A Review of Traditional and Current Theories of Motivation in ESL Curtis Kelly
Overview Motivation is the great, unspoken problem of English education in Japan. It is “great” because it is probably the most difficult single problem classroom teachers face. Whereas motivation is rarely a problem for ESL students studying in English speaking countries, it is the major problem for EFL students studying English in their home countries (Wigzell & Al-Ansari, 1993). In English-speaking countries, frequent interaction with native speakers and a desire to integrate with the local community creates a need for language competence, but such stimuli do not exist in Japan. Since the benefits of mastering English are distant and uncertain (certain employment opportunities and a chance to communicate with native speakers if one goes abroad) motivation tends to be slack. Wigzell and Al-Ansari call this problem “the problem of wastage and low productivity in foreign language courses" (p. 303). In Japan, in particular, where college English students are generally considered lackadaisical and unmotivated (Wigzell & Al-Ansari, 1993), and where “carrot” approaches to motivating students are preferred to “stick” approaches (Singleton, 1993), classroom teachers are constantly in need of ways to motivate their students. And yet the problem of motivation remains “unspoken” because research has failed to tell us what it is. Despite raised hopes in the sixties when identification of integrative, instrumental, intrinsic, and extrinsic motivation made the path of future research seem clear, little progress was made in the following two decades. Studies based on these concepts not only failed to provide us with new insights, they also cast doubt on the validity of these very concepts. Therefore, for the last twenty years, motivation has been pretty much abandoned as an ESL research construct. Until recently, that is. New approaches psychology have led to new models of motivation. The purpose of this study will be to examine both the traditional and current theories and suggest possibilities for future areas of research. Methods of Studying Motivation Motivation is a “soft” construct – it only can be inferred rather than observed directly. Pintrich and Schunk (1996) list a number of research paradigms, including correlational, experimental, qualitative, laboratory, and www.osaka-gu.ac.jp/php/kelly/papers/motivation.html 1/20
field; and also a variety of motivation indexes, which include choice of tasks, effort, persistence, and achievement. Self-reporting through questionnaires by far the most common method used to assess motivation in language students (Crookes & Schmidt, 1991), but as a number of studies have shown (Cameron, 1988; Davidman, 1991), self-reporting methods are not always reliable. This especially seems to be the case with when assessing motivation with Japanese students (Teweles, 1996). Therefore, although questionnaires are still widely used, English achievement rates might be more reliable. “Students who choose to engage in a task, expend effort, and persist are likely to achieve at a higher level (Pintrich & Schrauben, 1992; Schunk, 1991)” (Pintrich & Schunk, 1996, p. 16). Definition of Motivation Despite the divergence of the approaches used to study motivation, its definitions are surprisingly uniform. In simple terms, motivation, based on the Latin verb for “move,” is the force that makes one do something. It is a process that involves goals, physical or mental activity, and is both instigated and sustained (Pintrich & Schunk, 1996, pp 4-5; Williams, 1997). It is characterized in terms of direction, duration and intensity. Earlier theorists, such as behavioralists, tended to portray motivation mechanistically, related to needs satisfaction (Altman, Valenzi, & Hodgetts, 1985; Maslow, 1987; Owens, 1987), while the more recent cognitive psychologists portray...