Demotivation: a Qualitative Study of Chinese English Learners at the Tertiary Level

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  • Topic: Motivation, Educational psychology, Second language acquisition
  • Pages : 22 (7680 words )
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  • Published : May 5, 2013
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Demotivation: A Qualitative Study of Chinese English Learners at the Tertiary Level

Abstract: Motivation has been widely researched. But its negative side — demotivation — has been a neglected area although it is “a salient phenomenon” (Dornyei, 2001, p.155). Little research has been done, so far, to investigate what demotivates students or what differentiates motivated from demotivated students. This paper explores tertiary-level EFL (English as a foreign language) learners’ demotivation through in-depth semi-structured interviews of one motivated and two demotivated students in China. Motivated and demotivated students are found to differ in six aspects: 1) feelings of belongingness and being cared for; 2) motivational response to test scores; 3) transformation between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation; 4) attitudes towards and anxiety over the state exam; 5) epistemological beliefs and cognitive strategies; and 6) self-regulation. What is worthy of special notice is the significant role of perceived teacher caring in (de)motivating students even at the tertiary level.

Key words: demotivation, perceived teacher caring, epistemological beliefs, self-regulation


Most authors (e.g., Dornyei, 2001; Ellis, 1994; Gardner, 1985; Spolsky, 2000) in the field of second language learning (SLL) agree that SLL is a complex process in which motivation plays a major role. Dornyei (1998) sees the relationship between motivation and learning as being one in which high motivation can “make up for considerable deficiencies both in language aptitude and learning conditions” (p.117). Because of its vital role, motivation has been widely researched in the past two decades. However, much of the literature examines the positive side of motivation that ‘energizes’ learners, ignoring the negative side — demotivation, which is loss of motivation because of specific contextual or external reasons such as public humiliation, devastating test results, or conflict with peers (Dornyei, 2001, pp.141-143). Demotivation serves to enervate or de-energize learners. As teachers, we have known many learners who started their English learning experience with strong motivation and ended up demotivated or even giving up in despair. In spite of this, little research has been done to investigate this phenomenon. The study reported here set out to explore the phenomenon of demotivation in EFL learning by addressing the following research question: • In which aspects do motivated and demotivated students differ in terms of the motivational variables to be sorted out in the literature?

2. Literature Review

Since demotivation is the negative side of motivation, we need, first of all, to find out what factors influence motivation, as logically, it might be assumed that dissatisfaction with these factors would undermine motivation and even lead to demotivation.

2.1 Definition and types of motivation

Motivation is a cluster of factors that energize behaviour and give it direction. In Dornyei’s words, “motivation is responsible for why people decide to do something, how long they are willing to sustain the activity, and how hard they are going to pursue it” (Dornyei, 2000, p.520). It is generally agreed that there are two general types of motivation: intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation (Dornyei, 1998; Ryan & Deci, 2000). Intrinsic motivation refers to interest in an activity for its own sake in order to experience pleasure and satisfaction. Extrinsic motivation is based on extrinsic rewards such as earning a reward or avoiding a punishment. A student's motivation is frequently a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation has been generally believed to correlate more closely with language learning success than extrinsic motivation (e.g., Walqui, 2000, in Ehrman et al, 2003); however, research has also shown that “under certain circumstances—if they are sufficiently...
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