Authored by: Ema Ushioda , Zoltán Dörnyei

The Routledge Handbook of Second Language Acquisition

Print publication date:  November  2011
Online publication date:  June  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415479936
eBook ISBN: 9780203808184
Adobe ISBN: 9781136666896


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Motivation has been a major research topic within second language acquisition (SLA) for over five decades, ever since it became recognized as an important internal cause of variability in language learning success. Of course, the study of motivation in general has a much longer history across the broader disciplines of mainstream and educational psychology. Second language (L2) motivation research has evolved somewhat independently, however, originating in a concern to address the unique social, psychological, behavioral, and cultural complexities that acquiring a new communication code entails. Over the years, the field has evolved through successive phases reflecting increasing degrees of integration with developments in mainstream motivational psychology, while retaining a sharp focus on aspects of motivation unique to language learning. Dörnyei and Ushioda (2011) have identified these phases as follows:

The social-psychological period (1959–1990), characterized by the work of Robert Gardner and his associates in Canada

The cognitive-situated period (during the 1990s), characterized by work drawing on cognitive theories in educational psychology

The process-oriented period (turn of the century), characterized by a focus on motivational change

The socio-dynamic period (current), characterized by a concern with dynamic systems and contextual interactions.

L2 motivation research owes its origins to two Canadian social psychologists, Robert Gardner and Wallace Lambert, who conducted a series of studies investigating language learning attitudes and motivation dating back to 1959, and published a collective report in 1972 that was to prove seminal in shaping this research area for the next two decades. Gardner and Lambert (1972) theorized that motivation was a significant cause of variability in SLA, and that its effect was independent of ability or aptitude. They speculated moreover that SLA had important social and psychological dimensions which distinguished the motivation to learn a second language from other types of learning motivation, since learners are expected not simply to acquire knowledge of the language but to identify with the target language community and adopt their distinctive speech behaviors and styles. Individuals’ attitudes toward the target language community, as well as their ethnocentric orientation in general, were hypothesized to exert a directive influence on their L2 learning behavior, which led Gardner and Lambert (1972) to propose two kinds of motivational orientation in language learning: an integrative orientation “reflecting a sincere and personal interest in the people and culture represented by the other group”; and an instrumental orientation “reflecting the practical value and advantages of learning a new language” (p. 132).

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