Motivational Regulation in L2 Learning

The pervasive role of motivation for effective L2 learning has been acknowledged since early 1970 (Gardner & Lambert, 1972) and L2 motivation study has been a productive field in SLA. Chapters dedicated to motivation have been included in many volumes on applied linguistics and language acquisition. However, the amount of research devoted to analyzing how to motivate learners has been inadequate. In recent years, L2 researchers have begun to emphasize the dynamic character of motivation and the importance of motivational maintenance and control in L2 learning (e.g., Dornyei, 2001b, 2003; Dornyei & Otto, 1998; Li & Wu, 2007; Manolopoulou-Sergi, 2004; Zhou & Rao, 2007).

Motivation was defined by Dornyei (1998, p.118) as “a process whereby a certain amount of instigation force arises, initiates action, and persists as long as no other force comes into play to weaken it and thereby terminate action, or until the planned outcome has been reached.” Dornyei’s definition accommodates the possibility of the existence of factors that could intervene and “weaken or terminate” the person’s action, which indicates the importance to maintain and control the motivational impetus. Motivational control is particularly important for L2 learning because L2 learning is a “sustained deep learning” (Schumann, 1998), and demotivation is a salient phenomenon in L2 learning (Dornyei, 2001c). L2 learning, a sustained learning process, can take several years to achieve. During the course of such a lengthy process, student motivation does not remain constant but undergoes continuous changes, as Ushioda (1996, p.240) summarizes, “within the context of institutionalized learning especially, the common experience would seem to be motivational flux rather than stability.” Schumann (1998) also argues that all sustained learning processes show different motivational characteristics to short-term activities and simpler learning tasks because in sustained-learning contexts a major motivational function is to maintain the motivational impetus for a considerable period. Ushioda (1996, p.54) argues that in the face of negative affective experiences, learners “who know how to limit the motivational damage and take self-motivational initiatives will be at a considerable advantage.” Crookes and Schmidt (1991, p.495) also argue that “a number of strategies can be used to manipulate motivation, including the selection of appropriate goals and their periodic reevaluation, periodic review of learning situations, and so on.”

With the emphasis on the dynamic character of L2 motivation, Dornyei and Otto (1998) developed a “process model of L2 motivation.” The form of this model was also stimulated by the “action control theory” (Heckhausen & Kuhl, 1985; Kuhl, 1985, 1987, 1992) that put emphasis on the distinction of separate, temporally ordered action phases. Action- control theory also introduces a temporal perspective that “begins with the awakening of a person’s wishes prior to goal setting and continues through the evaluative thoughts entertained after goal striving has ended” (Gollwitzer, 1990, p.55). The process model of motivation organizes the various motivational influences along a sequence of discrete actional events in the chain of instigating and enacting motivated behavior. The model details how initial wishes and desires are first transformed into goals and then into operationalized intentions, which are seen as the immediate antecedents of action; after action has been initiated, an appraisal and an action control process mediate “executive motivation,” leading (hopefully) to the accomplishment of the goal and concluded by the final evaluation of the process. The emphasis on the dynamic nature of motivation and the process approach to motivation suggests the importance of motivational self-regulation. The action control mechanisms in the process model of L2 motivation, as conceptualized originally by Kuhl (1985), can be seen as a subcategory of self-regulatory strategies concerning learners’ self-motivation. In other words, the action control processes in this process model of L2 motivation are similar to those concerning regulation of motivation in SRL.

As for the strategies of motivational self-regulation, Dornyei (2001a), using the taxonomies of Kuhl (1987) and Corno and Kanfer (1993), proposed five main classes of self-motivating strategies:

  • 1. commitment control strategies for helping to preserve or increase learners’ original goal commitment;
  • 2. metacognitive control strategies for monitoring and controlling concentration and for curtailing unnecessary procrastination;
  • 3. satiation control strategies for eliminating boredom and adding extra attraction or interest to the task;
  • 4. emotion control strategies for managing disruptive emotional states or moods and for generating emotions that will be conducive to implementing one’s intentions; and
  • 5. environmental control strategies for eliminating negative environmental influences and exploiting positive environmental influences by making the environment an ally in the pursuit of a difficult goal.

From the above we can see that although motivational regulation is still a new term for L2 learning, its concept has been reflected in such terms as “self-motivation” or “control of motivation” and the importance of motivational regulation for L2 learning has also been shown in L2 motivation research (Dornyei, 2001b, 2003; Dornyei & Otto, 1998; Manolopoulou- Sergi, 2004). As argued by Dornyei (2001b, p.52) “motivational selfregulation is an intriguing new area within motivational psychology, exploring ways by which we can endow learners with appropriate knowledge and skills to motivate themselves.” Motivational regulation has been regarded as an important aspect of SRL in the field of educational psychology and bears significantly on academic achievement (e.g., Pintrich, 2000; Wolters, 1998, 2003). Therefore, we believe that motivational regulation should have special significance for L2 learning.

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