Received: 27 June 2018
Accepted: 9 November 2018
Motivation to learn languages other than English:
A critical research synthesis
What is known about motivation to learn languages other than English (LOTEs)? Most of the
published research comes from three world regions (Europe, English-dominant countries, and
East Asia). To what extent are there similarities and differences among the regions concerning
the hierarchy between English and LOTEs and the hierarchy between LOTEs themselves?
What implications can be drawn for both future research and pedagogical innovations?
University of Hawai‘iatMānoa
Anna Mendoza (MA, University of
British Columbia) is a PhD candidate,
University of Hawai‘iatMānoa,
Huy Phung (MA, University of Hawai‘i
at Mānoa) is a PhD student, University of
The primary purpose of this investigation was to put
forward critical research synthesis as a qualitative alterna-
tive to meta-analysis in second language acquisition using
as a case example studies published from 2005 to 2018
applying the L2 Motivational Self System (L2MSS) to
learners of languages other than English (LOTEs). Since
L2MSS research is methodologically diverse and meta-
analysis necessarily excludes literature that cannot be
subjected to its parameters, a qualitative synthetic approach
with the systematicity and transparency of meta-analysis is
warranted. This study synthesizes 30 L2MSS studies on
LOTEs in three world regions—Europe, Inner Circle
English-speaking countries, and Asia—and examines
substantive and methodological features of the literature,
including (1) the diversity of languages and educational
contexts, (2) common issues of interest and findings in each
world region, and (3) the strengths and limitations of
quantitative and qualitative L2MSS studies. Suggestions for
improving the diversity and quality of research on
motivation to learn LOTEs are offered.
© 2019 by American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages
Foreign Language Annals. 2018;1–20. wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/flan
foreign/second language learning/acquisition, motivation, qualitative
This article proposes critical research synthesis (CRS) as a qualitative alternative to meta-analysis
for synthesizing research in language learning and teaching. While meta-analysis is well suited for
the synthesis of experimental studies, research on most topics is methodologically diverse, and
meta-analysis necessarily excludes literature that cannot be subjected to its parameters. The method
of CRS goes beyond the literature review in its transparency and replicability, applying research-
synthetic procedures for conducting database searches, defining inclusion/exclusion criteria, and
coding study findings. Its primary aim is to understand the overall implications of a body of research
and the scope of these given the language learner populations and learning contexts that are most
As an illustration of this method, this study synthesized 30 studies on motivation to learn languages
other than English (LOTEs) in three world regions—Europe, Inner Circle English-speaking countries
(Kachru, 1990), and Asia—using Dörnyei's L2 Motivational Self System (L2MSS; Dörnyei, 2005,
2009) as a theoretical framework. To date, few meta-analyses have appeared on language learner
motivation (compare Al-Hoorie, 2018; Masgoret & Gardner, 2003) even though meta-analysis came of
age in second language acquisition (SLA) two decades ago (see Norris & Ortega, 2000, 2006). One
reason may be the methodological diversity of the primary studies, which Boo, Dörnyei, and Ryan
(2015) broke down as follows: inferential statistics (40%), structural equation modeling (5%),
qualitative approaches (21%), mixed methods (23%), and “innovative”(12%; p. 153). Moreover, most
L2MSS research has focused on English rather than LOTEs (Dörnyei & Al-Hoorie, 2017; Ushioda &
Dörnyei, 2017). Dörnyei and colleagues have thus called for more attention to the latter, a call that this
synthesis aimed to address.
CRS combines systematic, transparent procedures for conducting meta-analyses (Glass,
McGaw, & Smith, 1981; Oswald & Plonsky, 2010) with critical approaches to applied
linguistics scholarship (Canagarajah, 2002; Crookes, 2013; Pennycook, 2001). It has three main
1. To survey study demographics and identify underresearched contexts and populations.
2. To synthesize substantive findings by comparing and contrasting findings in different research
contexts, so as to (1) see what findings are robust within those contexts that have generated enough
research (in our sample, K–12 classrooms in Europe and university foreign language [FL] classes in
MENDOZA AND PHUNG
the United States), and (2) see what questions are still underresearched among the commonly
researched populations and contexts.
3. To critique methods, encouraging researcher reflexivity by highlighting study quality and
epistemological assumptions within groups of studies; in this case, quantitative research and
qualitative research, the latter divided into survey responses and case studies.
Identifying underresearched contexts and populations is only the first step; CRS also addresses
substantive findings of interest to critical applied linguists. These are sometimes bound up with what is
at other times, the findings of CRS highlight social inequities or neocolonial
relations (for example, findings by region). In addition, critical findings are related to the research, or
methodological, process: for example, whether published studies answer ambitious research questions
that are backed by sound research instruments.
It is also worth noting that unlike traditional meta-analysis, CRS does not aim to identify
generalizable findings but takes as its starting point what researchers and practitioners within each
context, be it all the studies on a certain demographic of learners or coming from a certain geographic
area, seem particularly fixated on. As the answer is often underpinned by macro-level social forces,
CRS goes on to synthesize findings in light of what those forces might be and points to alternative
directions for research—not limited to underresearched populations and geographical areas but
including underresearched questions and issues within the most commonly researched contexts.
Since CRS is a qualitative synthesis method, the number of studies that can be given adequate
attention may be a few dozen at most. Topics that can be usefully approached using this method may
involve a specific theoretical model (e.g., the L2MSS). As for research questions, synthesists may
compare and contrast how findings differ across contexts; in this case, data come from three world
regions (two of which appear to have produced enough studies) and two main educational settings
(secondary and tertiary). A similar approach to research synthesis in education, which synthesizes
findings based on practical results, is Dixon et al.'s (2012) synthesis of second language acquisition
(SLA) in K–12 settings, which resulted in four main findings: the need for extensive immersion in the
language within and beyond the classroom, the positive correlation between first language (L1) and
second language (L2) development, the need for instructors who are proficient in both languages as
well as teaching techniques, and the fact that L2 development takes years and cannot be rushed. Suri
and Clarke (2009) argued that a quality research synthesis in education draws from pertinent theories,
has a clear purpose, evaluates relevant evidence in terms of connected understandings, and effectively
communicates findings (p. 414). We aimed to have these qualities in the present synthesis.
Explanations of why it is useful to examine L2 motivation using the framework of the L2MSS, and
why this theoretical framework was chosen, are called for. Because motivation is one of the key
factors behind successful language acquisition, it constitutes an important topic in applied
linguistics. Within this body of research, the L2MSS framework stands out not only because it is the
most commonly used for studying language learner motivation at this time (Boo et al., 2015) but
also because it is particularly relevant to language learning for increased cultural capital—as is the
case with learners in most published studies on LOTEs, who come from two main contexts: (1)
university students in the United States and East Asia learning the neocolonial languages of Western
Europe as well as Mandarin Chinese and to a lesser extent Arabic, Japanese, and Korean, and (2)
K–12 students in the European Union learning the “prestigious”languages of Europe, such as
German, French, Spanish, Italian, and Russian.
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Originally, the L2MSS (Dörnyei, 2005, 2009) emerged as a challenge to Gardner's (1985) theory of
integrative motivation to acquire an additional language. While integrative motivation could be
seen with English as a second language learners in Canada who sought to integrate into communities
of English speakers, Dörnyei argued that the construct was not supported by studies in English as
a foreign language contexts where English was learned for self-improvement but less used as a
medium of communication in daily life. Indeed, constructs such as international posture (Yashima,
2009) appeared to provide a more accurate picture of language learner motivation in these
contexts. Therefore, Dörnyei drew on the concept of possible selves (Markus & Nurius, 1986) and
self-discrepancy theory (Higgins, 1989)
to propose the L2MSS's three components: the Ideal L2 Self,
the Ought-to L2 Self, and the L2 Learning Experience.
The Ideal L2 Self is an L2-specific aspect of the ideal self a person aspires to become. That person
visualizes his or her future self as proficient in the target language. The gap between this person's
current, actual self and the ideal future self motivates him or her to take action to close this gap.
The Ought-to L2 Self refers to the self that a person believes he or she should become to fulfill
external expectations, such as pressures from peers, family, and society. The Ought-to L2 Self
encourages a person to take action to avoid negative outcomes. This component of the L2MSS is
similar to the Ought-to Self in self-discrepancy theory. It also parallels the extrinsic elements in
Ushioda's (2001) motive categories and Masgoret and Gardner's (2003) instrumental motivation.
The L2 Learning Experience is described as the situation-specific motives to learn the L2. This
aspect of the L2MSS is the most changeable across contexts. It is related to dynamic systems theory
(Cameron & Larsen-Freeman, 2007), which takes into account how motivation is impacted by time,
material resources, opportunities to learn, developing relationships with speakers of the target
language, and access to target communities.
Of these constructs, the Ideal L2 Self has been reported to consistently correlate with effort to learn
a language (Al-Hoorie, 2018), while the correlation between the Ought-to L2 Self and effort has been
less clear (Csizér & Dornyei, 2005; Kormos, Kiddle, & Csizér, 2011). The L2 Learning Experience has
been least examined and has been differently operationalized in different studies.
In this synthesis, the L2 Learning Experience is brought to the fore by investigating, in each of the
three world regions, the main target languages and educational contexts under study and what has been
found with respect to the L2MSS in those particular contexts. While each article had its own research
questions, the CRS followed the three aims mentioned herein (demographic, substantive, and
methodological), the second including a synthesis of findings within each world region, based on
commonly investigated research questions in that region.
Searching the L2MSS literature on LOTEs
The search was conducted on four databases: Education Resources Information Center,
Linguistics and Language Behavior Abstracts, PsycInfo, and Web of Science. Terms
included L2 Self System, Motivational Self System, Ideal L2 Self, Ought-to L2 Self, L2 Ideal
Self, L2 Ought-to Self, and L2 Learning Experience.
The search yielded 119 nonduplicate studies
using the L2MSS framework. Thirty-two (26.9%) pertained to LOTEs, on their own or in addition
to English, which is congruent with Boo et al.'s (2015) finding that about a fourth of L2
motivation research deals with LOTEs.
Of the 32 studies, one mentioned the L2MSS in the abstract but did not treat it in depth in the body
of the article. Another was a book unavailable by interlibrary loan. These were left out since the goal of
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CRS was to obtain a representative, although not necessarily exhaustive, sampling of the literature.
Following the database search, we applied the following inclusion/exclusion criteria to the studies.
Studies were included based on the following criteria.
Treatment of least one of the following within the research questions:
Ideal L2 Self, Ought-to L2 Self, and L2 Learning Experience
In the sample, two other constructs were proposed for LOTEs: the Anti-Ought-to L2 Self (Thompson,
2017a; Thompson & Vá
squez, 2015), or motivation that is driven by others’discouragement or
challenges in the environment, and the Rooted L2 Self (MacIntyre, Baker, & Sparling, 2017), which
combines Gardner's (1985, 2010) integrative motivation with the L2MSS to explain the motivation of
heritage language learners who seek both integration into a target community and self-improvement.
Investigation of at least one LOTE
Sometimes languages were compared to English; other times, they were investigated on their own or
grouped together, as in Thompson (2017b), which put LOTEs into three categories: Spanish (the most
commonly studied language in the United States), other European languages, and less commonly taught
languages (LCTLs). While some LOTEs are learned as cultural capital, others are learned due to one's
heritage, although sometimes the distinction is not so clear-cut (e.g., Thompson, 2017b; Xie, 2014).
Appearance in a peer-reviewed journal
The 30 studies (see Table 1) were published in System (9), Modern Language Journal (6), Foreign
Language Annals (4), Language Learning (3), and Australian Review of Applied Linguistics (2), and
one each from International Journal of Multilingualism; Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural
Development; Language Learning Journal; Language, Identity & Education; Studies in Second
Language Learning and Teaching; and Psychology of Language and Communication.
Studies were excluded based on the following criteria.
Language of publication
Somewhat ironically, all the articles in the synthesis are in English.
The invisibility of non-English
publications is reflective of global inequalities in knowledge production. However, the sample contains
much work from non-English-dominant countries, despite most of it being from Europe, where the
L2MSS was born, and East Asia.
Studies not retrieved through the search of the four academic
Since the number of studies that can be given adequate attention in a qualitative synthesis is limited, the
synthesis focused on the work that appeared in peer-reviewed journals and could be retrieved through
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TABLE 1 Timeline of 30 studies on L2MSS research on LOTEs (2005–2018)
Author + Year Country Target Language(s) Context
*Csizér & Dörnyei (2005) Hungary English, German, French, Italian, Russian Secondary
*Henry & Apelgren
Sweden English, Spanish, German, French,
American Sign Language
*Henry (2009) Sweden English, Spanish, German, French,
*Csizér & Luká
cs (2010) Hungary English, German Secondary
*Henry (2010) Sweden French, German, Spanish Secondary
Anya (2011) United States Portuguese, French, Spanish,
Latin, Arabic, Japanese
Campbell & Storch
Australia Mandarin University
*Cai & Zhu (2012) United States Mandarin University
*Busse (2013) England German University
*Dörnyei & Chan (2013) Hong Kong English, Mandarin Secondary
*Henry & Cliffordson
Sweden French, German, Spanish Secondary
*Oakes (2013) England French, Spanish University
*Okuniewski (2014) Poland German University
*Xie (2014) United States Mandarin University
*Gu & Cheung (2016) Hong Kong Cantonese Secondary
*Hamilton & Serrano
Spain Catalan Adult
*Huang, Hsu, & Chen
Taiwan English, French, German, Japanese,
Thompson & Vá
United States Italian, Mandarin, German Adult
Busse (2017) Germany, Netherlands,
Survey on English + open-ended question
on any other language(s)
Henry (2017) Sweden French Secondary
*Huensch & Thompson
United States Various; 2/3 of sample learning
Spanish or French
Kolstrup (2017) Denmark Danish Adult
*Kong et al. (2018) Korea English, Mandarin, Spanish, Arabic University
*MacIntyre & Vincze
Italy German Secondary
MacIntyre, Baker, &
Canada Gaelic Adult
Palmieri (2017) Australia Italian Adult
Sawaki, & Harada
Japan Various; 4/5 of sample learning French,
Chinese, Spanish, or German
Thompson (2017a) United States Chinese, Arabic Adult
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database searches. A manual search of journals or book chapters was not conducted since the initial
stages of doing so yielded numerous works by well-known researchers using the same data sets that
were already included.
The final sample thus consisted of these 30 studies on motivation to learn LOTEs, using the L2MSS
(Dörnyei, 2005, 2009) as a theoretical framework, and published from 2005 (starting with Csizér and
Dörnyei's pioneering study  of more than 8,000 secondary-age students in Hungary) to 2018.
Twelve of the studies were from Europe, thirteen from Inner Circle English-speaking countries
(Kachru, 1990), and five from Asia.
The timeline in Table 1 shows the studies in chronological order
Each study was read in its entirety to fully understand its epistemological and methodological
orientations. In this way, studies were not treated simply as data sets; rather authors were allowed
to lead readers through their research narratives. The following codes were then applied to the
1. Geographic region: European studies were grouped together because they referred to language
policy in the European Union (EU) and the Common European Framework of Reference. Inner
Circle English-speaking countries were placed in another category because most learners in these
contexts have English as their L1, though many are bi/multilingual. Asian studies were grouped
together since there were only five, despite the diversity within and between countries in Asia.
2. Educational contexts—elementary, secondary, university, or adult: By the last context, we mean
adults learning through community programs or naturalistic immersion rather than college/
university classes. The educational context code revealed which educational settings were most
often researched in each of the three world regions and which were underinvestigated on the whole.
3. Target language(s): This code showed which LOTEs were most often investigated by researchers in
each of the three world regions.
4. Methods: The methods used in each study were examined, including, e.g., the survey instruments in
quantitative research and interviews or open-ended survey questions in qualitative research.
5. Research questions and findings: Researchers’questions were summarized as one or two
research aims; e.g., for Nagle (2018), although there were four research questions, these were
summarized as “What is the relationship between motivation and pronunciation improvement
for intermediate L2 learners of Spanish at a U.S. university?”Findings were extracted for each
TABLE 1 (Continued)
Author + Year Country Target Language(s) Context
*Thompson (2017b) United States Various; 2/3 of sample learning
Spanish or French
*Nagle (2018) United States Spanish University
Twenty-one quantitative studies (*) were identified, including three mixed-methods studies (Busse, 2013; Cai & Zhu, 2012; Oakes,
2013). Nine studies were qualitative, including Busse (2017), which reported what percentage of 2,255 respondents gave certain
responses to closed-ended questions, then their answers to the open-ended question that followed were analyzed: “Would your answers
have been different if the language were not English? If yes, explain how.”We discuss general methodological trends in the findings.
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After the coding was complete, we analyzed the data in the following ways. For demographics,
we sorted the studies first by target language, then by methodology, then by educational context.
We found that the same target languages were prevalent across all three geographic regions but
that certain regions had preferred educational contexts and methodologies (see the Results
For substantive findings, we looked at each study's research aims and identified common research
questions and matters of concern within each world region. We then synthesized the findings for these
particular issues, including the competition between English and LOTEs, ways to motivate students to
learn LOTEs in formal educational settings, applicability of different L2 motivation theories to
different types of learners, and whether there are cross-cultural differences in L2 motivation to learn
For methodological issues, we separated studies into quantitative (including mixed methods) and
qualitative categories and analyzed methodological approaches, strengths, and weaknesses within each
category. We elaborate on our findings here, beginning with substantive issues, then methodologies,
and finally demographics and directions for future research.
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
Substantive findings by region
L2MSS research in Europe
The L2MSS literature in Europe dealt with females’and males’learning profiles (Henry, 2009, 2010;
Henry & Apelgren, 2008; Henry & Cliffordson, 2013), the order of introduction of the L2s (i.e., at what
grade levels each FL is introduced) (Csizér & Luká
cs, 2010), and the effect of language policies such as
extra points awarded to the high school GPA for studying FLs (Henry, 2017). This reflects the leaning
of European research toward the context of compulsory education (see Table 2). A key question in the
European studies concerned the impact of English on motivation to learn other (EU) languages (Busse,
2017; Csizér & Dörnyei, 2005; Csizér & Luká
cs, 2010; Henry, 2010; Henry & Cliffordson, 2013) and
the competition between English and these languages. European studies were largely quantitative,
surveying large populations of students that sometimes amounted to thousands (e.g., Busse, 2017;
Csizér & Dörnyei, 2005) within a country or several countries, or hundreds within a city or town (e.g.,
Csizér & Luká
cs, 2010; Henry, 2010).
These studies’findings raise several issues. The first is access to English: Csizér and Luká
noted that students from better-resourced schools in Budapest could study their first-choice L2 (usually
English) as early as elementary school, while students from less well–resourced schools were required
to wait until secondary school, resulting in a difference of 2 or 3 versus 8 years of instruction in English.
This difference in program design negatively impacted the language learning motivation of students
who were not able to start learning English until later. Another finding of interest to critical applied
linguists is gendered expectations. Henry and colleagues (Henry, 2010; Henry & Apelgren, 2008;
Henry & Cliffordson, 2013) demonstrated that girls were more likely to appreciate FLs for their
intrinsic value and to link language learning to developing empathy and good communication skills. In
contrast, boys were more likely to have weaker Ideal L2 Selves and were less motivated to pursue
learning other FLs apart from English. This held true even for boys who were performing well in
English classes and demonstrated an aptitude for language learning. A third critical issue is
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disillusionment with language learning in a formal classroom setting. Tracking children from grade
four (before they started learning an FL other than English) through grades five and six (when the FL
was newly introduced) up through grade nine, Henry (2009; Henry & Apelgren, 2008) found that
students’ratings of the L2 Learning Experience decreased over time, even though their Ideal L2 Selves
remained constant or grew stronger, indicating hope for their future using the languages despite
Future research in the European context could triangulate these mostly quantitative studies with
ethnographies of schools, homes, and classrooms to determine how the Ideal L2 Selves of children
regardless of gender can be fostered through rich, engaging learning experiences within and beyond
formal education. In addition, the issue of how adequate access to English at an early age impacts future
TABLE 2 Research aims in Europe
Study Research Aims
Csizér & Dörnyei
Can SLA motivation be described in terms of learner profiles? Does learner profile vary
from language to language, especially with regard to “global English”?
Csizér & Luká
Does the order of acquisition affect students’motivation: English as L2 and German as a
third language (L3), or vice versa? (In Hungary, L2 is begun in elementary and L3 in
secondary school: eight vs. two to three years of instruction.)
Henry & Apelgren
How do motivational profiles differ across girls and boys? How do motivational profiles
change across grades four, five, and six: before, during, and after another language
apart from English is introduced to students’education?
Henry (2009) How did the learners who were in sixth grade in Henry and Apelgren (2008) change in
terms of motivational profiles over three years by ninth grade? Were there gender
Henry (2010) Does a positive working self-concept (i.e., present success is taken to predict future
success) for English affect motivation to learn other FLs, and vice versa? Are there
Henry & Cliffordson
How is the Ideal L2 Self correlated with (masculine) beliefs about independence and
(feminine) beliefs about interdependence? Does it depend on the language being
Henry (2017) How do intrinsic factors and the extrinsic grade reward system affect Swedish secondary
students’motivation to learn French? (In Sweden, extra points are added to a student's
GPA for FL learning beyond a basic level.) How is motivation affected by proficiency
Hamilton & Serrano
What are the motivational profiles of nonheritage learners of Catalan (usually Spanish
L1)? Are there mitigating factors, such as gender and region?
Okuniewski (2014) What is the effect of age (secondary vs. university) and area of study (humanities versus
economics) on various aspects of German learning among Polish learners?
Kolstrup (2017) How did an adult L2 learner's “possible self”change before and after her marriage and
relocation to the host country, due to her social experiences?
Busse (2017) To what extent are university students’attitudes toward English similar or different from
their attitudes toward other languages in Bulgaria, Germany, the Netherlands, and
MacIntyre & Vincze
How do positive and negative emotions affect L2 motivation? (study combined
Gardner's instrumental/integrative motivation [Gardner, 1985; Masgoret & Gardner,
2003], Dörnyei's Ideal/Ought-to L2 Selves [Dörnyei, 2005, 2009], and Clément's
quality/quantity of contact [Clément, 1980])
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L2 motivation in general requires further examination, especially for students from underresourced
L2MSS research in inner circle english-speaking countries
In the 13 studies from the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia, the question of
whether English impacts motivation to learn other languages was not an issue of primary concern.
Another difference from the European literature was that research in Inner Circle English-speaking
countries tended to take place in postsecondary (tertiary) education and to be pedagogically oriented,
including mixed-methods studies on the L2 Learning Experience in particular classes (e.g., Busse,
2013; Cai & Zhu, 2012). Though smaller in scope than the European studies, those from the Inner
Circle focused on examining key motivators and demotivators in instructed SLA and were
methodologically diverse, ranging from surveys to interviews to case studies of unusual or exceptional
learners (see Table 3).
Inner Circle research has suggested that motivation to learn LOTEs in English-dominant countries
is typically not integrative, except for heritage learners (MacIntyre et al., 2017; Xie, 2014), and not all
learners have a clear sense of why they will use the L2 (Campbell & Storch, 2011), yet those who do can
achieve astonishing results (Thompson, 2017a).
The main contribution of Inner Circle studies has been their identification of what motivates
students to learn languages that are not widely spoken in their immediate environment. Feeling that one
belongs to a supportive classroom community drives motivation (Palmieri, 2017), as does feeling that
one is doing well on the specific tasks required by the course (Busse, 2013) and seeing people who are
racially and culturally similar in course materials (Anya, 2011). Although instructors cannot control
how many students use the language extensively outside of class (Campbell & Storch, 2011;
Thompson, 2017b) or how hard students work on any aspect of the target language, such as
pronunciation (Huensch & Thompson, 2017; Nagle, 2018), what they do control to some extent is the
“class vibe”and whether students feel included, supported, and competent. The classroom
environment has a major impact on students’feelings toward a language in such contexts, since it
is the class that provides much of their experience with the language. Therefore even though the L2
Learning Experience has been more loosely investigated than the Ideal and L2 Ought-to Selves
(Al-Hoorie, 2018) in survey-based L2MSS research, there is a sizable body of qualitative data about
this part of the model in Inner Circle L2MSS research, which has focused on enhancing the L2
Learning Experience in instructed SLA.
L2MSS research in Asia
While L2 motivation studies in Europe and the Inner Circle have been concerned with students’
attitudes toward different LOTEs and the learning conditions that foster motivation, respectively, a key
question among Asian studies was whether there are cross-cultural differences in the motivation of
language learners in different countries (Gu & Cheung, 2016; Huang et al., 2015; Sugita McEown
et al., 2017; see Table 4).
In addition, Asian research has innovatively linked the L2MSS with other
psychological constructs such as vision, acculturation, parental encouragement, intended effort, and
international posture, although caution should be exercised due to the mix of different scales and
Two studies in Asia found that the Ought-to L2 Self is an equal or stronger predictor of motivated
behaviors than the Ideal L2 Self (Huang et al., 2015; Kong et al., 2018), unlike in European L2MSS
research; however, the explanation may not necessarily lie in collectivist values, which were not found
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to have an impact on the L2 Self System by Sugita McEown et al. (2017). An alternative explanation
based on belonging in different imagined communities was suggested by Kanno's (2003) ethnography
grounded in Norton Peirce's (1995) identity theory. Kanno observed that middle-class parents in Japan
do not see their children working or studying abroad but want them to demonstrate competence in
English in academic settings because grades are linked to getting into a good national university and
eventually having a good job; these students usually have strong reading proficiency and translation
skills required to do well on exams but limited oral competence in English. In contrast, Kanno
illustrated that global elites at Japanese international schools both desire and succeed in having their
TABLE 3 Research aims in inner circle english-speaking countries
Study Research Aims
Anya (2011) What are the motivational profiles of black college students who are successful L2
Campbell & Storch (2011) How did the motivation of eight Chinese as a foreign language learners at an
Australian university fluctuate over a semester, and due to what factors?
Cai & Zhu (2012) With regard to a 4-week online community learning project, which aspects of the
L2MSS (Ideal and Ought-to L2 Selves and L2 Learning Experience) change in
pre- and postquestionnaires?
Busse (2013) How did the L2 motivation of 59 first-year German learners at two U.K.
universities fluctuate over one academic year, and due to what factors?
Oakes (2013) Are U.K. students (L1 English) motivated to learn foreign languages (French and
Spanish)? Does motivation vary between classes in a university language
department vs. noncredit courses in a university language center?
Xie (2014) What are the differences in the motivational profiles of beginner heritage and
nonheritage university learners of Chinese?
Thompson & Vá
What are the motivational profiles of highly successful adult FL learners who
became university instructors and administrators in their target languages? Could
their unusual success be related to reactions against negative feedback or
negative events (Anti-Ought-to L2 Self)?
Huensch & Thompson
What is the connection between the L2MSS and attitudes toward improving
pronunciation? Are there mediating factors such as native-speaker bias,
proficiency level, and importance of pronunciation relative to other skills?
MacIntyre, Baker, &
What are the motivational profiles of 10 Cape Breton musicians (ranging from their
20s to their 40s) to learn their heritage language, Gaelic? How do these suggest
the construct of the Rooted L2 Self?
Palmieri (2017) What drives the L2 motivation of nonheritage learners of Italian in Sydney,
Australia (mostly middle-aged women learning Italian in cultural centers)?
Thompson (2017a) What drove the FL motivation of two L1 English speakers who became university
instructors in their FLs and ultimately department chairs of those FLs in a U.S.
Thompson (2017b) How does the L2MSS differ among U.S. university students based on the language:
(1) Spanish, the most commonly studied language in U.S. universities, (2) other
European languages (French, German, Italian), and (3) LCTLs? Are there
mediating variables such as proficiency and perceived positive language
interference (i.e., one language helping acquisition of another)?
Nagle (2018) What is the relationship between motivation and pronunciation improvement for
intermediate L2 learners of Spanish at a U.S. university?
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children become bilingual oral communicators in English and Japanese, and these students often go on
to attend university in the West. If this is the case, the Ideal L2 Selves of secondary and university
students who are not global elites and who do not yet know whether and to what extent the languages
will actually be used in their professional futures is understandably weak, while their Ought-to L2
Selves (when connected to studying for language tests) are understandably strong. Huang et al. (2015)
called for future research to investigate how the L2MSS changes after participants no longer identify
with their roles as students.
One study from Asia also found that integrative motivation and the L2MSS are not mutually
exclusive. Similar to MacIntyre et al. (2017) interviewing heritage learners of Gaelic in Atlantic
Canada, Gu and Cheung (2016) found that for L2 learners of Cantonese in Hong Kong, the Ideal L2
Self and integrativeness went hand in hand.
Findings by research method
Additional analyses addressed the methods that were used in the quantitative and qualitative studies, in
particular the epistemological assumptions and methodological rigor.
Methodological issues in the quantitative studies
Following reporting guidelines for quantitative research in the field of SLA (Norris, Plonsky, Ross, &
Schoonen, 2015) and previous recommendations from methodological meta-analysis reviews (Larson-
Hall & Plonsky, 2015; Plonsky, 2013, 2014), each study was examined to see if the methodological
features in Table 5 were provided so as to assess the quality of the research itself.
Of the 18 quantitative and 3 mixed-methods studies, all 21 provided detailed information about the
participants and how they were selected for each study. Convenience sampling (i.e., in schools and
TABLE 4 Research aims in Asia
Study Research Aims
Dörnyei & Chan (2013) What is the relationship between L2 motivation and vision (being able to
imagine the desired self-state)? Does it matter if the L2 is English or
Gu & Cheung (2016) Among ethnic minority secondary students in Hong Kong, what is the
relationship between five factors: Ideal L2 Self, acculturation to the
mainstream culture, acculturation to the heritage culture, parental
encouragement, and intended language learning efforts?
Sugita McEown, Sawaki, &
Among university students in Japan, what is the relationship between Gardner's
integrative disposition (Gardner, 1985; Masgoret & Gardner, 2003), Dörnyei's
Ideal L2 Self (Dörnyei, 2005, 2009), and Ryan's intrinsic motivation (Ryan &
Deci, 2000)? Is there a difference between English and LOTEs? Does
individualism vs. collectivism fit into the model?
Kong et al. (2018) Does the L2MSS profile of Korean university students differ for commonly
taught languages (English and Mandarin) and LCTLs (Spanish and Arabic)?
How do two other factors—international posture and competitiveness—fit
into the model?
Huang, Hsu, & Chen (2015) Among university students in Taiwan, does the L2MSS depend on the language:
English, Japanese, French, German, or Korean? What factors explain class
involvement and out-of-class learning?
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universities accessible to the researchers) and self-reported background surveys were the most
common techniques in sampling and demographic description. Descriptive statistics were also
provided in detail, facilitating readers’understanding of the research and its findings. However, most
studies mixed different scales, thereby threatening the validity of the L2MSS theory. Item borrowing,
patched scales, and a frequently missing component (L2 Learning Experience) were very common
across the studies. To be solid, a study should be internally coherent across its theory, measurement,
and design. While subscales were often created by borrowing items from previous studies, one may
question the validity of some of the resulting instruments.
Although most studiesprovided information about reliability using Cronbach's alpha, none discussed
how they could guarantee that the subscales measured what the researcher(s) expected them to measure.
Several studieseven equated reliability and validity through Cronbach's alpha. Given the recent criticism
of this technique for calculating reliability (e.g., McNeish, 2017; compare Raykov & Marcoulides,
2017), it is important to be cautious about the claims made from researchers using Cronbach's alpha in L2
motivation studies. Likewise, only 33, 19, and 14% of the studies provided rationales for statistical
decisions, practical significance, and statistical assumptions respectively, out of 21 examined studies.
This lack of transparency has also been a problem in meta-analyses in other areas of SLA research, and
calls for methodological reforms have been put forward (Plonsky, 2013, 2014). Within L2MSS studies,
Al-Hoorie (2018) noted that most studies on motivated behaviors are mostlyobservational, by examining
the relationship (e.g., using correlation, regression, or structural equation modeling) between L2 learning
experience scores and measures of performance. He pointed out that this approach is prone to confounds
such as initial student ability and instructor leniency, which can translate into higher grades and student
satisfaction butnot necessarily greater learning (seeBrown, Plonsky, & Teimouri, 2018, on the problems
with using course grades as metrics in L2 research).
Interestingly, only 1 out of 21 studies in this sample was identified as connecting any achievement
outcomes in association with motivation (Dörnyei & Chan, 2013). The validity of the very construct of
L2 motivation can be questioned in educational contexts if it is not related or does not contribute to
learning achievement, and research that examines the relationship between the L2MSS and
achievement in learning LOTEs is needed.
TABLE 5 Methodological features reported in quantitative L2 motivational self system studies
Features Guiding Criteria
Samples Information about participants’proficiency and context for language use
Sampling Detailed description of how the participants were selected
Measurement Main variables or concepts of interest accurately described and matched to the
Reliability Evidence of the consistency of measurement instruments and associated techniques
Validity Evidence supporting the use of the given measurement instruments
Design Clear overview of research questions and how they are answered by the research
Analysis Explanation of why the statistical technique(s) was/were chosen
Means, standard deviations, and standard error for all the numeric variables
Information about the practical significance of the study via effect size, confidence
Assumptions Information whether statistical assumptions were checked and met
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Methodological issues in the qualitative studies
The investigation of methodology in the qualitative studies involved not only an assessment of rigor but
the question of whether qualitative research on L2 motivation should be based on surveys, case studies,
or both. On the one hand, studies that involved thematic analysis of survey responses tested for
intercoder reliability in interview data or answers to open-ended survey questions but did not comment
on the effects of the data collection context itself on the answers that were given. On the other hand,
case studies from a social constructionist paradigm that investigated how “truths”were coconstructed
between researcher(s) and researched, and on the social contexts that gave rise to these, did not always
test intercoder reliability of emergent themes.
Survey approaches usually involved a mixed-methods design, either in the form of open-ended
questions combined with closed-ended ones or follow-up interviews with a small fraction of those who
had participated in a survey. In these cases, qualitative data were used to provide concrete illustrations
of quantitative findings, e.g., the most motivating aspects of a class project (Cai & Zhu, 2012), why
students in Europe prioritized English over other languages (Busse, 2017), or why students in the
United Kingdom did not just want to be monolingual English speakers (Oakes, 2013).
In contrast, social constructionist studies tended to be case studies of people who were well known
to the researchers. While these can be seen as the epitome of convenience sampling, they offer a
snapshot of language learning beyond the broader convenience samples taken from school and
university groups. What started as an interview-based project for Kolstrup (2017) evolved into a
multiyear case study of one of her participants, who expressed deep regrets about settling in Denmark
with her husband due to linguistic and cultural barriers both systemic and personal. The last author in
MacIntyre et al. (2017), an ethnomusicologist with extensive involvement in the Cape Breton Gaelic-
speaking community, knew all of her 10 participants (musicians, dancers, and heritage learners of
Gaelic ages 20–50 in Nova Scotia, Canada). Thompson (2017a; Thompson & Vá
conducted case studies of several of her colleagues who became high-ranking faculty of language
departments in languages that were not their L1, tracing their lifelong narratives that encompassed both
formal and naturalistic learning contexts.
While convenience sampling is not so much an issue in qualitative research, particularly when a
sample is so small that it little matters how random it is, three approaches for improving qualitative
studies’rigor are recommended. The first is participant checking, or having participants read the data
analysis or manuscript draft, even if they do not expect or request it. For example, Campbell and Storch
(2011) included this step for the undergraduates they were interviewing. Second, more longitudinal
work should be conducted to complement the mainly cross-sectional literature on L2 motivation. In the
sample, “longitudinal”typically meant one semester or the better part of a school year (e.g., Busse,
2013; Campbell & Storch, 2011; Henry, 2017). In contrast, to truly advance this line of inquiry,
researchers should document longer periods of time involving major changes in the learning
environment (e.g., the semester before study abroad, the semester or year abroad, and the first semester
back). That is, one would expect the three parts of the L2MSS to respond to such changes in the L2
learning environment as being immersed in the target language community and being exposed to a
wider range of linguistic forms than one encounters in formal language classes. Finally, more studies
that go beyond the content of responses to analyze the interactional and contextual aspects of the data
collection are needed. For example, Kolstrup (2017) framed her interviewee's Ideal L2 Self
construction in terms of linguistic and paralinguistic elements such as pauses, speech perturbations,
minimal responses, personal pronouns, verb tense, and key terms.
In addition, self-reported interview data need to be triangulated with ethnographic data since the
former only capture how people perceive their own language learning motivation. Qualitative studies
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thus need to go beyond the content-focused thematic analysis (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) applied to
interviews and occasionally written texts, appropriate as this method is for certain research aims, by
examining the relationship between claimed and motivated behaviors.
IMPLICATIONS FOR RESEARCH AND PEDAGOGY
This synthesis has revealed that most L2MSS studies on LOTEs have investigated the languages of
nation-states. In fact, tallying the number of times a language was investigated in an article (not
including groupings in which particular languages were not identified) yielded the following results:
German (12), French (12), Spanish (11), Mandarin (8), English (8), Italian (3), Arabic (3), Japanese (2),
American Sign Language (2), Korean (1), Cantonese (1), Portuguese (1), Russian (1), Danish (1),
Catalan (1), Gaelic (1), and Latin (1). In other words, four neocolonial European languages and
Mandarin Chinese dominate the contexts of elective bilingualism among young, middle-class global
citizens in high schools and universities across Western Europe, East Asia, and English-dominant
countries. Only three studies in this synthesis described the learning of regional, immigrant, or
indigenous languages (Gu & Cheung, 2016; Hamilton & Serrano, 2015; MacIntyre et al., 2017); only
one dealt with child learners (Henry & Apelgren, 2008); and only four included adults who were
learning languages through cultural centers, community-based institutions, and naturalistic immersion
(Hamilton & Serrano, 2015; Kolstrup, 2017; MacIntyre et al., 2017; Palmieri, 2017). Another research
gap worth noting is the fact that although the populations of choice are digitally savvy, not 1 of the 30
studies examined the L2 Learning Experience in terms of online communities, or what the Ideal/Ought-
to L2 Selves look like in those contexts.
However, one strength of L2MSS research, as noted before, is its methodological diversity. This
variety of methodologies could be applied to a wider range of learning contexts, age groups, and
research aims. Can ethnographies of school and home life in Europe show how children are motivated
to learn foreign, regional, and immigrant languages through rich learning experiences that draw on
their families’funds of knowledge?
Can local linguistic landscapes (e.g., Hispanic or Chinese
communities in the United States) or digital media by “black”and “brown”artists speaking European
languages provide motivating materials in Inner Circle English-speaking countries in which learners
“see”themselves (Anya, 2011; DeFeo, 2015; Leung & Wu, 2012)? How does the L2MSS change when
language learners in Asia no longer identify with their roles as students (Huang et al., 2015), either
because they have finished school or because they are in social environments where the student role is
not particularly relevant? Finally, thoughtful designs ensure the credibility of all research.
This synthesis also provides an overview of research questions and findings that will allow teaching
professionals of LOTEs to identify the studies from the tables shared herein that most appropriately
inform their pedagogical decisions and professional interests. For instance, instructors at K–12 schools
in Europe should be aware of how gender and age can impact student motivation as well as how student
motivation fluctuates over time depending on age and school settings (see Henry & Apelgren, 2008).
Instructors in Asian contexts need to attend to social expectations of students and how those social
values exert influence on students’motivation to learn LOTEs. Of particular interest for professionals
at postsecondary institutions in the United States is the profound impact of the immediate classroom
environment on L2 motivation. Clearly, creating a supportive community offers an important way to
encourage students to spend time and effort learning LOTEs. More research should thus be channeled
into how this can be accomplished. It is also crucial to note that while the L2MSS has been extensively
researched, few studies have examined the association between the constructs of the L2 Ideal Self, the
L2 Ought-to Self, and the L2 Learning Experience and actual learning outcomes. This both suggests
MENDOZA AND PHUNG
caution when interpreting and implementing the findings from studies that fail to link the proposed
constructs with student growth and empowers LOTE professionals to rely on their expertise and
contextual experiences to make informed pedagogical decisions related to learner motivation.
This article has proposed a qualitative method for synthesizing studies on language learning and teaching
that goes beyond the literature review in terms of inclusiveness, systematicity, and transparency. The
method gives attention to study design and quality andhow these factors impact the findings. While CRS
will surely be of interest to critical applied linguists, it is hoped that it will also catch the attention of
language professionals such as instructors, administrators, and policy makers. When reading about a
broad issue such as language learner motivation, one may feel overwhelmed by the mountains of
published texts. CRS offers a more time-efficient approach to narrowing down sources and making
decisions based on overarching findings that can be collaboratively undertaken by two or three FL
professionals. In addition, the findings specifically advance the discussion of motivation in general and
the L2MSS in particular in each of three world regions by taking into consideration the relationships
between study design and the quality of quantitative and qualitative data.
The authors thank colleagues in Dr. Nicole Ziegler's Research Synthesis and Meta-Analysis seminar
(spring 2018) at the University of Hawai‘iatMānoa. They are grateful for the generous and critical
feedback from the editors, four anonymous reviewers, and participants at the 2018 Second Language
Research Forum in Montréal, Canada, and Dr. Graham Crookes at the University of Hawai‘iatMānoa
for recommending publication in Foreign Language Annals.
Ortega (2005) highlighted that most instructed SLA research is based on middle-class young adults, elective bilinguals
who invest in learning the prestige dialects of neocolonial languages for increased cultural capital (Norton, 2013) rather
than simply having to learn a language for survival (Skutnabb-Kangas, 2000). According to Ortega, “Ethically, if
instructed SLA researchers do not study certain populations, we do not serve them either”(2005, p. 434).
In psychology, the possible selves theory refers to the future selves a person imagines he or she could become, positive
and negative. These reflect the person's hopes (e.g., being a tenure-track professor) and fears (e.g., being jobless). The
self-discrepancy theory describes a person's motivation to reduce the discrepancy between who the person is and what
he or she would like to be (e.g., richer, thinner).
We are aware that the L2MSS may have been in the framework of some studies but may not have appeared in the title,
abstract, or research questions therein. However, since it is rare for a study to use a framework but not state it in these
sections, we do not believe this led to serious omissions.
One reviewer suggested that searching for key words in other languages could have resulted in more relevant studies.
Even if this were feasible (both authors are bi/multilingual but only have graduate-level academic proficiency in
English), it would probably not change the distribution of hits, since L2MSS research has been shown to be systemically
biased toward English.
Whether this is an adequate sample size is debatable, but the European and Inner Circle studies have shown
demonstrable trends. This is not the case with the Asian studies, highlighting the need for more research in this world
region and others. Although we did not seek to find generalizable findings across all three world regions (this not being a
key feature of qualitative research), an examination of the most-often-researched populations and educational contexts
in each region reflects what Ortega (2005) noted about the field as a whole.
MENDOZA AND PHUNG
Due to this way of processing the studies, there is no interrater reliability index. Both of us read all the studies, and even
though one of us may have coded one study more than another, in the end we ended up discussing each study's
substantive and methodological aspects.
This process involved locating the researchers’answers to their stated research questions, both of which were explicitly
signaled in the majority of the studies. While the inferencing of key findings was unavoidable, readers seeking more
detail can refer back to the primary studies.
See Dörnyei (1994, pp. 280–282) for 30 classroom strategies to motivate learners and encourage their investment in the
class as a site for language learning (Norton, 2013).
We urge scholars in Asia to go beyond this question, as undue focus on it suggests that there is no other research worth
pursuing in Asia beyond that which directly appeals to a Western audience.
L2MSS research in Asia has focused on English in formal education rather than in online communities, even if students
the world over have strong Ideal L2 Selves in the latter context.
See Hélot (2003) and Hélot and Young (2005) on how the primary language curriculum in France conceptualizes
language learning in terms of (1) FLs that are national languages of the EU, and (2) regional languages that
are native to France. In contrast, Turkish is considered an immigrant language and is not part of the curriculum,
which ignores the existing multilingualism of many immigrant students. Though Arabic is offered, it is taught in
terms of its globally standard foreign variety and not local varieties, similar to Spanish in the United States.
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How to cite this article: Mendoza A, Phung H. Motivation to learn languages other than
English: A critical research synthesis. Foreign Language Annals. 2019;1–20.
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