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One day, a Canadian graduate student met with his advisor to
discuss possible thesis topics. During that meeting, the stu-
dent remarked that he could not see how one could learn the
language of another group if she or he does not like that
group. At this point, the advisor said, “Hey man. There’s
your thesis!” The student was Robert Gardner with his super-
visor Wallace Lambert at McGill University in 1956. That
meeting gave birth to the field of second language (L2) moti-
vation and was the primary instigator of decades of research
The purpose of this article is to offer a historical background
of research into language motivation and then highlight a num-
ber of emerging themes that seem to hold potential for future
research. This analysis builds on and expands previous efforts
to understand the historical trajectory of the field (e.g., Boo,
Dörnyei, & Ryan, 2015; Dörnyei, 2005; Dörnyei & Ryan,
2015; Dörnyei & Ushioda, 2011). These historical analyses
have identified three phases that the field has gone through.
The first is the social-psychological period, in which a common
theme was the focus on the macroperspective language learn-
ing. That research was largely concerned with affective factors
in intergroup relations. The field then progressed into a second
phase, in which the scope of research was expanded to address
learners in the microcontext of the classroom and the cognitive
processes underlying language learning. The current, third
phase is witnessing the emergence of various themes, such as
the dynamic, affective, unconscious, and long-term aspects of
motivation to learn English and other languages.
Previous surveys of the field may be characterized as
back pointing, in which they have primarily focused on
trends found in the past two phases without elaborating on
the emerging trends in the current period. The present analy-
sis therefore offers a more forward-pointing survey of these
emerging trends. As reviewed below, some of these themes
have been discussed separately in the literature, but they
have not been synthesized and presented in one place to date.
In addition, one of these themes, technology, has been largely
overlooked in the motivation field despite the increasing
technologization of learning and classroom instruction in
many parts of the world. Before surveying these themes, the
discussion starts with a brief overview of the first two phases.
The Social-Psychological Period
The social-psychological period was spearheaded by Gardner
and associates in Canada (e.g., see Gardner, 1979, 1985,
2010). The fundamental basis of this research is the assump-
tion that learning an L2 is different from other school subjects
because L2 learning additionally requires openness to the L2
group and willingness to adopt features from it. This concept
came to be known as integrative motivation. A number of
1The University of Nottingham, UK
2Jubail Industrial College, Saudi Arabia
Ali H. Al-Hoorie, The University of Nottingham, University Park,
Nottingham NG7 2RD, UK.
Sixty Years of Language Motivation
Research: Looking Back and Looking
Ali H. Al-Hoorie1,2
This article offers a historical analysis of the major themes that the language motivation field has examined in its 60-year
history. The discussion starts by briefly reviewing the social-psychological and the situated–cognitive periods. The former was
primarily concerned with affective factors in intergroup relations, while the latter with learners in classroom contexts. The
second half of the article surveys a number of emerging themes in the field to highlight major findings and potential future
directions. These themes include the dynamic, affective, unconscious, and long-term aspects of motivation to learn English
and other languages, as well as the implications of the pervasive presence of technology in daily life.
motivation, language learning, implicit attitudes, complexity theory, emotions, technology
2 SAGE Open
researchers in the first half of the 20th century—including
Arsenian, Marckwardt, Nida, Whyte, and Holmberg—chal-
lenged the then-dominant view that intelligence and aptitude
are the primary factors in successful L2 learning. Building on
work by these researchers, Gardner undertook a more focused
investigation into the role of affective factors.
Gardner (2010) classifies the history of his own research
program into three phases. He calls the first phase ancient
history. This phase dates from 1945 to 1972, and covers the
above early researchers as well as Gardner’s MA and PhD
work and later research included in Gardner and Lambert
(1972). The second phase, or early history, spans the 1970s
and the early 1980s. During this period, Gardner and P. C.
Smythe obtained funding to establish the Language Research
Group at the University of West Ontario and conducted stud-
ies across Canada. Gardner calls the last phase of his research
modern history, which describes work conducted in the
1980s. This is when Gardner and his graduate students con-
tinued research after the Language Research Group was dis-
banded. (As explained in more detail below, the 1990s
marked the beginning of the cognitive–situated period.)
During these three phases, Gardner and associates
engaged in a very productive research program, which led to
the development of the socioeducational model (for a review,
see Gardner, 2010). This model postulates four different
aspects of the learning process: social milieu (cultural and
educational backgrounds), individual differences (IDs; intel-
ligence, aptitude, motivation, and anxiety), acquisition con-
texts (formal vs. informal), and outcomes (linguistic vs.
nonlinguistic). Most empirical research focused on the inte-
grative motive, according to which language achievement is
influenced positively by motivation and aptitude, and nega-
tively by language anxiety. Motivation, in turn, is a function
of integrativeness, attitudes toward the learning situation,
and instrumentality. Gardner (2007) also identifies four
stages of L2 development: elemental, consolidation, con-
scious expression, and automaticity and thought. From this
perspective, “acquisition involves making the language part
of the self” (Gardner, 2010, p. 7).
Although Gardner’s framework was arguably the domi-
nant paradigm in the social-psychological period, there were
also other frameworks active at the time. These include
Clément’s (1980) social context model, Giles and Byrne’s
(1982) intergroup model, and Schumann’s (1978) accultura-
tion model. However, as Dörnyei and Ryan (2015) observe,
the common theme shared by all these approaches is their
macro-level analysis of the interrelationship between social
groups and contextual variables. Interest in more classroom-
oriented research had to wait until the second period.
The Cognitive–Situated Period
For decades, Gardner and associates have repeatedly insisted
that the socioeducational model is dynamic rather than static
(e.g., Gardner, 2010, p. 46; Gardner & Tremblay, 1994, p.
366; MacIntyre, 2002, p. 49) and that it “does not just link
variables together but describes a process” (Gardner, 2010,
p. 59). Nevertheless, Gardner has also acknowledged that
It is not intended to provide explanations to individual teachers
as to why or why not some of their students are more or less
successful than others, or to give teachers advice on how to
motivate their students, or to provide reasons to students to help
them understand their own success or lack thereof. It is a model
to account for general relationships in a parsimonious and
testable structure that is subject to verification and replication.
(Gardner, 2010, p. 26)
In addition to not being classroom-friendly, Gardner’s model
was criticized from other perspectives. For example, Dörnyei
(1994b, 2005) explains that mixing motivational intensity
(i.e., effort) with the abstract mental phenomenon of motiva-
tion will lead to conceptual ambiguity (see also MacIntyre,
2002, p. 49). In addition, with the spread of World English as
a decentralized global language, the idea of integrating with
native speakers from Anglophone countries started to became
less and less meaningful (e.g., Coetzee-Van Rooy, 2006;
McClelland, 2000). Some integrative and instrumental orien-
tations have also become hardly distinguishable (Lamb, 2004).
Starting from the 1990s, these accumulating issues led lan-
guage motivation research to shift into a new phase, which
was described as the cognitive–situated period (Dörnyei &
Ryan, 2015; Dörnyei & Ushioda, 2011). Because Gardner’s
integrativeness was conceived of as an affective factor,
Dörnyei (2010) tries to uncover its cognitive underpinnings
through reinterpreting it into the ideal L2 self. The attempt to
reinterpret integrativeness in cognitive light gave birth to the
L2 Motivational Self System (L2 MSS, Dörnyei, 2005,
2009a). The L2 MSS consists of the ideal L2 self, the ought-
to L2 self, and the L2 learning experience, thus preserving the
original tripartite conceptualization of the integrative motive.
The L2 MSS is based on two “parent” theories, self-discrep-
ancy theory (Higgins, 1987), and possible selves theory
(Markus & Nurius, 1986). On one hand, learners experience
uneasiness if their perceived level of proficiency is discrepant
from the level they aspire to achieve (i.e., actual–ideal dis-
crepancy) or from the level they think they are expected to
meet (i.e., actual–ought discrepancy). This psychological
uneasiness may serve as a motivator to reduce this discrep-
ancy by improving L2 proficiency. On the other hand, pos-
sessing an elaborate vision of a desired possible self may
intensify one’s motivation because the imagined self becomes
an experiential reality that the individual can see and hear.
The closest parallel to this ideal self-image is the L2 native
speaker. Learners, therefore, could draw from their past
knowledge of L2 speakers to envision for themselves a
desired future that would have a motivational effect in the
present. According to a survey of language motivation
research spanning about a decade, Boo et al. (2015) observe
that the L2 MSS is currently the dominant framework in the
field. In another survey spanning about two decades, Sugita
McEown, Noels, and Chaffee (2014) also observe that an
increasing number of researchers have used Self-
Determination Theory (Deci & Ryan, 1985) as their primary
theoretical framework or have drawn from some aspects of it.
In addition to these two theoretical frameworks, some
researchers have continued trying to realign language moti-
vation with educational psychology and to make use of
other non-L2-specific theories, such as social cognitive
theory (e.g., Mills, Pajares, & Herron, 2007) and attribution
theory (e.g., Williams, Burden, Poulet, & Maun, 2004).
This type of innovation necessitated also expanding the
methodological repertoire, which has led to an increasing
number of qualitative investigations as well as practical
applications of language motivation research into class-
rooms (Boo et al., 2015). In fact, because this research has
been so concerned with classroom processes and with mak-
ing motivation research more teacher-friendly—as opposed
to the focus on larger picture in the social-psychological
period—it might be appropriate to describe this phase as
the educational period.
The Current Period
According to Dörnyei and Ryan’s (2015) historical analysis,
the language motivation field is currently in its third phase.
Dörnyei and Ryan characterize this period by the shift to
sociodynamic perspectives. Indeed, perhaps the most salient
characteristic of this phase is the growing emphasis on the
dynamic nature of motivation and its temporal variation.
However, a number of other themes are also emerging, and
so “we need to take care not to portray researchers . . . as part
of a coordinated, focused movement, when it was more the
case of various diverse concerns emerging at a similar time”
(Dörnyei & Ryan, 2015, p. 80). This makes it hard to give
this period a single monolithic title. Such titles usually
emerge in retrospect, especially when the field is ready to
move to a new phase.
Looking at developments in the field from a broader per-
spective, some commentators (e.g., Boo et al., 2015; Sugita
McEown et al., 2014) have also pointed out some limita-
tions in previous research. For example, both of the previous
periods coincide in characterizing motivation as a conscious
process in which learning English—rather than other lan-
guages—is examined within a relatively short duration and
using rather “simplistic” research designs (Boo et al., 2015,
p. 156). The samples investigated also tend to be tertiary
students, while different theoretical frameworks have tested
participants from different age groups and from different
cultural backgrounds, thus making cross-theoretical com-
parisons problematic (Sugita McEown et al., 2014). In addi-
tion, most of this research has overlooked the increasing
technologization of everyday life and its impact on language
learning nowadays. These themes are discussed in more
The observation that, unlike L1 learners, L2 learners vary
substantially in how successful they are in their language
proficiency prompted research into IDs. Researchers identi-
fied several ID factors that could potentially account for this
variability, such as aptitude, motivation, learning styles,
learning strategies, and anxiety (e.g., Dörnyei, 2005; Skehan,
1989). This approach can be intuitively summarized as find-
ing out “why, how long, how hard, how well, how proac-
tively, and in what way the learner engaged in the learning
process” (Dörnyei & Ryan, 2015, p. 6, emphasis in original).
Despite the intuitive appeal of this approach, recent theoreti-
cal analysis suggests that it may no longer tenable. In fact,
because this approach rests on a number of problematic
assumptions, Dörnyei (2009b) describes it as the “individual
One of these problematic assumptions is that these IDs
are clearly identifiable (Dörnyei, 2009b). However, close
examination of some of the traditional IDs shows that the
borders between them are fuzzier than first assumed. For
example, motivation is traditionally viewed as an affec-
tive factor and has been contrasted with the cognitive
nature of aptitude, but, in reality, most influential motiva-
tional theories draw heavily from cognitive research and
have cognitive components. Another example is anxiety,
which is sometimes treated as a motivational component,
sometimes as a personality trait, and sometimes as an
emotion (MacIntyre, 2002). Similarly, aptitude involves
not only cognitive aspects but also affective and conative
dimensions (Robinson, 2007). The fuzzy distinction
between the different IDs calls into question their modular
Another problematic assumption is that IDs are relatively
stable (Dörnyei, 2009b). However, it is now increasingly rec-
ognized that, far from being stable, IDs are highly sensitive
to contextual and temporal variation. From context to con-
text and from time to time, the different IDs fluctuate, and
consequently, their effect on language learning correspond-
ingly fluctuates. A “motivated” learner may be less moti-
vated on the next day, or at the next task. Even fluid
intelligence and language aptitude are increasingly viewed
as malleable. Fluid intelligence, which used to be assumed
fixed and genetically predetermined, interacts with the envi-
ronment, and therefore it is “dynamic rather than static and
modifiable rather than fixed,” which makes it “trainable to a
significant and meaningful degree” (Sternberg, 2008, p.
6791). Neither is language aptitude independent of context,
and instead, it is sensitive to task and situation specificity
(Robinson, 2007). Therefore, the observed association
between a cause and its effect may be substantial at one occa-
sion but negligible at another (Ellis & Larsen-Freeman,
2006). “People do what their immediate situations tell them
to do rather than what their long-standing internal traits
might prompt them to do” (McAdams, 2006, p. 12).
4 SAGE Open
An alternative to the modular view of IDs is that learner
characteristics are dynamically changing both in response to
context and time, and as a result of their interaction with each
other. Dörnyei (2009b, p. 231) suggests that dynamic sys-
tems theory may be a viable approach that can do justice to
this complex conceptualization. The adoption of a complex-
ity theory perspective in language motivation may be seen as
officially inaugurated by the publication of a recent anthol-
ogy edited by Dörnyei, MacIntyre, and Henry (2015). The
contributors to this volume drew from a variety of data-ana-
lytic techniques to examine the dynamics of motivation such
as idiodynamics, latent growth modeling, and trajectory
equifinality analysis. Dörnyei and Ryan (2015, p. 102) antic-
ipate that this new perspective has the potential to keep lan-
guage motivation researchers busy for the next decade.
Affect and Emotions
Dörnyei’s attempt to reinterpret integrativeness in cognitive
terms was part of a more general trend in the language moti-
vation field. Starting in the early 1990s, researchers tried to
adopt cognitive constructs following the then-trendy
approach in educational psychological research (e.g.,
Dörnyei, 1994a). This general shift from affective-based
models to cognitive-based models seems to implicitly reflect
the view that affect is a “post-cognition” phenomenon, in
which affect is a mere result of cognition (e.g., Muncy,
1986): Once we understand the cognitive processes involved,
we can then deduce the affective outcomes. Although this
view was dominant after the cognitive revolution, some
recent research has cast doubt on it. For example, Pessoa
(2008) argues that, at the neural level, the view that cognition
and emotion are separate entities does not hold; in many
cases, the two contribute jointly to behavior (see also Okon-
Singer, Hendler, Pessoa, & Shackman, 2015). The situation
is no different when it comes to language learning. As
Schumann (1997) explains, “from a neural perspective, not
only are various affective processes interrelated, but affect
and cognition are also intimately intertwined” (p. 238).
An important class of this affective dimension is emo-
tions, due to their close connection to identity and adjust-
ment in language learning (e.g., Noels, Pon, & Clément,
1996). In fact, it might be argued that emotions are “true”
affects, while the affective-based models in the first period
may actually be cognitive to some extent. Despite this, emo-
tions have not received adequate attention in the second lan-
guage acquisition (SLA) field in general and in language
motivation in particular. Dörnyei and Ryan (2015) blame this
on the cognitivist roots of SLA, as well as the irregular, fluc-
tuating nature of emotions. This is why Dörnyei and Ryan
(2015) describe emotions as “the greatest omission” (p. 9)
among individual difference variables, leading the field to
suffering from an “emotional deficit” (p. 10). Emotions were
also described as “fundamentally important motivators”
(MacIntyre, Mackinnon, & Clément, 2009, p. 47) and as “the
fundamental basis of motivation” (MacIntyre, 2002, p. 45),
because motivation without emotion remains cold cognition
that lacks potency. Swain (2013) also considers emotions the
elephant in the room, maintaining that cognition and emotion
are at least interdependent and at most integrated and
Despite the fact that emotions have long been kept “in the
shadows” of language learning discussions in favor of other
variables (Garrett & Young, 2009, p. 209), actual classroom
experience indicates that ability and attitudes alone are not
sufficient to support motivation (MacIntyre, 2002).
Classrooms in general are a cause of emotional turmoil for
many people, and the language classroom in particular can
be an especially emotionally loaded experience (Dörnyei &
Murphy, 2010). As an illustration, MacIntyre (2002) gives
the example of embarrassment. It is hard to imagine a lan-
guage learner who has not been in an embarrassing situation
in the language classroom, and depending on the intensity of
embarrassment, the learner might resort to withdrawal or
reticence as a form of emotional defense (King, 2011). It
does not help that curriculum designers find it easier to focus
on rigid activities that involve little emotional investment,
which puts further burden on the teacher (Dewaele, 2015).
To deal with this situation, Kramsch (2009) recommends that
teachers try to detect aspects in the syllabus that can be sub-
ject to emotional arousal, such as love or hate, to encourage
more learner investment in the lesson.
Although early research into emotions in language learn-
ing was limited to the detrimental effects of negative emo-
tions, most notably anxiety (e.g., Horwitz, Horwitz, & Cope,
1986), the recent interest in different emotions has been
dubbed as the affective turn in SLA (Pavlenko, 2013). For
example, Gregersen and MacIntyre (2014) argue that neither
are negative emotions always bad nor should researchers
overlook positive emotions. This position has materialized
most clearly in the publication of three anthologies in the
same year (Gabryś-Barker & Gałajda, 2016; Gkonou, Tatzl,
& Mercer, 2016; MacIntyre, Gregersen, & Mercer, 2016),
marking the inception of the positive psychology movement
in SLA. The contributors to these anthologies discuss vari-
ous topics relating emotions to language learning, including
empathy, hope and hardiness, enjoyment, flow, eudemonic
happiness, and love. Considering the controversial status of
positive psychology (e.g., Coyne & Tennen, 2010), the next
few years would reveal the extent to which this movement is
accepted in mainstream L2 motivation.
Despite the abundance of perspectives on identity, one idea
has stood the test of time: William James’s (1890) distinction
between the I-self and the Me-self. Whereas the I-self consti-
tutes the willful and volitional aspects of motivation, the Me-
self reflects automatic and unconscious motivators. As
Roeser and Peck (2009) review, these two systems are
separate but functionally interdependent, and both systems
have to be accounted for in explanations of motivation. To
date, most research on language motivation has, at least
implicitly, assumed that the learner is a rational individual
who is able to recognize and articulate what motivates him or
her (Al-Hoorie, 2016a). Recently, however, there has been a
resurgence in the interest in unconscious motivation in main-
stream motivational psychology, as an increasing number of
psychologists are starting to realize the importance of uncon-
scious motivators (see Al-Hoorie, 2015). For example, in
their review of the emerging themes in mainstream motiva-
tional psychology, Ryan and Legate (2012) document their
surprise that the interface between conscious and uncon-
scious motivation was the most frequently cited area to hold
potential for future research. The language motivation field
has also reached a level of maturity that allows it to start
exploring issues related to unconscious motivation and to
catch up with other SLA subdisciplines where unconscious
processes have become a stable topic of investigation. To be
more specific, “our field is ready to expand into exploring
these areas because it seems evident that language globalisa-
tion has created a linguistic landscape that is characterised by
both powerful positive trends and strong negative undercur-
rents” (Boo et al., 2015, p. 156).
Adopting an unconscious angle of human motivation
does not have to be at odds with the current frameworks in
the field. For example, neither possible selves theory nor
self-discrepancy theory, the two parent theories of the L2
MSS, would disapprove of unconscious processes. In terms
of possible selves theory, Markus and Nurius (1986) discuss
the possibility of the unconscious activation of both positive
and negative possible selves. In describing the effects of
unconscious activation of possible selves, Oyserman (2013)
similarly asserts that “these effects are automatic and do not
require that people make a conscious choice as to how to
think about themselves” (p. 185; see also Oyserman, 2015, p.
44). In a special issue marking the centennial of the publica-
tion of James’s (1890) The Principles of Psychology, Markus
(1990) contributes with an article titled “On Splitting the
Universe,” in which she endorsed James’s distinction
between the I-self and the Me-self and stressed its relevance
Self-discrepancy theory also accommodates unconscious
self-discrepancy theory does not assume that people are aware
of either the availability or the accessibility of their self-
discrepancies. It is clear that the availability and accessibility of
stored social constructs can influence social information
processing automatically and without awareness. (Higgins,
1987, p. 324)
Neither do the behavioral consequences have to be conscious
(Higgins, 1989, p. 98). In fact, self-discrepancy theory does not
assume that a future self-guide is a stable individual difference
variable (Higgins, 1998), but that situational variability can
unconsciously induce the motivational effect independently
from the nature of the learner’s self-guides. In one study, for
example, Higgins, Roney, Crowe, and Hymes (1994) use an
ostensibly unrelated task to activate either the ideal or ought
selves of their participants. Although the participants were not
aware that their ideal or ought selves were activated, this acti-
vation was still successful in unconsciously shaping their per-
formance on a subsequent free recall task. Gardner’s integrative
motivation also allows some room for such unconscious con-
ceptualizations. In Gardner’s (2010) words, integrativeness
is not a conscious decision on the part of the individual and . . .
individuals may not be aware of it . . . The rationale underlying
integrative motivation is that emotional factors can influence
behavior, sometimes in ways that are not even perceived by the
individual concerned. (pp. 223–224)
Although current theoretical frameworks are not, in prin-
ciple, at odds with investigations into unconscious phenom-
ena, researchers in reality have relied predominantly on
self-report questionnaires and interviews (Ushioda, 2013).
Expanding language motivation research to include implicit
processes may enrich the field and open up numerous poten-
tial pathways. As an illustration, motivational psychologists
have examined the implicit dimension of many well-known
constructs. Examples include implicit attitudes (Petty, Fazio,
& Briñol, 2009), implicit prejudice and stereotypes (Levinson
& Smith, 2012), implicit motives (Schultheiss & Brunstein,
2010), implicit self-concept (Briñol, Petty, & Wheeler,
2006), implicit self-determination (Keatley, Clarke,
Ferguson, & Hagger, 2014), and implicit self-regulation
(Koole, McCullough, Kuhl, & Roelofsma, 2010). It clear
that language motivation researchers would benefit from
exploring “the other side” of their constructs as well (e.g.,
Al-Hoorie, 2016a, 2016b).
Language motivation does not emerge in a vacuum, but
develops through interaction with various events over one’s
life history. The life history of each learner plays a major role
in whether she or he decides to take up learning the language
and whether she or he sees a reason to persist in it. This
requires researchers to look at the bigger picture of the ecol-
ogy of motivation. As an illustration, educational psycholo-
gist Avi Kaplan describes how a similar notion emerged in
Exploring various methodologies, [Kaplan] conducted a
narrative interview study with 10 undergraduate students,
aiming to understand the processes that led them to adopt
different achievement goal orientations toward their studies in
college. To his surprise, when asked about their experiences,
choices, and engagement in college, the students spoke relatively
6 SAGE Open
little about the characteristics of the learning environment, their
self-efficacy, or their attributions for success and failure. Instead,
they elaborated on growing up in their hometown, their high
school experiences, their dilemmas concerning careers and
relationships, their family, ethnicity, friends, and the peer groups
they belonged to or wanted to belong to. These students
mentioned schoolwork specifically when the material seemed to
be relevant to who they thought they were and who they
considered or wanted to be. [Kaplan] had the insight that, to a
large extent, these students’ achievement goals in college were
based in their identity and identity formation processes. (Kaplan
& Flum, 2009, p. 73)
Although long-term investigations require longitudinal
designs, longitudinal studies are a minority in the language
motivation literature (Sugita McEown et al., 2014). This sta-
tus quo creates gaps in our knowledge. For example, despite
their popularity in the literature lately, L2 self-guides have
been typically examined cross-sectionally, and so little is
known about how they initially develop or their evolutionary
trajectories over time. For example, Dörnyei (2009a) sug-
gests that L2 self-guides might not be appropriate for presec-
ondary learners (see also Lamb, 2012), but there is “virtual
absence” (Boo et al., 2015, p. 156) of systematic research
into the motivation of younger learners.
An interesting exception to the lack of research on long-
term motivation is the recent development of the notion of
Directed Motivational Currents (DMCs, Dörnyei, Henry, &
Muir, 2016). DMCs may be described as flow-like experi-
ences (cf. Csikszentmihalyi, 1975) that extend over diverse
tasks unified by an overall goal. In other words, DMCs are
unique motivational surges that span over longer timescales
and that are not necessarily enjoyable in themselves—as
pleasure is derived from the end goal that is external to the
activity. DMCs therefore occur when there is a clear vision
of that goal as well as an identifiable factor triggering the
launch of motivation. After their launch, DMCs are then
maintained by ongoing behavioral routines and progress
checks. Eventually, DMCs decline and motivation goes back
to its normal levels. In explaining the rationale behind the
term Directed Motivational Currents, Dörnyei et al. (2016)
explain that “Both motivational and ocean currents represent
a formidable flow of energy, carrying the life-forms caught
up within them unimaginable distances” (p. xi).
In a first empirical study of the concept of DMCs, Henry,
Davydenko, and Dörnyei (2015) conduct interviews with lan-
guage learners who had experienced DMCs. The results
showed that DMCs are characterized by a salient facilitative
structure, involvement of identity investment goals, and posi-
tive emotionality. Further investigation into this positive
emotionality has revealed that participants attribute it to the
feeling that their entire identity was being transformed in the
process (Ibrahim, 2016a). Other empirical research showed
that DMCs can also be experienced by a group of individual
working on a project (Ibrahim, 2016b) and may be intention-
ally induced by teachers (Muir, 2016). These results also
suggest that the dynamics of such motivational surges may be
different from regular, and even high, motivation. To date,
most research in this area has been qualitative, and so only
future research would tell how generalizable these findings
Languages Other Than English (LOTEs)
The SLA field is concerned with “the processes by which
school-aged children, adolescents, and adults learn and use,
at any point in life, an additional language, including second,
foreign, indigenous, minority, or heritage languages” (The
Douglas Fir Group, 2016, p. 19) as well as sign languages
(Woll & Adam, 2012). This is one factor why there has been
a growing interest in multilingualism in other SLA disci-
plines, which has amounted to a multilingual turn (e.g.,
Conteh & Meier, 2014; May, 2014). In fact, in recent discus-
sions, there have been calls to go beyond multilingualism.
For example, some authors have drawn from Mikhail
Bakhtin’s notion of heteroglossia to refer to the simultaneous
use of multiple language forms and signs and the ensuing
conflicts among them (e.g., Bailey, 2012), whereas critical
applied linguists Makoni and Pennycook (2012) question the
traditional view of languages as discrete entities rather than
fluid and dynamic acts of identity. Makoni and Pennycook
use the term lingua franca multilingualism to describe this
The L2 motivation field has not actively engaged with
these debates. Just as its name suggests, L2 motivation
research has mostly looked at learning an L2, typically
English. For example, Boo et al.’s (2015) survey shows that
research into the motivation to learn English was by far more
predominant than research into all other languages com-
bined. Similarly, in the context of heritage language learning,
Comanaru and Noels (2009) point out that little work has
been done to examine the motivational and affective profiles
of these learners. In the context of indigenous languages,
Ball (2009) also reports that she conducted a literature search
on the difficulties experienced by indigenous language learn-
ers, but she could not find a single study that satisfied her
search criteria. To quote Leeman and King (2015), research
on minority languages “remains marginalized, underfunded,
and often an after-thought” (p. 211).
Recently, some researchers argued that the dynamics of
the motivation to learn (Global) English might be very dif-
ferent from those of learning LOTEs (Dörnyei & Al-Hoorie,
in press). Because of the status of English, the motivation to
learning it might interfere with the motivation to learn other
languages. As an illustration, Dörnyei, Csizér, and Németh
(2006) conduct a large-scale longitudinal investigation of
language learning motivation—involving more than 13,000
learners over a period of 12 years focusing on five target lan-
guages (English, German, French, Italian, and Russian) in
Hungary. The results revealed a fundamental restructuring of
the different L2 learning dispositions. English maintained its
high profile, but the other languages dropped steadily. Even
the former lingua franca of the region, German, gradually
became limited to only a selected few. Furthermore, Global
English itself also displayed a marked shift over the decade:
Although its popularity remained as strong as ever, the cor-
relational link between motivation and the choice of English
for language learning decreased, suggesting that the study of
English is increasingly becoming a self-evident part of edu-
cation rather than an L2-specific motivated decision.
Subsequent analysis also suggests that language learners
develop distinct ideal L2 self-guides (see Dörnyei & Chan,
2013). It is therefore likely that the self-guides of the influen-
tial language would develop more strongly at the expense of
self-guides related to other languages. Indeed, in a cluster
analysis study, Csizér and Dörnyei (2005) identify different
learner profiles and demonstrated that a positive disposition
toward one language can clash with that of another. Similarly,
research by Henry (2010, 2011) also suggests that learners of
different languages possess separate self-concepts and that
the motivation to learn English can deplete the working self-
concept, thus disadvantaging LOTEs.
All of this leads to the conclusion that the motivational
basis of learning English may be quite distinct from that of
learning LOTEs. Because most available research is English-
biased, the available theories most likely reflect learning
English rather than LOTEs. Paying more attention to LOTEs
has the potential to deepen our understanding of the complexi-
ties involved in language learning motivation. One interesting
outcome of researching LOTEs is that the role in integrative
motivation seems to resurface. Integrative motivation might
be a relevant concept in the context of LOTEs as there is usu-
ally a specific community out there that speaks the language
and that is considered the “owner” of that language. In addi-
tion, many individuals who decide to take up learning a certain
LOTE do so because they are already in the geographical area
where the language is spoken or because they plan to move
there. A person trying to learn Danish, for example, would
most likely be thinking about a localized community rather
than imagining themselves as a global citizen. The motivation
to learn LOTEs is the subject of an upcoming special issue
(Ushioda & Dörnyei, in press), which is likely going to stimu-
late further theoretical and empirical research in the future.
Technology and Motivation
In 2003, Carol Chapelle declared that
the bond between technology and language use in the modern
world should prompt all language professionals to reflect on the
ways in which technology is changing the profession of English
language teaching in particular, and applied linguistics as a
whole. (Chapelle, 2003, p. 1, emphasis in original)
Subsequently, computer assisted language learning (CALL)
became mainstream in applied linguistics with various
applications, especially in language testing (e.g., Chapelle &
Douglas, 2006). Language motivation researchers also rec-
ognized the potential technology has. In an early study,
Warschauer (1996) finds that students—regardless of gen-
der, experience with computers, or learning context (second
vs. foreign)—have positive attitudes toward using computers
for writing and communication, and so the author recom-
mended that teachers exploit this to enhance student motiva-
tion. Appel and Mullen (2002) also examine the effect of
engaging in email exchanges on language learning. The
authors devoted a section of their article to discuss the moti-
vational implications of this strategy. Admittedly, however,
although research into CALL has flourished over the years,
there has been little overlap between the CALL and language
motivation literatures, and these two disciplines have pro-
gressed largely independently.
To further complicate the scene, there has been an explo-
sive growth in the use of technology in everyday life recently.
In fact, due to the ease of access to online technology and its
interactive nature, the popularity of TV and DVDs is starting
to wane among young people (Henry, 2013). Nowadays,
young people have access to a variety of social networking
websites that facilitate exposure to the L2 such as Facebook,
Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, as well as interactive 3D
gaming such as Counter-Strike, Call of Duty, World of
Witchcraft, The Sims, Second Life, and Unity (e.g.,
Collentine, 2011; Deutschmann, Panichi, & Molka-
Danielsen, 2009; Gee & Hayes, 2010b; Peterson, 2010).
Internet users can also easily read and contribute to discus-
sion forums, blogs, wikis, and other online communities, all
available in English (Kessler, 2009; Pinkman, 2005). Last,
but certainly not least, there is the pervasive prevalence of
smart phones, tablet computers, and wireless laptops
(Stockwell, 2013). These gadgets also come with a bewilder-
ing amount of educational apps (Hirsh-Pasek et al., 2015). In
Apple Store alone, there are currently more than 75,000 edu-
cational apps ready to download (Apple, 2017). This comes
amid skepticism about the utility of these apps, and even
concerns that they might, ironically, lead to screen addiction,
increased aggression, depression, and anxiety (Kardaras,
2016). The inevitable conclusion from the changing face of
today’s language learning (cf. J. C. Richards, 2015) is that “a
new type of student” is emerging (Henry, 2013, p. 138).
It is clear that language motivation research is still lag-
ging behind these developments. At the same time, this rap-
idly evolving popular culture now constitutes a competition
for classroom learning (Gee & Hayes, 2010a). As an illustra-
tion, Henry (2013) reports an authenticity gap that an increas-
ing number of language learners are experiencing. That is,
many learners are exposed to the L2 both inside and outside
the classroom, but their experiences outside the classroom
are much more stimulating. Contemporary digital gaming,
for example, requires intense interaction, communication,
and cooperation with real people (usually in English) to pro-
ceed in the game. These interactions may include devising
8 SAGE Open
sophisticated strategies and plans to carry out military opera-
tions to defeat opponents or monsters, which stimulates a lot
of creativity and imagination and which can easily induce
long flow experiences. These interactions also take place
with players from all over the world, including native speak-
ers of English, thus increasingly blurring the line between
second and foreign language contexts. Native speakers are
now virtually present, and so they no longer need to be pres-
ent physically in the neighborhood for learners to have regu-
lar and meaningful interactions with them. These experiences
dwarf the routine activities that learners do in the classroom,
which now appear banal and trivial in comparison. A number
of researchers have therefore called for building bridges
between the classroom and these digital leisure activities to
make classroom learning more motivating to today’s learners
(cf. Henry, 2013).
Today’s technology has expanded what used to be imag-
inable for learners and teachers, opening the gate for imag-
ined identities that are characteristic of the new world
order (Darvin & Norton, 2015). Drawing from earlier work
(K. Richards, 2006; Zimmerman, 1998), Ushioda (2011)
argues that technology can be used to harness the learners’
transportable identities. The notion of transportable iden-
tities refers to latent dimensions of one’s identity that can
be invoked in interaction, such as the teacher being a cat
lover or the student being a fan of Manchester United.
Ushioda explains that drawing from the identities learners
develop through technology would encourage them to
engage more genuinely in target-language communica-
tions in the classroom. Teachers are no longer limited to
the handout they bring to the classroom everyday, but can
now draw from topics they find interesting in discussion
forums, live chats, blogs, wikis, podcasts, social network-
ing sites, and video-sharing sites. This makes lesson plan-
ning take a new meaning. As this approach treats them as
“people” rather than as abstract “language learners,” stu-
dents would develop a greater sense of autonomy and own-
ership of the activity, thus leading to more investment
(Ushioda, 2011). This is certainly a promising area for
This article has reviewed the three major phases that the lan-
guage motivation field has passed through. The most recent
phase is characterized by a number of diverse themes. In
fact, Dörnyei and Ryan (2015) warn that the expanding scope
of language motivation research may lead to fragmentation
in which researchers in our field “will no longer speak the
same language” (p. 102). This seems to be the natural evolu-
tion of academic fields as they mature (for an example in
psychology, see Sternberg, 2005). The real danger is when
different research strands use different jargons to describe
very similar phenomena but with little overlap in their refer-
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect
to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, author-
ship, and/or publication of this article.
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Ali H. Al-Hoorie is an assistant professor at the English Language
Institute, Jubail Industrial College, Saudi Arabia. He completed his
PhD degree at the University of Nottingham under the supervision
of Professors Zoltán Dörnyei and Norbert Schmitt. He also holds an
MA in Social Science Data Analysis from Essex University. His
research interests include motivation theory, research methodology,