Doing ‘motivation’ in the Foreign Language classroom: Findings from the chalkface

Anne Elizabeth Preston

University of Southampton, United Kingdom


The foreign language (FL) classroom is an institutional setting whose ‘social structure’: its social formations, organisations and constitutive practices (Schegloff, 1992), can be probed through an examination of the relationships between talk to setting. This paper reports on how my on-going doctoral research, a longitudinal observational study of a French FL classroom in the UK, engages with these reflexive relationships and in doing so, uses them as an inroad into investigating the situated and temporal nature of second language learning (L2) motivation.

Traditionally, L2 motivation has been viewed as a psychological construct, as a ‘product’ related to students’ beliefs or perceptions of their classroom experiences or of the target language itself. While such approaches have contributed widely to the development of the field, they have also been the subject of debate. Included in these discussions are issues relating to the dearth of empirical evidence and methodological advance concerning the temporal nature of L2 motivation in the moment-to-moment dynamics of FL classroom learning and teaching practices (Dörnyei and Otto, 1998).

In my research, I focus on the formulation of a transversal methodology for exploring L2 motivation as a socially constructed phenomenon rooted in classroom processes, from the point of view talk-in-interaction. I am interested in how L2 motivation gets activated, displayed, negotiated and processed in situated experience.

Working within the frame of Conversation Analysis and more specifically its application to ‘institutional talk’ (Drew and Heritage, 1992), in the first part of my paper I demonstrate how a range of interactional resources are used and re-specified by participants as a means for achieving the specific goals of their FL learning activities. These are taken from transcripts of episodes in a corpus of year-long video-recordings.

In the second part, I discuss how it is possible to move from such context-sensitive descriptions to talk more specifically about ‘motivating’ and L2 motivation. I show how they are collaboratively achieved and locally occasioned in ways that the participants co-construct and negotiate their roles and relationships in discourse practices. I focus particularly on the emergence of otherwise underdeveloped concepts in L2 motivation classroom research such as identity and ‘face’ (Goffman, 1963).

My research engages with the wider challenges concerning the tensions between the micro-macro dimensions which surround L2 motivation work. It attempts build on a growing body of recent research which is more specifically concerned with the interplay of immediate contextual factors such as the ‘teacher’ and the ‘student group’- categories ultimately embedded in the ‘social structure’ of the FL classroom.

Dornyei, Z & Otto, I 1998, “Motivation in action: A process model of L2 motivation”, Working Papers in Applied Linguistics, 4: 43-69. Thames Valley University.

Drew, P & Heritage, J (eds) 1992, Talk at Work: Interaction in Institutional Settings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Schegloff, E A 1992, “On talk and its institutional occasions”, in Drew & Heritage, 1992: 101–34.

Goffman, E 1963, Behavior in Public Places: Notes on the Social Organisation of Gatherings. New York: Free Press.

Session: Paper session
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 11