Tuesday, May 10, 2016

motivation part 1

TESL-EJ signed me up as a reviewer on a lengthy paper which I agreed to review recently. It deals with motivation amongst language learners. The reason they looked me up was because I had reviewed a book by Gardner a few years back. I guess that makes me a rational observer of the motivation research field.

Gardner, unrelated to the Gardner of multiple intelligences (as far as I know) had been the leader of motivation research for many years. He was living in French Canada, where there was a large number of people studying languages in both directions, and lots of despair over the process in general.

It's been standard in the language teaching business for many years that "motivation is everything" and "if you are motivated, you'll learn the language" regardless of any obstacles in your way. I didn't quite agree with any of this, or at least the sweeping generalization part of it, but there was no question, motivation is important. Gardner presided over a period of time when they tried to define kinds of motivation (such as instrumental, for example - needing a language to use it for some other personal need, like studying engineering, as opposed to integrative, actually wanting to be part of the culture you are seeking to communicate with). Finally, by the time he wrote the book I reviewed, he was quite frustrated with various kinds of motivation, and he said, it doesn't matter where it comes from, and it's impossible to divide or discern the kinds, as they get all confused anyway. What matters is the juice you get from them. If your motivation makes you go to class every day, then it's good motivation, and real. If it gets you to do your homework, it's real. But it doesn't matter if you want to learn a language, but still can't get out of bed to go to class in the morning. If you aren't getting anything out of it, it's not real.

So Gardner goes on to say that if you're motivated you'll go to class, you'll like class, you'll do your homework, and you'll get out of bed in the morning. I may be misquoting him a little here, but he was saying something like that, and I was wondering, wait a minute, it's possible to want to learn a language, and still be disillusioned enough about a given class, to not want to go to that class.

So what we're really arguing about is the process between, or the connection between, your deeper personal motivation, and your immediate problem, which is getting out of bed. And I realize that I've basically been studying that connection all of my life. It turns out that if you can get either of those kinds of motivations entwined in any way, you get extra benefit from doing it. It's kind of like being in the wake of a truck on an icy highway, and getting the benefit of not only having the truck break the wind, but also having him/her grind up the ice/snow on the road. It's hard to define how you get people to do the work that they should want to do anyway, but if the two motivations are connected in any way, you're going to be pulled along in the right direction. That's the essence of it.

Now the curious thing about the paper is that although someone named Dornyei is all over it (he/she has apparently written extensively on motivation), Gardner is nowhere to be seen. Is his work forgotten? Did he undo his own legacy by telling us what he did about motivation? I'm curious to find out.

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