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Review of  The Discursive Construction of Second Language Learners' Motivation

Reviewer: Honggang Liu
Book Title: The Discursive Construction of Second Language Learners' Motivation
Book Author: Mingyue Gu
Publisher: Peter Lang AG
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Discourse Analysis
Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 22.362

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AUTHOR: Gu, Mingyue
TITLE: The Discursive Construction of Second Language Learners' Motivation
SUBTITLE: A Multi-Level Perspective
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.


Clarke, M. (2005). Teaching identity: the discursive construction of an evolving
communities of practice. Unpublished PhD dissertation, University of Melbourne,

Dörnyei Z. (2007). Research methods in applied linguistics: Quantitative,
qualitative, and mixed methodologies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Dörnyei, Z., & Kormos, J. (2000). The role of individual and social variables in
oral task performance. Language Teaching Research, 4, 275-300.

Fairclough, N. (2003). Analyzing discourse: Textual analysis for social
research. London: New York: Routledge.

Gardner R. C. (1985). Social psychology and second language learning: The role
of attitudes and motivation. London: Edward Arnold.

Gardner R. C., & Lambert, W. E.(1972). Attitudes and motivation in second
language acquisition. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.

Glesne. C. & Peshkin. A. (1992). Becoming qualitative researchers. White Plains:

Norton B. (2000). Identity and language learning: Gender, ethnicity and
educational change. London: Pearson Education.

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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.

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