Why Are You Learning a Second Language? Motivational Orientations and Self‐Determination Theory



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Why Are You Learning a Second Language? Motivational Orientations and Self‐Determination Theory

Why Are You Learning a Second Language? Motivational Orientations and Self‐Determination Theory

The data for this study were collected in my first year of graduate school for a term paper for a course I was taking from Luc Pelletier. When I began graduate school, Luc also started at the University of Ottawa as a new faculty member, and he taught a course in motivation. I had worked with Richard Clément for a couple of years already as an honors student and as a research assistant and had conducted research on orientations and motivation under his supervision as part of my honors thesis project. Luc was very interested in self‐determination theory (SDT) and had worked with Bob Vallerand on an instrument to assess academic motivation from this perspective. Luc and I decided to carry out a study on language learning orientations using SDT and enlisted Richard’s and Bob’s involvement in the project. As a bilingual institution where all students were required to demonstrate competence in their second language (L2), whether French or English, the University of Ottawa was an ideal setting for this type of research.

The project was a first examination of SDT in the language learning context, and to the best of my knowledge it was the only, or at least one of the very few, empirical investigations of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in the area. It involved the development of a valid and reliable instrument to assess the different subtypes of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. It also explored the link between these motivational subtypes and various orientations to language learning that had been identified byClément and Kruidenier (1983), including the travel, friendship, knowledge, and instrumental orientations. The results showed that the instrumental orientation and the SDT external regulation orientation were strongly correlated, and that the travel, friendship, and knowledge orientations were quite highly intercorrelated with identified regulation and intrinsic motivation. Moreover, the instrumental and external regulation orientation scales correlated in similar ways with the hypothesized antecedents of perceived autonomy and competence and the hypothesized consequences of intention to pursue L2 study and anxiety. In addition, the travel, friendship, and knowledge orientations were correlated with the hypothesized antecedents and consequences in a manner similar to intrinsic motivation and identified regulation. These results suggested that Clément and Kruidenier’s 4 orientations may be tapping a similar construct as the SDT orientations. My only regret with this study is that I did not include a scale to measure the integrative orientation (Gardner, 1985) to determine its relation with the SDT subtypes. This issue would have to wait until a later study to be addressed.

The results of this initial investigation encouraged me to pursue research integrating SDT with other theoretical frameworks of language learning motivation. I believe that the SDT framework has several advantages over some other formulations of learner orientations. SDT offers a parsimonious, internally consistent framework for systematically describing many different orientations in a comprehensive manner. It also offers considerable explanatory power for understanding why certain orientations are better predictors of relevant language learning variables (e.g., effort, persistence, attitudes) than others. Also, by invoking the psychological mechanisms of perceived autonomy, competence, and relatedness, it can account for why certain orientations are evident in some learners and not in others. Moreover, the framework is empirically testable and indeed has stood up well under empirical scrutiny in our studies. Its clear predictions may also be particularly valuable in applying the theory in language teaching and program development. [The present article first appeared in Language Learning, 50 (1), 2000, 57–85]

Number of Pages: 29 

By: Kimberly A. Noels


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