations towards behavior better than “needs,” they are also better research constructs, and the results of numerous studies have supported the Goal-Setting Theory (Latham & Yukl, 1979).

Equity Theory.  The equity approach to motivation is homeostatic.  People are motivated by a sense of fairness (Mitchell, 1982).  If a person perceives and inequity between the amount of effort they are providing (inputs) and rewards (outcomes), they will be motivated to do more, or less, work (Adams, 1963).  Key components of the theory are that internal comparisons occur and that they are based on perceived rather than real values.  Although somewhat simplistic, this approach opened discussion on the cognitive aspects of the intensity of motivation; in other words, why we make some goals stronger than others. 

Expectancy-Valence Theory.  Expectancy theories continued this discussion, the best known of which is the Expectancy-Valence Theory (Owens, 1987).  The Expectancy-Valence Theory was based on the earlier work of Tolman and Lewin, but is generally associated with Vroom, Lawler, Hackman and Porter (Altman et al., 1985).  Basically, the theory says that “people are motivated to do something if they see something in it for themselves” (Altman et al., 1985).  Effort, or motivation, is presented as a relationship between three factors (Lawler, 1969): expectancy x instrumentality x valence. Expectancy represents “effort-reward probability” (Lawler, 1969, p. 161); in other words, the belief that a behavior will result in a first-level outcome.  For example, a clerk might believe that working harder will result in better sales. Instrumentality represents the strength of correlation between a first level, or immediate, outcome, and a second level, or ulimate personal, outcome.  Better sales might result in a pay raise.  Valence represents “the degree of preference that one has for a potential outcome” (Owens, 1987), or how highly the ultimate result is valued.  The relationship is multiplicative rather than summative, meaning that if any factor is low or absent, motivation will not be present (Lawler & Porter, 1967).  Although eclipsed and transformed by modern theories, this theory was popular until recently because instead of contradicting other existing theories, it provided a means to bring them together in one model.  

Since process theories focus on goals, choices and social influences rather than needs, they are more compatible with cognitive, social cognitive (Pintrich & Schunk, 1996), and social constructivist (Williams, 1997) theories of psychology.  Most current theories of motivation are based on process models.

Current Theories of Motivation in Psychology

Current theories include the impact of self efficacy, attributions, social conditions, classroom factors, and provide a better understanding of the role of goals.  Since they are based in cognitive psychology, they focus on purposeful rather than elicited behavior (Pintrich & Schunk, 1996), and since they are related to social cognitive and social constructivist theories (Williams, 1997), they place a greater emphasis on self-efficacy and social influences.

Expanding on a model devised by Atkinson in the late fifties, Eccles and Wigfield offer a social cognitive expectancy-value model of motivation composed of the following relationships: Influences from the social world (cultural milieu; socializer’s behavior; and past performances and events); cognitive processes (perceptions of social environment; and interpretations/attributions for past events); and motivational beliefs (goals interacting with task-specific self-concept and perceptions of task difficulty to create task value and expectancy); interact to result in achievement behavior (choice, persistence, quantity of effort, cognitive engagement, and actual performance) (Pintrich & Schunk, 1996).  As with the expectancy-valence model, expectancy and task value are the key predictors, but a difference can be found in how expectancy and task value originate.  The model adds the important factors of self-efficacy, attributions, and social perspective.

 Self-efficacy is the perception of one’s own competence, a construct that Bandura recognized was of critical importance and plays a major role in his social cognitive model of behaviors (Pintrich & Schunk, 1996; Williams, 1997).  Efficacy theory also includes the construct, outcome expectations, which refers to the expected rewards or punishments for performance.  The interaction of these constructs shapes the type of behavior one exhibits.  For example, high self-efficacy with low outcome expectations will result in protest and grievance, while low self-efficacy with high outcome expectations will result in self-devaluation and depression (Bandura, 1982; cited in  (Pintrich & Schunk, 1996).  Research has shown that self-efficacy plays a critical role in both motivation and achievement, especially in relation to learning  (Pintrich & Schunk, 1996). 

The question of how self-efficacy beliefs arise is answered by the attribution theory, a theory to which Bernard Weiner made the greatest contributions in the eighties.  The theory, which describes processes directly linked to expectancy beliefs, is summarized by Pintrich and Schunk (1996):  The theory makes two assumptions.  First, it assumes that individuals are motivated by the goal of understanding and mastering themselves and their environment; and second, that people use meta-scientific methods to understand the causal determinants of their own and others behavior, in other words, why things happen.  The reasons an individual construes for an event are the attributions, whether they be ability, luck, effort, fatigue, or any one of an infinite number of other possibilities.  In the attribution process  the perceived causes might be influenced by antecedent conditions of environmental factors and personal factors, which might be social norms, causal schema, etc.  Once made, the attributions have the psychological force to influence, first, expectancy for success, self-efficacy, and affect, and thereby, behavioral consequences, such as effort or persistence.

There is no limit to the number of possible attributions, but they can be aligned to three causal dimensions: stability, locus and control.   Stability refers to how stable an attribution is over time; locus refers to whether the cause of the event is perceived as internal or external; and control refers to whether it is perceived as controllable or uncontrollable.  “Attributional theory and research have shown that it is the stability dimension that is most closely related to expectancy for success” (Weiner, 1986; cited in (Pintrich & Schunk, 1996, p.111).   In other words, a student who continues to think he or she is weak at math, despite high scores, is likely to have low expectations for success later as well.  Esteem seems to be related to locus; so one feels proud if one believes his or her own efforts caused a success.  Social affects, such as guilt or shame, are related to the control dimension; one feels guilt for events that one perceives could have been controlled.

As Pintrich and Schunk (1996) point out, attributions themselves do not explain motivation, but they provide insight into the key factor of motivation, expectancy beliefs.  In addition, the theory is well-suited to research and theory-building.  First, the number of possible attributions are unlimited, allowing new theories to arise, but the number of dimensions are small, allowing comparison.  The theory is particularly well-suited to studies on achievement.

The impact of social effects on motivation is another recent addition to the theory of motivation and is related to social cognitive theory.  “Social cognitive theory focuses on how people acquire strategies, beliefs, and emotions through their interactions with and observations of others”  (Pintrich & Schunk, 1996, p. 195).  Social influences such as modeling, social comparison, conformity and compliance seem to affect motivation through self-efficacy, while other social influences, such as social facilitation, social loafing, and cooperative learning seem to affect motivation directly (Pintrich & Schunk, 1996).  One result of the social cognitive theory is that researchers have been inspired to examine group motivation as well.  After all, we live in a world of relationships.  One can no more separate the influence of peers or teachers from motivation than influence of the goals themselves (Williams, 1997).

Related to social influences, but little researched, are cultural influences.  People in different cultures have vastly different construals of self and others.  “These construals can influence, and in many cases determine, the very nature of individual experiences, including cognition, emotion and motivation” (Markus & Kitayama, 1991, p.224).  How the concept of self influences motivation is especially pertinent to Japanese.  The Japanese concept of self is interdependent rather than independent, as with Americans, and thus influences self-efficacy and goal orientation.

Latham and Locke have done further work on their Goal-Setting Theory, considering the role of self-efficacy.  More recent research has shown that specific, proximal (near future), and high goals have a positive influence on motivation  (Pintrich & Schunk, 1996).  Researchers have also discovered that goal committment, mediated by personal and contextual factors, has a positive effect on achievement.

Contextual factors often studied are classroom conditions.  Numerous studies (Clément, Dörnyei, & Noels, 1994; Olshtain, Shohamy, Kemp, & Chatow, 1990; Pintrich, Roeser, & De Groot, 1994; Wigzell & Al-Ansari, 1993) have found that teacher attitudes, teaching styles, materials, means of assessment, individual vs group work, and other classroom context effects influence not only achievement, but also many aspects of motivation, including goal orientation, self-efficacy, task value, and mastery vs. performance orientations. 

Goal Orientation Theories were developed specifically for explaining achievement behavior.  Motivation to achieve is far more complicated than the explanation given by the simple behavioral reinforcement model.  Feedback, competition, and group factors play roles in motivation, rewards sometimes decrease it, and even mood must be taken into account (Pintrich & Schunk, 1996).  The two dimensions of goal orientation – intrinsic and extrinsic motivation – are widely used constructs.  Intrinsic motivation is related to engaging in an activity for its own sake, for mastery and learning purposes; while extrinsic motivation is related to engaging in a task as a result of external rewards or punishments.  For a student, this means “a concern about grades, pleasing others, or besting others (cf. Dweck & Leggett, 1988; Harter, 1981)” (Pintrich et al., 1994, p. 141). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is also associated with performance vs. mastery goals:

...the concept of ‘goal’ is itself more complex than might at first appear.  Cognitive psychologists have come to make a distinction between two types of goal orientation, which have variously been described as performance vs mastery goals (Ames 1992), performance vs learning goals (Dweck and Leggett 1988), and ego involvement vs task involvement (Nichols 1979).  Although there are differences in these approaches, they are essentially similar in distinguishing between performance, where the prime concern is to look good, or, at least, not to look stupid, and learning, where the goal is to increase knowledge, skill or understanding.  (Williams, 1997, p. 131)

 In short, in prior decades, the directionality behind motivation was seen simply as need satisfaction.  However, the more recent construct of goal, from cognitive psychology, which has replaced need, is far more robust.  Not only can more dimensions be attached to goals, but they are also more easily researched.

Traditional Theories of Motivation in Second Language Education

Instrumental and Integrative Motivation.  Second Language (SL) research on motivation has followed a different track and has been dominated by one theory in particular (Clément et al., 1994; Crookes & Schmidt, 1991; Gardner, Day, & MacIntyre, 1992; Ramage, 1991).   In 1959, Gardner and Lambert divided the motivation to learn a language into two types, instrumental motivation and integrative motivation.  Integrative motivation is characterized by a positive attitude towards the speakers and culture of the target language, while instrumental motivation is characterized by learning the language for practical purposes, such as gaining employment or passing a test. 

Integrative motivation is highly correlated with achievement, so of the two orientations, integrative motivation has usually been held as superior (Crookes & Schmidt, 1991).  This is not necessarily Gardner’s position since he states the social context might make an instrumental orientation better in some situations and an integrative orientation better in others (Williams, 1997).  Au (cited in Crookes, & Schmidt, 1991, p. 473) notes that the theories related to integrative motivation, most of which imply its superiority, can be summarized as five hypotheses:

1. The integrative motive hypothesis: an integrative motive will be positively associated with SL achievement.


2. The cultural belief hypothesis: cultural beliefs influence the development of the integrative motive and the degree to which integrativeness and achievement are related.


3. The active learner hypothesis: integratively motivated learners are successful because they are active learners.


4. The causality hypothesis: integrative motivation is a cause; SL achievement, the effect.


5. The two-process hypothesis: aptitude and integrative motivation are independent factors in second language learning.


“Gardner’s theories have influenced virtually all SL-related research in this area” (Crookes & Schmidt, 1991, p. 471), but have also been criticized, especially in regard to the integrative motive hypothesis and the causality hypothesis.  Interpretation of the empirical data from research to validate these theories is controversial, since various studies have produced different results.  Clearly, other factors impinge.  Some factors, such as age, can be controlled for, but others, such as cultural values, cannot.  Gardner’s chief critic, Oller, suggests that the relationship between affective factors and language learning may be an “unstable non-linear function of high variability” (Crookes & Schmidt, 1991) p. 48].

In his 1988 defense of the theory, Gardner indicated that across a large number of studies, there have been significant corellations between integrative attitudes and language proficiency, and in his own later study (1992), he found a strong correlation with the learning of vocabulary items.  Integrative motivation has been also correlated with persistence; Ramage (1991) conducted a study to find what relationship exists between various motivations and the likelihood of a student to continue in a program.   She found that an interest in the foreign culture and in learning the language, but not for instrumental reasons, thoroughly distinguished those students who would continue in a program from those who would not. 

The strong correlation between integrative motivation and achievement implies causality, but, as in all correlations, making such an assumption is speculative.  Integrativeness and achievement might both be products of another, not yet identified cause.  Savignon and Strong (cited in Crookes & Schmidt, 1991, p. 474), have even proposed that the causality might work in reverse as well.  Rather than a positive attitude towards the target language leading to proficiency, proficiency and success in the second language might cause a positive attitude, while failure produces a negative attitude (Crookes & Schmidt, 1991). 

So where does the theory stand now?  Gardner has recently attempted to expand upon the original theory to include other factors.  His socio-educational model is “operationally defined in terms of a composite of variables including measures of integrativeness, attitudes towards the learning situation, and motivation” (Gardner et al., 1992, p. 198) but most scholars still associate his name with the original dichotomy.   Others, such as Clément, Dörnyei, and Noels (1994), have concluded that integrative and instrumental orientations are entwined rather than separate, and that to attempt to pose them as antithetical is fruitless.  Whatever the case, there is still a widespread agreement that integrativeness is one of a number of factors closely tied to achievement and proficiency (Benson, 1991; Clément et al., 1994; Crookes & Schmidt, 1991; Gardner et al., 1992; Ramage, 1991; Skehan, 1991; Spolsky, 1988).  Even in a context where foreign language learning is largely an academic matter, student motivation remains socially grounded.” (Clément et al., 1994, p.421).

Current Theories of Motivation in Second Language Education

Other Interpretations of Social Factors.  The “social grounding” mentioned above, has become one of the major directions of SL research on motivation.  Spolsky, a leading authority on language learning, indicated that a key factor in the learning is the social context (Spolsky, 1988).  Included in his definition of context are exposure to language roles and a general perception of the value of language, for these factors influence learner attitudes in two ways: attitude toward the language and motivation.

Language also plays an important role in socialization.  It is an expression of who we are.  It is related to learner empowerment.  "Language experience provides options, expands the range of what speakers can do, and of what they mean" (Savignon, 1995) p. 13].  These influences might be stronger with Japanese youth, whose psychosocial adaptation is highly dependent on the social context.  According to Hiroshi Kida, former director of the National Institute for Educational Research, rather than having an identity that is socially defined, Japanese youth develop a "flexible, portable identity and set of skills" (White, 1987, p.174).

A Call for Revision.  Although during the sixties, the decade after Gardner and Lambert introduced their theory, a large number of papers were published on SL motivation, the discussion markedly dropped off in the seventies and eighties (Crookes & Schmidt, 1991).  The issue of motivation was often avoided by using the term “interest” in its place.  Likewise, literature in the field of second language acquisition generally abandoned motivation as instrumentation and established a new base of knowledge on the behavior and attitudes of “good language learners” (Crookes & Schmidt, 1991).   In the nineties however, the discussion on motivation is becoming “lively” again (Williams, 1997, p. 118).   Weaknesses in the instrumental - integrative model, and new theories of motivation from cognitive psychology, have led key scholars to call for a new theory that better fits L2 education (Crookes & Schmidt, 1991; Skehan, 1991; Williams, 1997).  Two new models that integrate a number of factors other than integrativeness have recently been proposed: (1) Clément, Dörnyei, and Noels’ ILA model (1994); and (2) Williams and Burden’s social constructivist model.  These will be examined later.

It was earlier stated that “integrativeness is one of a number of factors closely tied to achievement and proficiency,” but what are the rest?   A number of factors have been suggested by various scholars, but they are not aligned along the same dimensions.  Some are affective, some are attitudinal and some are social. 

Affective and Attitudinal Factors.  Crookes and Schmidt (1991) counterbalance psychosocial factors of motivation with attitudinal factors, particularly those found in the classroom, such as attitudes towards language study, or affect.  Krashen’s well-known Monitor Model of Second Language Acquisition fits this orientation, since motivation is considered a part of the affective filter.   Research on classroom attitudes, stemming from Good Learner Theories in second language acquistion (SLA), have identified positive classroom behavior as related to achievement and more importantly, the relationship of self-image and task engagement (Crookes & Schmidt, 1991).  In particular, learners tend to avoid tasks that they perceive as too challenging or not challenging enough.  These latter views parallel the self-efficacy and goal-related theories in psychology.  Most of the current theories of SL motivation include self-confidence as a construct (Clément et al., 1994; Crookes & Schmidt, 1991; Gardner et al., 1992; Spolsky, 1988). 

One study (Benson, 1991), conducted on Japanese college students, expanded the instrumental - integrative motivation model by adding “personal” motivation, which is neither integrative nor instrumental.  Japanese study English for “the pleasure of being able to read English, and the enjoyment of entertainment in English” (p.36 ).

Social Factors.  Giles and Byrne (1982, cited in Crookes & Schmidt, 1991, p. 476), in their Speech Accomodation Theory, introduce the ethnolinguistic vitality and the relationship to the learner’s self-concept, thereby expanding social factors to include group identification and boundaries.  A study by Pierce (1995) found that social identity has a strong relationship to motivation, although she prefers to call it “investment” rather than motivation (p. 17).  Finally, as mentioned above, Spolsky’s “social context” (1988) also introduces family, home community and state as factors as well  (Pierce, 1995).   Ellis (cited in Williams & Burden, 1997) even includes friendship as a motivating factor and Bailey notes the influence of “competitiveness” (Crookes & Schmidt, 1991, p. 495)

Post-behaviorist psychologists of the eighties, such as Keller; Maeher and Archer associate motivation with choice, in terms of (1) direction, (2) persistence, (3) continuance and (4) activity level.  They also identify motivation with needs, both external and internal, as in intrinsic and extrinsic motivation (Crookes & Schmidt, 1991).   Although previously, the emphasis has been placed on researching  intrinsic factors of motivation, since research showed the ineffectiveness of extrinsic factors, such as grades (Crookes & Schmidt, 1991), some current theorists hold that intrinsic and extrinsic factors are interactive rather than separate.  Popular writers like Underhill (1997) suggest the external classroom atmosphere we create causes internal psychological changes in students.  Humanistic attitudes, empowerment, feedback, creating relaxed alertness, playfulness, humor, and other classroom behaviors must also be considered as factors of motivation.

Cognitive Factors.  Interest in a cognitive approach to motivation is growing (Williams, 1997) and as the cognitive theories become more refined in psychology, we can expect their implementation in SL research.  Cognitive theories focus on choice, goals and styles. 

Within the last ten years, extensive SL research has been done on the relationship between achievement and learning styles (also referred to as “learning strategies”).  A number of studies on learning styles show correlations with attitude and achievement (LoCastro, 1994; Oxford, 1990; Reid, 1987).   In a study done by Ellis, for example, the learning styles seemed closely connected to a “positive affective orientation” (p. 259) towards language study.  Although the relationship between learning styles and motivation has so far only been implied, it is safe to assume that since achievement and motivation are closely related, and since discussion on motivation is increasing, learning styles will soon be recognized as an important factor.

As the above discussion indicates, whereas once motivation was generally considered along two dimensions, as being integrative or instrumental, recognition of other factors has made the issue much more complex.  Within the last few years, two models have been introduced that try to incorporate these additional factors in the theory of SL motivation.  Past models of motivation tended to be formed along two tracks: either by pure theory and review of the literature, as in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs; or by experimental research and analysis of the results, as in Hertzfield’s two factor Motivation-Hygiene Theory.  The two theories below follow these tracks as well.  The ILA model is based on the results of a specific study while the Constructivist model is a compilation of other theories.

The ILA Model.  Clément, Dörnyei, and Noels (1994) conducted research on motivational factors and created the ILA model from the results.  SL motivation consists of three interacting components:  (a)  integrative motivation, which is not separate from instrumental motivation; (b) linguistic self-confidence, defined by attitude and effort; and (c) appraisal of the classroom environment, noting that group cohesion leads to a positive appraisal.  Their research confirms the power of the integrative motive, and also shows that it is connected to linguistic self-confidence, but they also found that both of these components are separate from the students’ evaluation of the teaching environment.

The ILA model is powerful because it is simple and parsimonious.  It might be weak, however, in that it does not consider all the factors discussed above as separate components.

The Constructivist Model.  Williams and Burden (1997) take social constructivist position, in which it is assumed that each person is motivated differently and choice plays an important part.  They reviewed the current theories in cognitive psychology and integrated them into a process-oriented theory with the decision to act at the center.  Influencing the individual’s decision are two sets of dimensions, internal factors and external factors.  The internal factors interact dynamically in a non-linear fashion, and “affect the level and extent of learner’s motivation to complete a task or maintain an activity”  (Williams, 1997, p. 137).  These factors, while affecting each other are also subject to influence from the other set of dimensions, external factors, where again, the interaction is dynamic.   Both sets of factors can be seen in Figure 1.


Figure 1.  Willams and Burden’s constructivist model, slightly modified (Williams, 1997, p. 140).


 The strengths and weaknesses of the constructivist model are just the opposite of those of the ILA model.  The constructivist is more complete, but weaker in parsimony.

Research on Japanese English Students

Most studies of motivation done on Japanese focus on integrativeness and use a questionnaire approach.  In 1996, Teweles did a comparative study with Japanese and Chinese college students studying English.  Their motivational levels were assessed by questionnaire.  Japanese scored higher than their Chinese counterparts on integrative measures, with 75% showing high levels of motivation.  However, he also found that general tests of English were a better predictior of performance than motivational assessment.  This reflects Chihara and Oller’s well-known study in 1978 (Teweles, 1996, p. 221), in which the weaknesses of attitudinal surveys were uncovered.   These two studies throw the validity of using questionnaires to assess motivation into question, at least when conducted with Japanese.  Crookes and Schmidt at the University of Hawaii, however, and thus familiar with Japanese students, support the intuitive approaches, such as self-reporting and questionnaires (Crookes & Schmidt, 1991).

In a questionnaire study done with 311 Japanese college freshmen, Benson (1991) also found a high level of integrativeness.  Results show that the top two reasons the students said they study English were closely related to foreign travel.  Number one, at 18.25%, was, “Knowing English makes it easier to get along in other countries” while number two, at 15.35%, was “Knowing English allows me to understand how foreigners think” (p. 41).  Note that these reasons ranked well above  school or work-related reasons.  In fact, “Passing exams,” “reading textbooks,” and “personal satisfaction” were firmly rejected as reasons.

Benson also identified a third type of motivation, termed “personal,” which he claims is neither neither instrumental nor integrative, although the interpretation might be his alone.  Examples of personal motivation are “the pleasure of being able to read English,” and “the enjoyment of entertainment in English” (p.36), reasons implying intrinsic motivation as related to self-concept.  Benson also cites Chihara and Oller’s 1978 study in 1978, when it was observed that Japanese value integrative and personal reasons the most highly, rather than instrumental reasons.  He also cites a 1989 study of Japanese freshmen by Berwick and Ross, in which the overall intensity of motivation was found to be low.  These latter authors also note a high level of interest in studying abroad (p.37).

In 1993, Kitao also conducted a questionnaire study on Doshisha students preparing to study abroad.  She found the number one reason Doshisha students signed up for the program was integrative, to make foreign friends and the number two reason, instrumental, to improve English ability.  A more recent study (Ono, 1996) shows that at least from the students’ perspective, these goals can be achieved.   Upon their return, the 23 third year students who spent twelve weeks in Canada became more positive about Canadians, their English ability, and English as a subject of study.

Student Types, Classroom Conditions, Motivation, and Achievement

Most studies on motivation address what conditions influence motivation and how motivation effects achievement, but recently, some interesting research examines motivation from the other direction.  In what way do learner characteristics, such as cognitive ability, L1 linguistic aptitude, mastery orientation, etc., influence motivational beliefs?  Pintrich, Roeser and De Groot (1994) found that students who focus on learning and mastery are more likely to have higher self-efficacy, less test anxiety, and show higher levels of motivation.   Even more important, they are more willing to study in ways that lead to deeper learning:

...students who had positive motivational beliefs, which included a general intrinsic orientation focused on learning and mastery, positive perceptions of of interest and value regarding course material, and high self efficacy beliefs, were more likely to report using self-regulated learning strategies that will result in deeper processing of the material and better understanding.  At the same time, students who reported higher levels of test anxiety were less likely to be self-regulating." (p. 155-6)

In asking whether positive motivational beliefs drive cognitive engagement or whether it occurs the other way around, the researchers found that these two factors are probably reciprocal.  Of even greater import was their finding that both of these conditions are not “fixed” learner characteristics, but can be influenced by the classroom context. Interesting materials, some choice of tasks, good explanations, and the chance to work with other students was more likely to result in the students focusing on mastery and learning.  In other words, teachers can influence motivation.  

This perspective slightly differs from one proposed by Wigzell and Al-Ansari, who claim that "High achievers are usually driven by a strong inner desire to learn and generally learn successfully in any kind of learning environment" (p. 313), but this latter point of view comes from personal observation rather than research.  What Wigzell and Al-Ansari’s research did find, however, concurs with Pintrich, Roeser and De Groot’s findings.  “Low achievers, however, tend to be much more sensitive variables in their learning environment,” such as teacher attitudes, materials, means of assessment, etc.  They suggest that successful instruction requires the teacher to give less attention to managing the environment and more attention to fostering a desire to learn (p. 313).

Olshtain, Shohamy, Kemp, and Chatow (1990) examined how cognitive variables of aptitude, L1 ability, IQ, and other individual features influence EFL achievement.  In particular, they compared disadvantaged students – based on an Israeli govermental classification – with ‘regular’ students.  Their research found that certain types of English test items, such as error completion, synonyms and register were more useful for distinguishing between these types of learners, which, to some degree, supports the view that L2 achievement is strongly influenced by L1 aptitude.  It also supports, to some degree, the deficit theory, which states that poor language ability reflects poor cognitive ability, especially in relationship to the specialized type of language used in schools (elaborated code) and the way L2 proficiency is measured: discrete item language tests that measure syntactic accuracy rather than basic communication skills.   In short, in the L2 classroom, even native language proficiency must be considered a factor of motivation and achievement. 

These studies indicate that if future research is continued along these lines, and the relationship between cognition, motivation and achievement brought into focus, that whole new sets of dimensions for the motivation model might arise.  Neither cognitive dimensions nor the previously described cultural dimensions of construal of self, are included in any of the current models, even Williams and Burden’s expansive model.  Obviously, the question of motivation and where it comes from is far from settled.


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