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Demotivation is a gloomy topic to which many classroom
teachers readily, and cheerlessly, relate. Along with teaching
strategies, teachers are also expected to devise and imple-
ment various motivational strategies to keep reluctant learn-
ers motivated over time (Dörnyei, 2001a). In many contexts,
it would be very rare to find a class of highly and consistently
motivated learners—a situation that would certainly be the
envy of fellow teachers.
Another worrying concern is that research has repeatedly
shown that learner motivation tends to decrease over time.
For example, in a study by R. C. Gardner et al. (2004), the
researchers documented a decline in a number of motiva-
tional variables over a period of 1 year. The variables that
were most susceptible to this declining trend were those
directly related to what was happening within the learning
situation, such as daily motivational intensity and evaluation
of the teacher and the course. Similar results were obtained
in other contexts as well (e.g., Al-Hoorie, 2019; Inbar et al.,
2001; Williams et al., 2002). This declining motivation adds
a further burden on teachers.
Attempts to remedy this situation and help learners
recover from demotivation have led to the emergence of a
relatively new area of research called remotivation (Carpenter
et al., 2009; Falout, 2012). Remotivation refers to the process
of recovery from demotivation as facilitated by positive
internal or external factors. The primary aim of remotivation
research, therefore, is to understand factors contributing to
motivational decline and to investigate the effectiveness of
different coping strategies in preventing this trend or revers-
ing it. This line of research has recommended a number of
remotivational strategies, mostly related to what learners can
do to self-regulate their learning such as improving study
skills and competing with friends for fun (for a review, see
Because remotivation is still an under-researched area,
the goal of this study was to shed light on what factors learn-
ers perceive as contributing to demotivation and subsequent
remotivation, and how these factors are interrelated. We first
interviewed a group of learners to formulate a demotivation
model and then tested the generalizability of this model on a
larger group of participants.
From Demotivation to Remotivation
Demotivation refers to the gradual loss of motivation over a
relatively long period of time (e.g., over the course of weeks,
months, or semesters, as opposed to within a single lesson).
Originally, demotivation was attributed primarily to external
factors that lower motivation (Dörnyei, 2001b) such as the
1041101SGOXXX10.1177/21582440211041101SAGE OpenAlbalawi and Al-Hoorie
1King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
2Royal Commission for Jubail and Yanbu, Saudi Arabia
Ali H. Al-Hoorie, Jubail English Language and Preparatory Year Institute, Royal
Commission for Jubail and Yanbu, Jubail Industrial City 31961, Saudi Arabia.
From Demotivation to Remotivation:
A Mixed-Methods Investigation
Fatemah H. Albalawi1 and Ali H. Al-Hoorie2
Research into language learning demotivation has tended to focus on the identification of discrete factors resulting in
demotivation. In this article, we report an investigation into the interrelationship among factors eventually leading to
demotivation using a sequential exploratory mixed-methods design. In Study 1, 13 participants were interviewed about their
demotivation experiences and what factors, they perceived, had led to demotivation over a period of 12 months. We then
used these results to formulate a demotivation model. In Study 2, we tested the generalizability of this model on a larger
sample (N = 2044). Using structural equation modeling, our results showed that the model fit the data, and most of its
paths were statistically significant. This model showed that having a fixed mindset had one direct and two indirect paths to
demotivation. The two indirect paths were through lowering the learner’s ideal L2 self and through feeling disappointed by
setbacks. We discuss the implication of our findings for language learning and teaching.
demotivation, remotivation, mindset, ideal self, disappointment
2 SAGE Open
classroom atmosphere and the teaching method, though sub-
sequent demotivation research has highlighted the impor-
tance of internal factors as well (Kikuchi, 2015), such as
self-confidence and negative attitudes. Considering that indi-
viduals vary in how they perceive and react to demotivators,
Kikuchi (2015) also called for research exploring demotiva-
tional mechanisms to better understand how individual learn-
ers process demotivating factors and why learners may react
differently to the same factors.
Nakata (2006) proposed three stages describing the feel-
ing of discouragement that students may go through. The
first stage is the initial demotivation that the learner may
experience as a result of negative experiences, such as poor
grades or an ineffective teaching approach. This initial demo-
tivation can be passing, and the learner may recover from it
after some time. However, if this demotivation is not
addressed, the learner may transition to amotivation, which
refers to a lack of motivation, passivity, and a feeling of pur-
poselessness (Ryan & Deci, 2017). If this amotivation status
also remains unaddressed, the learner may descend into
learned helplessness (see below).
Reversing this trajectory and regaining interest in learn-
ing is remotivation. Remotivating learners requires more
than listing a number of creative remotivational strategies,
however. It would be more effective to tap into the source of
demotivation and address it. Furthermore, rather than identi-
fying discrete demotivation factors, it is also essential to rec-
ognize the subjective interconnections among these factors
as perceived by the learner (Kim & Kim, 2013) as well as the
adaptive and maladaptive coping strategies (Falout, 2012)
that learners utilize to deal with their demotivation (see also
Al-Hoorie, 2017). In other words, it is crucial to uncover the
subjective reality of the demotivation process. In the next
sections, we, therefore, review major factors associated with
demotivation before presenting our study, which attempts to
draw connections among them.
Language Learning Mindset
One potential internal factor is the learner’s implicit theories
(i.e., mindsets) about their own abilities (Dweck, 1999). In
this context, a mindset refers to whether one believes that
qualities such as intelligence and talent are fixed or change-
able traits. Mindsets have been shown to shape individuals’
thoughts, behaviors, and feelings, and consequently make
them think, feel and act differently in identical situations
(Dweck & Molden, 2005). Learners with a growth mindset
believe that their ability is malleable, and so failures and set-
backs are construed as an integral part of the learning pro-
cess. In contrast, learners with a fixed mindset consider their
ability as inborn, and therefore failure constitutes a threat to
their confidence and self-esteem (Lou & Noels, 2019; Yeager
et al., 2019). Research has also shown that individuals can
hold distinct mindsets in relation to different areas (Dweck,
1999). For example, one may have a fixed mindset in rela-
tion to intelligence, but a growth mindset in relation to per-
sonality, social relationships, and sports.
Although it was initially suggested that language beliefs
may be a fixed system of knowledge formed at an early age
and thus cannot be easily changed (Peacock, 2001; Wenden,
1998), recent research has demonstrated that language beliefs
are dynamic and can change under certain contingencies
(Yeager et al., 2016). For example, after experiencing suc-
cess or failure, directing praise or criticism to intelligence,
personality, talent, or a God-given ability can promote a
fixed mindset. In contrast, when feedback is specific, con-
structive, and genuine, and when it is directed to effort, strat-
egies and skills, a growth mindset can be cultivated. Teachers’
own mindsets, therefore, play a key role in creating and
developing different mindsets through how teachers interpret
mistakes and failures during the learning process (e.g.,
Cimpian et al., 2007; Rattan et al., 2012, 2015).
Most initial research into mindsets was conducted in lab
settings. Interventions conducted outside lab settings pro-
vided mixed results. A meta-analysis of such field interven-
tions showed that changing mindsets led only to a minor
improvement in academic achievement (Sisk et al., 2018) or
none at all (Foliano et al., 2019). Nevertheless, mindset inter-
ventions seem particularly helpful to learners who are aca-
demically at risk and who come from a low socioeconomic
background. Furthermore, a recent, nationally representative
intervention involving secondary school students in the
United States showed that the mindset intervention was
effective when peer norms aligned with the messages of the
intervention (Yeager et al., 2019).
Within language learning, Mercer (2011) similarly argued
that possessing a fixed language learning mindset (LLM)
leads the learner to avoid challenges and to set lower goals,
thus risking becoming demotivated over time (see also Lou &
Noels, 2017, 2019). Along the same lines, research by Lou and
Noels (2020) additionally showed that migrants with a growth
LLM reported less anxiety, more language use, and higher
proficiency, even after controlling baseline proficiency.
Ideal L2 Self
Another potential factor has to do with the strength of the
learner’s ideal L2 self (Dörnyei, 2005, 2009). The ideal L2
self represents an ideal end-state that the learner wishes to
reach. The ideal L2 self is assumed to derive its motivational
effect from the discrepancy between current and ideal self-
states. The ideal L2 self has been studied extensively during
the past two decades, though most research has examined
correlation with other self-report measures rather than more
meaningful language learning outcomes (see Al-Hoorie,
2018, for a meta-analysis).
Although the ideal L2 self has shown a strong association
with self-reported intended effort, correlation with other,
more tangible learning outcomes was not as strong (e.g.,
Hiver & Al-Hoorie, 2020a; Lamb, 2012; Moskovsky et al.,
Albalawi and Al-Hoorie 3
2016). The standard instrument used to measure the ideal L2
self primarily focuses on “imagination” and whether the
learner can imagine him/herself learning the language suc-
cessfully at some point in the future, rather than the discrep-
ancy between actual states and ideal self-guides. This
measurement focus led some researchers to suggest relabel-
ing this instrument as the imagined self (Al-Hoorie, 2018).
Nevertheless, Dörnyei et al. (2016, p. 22) have argued that
future self-guides have evolved into a specific form of vision,
conceptualized as the vivid mental image of successfully
achieving the desired goal. Without such a future-directed
end goal, it is likely that the learner will be prone to demoti-
vation over time (Kikuchi, 2019). It has also been argued that
such future-directed vision is essential for directed motiva-
tional currents (Muir, 2020) or sustained flow (Ibrahim &
Al-Hoorie, 2019), though close examination shows that
vision and goal are not clearly distinct constructs (Al-Hoorie
& Al Shlowiy, 2020).
Motivation and demotivation are not completely parallel con-
structs. Factors relevant to motivation may not be relevant to
demotivation, and vice versa. For example, language learners
may feel disappointed by their proficiency level, relative to the
amount of time and effort they have put into learning. This dis-
appointment may be demotivating, but lack of disappointment
per se may not necessarily be a motivating factor. This is why
demotivation factors need to be investigated in their own right,
rather than treating them as the flip side of motivating factors.
Although the inevitable disappointments that take place
in academic settings can be an important factor contributing
to demotivation, little research has examined how language
learners navigate these disappointments. Testing and evalua-
tion are part and parcel of academic life, and the average
learner is bound to encounter setbacks from time to time. For
some learners, such setbacks are an indication that success
and failure are governed by factors beyond one’s control,
ultimately leading to disillusionment and learned helpless-
ness (Abramson et al., 1978; Noels et al., 2000) and even
impostorism (Clance & Imes, 1978; R. G. Gardner et al.,
2019). Other learners, in contrast, exhibit learned resource-
fulness (Akgun & Ciarrochi, 2003; Rosenbaum, 1989),
which allows the learner to access a behavioral repertoire of
emotional and cognitive reactions to ameliorate stressful sit-
uations and to sustain resilient functioning (Yun et al., 2018).
Nevertheless, a 4-year longitudinal study reported that
learned resourcefulness does not improve over time (Ceyhan
& Ceyhan, 2011), thus making learners vulnerable to demo-
tivation with increasing academic pressure.
The Present Study
Although these three factors; growth mindset, ideal L2 self,
and resourcefulness toward academic disappointments; have
been argued to play an important role in motivation and
achievement, empirical results have not always shown strong
support as reviewed above. One possible explanation for
such findings is that a better understanding of these factors is
needed. A second, though not mutually exclusive explana-
tion, is the need to consider these factors in tandem.
Motivational factors are commonly treated as discrete vari-
ables examined in isolation (Hiver & Al-Hoorie, 2020b;
Hiver et al., 2020; Larsen-Freeman & Cameron, 2008), but
integrative investigations can shed important light not cap-
tured when motivational factors are studied separately (Joe
et al., 2017; Kikuchi, 2015; Yun et al., 2018).
In the present investigation, we, therefore, set out to
understand demotivation through the lens of learners them-
selves. Our aim was to investigate how learners’ individual
experiences were related to language learning demotivation
and how their demotivation changed and interacted with
their environments (Kim & Kim, 2013). To this end, in Study
1, we conducted a small-scale qualitative study of 13 partici-
pants who provided personal accounts of their demotivation.
This study, therefore, allowed us to formulate a model of
demotivational dynamics. Our three-part research question
for Study 1 was:
Research Question 1a (RQ1a): What factors are perceived
to have contributed to the participants’ demotivation?
Research Question 1b (RQ1b): How are these factors
perceived to interact with each other?
Research Question 1c (RQ1c): To what do learners attri-
bute their ability to recover and rebuild their motivation,
or lack thereof?
Acknowledging the limitations of qualitative methodol-
ogy, Study 2 involved a large-scale survey involving more
than 2,000 learners. Study 2 allowed us, first, to test the gen-
eralizability of the model we obtained in Study 1 and, sec-
ond, to quantify the relationships between the different
variables in the model. This approach has been described as
a sequential exploratory mixed methods design that gener-
ates and tests a model (e.g., Plano Clark & Creswell, 2008).
More specifically, Study 2 used structural equation modeling
(SEM) to answer the following research question:
Research Question 2 (RQ2): Does the model obtained
from Study 1 fit the data obtained from a larger sample of
In combination, thus, Studies 1 and 2 enabled us to propose
a demotivation model and then test this model with a large
sample of participants from the same population.
As Study 2 used SEM, we recognize that, ultimately,
SEM is used to test causal relationships, and not just correla-
tions. In our case, we extracted the directionality of the
hypothesized causal relationships from the results of Study 1
and built a model representing the causal paths perceived by
4 SAGE Open
the participants. In Study 2, we then tested the generalizabil-
ity of these perceptions. Our goal from this procedure was to
identity the subjective reality underpinning demotivation.
Furthermore, researchers using SEM are expected to test
competing models to avoid confirmation bias (e.g., see Hiver
& Al-Hoorie, 2020a). However, as only one model emerged
from Study 1, it was the only model we tested. We, therefore,
acknowledge that the possibility of other models to represent
demotivation. We elaborate on this limitation later.
Thirteen female Saudi language learners (aged 18–20) vol-
unteered to participate in this study. They were studying
English as part of a foundation year requirement in prepara-
tion for their majors, attending classes 20 hours a week.
These learners were recruited from a larger group of learners
who responded to a public call for participants who had
experienced demotivation and who were willing to discuss
their experiences candidly. The participants had studied
English as a school subject for at least 8 years, though they
rated themselves as having low competence. Generally, there
is little opportunity for learners to practice their English out-
side of the language class in this context.
Three semi-structured interviews were conducted with each
participant over the course of 12 months. To explore the fac-
tors and conditions that explained variation in learners’
demotivation and remotivation, the participants were asked
to share their beliefs, thoughts, feeling, explanations, attribu-
tions, and dreams about their English learning experience as
a long journey involving a combination of halts, obstacles,
challenges, boredom, enjoyment, rewards, and discovery. In
each of the three interviews, conducted a few months apart,
the participants were encouraged to reflect on and articulate
their demotivational processes, elaborate on the factors per-
ceived to have caused their demotivation, and the interaction
among different motivational factors. The interviews were
conducted in Arabic, the participant s’ native language.
The interviews were recorded, translated into English, and
transcribed. The accuracy of the translation was then checked
by a native speaker of Arabic who is fluent in English. The
scripts were then read carefully to explore diverse accounts,
find frequent patterns, identify differences among these pat-
terns, and extract common demotivation-related themes
using NVivo 9. Following the principles of applied thematic
analysis (Guest et al., 2012), initial codes were inductively
identified. The emerging codes were grouped into themes,
and then these themes were classified into higher level con-
ceptual themes. As an illustration, responses related to what
made the participants feel vulnerable or resilient were
grouped under vulnerability and resilience themes, and then
these themes were linked via higher order themes (e.g., deal-
ing with failure). This approach facilitated drawing a mean-
ingful and coherent picture of the patterns emerging from the
To understand the interconnections among themes, the
themes were analyzed following a process coding approach
(Saldaña, 2016). Process coding is an analytical strategy that
permits the researcher to uncover a sequence of events lead-
ing to an outcome as perceived by interviewees. Special
attention was paid to how the different demotivating factors
related to and interacted with each other, and common
themes were grouped until final codes clearly emerged from
the data. Using particular instances in the qualitative data, a
bigger map of possible relationships between variables was
developed. Finally, for the purpose of respondent validation,
the resulting demotivation model was presented to the par-
ticipants, who confirmed that it reflected their demotivation
dynamics (for more details, see Albalawi, 2018).
Language learning mindsets. The qualitative analysis revealed
that demotivation occurred when internal or external factors
broke some of the constituents of the learner’s expectations
about the learning process and its outcomes. However, the
diverse ways by which learners perceived different internal
and external factors seemed to a large extent a function of the
LLM held by each learner. Different LLMs had demotiva-
tional or remotivational power. In other words, the way they
perceived factors such as the teacher’s role, their language
learning ability, and their effort had an important impact on
their motivation, demotivation, and remotivation processes.
A major finding of this study was that it was not only
merely the identification of the demotivating factors that
mattered but also the way these factors were perceived by
individual language learners. A recurring finding in the qual-
itative analysis was that learners did not perceive demotivat-
ing events similarly across the board even in seemingly
identical situations. Instead, the learner’s LLM, as fixed or
malleable, shaped how one perceived these demotivators.
The ability to learn a second language was perceived by
language learners possessing a fixed mindset as being limited
and naturally gifted, while growth mindset learners believed
that this ability could be increased through effort and practice.
Therefore, when language learners attributed their own or oth-
ers’ past failures and successes to “ability,” their motivation to
learn the language was influenced differently according to
whether they believed that this ability was fixed or not.
Those learners who believed that their language learning
ability was fixed also emphasized that having a natural abil-
ity, or a knack, was essential for success. They consequently
Albalawi and Al-Hoorie 5
reported avoiding challenges and potentially embarrassing
situations to look confident and save face if the task seemed
difficult. They also felt threatened by the successful experi-
ences of others and questioned their own ability when they
encountered high achievers. They additionally devalued hard
work and effort, perceiving them as fruitless. All these fac-
tors apparently made them more sensitive to demotivating
factors. Consider the following learner who emphasized the
power of a natural language learning ability:
Not everyone can learn a second language. Some people are
talented; they have something special that helps them to learn
languages fast; they are naturally gifted. They pass the language
courses easily without studying hard. I wish I was one of them.
Unfortunately, I feel that without having that natural ability,
studying English is like wasting my time. I would rather spend
my time studying something I am good at. (ID101)
Contrary to these learners, other interviewees made state-
ments that indicated their tendency to endorse a growth
mindset. These learners believed that the ability to learn a
second language could be enhanced through effort and hard
work. When they failed, these learners blamed their lack of
effort or “carelessness.” In fact, all interviewees who reported
having successful language learning experiences valued hard
work and effort and believed in the malleability of ability.
They reported being more determined, autonomous, resil-
ient, and more committed to overcoming learning challenges.
They embraced challenges and felt inspired by others’ suc-
cessful experiences. According to one of these learners,
Everyone can learn a second language. It just needs time,
patience, and effort. If I fail, I mainly blame myself for being
careless and not trying harder using different strategies to
increase my language ability. Learning English is like learning
how to drive and cook. You start weak but the more you practice,
the stronger you become. (ID102)
Ideal L2 self. Interestingly, the qualitative analysis also
revealed that LLMs seemed to influence the construction of
an ideal L2 self. The data also showed that the remotivational
power of the ideal L2 self might be obstructed by the demo-
tivational power of a fixed LLM. Learners with a fixed LLM
reported that they did not possess a strong sense of an ideal
L2 self. They specifically attributed this weak ideal L2 self to
their belief in the unchangeability of language learning abil-
ity. In fact, several interviewees used the expression “I can’t
imagine myself” as a successful learner. This pattern some-
times emerged in the context of using the language fluently,
while in other times, it emerged after failures and setbacks.
Some learners reported “lowering their expectations” of the
type of learner they would like to be. As two learners
I always imagine myself when I am older, speaking English
fluently with foreigners, or working in a career where everybody
speaks only English. I even imagine myself studying abroad.
These are all dreams. I wish I can achieve all these dreams.
However, I realized that it is not easy to learn English. Every
time I fail in the English test, I lower my expectations because I
lose hope and feel that I am helpless to change my situation. I
feel like I do not have the ability to be the person I always
imagine myself to be. It feels like if you really are a good person
who would like to help poor people, but you do not have the
money to help them. (ID104)
During my first years of English learning, I knew that I would
learn the alphabet, vocabulary, grammar and the basic
expressions in English. . . however, when it comes to speaking
and pronunciation, peoples’ abilities vary. I always knew that
there was nothing I could do to improve it. . . I could only
imagine passing the course but never imagined myself being a
fluent speaker of English. (ID105)
These learners could not create a vision of themselves
speaking English fluently in the future, attributing it to their
belief in the immutability of their language learning ability.
As a result, their motivation to develop their language skills
decreased over time as they put in less and less effort. In
other words, the learners with a fixed mindset reported fail-
ure to create a clear and vivid image of an ideal L2 self, con-
sequently demotivating them.
Disappointment. Disappointment appeared to be a major fac-
tor contributing to demotivation. Learners with a fixed mind-
set expressed a lot of disappointment about their low
(particularly oral) proficiency level and their failure to
improve it, despite studying the language for several years at
school. When they did not achieve the oral proficiency level
they expected, they became helpless, blamed their own abil-
ity, and quit trying even when they were encouraged to do so
by people around them. A commonly invoked reason for this
disappointment is the ineffective teaching approaches used
in their learning contexts. The following two examples illus-
trate this point:
When I started learning English. . . I was shocked. . .
disappointed. . . confused. . . it was different from what I
expected. . . I expected to be able to speak as well as my cousins
did. . . of course I was learning but not what I expected. . . it
was all about grammar, books, exams and memorization. . .
When I was a child, my dream was to speak English fluently as
well as my father did. However, after trying hard and failing to
make a conversation several times in different situations, I
started to feel disappointed about the outcome of learning
English at school. I gradually felt helpless and felt that I would
never be able to achieve my goals. The situation now is worse
than before. I hate being in an English class or listening to
someone speaking English and try to escape the English class
whenever I can. Even when my father told me that there was a
good private English institution that he was willing to afford if I
would like to enroll in an intensive English course, I refused
6 SAGE Open
because I felt that I would definitely fail to improve my English
and waste his money. (ID109)
When they found that the educational system was memo-
rization- and exam-oriented, these learners just gave up and
did not try to put in extra effort to remedy their language
deficiencies. It seems that the fixed mindset of these learners
had led them to expect quick proficiency gains without expe-
riencing setbacks in the process. This expectation, first, led
to being disappointed when their proficiency did not develop
as fast as they had hoped and, second, led them to lower their
expectations and goals. In combination, these factors appar-
ently contributed to their demotivation.
In contrast to these demotivated accounts, learners with a
growth mindset actually perceived their slow progress as a
reassuring sign of a normal developmental trajectory. They
believed that all proficient speakers of English must have
been beginners at one point and experienced similar difficul-
ties in their language learning journey. Therefore, they did not
feel disappointed or lower their expectations. As one learner
I know that I am not a fluent speaker of English. I also know that
I will not achieve fluency soon. I consider myself a beginner who
can only make simple sentences, not a conversation. However,
when I listen to the Saudi teacher who speaks English fluently or
encounter other Saudi girls who are fluent speakers of English,
I imagine them when they were beginners like me and how they
remained committed to learning English until they achieved
their goal. Being a beginner who speaks broken English is the
first step of a long learning journey that will definitely lead to
achieving fluency one day. (ID102)
Coping with failure. The data showed that even when lan-
guage learners encountered setbacks and failure and per-
ceived certain factors as being potential demotivators, the
ensuing diverse responses were to a large extent the function
of coping mechanisms they used to respond to demotivation.
The LLM seemed to be the major factor that significantly
influenced the learner’s responses to potential demotivators
and their diverse applications and choice of adaptive (e.g.,
autonomous learning, increasing effort, or seeking for help
and guidance) or maladaptive (e.g., denial, escaping, or
cheating) coping mechanisms.
Learners who had a growth LLM perceived setbacks, fail-
ures, and mistakes as an opportunity for growth and a valu-
able source for learning and development. They demonstrated
more resilience by applying adaptive strategies that helped
them to remain motivated or to remotivate themselves.
Examples of their statements included:
When learning English, I wish if I make a mistake every day, so
I learn something new every day. (ID105)
My motivation and my concentration increase when the
grammar lesson becomes more complicated or the vocabulary
gets more difficult, but I feel bored when the teachers repeat
information that I already know. (ID100)
In contrast, learners who had a fixed LLM perceived set-
backs as more threatening than challenging and consequently
were more likely to withdraw from stressful academic situa-
tions. They, therefore, remained demotivated for extended
periods as they applied maladaptive coping strategies in the
hope of reducing the negative emotional impact of demotiva-
tion, rather than changing their learning strategies to facili-
tate recovery. Examples of their statements included:
I felt that I was wasting my time. I stopped attending the English
classes because I felt helpless. I could not see the point of attending
the English class if I could not understand anything. (ID109)
Gradually, English class became like a 45-minute break where I
ate, drank and secretly chatted with my friends. I even escaped
the English class whenever I could. (ID105)
I became neglectful and did not touch the book if I had an
English test. I stopped feeling anxious or worried before the
English test. (ID107)
I used to say, “I’ll be fine.” Although I felt that I would never
succeed in learning English, I never hated English. I always told
myself that failing English did not mean that I am a failure
because I was good at other subjects. (ID107)
Mindset change leading to remotivation. The data showed, curi-
ously, that the LLM might change over time and that the
mindset gradual change can influence the language learner’s
motivational level. In cases where learners recovered from
demotivation, some fixed-mindset learners gradually adopted
a growth LLM for various reasons including: (a) encountering
high achievers or hardworking learners, (b) observing their
own growth and progress after trying new strategies and skills,
and (c) experiencing the positive outcome of hard work. The
LLM turned out to be key to success in recovery from demoti-
vation in our data.
Indeed, growth LLM was key to success in every recov-
ery case in our data. All demotivated learners who success-
fully bounced back and rebuilt their motivation after
experiencing demotivation have associated recovery with
changing their maladaptive beliefs about the malleability of
their language learning ability. Consider the following exam-
ple of a participant who held a fixed LLM before she encoun-
tered a proficient classmate who spoke English fluently.
Contrary to others who questioned their own ability when
encountering high achievers, this learner explained how her
discussion with that successful classmate gradually changed
her perception of her own language learning ability, and
thereby remotivated her. Encountering a proficient learner at
the same learning setting inspired her and changed her fixed
LLM from “I lacked the ability” into a growth mindset char-
acterized by the statement “It was too hard; I needed too
Albalawi and Al-Hoorie 7
much time and effort.” Even though, at that point, this learner
still thought that language learning was “too hard,” this new
perception represented a major shift from a complete lack of
ability (impossible endeavor) to too much time and effort
required (but still at least possible). This perception was trig-
gered by the recognition that that proficient classmate
achieved her goal through sustained effort rather than an
innate language ability or a natural talent:
I have always thought of majoring in English but thought that I
lacked the ability and talent. I even believed that you cannot learn
a second language if you are not smart and talented enough.
However, I met a friend in high school who had better grades in
English than I did. She told me that she never travelled abroad, she
attended state schools, and she studied English hard. I decided to
buy a book to learn English in one week. I admired her and had a
strong desire to be like her, but it was too hard; I needed too much
time and effort. Now, I believe that the harder I work and the
longer hours I spend, the better English learner I will be. (ID110)
This and other similar examples in our data indicated that
LLMs can change over time. Thus, it seems possible for learn-
ers to modify their fixed LLM, to generate a growth mindset
that facilitates recovery from demotivation, and to consciously
reflect on this process. If the newly generated growth mindset is
enhanced and maintained, long-term goals may be achieved.
Study 1 involved interviewing a group of language learners
about the factors that they perceived as contributing to their
demotivation. The analysis revealed three factors as well as
their interrelationships. As shown in Figure 1, it seems that
the primary factor contributing to demotivation is the learn-
er’s LLM. A fixed LLM seems to have both direct and indi-
rect effects on demotivation. One indirect effect appears to
be through lowering one’s ideal L2 self, and the other through
causing disappointment about low (particularly oral) profi-
ciency. Both holding a fixed LLM and being disappointed
about proficiency seem to have further led to a lower ideal
L2 self and thereby demotivated the learners. These findings,
in turn, might help explain recent results showing a weak
effect of mindset training interventions on academic achieve-
ment (e.g., Sisk et al., 2018). Our results suggest that the
relationship between a fixed mindset and low academic
achievement is not direct but partly mediated by demotiva-
tion, indicating that the impact might not be noticeable in the
short term. Instead, the effect might be incremental and
cumulative over a more extended period of time.
Since Study 1 adopted a qualitative design, we were able to
formulate the model shown in Figure 1 based on the learners’
perceptions. At the same time, the small sample of Study 1
allows neither confident inference to a larger population nor
does it allow estimation of the magnitude of the relationships
between these variables. Study 2 attempted to address these
limitations by administering a survey to a larger sample and
then testing the hypothesized model through SEM.
A total of 2,044 participants (aged 18–24) volunteered to take
part in this study. The participants (almost 90% female) were
studying at the foundation year at a major Saudi university. The
Figure 1. The hypothesized model emerging from Study 1.
8 SAGE Open
university in question accepts students from all over the coun-
try, thus its students represent different backgrounds. Around
53% of the participants were aiming for science-related majors
whereas 46% opted for an arts-related major. Only 12% started
learning English as early as Grade 1 or earlier, 52% from Grade
4, and 36% from intermediate school (Grade 7). Their profi-
ciency self-ratings ranged from beginner (18%), elementary
(21%), lower intermediate (22%), intermediate (28%), to upper
intermediate (11%). The participants had diverse backgrounds,
rural and urban, and graduated from different types of schools
including public, private, and international.
This study used four questionnaire scales, all adopting a 6-point
Likert-type response format (Albalawi, 2018; see Appendix).
Two scales were adapted from existing scales. The first was the
LLM (Dweck, 1999), where a higher score indicated stronger
endorsement of a fixed mindset. The second scale was the Ideal
L2 Self (Taguchi et al., 2009), where a higher score indicated a
stronger ideal L2 self. Two further scales were constructed
based on the qualitative analysis in Study 1: L2 Disappointment
and L2 Demotivation. To design two reliable scales, we adapted
original statements and quotes that the participating students
used to report symptoms of their disappointment and demoti-
vation. In both scales, a higher score indicated higher levels of
demotivation and of disappointment about oral proficiency.
These scales were first piloted on a sample of 60 learners to
verify comprehensibility. All scales were administered in
Arabic to avoid language interference. (See “Results” section
for reliability and validity of these scales.)
SEM was used to test the hypothesized model (Figure 1)
emerging from Study 1. The first step was examining the mea-
surement model. After the scree plot showed that there were
indeed four factors underlying the data, we conducted a con-
firmatory factor analysis with weighted least square mean and
variance adjusted (WLSMV) estimation method using Mplus
7 (Muthén & Muthén, 1998–2012). We used WLSMV because
it is suitable for ordinal data, makes no distributional assump-
tions about observed variables, and is less biased and more
accurate than robust maximum likelihood (MLR) especially
with large samples (Li, 2016). The measurement model part of
the analysis also involved examining construct reliability and
validity. The second step was the structural model, testing the
fit of the model and estimating the structural paths. Missing
data were handled using the default Mplus function, which
estimates the model under missing data theory using all avail-
able data, and no paths were dropped due to nonsignificance.
The measurement model showed adequate fit, χ2(48) =
165.717, p < .001, comparative fit index (CFI) = .994,
Tucker-Lewis index (TLI) = .992, root mean square error of
approximation (RMSEA) = .037, 90% CI [0.031, 0.043]. All
standardized factor loadings were significant, and most were
over .70, with the lowest being .68 (see Table 1). Most residu-
als were within ±2.0, with the smallest being −2.26. As Table
2 shows, the construct reliabilities were all above .70 while all
average variance extracted values were over .50. The square
roots of the average variance extracted values (shown in the
diagonal of Table 2) were also larger than their respective
inter-construct correlations, indicating adequate discriminant
validity (see Hiver & Al-Hoorie, 2020a, for details on SEM
We then conducted the structural model. The results are
presented in Figure 2 and Tables 3 and 4. Although having a
fixed mindset had a direct effect on L2 Demotivation (β =
.23), it also had an indirect effect of β = .25. In combination,
having fixed mindset had a total effect of β = .48 on L2
Demotivation. In other words, learners with a fixed mindset
may lower their Ideal L2 Selves, which subsequently leads to
L2 Demotivation. Similarly, learners who endorse a fixed
mindset might perceive their low oral proficiency with higher
levels of disappointment, resulting in further L2
Demotivation. An interesting finding in the results is that L2
Disappointment did not significantly predict the Ideal L2
Self, suggesting that the effect of L2 Disappointment is not
mediated by lowering the Ideal L2 Self.
Table 1. Standardized and Unstandardized Factor Loadings,
Standard Errors, and z Ratios of Scales in the Measurement
Path βB SE z
→Fixed1 .68 — 0.025 27.43
Fixed2 .83 1.23 0.027 30.90
Ideal L2 Self →Ideal1 .83 — 0.013 63.75
Ideal2 .77 0.93 0.014 55.78
Ideal3 .84 1.01 0.013 63.12
L2 Disappointment →Disap1 .69 — 0.022 30.96
Disap2 .85 1.23 0.024 35.82
L2 Demotivation →Demot1 .71 — 0.013 52.68
Demot2 .80 1.13 0.010 76.28
Demot3 .85 1.21 0.010 87.75
Demot4 .88 1.25 0.008 110.46
Demot5 .71 1.01 0.013 53.88
Note. All coefficients are significant at the p < .001 level.
Table 2. Reliability, Validity, and Inter-Construct Correlations
for the Scales of the Measurement Model.
Scale CR AVE 1 2 3 4
1. Language Learning Mindset .73 .57 .76
2. Ideal L2 Self .85 .66 −.28 .81
3. L2 Disappointment .74 .59 .25 −.03 .77
4. L2 Demotivation .89 .63 .48 −.58 .55 .79
Note. Values in the diagonal are the square roots of their respective AVE.
CR = construct reliability; AVE = average variance extracted.
Albalawi and Al-Hoorie 9
In this study, we conducted a large-scale quantitative study to
test the demotivation model emerging from Study 1. Our
results showed that the model was generalizable and showed
adequate statistical fit. The model also estimated the strength
of the associations among the variables, showing that having
a fixed mindset, a weak ideal L2 self and feeling disap-
pointed about one’s proficiency contributes to demotivation.
The results additionally showed that having a fixed mindset
contributed both directly and indirectly to demotivation. At
the same time, our results did not provide support to a demo-
tivation path of language learning disappointments through
lowering the learner’s ideal L2 self. This finding supports the
view that what matters is how the learner perceives setbacks
and their competence to overcome them (e.g., Bandura,
1997; Dweck & Molden, 2005; Lou & Noels, 2019). Those
who view lower oral proficiency as revealing their inherent
deficiencies will feel disappointed and then demotivated. In
contrast, those who see these same setbacks as a normal part
of the learning process are unlikely to feel as disappointed.
In this article, our ultimate aim was to rethink language
learning demotivation by exploring its complexity and the
interrelationship among factors leading to it. Most research
into language demotivation to date has focused on discrete
demotivators and on equipping learners with strategies, or
tricks, to overcome these demotivators. However, remotivat-
ing learners requires more than a list of strategies that might
address the “symptoms” of demotivation. It requires identi-
fying the root of this demotivation.
In response to recent calls (e.g., Kikuchi, 2015) to expand
the focus of demotivation research, to take into account
Figure 2. Results of the structural model.
All coefficients are significant at p < .001 unless otherwise indicated.
Table 3. Standardized and Unstandardized Structural Coefficients, Standard Errors, and z Ratios for the Structural Model.
Path βB SE z
Language Learning Mindset →Ideal L2 Self −.25 −0.33 0.030 −9.11
L2 Demotivation .23 0.24 0.024 9.67
L2 Disappointment .25 0.25 0.030 8.37
L2 Disappointment →Ideal L2 Self −.02 −0.02 0.023 −0.50
L2 Demotivation .46 0.47 0.022 20.76
Ideal L2 Self →L2 Demotivation −.48 −0.42 0.021 −23.22
Note. All coefficients are significant at the p < .001 level.
10 SAGE Open
learners’ unique histories and backgrounds, and to investi-
gate why learners react differently to seemingly the same
demotivators, this article attempted to uncover the subjective
reality of language learners who had experienced demotiva-
tion and remotivation. Our results revealed that demotivation
experiences, perceptions, and explanations are highly indi-
vidual, personalized, and unique. Crucially, LLM appeared
to be the root cause of demotivation—at least among the
other factors emerging from this investigation.
We conducted two studies. In Study 1, we interviewed a
group of learners who recounted their experiences with
demotivation and the factors they perceived as contributing
to it. We analyzed the factors that made them behave and
react differently and then proposed a model that explains the
variation in their demotivational, motivational, and remoti-
vational trajectories. However, the design of Study 1 did not
permit generalizing this model or estimating the strength of
the associations among its variables. To address these limita-
tions, Study 2 tested the model on a larger sample. The
results from Study 2 supported the model overall and most of
its hypothesized paths.
The qualitative and quantitative results complemented
each other by establishing a clear empirical link between
LLMs and demotivation. The results revealed five paths
leading to demotivation, as follows:
1. Believing that one’s language learning ability is fixed
and inborn makes the learner susceptible to
2. Belief in a fixed language learning ability also weak-
ens one’s ideal L2 self.
3. Having a weak ideal L2 self can set off
4. Belief in a fixed language learning ability also mag-
nifies the impact of inevitable language-related
5. Experiencing language disappointments (e.g., related
to low oral proficient or teaching method) can con-
tribute to demotivation.
In contrast, our results did not support the path involving lan-
guage disappointments lowering the ideal L2 self and then
bringing about disappointment. This suggests that feeling
disappointed per se does not have as strong of an impact on
the ideal L2 self as does having a fixed mindset.
Contributing to the recent developing interest among lan-
guage learning researchers in LLM (e.g., Lou & Noels, 2017,
2019, 2020), our findings suggest that LLM plays a signifi-
cant role within demotivation and remotivation. Possessing a
fixed LLM leads to avoiding challenges and setting lower
goals, thus risking becoming demotivated over time (Mercer,
2011). LLM seems to influence demotivation by guiding
learners’ interpretations and shaping their responses to per-
ceived demotivators. A fixed LLM can, therefore, cast a
shadow on the language learning experience, resilience, and
motivation, standing out as the key to failure in coping with
and overcoming demotivation.
In other words, LLM may explain to a large extent why
some learners remain demotivated for extended periods or
even develop learned helplessness. Conversely, LLM may
help explain why other learners use personal resources and
effective coping strategies to positively adapt to potentially
stressful demotivators or successfully recover from demoti-
vation. Although Akgun and Ciarrochi (2003) and Yun et al.
(2018) found that learned resourcefulness is essential for
overcoming academic stress, sustaining resilient functioning
and improving academic performance, Ceyhan and Ceyhan
(2011) reported that learned resourcefulness does not
improve over time. However, our results suggest that a fixed
LLM can change over time and, when it does, learners’ resil-
ience and resourcefulness may improve.
Our results additionally shed light on the adaptive and
maladaptive coping strategies that learners used to deal with
demotivation. LLM seems to have been a major influence on
the selection of these strategies. LLM constituted a primary
factor facilitating recovery from demotivation and helping
previously demotivated students with different motivational
needs to overcome setbacks and rebuild their motivation.
Recognizing the subjective interconnections among the fac-
tors leading to demotivation and tapping into the source of
demotivation (Kim & Kim, 2013) was vital for remotivating
It has been argued that a future-directed end goal is essen-
tial for motivation (Dörnyei, 2009; Kikuchi, 2019). Our
Table 4. Total, Direct, and Indirect Effects From Language Learning Mindset to L2 Demotivation.
Path βB SE z
Total effect .48 0.50 0.024 20.14***
Direct effect .23 0.24 0.024 9.67***
Indirect effect (total) .25 0.26 0.020 12.28***
Mindset → Ideal → Demotivation .13 0.14 0.015 8.44***
Mindset → Disappointment → Demotivation .11 0.12 0.014 7.96***
Mindset → Disappointment → Ideal → Demotivation .002 0.002 0.004 0.51
Note. Mindset = Language Learning Mindset; Ideal = Ideal L2 Self; Demotivation = L2 Demotivation; Disappointment = L2 Disappointment.
***p < .001.
Albalawi and Al-Hoorie 11
results suggest that a fixed LLM can prevent the construction
of an ideal L2 self. A weak ideal L2 self can consequently
demotivate the language learner. Even if a positive ideal L2
self is successfully created, a fixed LLM could obstruct its
motivational power due to the learner’s core belief that their
future-directed end goal cannot be achieved without having
the natural God-given ability. Although little research has
addressed how learners construct their ideal L2 selves in the
first place, our results suggest that LLM is a key factor facili-
tating or preventing the construction of an ideal L2 self.
Our results may also help explain why learners with a
growth LLM in Lou and Noels (2020) reported less anxiety,
more language use, and higher perceived proficiency, even
after controlling baseline proficiency. Low oral proficiency,
on its own, is not necessarily viewed as a demotivating fac-
tor. Disappointment about low oral proficiency, in our study,
only demotivated learners who held a fixed LLM, while
growth mindset language learners were satisfied with the
slow progress they made in the classroom and perceived it as
a natural part of the learning process, and thereby remained
motivated. It is worth noting here that the L2 disappoint-
ment-related results add further evidence that motivation and
demotivation are not completely parallel constructs. Our
results suggest that demotivational factors need to be inves-
tigated in their own right, rather than treating them as the flip
side of motivational factors. Although L2 disappointment
appeared in our study as a factor that could lead to L2 demo-
tivation, there was no evidence that lack of disappointment
per se may be a motivating factor.
Finally, our results highlighted the potential for LLM to
change. This supports the malleability of mindsets across
time due to interaction with contextual factors (Mercer,
2011; Yeager et al., 2016). A growth LLM was associated
with remotivation and recovery from demotivation. In con-
trast, learners with a fixed mindset remained demotivated,
drawing from maladaptive coping strategies such as escap-
ing from learning opportunities, not putting in the effort
needed, and assuring themselves that they were better at
As explained above, one possible explanation as to why
mindset training interventions might have a weak effect on
academic achievement (e.g., Sisk et al., 2018) is that the
effect on mindsets is not direct but partly mediated by demo-
tivation and how learners react to and cope with academic
setbacks. Therefore, any effect of mindset change may not be
noticeable in the short term.
One implication of our findings is for teachers to under-
stand that children are not born holding a particular mindset,
but instead several internal and external factors can promote
the emergence and prevalence of particular mindsets over
time. Feedback is considered the primary factor promoting
different mindsets. That is, different kinds of praise and
criticism can directly shape, create, and change learners’
mindsets. Therefore, we suggest promoting a growth LLM
by (a) creating a growth learning environment that allows for
making mistakes and embracing failures as a natural part of
the learning journey; (b) discussing language learning beliefs
with learners and stressing the superiority of effort as the key
to success in language learning; (c) appreciating and reward-
ing the learner’s continuous effort to create an environment
where hard work and gradual growth are valued; (d) select-
ing tasks, materials, and feedback tools that include positive
implicit messages emphasizing the importance of effort; (e)
praising the process (i.e., effort or strategy) rather than prais-
ing natural language learning ability; and (f) highlighting the
importance of making mistakes and failures in improvement,
growth, and learning new things. Thus, setbacks should be
seen as representing situational difficulties and not inherent
personal limitations, which will hopefully “prompt redou-
bling of efforts rather than provoking self-discouraging
doubts about one’s coping capabilities” (Bandura, 1997,
Another implication is addressing teachers’ own mind-
sets. As reviewed above, learners can implicitly detect even
subtle linguistic messages (e.g., Cimpian et al., 2007).
Language teachers’ beliefs about the nature of language
learning and their students’ potential to master a new lan-
guage can significantly influence their teaching strategies,
their own motivation, and their feedback and reaction to their
students’ failures or weaknesses. Dealing with demotivated
learners should, therefore, be part of teacher training because
of the possible long-term ramifications demotivation can
have on learners. LLM, its impact on motivation and resil-
ience, and ways to promote a growth LLM should be included
in language teachers’ pre- and in-service training programs.
These programs should introduce both a theoretical back-
ground on LLM and practical tips and strategies to deal with
fixed mindsets and to promote growth mindsets.
Limitations and Future Directions
One limitation of our study was the sample. Our sample con-
sisted of Saudi young adults (mostly female) studying foun-
dation-year English at one university. Nevertheless, we have
little reason to expect the results to be considerably different
with male language learners, in other contexts, or when
learning languages other than English (Dörnyei & Al-Hoorie,
2017). We encourage future research into diverse samples to
ascertain the applicability of our results to them. Another
limitation is that we did not compare our SEM model to other
competing models. We acknowledge that there may be other
models that could fit the data as well as or better than our
model. However, we adopted this model because it was the
one that clearly emerged from the qualitative data in Study 1.
The direction of causality was based on the learners’ narra-
tives in Study 1, while Study 2 aimed to quantify these per-
12 SAGE Open
Research into LLM is still very much in its initial phases,
and we do not claim that the model we obtained is compre-
hensive or the final word in this matter. The findings have
generated new questions that are beyond the scope of this
study, and the potential for future studies in this emerging
field seems considerable. For instance, future research
should attempt to examine a larger network of factors and
how they interact with each other in a dynamic fashion.
Furthermore, the role of LLMs in remotivation needs to be
further investigated, with attention directed toward a more
fine-tuned understanding of the mechanisms involved in
remotivation. There is also a need for intervention research
to examine the extent to which language learners can be
remotivated through promoting a growth LLM. This requires
longitudinal and experimental research to examine the effec-
tiveness of different strategies for changing LLM and for
maintaining this change for longer periods. More research is
also needed to examine the factors that contribute to the for-
mation of different LLMs and the role of the teachers and
parents in promoting and shaping these LLMs. Finally,
exploring language teachers,’ not just learners,’ mindsets
may open doors to better understanding teachers’ (de)moti-
vation and their responses to demotivated learners.
Questionnaire items were used in this study (Albalawi, 2018).
Language Learning Mindset
I believe that the natural ability to learn English is stable. It
is a God-gifted talent.
Everyone is able to learn a second language, but this abil-
ity is individual, limited, and fixed.
Ideal L2 Self
I can imagine a situation where I am hanging out and speaking
English with my international friends who are foreigners.
I can imagine myself studying abroad and using English
effectively to give a presentation in English.
I can imagine myself speaking English as if I were a
native speaker of English.
I am disappointed that spending long time studying English
at school was useless for speaking outside school.
I am not happy with the school English materials as they
lack promoting authentic English language use.
When I have a bad teacher, I lose interest and reduce the time
I spend studying English.
After each failure in an English test, I simply lose interest
and hate trying again.
I easily lose interest in goals, which prove hard to reach
such as English homework that needs too much effort and
I feel upset when I study English hard but fail the test, so
I save time and reduce the effort in future tests.
Observing other better successful proficient English
learners makes me feel worse and lose interest, that it is
about me not about English.
We would like to thank Zoltán Dörnyei for his support and thought-
ful feedback on the design and analysis of this study.
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.
Institutional ethical approval was obtained prior to data collection.
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