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AUTHOR: Gu, Mingyue TITLE: The Discursive Construction of Second Language Learners' Motivation SUBTITLE: A Multi-Level Perspective PUBLISHER: Peter Lang AG YEAR: 2009
Honggang Liu, Department of English, Peking University, Beijing, P.R.C
This book examines the construction of Chinese university students’ motivation to learn English, looking at social, historical, linguistic, and learner-based factors. In the first chapter, after defining the terms culture and discourse, the author describes the background of ELT in China and gives a summary of the status quo of motivation research. Near the end of this chapter, the following research questions are formulated: (1) How is tertiary students’ English learning motivation constructed in China? (2) How is their motivation constructed in dyadic interactions with English L1 speakers? (3) How is their motivation affected by macro and micro discourses?
Chapter 2 begins with a review of the existing literature on motivation in the field of applied linguistics, from Gardner and Lambert (1972, 1985) to Bonny Norton (2000). The author then elaborates on the theoretical frameworks that are used in this study, namely Vygotsky’s genetic theory (adapted from Clark 2005) and Wenger’s Communities of Practice (CoP), and the analytical instrument, Fairclough’s Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA).
Chapter 3 presents the research methodology. The book is based on an ethnographical one-year longitudinal study, complemented by quantitative data. The author collected data through interviews, audio-recordings, diaries, and questionnaires. Four Chinese university students (Jocelyn, Lisa, Jane, and Helena) and four English L1 volunteers interacted in pairs every two weeks. A semi-structured interview was conducted in Chinese every eight weeks. Diaries were required to be written in Chinese or English, immediately after the interaction. The participants’ interaction was also recorded for at least twenty minutes every time. The questionnaire that is used is the Attitude/Motivation Test Battery (AMTB) by Gardner and MacIntyre (1993). The author also elaborates on the stages of data analysis and on the results of the quantitative data. The quantitative part finds that (1) there is no dramatic increase in the motivation of the four Chinese students; (2) two of the students (Jocelyn and Lisa), on average, are more motivated than the other students at the end of the project; (3) the less motivated students (Jane and Helena) show higher motivation at the end of the study than at the beginning, (4) the motivation of one student (Lisa) decreases in the course of the study.
Chapter 4 gives the background of the empirical study. It includes an overview of English learning in mainland China and information about the participants that the study is based on.
Chapters 5 and 6 present the core of the book. Chapter 5 sheds light on the macro aspect of the motivation construction process. I will discuss the case of one student, Jocelyn, as an example. The author uses Fairclough's CDA to interpret the text of chronological narration of Jocelyn’s English learning experience and describes the process of her motivation construction at different stages of her college study within the framework of social and ontological domains of Vygotsky’s theory. From the chronological account of her learning experience, Jocelyn was found to be ardent and active in seeking every chance to practice her English and she loved to learn more about western culture and English-speaking communities. She did not hesitate to take English as her first choice after the entry examination to college, i.e., she started her undergraduate learning with high motivation. But her college English learning process was not smooth, as perceived from her narrative accounts measured with Fairclough’s CDA. In the first year at her university, she felt her English was not better than other students' and she had no confidence. However, she still showed some perseverance to continue learning. This psychological process was reflected in her journal, where she used the modality “have to” to represent her desire to learn English and to catch up with others as a necessity. She wrote “I am the most hard working student” (p.127) and described her oral English as “even better than some of them” (p. 127), articulating her progress. When she was deeply frustrated by her diminished English, she doubted her choice. But this questioning was tentative, indicated through the use of modals like “would not” instead of “will not” in the same diary (p.128). In the last interview, when Jocelyn became a MA student, she used the verb “conquer” [English], which reveals her complex attitudes towards language in her life. The author also analyzes Jocelyn's discourses within the CoP model. Here, the author focuses on the interpersonal relationship between Jocelyn and her learning communities. For example, the emergence of a disharmony between her own values and the utilitarian values of the community (the English Department) can be perceived, such as “no sense of responsibility” and “utilitarian,'' “self-centered” and “materially-oriented”, in her fourth diary (p.138). The author argues that these value conflicts and the failure to gain legitimacy are possible factors in constructing Jocelyn’s motivation to seize every opportunity for self-development in a learning community. The author finds that Jocelyn took strong affinity with Chinese culture, e.g. “I will spare time to learn about Chinese culture and try to be a wholehearted Chinese” (p.153). She kept her Chinese identity, for example, she used the expression “we Chinese” in her eighth diary (p.153). She reflected on the culture differences between China and western world. In the mode of imagination, learners’ imagined identities bridge the past, present and future. Jocelyn altered her own imagined identities from that of a scientist (in junior high school), a successful business lady (in the first and second year of university), and a scholar (the last two years at her university) to an instantaneous interpreter (MA program). She tried to construct a socially acceptable identity, which was a result of the constant interaction between the context and her. In the mode of alignment, the author finds that Jocelyn, facing the external values formed in social discourses against her own, was able to negotiate social constraints. For instance, in her sixth diary, she understood success as obtained by means of “setting up a network” and “in creating good relationship with the boss” (p.172). She even used some negative adjectives like “dirty” and “illegal” to interpret success (p. 172). In such a case, she was still motivated to strive for great achievements, for she had “fear of being disregarded and laughed at” (p.173). The author argues that in adjusting the relationship between the social values and beliefs and her own, Jocelyn held a high motivation to learn English for pursuing her own identity in the larger social discourse.
Chapter 6 unfolds a picture of the motivation construction in dyadic interactions between the participants and their English L1 partners. The author finds that Jocelyn’s Chinese identity is prominent and that her pride in Chinese culture leads her to her desire to learn English well. Her partner, Katherine, expressed her love for China and her great interest in Chinese culture, which boosted Jocelyn’s Chinese identity. In this chapter, the findings also offer some explanations for the contradictory results in the quantitative part of chapter 3. For example, based on the quantitative results, two students, Helena and Jane, were classified as highly motivated, Jocelyn was fairly motivated and a fourth student, Lisa, was slightly motivated. Here, by analyzing the episodes of the interaction, the author finds that it is the extent of the various relationships developed by different pairs that determines the degree of the participants’ motivation. The dyadic interaction provides the participants with opportunities to learn about Western culture. Their intrapersonal identities also undergo some changes that influence their learning motivation. For example, learners from the English department can take on a more active role in creating environments for practicing their English. Jocelyn did not like it when previous English L1 discourse partners only focused on what they liked when she communicated with them. So in the interaction with Katherine, she tried to adjust the topics to her partner. Her pride in Chinese culture balanced her power relations with Katherine.
The last chapter summarizes the book and discusses the limitations and implications of this study. On the whole, this study defines motivation as a process of emergence. It demonstrates how motivation undergoes changes under the tension between social and personal discourses. Shared values, beliefs, and interests seem to play more important roles than language proficiency for good interaction and close interpersonal relationships in dyadic interactions. At the end of this chapter, the author discusses implications for further research and teaching practice. On the level of research, it is suggested that (1) the research scope be broadened to a more dynamic learning context and social settings; (2) more historical factors be considered in exploring the formation of motivation, and (3) writing activities be designed as the micro interaction to observe the motivation construction. On the level of teaching practice, she argues that teachers should know more about students' backgrounds and place more attention on the dyadic interactions between L1 speakers and L2 learners. They should use innovate teaching methods, and give students more opportunities to utilize multi-media and other cultural resources.
This book presents an important contribution to L2 motivation research. Traditionally, motivation studies in the field of applied linguistics follow a quantitative approach (e.g. Gardner and Lambert, 1972, 1985) and are little concerned with the dynamic construction of motivation. By contrast, in this study, an ethnographic approach was adopted as the major approach, supplemented by quantitative data. The result is the portrayal of a multi-level picture of students’ motivation both in the sociocultural foreground and the micro dyadic interaction. It becomes clear that learners' historical background, material resources, situated activities and the broader sociocultural discourse influence the formation of motivation. This study also sets a good example for novice researchers for how to conduct mixed-method research on learning motivation. The last strong point is that the book gives concrete suggestions for further research on Chinese learners' motivation and advises teachers on how to increase their students' motivation through becoming active agents.
There are also some limitations in the book. In qualitative research, it is stressed that a researcher's own experience will have an impact on his/her research and thus on the interpretation of data (Glensne & Peshkin 1992). However, in this book, it is not clear how exactly the relationship between the author and the participants was formed. Another point is that there are some editing errors. For example, figure 2.7. (on Fairclough's CDA), which should be on p. 74, is missing. Lastly, the author could have provided more information about the interviews (for example, in an appendix) so that the reader would obtain a fuller picture of the data collecting process.
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ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Honggang Liu is doing his PhD research in sociolinguistics at the
Department of English, Peking University, P.R.C. His research interests are
English learning motivation and learners' identity.