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Second Language Learning and Teaching

SarahMercer Editors

New Directions
in Language
Second Language Learning and Teaching

Series editor
Mirosaw Pawlak, Kalisz, Poland
About the Series

The series brings together volumes dealing with different aspects of learning and
teaching second and foreign languages. The titles included are both monographs
and edited collections focusing on a variety of topics ranging from the processes
underlying second language acquisition, through various aspects of language
learning in instructed and non-instructed settings, to different facets of the teaching
process, including syllabus choice, materials design, classroom practices and
evaluation. The publications reflect state-of-the-art developments in those areas,
they adopt a wide range of theoretical perspectives and follow diverse research
paradigms. The intended audience are all those who are interested in naturalistic
and classroom second language acquisition, including researchers, methodologists,
curriculum and materials designers, teachers and undergraduate and graduate
students undertaking empirical investigations of how second languages are learnt
and taught.

More information about this series at

Christina Gkonou Dietmar Tatzl

Sarah Mercer

New Directions in Language

Learning Psychology

Christina Gkonou Sarah Mercer
Department of Language and Linguistics Institut fr Anglistik
University of Essex University of Graz
Colchester Graz
UK Austria

Dietmar Tatzl
FH Joanneum University of Applied

ISSN 2193-7648 ISSN 2193-7656 (electronic)

Second Language Learning and Teaching
ISBN 978-3-319-23490-8 ISBN 978-3-319-23491-5 (eBook)
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-23491-5

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Introduction: New Directions in Language Learning Psychology . . . . . . 1

Dietmar Tatzl, Christina Gkonou and Sarah Mercer
Intentionality and Complex Systems Theory: A New Direction
for Language Learning Psychology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
Achilleas Kostoulas and Juup Stelma
New Directions in Language Learning Strategy Research:
Engaging with the Complexity of Strategy Use . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25
Carol Grifths and Grsev Inceay
A Systemic View of Learner Autonomy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39
Dietmar Tatzl
Attachment Theory: Insights into Student Postures in Autonomous
Language Learning . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 55
Denyze Toffoli
Emotions and Feelings in Language Advising Discourse . . . . . . . . . . . . 71
Maria Giovanna Tassinari
Its Time, Put on the Smile, Its Time!: The Emotional Labour
of Second Language Teaching Within a Japanese University. . . . . . . . . 97
Jim King
A Tale of Two Learners: Discovering Mentoring, Motivation,
Emotions, Engagement, and Perseverance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 113
Rebecca L. Oxford and Diana Bolaos-Snchez
Language-Teacher Professional Identity: Focus on Discontinuities
from the Perspective of Teacher Afliation, Attachment and
Autonomy. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 135
Dorota Werbiska

vi Contents

Drawings Reveal the Beliefs of Japanese University Students . . . . . . . . 159

Sakae Suzuki and Marshall R. Childs
Love or Money? Reinterpreting Traditional Motivational
Dimensions in Modern Social and Economic Contexts . . . . . . . . . . . . . 185
Virg Csillagh
Attribution Theory: Dimensions of Causality, Stability
and Controllability According to Learners . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 209
Ana Soa Gonzalez
Scaffolding 2.0Redening the Role of the Teacher in Online
Language Learning Environments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 233
Margit Reitbauer and Hannes Fromm
Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 249
Christina Gkonou, Dietmar Tatzl and Sarah Mercer

Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 257
Editors and Contributors

About the Editors

Christina Gkonou is Lecturer in Teaching English as a Foreign Language and

MA TEFL/TESOL Course Director in the Department of Language and Linguistics,
University of Essex, UK. Her research interests are language anxiety, emotions,
learner agency and ecological approaches to foreign language education.
Dietmar Tatzl is a Faculty Member of the Institute of Aviation, where he has
taught English language courses to aeronautical engineering students for 13 years.
He received his doctorate in English Studies from the University of Graz, Austria.
His research interests include language learner autonomy, motivation, multiple
intelligences and English for specic purposes.
Sarah Mercer is Professor of Foreign Language Teaching at the University of
Graz, Austria. Her research interests include all aspects of the psychology sur-
rounding the foreign language learning experience, focusing in particular on issues
of self and identity. She is the author, co-author and co-editor of several books in
this area including Towards an Understanding of Language Learner Self-Concept,
Psychology for Language Learning, Multiple Perspectives on the Self in SLA and
Exploring Psychology for Language Teachers.


Diana Bolaos-Snchez is a Professor of Language Curriculum and Methods in

the TESOL Masters Program, and of English in the Bachelors Program at
Universidad de Costa Rica. She holds a Masters degree in TESOL and with a
Fulbright Scholarship earned a masters degree in Higher Education Administration
from the University of Minnesota. Her research interests include reading skills and
motivation in learning.

viii Editors and Contributors

Marshall R. Childs has taught in Japan for 24 years. At Temple University in

Tokyo, he teaches graduate courses in Classroom Management, Applied Linguistics
and History of English Teaching. His research interests include language teaching
policy and psychology of language learning, particularly those insights to be gained
from behavioural neurology. He advocates teaching that focuses not on grammar
but on usage-based acquisition.
Virg Csillagh is a Teaching and Research Assistant at the University of Geneva,
where she teaches research methodology and linguistics. Her Ph.D. research
focuses on the dynamics of language learning motivation in the social and eco-
nomic context of multilingual Geneva. Her other research interests include
plurilingualism, social identity and ecolinguistics.
Hannes Fromm After completing a Masters degree in Journalism and Corporate
Communication, Hannes Fromm moved on to study English and German in Graz
and Lancaster. Throughout his studies, he worked as a freelancer for PR agencies
and print media. As of 2015/16, he will be teaching introductory courses at Graz
University. His research interests comprise CDA, Media Studies as well as political
Ana Soa Gonzalez has taught English as a foreign language since 1998 and ELT
Methodology and Teaching Practice since 2005. She currently works at
ISCED-Luanda, where she teaches ELT Methodology, Curriculum Development
and Teaching Practice. She has an MA in ELT and a Ph.D. in Applied Linguistics,
both from the University of Reading.
Carol Grifths has been a teacher, manager and teacher trainer of ELT for many
years. She has taught in many places around the world, including New Zealand,
Indonesia, Japan, China, North Korea and UK. She currently works as Associate
Professor in the ELT Department at Fatih University in Istanbul. She has presented
at numerous conferences and has published widely. Learner issues, teacher edu-
cation and using literature to teach language are her major areas of research interest.
Grsev Inceay received her BA degree in the eld of English Language Teaching
from Marmara University in 2001. After working as an English teacher in different
state schools for 5 years, she started her MA in the eld of ELT at Yeditepe
University and graduated in 2009. She has been doing her Ph.D. in the same eld
and at the same university. She has also been working as an instructor at Yeditepe
Universitys ELT department for 5 years. Her main research interests are
pre-service and in-service teacher education and teaching skills.
Jim King is Lecturer in Education within the University of Leicesters School of
Education. His research interests centre on the issues of silence in educational
contexts and psychological aspects of second language learning. His publications
include Silence in the second language classroom (Palgrave Macmillan) and the
forthcoming edited volume The dynamic interplay between context and the lan-
guage learner (Palgrave Macmillan).
Editors and Contributors ix

Achilleas Kostoulas has taught English language and language teacher education
courses at the Epirus Institute of Technology in Greece. He has recently completed
his Ph.D. in Education at the University of Manchester. His research is focused on
language education in Greece, which is examined through the analytical lens of
complex systems theory.
Rebecca Oxford is Professor Emerita/Distinguished Scholar-Teacher, University
of Maryland. She teaches psychology and TESOL at the University of Alabama.
She has published 250 articles and chapters, 12 books and many journal special
issues, and has co-edited two book series, Tapestry and Transforming
Education. Her Lifetime Achievement Award states, Rebecca Oxfords research
on learning strategies changed the way the world teaches languages.
Margit Reitbauer teaches English Linguistics and Business English at the
University of Graz, Austria, where she has been working for over 20 years. In her
habilitation treatise, she conducted an eye-tracking study investigating the reading
behaviour of EFL learners in online texts. Her research interests include
computer-mediated communication, reading research and discourse analysis.
Juup Stelma is the Programme Director of the MA TESOL at the University of
Manchester. His research is focused on developing ecological and dynamic theories
for education, including what may be the analytical affordances of the concept of
intentionality. His research is contextualised by publications on classroom inter-
action, teacher professional development and researcher education.
Sakae Suzuki is a professor of English at Shonan Institute of Technology in Japan,
where she is Director of foreign languages. She teaches English for sciences and
coordinates study-abroad programmes. She obtained an MA in TESOL from
Teachers College, Columbia University and an EdD in TESOL from Temple
University. Her research interests include learners beliefs, motivation and learners
Maria Giovanna Tassinari is Director of the Centre for Independent Language
Learning at the Language Centre of the Freie Universitt Berlin, Germany. In her
Ph.D. thesis, she developed a dynamic model of learner autonomy for
self-assessment. Her research interests are learner autonomy, language advising,
affect in language learning and formal and informal learning. She published several
articles in German, English and French.
Denyze Toffoli is Head of the Department of Applied Linguistics and Language
Didactics and Project Manager for the reorganisation of university-wide language
provision at the University of Strasbourg, France. As a member of the
Linguistique, Langue, Parole (Lilpa) research team, her recent publications
concern learner autonomy and the Online Informal Learning of English (OILE).
x Editors and Contributors

Dorota Werbiska, Ph.D., works in the Neo-Philological Institute at Pomeranian

University in Supsk, Poland. Her research interests lie in the area of language
teacher qualitative studies, with a focus on language teachers cognition, identity,
reflexivity and professional development. She is author of three books, co-author of
two edited collections and contributor of over fty articles or book chapters pub-
lished in Poland and internationally.
Introduction: New Directions in Language
Learning Psychology

Dietmar Tatzl, Christina Gkonou and Sarah Mercer

1 Language Learning Psychology

Language learning psychology has been dened by Mercer, Ryan, and Williams
(2012, p. 2) as being concerned with the mental experiences, processes, thoughts,
feelings, motives, and behaviours of individuals involved in language learning.
Psychology in the eld of language learning is not new and much work has already
been done in respect to a range of psychological constructs such as motivation
(Drnyei, 2001; Gardner, 1985, 2001; Gardner & Lambert, 1972), anxiety
(Horwitz, Horwitz, & Cope, 1986), autonomy (Holec, 1981; Little, 1991, 1999),
and strategies (Cohen, 2011; Cohen & Macaro, 2007; OMalley & Chamot, 1990;
Oxford, 1990, 2011). The rst monograph in the eld appeared as early as 1986
when McDonough explicitly brought together ideas from educational and social
psychology and language teaching in a book entitled Psychology in foreign lan-
guage teaching. Since then the eld has gone from strength to strength with
publications deliberately identifying a focus on psychology and language learning,

D. Tatzl (&)
FH Joanneum, University of Applied Sciences, Graz, Austria
C. Gkonou
University of Essex, Colchester, UK
S. Mercer
University of Graz, Graz, Austria

Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016 1

C. Gkonou et al. (eds.), New Directions in Language Learning Psychology,
Second Language Learning and Teaching, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-23491-5_1
2 D. Tatzl et al.

such as Williams and Burden (1997), Drnyei (2005), Mercer, Ryan, and Williams
(2012), and Drnyei and Ryan (2015). As a recognised area of research within
second language acquisition (SLA) and applied linguistics, language learning
psychology has been growing in condence establishing more clearly its own
identity with an increasing number of scholars sharing an interest in this exciting
interdisciplinary area.
This volume originates from the rst international conference on language
learning psychology held in 2014 at the University of Graz, Austria. The conference
was well attendeda sign of the popularity of this expanding eld and sense of
community that is emerging amongst those working in this area. One of the main
aims of the conference was to incorporate a broader range of constructs from the
elds of social and educational psychology considering specically how they can
be applied to and examined in the eld of SLA. In particular, the conference was
keen to bring together areas that have traditionally been explored separately to each
other and consider their interrelations and connections. This meant there were talks,
for example, on investigating autonomy by tracing learners emotions in their
logbooks, enhancing language learners strategy training and use by changing
attitudes towards the foreign language studied, and using vision and imagination to
maintain and increase motivation and future selves.
In this volume, we reflect on possible new directions for the growing eld of
language learning psychology considering theoretical frameworks, empirical
designs, and practical implications based on current ndings and discussions. Some
of the developments that have marked the eld in recent years include: broadening
the range of constructs investigated, increased recognition of complexity and
dynamism, widespread acknowledgement of the situated and social nature of lan-
guage learner and teacher psychology, and the need for and acceptance of meth-
odological plurality. To meet these new developments, research approaches have
shifted from an overwhelming dependence on quantitative designs to the inclusion
of more qualitative approaches. Rather than solely testing group averages and
correlations, it is now acknowledged as being equally important to qualitatively
interpret individual learners psychology and the contextual factors that interact
with this. The papers in the collection here display just this kind of methodological
diversity. For example, there is research that has used learner narratives (see Oxford
& Bolaos-Snchez, this volume), discourse analysis (see Tassinari, this volume),
qualitative interviews and grounded theory (see King, this volume), blog writing
(see Toffoli, this volume), autobiographies, diaries and lesson observations (see
Werbiska, this volume), learner drawings (see Suzuki & Childs, this volume), as
well as Likert-scale questionnaires (see Csillagh, this volume). In terms of the
topics addressed in this collection, there are papers covering some more familiar
topics in the eld, including language learning strategies, learner autonomy,
motivation, emotions, beliefs, and teacher identity, as well as some less familiar
topics such as attributions, intentionality, the emotional labour of teaching, and
mentoring relationships. Given this conceptual and methodological diversity, we
hope that readers will nd plenty of new directions in this collection to inspire
their own future research and teaching.
Introduction: New Directions in Language Learning Psychology 3

2 Overview

We begin in Chap. 2 with a contribution by Achilleas Kostoulas and Juup Stelma

who explore the potential of intentionality and Complex Systems Theory (CST) as a
basis for a new theoretical direction in language learning psychology. They com-
pare two different types of intentionalitya shared performance intentionality in a
Norwegian primary English language classroom and a competition intentionality
in the context of a private language school in Greece. They demonstrate how
intentionalities can orient language learning activity towards particular attractors or
preferred states and further argue that intentionalities are linked to differing time-
scales. Based on these ndings, the authors discuss complexity-informed implica-
tions for empirical research in language learning psychology.
The authors of Chap. 3, Carol Grifths and Grsev Inceay, suggest new
directions for a specic area of research in the eld, namely, language learning
strategy research. Since its introduction to the eld by Rubin (1975), strategy
research has often attempted to isolate strategies as separate entities for investiga-
tion. The authors argue that such an approach ignores the complex interdepen-
dencies of strategies with other variables such as learning situations, learning goals
and learner individual differences. They also show how strategies are also dynamic
and subject to change across settings. Thus, in order to capture such complexity,
individualism, diversity and dynamics, they argue that new research approaches
will be needed.
Looking through a new lens at a familiar construct in the eld, Dietmar Tatzl in
Chap. 4 reinterprets learner autonomy as a complex, dynamic system in which the
relationships within the system are foregrounded. He suggests focusing on the
interactional, systemic nature of autonomy and concludes by making recommen-
dations for instructors on the kinds of interactions and relationships that may foster
language learners autonomy in formal educational settings.
Continuing with the topic of learner autonomy in Chap. 5, Denyze Toffoli
explores language learning autonomy within the framework of attachment theory,
which links child attachments to a primary caregiver and diverse types of auton-
omous behaviour in adults. Her chapter investigates the applicability of attachment
theory to language learning autonomy, especially in self-access and out-of-class
learning settings. It concludes by discussing future directions and the potential to be
gained by integrating attachment theory into research and language teaching.
In Chap. 6, Maria Giovanna Tassinari also examines an area within autonomy
and investigates the role of emotions and feelings in tertiary language advising
discourse. Her study aims to help language professionals to recognise and deal with
affective issues in autonomous learning processes. In a methodologically fresh
approach, Tassinari used discourse analysis to examine audio-recordings and
transcripts of individual advising sessions and detected signicant traces of emo-
tions in the learners discourse. In the advisors discourse, affective traces were less
prominent. She concludes that language advising involves a mutual sharing of
emotions and argues for an interdisciplinary approach to it.
4 D. Tatzl et al.

Emotions remain the focus of Chap. 7, in which Jim King explores affect from
the perspective of emotional labour, which refers to how people manage their
emotions in order to conform with certain social norms in certain settings. He
examines the emotional labour performed by language instructors and suggests that
teaching is particularly dependent on high levels of emotional labour, as teachers
are required to conceal and display certain emotions in front of students, so that
they can pursue their pedagogic goals. Based on data gathered from a series of
semi-structured interviews, King elaborates on the nature of surface acting, deep
acting and the suppression of emotions employed by language instructors teaching
English within a Japanese university.
Rebecca L. Oxford and Diana Bolaos-Snchez take a holistic situated approach
to learners and their emotions, motivation, engagement, perseverance and strategies
in Chap. 8. They report on a study that investigated mentoring relationships through
the narratives of two native Spanish-speaking adults, who eventually reached
bilingualism with English. The stories reveal the learners motivation, learning
strategies and resilience in the face of discouragement from their environment. They
focus on the psychosocial relationship between the learner and the mentor and
consider the nature of contextual relationships in the successful mentoring of the
two learners.
In Chap. 9, Dorota Werbiska explores language teachers professional identity
trajectories with a particular focus on the underexplored concept of discontinuities
(interruptions). Her four-year qualitative study investigates the experiences of four
pre-service teachers from Poland throughout their training programme and one year
beyond. Her ndings reveal the dynamic, multiple and relational aspects of teacher
identities, the complexities inherent in teacher identity formation, and the role of
discontinuities in altering peoples horizons and professional identity trajectories.
A methodologically innovative approach is exemplied in Chap. 10, in which
Sakae Suzuki and Marshall Childs adopt a Jungian approach (1964) using students
drawings and written self-descriptions to investigate language learner beliefs. The
authors conclude that learners beliefs are signicantly interwoven with their
feelings and emotions. They further argue that drawings can help to reveal learners
hidden feelings as well as emotionally laden, less explicit beliefs.
In Chap. 11, Virg Csillagh begins by tracing briefly the historical development
of L2 motivational research. As a possible next step, she proposes a new per-
spective considering concepts and ndings from the area of language economics
and reflecting on the perceived value of languages and language skills. She argues
that language economics as a theoretical framework offers fresh insights into the
analysis of internal and external motives for learning a language, which she illus-
trates in the context of a study conducted in Switzerland.
A relatively underresearched construct in the eld, attributions, is the focus of
Ana Soa Gonzalezs study (Chap. 12) set in Angola. Classifying learner attribu-
tions on the basis of their dimensions of causality, stability and controllability, she
shows that these categories need to be understood from a cultural perspective as
learners perceptions of them vary according to their cultural frames. The author
Introduction: New Directions in Language Learning Psychology 5

argues that the ndings of her study have clear implications for learners attribution
retraining as well as future research designs for studies investigating this construct.
In Chap. 13, Margit Reitbauer and Hannes Fromm redene the role of the
teacher in online language learning settings. The emergence of the Internet as a
learning environment has led to new theoretical approaches being considered in
respect to learning processes and understandings of situated psychology. Based on a
range of theoretical approaches, empirical ndings and conceptual constructs, the
authors propose a redenition of the teachers role in such environments, discuss
online learning environments with relation to learning styles and cognition, and
suggest a new pedagogic skillset that the authors have labelled Scaffolding 2.0.
In the nal chapter, we, the editors, bring together the main themes emerging
from the various chapters, suggesting what we perceive as possible new directions
in language learning psychology. We have enjoyed the honour of working with all
these authors in bringing together this exciting collection of papers, in which each
chapter in some way points to a new direction for this vibrant eld. We hope you
will enjoy the chapters and that they inspire you in your own work as researchers
and educators.


Cohen, A. D. (2011). Strategies in learning and using a second language (2nd ed.). London:
Cohen, A., & Macaro, E. (2007). Language learner strategies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Drnyei, Z. (2001). Teaching and researching motivation. Harlow: Longman-Pearson.
Drnyei, Z. (2005). The psychology of the language learner. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum
Drnyei, Z., & Ryan, S. (2015). The psychology of the language learner revisited. New York:
Gardner, R. C. (1985). Social psychology and language learning: The role of attitudes and
motivation. London: Edward Arnold.
Gardner, R. C. (2001). Integrative motivation and second language acquisition. In Z. Drnyei & R.
Schmidt (Eds.), Motivation and second language acquisition (pp. 119). Honolulu: University
of Hawaii Press.
Gardner, R. C., & Lambert, W. E. (1972). Attitudes and motivation in second-language learning.
Rowley: Newbury House.
Holec, H. (1981). Autonomy and foreign language learning. Oxford: Pergamon Press.
Horwitz, E. K., Horwitz, M. B., & Cope, J. (1986). Foreign language classroom anxiety. The
Modern Language Journal, 70(2), 125132.
Jung, C. G. (1964). Man and his symbols. New York: Dell.
Little, D. (1999). Learner autonomy 1: Denitions, issues and problems. Dublin: Authentik.
McDonough, S. H. (1986). Psychology in foreign language teaching. Boston: Allen & Unwin.
Mercer, S., Ryan, S., & Williams, M. (Eds.). (2012). Psychology for language learning: Insights
from research, theory and practice. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
OMalley, J. M., & Chamot, A. (1990). Learning strategies in second language acquisition.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Oxford, R. (1990). Language learning strategies: What every teacher should know. New York:
Newbury House.
6 D. Tatzl et al.

Oxford, R. (2011). Teaching and researching language learning strategies. Harlow: Pearson
Rubin, J. (1975). What the good language learner can teach us. TESOL Quarterly, 9(1), 4151.
Williams, M., & Burden, R. L. (1997). Psychology for language teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.
Intentionality and Complex Systems
Theory: A New Direction for Language
Learning Psychology

Achilleas Kostoulas and Juup Stelma

Abstract This chapter examines the combined potential of the constructs of

intentionality and Complex Systems Theory, as a new theoretical direction for
language learning psychology. The chapter begins with theoretical discussion of the
properties of complex systems. This leads to the denition of a Complex System of
Intentions, a conceptual model for understanding intentionalities that are present at
individual, small group and societal levels, as well as their interrelations. Following
that, key properties of the system are illustrated by juxtaposing empirical data from
two research projects in Norway and Greece. First, we document the emergence of
a performance intentionality in learners interaction in an English L2 classroom in
Norway. Next, we discuss how a competition intentionality in a private language
school in Greece emerged from interaction with the state school system, and we
document its effects on language learning activity. In both cases, a data-driven
analysis is used to demonstrate the emergence of the intentionalities and their
generative effects, i.e., the ways in which they recursively shaped the system from
which they had emerged. We conclude by revisiting the organisational openness of
the system, and the processes of emergence and morphogenesis that were traced in
the data, and by connecting them to Complex Systems Theory, while exploring the
implications of a complexity outlook for language learning research.

Keywords Intentionality  Complex systems theory  Language learning 

Greece Norway

A. Kostoulas (&)  J. Stelma

Manchester Institute of Education, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK
J. Stelma

Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016 7

C. Gkonou et al. (eds.), New Directions in Language Learning Psychology,
Second Language Learning and Teaching, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-23491-5_2
8 A. Kostoulas and J. Stelma

1 Introduction

This chapter looks into phenomena of language learning psychology such as the
relation between agency and structure, and the emergence of spontaneous beha-
viours among language learners, and it puts forward a conceptual model, which we
call a Complex System of Intentions, for the interpretation of such phenomena. This
model is underpinned by two strands of thinking that can inform language learning
psychology. The rst strand refers to conceptual work on intentionality (Stelma,
2011, 2014a; Stelma & Fay, 2014; Young, DePalma, & Garrett, 2002), which can
provisionally be described as the purpose in social activity. The second strand of
thinking relates to the increasing readiness in language education to look towards
Complex Systems Theory (CST) as a lens for the interpretation of psychological,
linguistic and social phenomena (Beckner et al., 2009; Larsen-Freeman, 2013;
Larsen-Freeman & Cameron, 2008; Meara, 2006; Mercer, 2013), and as a unifying
framework that might connect different approaches to understanding language
learning (de Bot, Lowie, Thorne, & Verspoor, 2013; Larsen-Freeman, 1997;
Spivey, 2007).
We begin this chapter with an overview of CST, which leads to the presentation
of what we term a Complex System of Intentions. Following that, the model is
operationalised in analyses of empirical data from two language learning settings.
First, data from a language classroom in Norway are used to illustrate how inten-
tionality emerged in learner pairs engaged in task work, and how the emergent
intentionality was constrained by the systems structure. Next, data from a language
school in Greece are presented showing how intentionality that was manifested on a
social level impacted language learning activity in the school, and how bottom-up
phenomena emerged in spite of top-down pressures. At the end of the chapter, we
revisit the notion of a Complex System of Intentions, and discuss its properties with
relation to the empirical data presented, to illustrate its analytical potential, as well
as its implications for the study of language learning.

2 Complexity and Complex Systems

Despite increasing interest in CST, there is at present no single authoritative de-

nition of what the theory encompasses. That said, CST, or complexity, can be
broadly dened as an ontological and epistemological outlook that is sensitive to
the ways in which non-linear, emergent and holistic phenomena come into exis-
tence, without any form of central control, from the interactions of large numbers of
entities, or system constituents.
A system, in a general sense, is a collection of entities that exhibit certain
behaviours on account of their system membership. For example, students and
teachers behave in certain ways because they are part of the school system; celestial
bodies in the solar system have certain trajectories because they exert gravitational
Intentionality and Complex Systems Theory 9

pull on each other. Complex systems, on the other hand, are more difcult to dene,
because they are organisationally open. This means that their components interact
with, and are influenced by, agents that operate outside the systems boundaries.
Because of the difculty in separating a system from its surroundings using logical
or topographical criteria, it seems preferable to frame systems functionally (i.e., in
terms of what the system does, or what it is for), while bearing in mind that the
boundary of the system is neither purely a function of our description, nor is it
purely a natural thing (Cilliers, 2001, p. 141).
A dening feature of complex systems is that they allow for the emergence of
unexpected patterns of behaviour that transcend individual constituents. Typically,
complex systems comprise multiple, interconnected entities, such as agents, pro-
cesses, influences and even nested sub-systems. Larsen-Freeman and Cameron
(2008) exemplify the heterogeneity of complex systems noting that a trafc system
consists of pedestrians, drivers and different types of vehicles, policy makers, as
well as roads and trafc laws that constrain and channel trafc in specic directions.
Since system constituents differ in their attributes and possibly even in category
membership, and as they are connected to each other in intricate ways, it seems
difcult to attribute their collective behaviour to any individual constituent or
combination of constituents. For instance, reading comprehension cannot be readily
explained with reference to the mechanics of holding a document, eye movement,
the typography of the text or the biochemistry of the readers brain. Rather, reading
comprehension emerges from the way in which these constituents interrelate. Such
phenomena, which cannot be reduced to individual components, are termed
emergent. Later in this chapter, we will argue that intentionality is an emergent
The last property of complex systems that we examine is their embeddedness, by
which we refer to the ways in which they are enmeshed in broader system struc-
tures. Put differently, large systems tend to contain nested systems among their
constituents. This relation has sometimes been described hierarchically. For
example, it has been suggested that discourse can be understood as a hierarchy of
systems, in which discourse events are embedded within conversations, which form
part of broader information exchanges (Larsen-Freeman & Cameron, 2008).
Similarly, mathematics has been described as a hierarchy ranging from subjective
understanding, to curriculum structures, to mathematical objects (Davis & Sumara,
2006). An alternative conceptualisation involves viewing social structures as
nested but interpenetrating systems operating on different levels (Byrne &
Callaghan, 2014, p. 45). Regardless of how this structure is conceived, what is
important to note is that the relationship between higher- and lower-order systems is
mutually shaping: that is, the architecture of higher-order systems emerges from
lower-order activity, and higher-order structures can constrain the degrees of
freedom in lower-order systems.
Despite its provenance in the natural sciences (Lorenz, 1972; Prigogine &
Stengers, 1984; von Bertalanffy, 1950), CST seems intuitively compelling as a
framework for explaining a range of social and psychological phenomena. Thus,
recent years have seen the publication of several treatises, which have brought
10 A. Kostoulas and J. Stelma

complexity-inspired thinking to bear on the social sciences (e.g., Byrne, 1998;

Byrne & Callaghan, 2014; Cilliers, 1998; Reed & Harvey, 1992). However, due to
the paradigmatic differences separating the natural and social sciences, the appli-
cation of complexity to an area such as the psychology of language learning is not
entirely straightforward. The challenge is compounded by our own insistence of
viewing psychology of language learning not simply as a decontextualised cogni-
tive phenomenon, but rather as a phenomenon that at the same time is deeply social.
One approach is to use complexity as a metaphor that can assist and enrich
understanding of the psychological and social aspects of language learning
(Larsen-Freeman & Cameron, 2008). However, Larsen-Freeman and Cameron
(2008) caution that the metaphorical approach risks compromises in theoretical
commitment, and advocate the development of scientically rigorous domain-
specic theories. The latter approach is beginning to happen in language learning
psychology, including for example work on learner agency and self-concept
(Mercer, 2011, 2012), language learning motivation (Drnyei, 2014; Drnyei,
MacIntyre, & Henry, 2015; King, 2011), willingness to communicate (MacIntyre &
Legatto, 2011), and language anxiety (Gregersen, MacIntyre, & Meza, 2014;
MacIntyre & Gregersen, 2012). The present exploration of the combined potential
of intentionality and CST is similarly an attempt to develop domain-specic theory
within the eld of language learning psychology.

3 A Complex System of Intentions

Our starting point is a conceptualisation of language learning as a complex phe-

nomenon that takes place within a network of interconnected systems, as illustrated
in Fig. 1. We suggest that language learning can be viewed from different per-
spectives, focusing on its content (what?), purpose (why?) or methods (how?), and
that these perspectives are conceptually served by the denition of a linguistic,
intentional and pedagogical system, respectively. Each of these systems is con-
ceptualised as being stratied, and for the purposes of analytical convenience we
distinguish between individual, small group, and societal levels of activity. To
illustrate, a complexity-informed research agenda with a linguistic outlook might
dene linguistic phenomena with reference to individual linguistic competence,
linguistic repertoires shared by a community, or language as a whole. Similarly, a
pedagogical perspective might look into activity at the level of individual habits,
shared practices, or professional paradigms.
The intentional system, or Complex System of Intentions, on which this chapter
focuses, relates to the purposes of language instruction. We suggest that different
aspects of the intentional system pertain to intentionalities of individual language
learners, to the collective intentionalities that develop in the interaction of learner
groups (e.g., during task work), and to intentionalities embedded in the values and
policies of larger communities (e.g., professional or national cultures). The inten-
tionalities that emerge in each of these levels are, in some respects, different. On the
Intentionality and Complex Systems Theory 11

Fig. 1 Language learning as a network of complex systems

individual level, intentions are identied with, or at the very least have some basis
in individual psychology. A shared identication with, and psychological basis for,
intention may also pertain on the small group level, but collective psychological
processes (associated with group dynamics) may alter the degree to which this is the
case for all individuals concerned. Finally, intentionality embedded in the values
and policies of larger communities might be identied with, but it is mostly present
through what Searle (1983) calls derived intentionality, such as expectations
communicated by teaching materials, curricula, examination specications, or
policy documents. While aware of such differences, we adopt a functional denition
of intentionality: intentionality motivates language learning activity, and the source
of this motivating effect may be either more individual (i.e., agentive) or more
social, depending on the level of analysis.
Intentionality, we argue, is an emergent phenomenon, which comes to existence
from the co-activity of multiple system constituents, such as needs, beliefs, aspi-
rations and affordances that are present in a system. For example, Kostoulas
(2014b) demonstrates how the societal expectation (in Greece) that language
learners should be highly procient in grammar, coupled with extensive grammar
presentations and multiple practice activities in learning materials, contributes to the
emergence of an intentionality associated with practicing language form. Similarly,
Stelma (2011) describes the emergence of increasingly intentional use of infor-
mation technology among doctoral researchers, as an outcome of expectations by
their supervisory teams, their School and University, national and international
entities, as well as the resources that were made available by all of the above. We
use the term shaping influences to describe all the constituents that contribute to the
emergence of intentionality (Stelma, 2011), and we refer to their interaction as the
intentional dynamics of a system (Young et al., 2002).
12 A. Kostoulas and J. Stelma

Consistent with the pragmatic denition of intentionality by Searle (1983), we

argue that intentions, whilst shaped by previously realised objects, situations and
events, are uniquely directed at objects, situations and events, some of which are
not yet realised. We call this the generative property of intentionality, i.e., its
potential to do or create something additional or new. For instance, Stelma and
Fay (2014) discuss how the emergence of intentionality among novice researchers
led to development of researcher competence. Similarly, intentionality linked to the
South Korean governments policy of globalisation has been associated with the
expansion of the private English language teaching (ELT) sector in South Korea
(Stelma, Onat-Stelma, Lee, & Kostoulas, 2015). Due to its generative properties,
intentionality can affect changes in the system from which it emerged, and thus
become sedimented into artefacts and practices associated with the system. In
other words, intentionality enables action in the world and, through intentionally
shaped action, intentionality becomes an embedded part of its environment.
Drawing on Byrne and Callaghan (2014), we describe the process through which
intentionality is sedimented in the structure of the system as morphogenesis.
Put together, emergence and morphogenesis connect the three levels of the
intentional system shown in Fig. 1, i.e., the individual, small group and social levels,
through processes of reciprocal determination. On the one hand, the systems struc-
ture may constrain its degrees of freedom, by setting boundaries within which
intentionality is likely to emerge. This process sometimes takes the form of top-down
influences or constraints (Young et al., 2002). On the other hand, intentionality, once
present, may alter the structure of the system, thus influencing its future activity
bottom-up. In the two sections that follow, we demonstrate these processes through
empirical data from research in language learning settings in Norway and Greece.

4 The Emergence of a Shared Intentionality

In this section, we focus on how a lower-order Complex System of Intentions may

emerge from local moment-to-moment interaction. To illustrate such local emergence
of a Complex System of Intentions, we use data from a Norwegian Primary English
language classroom (see Stelma, 2003). The data represent discourse between pairs of
1112 year-old learners who were composing role-play dialogues, as instructed by
their teacher, which they later performed to the whole class. The discussion includes
reference to repeated iterations of this task sequence over the course of a year, and our
analysis identies three broad phases in the development of a particular intentionality
from the local Complex System of Intentions: (1) an emergence phase, seeing the
gradual appearance of a shared intentionality, (2) a stable phase, during which the
learners behaviour was shaped by the shared intentionality, and (3) a self-organised
criticality phase, when the shared intentionality ceased to be pedagogically useful, at
which point the teacher stepped in to perturb it.
During the emergence phase the learners activity was mainly shaped by the teachers
intentions for the task. In an early task iteration, the teacher asked the learners to compose
Intentionality and Complex Systems Theory 13

a dialogue, where a student was making excuses to her teacher for being late. A variety of
role-play dialogues were composed, of which Extract 1 is a representative example.

Extract 1: Veronica and Karens role-play dialogue

Teacher: why are you late for class?
Victoria: I I I dont know
Teacher: I want a answer
Victoria: I played football and ehm I dont ehm .. ehm hear the bell
Teacher: Thats the rudest answer I ever heard
Victoria: But it is true
Teacher: But where do you play football?
Victoria: IIIII
played football outside the school

Across different pairs and over time, this dialogue-writing activity gave rise to
increasingly rich learner meaning-making, including popular culture as well as
idiosyncratic Norwegian cultural practices shaping the role-plays. Extract 2 illus-
trates this: the name and character of Erik was inspired by Eric Cartman, one of the
rambunctious children from the South Park television series (see full discussion in
Stelma, 2014a). This was combined with a reference to orienteering (map and
compass), a traditional Norwegian pursuit that is often evoked in occasions of
intra-national self-deprecating humour.

Extract 2: Tim and Mortons role-play dialogue

Teacher: why are you late for school Erik?
Erik: ehm uhm
I went to the wrong school
.. yeah
thats right
Teacher: Erik
how did you manage to go to the wrong school?
Erik: ehm
Teacher: answer me
Erik: ehm
I lent my map and my compass to a friend on that school
Teacher: but you said that you .. go to the wrong school
Erik: I did go (.) go to the wrong school
before I went .. t- to the other school
to pick up my map
Teacher: I give up

Sentiments expressed in the classroom discourse seemed to reinforce the humorous

effect achieved by the references to popular and Norwegian culture. In advance of
14 A. Kostoulas and J. Stelma

Tim and Mortons performance of the dialogue (Extract 2) to the whole class, the
teacher exclaimed: ja vi er klare publikum er klare [yes we are ready
the audience is ready], and just after the performance she added: yeah excellent
kjempebra jeg har lyst til hre litt mer jeg for det her var gy [great I
want to hear some more because this was fun]. These references to the
audience and saying she wanted to hear more because this was fun seem to have
validated the learners incorporation of humour.
In the subsequent iterations of the task sequence (3, 6 and 9 months later),
different scenarios were presented by the teacher (following the textbook used by
the class). In these subsequent iterations, the learner pairs became increasingly
preoccupied with creating entertaining role-plays. The emergence of this intention
to be entertaining can be traced in the learners interactions.

Extract 3: Learner references to composing entertaining dialogues

112 Morten: ehm noe kulere [something cooler]
113 Tim: hmh?
114 Morten: noe morsom noe liksom [something fun kind of]

438 Dennis we ehm vi m nne p noe skikkelig sprtt
[we have to come up with something really wacko]

From these local actions and references the characteristics of a new phasean
identiable Complex System of Intentions affecting the learners classroom activity
seemed to emerge. That is, an emergent shared intentionality, which we might call a
performance intentionality, constrained the degrees of freedom for learner activity,
with learners pursuing action possibilities shaped by this intentionality. At the
time, the second author of this chapter noted in his eldwork journal that det er
nesten som rollespillaktiviteten har tatt pa seg ett eget liv [it is almost as if this
role-play task has taken on a life of its own]. In Stelma (2014a), where this
intentionality is explored in more detail, it is described as including formulating
entertaining dialogue, practising the dialogues, paying attention to how to stage the
performances, and gradually also the emergence of realia used in the perfor-
mances (p. 12). This shared, emergent intentionality may be said to have con-
strained the range of activity in this classroom, as theoretically possible alternative
courses of action were not pursued.
Over the repeated iterations of the task sequence, the performance intentionality
became ever more recognisable. As the performance intentionality was strength-
ened, it began to put pressure on the learners. A sense of competition emerged, with
learner pairs wishing to create ever more entertaining dialogues for their classmates.
Also, the learners increasingly incorporated dramatic physical actions when per-
forming their dialogues to the class. As repeated iterations of local activity grad-
ually added energy to the developing Complex System of Intentions, the system
reached a poised state akin to self-organised criticality. Self-organised criticality
has been metaphorically illustrated with reference to a sand pile to which grains of
Intentionality and Complex Systems Theory 15

sand are continuously added. After the sand pile reaches a certain height, its slopes
cannot sustain more grains, so when further grains of sand (i.e., energy) are added
to the pile, avalanches of unpredictable sizes are created (Bak & Tang, 1989). The
equivalent of avalanches in this classroom were the increasingly unpredictable
behaviours of the learners, and the associated emotional pressures resulting from
the expectation to be ever more entertaining. The tensions nally seemed to out-
weigh the earlier pedagogical usefulness of the performance intentionality.
At this poised state, the teacher initiated a frank conversation with the learners,
giving them an opportunity to put voice to their experience. When asked what a good
role-play was, the learners agreed that it had to be a fun role-play, with one learner
adding that it would be dull to sit through several role-plays unless they were fun.
One learner made the related observation that it was better as an experience to
perform if the classmates were visibly entertained. At this point, the teacher sug-
gested a distinction between clowny fun and interesting fun, adding that it was
better to do it orntlig [properly]. The use of the word properly, a loaded term
evoking the ethos of learning and expected school behaviour, may have constrained
the learners from disagreeing. However, one learner suggested, partly side-stepping
the point, that if someone performed a serious role-play, it would be interpreted as
being nerdy or skolelysaktig (direct translation is school-shining-like). This is a
common expression to describe someone a bit too willingly putting in shining
performances in the school context. Another learner suggested that it was difcult to
be funny in a proper way in English, indicating his more limited expressive range in
English as a foreign language, and thereby addressing the teachers distinction more
directly. Finally, a group of learners suggested that it would be easier to create
interesting fun if there was more freedom in the kind of dialogue they could
compose (rather than simply responding to the teachers explicitly specied
To recap, this section described how a performance intentionality emerged,
bottom-up, from the interactions of language learners. The intentional dynamics
from which this intentionality emerged included diverse shaping influences, such as
the teachers pedagogical intentions, assumptions about theatrical norms (the
audience is ready) and socially (un)acceptable behaviour (skolelysaktig), shared
cultural references (e.g., orienteering, Eric Cartman), and the task prompts in the
learners coursebooks. The way in which the performance intentionality subverted
the teachers pedagogical intentions, through the learners creative reinterpretation
of the task prompts, highlights the unpredictability of emergent behaviour, which is
a hallmark of activity in complex systems. It is also interesting to note that,
although intentionally-driven activity by the learner pairs was embedded in a
broader web of intentionalities, which included societal expectations about proper
(orntlig) learning, and the derived intentionality of the task prompts, these influ-
ences did not, initially, constrain the emergent intentionality. Rather, it seemed that,
for a while at least, the performance intentionality had stabilised as part of the
classroom activity, and it became part of the systems structure, thus constraining
learners choice. The top-down constraining influence of intentionalities is explored
in greater depth in the following section.
16 A. Kostoulas and J. Stelma

5 Sedimented Intentionality

Having presented an example of intentionality emerging among learner pairs, we

now move on to a discussion of intentionality in a broader setting. In this section,
we describe how an intentionality associated with a higher level of the intentional
system may shape language learning activity in the lower system levels. The data in
this section have been drawn from a case study of a private language school in
Greece (Kostoulas, 2014a). To provide context, in Greece there is a burgeoning
industry consisting of private language schools that provide evening courses to
supplement the state school language learning provision, which is perceived as
inefcient (Angouri, Mattheoudakis, & Zigrika, 2010; Karavas, 2010). The state
and private sectors are in what can be described as a co-adaptive relation, as each
system responds to changes in the other. Within this context, it is important for
private language schools to show that they offer demonstrably higher standards of
teaching, compared to the state school (and commercial competitors), in order to
remain nancially viable.
In Kostoulas (2014a), several intentionalities that shaped language learning
activity in the private school were identied. One of these, the competition inten-
tionality, which is the focus of this section, pertained to the way in which teachers,
learners and stakeholders in the private language school compared their provision to
that of commercial competitors and the state school system. It can roughly be
dened as a collective desire to provide rigorous academic instruction, and to
achieve demonstrably better results than other private schools and the state school
sector. In the paragraphs that follow, we relate this intentionality to the intentional
dynamics from which it emerged, and we describe how it was sedimented into
artefacts and practices in the language school. We also discuss how it generated
instructional policies that seemed to constrain educational practice, and also ways in
which this top-down influence was subverted.
Multiple shaping influences contributed to the emergence of the competition
intentionality, including societal beliefs and expectations regarding the state edu-
cation system and private language instruction. There were recurring themes in the
data suggesting widespread dissatisfaction with the state education system, which
was variously described as waste of time and irrelevant to the learners needs.
In the words of one language learner, all the students [at the state school] are
naughty and dont pay attention [] and the teachers cant do their job properly.
A corollary to these beliefs was the expectation that private language schools
should provide rigorous academic instruction. This expectation was indexed in the
way private language schools, in general, were described in learner questionnaires.
It was suggested that lessons in private schools involved much studying, but we
Intentionality and Complex Systems Theory 17

[students] learn many things, and that they were typied by very good analysis
of [linguistic] phenomena, [with] multiple examples and exercises. These
expectations seemed to impact the way in which the private language school in
question operated.
Another major shaping influence that contributed to the emergence of the
competition intentionality was a culture of accountability among teachers in the
language school, roughly dened as a sense of responsibility for the students
performance in English, in the language school and outside it. This was expressed
in interviews, of which Extract 4 is a typical example:

Extract 4Concerns about accountability

Amy: Amy: The mother of an A/P
A/P [a beginner] told me that
the teacher at [state] school
made the girl write tests
present continuous with present continuous
have got, and have got,
Achilleas: ! Achilleas: Thats not proper
Amy: Amy: Thats what she told me
. anyway, and I was stunned.
, - What should one do then?
Explain that we [the private
school] are interested in
, ; teaching her [the learner] to
speak rst, right?

There are several points of interest in this extract. One is the implicit expectation, in
the mothers request, that the language school should help the child attain the
objectives set by the teacher of the state school ELT class. The extract also illus-
trates a related concern, by Amy, that if her learners performed poorly in the state
school, this would reflect badly on her perceived professionalism. The resultant
feeling of dismay led her to request afrmation, from the interviewer (the rst
author), that she should adhere to the communicative principles that underpinned
ELT both in the language school and state ELT, even though the teacher in the state
school seemed to deviate from them. A similar concern was expressed in a different
interview, in which a teacher explained why she had felt compelled to deviate from
the assigned syllabus in order to help some of her learners prepare for an upcoming
state school examination.
18 A. Kostoulas and J. Stelma

Extract 5Additional concerns about accountability

Achilleas: - Achilleas: Now, Ill take on the role of
, the devils advocate
- why couldnt [the state
school teacher] do the
, revision, and you could go
on normally, according to
; [your] syllabus?
Rose: Rose: es, but if someone gets a,
, I dont know, twelve [out
, , of 20, a low mark], then I
will-, me, it will be me
. [rather than the state school
teacher] who will be
discussed, they will say
that the kids dont even
know the fundamentals [of
the language].

Extract 5 indicates that, in addition to meeting their own curricular objectives,

private language schools seemed to be expected to prepare learners for state
education. That is to say, poor performance in the state school system could be
perceived as an indication that the private language school was failing to effectively
teach the language. This feeds into the competition intentionality, with private
language schools needing to be demonstrably superior to what is offered by the state
education system.
Although the competition intentionality was manifest in multiple artefacts (e.g.,
learning and testing materials, syllabus documents), as well as the policies and
learning routines at the language school, for the purposes of this chapter we restrict
ourselves to a discussion of vocabulary learning practices. These were impacted by
the competition intentionality in two ways: through the expansion of the lexical
strand of the syllabus, and through the development of a rigid monolingual policy.
A striking feature of the syllabus in the language school was that vocabulary
instruction was considerably more intensive than what was envisaged in the
learning materials. For instance, the distinction between productive and receptive
vocabulary (Melka, 1997) tended to be dropped. Instead, all the lexical items that
were encountered in the learning materials were dened, exemplied, assigned for
learning, and tested. Extract 6 describes part of a typical lesson, reconstructed from
observation notes.

Extract 6A typical reading lesson

The teacher nominated students to take turns reading different paragraphs in the text.
At the end of each paragraph, the teacher asked the learners if there were any unknown
words, and when there were unknown words, she rst elicited responses [i.e., de-
nitions] from other students and, failing that, provided a denition in English. Some
Intentionality and Complex Systems Theory 19

learners requested conrmation by providing the Greek equivalent, and the teacher
either nodded or provided an alternative denition [in English].

Sometimes, the emphasis placed on explaining new lexical items seemed to be at

the expense of the development of other skills, as shown in Extract 7:

Extract 7Fieldnotes extract

I followed up with Martha, on account of the concerns she had previously expressed
regarding reading comprehension. Today she did Lesson 6, which is also a reading
lesson. The principal difculty, she said, was caused by the large number of words that
are unknown [to the learners]. She believes that students tend to xate on these words,
and as a result they fail to understand the meaning of the text.

In this example, the teacher seemed frustrated by the challenges the learners faced
with reading comprehension, which seemed to result, in part, from the fact that the
reading flow was repeatedly interrupted by the need to dene or translate large
numbers of lexical items. In addition to being manifest in practice, the competition
intentionality was present, in derived form, in syllabus documents, which outlined
ambitious learning objectives regarding lexical range, and in testing materials,
which presupposed extensive vocabulary range.
The second way in which the competition intentionality manifested itself was
through the development of a monolingual policy, which aimed at maximising the
learners exposure to English. Within the language school, this policy and the rigour
with which it was enforced were perceived as major points of differentiation from
both the state school system and commercial competitors, and they were thought to
provide learners with a considerable competitive advantage. Traces of the mono-
lingual policy are in evidence in Extract 6, which documents the teachers reluc-
tance to provide Greek semantic equivalents for the newly-encountered lexical
items. Elsewhere in the data, many teachers repeatedly and explicitly claimed that
they only used English to explain new words (e.g., if they dont know [the word] I
will explain it in English). Moreover, the language school produced extensive
monolingual wordlists to accompany the coursebooks, and distributed them among
the learners at considerable expense, even though similar bilingual resources were
commercially available. The wordlists contained headwords, grammatical infor-
mation and a denition, in English, for nearly all the newly encountered lexis in the
textbooks, plus additional lexical items that were considered useful. Although these
denitions sometimes proved more challenging to understand than the actual
headword, learners were regularly tested in their ability to dene words using
English, a fact that often resulted in rote-learning. Much like the intensication of
vocabulary learning, the monolingual educational policy of the language school
illustrates how the competition intentionality became embedded in social routines
and artefacts, which influenced subsequent activity in the system.
Nevertheless, the top-down constraints generated by the competition intentionality
were not deterministic. Rather, the large number of lexical items to be learnt, coupled
with the inefciency of dealing with such vocabulary monolingually, resulted in the
spontaneous development of coping strategies by the learners. For example, Greek
20 A. Kostoulas and J. Stelma

seemed to be used as a conrmation strategy (see Extract 6) and whispered exchanges

in Greek often took place during lessons, as the learners engaged with the new lexis. In
addition, many learners tended to gloss their textbooks and monolingual wordlists
with Greek semantic equivalents to the new lexis, and others purchased commercially
available companions to the textbook, which contained bilingual wordlists. Much of
this activity tended to take place furtively, especially when the rst author was present,
due to the priority attached to the monolingual policy. However, its existence points
at the unexpected nding that an intentionality can totter under its own weight, in a
way that reminds us of the self-organised criticality generated by the performance
intentionality in the previous section.
As an example of collectively shared construct, the competition intentionality
offers insights into how intentionality operates in a higher level of a Complex System
of Intentions. Much like the performance intentionality (Sect. 4), the competition
intentionality emerges from intentional dynamics that bring together some of the
expectations, beliefs and resources (i.e., shaping influences) in the system. These
included societal perceptions (e.g., pertaining to the role of private language schools)
and local influences (the schools accountability culture). Unlike the Norwegian
case, however, at this level of collective behaviour, it is difcult to claim that all the
individuals involved personally identied with the intentionality. Rather, the com-
petition intentionality was present, in residual form, in the resources used at the
language school, and in routinised procedures. This derived intentionality (Searle,
1983) tended to constrain activity in the system, or at least to privilege certain forms
of activity (e.g., monolingual instruction, extensive lexical tuition), which in turn
recursively reinforced the intentionality. However, the effects of the intentionality
sometimes put strain on the system, evident in the subverting actions of learners, and
this strain, in some cases at least, resulted in destabilising the intentionality.

6 Discussion

After the discussion of empirical examples of intentionality relevant to language

learning psychology, we now revisit the notion of complex systems of intentions
that was presented in Sect. 3, with a view to demonstrating that CST provides a
useful conceptual frame for studying intentionality. To that end, we look into the
salient properties of complex systems, as outlined in the literature review, which we
relate to the empirical data.
Consistent with CST, in both cases that we presented, the systems from which
intentionality came into existence were organisationally open. While the origin of
the performance intentionality in the Norwegian classroom could be traced to the
interactions between individual pairs of learners engaged in a language learning
task, the trajectory of the intentionality was influenced by shared cultural values.
For example, it seemed to be sustained by the learners wishing to avoid being
identied as nerdy (skolelysaktig), and it was later perturbed by the teacher
evoking shared understandings of proper (orntlig) learning. In the data from
Intentionality and Complex Systems Theory 21

Greece, the competition intentionality was similarly influenced by societal per-

ceptions about the educational norms in private language education, i.e., the
expectation for rigorous instruction that exceeded the provisions in the state school
system. An important epistemological implication of this organisational openness is
that it seems counterintuitive to study intentional phenomena in isolation from their
context(s). As an epistemological outlook that is, by denition, attuned to con-
textual influences, complexity offers useful insights into such phenomena.
Both the performance intentionality in the Norwegian classroom and the compe-
tition intentionality in the Greek school were emergent complex phenomena, by
which we mean that they came into existence through bottom-up processes, without
the benet of central organisation, and often led to unexpected effects. This property is
easier to observe in the Norwegian data, where the performance intentionality is
described as a product of spontaneous learner interaction that took on a life of its
own. Although the Greek data only offer hints about the genesis of the competition
intentionality, which had already become a semi-permanent feature of the language
schools activity, they do show how the intentionality was sustained by the intentional
dynamics in the system. Moreover, and interestingly, the data show how coping
strategies emerged to counteract some effects of the competition intentionality. In both
cases, it could be said that the intentionality was generated as various shaping influ-
ences came together through a process of emergence, which resulted in unexpected
behaviour that recursively fed back into the system (Stelma, 2014b). Such emergent
processes challenge epistemological assumptions about linear causality, and we
believe that CST helps us move beyond the limitations of such assumptions.
Finally, the two cases illustrate the process of morphogenesis, i.e., the way in
which intentionality becomes sedimented in the structure of the system and influ-
ences future behaviour. The performance intentionality became sedimented in the
Norwegian learners interaction as an expectation to produce entertaining
role-plays, from whichafter a whileit seemed difcult to deviate. In the ter-
minology of complexity, the learners behaviour seemed to settle in an attractor
state, i.e., a more or less regular, though not entirely predictable, pattern of
behaviour (Larsen-Freeman & Cameron, 2008, pp. 4955). In the Greek data,
morphogenesis was described with reference to the routinised teaching practices
and learning materials to which the competition intentionality contributed. As the
competition intentionality became sedimented in policy and artefacts, it reinforced
the attractor regime in which the systems activity was constrained. The attractors
created by the two intentionalities are similar in terms of their genesis (in the
broader systems intentional dynamics) and their ability to shape activity, but they
differ in their resilience. In the interaction between learner pairs, activity seemed
more volatile, as the intentionality and resultant attractor emerged comparatively
quickly and dissipated similarly fast when the teacher decided to perturb it. By
contrast, activity in the language school, a broader social structure, seemed to
operate on a slower time-scale. The Complex System of Intentions that we put
forward, which capitalises on the potential of complexity to explain the interaction
between higher- and lower-order systems, offers useful insights into the genesis and
effects of such attractor regimes.
22 A. Kostoulas and J. Stelma

In summary, in this chapter we have developed the notion of Complex System

of Intentions as a framework for analysing language learning situations. This
conceptual model draws on previous work on intentionality (Stelma, 2011, 2014a;
Stelma & Fay, 2014; Stelma et al., 2015) aimed at understanding how activity is
driven, and how actions and artefacts are brought into existence through intentional
activity. Moreover, we view intentionality as taking place within a complex system,
which helps to relate intentionalities to their social contexts. Additionally, CST
provides us with insights into the reciprocal determination between higher and
lower levels of activity, such as individual action and social values and policies, and
in doing so, helps us bridge the dichotomy between agency and structure. Lastly,
our conceptualisation of a Complex System of Intentions, as part of a broader
system of language learning that includes complexity-informed linguistic and
pedagogical systems, indicates how connections might be traced between various
approaches to studying language learning, thus hinting at the potential of com-
plexity to function as connective tissue in language learning psychology theory.


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New Directions in Language Learning
Strategy Research: Engaging
with the Complexity of Strategy Use

Carol Grifths and Grsev Inceay

Abstract Over the years, the language learning strategy concept has been con-
troversial on a number of levels. These include denition, classication, theoretical
underpinnings, the relationship between strategies and successful learning, strategy
orchestration, learning context, learning goal or target, the relationship
between/among strategies and learner variables, strategy instruction and research
methodology. This article will review these controversies before focusing on the
challenges which remain for the complex language learning strategy phenomenon.
It will conclude by suggesting new directions for the future of the eld of strategy

Keywords Strategies  Complex  Dynamic  Orchestration  Individual


1 Introduction

The strategy concept has been controversial since it was rst introduced to the
language learning eld in the mid-1970s by Rubin (1975). Even today, although
much work has been done, consensus has not been reached on basic issues such as
denition, classication, theoretical underpinnings, the relationship between
strategies and successful learning, learning context, learning goal or target, the
relationship between/among strategies and learner variables, or the best way/s to
conduct strategy research (see also Cohen & Macaro, 2007).

C. Grifths (&)
Fatih University, Istanbul, Turkey
G. Inceay
Yeditepe University, Istanbul, Turkey

Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016 25

C. Gkonou et al. (eds.), New Directions in Language Learning Psychology,
Second Language Learning and Teaching, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-23491-5_3
26 C. Grifths and G. Inceay

A particular problem has been that strategy research to date has often focused on
strategies in isolation, when, in fact, they are actually an extremely complex phe-
nomenon. Their use depends on relationships with the learning situation, the
learning target and individual learner differencesall of which interact with each
other in extremely complex patterns. Researching the interaction of these multiple
variables is a challenging task. This chapter will rst review the essential under-
lying issues and suggest some possible answers before proposing some new
directions which strategy research might usefully take in the future.

2 Denition

Rubin (1975, p. 43) dened learning strategies as, the techniques or devices which a
learner may use to acquire knowledge. Ten years later, although a number of other
researchers had contributed to the eld (e.g., Stern, 1975; Naiman, Frohlich, Stern, &
Todesco, 1978), OMalley, Chamot, Stewner-Manzanares, Kupper, and Russo
(1985) were lamenting the lack of consensus regarding a denition which, they felt,
was impeding progress with research. Over the next two decades, however, the
controversy continued to rage, until by 2006, Macaro abandoned the attempt to
achieve a decisive denition and opted for listing dening characteristics instead.
Meanwhile, Drnyei and Skehan (2003, p. 170) had gone even further and recom-
mended abandoning the term strategy in favour of the more versatile term
self-regulation. Yet, according to writers such as OMalley et al. (1985), a de-
nition is necessary for meaningful research. Therefore, following an extensive
review of the literature, Grifths (2008, 2013) distilled a concise denition of lan-
guage learning strategies, which might be summed up as actions chosen by learners
(either deliberately or automatically) for the purpose of learning or regulating the
learning of language. This denition depends on the essential features: activity,
choice, goal/purpose, and learning. We will now explain each of these in turn.

2.1 Activity

According to Rubin (1975), language learning strategies are what students do

suggesting an active rather than a passive approach. Although, according to Macaro
(2006), strategies are essentially mental activities, others (such as Oxford, 1990,
2011) include both physical and mental activity. Given the lack of consensus on
this issue, it is important for researchers to specify the kind of activity that will be
included in their study. It is the active aspect, which distinguishes learning
strategies from learning styles. These relate to learner preferences, typically
described by adjectives such as visual, aural, kinesthetic (for instance, Reid, 1987,
1995, 1998). Whereas, strategies are what learners do, and, as such, they are
New Directions in Language Learning Strategy Research 27

typically expressed as verbs, either in the rst person (for instance, I revise lan-
guage regularly) or as gerunds (for instance, seeking conversation partners).

2.2 Choice

According to Bialystok (1978, p. 71), language learning strategies are optional

means for exploiting available information to improve competence. Since learners
who unthinkingly accept activities imposed by others can hardly be considered
strategic, the element of choice would appear to be self-evident as a characteristic.
However, this choice may be either deliberate (especially in the case of students
learning something new) or automatic (expert learners can often make strategy
choices without really having to think about them). The deliberate/automatic dis-
tinction (e.g., Wenden, 1991) is probably more useful than the conscious/unconscious
dichotomy, since it is actually extremely difcult to determine whether an action is
conscious or not, and it is therefore unfalsiable (McLaughlin, 1990).

2.3 Goal/Purpose

The specication of a goal or intention is listed by Macaro (2006) among the

identifying features of strategies. Random activities for no particular purpose are
not strategic (see, e.g., Oxford, 1990, 2011). In the case of language learning
strategies, the purpose is to learn language. This goal helps distinguish strategies
from skills, another concept with which they are often confused. Skills relate to the
manner in which language is used for communication (Richards, Platt, & Platt,
1992); in other words, learning strategies are used to learn, while skills are deployed
to use what has been learnt. Skills can, however, be used in turn as a learning
strategy, for instance, if students decide to listen to movies in order to expand their
knowledge of idioms. In this case, listening to movies is an activity chosen for the
purpose of learning, so it is, by denition, a strategy.

2.4 Learning

The purpose of language learning strategies is to promote learning. This distin-

guishes learning strategies from other types of learner strategies, such as commu-
nication strategies, whose basic purpose is to maintain communication (e.g.,
Tarone, 1980, 1981), but which will not result in learning unless the learners choose
to employ learning strategies to learn the language to which they have been
exposed. Exam strategies also, which are employed to get a learner through an
exam, will only reflect learning if learning strategies have also been employed.
28 C. Grifths and G. Inceay

As can be seen, a concise denition of language learning strategies is difcult,

but these core characteristics can help researchers to recognize and dene what is
being considered as a strategy. For further discussion of other issues connected to
language learning strategy denition, see Grifths (2008, 2013) or Grifths and
Oxford (2014).

3 Classication

Another highly contentious issue in the eld has been the classication of strategies.
Rubin (1981) divided strategies into two categories (direct and indirect), and
OMalley et al. (1985) opted for three strategy groups (cognitive, metacognitive and
social). Oxford (1990) produced the most widely used strategy classication system
(the Strategy Inventory for Language Learning or SILL), which identied six strategy
types (memory, cognitive, compensation, metacognitive, affective and social).
Over the years, there has been little or no consensus over the question of strategy
classication. Existing classication systems have been criticised on the basis of
contextual inappropriacy and also on conceptual grounds (Cohen & Drnyei, 2002;
Crookes, Davis, & LoCastro, 1994; Ellis, 2008; Oxford & Cohen, 1992;
Riviera-Mills & Plonsky, 2007; Woodrow, 2005). Oxford (2011, p. 162) encour-
ages researchers to make cultural adaptations and re-assess SILL reliability and
validity in each study and each sociocultural context. Grifths (2013) goes further
and, in addition to suggesting that researchers consider constructing custom-made
instruments to suit the characteristics of particular contexts, she advises researchers
to avoid pre-determined strategy categorization and, instead, suggests opting for a
grounded approach, whereby analysis of strategy categories is based on the themes
which emerge from the particular data under investigation.

4 Theoretical Basis

The theory underlying language learning strategies is extremely eclectic, drawing

on many different theoretical traditions. In response to Drnyei and Skehans (2003,
p. 610) scathing attack on the theoretical muddle in which they argued the
learning strategy eld had been operating, Grifths (2013) attempted a rational-
ization of the theoretical basis of strategy research. To begin with, she concluded
that learning strategies are essentially cognitive (Bialystok, 1981; OMalley &
Chamot, 1990), in other words, they depend on a learner engaging mental processes
in order to learn. However, although theories of cognition may explain some of the
strategy theory, the cognitive base is complicated by a number of other contributing
theoretical perspectives, such as Behaviourism (e.g., Skinner, 1957; Watson, 1930),
which argues that all learning (including language learning) is based on habit
formation. Although the Behaviourist movement never quite recovered from
New Directions in Language Learning Strategy Research 29

Chomskys (1959) attack, it retains a presence in strategy theory recognizable in the

form of strategies such as repeating words over and over until I can remember
them. Structuralism, on which the Grammar-Translation method is based, has also
left its mark in the form of strategies such as learning grammar rules. Schemata
Theory (R. Anderson, 1977), which refers to the framework of existing knowledge
that individuals construct for themselves, helps us to understand the processes when
learners establish their ideas about the strategies that help them to learn and which
they tend to use as a basis for ongoing strategic choices. Sociocultural Theory
(Lantolf, 2000; Vygotsky, 1978) also contributes to strategy theory and can be seen
in the form of communicative strategies, which depend on interaction with others
and mediation by more knowledgeable others for their effectiveness. Leontievs
(1978) Activity Theory is concerned with the use of tools (in this case, strategies),
which mediate between a subject (i.e., the learner) and a goal (in this case, language
learning). Chaos/complexity Theory (Larsen-Freeman, 1997), when related to
strategy theory, suggests that strategies can be used to bring order into a complex
and sometimes unpredictable system (i.e., a language). Indeed, the range of other
theories which have relevant insights for strategy theory, is considerable and
together these theories produce a web of interlocking theories (Oxford, 2011,
p. 60). This complexity in theories informing strategy work may help to explain
why language learning strategies have been so resistant to straightforward theo-
retical clarication for so long.

5 Relationship Between Strategies and Successful


Although Rubin (1975) recommended learning strategies as a means of promoting

successful learning, in fact, the relationship between strategies and successful
learning is not so straightforward. Porte (1988) and Vann and Abraham (1990), for
instance, discovered that their unsuccessful learners frequently used a large number
of strategies, although they reported that these strategies were often used inap-
propriately. Other researchers, however, such as Dreyer and Oxford (1996), Green
and Oxford (1995), Hong-Nam and Leavell (2006), and Grifths (2003, 2008,
2013) have reported a positive relationship between strategy use and successful
learning. These positive results suggest that, although we cannot assume an
uncomplicated linear relationship between strategy use and learning, strategies can
act as a useful tool in the quest for effective language learning.
Perhaps the key question to clarify is not about the number of strategies a learner
uses but how successful learners use strategies effectively. In the case of Portes
(1988) and Vann and Abrahams (1990) unsuccessful learners, the problem was not
so much that these learners did not use strategies, but that they did not select and
use them effectively. N. Anderson (2008) discusses the importance of strategy
orchestration as an essential element of metacognition; as he points out, strategies
30 C. Grifths and G. Inceay

are not an isolated phenomenon: they interact in complex patterns, and it is

important that learners know how to integrate their strategies and manage the
complexity of their combined use if they are to achieve positive outcomes.

6 Learning Context

The central role of the learning environment in learners strategy use has long been
recognized (Oxford, 1996). However, it was perhaps Norton and Tooheys (2001)
article, which really highlighted the concept of the situated learner. In this article,
Norton and Toohey describe two immigrants who managed to use the affordances
of the situation in which they found themselves in order to construct positive
identities and to learn the new language. In other words, they succeeded in turning
the opportunities offered by their new environment to their advantage in order to
gain the respect of those with whom they interacted, and this, in turn, offered
opportunities to develop the language. Today the importance of context continues
to be recognized in the literature as a factor which has the potential to influence
learner success or lack of success (Ushioda, 2015), as well as the strategies which
learners choose to use or reject. For instance, whereas a face-to-face classroom
teaching situation would once have been considered the norm, increasingly distance
learning is gaining popularity because, amongst other reasons, it eliminates the time
and money spent commuting. However, successful distance learning may require
different strategies from classroom learning. According to White (2003), successful
learners in a distance programme were those who were frequent users of
metacognitive (self-management) strategies. Another increasingly frequent setting
for language learning is the study abroad experience, where students leave their
familiar environment and go to study where the target language is spoken, a situ-
ation which can cause much anxiety (Irie & Ryan, 2015), requiring the deployment
of affective strategies. In other words, learning situations can vary in a number of
ways and require students to adapt their strategy repertoires to meet the complex
demands of any new learning environment.

7 Learning Goal/Target

Another factor affecting strategy use is learners goal orientation. Strategies will
vary, for instance, according to the learning task: whether students are aiming to
develop skills, vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, pragmatic competence, or
some other goal which is important to them. Students studying General English
may need to adopt different strategies if their goal changes to passing an interna-
tional exam. Issues of strategy selection, deployment and context will also need to
be considered if students are to successfully complete a course in English for
Specic Purposes (ESP) such as Business English, English for Tourism, Secretaries
New Directions in Language Learning Strategy Research 31

or Airline Pilots, or any of the other perceived needs and imagined futures
(Belcher, 2006, p. 133) for which such courses have been developed, and in which
English as the medium of instruction may well be an issue (Tatzl, 2011). In more
recent years, Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) courses have
become popular (Dalton-Puffer & Smit, 2013; Papaja, 2014). In the case of CLIL,
students need to develop particular strategies to deal with the dual goals of learning
both the content and the language in which the subject matter is embedded. It is
important that students are aware of and able to develop effective strategies to cope
with the varying and complex demands of different learning goals.

8 Relationship/s Among Strategies and Learner Variables

Individual differences are an important consideration when it comes to language

learning strategy choice (Gregersen & MacIntyre, 2014; Pawlak, 2012), and we will
consider here a number of the learner characteristics which appear most commonly
in the literature in connection with strategy use: prociency level, motivation,
investment, beliefs, autonomy, age, gender, personality, learning style, culture,
aptitude, and affect.
In addition to nding a signicantly positive relationship between frequency of
strategy use and course level (e.g., Dreyer & Oxford, 1996; Green & Oxford, 1995;
Hong-Nam & Leavell, 2006), Grifths (2003, 2008, 2013) reports that the more
procient learners in her studies used many more strategies than lower level stu-
dents. In addition, motivation has also been shown to be related to strategy use (for
instance, Grifths, 2013), since, perhaps, it is motivation that determines the degree
to which a learner is willing to invest time, effort, attention, and, perhaps, money
and/or other resources in the language learning endeavour (Norton Peirce, 1995),
which may, in turn, influence a learners choice of strategies. Successful language
learners tend to believe that the language they are trying to learn is worthwhile and
they believe in themselves as good learners; and they are able to adapt existing
beliefs in order to maximize the affordances of a given learning situation (White,
2008), which may include adapting existing strategy repertoires to suit the
requirements of the context and/or the target. Furthermore, successful language
learners do not wait for someone else (e.g., the teacher) to make all their decisions:
they are autonomous, they engage in both reflexive and reflective thinking (Gao,
2013), and they are active strategy users (Wenden, 1991).
Although the learner characteristics noted above have been shown to be related
to strategy use and to successful learning, in the case of some other commonly
considered learner variables, the link is not so clear. For instance, the idea that
language learning becomes more difcult or even impossible with advancing age
has historically been influential (e.g., Lenneberg, 1967; Peneld & Roberts, 1959),
although more recently the idea that older learners can learn language successfully
has been gaining ground (e.g., Muoz & Singleton, 2011). Grifths (2013) reports a
study where neither successful learning nor strategy use was related to age; in fact,
32 C. Grifths and G. Inceay

some of the older learners in her study were both more successful and more active
strategy users than some of the younger ones. She reached a similar conclusion in
relation to gender: there was no signicant difference according to gender for either
strategy use or prociency level, a conclusion also reached by Nyikos (2008). As
for personality, extroverts are generally assumed to be better language learners,
since they are, perhaps, more communication-oriented, less afraid of making mis-
takes, therefore, more likely to achieve exposure to and practice in the target
language by means of interactive strategies; interestingly, however, Ehrmans
(2008) research shows the opposite: that introverts are over-represented (p. 64)
among the best language learners in her study. Learning style is another learner
variable, which has received a great deal of research interest (e.g., Cohen, Oxford,
& Chi, 2002; Oxford, 1993; Reid, 1987, 1995, 1998). Learning style is often
considered an aspect of personality, which is, in turn, often confused with learning
strategies; yet, they are distinct concepts, though they may overlap: a student with
an extroverted personality, for instance, might be expected to prefer a group style,
and may in turn, benet from interactive strategies. In the end, to date, no consistent
relationships have been found between personality or style and strategy use or
prociency. Cultural expectations may also affect the strategies an individual
learner is willing or able to use; for instance, a girl brought up in an environment
where girls are not expected to be educated who decides she wants to learn another
language may well need to adopt quite different strategies from the strategies
available to a girl in a more open environment. The role of aptitude in successful
learning has been another highly contentious question over the years (e.g., de
Keyser & Koeth, 2011; Muoz, 2014), partly because of difculties with reliable
measurement as it is argued that those who do not perform well on aptitude tests
can be assisted to achieve beyond test predictions by means of effective strategies.
In addition, although there has been much activity in the area of affect over the
years (e.g., Gkonou, 2013, 2014; Mercer, 2011, 2015), there is very little empirical
evidence to link affect to effective strategy use. Nevertheless, Keblowska (2012,
p. 157) states rmly that affective learner characteristics play a crucial role in the
process of second language acquisition, and intuition would tell us that our
emotional state underlies success or failure in any undertaking, including our choice
of strategies, and there would seem to be no reason to suspect that language
learning strategy use is an exception.

9 Research Methodology

So, given all these interconnected variables that can influence a learners use of
strategies, it is important to reflect on how we empirically measure and research
strategy use. Traditionally, a common means of researching language learning
strategy use has been the Likert-scale based questionnaire. However, this
methodology has not been without its critics. Reid (1990) was one of the rst to
question the reliability and validity of Likert scales when she discussed the dirty
New Directions in Language Learning Strategy Research 33

laundry of ESL survey research (p. 323). Gu, Wen, and Wu (1995) also raised
questions about Likert-scale ambiguities of reference when they asked, How often
is often? (p. 19). In addition, contextual difculties have been pointed out since
pre-existing strategy questionnaires are unlikely to be applicable to all situations
and cultural contexts (Crookes, Davis, & LoCastro, 1994; Woodrow, 2005).
Nevertheless, questionnaires have remained popular as a research tool, since they
are the most efcient method for ascertaining learner strategies (White, Schramm,
& Chamot, 2007, p. 94), and, as Drnyei (2007, p. 101) explains, they are rela-
tively easy to construct, extremely versatile and uniquely capable of gathering a
large amount of information quickly in a form that is readily processable.
Suggestions for counteracting difculties with questionnaires are mentioned pre-
viously under classication, when recommendations are made that researchers
should re-assess the validity and reliability of an instrument in the light of each
study and each context (Oxford, 2011), or that custom-made and
contextually-appropriate instruments, which avoid pre-determined classications in
favour of analysis of themes which emerge from the local data, should be con-
structed (Grifths, 2013).
A problem with many early strategy studies using Likert-scale type instruments
is that they were analysed for means and using parametric tests such as Pearson
product moment test of correlation, t-tests and ANOVAs. Likert scales, however,
are by their nature ordinal: they do not produce numerical data. Medians and
non-parametric tests such as Spearmans rho, Man-Whitney U or Kruskall-Wallis
are the correct tests for such data (Jamieson, 2004). Although it is possible to argue
that, in fact, non-parametric tests do not often produce results that differ widely
from parametric test results, we might equally argue that, this being the case, we
ought to ensure we use the correct analysis procedures.
With a growing awareness that questionnaire data cannot provide the whole
picture, researchers have increasingly been turning to more qualitative methods to
complement quantitative data (Chapelle & Duff, 2003; Drnyei, 2014; Holliday,
2007; Lichtman, 2014), although it is worth noting that qualitative methods have
been in evidence in strategy research since the beginning when Rubin (1975) used
observation as her main research tool. Later, OMalley et al. (1985) used interviews,
Vann and Abraham (1990) used think-aloud protocols, and Ma and Oxford (2014)
used a diary study. The value of narratives is now also widely recognized as an
appropriate tool for capturing situated strategy use (Barkhuizen, 2011).
A well-recognized gap in good language learner studies is research which takes a
longitudinal view (Cohen & Macaro, 2007). As Drnyei (2007, p. 40) explains,
most of the processes are dynamic in nature, and therefore we would need many
more longitudinal investigations in the eld to explore the sequential patterns and
the changes that occur. One rare such study (Grifths, 2006) discovered that,
overall, the students who made the fastest progress over the period examined were
those who most increased their use of strategies.
Increasingly gaining popularity in recent years are studies which employ a
mixed-method design. This might include any two or more of the stand-alone
research methods (such as questionnaires, interviews, observations, think-alouds,
34 C. Grifths and G. Inceay

diaries or narratives). A mixed-method approach can contribute to a fuller under-

standing of the strategy phenomenon by approaching it from different perspectives.
It can also provide triangulation by cross-checking results obtained using one
method against another (Drnyei, 2007; Lichtman, 2014).
In summary, then, when we consider the direction which research methodology
in language learning strategy research might take in the future to tackle the com-
plexity outlined at the beginning of this chapter, we might consider more qualitative
paradigms using tools such as interviews, think-aloud protocols, observations, di-
aries or narratives. Longitudinal perspectives also have the potential to contribute
very useful insights to our current knowledge of language learning strategies and
how they can be used to promote successful learning. In the enthusiasm to embrace
new methodologies, however, we should be careful not to throw the baby out with
the bathwater. In other words, we need to remember that more traditional methods
(such as questionnaires) still have a useful contribution to make. Questionnaires can
be especially useful as a point of rst entry, as it were, providing a foundation on
which to base further exploration, such as with interviews, as part of mixed-method
designs. Finally, care should be taken with the selection of appropriate analysis
procedures. In particular, it is especially important to remember that Likert scale
data are non-parametric, and, therefore, non-parametric tests are the ones that
should be used to analyse them.

10 What Is Still Needed in Strategy Research?

In the last 40 years, we have learned a lot about how to promote effective language
learning. However, there is still much to do in relation to strategy research in
respect to foreign language learning. In particular, we need to:
1. Clarify and achieve consensus on strategy denition, classication and theo-
retical underpinnings.
2. Conduct further research into the relationship between strategies and successful
language learning and how this is achieved, using a range of methods (such as
narrative, longitudinal research), in addition to more traditional methods such as
questionnaires, using different forms of analysis (especially non-parametric).
3. Continue to research the relationship/s between/among successful language
learning, various individual differences and the strategies which are most likely
to result in successful learning for individuals with these particular
4. Research the strategies used by language learners to manage the constraints and
affordances of various learning contexts.
5. Investigate the strategies used by learners to successfully respond to the
demands of various learning targets and goals (General English, ESP, CLIL
New Directions in Language Learning Strategy Research 35

11 Conclusion

As we can see, strategy research has given rise to a great deal of controversy over
the past four decades since Rubins (1975) seminal article, and many of the
questions which have been debated remain unresolved or only partly resolved. The
challenge for today is to continue with attempts to nd answers to these questions in
order that we might nd ways to help students improve their performance (ibid,
p. 41). In order to do this, we need to nd ways to investigate how learners, who are
a complex mixture of individual characteristics, from a wide variety of situations,
and aiming at diverse learning targets, can effectively utilize language learning
strategies in order to maximize their chances of success.
Of course, no single study can investigate all of these multiple variables at once,
and in the interests of feasibility, it may well be necessary to focus on certain
combinations of specic variables for any particular study, as Cohen (2012) did
when he investigated the interface of styles, strategies and motivation. However, it
is important to remember that any one set of results, however interesting, will only
be one piece of the overall picture. As has been shown in this chapter, language
learning strategy use is highly complex, and this makes it unlikely that any isolated
nding or set of ndings can provide full enlightenment. Consequently, it is
important when interpreting insights from research that learners and their strategy
use are considered holistically, bearing in mind possible individual, contextual and
linguistic variables, which may influence when, how and in what ways learners
employ strategies to help them learn their new language.


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A Systemic View of Learner Autonomy

Dietmar Tatzl

Abstract Contemporary understandings of learner autonomy nowadays include a

consideration of the multiple contexts, formal and informal, in which individuals
learn and use their languages. Increasingly, learner autonomy research has attended
to the potential diversity in terms of learner and contextual variation, as well as the
dynamic and emergent character of autonomy. Attention has also shifted from
examining the individual learner in isolation to exploring how the individual is
socially situated and how autonomy can be co-constructed through our relationships
with others. Bringing together a range of such contemporary views of autonomy, I
propose a systemic approach, which concentrates on the interactional nature of
autonomy. This approach views the complex nature of autonomy from a holistic
perspective, taking into account learners as well as the constituent parts of their
learning environment as a system. In particular, I hope that it will draw attention to
the kinds of interactions and relationships that may foster learner autonomy. The
chapter concludes by making recommendations for teachers in terms of the kinds of
interactions and relationships that can be focused on in the classroom.

Keywords Complexity  Autonomy  Context  System  Interaction 


1 Introduction

In this chapter, I wish to examine learner autonomy through the lens of complex
dynamic systems (CDS) theory which conceptualises individuals and contexts as
belonging to an interwoven and multi-layered system. I discuss diversity in
autonomy, rstly, amongst learners in terms of their individuality and, secondly,
diversity in terms of multiple levels of contexts and contextual affordances (cf. Van

D. Tatzl (&)
FH Joanneum, University of Applied Sciences, Graz, Austria

Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016 39

C. Gkonou et al. (eds.), New Directions in Language Learning Psychology,
Second Language Learning and Teaching, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-23491-5_4
40 D. Tatzl

Lier, 2004). I reflect on dynamism as a characteristic of diversity amongst learners

in how they approach or display autonomy, focusing in particular on the social
dimension of learner autonomy. Bringing these perspectives together, I suggest the
usefulness of understanding autonomy in language learning through the lens of
complexity theory. I discuss implications for pedagogy contending that such a
systemic view can offer practical insights into fostering autonomous learning.
I argue that complexity perspectives pay more attention to the interactions of real
learners and language classrooms (Ushioda, 2009, 2011a) than more simplied and
in part prescriptive views of pedagogy, which have also been criticised by Mercer
(2013). From a systemic perspective, I suggest that conceptualising autonomy as a
dynamic quality emerging from the learners relationships surrounding their lan-
guage use and learning experiences may facilitate its promotion by teachers and its
pursuit by learners, as it may raise their awareness of hindering and enabling factors
in their own learning system.

2 Complex Dynamic Systems

Before discussing learner autonomy and how it could be viewed in a systemic

manner, it is necessary to clarify what is meant by complex dynamic systems in
order to appreciate in what ways this conceptualisation could be applied to
understandings of autonomy. According to Mercer (2013), a complex dynamic
system is composed of at least two, but usually a multitude of, interrelated com-
ponents (p. 377) which cannot meaningfully be separated. In other words, the
system only exists because of the interrelations and character which emerges from
the interaction of the multiple components. Each component can itself also be a
complex system. A critical feature of systems is that context is part of the system. It
does not influence it externally from outside but fundamentally acts as an integral
part of the system itself (cf. Drnyei & Ushioda, 2011; Mercer, 2013; Mercer,
forthcoming). Larsen-Freeman (2011, p. 52) explained that complex behaviour
arises from interactions among many componentsa bottom-up process based on
the contributions of each, which are subject to change over time. This highlights
two other characteristics, namely, a complex systems dynamism over time and its
emergent character. There can be various types of changes in a system in terms of
its dynamism, either gradual or sudden changes. A system can also be described as
being dynamically stable when it is flexible enough to maintain its stability
through continuous adaptation (Larsen-Freeman & Cameron, 2008, p. 56).
Crucially, the system is constantly in a state of flux (Mercer, 2013, p. 377) as it
adjusts to changes in other parts of the system or contexts. This means it may be
stable but not static. Emergence, nally, may be interpreted as the product of
change in complex systems and the whole representing more than merely the sum
of its parts (Mercer, 2013).
A Systemic View of Learner Autonomy 41

3 Diversity of Autonomous Learners and Relationships

Language learning is a long, gradual process that continues throughout ones

lifetime involving contexts and settings beyond the classroom. Consequently,
learner autonomy is desirable, possibly even necessary, in language learning and
teaching because it facilitates lifelong learning skills, enhances learner motivation,
and promotes learners sense of condence in their ability to self-regulate their
learning (Ushioda, 2011b). Autonomous learners are inclined to take initiatives,
seek challenges and employ available resources to satisfy their educational and
professional needs (cf. Deci & Ryan, 1985; Ills, 2012). In addition, we may dene
such learners as those who tend to show interest in new ideas and nd ways of
improving their immediate activity spheres and environments. In ever-faster
changing workplace realities, the capacity to function autonomously is linked with
the need to learn, to strive and to develop, both as a human being and as a member
of a workforce team.
Early denitions of autonomy acknowledge that being autonomous is not an
absolute state, but learners can be autonomous to varying degrees (Holec, 1981;
Little, 1991; Nunan, 1996), depending on individual learner differences, such as
personality or attitudes, as well as intra-learner variation across contexts, settings
and tasks. In one setting, for instance, a learner may take the initiative and engage
with a task almost as a habit, whereas in another setting he or she may require
encouragement, a concrete stimulus or certain environmental conditions that
facilitate the participation in a task. More explicitly, Breen and Mann (1997, p. 149)
argued for a diversity of interpretations of autonomy, as this diversity allows the
innovation in action to reflect variability in cultural interpretations and classroom
practices and, thereby, generates a multiplicity of alternative realizations. In other
words, expressions of autonomous learning are manifold and defy any reductionist
explanations or simplied descriptions. The strengths of autonomous learners are
that they are able to adapt to changing learning situations and circumstances
without losing sight of their learning goals, and they may be conceived of as
versatile learners who can exploit a variety of learning tools. In my understanding,
learners may differ considerably in their degree of autonomous behaviour.
High-degree autonomous learners may thrive in less than ideal learning environ-
ments, whereas low-degree autonomous learners may nd it difcult to achieve
learning gains (Tatzl, 2012b, 2013). Ideal learning environments in terms of fos-
tering autonomy may comprise space for the individual development of learners, a
functioning mentoring system, a rich supply of pedagogic resources and materials, a
technical support system, the existence of respectful and respected role models, the
provision of meaningful tasks, the creation of relevant learning scenarios and the
integration into some form of organised learning. Furthermore, highly autonomous
learners will still actively seek out learning opportunities even in adverse circum-
stances, thus attempting to increase their knowledge and skills and full their
42 D. Tatzl

A nal important point is that autonomy is not dened as being individualistic

(Ryan & Deci, 2000), but it fundamentally involves others and relationships
(Murray, 2014). Autonomy may develop through an individuals interaction with
other individuals and the environment. We may thus view autonomy as a system of
interactions and relationships. Such a systemic view is based on CDS theory, which
emphasises the interconnectedness of all components in a learning system (cf.
Mercer, 2011c, 2015).
Autonomy, therefore, may depend on the relationships learners form primarily
with signicant others, and the nature of these relationships may deeply influence
the ways in which learners develop their autonomy (Murray, 2014). One type of
relationship in education is that between teacher and learner, and it is possible that
the character of that relationship can either foster or hinder learners autonomous
behaviour. For example, an authoritarian teacher is likely to form relationships with
learners that do not encourage autonomy, whereas a more liberal and open-minded
teacher may build relationships that foster autonomy. This could be due to an
authoritarian teachers reluctance to involve students in what a teacher may per-
ceive as face-threatening discussions; a liberal teacher, on the other hand, may
appreciate learner input as valuable, so that students will feel respected in such a
relationship and may develop into more autonomous language learners.
Likewise, learners other social relationships may play a role in the development
of their autonomy (Murray, 2014). For example, a learner may be motivated to
engage in more autonomous behaviour given the admiration of a friend outside
school and the hope of winning similar admiration from this signicant other in the
future. Another example may be a friend that a learner communicates with online in
the target language through social networks, forums or blogs, where learner
autonomy may be fostered as a result of this learners commitment to cultivate this
relationship. Furthermore, family members may exert a strong influence on a
learners autonomy, particularly when somebody in the learners family encourages
autonomous language learning behaviour or functions as a role model of successful
language learning.

4 Diversity of Contexts

Another respect in which autonomy approaches merit a systemic view concerns

contextual diversity. According to Lynch (2001, p. 392), we recognise autonomy
in psychological attributes (capacity for detachment, critical reflection and strategic
choice) as well as in independent action, but at the same time the freedoms implied
by autonomy are socially constrained. However, autonomous behaviour may not
only be socially constrained but also socially encouraged, which is why the
learning environment plays an important role in fostering learner autonomy
(Murray, 2014). Needless to say, there is not a single one generic learning envi-
ronment ideally suited to that purpose, but a variety of in-class and outside-of-class
A Systemic View of Learner Autonomy 43

environments, which may affect individual learners and groups in a positive way in
respect to their autonomy.
A concept in contextual variation that is crucial for our understanding of learner
autonomy is that of affordances. Affordances represent the interaction between
contextual factors (micro- and macro-level structures, artefacts) and learners per-
ceptions of them and the potential for learning inherent in this interaction (Mercer,
2012, p. 43). Essentially, any contextual factor represents what Van Lier (2004,
p. 95) refers to as relations of possibility. In other words, learners make use of
resources and contexts in ways that they perceive as being personally meaningful
and relevant. The important point to stress here is that it is not the contextual
structures and resources per se that facilitate autonomy, but it depends on how
learners interpret these. Learners do not just react to contexts and their resources but
they make their own meaning out of their environments and interpret the relevance
and usefulness of tools and resources in light of their own perspectives (see also
Mercer, forthcoming). It is this interactive, reciprocal relationship that is a vital
element of autonomy.
One particular aspect of complex dynamic systems that I nd useful for
understanding learner autonomy is the concept of nested systems. Hollidays (1994)
model of the [h]ost culture complex (p. 29) opens up a view on institutions at
different intersecting and overlapping layers of culture, such as the national culture,
professional-academic cultures, international education-related cultures, host-
institution culture, classroom culture and student culture. Similarly, Van Lier
(2004) stresses the relationships between learners and language at different inter-
secting levels and views the educational setting as a hierarchy of nested ecosystems.
Organisations, contexts and cultures, thus, influence individual agency and, con-
sequently, learner autonomy.
Research has touched on autonomy between the poles of the individual and
organisations, albeit rather sparingly to date (see Murray, 2014, for a notable recent
exception). An early example of a systemic perspective was proposed by Schn
(1983), who noted that professionals are embedded in an organizational knowl-
edge structure and a related network of institutional systems of control, authority,
information, maintenance, and reward (p. 336). With reference to teachers, La
Ganza (2008) suggested that teacher autonomy is affected by professional rela-
tionships with individuals who work inside and outside educational institutions, a
concept which he called teacher-institution-dynamics (p. 64). He designates
bureaucracies, institutions, and even powerful individuals (p. 77) as factors
influencing teacher autonomy. Teacher autonomy, however, is directly linked with
learner autonomy, as teachers who are bound to follow rigid educational frame-
works will nd it difcult to establish autonomy-friendly environments for language
learning. La Ganza (2008, p. 65) has conceptualised learner autonomy as an
interrelational construct, whose realization depends as much on the capacities of the
teacher as on [the] capacities of the learner. Paradoxically, the degree of learner
autonomy tends to be directly proportional to the strength of the learners rela-
tionship with the teacher, who needs to be concerned about the learners educative
44 D. Tatzl

well-being; in turn, the learner needs to show deep interest in maintaining the
learning experience facilitated by that relationship (ibid, p. 71).
Organisational structures entail a potential for friction with the principle of
learner autonomy. Shaw (2008, p. 194) referred to the tyranny of the timetable, in
which he interprets timetables as indicators of underlying institutional values and
accepts them as instruments for making sense of new formal learning contexts
(ibid, p. 195; cf. Altenreiter, 2012). As Sinclair (2008, p. 256) has afrmed, the
context of British higher education may be considered to provide a great number of
constraints on learner and teacher autonomy. She deplored rigorous university
quality assurance procedures in Great Britain: Course and module proposal
documents have to follow a format prescribed by the university and be scrutinised
by a number of committees before being allowed to run (p. 239). Little (1991) had
already noted that the syllabus and examinations were perceived as obstacles to
autonomy by teachers, and I will add to this that they also constitute an obstacle to
autonomy for learners, as they prescribe what should be studied for specic
assessment situations. It needs to be mentioned that this circumstance affects not
only higher education but all educational contexts.
In examining contextual variation in learner autonomy, we can look at different
levels of context at the macro- (such as national or educational culture) and
micro-levels (such as interactional settings). For example, Little (1999a) discussed
possible cultural differences in respect to learner autonomy and acknowledged the
influence of cultural variation when he called for an anthropological understanding
of learner autonomy which requires that our pedagogy take[s] account of the
sociocultural environment in which we are working (Little, 1999b, p. 29). The
implications of these lines of thinking are that there can never be one single uni-
versal uniform pedagogy for learner autonomy, but rather approaches are required
which take contextual and cultural diversity into account.

5 Interaction Between the Individual and the Context

Naturally, there is a strong reciprocal interrelationship between the context and the
individual. As Larsen-Freeman and Cameron (2008, p. 76) express, [a]s agents in
multiple, nested, complex systems, the decisions that we make as individuals
cannot help but be influenced by our connections into all kinds of social groupings
(see also Murray, 2014). From an autonomy perspective, the institutional learning
environment is the cultural context that most directly impacts on learner and teacher
autonomy and in which learners and teachers interact in their daily lives. It should
be noted here that past language learning experiences in other educational institu-
tions are also responsible for helping some learners be more autonomous than
others. Ushioda (2011b, p. 224) argued that, students readiness to internalise
curriculum goals and values depends to a large extent on the degree to which the
social learning environment supports their sense of autonomy.
A Systemic View of Learner Autonomy 45

Autonomy, therefore, is not just situated within the individuals (who in them-
selves can be viewed as a system) but emerges from the interaction between the
individual and other systems that he or she is nested within (including the teacher as
a system, the contexts and peers). Paiva and Braga (2008, p. 445) identied the
learner (learning styles, motivation, responsibility for ones own learning, control of
content, etc.), the teacher (atitude [sic], pedagogical choices, etc.), the context
(schools, economic factors, social experiences, etc.), and technology (communi-
cation tools, cultural artifacts, etc.) as components or agents of autonomy. They
further argued that the interactions of agents amongst themselves and with agents
from other systems may produce a positive or negative influence on the process of
self-direction of the language learner (ibid, p. 449). Such interpretations imply that
there is a multiplicity of interactions involved in developing language learner
autonomy. These interactions vary in their type, nature, quality, frequency, duration
and effect.
In order to properly understand the suitability of autonomy approaches and the
capacity of individuals to engage in autonomy, we need to appreciate how the
learner and teacher interact with each other and with others within these multiple
layers of systems, respecting the role of contexts within the system of autonomy.
The immediate learning environment at the micro-level of education, the classroom,
is a system nested within larger systems that accommodate different forms of agents
and interactions. Since the classroom is a widespread and probably the most
common social environment within formal learning, it is also influential in
engendering, promoting and maintaining language learner autonomy.
We also need to consider the opportunities and potential variations within
educational institutions and specic classrooms, which may afford autonomy for
learners. Institutional settings as a whole can influence the development of auton-
omy. There are environments that restrict the autonomy of learners and others
which promote it through their particular constellation of ideological, methodo-
logical, administrative and managerial influences. Restrictive settings can prevent
autonomy from unfolding because they tend to favour rigid frameworks over
learner liberty, choice and initiative. Autonomy-friendly settings, on the other hand,
acknowledge personalised learning styles (see Dunn, 1984; Psaltou-Joycey &
Kantaridou, 2011; Reid, 1987; Rosenberg, 2013) and learner differences (e.g.,
Larsen-Freeman, 2001), allowing for various pathways to achieve learning goals.
An example of an autonomy-friendly setting could be an open learning scenario in
which students can complete tasks and assignments at their own pace, in their
preferred sequence and with certain creative freedom in the output format.
Similarly, in classroom cultures, the classroom atmosphere may encourage
learners to develop autonomous behaviour or not. A classroom atmosphere where
students shy away from developing their full potential because of peer pressure, for
instance, may disrupt the best of all learning and teaching efforts. Students who are
ashamed of learning as a consequence of an atmosphere that cherishes allegedly
prestigious in-group ignorance or contempt for education may fall victim to
inhibiting peer pressure. Derision and mocking of good students may be expres-
sions of ignorant status group behaviour. This illustrates that classrooms function,
46 D. Tatzl

or malfunction, on multiple overt and covert levels that may well be out of
immediate reach for teachers.
In this sense, organisations, contexts and cultures may be viewed as more than
mere settings for autonomy; in fact, they constitute interactive systems for personal
development and learning. Not only do they accommodate affordances (cf. Van
Lier, 2004) and relationships, but they may also contribute to the promotion of
autonomy through their characteristic, distinct yet always interrelated nature. This
means that organisations, contexts and cultures may invite interactions with or
provoke reactions from learners as agents through their particular constitution and
framework. They are not living organisms, but they take on the role of agents
themselves and function as interaction entities for human beings. The systemic
autonomy level of organisations, contexts and cultures (Tatzl, 2012b, 2013) may
affect the development of autonomy in their agents, although low-autonomy sys-
tems do not necessarily prevent autonomy, nor do high-autonomy systems auto-
matically foster it. In other words, autonomous learners may thrive in adverse
conditions and increase the degree of their autonomy even further by interacting
with nested systems. It needs to be added that organisations, contexts and cultures
themselves dynamically change as part of the overall system, so that they do not
affect the development of learner autonomy in a linear unidirectional causality but
rather as a complex dynamic process of interdependency. In turn, organisations,
contexts and cultures may be altered through their interaction with other compo-
nents and agents in the system. The individual mediates between learning and their
systemic environment. Benson (1996, p. 34) has already viewed the teacher as a
mediator between students and institution. As soon as students become more
autonomous and take initiatives, autonomy not only transforms individuals, it also
transforms the social situations and structures in which they are participants (ibid).
This underlines the interrelationship between organisations and individual agents.

6 Potential of Complexity Theory for Autonomy

In order to explore some of this diversity of context and interaction and to ensure it
is given sufcient attention in both pedagogy and research, I propose that taking a
complexity-inspired view of autonomy can broaden our thinking and ward against
simplistic and potentially prescriptive approaches to autonomy.
My earlier discussion of autonomy suggests it could conceivably be concep-
tualised as a complex dynamic system (cf. Mercer, 2011a, b, c, 2013, 2015; Paiva,
2011). If we set our focus on the individual learner, he or she is influenced by
multiple components such as their self-concept, motivation, past experiences,
beliefs about language learning, relationship to the teacher/class/materials and their
sense of self in the language learning group. Understanding the learner as situated
within multiple contexts means that we need to accept that all of these components
are influenced by the multiple levels of cultures and contexts within which the
learner learns and uses the language. Similarly, as stressed earlier, the individual
A Systemic View of Learner Autonomy 47

does not always feel equally autonomous and their degree of autonomy may change
when aspects of the system change such as across contexts, tasks or time. In
addition, a learners degree of autonomy is emergent in character, not binary but in
a constant state of flux and development, experiencing peaks, troughs, periods of
stasis as well as regressions.

7 A Systemic View of Learner Autonomy

In a CDS model of autonomy, there are multiple levels of interaction that combine
to generate a system for autonomy. Systemic autonomy (Tatzl, 2012b, 2013) may
be described as the result of a system of interactions and relationships between the
individual system components. Relationships can be thought of as reflecting the
emotions, physiological states, beliefs, expectations and memories of individuals as
well as their understandings of roles, rules, symbols and patterns of behaviours
(adapted from Parks, 2007, p. 25). This means that an individual can form a
relationship with a person such as a teacher, classroom peer, friend, family member
or other user of the target language but also with a context, a set of materials, a
language, a task and the like (Mercer, 2015). This reconnects with the concept of
affordances (cf. Van Lier, 2004).
A complex-systems interpretation of autonomy does not situate the development
of autonomy solely within individuals, but it recognises its emergence from the
interaction of different individuals together and in relationship with others and their
affordances (cf. Van Lier, 2004). The strength of the systemic perspective is that it
recognises all agents, groups and institutions directly or indirectly involved in
facilitating and engendering autonomy. Furthermore, the dynamics of changing
interrelationships and processes within systems make it clear that autonomy itself,
as a developmental process, is highly dynamic, diverse and determined by many
factors. A complex systems view acknowledges that learner autonomy is not a xed
state or even an end state to be aimed for, but rather an ongoing process which can
be understood in terms of dynamic relationships with agents and artefacts in the
learning environment (Mercer, 2015). In other words, learners perceive opportu-
nities and potential and display a willingness to engage in autonomous behaviours
in respect to certain settings and contexts. It is not merely the context per se that
promotes or hinders autonomy, but it is how the learner interprets the potential
offered by the resource. I propose that thinking of autonomy as the emergent
product of a dynamic system may help make the complexity of the construct more
tangible, and it has helpful implications for teachers. For example, a teacher can
help a learner to develop more autonomy-promoting relationships to various factors
deemed important by the individual for their language learning, such as the lan-
guage itself or a course book or set of materials (Mercer, 2015).
There are multiple relationships between the various components of the learning
process, the respective organisational and cultural contexts and individual agency,
and how these can combine to generate learner autonomy (Mercer, 2015).
48 D. Tatzl

Importantly, this systemic perspective crucially incorporates contexts as part of the

model, inherent in the relationships within and combining learners own cultural
frames of interpretation. In this way, I hope that it represents a potentially more
culturally-sensitive and diverse framework for understanding autonomy in different
contexts. Further, its potential for individual variation in terms of the content,
quality and positivity of relationships is considerable, allowing degrees of auton-
omy to be captured with tangible differentiation (Mercer, 2015).

8 Implications for Pedagogy

I would like to focus my attention in this conceptual chapter on how a systemic

view of autonomy could usefully be integrated into our teaching practices.
Understanding autonomy in terms of a complex dynamic system has several
potential uses for pedagogy. For example, it could be used to help learners and
teachers to determine an individuals readiness and willingness to develop auton-
omy in terms of their autonomy-promoting relationships. Developing learner
autonomy is a complex process which is influenced by a multitude of factors:
For when it comes to creating and managing a learning community whose purpose is to
promote the autonomy of its members, each teacher must nd her own way, and each class
she teaches, comprising as it does a unique collection of unique individuals, will present her
with a different dynamic. This means that the principles of learner empowerment, learner
reflection and appropriate target language use cannot be reduced to a set of simple
(Little, Ridley, & Ushioda, 2002, p. 147)

This uniqueness of individuals, groups and local settings prohibits the adoption of
any prescriptive pedagogy for fostering learner autonomy. Holliday (1994) was
ahead of his time when he argued for appropriate methodologies (p. 17).
The CDS perspective introduced here allows for a view on learner autonomy that
takes an individual learners own relationships with organisations, contexts, cul-
tures, individuals and resources into account.
A pedagogy resulting from this systemic perspective of relationships affects all
stakeholders involved. There is the necessity of acknowledging the diversity of
learners, teachers, institutions, situations, needs, resources, methodologies and their
relationships with each other. Teachers need to be open and flexible towards a
multitude of approaches, techniques and materials in order to cater for individual
learner diversity, learning styles and personal interests. Teachers further need to
develop an awareness of the interrelationships among agents in multi-layered
systems such as individuals, groups, departments and whole organisations as well
as the dynamics of change inherent in any learning systems. They may achieve this
by reflecting on their immediate contexts by means of some analytical instrument,
such as the systemic autonomy scale in Tatzl (2012b, 2013). Teachers can also
function as role models of autonomy who are able to react to changing situations
in a constructive and effective manner, to welcome and initiate innovations in
A Systemic View of Learner Autonomy 49

teaching, to allow learner independence, to change their original didactic concepts

throughout the years of teaching experience and, in short, to practise what they
preach with relation to language learner autonomy. This could include the dem-
onstration of professional working practices with the English language, such as the
translation of an authentic text together with students. It is common sense but all too
often neglected that the best teachers lead by example. Teachers, thus, should
inspire enthusiasm for or at least interest in discovering ways of autonomous lan-
guage learning. Learners need to feel appreciated, valued and encouraged by the
people and resources they interact with. Such positive relationships may be fostered
through personalised learning tasks.
In learners interactions with their contexts, students need to be willing to
become autonomous and open towards taking responsibility for their learning. They
need to be able to endorse and internalise curriculum goals and values including
specically the learning and use of foreign languages (Ushioda, 2011b, p. 224).
Learners need to interact with the people and resources in their context in a way that
embraces and simultaneously facilitates autonomy. An autonomy-favouring peda-
gogy based on complexity theory may need to allow students to form learning
relationships with any components in the system they deem fruitful for this purpose.
Learners may thus develop higher degrees of autonomy through their imaginative
exploitation of their learning environment (see Tatzl, 2009). It may further be
necessary to let learners identify their preferred personalised learning goals, so that
they may be assisted in reaching these targets by means of support on demand,
advice and tutoring. Needless to say, such a catering for personalised learning
requires great flexibility and inventiveness on the part of the teacher.
Institutions, nally, need to enable autonomy to unfold in learners as well as in
teachers by maintaining a positive attitude towards self-determination and inde-
pendence. Since institutions are governed by larger contextual factors such as
organisational bodies, ministries and supranational authorities, these agents also
play a role in how educational entities could promote autonomy. Institutions should
radiate an atmosphere of tolerance and trust, so that their agents can promote and
develop autonomy for language learning in various ways. There should be a flexible
scheme that allows for learner and teacher autonomy whenever decisions about
course design, materials selection or the choice of methods are concerned. It would
be counterproductive to the promotion of autonomy and to successful learning, for
instance, if an institution decided to enforce a certain pedagogical method such as
eLearning on all courses. A rigorous implementation of that kind might only appeal
to a limited group of learners and teachers and prove suitable for a restricted range
of learning situations. Again, it is the freedom of teaching and research so cherished
by universities that should serve as an example of best practice for autonomy-
friendly environments.
To help foster autonomy, thus, teachers need to try to assist learners in building
positive relationships with people, contexts and resources. This could be achieved
by identifying traits or habits in people learners relate to, aspects and elements of
contexts that learners feel comfortable with as well as features and characteristics
of resources that evoke positive associations for learners in their current phase of
50 D. Tatzl

development. For example, a teacher may introduce anchor persons with whom
learners can establish autonomy-conducive relationships through listening and
video material in the classroom. Such anchor persons would need to be connected
with the learners interest spheres. In other words, a learners goal of imitating the
language learning behaviour of such an anchor person they can identify with may
encourage this learner to autonomously practise the language in his or her spare
time. Examples of contexts that foster learner autonomy may be the introduction of
student assessment for parts of a total course grade (Tatzl, 2012a). Such
self-assessment components may incite the critical reflection of students own
performance over a semester. Another, more physical, example of a context that
could promote learner autonomy is a classroom that learners are allowed to furnish
and decorate with their learning experiences made visible. In other words, students
may illustrate their learning experiences by any means they deem appropriate, so
that these experiences may be shared with their colleagues. In a way, students who
have the opportunity to make a classroom their own may feel a stronger sense of
identication with such a learning environment, which, in turn, may create an
atmosphere they feel comfortable and familiar with, so that language learning is
facilitated through a strengthened relationship with context. With regard to
resources, teachers may select learning aids that certain age groups are likely to
relate to. For instance, comics may be used as starting points for learner dialogues
in the classroom, which may support the involvement of learners in various com-
municative situations. Furthermore, learners may be encouraged to bring some of
their own learning resources they use for improving their language, so that these
personalised resources are appreciated by the teacher and the group through their
presentation and thus valued, which may strengthen learners relationships with
these resources and increase their motivation to continue to work with them.
Teachers may further attempt to draw students attention to such relationships
that have resulted in higher autonomy for people. It may be helpful to seek for
autonomous success stories told by learners and integrated into courses to function
as inspirational resources for other learners. Such autonomy case studies may also
be expanded to include teachers pathways to autonomy as well as contexts that
have shown to foster learner autonomy. Over a semester, a collection or databank of
autonomy case studies may serve as a source of motivation for learners to develop
autonomous language learning practices, as it may strengthen learners sense of
belonging to a group of like-minded pursuers of autonomy. It may also help
learners to draw parallels from contexts included in such a collection or databank to
their own immediate learning environments, inside and outside of class.

9 Conclusion

This chapter has sought to take a complexity-based systemic perspective on

autonomy. To make complexity tangible for both researchers and educators, I have
proposed conceptualising autonomy in terms of a system of interactions and
A Systemic View of Learner Autonomy 51

relationships (see Mercer, 2015). I hope to have shown how focusing on the
multiple interrelations necessary to engender, promote and maintain autonomy can
ensure that its true complexity and diversity is recognised and accommodated in
pedagogical design. I have argued how autonomy is not an isolated, uniquely
individual trait but rather an emergent characteristic generated in social contexts,
interactions and relationships.
Such a systemic view of autonomy allows for a diversity of realisations of
autonomy in language learning, accommodating contextual, cultural as well as
individual variation. I have sought to highlight how autonomy emerges from the
interdependence of multiple agents, settings and resources that interact with each
other for the purpose of improving the linguistic competence of learners. I hope that
this view will be useful for researchers seeking a complex, systemic perspective and
for educators who want a practical, easily employable framework linked closely to
the complex reality of the language classroom without unduly simplifying it but yet
offering practical ways of further promoting learner autonomy. Every relationship
we have to a place, object or idea or with a person is crucial to our sense of self, and
I would also add to our sense of autonomy. Each relationship can be considered in
terms of the ways in which it may promote or hinder autonomy. Teachers, faculty
heads and administrators could work on developing healthy relationships that
facilitate learner autonomy and tolerate setbacks in the emergent degrees of a
learners autonomy embedded in interrelated multi-layered nested systems.
Appreciating learner autonomy as a dynamic, complex, fluctuating process which
depends on individual agents relationships with resources, methods, organisations,
contexts and cultures may in the end better support its development than any single
intervention will ever be able to do.


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Ushioda, E. (2011b). Why autonomy? Insights from motivation theory and research. Innovation in
Language Learning and Teaching, 5(2), 221232.
Van Lier, L. (2004). The ecology and semiotics of language learning: A sociocultural perspective.
Boston, MA: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Attachment Theory: Insights into Student
Postures in Autonomous Language

Denyze Toffoli

Abstract Attachment theory is recognized today as being a cornerstone of devel-

opmental psychology. The link between child attachments (in their relation to a
primary caregiver) and various types of autonomous adult behaviours has been well
established (Rholes & Simpson, 2006). More recently, attachment theory has been
used to explain some aspects of both child and adult education (Fleming, 2008;
Geddes, 2006) and to facilitate understanding of certain teacher behaviours and
thereby promote behaviour modication in some educational contexts (Riley, 2011).
However, in applied linguistics, even though autonomy is a widely-researched
concept (Benson, 2006), considered by its advocates to produce the most effective
learning (Little, 2013), little, if anything, has been published on the links between
language learner autonomy and attachment theory. This paper explores autonomy in
language learning from an attachment theory perspective. It seeks evidence of the
existence of adult attachment phenomena in university student self-report data and
aims to determine the pertinence of the theory for language learning, especially in the
contexts of self-access and out-of-class learning.

Keywords Learner autonomy  Attachment theory  Out-of-class learning 

Self-report data

1 Introduction

Since its conception by John Bowlby and later Mary Ainsworth in the 1950s and
60s, attachment theory has become a cornerstone of developmental psychology.
The quality of child attachment to a primary caregiver produces behaviours, which
allow the child to progressively become more or less autonomous. The 1980s and
90s witnessed the development of adult attachment theory as a means of explaining

D. Toffoli (&)
Universit de Strasbourg, Strasbourg, France

Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016 55

C. Gkonou et al. (eds.), New Directions in Language Learning Psychology,
Second Language Learning and Teaching, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-23491-5_5
56 D. Toffoli

relationship dynamics, especially in romantic relationships and, recently, authors

such as Geddes (2006), Fleming (2008) and Riley (2011) have begun to examine
the workings of attachment principles in educational settings in respect to both
adults and children.
Within applied linguistics, various researchers (e.g., Benson & Reinders, 2011;
Benson & Voller, 1997; Holec, 1979; Little 1991, 2000, 2013) have developed the
concept of autonomy in language learning. Building on psychological constructs,
autonomy has been approached from the perspectives of learning strategies (Cohen,
1998; Wenden, 1991, 2002) and self-determination theory (Albero, 2000; Candas,
2009). However, despite several hundred publications on autonomy and language
learning (Benson, 2006), it has not yet been considered through the lens of
attachment theory.
This chapter will begin by outlining the importance of autonomy as a construct
within applied linguistics. It will then present the principal elements of attachment
theory considering ways in which they might be applicable to language learning.
Next, the specic context and methodology of data collection will be described,
before presenting a detailed case study exploring the concepts through one learners
experience. The nal discussion will draw some tentative conclusions and consider
future directions for both practice and research of working with attachment theory
in relation to language learner autonomy.

1.1 Learner Autonomy in Language Education

Over the last 25 years or so, since Holecs seminal 1979 publication Autonomy
and Foreign Language Learning, the concept of language learner autonomy has
been examined and developed, leading to more nuanced, detailed denitions. In the
eld of adult education, Knowles et al. (1998) or Tremblay (2003) consider
autonomy to be a psychological orientation, facilitating lifelong learning. Little
(2013) believes that self-direction produces the most effective learning (p. 16). He
builds on liberal philosophies of education and considers that learner autonomy
[is] the capacity for independent, self-managing behaviour in contexts of formal
learning. [] autonomy is at once the goal of developmental learning and a
characteristic of its underlying dynamic (2000, p. 31). Learner autonomy has thus
been considered as a factor of empowerment, enabling transformation (Mezirow,
2000). More prosaically, the concept of learner autonomy has sometimes been seen
as an answer to the double institutional requirement of massication and
cost-effectiveness (Albero, 2000), especially concerning language learning, where
the numerous hours of practice necessary for learners to be able to communicate
effectively can be difcult and costly to supply, especially if they require constant
tutor or teacher presence.
Various researchers have looked at the workings and manifestations of auton-
omy in language learning (Benson, 2006). The latter have sometimes been con-
sidered as processes or steps that are adhered to during the autonomous learning
Attachment Theory: Insights into Student Postures 57

process. Holec (1979), for example, identies seven essential processes that con-
stitute the signicant features of learner autonomy. These include the learners
decision to learn, their choice of methods and materials, decisions about where,
when and how long to learn, what kind of feedback is needed, and self-evaluation.
Autonomous learning is usually dened in distinction (or even opposition) to
solitary learning (see Little, 2000), especially where languages and communication
are concerned and the participation of other human beings is considered essential. It
therefore (importantly) involves agency regarding authentic use of the target lan-
guage itself (Little, 2013). Benson (2006) suggests that autonomous learning
involves learners control over learning tasks and activities but also over the cog-
nitive processes concerned. For Little (1991), these cognitive processes involve
detachment, critical reflection, decision-making and independent action (p. 4). By
detachment he clearly denotes the capacity to distance oneself from the object of
learning and thus the ability to analyse and evaluate ones decisions critically. This
is not detachment as it appears in attachment theory (where it is understood as either
a part of the mourning process or a pathological protection mechanism) (Riley,
2011). For Little, it is a metaphorical detachment from ones own emotional
involvement in the learning experience, the capacity to stand back and analyse, and
as such it is characteristic of the attainment of a large degree of autonomy. All of
these studies amount to a fairly clear picture of what constitutes autonomy in
language learning as we understand it today: goal-setting, planning, seizing
opportunities, spending time, organising activities, nding appropriate partners,
assessing progress and so on. As summarised by Nissen (2012), learner autonomy
today amounts to taking charge of oneself, acting in an independent manner,
knowing where, or from whom, to nd help [translated from original] / se
prendre en main, agir de manire indpendante, savoir o chercher de laide ou
auprs de qui: cest bien cela qui caractrise un apprenant autonome (p. 18).
These factors describe autonomous actions but do not inform us as to how indi-
viduals attain autonomy. Little (2000) has looked more carefully at the character-
istics of the development of autonomy in the language classroom. In his opinion,
when pedagogy is not specially focused on the development of autonomy, some learners
achieve it but the majority do not. On the other hand, when the development of learner
autonomy is a central pedagogical goal [], it turns out that all learners are capable of
becoming autonomous, within the limits of their ability [my emphasis throughout this
citation]. When the focus of learning is a foreign language, autonomous learners become
condent communicators in that language (again within the limits of their ability); and
when the foreign language is the channel through which their autonomy is developed, it
effects a genuine expansion of their identity. (p. 43)

It is the limits of their ability that begs attention here, for these limitations must be
found in the pre-dispositions of an individual to greater degrees of autonomous
While learning and especially language learning is a social construct, it is also a
psychological process that can only be fostered if the terrain is sufciently fertile. In
this chapter, I suggest that attachment theory could offer an explanation for differing
degrees of adult autonomy and differing levels of difculty in adapting to autonomous
58 D. Toffoli

learning situations. In other words, this chapter attempts to investigate the issue of
whether secure attachment may provide a pre-disposition for learner autonomy.

1.2 Attachment Theory

John Bowlby (19071990), known as the father of attachment theory, was a

psychiatrist and psychoanalyst. In the wake of World War Two, he worked with
young children, often in situations of affective deprivation such as orphanages and
hospitals. He developed attachment theory to explain certain childrens reactions to
separation from their parents. The theory later developed to a full theory of child
maturation from a state of total dependence to one of physical, psychological and
affective autonomy. His theory integrates various aspects of biology, socio-cultural
reproduction and psychoanalysis regarding early childhood experiences (Fleming,
2008). Bowlbys basic premise is that a child needs early secure attachment to a
primary caregiver (often, but not necessarily, the mother) in order to establish
her/himself psychologically and grow to thrive in society. Attachment has been
dened as an enduring tie with a person who provides security (ibid, p. 35). This
strong link induces various behaviours that the care seeker uses to remain in close
proximity to the caregiver. [These] are known as attachment behaviour (Riley,
2011, p. 12). Secure attachment enables the young child to progressively explore
her/his environment and create a place for her/himself in the world.
Riley (2011) and Fleming (2008), among others, summarise the historical ori-
gins of the principal attachment styles that have been identied in the literature.
Bowlbys original theory was tested and completed by the work of Mary Ainsworth
(19131999), who developed a clinical procedure known as the strange situation,
which allowed her to distinguish specic behaviours children demonstrated in the
absence of their primary caregiver. She thus identied two primary types of inse-
cure attachment, namely, avoidant and anxious/ambivalent attachment. Loss or the
fear of losing the primary attachment gure, separation anxiety and angry responses
to this anxiety, along with despair, mourning and various defensive mechanisms
(such as denying need for the other) are all fundamental concepts in the complex
sociobiological system of attachment.
As different psychologists worked with the attachment framework, some (no-
tably Hazan & Shaver, 1987, 1990, 1994, cited in Riley, 2011) hypothesised that
new attachment processes came into play in various adult situations, especially in
romantic relationships, thus developing the notion of adult attachment. This work
led to a redenition of the attachment model by Bartholomew and Horowitz (1991),
who proposed a quadrant model of adult attachment, with four different attachment
styles characterised by the interaction between the avoidance and anxiety factors
(see Fig. 1).
The four types of attachment thus identied qualify the relations an individual
has with others and the ways in which s/he is able to interact in society. Each
individual interacts in accordance with their own inner working model, a set of
Attachment Theory: Insights into Student Postures 59

Fig. 1 Bartholomew and Negative model of other

Horowitzs (adapted) model High avoidance
of adult attachment (1991)

Dismissing Fearful

Negative model of self

Positive model of self
Low High
anxiety anxiety

Secure Preoccupied

Low avoidance
Positive model of other

implicit rules, beliefs and expectations about others and relationships (Collins et al.
2006). In briefly describing the main features of each attachment style, I shall give
indications of the inner working models this generates.
Secure attachment, often referred to in the literature as the secure base (Fleming,
2008; Riley, 2011; Rholes & Simpson, 2006), is that of the child who knows s/he can
rely on her caregivers presence and s/he can quickly and easily nd her/his care-
giver in case of danger or need. The caregiver provides comfort and security for the
child and comes to their aid whenever called for, for example, when the infant
gesticulates, cries or shows signs of need. As the child realises that s/he can rely on
this presence, s/he progressively expresses less need for it and also learns to displace
her/his attachment needs to other people and objects. Children who have consistently
been in secure attachment relationships grow into adults who have a healthy and
balanced view of self and others. They are happy to be interdependent (Riley, 2011,
p. 26). Secure attachment is situated in the lower left quadrant of Fig. 1.
Children whose attachment needs have been frustrated for some reason (parental
absence, rejection, abuse or unpredictability), develop anxiety about their capacity to
have these needs met. In reaction, children may either seek closeness at all costs, or
develop strategies to avoid the other, in the hopes of avoiding emotional hurt. These
reactions can take a variety of forms: excessively clingy or submissive behaviour,
cold or distant contact with the caregiver even when able to be close, anger and
despair, hyper vigilance and role reversal with the child trying to comfort the
caregiver (Riley, 2011). Once they become adults, insecure attachment can create
preoccupied, dismissing or fearful adults. Preoccupied adults (lower right quadrant)
are very anxious about close relationships but, nonetheless, feel attracted to others
and need their opinion in order to feel worthy. Their acceptance of themselves
depends on the opinion of others. They become preoccupied with gaining the
acceptance of others to feel good about themselves (Riley, 2011, p. 26).
60 D. Toffoli

Dismissing adults (upper left quadrant) have low anxiety but show high
avoidance of relationships, tending to be almost obsessively self-reliant. Finally,
adults with fearful attachment (upper right quadrant) feel both unworthy of love and
have a negative perception of others and their opinions of them. They tend to avoid
closeness altogether, as a means of preventing rejection.
In this chapter, I have turned to attachment theory because it would appear to
offer some explanations for the greater or lesser successes of different students in
various language learning situations, especially those which rely to a greater extent
on learner autonomy (notably, but not exclusively, in open access and out-of-class
situations). More specically, attachment theory may provide an explanation for
some type of pre-disposition to learner autonomy, for that element which con-
stitutes the limits of [learners] ability for autonomy.

1.3 Adult Attachment Theory in Language Learner Blogs

This preliminary study seeks to provide evidence of the different attachment styles
(or postures) within the specic context of language learning in order to discern
whether it could be used to help us understand learners development towards
autonomy. Four subsidiary research questions have guided my enquiry and the
analyses that have been carried out:
1. Can evidence of attachment styles be found in language learner logs?
2. How do individuals attain autonomy with regard to language learning?
3. Can the limits of learners capacity for autonomy be stretched?
4. Does attachment theory offer an explanation for greater or lesser successes in
language learning in autonomous contexts?
In order to do this, I have explored the language learning blogs of university

2 Methodology

This section describes the context in which the research was carried out, the means
of data collection and the methods used for analysis. The methodology rested on a
systematic qualitative exploitation of blog entries in a learner corpus gathered over
one semester. This chapter, thus, adopts an interpretative research stance to identify
a link between adult attachment and learner autonomy.
Attachment Theory: Insights into Student Postures 61

2.1 Description of Course, Students and Blog Requirements

In 2012, second-year Masters students in applied linguistics at the University of

Strasbourg attended an English course, with the objectives of learning to read
research articles, produce an abstract in English and with the communicative
objectives of speaking and listening to English regularly (on any subject and in the
forms most appealing to them). As the course instructor and in order to maintain a
focus on language-learning processes and enhance our research into informal
learning, I asked students to read some articles pertaining to informal learning and
write a blog for the duration of the 12-week course. The blog was to be written in
English and students were informed that their writing might be used in research
related to informal learning. Students who did not wish to write a blog, perhaps
because they didnt like the online format, or want exposure to peer readership,
were invited to keep a paper journal. Only one student opted for this possibility. In
order to facilitate entry into blogging, suggestions of writing topics, often related to
their own informal language (not necessarily English) learning, were offered during
the rst few weeks. For example, the rst week they were asked to trace their
language biography, including languages learned and how they were learned. In the
second week I suggested they could discuss their own denitions of informal
language learning or how they felt about different ways of learning languages.
These types of suggestions were progressively eliminated. After the rst three
weeks, students were also encouraged to read each others blogs and discuss them
in pairs in class. No reference whatsoever was made to the attachment model in the
course nor was it part of their curriculum in any other course.

2.2 Blog Exploitation

Fifteen students (13 female and 2 male), with ages ranging from 23 to 40 (average
27) participated in the course. Fourteen of them kept blogs, producing some 49,000
words. These were read chronologically and annotated in view of excerpting any
information pertinent to the attachment model presented above. This exploratory
reading sought references to relationships related to languages and language
learning that might point to attachment constructs. Very few such references were
found in the corpus and in the end, a single case was chosen, as it provided
signicant examples of the attachment styles sought and allowed in-depth insights
into the learning process and the relationship issues it encompassed. Specic
written permission to analyse and publish results concerning the blog chosen for the
case study was obtained from the blogs author. These methodological choices
necessarily imply drawbacks, which will be addressed in the conclusion. However,
I would like to highlight that this paper does not provide a psychological analysis of
the person, nor of her overall attachment prole. It is a situated analysis, which
seeks only to establish the pertinence of attachment parameters as related to
62 D. Toffoli

autonomy in language learning. We shall thus follow Pauline, as she shares with us
her processes, issues and feelings about learning German.

3 Pauline Learns German

Pauline is 24 years old when she begins her blog for this course. She is a native
French speaker, who has studied German, English, Norwegian, Spanish, Hungarian
and Romanian. She has attained a procient (C1) level in both written and spoken
English, while her self-attested skills in the other languages are rudimentary. Her
contact with German begins early:
As I was born in Alsace, I had to learn German at a very young age. When I was little,
German language seemed ne to me, even if I had to learn it because people at school told
me so. (September 17, 2012) [Excerpts from Paulines blog are copied with no modication
to her language.]

We can, perhaps, interpret her initial contact with German as a sort of strange
situation, a situation which Pauline reacts to with interest and curiosity, indicating,
at the beginning at least, that she embarks on this learning adventure from a
basically secure place. Not having conducted attachment analyses with established
tools, such as the Adult Attachment Interview (AAI) and self-report measures
(Rholes & Simpson, 2006), I have no objective knowledge of Paulines funda-
mental attachment style, so this remains my subjective interpretation of her data.
Further in the same blog entry, Pauline continues to describe her language learning,
and the manner in which her relationship to the language evolves:
Unfortunately, and Im sorry to say it, most of my German teachers in middle and high
school were boring and quite useless: talking only in French, not having an explicit pur-
pose = learning by heart lists of verbs or words of vocabulary without reactivating anything
learned). History, stereotypes and the fact that this language sounds ugly to me prevented
me to achieve a decent level of German. (September 17, 2012)

In this excerpt, Pauline sees her learning of German as very teacher-centred. She
takes no real responsibility for her learning (or lack thereof) and would not be
considered as displaying characteristics of learner autonomy in this undertaking. In
attachment terms, we witness here Paulines position in the dismissive quadrant of
Bartholomew and Horowitzs model. While her self-image seems positive (further
along in this particular post she recounts successful experiences in learning several
other languages), she has a negative view of the other (the German teacher) and
thus dismisses German, protecting herself from hurt (scholastic failure) but also
preventing her from accomplishing something that she nonetheless considers to
have a certain importance:
And of course, now I regret it!
Plus, because I kept this negative idea about the German language, I feel discouraged to
learn it again, even though I know it could be useful for the future. (September 17, 2012)
Attachment Theory: Insights into Student Postures 63

Pauline did not, however, lose her interest in foreign languages in general and, as
required in France at age 11, began studying her second foreign language. She states:
I started learning English when I was 11, and I loved it at the very rst lesson. I guess there
is a strong contradiction between German and English and their cultures. It seems to me that
English culture is more attractive than the Germans, probably because of the cinema and the
music industry.
Anyways, English teachers seemed cooler. And actually, they were! I never developed
any problems in English (unlike in German). (September 17, 2012)

Her emotional switch to English is sparked by cool teachers and fun lessons,
creating the positive model of the other, which, combined with her ongoing positive
perception of self, situate her within the secure space where learning can take place
(lower left quadrant of Bartholomew and Horowitzs model). Nevertheless, we note
an approach that is still very much dependent on the teacher and which demon-
strates very little learner autonomy.
Almost a month after these initial entries, Pauline reveals a new facet of her
relationship with German:
A few days ago, [] I became aware that I am in contact with German all the time.
Unsurprisingly, I hear German everyday, not only because we live very close to the German
border, but also because I listen to German radios everyday, many times a day. As I
mentioned before in my blog, I have a tricky relationship to this language. But I guess that I
am now ready to change my view about German, and open myself to learn (at least) chunks
of words that I hear on the radio, and when I go to Germany on the week-ends to see my
boyfriend who is living there. (October 13, 2012)

This renewed interest in German, based on proximity to the country and a strong
affective link (her boyfriend who lives there), incites her to modify her views of the
other and become more open to the language. We might be tempted to interpret this
as a return to a secure base, where she remains condent in herself (low anxiety)
and is no longer avoiding the language. The secure base refers of course to the
attachment construct (see Sect. 3.0 above) and Paulines new-found condence, not
to her prociency in German. Her new approach to the language also demonstrates
a high level of self-direction, as she has not only decided herself to increase her
contact with the German language but has also chosen the various means by which
she ensures such contact.
However, a few days later, she gives an update, in which we witness both
discouragement and persistence:
Concerning German, I am trying. It gives me a really hard time to hear, listen and
understand the language. [] I started this week to listen to the [] news. I feel dis-
couraged, because I realised that I could understand maybe one or two words of each
sentence, and I have the impression that they are talking really fast. I know this kind of
acquisition is a long-term process, so I am not giving up! (October 19, 2012)

Pauline continues to take an autonomous approach to learning German, both in the

fact that she has decided to work essentially on her own and in her determination to
continue. In her following post, Pauline documents her passage through various
stages and emotional states concerning German:
64 D. Toffoli

I am trying so much to learn German, I am just getting crazy about it. []

But the more I listen to that language, the more I realize how bad I am at it! It is depressing.
I am focusing on each word that I can understand. When hearing a word that I understand, I
take it as a great victory, and it helps me getting more motivated. [] (October 26, 2012).

Despite her efforts and progress that she can sometimes notice, she makes harsh
value judgments on herself (how bad I am at it), so that, while her perception of
the other has become more positive (note, further down in the extract from
October 26 below, her reference to the beauuuutifuuuul sound of the language),
indicating a move towards lower avoidance, her anxiety has increased, situating her
now in the preoccupied zone of Bartholomew and Horowitzs model, where the
individual becomes preoccupied with gaining acceptance of others to feel good
about themselves (Riley, 2011, p. 26). Although she does qualify her judgment,
[w]hen learning a language, even if it is informal or unconscious, I guess you have to get
through both failures and successes in order to go on making efforts (October 26, 2012),

this perception of herself as bad at German leads her to some very frustrating
experiences, as the following post describes:
I spent my Halloween vacation in Germany. I consider this trip as a great opportunity to get
even more used to its beauuuutifuuuul sound! But I got really frustrated [italics added
throughout this citation] when I was on the train. First, I was sitting next to someone talking
in German with the train inspector, reading a French newspaper, and then taking part into a
conversation with two Spanish women. I felt miserable. Then I was on another train and
two people started talking in German about something I am sure was really interesting, but I
just prevent myself from focusing on what they were saying because I was afraid they
could actually approach and talk to me. I know that I can not have a real conversation with
a German speaker, because I am not able to talk or understand enough in that language.
And it is very frustrating because I love talking, especially with nice strangers when
traveling. (October 26, 2012)

This excerpt exemplies the learners increasing anxiety, which in turn seems to
lead her more and more towards avoidance of contact with real German speakers,
indicating a move into the fearful zone of insecure attachment. Being alone in this
situation may actually be inhibiting her capacity to seize the learning opportunity,
which she in fact created here. An autonomous impetus (getting on the train and
going to Germany) encounters the insecurity of the situation (the feeling of not
being capable of understanding) head-on.
Paulines real crossing of the Rubicon arrives during her stay in Germany.
I feel I made a great step in my German language learning [italics added throughout this
citation], because I tried (at least) to talk in German with my boyfriend. []
What is interesting is to realize [] that I have actually a certain amount of words that I
already know, and that I probably remember from my past years of learning German. I felt
good about it. Moreover, [] I considered these interactions as a game. [] I went on that
game for several days, and even after coming back to France, talking in German with my
mother. [] In any case, it was a very positive experience. First because I realized that I
was not so bad, and then because I became aware that Im surrounded with people that can
help me! (November 8, 2012)
Attachment Theory: Insights into Student Postures 65

Pauline is nally positive about her German learning and realises that she can rely
on dependable people (her mother and her boyfriend) to help her. In attachment
terms, this is her secure base, the place where she feels good about both herself and
others. From this base, learning German becomes a game, where Pauline sets the
agenda, demonstrating signicant learner autonomy.
Pauline concludes her blog on November 29, stating that
in German, informal activities helped getting used (or re-used) to sounds and sentences.
Moreover, reflecting on [] informal learning, helped me overcome my language anxiety
[] in German. I was in fact afraid of learning that language because of past failures, and
uneasiness in interacting in that language.

Pauline conrms here what I had interpreted as the fearful phase and indicates that
reflection has itself been an aid in moving forward. Reflection, or reflective practice,
is referred to by Candas and Poteaux (2011) as the necessary distance (ncessaire
distance) in foreign language learning and by Little (1991) as detachment (see
Sect. 2.0 above), at the very core of autonomy.
The necessary post-scriptum to this story is Paulines comment when I contacted
her to request permission to use her blog data for this study. She indicated that she
was now teaching French in Schaffhouse, in a German-speaking region of
Switzerland, where German is the language she uses in her daily life.

4 Discussion

The study of Paulines case, seen as relationships in light of attachment theory, can
be analysed as revealing three types of relationship and their corresponding influ-
ences on the learners autonomy and on her language practice. The rst are those of
early childhood with primary care-givers which forge our attachment styles and
consequently our potential for (learner) autonomy. The second are the human
relationships which influence the learners feelings about language: the people one
comes into contact with who come to influence, represent or somehow embody the
language for us. The third type is the learners relationship to a (foreign) language
itself. In this discussion, I will explore the potential and the consequences of these
different positions as they concern autonomy and language learning in the data
provided by Paulines case.
If we regard attachment (and therefore autonomy) as being established during
the early years of life, this would be consistent with most attachment literature,
which has traditionally regarded attachment styles as trait-like properties of peo-
ple (Fraley & Brumbaugh, 2006, p. 121). While the data might suggest that this
type of approach could be possible, this is not what was undertaken here and such a
position would have to be tested for pertinence with other tools, in varying contexts
and with a wider diversity of subjects than has been the case here. One option might
be to use established attachment diagnostic tools, such as the AAI, to test for the
different types of attachment proles present in or absent from autonomous learning
66 D. Toffoli

centres when compared with traditional highly teacher-directed classrooms. This

type of research could potentially allow claims to be made about basic attachment
styles favouring or discouraging individuals in their attitudes towards autonomous
language learning processes or autonomy-related structures (such as open access).
We might expect to conrm, for example, that fearful attachment would inhibit the
learning process and predict that very few, if any, fearfully attached individuals
would be found in higher education learning centres. This type of approach stems
from a rather determinist view of relationship, attachment and autonomy, but might
be a worthwhile perspective for some researchers.
A very different position, consistent with most current research in applied lin-
guistics, would adopt a situated view of psychological constructs (cf. Drnyei &
Ushioda, 2009 or Norton, 2000, 2014 concerning identities research; Mercer &
Williams, 2014 concerning aspects of the self), seeing them as variables that can be
activated by various internal and environmental influences. From this position, we
can examine the second type of relationship issues suggested by attachment theory:
human relationships which influence the learners feelings about language. Our data
highlight Paulines dislike of her German teachers at school, her anxiety about
strangers opinions of her on the train, her strong positive feelings toward her
boyfriend and her mother in her latest learning experiences. The relations she has
with people may in fact be having a profound effect on her learning, as when she is
experiencing fearful attachment on the train and prevents herself from interacting
with people who could help her to make progress in the language or when she is
experiencing secure attachment and enters into playful experimenting and
risk-taking with her mother or boyfriend. In further exploration of attachment
theory as applied to language learner autonomy, relationships with people, espe-
cially teachers, would appear to be a fundamental avenue to explore, as it is cer-
tainly here that teachers can exercise the most influence, being themselves one of
the poles of the relationship. It is also probably the most delicate, from a teachers
point of view, as it involves questioning ones own attachment postures as a teacher
and interrogating the extent to which we may (or may not) be using our relationship
with students to satisfy our own attachment needs. Riley (2011) explores this with
elementary school teachers, outside of the specic area of language learning.
Finally, it is possible to view language learning itself not as knowledge of an
object but as development of a relationship where the other is the language and
cultures being learned. As such, language learning can be influenced by the same
psychological processes (inner working models) as relationships with human
beings. These would include attachment processes and therefore the development of
autonomy. The language itself (or the learning of it) are regarded as a sort of
personality, capable of inspiring admiration, anxiety, frustration, fear, satisfaction,
pleasure and so on. This study can thus be seen as an attempt to identify psycho-
logical positioning with regard to a specic language and perhaps to different
learning situations, contexts or cultures when they are viewed as relationships.
Pauline herself seems to see German as an other when she admits having a tricky
relationship to this language (October 13, 2012). In the data presented here, she
declares having a negative idea about the German language (September 17, 2012),
Attachment Theory: Insights into Student Postures 67

going as far as to say that German sounds ugly (September 27, 2012) and yet,
scarcely a month later (October 26, 2012), German is found to have a beauuuuti-
fuuuul sound. This relationship with the language itself develops in situations where
it is sometimes disgraced (for example in middle school, where Pauline shuns it as
uncool) and others where it is favoured and thus facilitates the learners contact
with and integration of the language (Paulines extensive listening to German at home,
or playing in the language with her boyfriend or mother). These latter are examples
of both autonomous learner behaviour and of activities which contribute to language
learner success in the long term, if in no other way than by supplying large quantities
of input (Hilton, 2014).
Paulines experiences with German demonstrate interesting developmental
moves through all of Bartholomew and Horowitzs four attachment categories
(cf. Fig. 1) and open the door to using attachment theory as a means of pushing the
limits of learners capacity for autonomy. Autonomy from an attachment per-
spective is thus not taken for granted for each learner, but rather seen as a factor that
can be influenced, modied and developed across time and place. This perspective
frees learners from determinist positions on language learning aptitude (I am an
inadequate learner), and from immutable beliefs about the other (the language Im
learning is somehow inaccessible or those who speak it somehow unattractive).
The implications for practice could, in the case of preoccupied attachment, for
example, involve working on the learners self-image, helping them to focus on
positive perceptions of themselves in the L2, in order to encourage moves toward
more secure attachment. For someone in a dismissing phase, the focus would need
to turn more to the language itself, allowing the student to discover how it (or those
who speak it) can be perceived in a positive light, congruent with their own beliefs
and values. These implications would appear particularly pertinent in circumstances
where the learner encounters impediments to their continued autonomous devel-
opment in the language. Such (re)mediation, could lead to sufciently secure
attachment for autonomy to develop and more effective learning to take place.
Whether we view the signicant relationships of language learning as being
those of early childhood which forged our basic attachment styles, those with the
people who influence or embody the language for us, or those with the (foreign)
language itself, attachment theory supplies a new conceptual framework with which
to understand language learner autonomy and envisage its development with a view
to allowing fully agentive foreign language use to take place.
A potential bias of this study is that the learner data come from a procient and
even expert language learner. Paulines descriptions and analyses of her learning
activities and experiences are those of someone who has learnt several languages
and who, moreover, has studied language learning and acquisition with the aim of
becoming a language teacher. In spite, or perhaps because of this, her reported
feelings and experience of phenomena involved in learning a language indepen-
dently help proffer insights into the pertinence of attachment theory with regard to
language learning autonomy.
68 D. Toffoli

5 Conclusion

The evidence of attachment styles found in Paulines language learner blog

encourages optimism regarding further research that could conrm the basic
attachment mechanisms by which individuals develop autonomy. In turn, such
frameworks could provide the keys that would allow researchers to understand how
teachers and learners can best foster such autonomy over time.
Further research is needed to examine the data provided by other learners in the
corpus presented above (or in similar corpuses) for evidence of the presence of
attachment styles in the language learning context. Studying other cases would
allow conrmation that students inner working models have a determining effect
on the relationships they establish with different languages, with various actors in
the language learning process and also on the degree to which they function as
autonomous learners.
Hypotheses related to how different attachment styles would favour or dis-
courage autonomous learning could be examined, for example, by establishing
attachment measures, using the AAI or discourse analysis (Crittenden, 2011) with
students and by observing their adaptation to autonomous learning contexts based
on the results obtained. The methodology could also be inverted: assumptions about
attachment obtained through observation or diary/blog data could be veried
against attachment style data obtained later. As attachment theory provides an
explanation for insecure attachment and relates it to a lack of healthy autonomy (as
opposed to isolation, for example), another approach might be working with people
who have difculties with autonomous learning situations and autonomous lan-
guage learning in particular. Again, it would be necessary to establish attachment
measures and seek correlations with differing degrees of learner success over time.
Such studies would give insight into how individuals adapt to learning contexts
(such as self-access) where a large degree of autonomy is a prerequisite.
This preliminary study has provided insights into attachment theory as a
potential new resource for studying second language acquisition (SLA), especially
as linked to the autonomy construct. The ndings, while modest, indicate that
attachment styles can be detected in language learning contexts and seem to provide
a useful framework for studying the relationships that learners establish with the
language they are learning and with the people who accompany them during that
process. The discussion points to areas that could be usefully explored further,
notably, the means by which teachers could foster appropriate attachment relations
with and between students, teaching and support staff and the language itself in
order to facilitate long-term autonomous or self-directed language learning. As
such, attachment theory could provide exciting new directions for SLA research in
the future, especially in respect to developmental perspectives on learner autonomy.
Attachment Theory: Insights into Student Postures 69


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Emotions and Feelings in Language
Advising Discourse

Maria Giovanna Tassinari

Abstract Although the literature on foreign language learning and second lan-
guage acquisition (SLA) recognizes the importance of the affective dimension in
learning processes, little is known about how to support it throughout the auton-
omous learning process. One possible way of attending to the affective dimensions
could be through language advising. Language advising refers to a special form of
learning support in which an adviser helps a learner to organize and reflect on their
learning process in individual face-to-face sessions or as an email exchange, often
as a complement to self-access learning. Language advising serves as a privileged
space for addressing, beside cognitive and metacognitive aspects, affective aspects
of language learning. Within the professional and interpersonal relationship
between adviser and learner, it is easier to reflect on learners emotions and feelings,
and their implications for learning. However, in order to focus on affective ques-
tions, language advisers need to be able to address them with learners: to react to
negative or positive emotions expressed by the learner; to recognize them, even if
they are not explicitly mentioned; and to counterbalance them in order to support
the language learning process. The present investigation focuses on the expression
of emotions and feelings in the learners and advisers discourse in a language
advising setting in higher education. The aim of the study is to shed light on affect
in autonomous language learning processes and thus help language professionals to
recognize and deal with affective issues as they arise. Based on audio-recordings
and transcripts of individual advising sessions, the research design focuses on
discourse analysis of the learners and the advisers discourse. The results show
signicant expressions of emotions in the learners discourse, related both to past
learning experiences and to planning further learning steps. In the advisers dis-
course, emotions are less present, and the adviser tends rather to mirror, empathise
or counterbalance the learners emotions. These ndings may help advisers and
professionals to better acknowledge the role of emotions and feelings both in the
learning and in the advising process and to reflect on their own role in supporting
learners to regulate their emotions.

M.G. Tassinari (&)

Freie Universitt Berlin, Berlin, Germany

Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016 71

C. Gkonou et al. (eds.), New Directions in Language Learning Psychology,
Second Language Learning and Teaching, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-23491-5_6
72 M.G. Tassinari

Keywords Emotions 
Affect  Autonomous language learning  Language

advising Discourse analysis

1 Introduction

Since 2005, I have been working as a language adviser at the Centre for
Independent Language Learning (CILL) of the Freie Universitt Berlin. In this
capacity, I meet several students every year who seek advice about their language
learning. In the advising sessions, I quite often notice that, beside cognitive and
metacognitive aspects (such as: How can I improve my writing? How can I make a
study plan? How can I prepare for a period abroad?), the students sometimes
explicitly address affective aspects, such as motivation, pleasure, enthusiasm for the
target language, satisfaction for successful learning, but also language anxiety,
distress while learning, or frustration about exam failure. In addition, even when
they are not addressed explicitly, affective factors constitute a subtext in many
learners discourses about their learning.
Within the eld of foreign language learning and SLA, the issue of affect is of
growing interest. Since the seminal work of Arnold (1999), various investigations
have started to examine the role of emotions and psychological factors in language
learning processes both inside individuals and between them, such as in interactions
with teachers or peers (see, among others, Arnold & Fonseca, 2007; Brewer, 2010,
2013; Dewaele, 2011; Garrett & Young, 2009). These studies mostly concentrate
on learning in classroom settings, and less frequently on self-directed learning
processes (see Bown & White, 2010). However, the language advising setting,
within the professional and personal relationship established between learner and
adviser, is a privileged space for addressing affective issues and reflecting on their
implications for the learning process. Thus, advisers should be aware of the
influence of emotional aspects on the learning process and include in their training,
beside pedagogical competences and communication skills (see, among others,
Kelly, 1996; Mozzon-McPherson, 2004), also specic training on addressing
affective and/or psychological issues.
The aim of my research is therefore to investigate the affective dimension in
language advising settings as expressed both in the learners and the advisers
discourse in order to gain a better understanding of its role in autonomous language
learning processes and to help advisers to focus, where necessary, on affective
aspects in the learners discourse and address them while supporting the develop-
ment of the learners autonomy.
This chapter will describe the research methods used within a qualitative study
based on content and discourse analysis. It will outline the benets of the approach
in identifying the affective dimension of the learners and advisers discourse based
on a corpus of advising sessions in higher education. I will start by dening affect,
emotions and feelings, discussing existing research approaches on affect in second
Emotions and Feelings in Language Advising Discourse 73

and foreign language acquisition, and dening language advising as an approach for
supporting autonomous learning processes. I will then illustrate the rationale
underlying my research and the research questions. After describing the context of
the investigation and the research method, I will discuss the main ndings of the
project. Some remarks on the ndings and the method and suggestions for further
research will conclude this chapter.

2 Affect in Autonomous Language Learning

In the literature on SLA, there is increasing research on individual learner differ-

ences such as motivation, learner beliefs, attitudes, personality features, and iden-
tities (see, among others, Drnyei & Ushioda, 2009; Kalaja & Barcelos, 2006;
Mercer & Williams, 2014; Murray, Gao, & Lamb, 2011). All these aspects can be
thought of as falling under the broader category of affect.
In order to understand affect as a multidimensional construct, Bown and White
(2010) suggest taking a general psychology-based denition of affect as a starting
point. They suggest that affect is the emotional interpretation of perception,
information or knowledge (Huitt, 1999, cited in Bown & White, 2010, p. 433).
Affect, and in particular its role in any learning process, has been investigated by
different disciplines and from various perspectives, including neurobiology, psy-
chology, and pedagogy. The literature on SLA is only one of the manifold elds to
seek to shed light on this complex construct. However, as will be shown below,
foreign and second language learning involve unique aspects of the affective
dimension in the language learning process and thus deserve particular attention.

2.1 Emotions and Feelings: Denition and Classication

Emotions and feelings are at the intersection of neurobiological, physical and

mental phenomena and directly influence the learning process. From the neuro-
biological point of view, Damasio (2002) distinguishes between emotions as
observable, neurophysiological, transitory reactions to a stimulus, and feelings as
the non-observable, private experience of emotions.
Different classications of emotions and feelings exist in the literature on psy-
chology (see, among others, Ekman, 2003; Russell, 1991; Scherer, 1994; Ulich &
Mayring, 2003). Ekman (2003) identies six basic emotions: anger, disgust, fear,
happiness, sadness and surprise, which are discrete and can be expressed to various
degrees. Based on Ekmans biological perspective, Plutchik (1980) elaborates, in
his wheel of emotions (see Fig. 1), on a complex classication of a wider range of
primary and secondary emotions and feelings according to their relation, compo-
sition, and grade of intensity.
74 M.G. Tassinari

Fig. 1 Plutchiks wheel of emotions

In Plutchiks circumplex, eight primary emotions are identied in opposite pairs:

joy versus sadness; anger versus fear; trust versus disgust; and surprise versus
anticipation. Starting from these primary emotions, secondary emotions of different
intensity and complexity are identied as well as feelings, issued from the com-
bination of two emotions. Plutchiks wheel of emotions is of particular interest for
the present study since it includes a large range of emotions and feelings, taking
into account both primary, bio-physiological emotions, and social/moral emotions,
such as anticipation or disappointment. Looking nearer at learning processes, other
emotions need to be focussed on, for example knowledge emotions, such as
interest, a crucial emotion which helps individuals to motivate and manage learning
(Silvia, 2008).
Emotions and Feelings in Language Advising Discourse 75

2.2 Emotions, Feelings and Language Learning

From a sociocognitivist perspective, emotions are considered as resulting from the

interaction between internal factors, such as the individuals attitudes, predisposi-
tions, states of mind, and external, situational and contextual factors. Within the
language learning context, these factors could be, for example, either a demanding or
an enjoyable learning situation, a learning task, or interaction in the foreign language
(Brewer, 2013). Generated at the meeting point between body and mind, emotions
entail both physical reactions and cognitive activity related to the events occurring in
the world. As cognitive theorists recognize, emotions are essential to learning, which
results from a close interaction between emotion and cognition. This is conrmed by
neurobiologists such as Damasio (2002) and LeDoux (1996), who outline that the
cognitive, the conative (behavioural) and the affective domains of the human brain
are tightly related, so that cognitive processes involve also aspects such as emotions,
self-awareness or will and influence the individual as a whole, including body and
mind (embodiment theory). In other words, affective learning and cognitive learning
are strongly linked (Stern, 1983, cited in Arnold, 2011, p. 13) and are distin-
guishable but inseparable, as Schumann in his neurobiological model of language
acquisition points out (Schumann, 1999, p. 232, cited in Arnold, 2011, p. 13).
Individuals learn with their whole mind, with rationality, passion, understanding and
emotions and, in essence, with their whole being.
Desire, interest, will and motivation are at the core of foreign language learning
(Drnyei, 2009; Kramsch, 2009) and drive the whole learning process. We cannot
learn a new language unless we really want it (Oxford, 2012), and our will, our
motivation, in other words, our ideal self, what we would like to become and to be
perceived as while speaking and acting in a foreign language, drive the whole
learning process. Though an expert language learner and teacher, Garrett observed
that her emotional responses in a Brazilian Portuguese course were the most salient
features of her learning endeavour (Garrett & Young, 2009, p. 221, cited in
Dewaele, 2011, p. 26). In fact, learning a foreign language puts learners in a
particularly vulnerable position from a psychological point of view (Brewer, 2013),
either when they want to communicate something relevant to themselves in a
language they do not yet fully master, or when the strange character, the sense of
estrangement produced by unfamiliar words or expressions, triggers positive or
negative affective reactions towards the foreign language and culture.
A key characteristic of emotions and feelings is that they are dynamic and
unstable throughout the learning process, influenced both by the learners beliefs,
states of mind and motivation and also by the interaction with peers, teachers or
partners involved in the learning and communication process. This dynamic is
clearly illustrated by Drnyeis (2009) theory of the L2 motivational self system,
which sees the dialectic between the learners ideal L2 self, that is, their aspiration
towards desirable images of themselves (in a social, personal or professional
context) and the learners ought-to self, which centres on what they think they
should do in order to meet social expectations or prevent possible negative
76 M.G. Tassinari

consequences in case of linguistic inadequacy, as being central to the whole

learning process.
Affect in foreign language learning has mostly been investigated from the per-
spective of the learner, both as an individual (for example, experiencing anxiety, or
inhibition, while speaking in a foreign language; Horwitz, 2001) in the language
classroom and in out-of-class contexts (Arnold & Fonseca, 2007), or in
cross-cultural communication, experiencing estrangement with regard to interlin-
guistic and intercultural encounters (Kramsch, 1993). Another emerging affective
focus is on identity issues, for example, multiple identities perceived by bi- or
multilingual individuals (Dewaele, 2010; Kramsch, 2009).
Within language learning, autonomous (or self-directed) learning processes are
an established eld of particular interest. Autonomous language learning presup-
poses learner autonomy, which is the capacity of the learner to self-direct and
self-regulate, at least to some extent, their learning process, which means to make
(most or all) decisions concerning their learning: setting goals, choosing materials
and methods, dening learning pace, monitoring and evaluating learning outcomes
and learning processes (Holec, 1981). Autonomous language learning can be
implemented either in fully self-directed learning mode, such as self-access learn-
ing, or within and/or beside a language course. Since learner autonomy entails both
knowledge (about the language, about language learning) and a complex set of
competences (action-oriented competences, metacognition; see Benson, 2011 or
Tassinari, 2010), in language learning and teaching contexts the development of
learner autonomy is mostly supported by teachers in classroom settings, and/or
advisers in self-access learning settings. Therefore, autonomous language learning
is not intended to be learning alone. On the contrary, interdependence (Little, 1991)
or reliance (relatedness; Aden, Grimshaw, & Penz, 2010) with other actors along
the learning process is essential to autonomy (see also Murray, 2014). In autono-
mous learning processes, the role of emotions is even more relevant, since, in order
to be able to act autonomously, learners need to feel autonomous (Aoki, 1999). This
means that in order to be able to make informed and reflected decisions about ones
own learning, and to be able to self-regulate the learning process, overcoming
possible difculties or doubts, learners have to be agents of their own development,
and, among other things, be aware of affective aspects and of the way these aspects
may promote their learning process or hinder it.
The research on affect in autonomous and self-directed language learning is still
at its beginnings. Recent research has shown that, in spite of learners difculties in
verbalizing and reflecting on their emotions, their decision-making and the overall
management of the learning process are often influenced by affective strategies,
such as avoiding boring tasks, looking for interesting texts or watching funny
videos (Candas & Eneau, 2010). Moreover, as demonstrated by Bown and White
(2010), the learners awareness and control of emotions in self-directed learning
processes influence the results (either successful or unsuccessful) of the learning
process itself. Intelligent processing and self-regulation of emotions (Goetz,
Frenzel, Pekrun, & Hall, 2005; Gross, 2008) are therefore competences, which can
contribute to successful autonomous language learning.
Emotions and Feelings in Language Advising Discourse 77

Since experiencing, recognising, expressing and self-regulating emotions and

feelings play a signicant role in (autonomous) language learning, emotions and
feelings are likely to appear also in language advising settings, where learners
reflect with the help of a language adviser on their learning process. The analysis of
emotions and feelings in the language advising discourse may help, on the one
hand, to focus on how learners express their emotions and self-regulate them in
(autonomous) learning processes, and, on the other, to shed light on an emerging
constellation beside the learner-teacher or learner-learner relationship, that is, the
learner-adviser relationship.

3 Language Advising as a Professional Relationship

Between Learner and Adviser

Language advising has been established in self-access language centres as a form of

support for learners involved in self-directed learning processes. From its begin-
nings at the CRAPEL (Centre de Recherches et dApplications Pdagogiques en
Langues, Universit Nancy 2, now Universit de Lorraine) as part of a Systme
dAuto-apprentissage Avec Soutien (self-learning system with support; SAAS),
language advising consists of individual sessions where an adviser (in general a
language teacher with specic training on language advising) discusses a learners
learning process with learners, in order to help them to dene their needs, formulate
learning goals, reflect on strategies for achieving these goals, monitor and evaluate
learning outcomes and the learning process, and make decisions for further learn-
ing. In different educational contexts, language advising can be an optional com-
plement to a language course, or part of a self-directed learning process. Although
there are different approaches to language advising, for example, non-directive or
directive approaches (see Kleppin & Spnkuch, 2014), as well as various forms of
language advising, such as face-to-face, distance-advising and advising for specic
skills such as writing or pronunciation (see Mynard & Carson, 2012), language
advising can be dened as
a professional as well as an interpersonal relationship that concerns learning in its
cognitive and subjective, as well as personal dimensions []. [E]ven if advisors share the
same professional denition of what an advising relationship is, this denition is constantly
renegotiated in relation to the context and to each learner. The notion of collaboration is
fundamental to the pedagogical approach to autonomy, and collaborative practices between
advisor and learner are encouraged by the very structure of the advising interaction
(Ciekanski, 2007, p. 125).

The traditional approach to language advising focuses on three mains areas of

supporting learning and fostering learner autonomy: (i) listening to and observing
learners perceptions/beliefs (e.g., about the language, about learning, about
themselves); (ii) providing conceptual and methodological information (e.g., about
78 M.G. Tassinari

language learning, about learning resources); and (iii) providing psychological

support for the language learning process (Carette & Castillo, 2004). However,
providing psychological support may be difcult for the adviser, if learners them-
selves are not aware of their problems or if they lack motivation (Gremmo, 1995).
Therefore, advisers need to be sensitized to affective issues emerging in the
(self-directed) learning process and in the advising session and also be trained in
order to better recognize and address these issues in an appropriate way.

4 Investigating Emotions and Feelings in Language

Advising Discourse: Rationale and Research Questions

4.1 Rationale

The rationale for the present research is given by the sociocognitivist theory and the
theory of agency in language learning contexts. According to sociocognitivism, and
in particular Banduras social learning theory (Bandura, 1997), learning and lan-
guage learning are influenced by internal personal factors, such as cognitive,
affective and biological events, by the learners behaviour and the behaviour of
other agents in the learning process and by environmental, social factors. All these
factors influence one another reciprocally and should therefore be taken into
account in order to understand the learning process. For learning to take place,
learners should become active and should also become agents, making decisions
and involving themselves in interactions with others and with the subject matter
(i.e., the language they are learning). Agency, understood as the human capacity to
deliberately act, being aware of ones own actions and of their signicance and
relevance (Lantolf, 2013), is therefore one of the aims of language advising.
Within a sociocognitive perspective, the advising discourse can be considered as
an integral part of the learning process, in which the learner and the adviser, based
on their own knowledge, intention, personal experience and motivation, act and
interact with each other on a cognitive, metacognitive, affective, social and personal
level. The institutional environment, the learners and advisers role within the
institution and personal factors contribute to dening their relationship and influ-
ence the scope of their agency.
In order to take into account this complex process, individual, subjective data,
such as learners beliefs on their affective states, motivation and/or attitudes towards
learning, are more relevant than objective data (see also Brewer, 2006). The
analysis of the advising discourse offers a unique opportunity to gather data and
shed light on affective and subjective aspects, since, in the pedagogical and personal
relationship between learner and adviser, more room is given to the expression of
individuality, subjectivity and identity (see Murray, Gao, & Lamb, 2011; Mercer &
Williams, 2014). Thus, sociocognitivism, agency, and identity are the notions that
guided the rationale of my investigation.
Emotions and Feelings in Language Advising Discourse 79

4.2 Research Questions

Based on my experience as a language adviser and noticing that affective aspects

emerge in many advising sessions, I started to investigate this topic. As a language
teacher and an applied linguist, the investigation of the language advising discourse
itself seemed to be the rst step into this eld. Therefore, this research aims at
investigating the following two research questions:
(i) How are emotions and feelings expressed in learners and advisers discourse?
(ii) How frequent are they and what role do they play in the advising session and
the learning process?
Tracking the expression of emotions and feelings aims both at reaching a better
understanding of their role in the autonomous learning process and at helping
advisers to adequately recognize them either in the learners explicit discourse or in
the subtext, and to react to and address them in order to support the development of
learner autonomy (see also Tassinari, 2014).

5 Research Setting

The CILL at the Freie Universitt Berlin is a self-access centre open to students and
staff of the Freie Universitt and other universities in Berlin. It offers a variety of
materials for nearly 30 languages, a tandem program (language learning partner-
ships), and various forms of support for autonomous language learning: study
guides, workshops, tutorials and a language advising service (see http://www. Although language modules at the
Freie Universitt include an element of independent learning, attendance at the
CILL is not compulsory and may be freely chosen by the learner or negotiated with
the teacher. Some students make use of the CILL for remedial learning, others
complete an individual learning plan, some others learn in tandem, and others work
on individual or group projects.
The language advising service is optional and open to all learners, those enrolled
in a language module and those learning autonomously and/or in tandem. It offers a
cross-language service for learners of all languages with a language adviser (the
researcher herself), and a peer-advising service for learners of German as a foreign
language with a student assistant. The cross-language advising sessions can be
conducted in German, French, English, Italian or Spanish, according to the learners
language competences and/or preferences. Learners can book one or more sessions
with the adviser, during which they are encouraged to reflect on their learning
process and are supported in making decisions, in choosing materials and tasks, and
in evaluating their progress and/or their learning process. In general, most of them
come only once or twice for language advising within a semester, either because
they nd that two sessions are sufcient to help them to orientate themselves and
thus do not feel the need for further support, or because, due to other learning
80 M.G. Tassinari

commitments at the university, they lack time to fully complete their learning
project. Some of them come at the suggestion of their teachers; others come of their
own accord. Since the service is optional, students who decide to attend are gen-
erally motivated to take (more) control of their learning, improve their strategies
and try out new methods.

6 Method

6.1 The Corpus

The corpus of the investigation consists of four advising sessions with three dif-
ferent learners (L1, L6, and L9, all female) and one adviser (C1). At the time of the
advising sessions (from February 2012 to July 2012), two of the learners were
enrolled in language modules at the Freie Universitt and one of them was enrolled
in language courses of another university; all three learners were also learning
The sessions were audio-recorded by the researcher with the consent of the
learners. Before each session, learners were asked if they would agree to audio
recording (oral consent). After having selected the sessions which should be ana-
lysed for research purposes, I contacted the learners again and asked for their
written consent. For one learner (L1), two subsequent sessions were recorded (the
second session taking place within two weeks time from the rst one). For learners
L6 and L9, only one session is available, because L6 came only once to the
advising service and the rst session with L9 could not be recorded due to technical
problems. Since the majority of the students come only once or twice to the lan-
guage advising sessions, I could not gather data for a long-term investigation.
The sessions were selected from a larger corpus of recordings (fourteen
recordings of sessions with learners of different languages held in German, French
and Italian) according to different criteria, as being representative of different
learners requests, attitudes and learning situations. In particular, the corpus
students preparing for an examination;
students wanting to improve their language competence in order to be enrolled
in a language course;
students wanting to improve a specic competence (e.g., academic writing,
students expressing frustration and anxiety about their learning;
students expressing success and satisfaction with their learning;
students expressing mixed emotions.
As a further criterion, all the selected sessions were held in German with learners
being native speakers of German, whereas the adviser was not. The choice of
German native speakers was made in order to guarantee some homogeneity in the
Emotions and Feelings in Language Advising Discourse 81

learners ability to express and discuss their emotions, since it is known that lin-
guistic and cultural aspects may strongly influence both the perception and the
expression of emotions in a foreign language (see, among others, Rintell, 1984,
cited in Dewaele, 2011, p. 32, and the interdisciplinary study on components of
emotional meaning by Fontaine, Scherer, & Soriano, 2013). Although the inves-
tigation of the perception and expression of emotions in different languages is of
high relevance in the eld of foreign language learning and SLA, I will not focus on
this aspect here, because it would go beyond the scope of the present chapter.

6.2 Research Design

The steps of the research design are presented in Table 1.

Steps 1 and 2
In the rst step, the language advising sessions were directly audio-recorded with the
learners consent. The sessions were then transcribed using transcriber, a software
which synchronises audio-track and transcript (
presentation.php; see also Table 1 in the Appendix for an excerpt of a transcrip-
tion) according to general criteria for transcription (see Selting et al., 2009).

Step 3
At the same time as the transcriptions, classications of emotions and feelings in the
literature were analysed and selected for research purposes, and criteria for iden-
tifying emotions and feelings in the discourse were dened. Plutchiks wheels of
emotions (Plutchik, 1980) was integrated with emotions typical of the learning
process, such as interest, and of the language advising context, such as embar-
rassment, shame, gratitude, or trust. Since part of this investigation was conducted
in collaboration with a French researcher, a multilingual classication was estab-
lished, identifying parallels but also language-specic differences (for example, the
German Angst corresponds both to fear/peur and anxiety/anxit; the German

Table 1 Research design

Step Description
1. Audio-recording the advising sessions.
2. Transcribing the advising sessions.
3. Selecting a classication of emotions and feelings, and criteria to identify them in the
language advising discourse.
4. Conducting qualitative content analysis of the expression of emotions and feelings on
the basis of the transcript and the audio-recording and validating their results in a
research team (a fellow researcher and student assistants).
5. Conducting discourse analysis to identify the speakers communicative attitudes and
the discourse sequences.
6. Interviewing the learners in semi-structured interviews in order to triangulate the data.
82 M.G. Tassinari

Trotz does not have a real equivalent neither in English nor in French, since the
usual translations, stubbornness/obstination do not fully entail the connotation of
the word, such as opposition, resistance, reaction; the German Groll and rger
identify different nuances of anger/colre, see Tassinari & Ciekanski, 2013).
The criteria for tracking expression of emotions in the advising discourse were
dened taking into account the results of Kehreins investigation on emotions and
prosody in German (Kehrein, 2002). In his inquiry, Kehrein concludes that the
intersubjective perception of emotions in speech does not rely upon single verbal or
paraverbal aspects, such as vocabulary, syntax or prosody. Rather, emotions can be
identied taking into account both observable, manifest pieces of meaning
(beobachtbaren, sprachlich manifestierten Bedeutungsanteile; Kehrein, 2002,
p. 321) and the observable context and/or sequence of events in which communi-
cation partners express them. On this basis, the following criteria were dened:
Emotions are explicitly mentioned, for example, Ich nde es frustrierend (I nd
it frustrating); es rgert mich (it irritates me); ich habe mich gefreut (I was
Emotions are indirectly referred to, for example through a metaphor: es ist so ein
Horror (its horric), speaking of an examination; Es ist halt eine Katastrophe
(well, it is a catastrophe), speaking of an essay.
Emotions are inferred based both on content and on paraverbal and supraseg-
mental signals, such as intonation, change in speech speed, stuttering and
laughter. In some cases, non-verbal aspects (for example, knocking repeatedly on
the table) were also taken into account as stressing the contents expressed.
For some examples of emotions identied in the corpus, see Table 3 in the Appendix.

Step 4
Based on the transcript and the audio-track, a qualitative content analysis of expres-
sion of emotions and feelings in the learners and the advisers discourse was con-
ducted. Qualitative content analysis is a bundle of techniques for systematic text
analysis (Mayring, 2000), which aims at identifying both manifest and latent content
in a discourse or text. For the purposes of text or discourse analysis, categories are
identied both inductively and deductively, and are attributed to previously dened
content units (e.g., a sentence or part of a sentence). The process of analysis is
recursive: throughout the analysis, the categories are revised and, if need be, modied.
Moreover, both the categories and the results of the analysis are discussed in a research
team, in order to assure their reliability. The validity of the analysis is assured through
triangulation of the data (see step 6). In the present investigation, the categories used
correspond to the classication of emotions and feelings (Plutchik, 1980, extended as
explained above). In order to reach a sufcient level of inter-coder agreement, the
analysis was validated in a team of four researchers.

Step 5
Discourse analysis was also conducted, in order to identify the speakers attitudes
and the main sequences of the advising sessions, according to criteria based on the
Emotions and Feelings in Language Advising Discourse 83

classication established by Ciekanski (2005), with some adaptations. In her

analysis of a large corpus of language advising sessions in two self-access learning
structures in France, Ciekanski identies the following main sequences in the
advising discourse:
(a) the learners report on their learning experiences, learning methods and
strategies, in which learners give account of their past learning, of the tasks
accomplished, of successful or non-successful learning modes and strategies;
(b) the cooperative work between the learner and the adviser on the learner
question or issue, in which, through questioning by the adviser, the learner and
the adviser reflect on learners needs, learning habits, methods and strategies,
identifying strengths and weaknesses and possible priorities for further
learning. In this sequence, the learner and the adviser may also reflect on the
language (e.g., on structures to be reviewed by the learner); nally, the adviser
may help the learner to plan concrete steps for further learning;
(c) the presentation of resources (by the adviser), in which the adviser illustrates
learning materials and other resources which may be useful for the learner;
(d) assessment, in which the learner and the adviser assess the learning outcomes
reached by the learner and/or their learning process;
(e) conversation, in which the learner and the adviser establish contact, for
example at the beginning of the session, or exchange personal information or
report anecdotes. Although not directly related to the learning process, this
sequence helps to establish a more personal relationship between the learner
and the adviser and ensure a friendly and condential atmosphere;
(f) an organizational sequence, in which the learner and the adviser make
arrangements on advising sessions or concrete learning plans.
The sequencing of the advising sessions should help to better understand the
development of each session and shed further light on which sequences are more
emotionally charged and why. For example, evaluating ones own learning in the
assessment sequence may expose the learner to pleasure, joy, satisfaction or frus-
tration; presenting resources may be less emotionally charged and more cognitively
oriented. The occurrences of emotions identied in the qualitative content analysis
were then related to the single sequences, showing which emotions were present or
even dominant in each sequence, thus offering some insights on emotional hot
spots in the learning process.

Step 6
In order to triangulate the data obtained, the learners were interviewed individually to
delve more into their own perception of their emotions and feelings both in the
advising session and in their learning process. As I am both the adviser and the
researcher, I wrote myself a memo reflecting on my own emotions and feelings during
the advising sessions and while listening to the audio-recordings (see Graff, 2003).
The focus on discourse to investigate emotions in language advising settings is
due to several reasons. First, as a form of both verbal and paraverbal communi-
cation, discourse is the main means of communication in an advising session. The
84 M.G. Tassinari

learners discourse, their verbalisation on their language learning and the interaction
with the adviser are the core of the advising session. Moreover, discussing their
own learning process may help learners to reflect on it. Reflection is a crucial step if
learners are to self-regulate their learning process and, if need be, their emotions
within it. Therefore, the learners and the advisers discourse are a way to access
their (emotional) experiences in the learning context and self-regulate them.
Second, a persons voice is a strong means of communicating even unconscious
emotions, as it is easier to perceive someones emotional involvement in listening to
their voice than in interpreting their facial expressions, or even micro-expressions,
that is, very brief facial expressions lasting only for a fraction of a second, without
proper training (Ekman, 2003). This kind of perception and interpretation is very
similar to how advisers may perceive and interpret the learners discourse in the
advising session. The qualitative content analysis conducted both on the transcript
and on the audio-recording makes it possible to identify direct and indirect
expressions of emotions and feelings. These data, along with the data obtained from
discourse analysis regarding sequencing and the main features of the advising
sessions, help to identify which kind of emotions appears in which phase of the
advising discourse and/or of the learning process itself. Thus, content and discourse
analysis may offer insights, from the perspective of second language learning and
SLA, on the role of emotions and feelings in language advising discourse.

7 Findings

In this section, I will rst present general ndings based on the analysis of the four
sessions examined. Afterwards, I will analyse in more detail one session, L6C1, in
which the emotional dynamics are particularly evident and are related to the topics
and sequences of the advising discourse.

7.1 The Learners and Their Emotions: General Insights

L1 is a student teacher of Spanish. She seeks help from the advising service at her
professors advice, in order to make a plan for preparing an examination she has
already failed twice, without however really knowing what to expect from the
advising session. She rather expects and wishes external, other-directed help from
the adviser or from a private teacher. Throughout two advising sessions (the second
one taking place 2 weeks after the rst one), L1 focuses mostly on past negative
learning experiences in different contexts: with private teachers, teachers in private
schools abroad and university teachers. She feels frustrated because she believes
she lacks input in academic writing, which is required for the examination. She does
not really know how to study for the examination, which scares her. She keeps
reviewing the grammar using her own books, but nds it frustrating. She would
Emotions and Feelings in Language Advising Discourse 85

have expected more concrete help from one of the university teachers she consulted,
and she is frustrated, because, although possible private teachers were recom-
mended to her, due to previous experiences she does not trust private teachers. The
two sessions mostly concentrate on recalling L1s learning experiences, and the
adviser asks questions in order to gain information on the learners actual level of
competence, her learning environment, and her learning strategies and priorities, in
an attempt to make concrete suggestions for her learning. However, L1 seems to be
stuck to negative emotions about her learning and shows little or no interest in
taking concrete steps. After the two sessions, L1 writes to the adviser to briefly
report on her learning, but no further appointment is made.
L9, a student teacher of Italian, seeks the advising service for the second time,
the rst time having consulted the adviser in order to prepare for a written exam-
ination (due to technical problems, the rst session could not be recorded, as was
also mentioned in Sect. 6.1). In the second session, she reports on the examination,
which she passed, and asks for advice for another aspect, namely pronunciation.
After a brief report on the exam and on L9s recent learning experience, the session
concentrates on illustrating some learning resources for pronunciation. The domi-
nant emotions in the session are positive: L9 is happy and satised with the result of
the examination, which went better than what she had expected. She is also grateful
to the adviser and open to more advice.
L6, a student teacher of Italian, seeks the advising service at her teachers advice
in order to improve her academic writing in Italian. It is her rst advising session.
L6 is bilingual, having an Italian mother and a German father. Nevertheless, she has
problems in academic writing in Italian. She brings into the session an essay she has
written in Italian, which she just received graded by her teacher. She is dissatised,
even frustrated, with the low grade, and, in addition, she does not always under-
stand what she did wrong. The session is devoted to analysing the essay, eliciting
and reflecting on the learners learning habits and writing strategies, presenting
some resources and learning opportunities, suggesting learning topics and tasks
and, ultimately, making plans for her further learning.
The rst nding of the content analysis is that traces of emotions take a sig-
nicant part of the learners discourse, as Table 2 in the Appendix shows. The
occurrence of emotions related to discourse in the four sessions analysed depends
on individual as well as contextual dimensions. Specically, some learners appear
more likely to use affective discourse than others. In addition, some advising ses-
sions appear more likely to develop the utterance of affective discourse than others.
In the context of higher education, the examples taken into account show that
examinations, essays and grades play a signicant role in learners affect. Success
or failure in an examination influences a students career and future achievement
and is related to expectations and desires for their personal and professional future.
For L1 and L6, the relationship to the teacher seems to trigger emotions. In par-
ticular, L1 does not trust her private teachers, but, more importantly, she feels
unappreciated by her school and university teachers, and this emotion has appeared
in different stages of her learning career. L6 does not understand why the teacher
gave her essay a low grade and, in addition, feels that the teacher did not give her
86 M.G. Tassinari

sufcient explanation of what she did wrong, so she cannot really make a plan for
improving her writing skills. Furthermore, emotions and feelings are related to the
learners own appraisal of their own performances (self-evaluation), to specic
tasks, which may be boring, difcult or stimulating, to classroom interaction (for
example, language anxiety if the learner considers herself less fluent or competent
than her classmates), or to uncertainty while planning future learning. Some more
examples are included in Table 3 in the Appendix.
Another important nding also concerns the scarce presence of emotions in the
advisers discourse in comparison to the learners discourse. Also, the analysis of
these sessions conrms that the adviser shapes her discourse depending on the
learners discourse, at times by counterbalancing a learners strong emotion, mit-
igating frustration or asking for clear examples to explain this, empathizing with the
learner thus echoing their emotions, and bringing more concrete and action-oriented
topics into the discourse if a learner seems able to deal with strong emotions.

7.2 L6C1: Frustration and CondenceEmotional

Dynamics in the Advising Session

Although advising sessions may differ on the basis of the questions raised by
learners and the subsequent negotiation between the learner and the adviser on the
focus of the session, the discourse analysis shows that the following recurrent
sequences can be identied in all four sessions analysed:
(a) the learners report on their learning experience, on learning methods and
strategies, and on learning difculties;
(b) the cooperative work between the learner and the adviser on the learner
question or issue, consisting of reflection on learning needs, resources and
strategies, and of planning future learning steps;
(c) the presentation of resources by the learning adviser, for example, learning
materials, websites, tasks;
(d) an organizational sequence in which learner and advisers make arrangements
on concrete learning plans or advising sessions;
(e) a conversational sequence, consisting of more personal conversations about
language and learning, but also anecdotes and other personal themes (this
conrms the framework identied by Ciekanski, 2005, see also Sect. 6.2).
In all sequences, there is a close interaction between the learner and the adviser.
Although their speech time may differ in single sequences (i.e., the learner has
longer speech time than the adviser when discussing the learners report, and the
adviser has longer speech time than the learner when presenting resources), their
speech turns and their attitude show a deep involvement in the discourse from both
parts, with signals of attention and interest (for example, yes, mhm) when the
interlocutor is speaking.
Emotions and Feelings in Language Advising Discourse 87

The analysis of the L6C1 advising session also shows that the learners emo-
tions are differently distributed in the sequences of the advising discourse, with a
strong presence of emotional traits in the learners report sequence and during the
cooperative work (see Table 4 in the Appendix). In particular, while formulating
her main question (i.e., how to improve her academic writing in Italian) and
reporting on her learning experience, L6 expresses dissatisfaction, frustration,
annoyance and insecurity more frequently than when reporting on their learning
methods (see Table 4 in the Appendix). While reflecting together with the adviser,
L6s negative emotions also concentrate on the essay she wrote in Italian. L6
expresses frustration, insecurity, embarrassment, and sometimes even stubbornness
while discussing the mistakes identied by the teacher. However, she also shows
acceptance and, occasionally, even serenity when understanding some of them.
Another sequence, which is dense in emotions, is L6s expression of intents and
formulation of her plans for further learning: beside apprehension and annoyance,
L6 expresses interest for new learning strategies and learning materials she has been
shown, anticipation, hope and optimism for her future learning.
In comparison to L6, C1s expression of emotions is rare. C1 sometimes
expresses her own emotions, for example, unease regarding a formulation she nds
in L6s text, but mostly mirrors L6s emotions, for example, her frustration while
writing in the foreign language. This mirroring has been categorised as empathy,
an emotion which is particularly relevant in the posture of a language adviser in
non-directive advising settings. Empathy can be dened as the ability to take the
perspective of the other, experiencing the viewpoint of another individual but
maintaining the self-other distinction, thus enabling intersubjectivity and its cor-
relate, objectivity (Thirioux & Bertthoz, 2010, p. 48). In language advising set-
tings, empathising and mirroring the learners perspective may help to raise the
learners awareness and bring new insights into the learning process. In an instance
during the L6-C1 session, C1s positive mirroring of what L6 says about her
learning triggers a positive reaction in L6, switching her from anger to security:
L6 171: Im ersten Moment scheint es richtig zu sein {steigend}, oder fr mich hrt es sich
halt richtig an, wo ich denke, ja, im Deutschen ist das auch so {lacht} und dann passt das
gar nicht im Italienischen und das rgert mich total, weil {atmet ein} dadurch ist die Note
von der Hausarbeit total runtergegangen {leiser} (At rst it seems to be right, or at least it
sounds right to me {intonation goes up}, since I think, yes, is it the same in German
{laughs} and then it doesnt work in Italian and this annoys me totally/it makes me
totally angry, because {inhales} it made the grade of my paper go down {lower})

C1 18: mhm
L6 19: das ist natrlich rgerlich also {leiser} (and this is of course annoying {lower})
C1 20: Sie haben eine ganz gute Vorstellung, wie, h, wie das jetzt bei Ihnen ist
(You seem to be quite well aware of how things work for you)
L6 21: Ja {betont} (yes {stressed})

The numbers next to L6 and C1 indicate the sequence of utterances in this particular interaction.
88 M.G. Tassinari

The results of the analysis show that the advisers emotions are mostly a reaction to
or a mirroring of the learners mood and emotions. However, individual affective
factors may play a role in the adviser emotional state in the advising session, such
as a particular disposition, preferences or idiosyncrasies. Therefore, it is necessary
for advisers to be aware of these affective factors in order to self-regulate them, if
need be.

8 Conclusion

The results of the discourse analysis were veried by follow-up interviews with the
learners. When asked to listen to the audio-recording after a considerable amount of
time from the advising session and comment on their emotions, they conrmed the
identication of their emotions made in the discourse analysis. Interestingly, some
of them reported to have felt again strongly the emotions related to their learning
situation and the advising session. In addition, two of the learners pointed out in the
interview that listening to the audio-recording and answering the researchers
questions allowed them to reflect for the rst time on affective aspects of their
learning and of language learning in general, which they found even more relevant,
since they are going to be language teachers themselves.
The interviews with the learners (step 6 of the research design illustrated in
Sect. 6.2) triangulated the results both of the qualitative content analysis and the
discourse analysis (steps 3 and 5 of the research design). In addition, the discourse
analysis made it possible to identify the most emotional discourse sequences, which
were, for L6, her report of her previous learning and the planning of further
learning, thus adding further insights into the role of emotions and feelings in
language advising contexts.
To sum up, the ndings of both content and discourse analysis show that the
presence of emotions, especially in the learners discourse, is relevant and at times
dominant, when it comes to reporting on learning activities, reflecting on their
learning experience and strategies, evaluating learning progress or failure, or
planning future learning steps. Therefore, although advisers may not feel at ease
when dealing with the psychological aspects of language learning, avoiding the
affective dimension in the advising session is not an option. Rather, in the advising
session, there is a social sharing of emotion (see Carette, Melendez Quero, &
Thibault, 2013) and even a sense of reliance between learner and adviser, a social
link that includes thought and action, doing and understanding (Kramsch, 2010).
Therefore, the expression of emotions in language advising settings should be
integrated into the research agenda and into the training of language advisers, in
order to identify ways to better support the affective and personal dimension of
language learning and self-directed language learning in particular.
Although content and discourse analysis offer clear insights into the learners
expression of emotions in their learning experience, it may be thought of as a rst
step towards this eld of investigation. Further aspects to be investigated are
Emotions and Feelings in Language Advising Discourse 89

self-regulation strategies for emotions in autonomous learning processes, and the

impact of language advising and of the learner-adviser relationship on the learners
feeling of autonomy (Aoki, 1999, p. 144). Future research could also centre on
cultural and linguistic differences in expressing and identifying emotions in dif-
ferent contexts.
Clearly, as linguists, we concentrate on the verbal and paraverbal expression of
emotions. A transdisciplinary approach, involving psychologists, neurobiologists
and applied linguists, could help to deepen the understanding of this hidden
dimension of language learning taking into account, beside verbal and paraverbal
aspects, a wider range of factors, such as mimic, posture or neurocognitive


See Tables 1, 2, 3 and 4

Table 1 Excerpt from the transcript of L6-C1

L6 + C1 3
1: ich hab schreiben {betont} aber nie gelernt ich hatte italienisch zwar in der
schule {betont} {schreibgerusche} und dadurch ist glaube ich mein grtes problem dass ich
viel zu viel vom deutschen {betont} aufs italienische bersetze ganz <einfach>
2: <mhm>
L6 4
und das klappt einfach gar nicht {betont} {lacht}
C1 5
L6 6
also manchmal gehts gut {betont} ne {steigend} aber es gibt halt so wenns so komplexere stze
werden auch so zeitformen und so ist manchmal halt ne katastrophe {fallend}
C1 7
L6 + C1 8
1: genau und das war glaub ich auch das problem bei der hausarbeit also es sind hauptschlich
so fehler richtung espressione+[lang=italienisch] und <solche> sachen
2: <mhm>
L6 9
und mir fehlt halt auch viel dieses na so adquat ausdrcken {betont} also manchmal halt
einfach ich wei nicht was ist jetzt angebracht im italienischen zu sagen dadurch dass ich
halt + nur mit meiner mutter oder mit meiner familie ja immer nur gesprochen habe {steigend}
L6 + C1 10
1: fehlen mir halt auch viele begriffe einfach oder so passende treffende sachen <die ich> im
deutschen halt kenne
2: <mhm>
90 M.G. Tassinari

Table 1 (continued)
L6 11
und irgendwie muss ich halt daran arbeiten vor allem im schriftlichen also im mndlichen gehts
jetzt schon halbwegs {steigend}
klar abgesehen von so normalen konversationen {leiser} + aber im schriftlichen vor allem beim
wissenschaftlichen arbeiten fehlt mir einfach dieses ausdrucksvermgen
C1 12
L6 13
und da muss ich halt irgendwie dran arbeiten

Table 2 Traces of emotions in the learners and advisers discourse

Advising Total of speech turns Traces of emotions in Traces of emotions in
session (both for learner and the learners discourse the advisers discourse
L1C1 397 169 (154 negative, 8 (all positive)
(session 1) 15 positive)
L1C1 381 124 (97 negative, 9 (7 negative,
(session 2) 27 positive) 2 positive)
L6C1 556 152 (75 negative, 8 (6 positive,
69 positive, 8 mixed) 2 negative)
L9C1 207 37 (33 positive, 21 (16 positive,
4 negative) 5 negative)

Table 3 Examples of expressing emotions

Emotions Examples
satisfaction L9 46: also ich bin sehr zufrieden damit {sehr schnell} das macht mir auch
joy spa und ja ich freu mich also [] so die Sachen die ich gebt hab und
satisfaction mich auch vorbereitet hab konnte ich auch gut
joy L9 8: ja und die [Prfung] ist gut gelaufen da hab ich mich
gefreut {betont}
satisfaction L6 6: also manchmal gehts gut {betont} ne {steigend} aber es gibt halt so
annoyance wenns so komplexere Stze werden auch so Zeitformen und so ist
manchmal halt ne Katastrophe {fallend}
anticipation L1 209: ich wei ja nicht hm + was Sie hier anbieten {betont}
L1 210: also bieten Sie an dass Sie hm dass wir zusammen Bcher
raussuchen knnen und Sie sagen hier machen Sie < die + ne {steigend} >
L1 211: hm machen Sie jetzt die Aufgaben bis nchste Woche {steigend}
aber kontrollieren tun Sie die dann nicht {betont} {fragend}
Emotions and Feelings in Language Advising Discourse 91

Table 3 (continued)
Emotions Examples
frustration L1 31: den mach ich grad an der x Uni
C1 32: ok
L1 33: das ist dann nur noch + na in Anfhrungszeichen
Wiederholung {betont} aber + {leiser werdend}
C1 34: aber {fragend}
L1 35: {atmet ein} ja ich nd den jetzt nicht {betont} so gut
L1 39: ich nd den eher n bisschen frustrierend {leise}
anticipation, fear L 178: da mcht ich ziemlich gut sein dass ich {klopft auf den
Tisch} gelassen in also in Anfhrungszeichen gelassen in die nchste
Prfung gehen kann und da h nicht mehr so ne Angst vor habe

Table 4 L6s emotions in sequences of the advising session

Sequence Speech turns Emotions Examples
(in total
L6 + C1)
Learners report 112
Learners question (negative 8 L6: 6 L6 15: und Frau x meinte zu
emotions about their failure (1 positive, mir, ich soll doch am besten
prevail) 6 negative) mal herkommen und einfach
C1: 1 mal die Hausarbeit zeigen,
damit Sie vielleicht mal
reinschauen {betont, gedehnt}
mir vielleicht sagen knnen,
was muss man da ben; also
ich glaub, mein grtes
Problem ist wirklich dieses
eins zu eins bersetzen
wollen (anticipation,
expectation, annoyance,
L6 17: im ersten Moment
scheint es richtig zu
sein {steigend} oder fr mich
hrt es sich halt richtig an, wo
ich denke ja im Deutschen ist
das auch so {lacht} und dann
passt das gar nicht im
Italienischen und das rgert
mich total, weil {atmet
ein} dadurch ist die Note von
der Hausarbeit auch total
runtergegangen {leiser}
embarrassment, anger,
92 M.G. Tassinari

Table 4 (continued)
Sequence Speech turns Emotions Examples
(in total
L6 + C1)
On learning experiences 72 L6: 35 L6 9: und mir fehlt halt auch
(L6 is bilingual, but uses (10 positive, viel dieses na so adquat
Italian mostly in conversation 21 negative, Ausdrcken {betont} also
and does not have experience 4 mixed) manchmal halt einfach ich
in academic writing) wei nicht, was ist jetzt
angebracht im Italienischen zu
sagen, dadurch dass ich
halt + nur mit meiner Mutter
oder mit meiner Familie ja
immer nur gesprochen
habe {steigend}
(dissatisfaction, insecurity,
On learning methods 32 L6: 9 (5 L6 24: bei Hausarbeiten
(while writing in Italian, L6 positive, 3 mach ich mir erstmal auf
usually translates from negative, 1 Deutsch {betont} meistens
German) mixed) Gedanken und schreib die
Cooperative work 326 C1: 1 meist auch auf Deutsch erst
auf und fang dann in
Ruhe {betont} an das zu
bersetzen (serenity)
Reflecting on the text 159 L6: 36 L6 41: das sind ja meistens
(L6 reflects with C1 on her (9 positive, Fehler, die irgendwie auch
mistakes in the paper; she 25 negative, unterstrichen sind auch
expresses frustration, she did 2 mixed) groe {betont} Teile
not understand many of them; C1: 3 {steigend}, wo ich halt
she shows interest in the einfach h dann im
reflection) nachhinein sag ich ja ok
versteht man nicht so ganz
(frustration, annoyance,
dissatisfaction, insecurity)
aber an dem Moment wo
ich schreibe bin ich da
anscheinend so
drin {betont} in diesem
bersetzen Italienisch, dass
ich da total fest drin
stecke {leiser werdend}
(frustration, annoyance)
Reflecting on learning; 90 L6: 11 L6 ja, mhm several times
reflecting on strategies (8 positive, (interest)
(L6 shows interest in 2 negative, L6 211 ja das ist
reflecting on her learning 1 mixed) wahrscheinlich auch eins der
strategies and she is open to Hauptbaustellen diese
the remarks C1 makes; C1 Kollokationen einfach mal zu
suggests how to enlarge lernen, also (acceptance)
academic vocabulary and
practice translation)
Emotions and Feelings in Language Advising Discourse 93

Table 4 (continued)
Sequence Speech turns Emotions Examples
(in total
L6 + C1)
Expression of intents and 77 L6: 36 L6 172: weil klar, wenn ich
planning further learning (9 positive, s auf Italienisch gleich
(while planning steps for 25 negative, schreiben knnte, machen
future learning, L6 denes her 2 mixed) knnte. ja wr auch super;
priorities and shows positive wrd ich jetzt auch nicht
expectation, interest, but also zweifeln. dass ich das
insecurity, for example about irgendwie
what she should start with) hinkriege {steigend}
(anticipation, condence,
Presenting resources 40 L6: 13 L6 254255 ansonsten ich
C1 presents some resources (9 positive, hab zu Hause ein altes
(L6 is interested in the 4 negative) Wrterbuch so aus den
resources C1 presents to her; C1: 2 Achtzigern noch von meiner
she is not satised with the Mutter als sie <deutsch> []
old dictionary she uses) ist halt ein ganz ganz dickes
Wrterbuch aber
Organisational sequence 67 L6: 6
C1 informs L6 about a tutorial (4 positive,
for Italian offered at the CILL. 1 negative,
L6 would like to go there, but 1 mixed)
does not know if she can
because of her work schedule
Conversational sequence 2


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Its Time, Put on the Smile, Its Time!:
The Emotional Labour of Second
Language Teaching Within
a Japanese University

Jim King

Abstract Interest in the emotional dimension of language learning has been

growing in recent years as researchers try to understand what role students emo-
tions play in the complex processes involved in second language acquisition. This
chapter represents a new conceptual direction within language learning research
because rather than focusing on learners emotions, it provides an in-depth account
of the emotional labour performed by instructors. Emotional labour is the forced
management of ones emotions in order to conform to the social norms associated
with a professional role. Teaching involves high levels of emotional labour as
teachers are required to manage and display particular emotions in appropriate ways
in front of students. Reflecting the dynamic and shifting nature of emotional states,
the chapter draws from data collected during a series of semi-structured interviews
to report upon the surface acting, deep acting and the suppression of emotions
performed by a sample of language instructors teaching English within a Japanese
university. As emotions are socially and culturally derived, the chapter examines
issues surrounding emotional labour within intercultural contexts, and considers
potential links between emotional labour, teacher stress and burnout.

Keywords Emotions  Emotional labour  Teacher stress  Surface acting  Deep


1 Introduction

In recent years, the emotional dimension of second language (L2) learning and use
has begun to catch the attention of applied linguistics researchers, with an increasing
number of studies focusing on the role that learners emotions play in success or
failure to acquire a foreign language (e.g., Dewaele, 2005; Gregersen, MacIntyre, &
Meza, 2014; Mndez Lpez & Fabela Crdenas, 2014; Mercer, 2006). Rather than

J. King (&)
School of Education, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK

Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016 97

C. Gkonou et al. (eds.), New Directions in Language Learning Psychology,
Second Language Learning and Teaching, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-23491-5_7
98 J. King

examining learners inner psychological experiences, this chapter represents a new

conceptual direction within L2 research in that it provides an account of the emo-
tional labour performed by instructors. Teaching is an inherently emotional
endeavour (Hargreaves, 1998, 2000; Meyer, 2009; Sutton & Wheatley, 2003;
Zembylas, 2005, 2007) and to be successful at it is not merely a case of acquiring
good subject knowledge and a familiarity with pedagogical techniques. As
Hargreaves (1998, p. 835) points out, Good teachers are not just well-oiled
machines. They are emotional, passionate beings who connect with their students
and ll their work and their classes with pleasure, creativity, challenge and joy. At
the heart of teaching lie the interactions which occur between the teacher and those
being taught, and it is this interpersonal exchange which brings with it a critically
important emotional dimension to the profession.
Adopting the perspective that emotions are dynamically fluctuating phenomena
(Drnyei, 2009; Gregersen, MacIntyre, & Meza, 2014) whose antecedents and
consequences are best understood when the social context and the interpersonal
relationships formed within this context are examined (Hagenauer & Volet, 2014;
Parkinson, 1996), in this chapter I report on a small-scale exploratory project,which
aimed to investigate the self-reported in-class emotions experienced by ve expe-
rienced foreign language instructors working within a private university in Japan.
I discuss the notion that there exist tacit psycho-cultural norms, which shape what
appropriate and inappropriate teacher emotions are within particular contexts
and relate how the participants in the current study responded to these norms
through the self-regulation of their emotions during classroom practice. Teachers
emotional job demands are inherently stressful (Greenglass, 2000; Kyriacou, 2001)
and so I report on some of the strategies participants used in order to protect
themselves from this stress in an effort to maintain their psychological well-being.

2 Emotional Labour

The term emotional labour was rst coined by the sociologist Arlie Hochschild
(1979, 1983) to describe how workers, usually in the service sector, manufacture or
suppress their emotions during interactions with others. This forced management of
ones feelings is undertaken with the aim of displaying emotions deemed to be
appropriate within specic social contexts and which conform to the social norms
associated with a particular professional role. A commonly cited (e.g., Benesch,
2012) illustration of this, and one that is based on Hochschilds original research, is
the case of flight attendants, who are expected to remain outwardly calm and
smiling for the duration of the flight as a sign of reassurance to passengers. The
effort required to express such organisationally desired emotions can be mentally
exhausting and a dissonance between ones true feelings and ones sanctioned
emotional displays may result in self-estrangement and depersonalisation
(Hochschild, 1983; Nring, Brit, & Brouwers, 2006; Nring, Vlerick, & Van de
Ven, 2012; Tsang, 2011). If viewed from a Marxian perspective, this loss of control
The Emotional Labour of Second Language Teaching 99

over emotional displays and the inability to show true emotions at work mean
employees emotions may be deemed to be the commodities of the organisation
they work for and hence exploited for prot (Fineman, 2000; Hochschild, 1983).
Indeed, as we shall see later on in the chapter, the nancially-driven practices of
educational institutions can signicantly impact upon the emotions of their
That said, it would be wrong to conceptualise emotional labour as being a solely
negative phenomenon. The managed display of a teachers emotions serves to
maintain good interpersonal relationships with students, thus helping to achieve
academic and social benets, and may also act as a way of socialising younger
learners to appropriately regulate and display their own emotions (Chang & Davis,
2009). Furthermore, when teachers are able to pursue their own agendas through the
use of emotional labour, rather than employing it to suit the wishes of others, it can
lead to pleasurable and rewarding experiences in the classroom (Hargreaves, 2000).
Finally, the presence of emotional consonance (see Zammuner & Galli, 2005),
whereby appropriate emotions coincide with what is actually felt and can therefore
be outwardly expressed with relatively small effort in the pursuit of educational
goals, is another potentially positive aspect of the emotional dimension of
staff-student interactions helping shape enhanced feelings of personal accom-
plishment for teachers.

3 Data Collection and Analysis

The research described in this chapter was essentially small-scale and exploratory in
nature meaning the study was not bound by a rigid set of research questions but
rather its lines of inquiry remained open and flexible in response to new and
relevant themes as they emerged during the course of an iterative process of data
collection and analysis. Using Zembylass (2005) taxonomy of teacher emotions as
its initial point of reference, the study employed a semi-structured interview
approach, which aimed to explore teachers perceptions and beliefs about the
emotional labour involved in teaching English as a foreign language in their
workplace, particularly with regard to how contextual factors helped shape their
emotions at work. The interviews also aimed to uncover examples of actual
classroom incidents which the participants deemed to have had a signicant
emotional dimension for them, whilst seeking to better understand the differing
strategies they used to regulate their emotions during classroom exchanges and how
they coped more generally with the stress-inducing emotional labour demands of
their jobs. Ones emotions are, of course, highly personal and present a potentially
sensitive topic for investigation. With this in mind, I decided to conduct a series of
non-threatening, unobtrusive exploratory interviews because this type of qualitative
approach held most promise for gaining in-depth, meaningful accounts of the
teachers emotional labour. Such an approach is underlined by Cohen, Manion and
Morrison (2011) who draw on Oppenheim to remind us that exploratory interviews
100 J. King

are commonly employed to investigate emotionally loaded topics and, with skill on
the part of the researcher, they enable participants to talk freely and emotionally
and to have candour, richness, depth, authenticity, and honesty about their expe-
riences (p. 413).
The research site was a large, private university located in a metropolitan area on
Japans main island of Honshu. For the sake of institutional anonymity, I will refer
to the site as Takanami University. Well known for specialising in foreign language
instruction, the university boasts an enrolment of around 13,000 students, over three
quarters of whom are undergraduates following four-year bachelor degree pro-
grammes. A typical student at the institution would be a female in her late
teens/early twenties who commutes daily to the universitys relatively new and
prestigious campus in order to study English Language and Communication. She
might be taught by one or more of Takanamis approximately 200 full- and
part-time non-Japanese faculty; many of whom reside in purpose-built accommo-
dation provided on campus.
A purposive sampling strategy (Patton, 2002) was adopted to select a cohort of
mid- to late-career expatriate instructors in full-time employment at the research
site, who were responsible for teaching English as a foreign language to under-
graduate students. In order to avoid supercial accounts of the institutional and
socio-cultural aspects of the study, a key criterion when selecting interviewees was
that they had to be in possession of a relatively prolonged (more than 5 years)
experience of language teaching specically within a Japanese context. In the end,
ve teachers agreed to take part in the study, four males and one female, whose
teaching careers spanned from nine to 26 years, with the average being 19 years.
Set out below is a brief introduction to each of these participants (all names are

Rufus: Rufus became an English language teacher after graduating from

university in his native United States with a rst degree in the late
1980s. He initially taught for a number of years in China before
moving on to the Middle East and eventually ending up in Japan. Of
his 26 years of teaching experience, the last nine have been in Japan
working at the research site where he teaches integrated skills classes
to rst-year students.
Alexander: Like Rufus, Alexander is also a veteran language practitioner with
over 25 years in the profession. Originally from the United States,
Alexander has taught in a range of contexts around the world,
including a substantial period in Central Europe where he worked as a
teacher trainer in the state sector there. He has 6 years experience
teaching English in Japan.
Marcus: Also coming from the United States is Marcus who has 18 years of
experience teaching English as a foreign language. He has spent 10
years working in Japan, the last eight of which have been in his current
position where he primarily teaches English for Academic Purposes
(EAP) to rst-year students.
The Emotional Labour of Second Language Teaching 101

Nora: Nora is an Australian who has 9 years of language teaching

experience, ve of which have been in Japan at her current workplace.
She has a background in modern foreign languages and studied
Spanish and German before embarking on a teaching career in
mainstream education. In her current role, she teaches social science
content-based classes in addition to ones which focus on developing
students integrated skills for EAP.
Jonah: At the time of interview, Jonah had been an English language
professional for 16 years and had spent 12 of these teaching in Japan.
Despite being a United States citizen, he received the bulk of his
education in Japan and had consequently become a fluent speaker of
Japanese. Jonah was selected for the study in part because of his
insider knowledge and the emic perspective he could bring to
interpreting classroom events and student behaviour.

Following an explanation of the purposes of the study and after having gained their
informed consent via a written consent form, participants were interviewed in
face-to-face, in-depth sessions, which lasted for up to one hour. All of the inter-
views were audio recorded with the interviewees permission and then transcribed
as soon as possible after the encounter in order to allow for concurrent data col-
lection and analysis to take place. This approach made it possible for emerging
patterns of data from one interview to feed in and inform subsequent data collection
sessions. Grounded theory (Strauss & Corbin, 1998) guided an iterative process of
data coding, whereby transcripts were read multiple times to identify signicant and
relevant content themes. I nd that I can engage most deeply with transcriptions
when I can physically manipulate them in my hands, allowing me to pick up one
section, compare it to another, place similar testimony together, and so on. As a
consequence, and though it might appear rather low-tech nowadays, coding was
performed on hard copy texts, with initial low-inference codes gradually being
supplemented for higher order, emotional labour-relevant ones. To complement the
interview data, I kept a research journal (see Altrichter & Holly, 2011), in which I
noted down my ideas and reflections following each interview and throughout the
project, thus contributing to the ongoing process of interpretation and analysis.

4 Results and Discussion

4.1 The Emotional Labour of Caring for Students

Teachers beliefs about caring for students play a critical role in shaping their pro-
fessional identities, and help guide the pedagogical choices they make (Isenbarger &
Zembylas, 2006; OConnor, 2008). While the humanistic aspects of teaching can be a
source of intrinsic motivation for some educators, for others, there may be a disso-
nance between the care they are expected to display and what they actually feel
102 J. King

towards students. The emotional labour of having to induce context-appropriate

caring emotions or suppressing inappropriate non-caring ones is likely to prove
draining over time. As Alexander put it when talking about his long career, Ive
always been interested in people and I dont think Id have been able to teach this
long if the care had been articial or manufactured. That would be very stressful.
All of the teachers in the study spoke to some degree about the importance they
placed on building and maintaining caring relationships with their students at the
university (cf. Cowie, 2011). However, the participant who stood out in this regard
was Jonah, who spoke extensively about the care and nurture he invested in his
students and how he believed this was an essential part of a teachers role within a
Japanese educational setting. Jonah recounted how the turning point in how he
regarded his professional identity had occurred a few years earlier when he began
working at a Catholic high school in Japan which placed great emphasis on the
moral instruction of its pupils rather than focusing exclusively on academic pro-
gress. Jonah described how the school termed this approach as education of the
heart and explained how he had been heavily influenced by the way in which his
colleagues systematically acted as a kind of third parent to the students in their
charge. He explained:
Part of the role of the educator in Japan is similar to a parent. So even as a college professor,
there are times when I am a surrogate parent for my students. If a student needs me in that
capacity, Im there. The subject of what I teach is secondary to my relationship with my
students. Its what I believe education should be. Foremost is my relationship with my
students and I open myself up completely to them.

The rst point to make about Jonahs testimony is that it illustrates well the
notion that teachers professional identities constantly evolve and dynamically
reflect the socially situated aspects of their roles as they emerge through interaction
with others (see Flores & Day, 2006; OConnor, 2008). Establishing supportive and
caring relationships with students and helping them to deal with various
non-academic problems was much more of a priority for Jonah in his teaching than
developing his students second language skills. While Hargreaves (2000, p. 813)
argues that placing too much emphasis on emotional caring for students can in
some circumstances lead to a welfarist culture in which academic achievement
is occluded, Jonahs interview data suggests he believed such an approach to be
wholly appropriate to the context he was working in. His reference to himself as a
third parent might at rst glance seem overly indulgent and inappropriate, but
when we consider the transferential nature of student-teacher relationships and the
importance placed on interdependency within Japanese educational settings (see
Hendry, 1986), Jonahs assessment of the importance of care in his professional
role becomes all the more understandable. Indeed, Ehrman and Drnyei (1998) alert
us to the value of viewing individuals classroom experiences within a transferential
context and argue, Relationships with teachers are almost always transferential.
For most students, there probably is an unconscious hope that the teacher will enact
the role of a good, nurturing, protective parent (p. 188). Jonah appears to have
readily taken on such a role but research into the emotional labour of teachers
The Emotional Labour of Second Language Teaching 103

working in mainstream education contexts (e.g., Rogers & Webb, 1991) suggests
that the asymmetrical nature of care in staff-student relationships may leave teachers
vulnerable and open to emotional exhaustion. Furthermore, and as I will discuss
later on in the chapter, an inability to engage in some degree of emotional dis-
tancing is likely in the long term to harm the psychological well-being of a teacher.

4.2 The Suppression of Negative Emotions

Emotional labour, of course, does not just involve the regulation of positive
emotions such as caring. All of the participants in the study spoke about managing
negative emotions which they regularly experienced in their teaching at Takanami
University. The most common among these involved feelings of irritation, frus-
tration and anger in response to what they perceived to be uncooperativeness on the
part of some students during learning tasks. All of the teachers in the sample
recounted how they engage in emotional labour when faced with such incidents by
actively suppressing negative emotions and making a conscious effort not to display
their true feelings to the students. As an example of this, Rufus recounted a
classroom incident he had experienced just prior to our interview. Part way through
teaching an integrated skills lesson to a group of rst-year students, it became clear
to Rufus that the majority of the class were simply not listening to him, preferring
their own off-task conversations to his task instructions. In order to win back their
attention, he pretended to storm out of the room in a melodramatic manner. I asked
Rufus what his true emotions were during the incident. He responded:
I was annoyed but annoyed such that it was kind of a game. I didnt show my true
emotions, how really pissed off I was cos I came back in with a big smile on my face.
Actually, I was really angry but I could only show it in a comical way.

Other participants also spoke about their efforts to avoid displaying negative
emotions when teaching. Alexander explained, I wont display anger or irritation
but if ones been provoked, I think its only fair to show ones not amused. But one
doesnt get into a rant. Marcus too explained how he was careful not to show how
he really felt when negative emotions arose in his teaching, explaining I try to
regulate frustration when the students are chatting constantly in Japanese and no
one else is intervening. I try to laugh and smile but its hard when it happens every
week.As experienced professionals with long service at the chalk-front, the par-
ticipants were well aware that teachers play a crucial role in forming a positive
learning atmosphere within the classroom and that the display of negative emotions
is hardly conducive to establishing and maintaining such an environment. In the
words of Jonah, Anger and frustration damage relationships in the class and arent
productive in terms of teaching the students or building a relationship with the
students. While such an awareness of the potentially harmful effects of unpleasant
emotions may help teachers to justify the management of their in-class, public
emotional displays, certain student behaviours can nevertheless still trigger negative
104 J. King

emotional reactions even in the most saintly of instructors. One such trigger dis-
cussed by the teachers in the current study was the non-participation and silence of
some of their learners.
Although the teachers were in agreement that students at Takanami University
were generally very well-behaved and any disruption occurring during lessons was
of a relatively low-level nature, a recurring theme in the interviews was the way in
which some students silent behaviour had the potential to trigger a negative
emotional response within the participants. For example, Rufus talked about the
annoyance that orally non-responsive students sometimes induced in him, stating it
was his belief that some of his learners employed silence as a means of forestalling
any further L2 interaction with him whilst he monitored group activities in class:
Well, of course it violates standard conversation practices that when someone asks you a
question and actually selects you as the next-turn speaker, that its your kind of job to
respond to that individual. And leaving that person in the lurch by having extended silence
or just staring profoundly doe-eyed at someone without saying Im sorry? or pardon me?
or could you repeat that?any of the small things actually I taught at the very beginning
of the year. So thats where my anger came from, was that this would be a pattern that
seemed to be effective in terms of getting me to walk away. (Rufus)

In previous research (King, 2013a, b, 2014), I have demonstrated how verbal

unresponsiveness in Japans L2 university classrooms is a commonplace, yet
complex phenomenon, with learners silences emerging through a series of inter-
connected routes shaped both by external situational influences and learner-internal
factors. Rather than simply denoting passivity or a lack of L2 ability, the silence
that triggered Rufuss irritation is interpreted by him to be a tactical construct of
non-cooperation and hence it represents an active state in which the learner has
chosen to refrain from talk. For Rufus, it is the seemingly volitional nature of this
silence (see MacIntyre, 2007), and the way it signies a rejection of him as an
interlocutor, that appears to play a major role in his negative emotional response. In
my research journal I noted after our interview that Rufus spoke with some ani-
mation about this issue, and that even after 9 years at the university, unresponsive
students still appeared to be drip-feeding his stress levels at work.
Alexander and Marcus also spoke about having to manage their feelings of
frustration when met by a wall of silence in their teaching but indicated they felt
better able to cope (both psychologically and pedagogically) with such incidents
now compared to when they rst began teaching at the university. While student
silence was still the source of some exasperation for both teachers, Marcus
explained how he had tried to embrace the concept of teacher wait-time (see Ingram
& Elliott, 2014) when dealing with it, while Alexander spoke about how his
improved knowledge of Japanese socio-cultural issues (see Lebra, 1987) had led
him to try and gain a more empathetic understanding of why some learners
refrained from conversing in the target language in his classroom. In Marcuss case,
it is interesting to note that the use of silence itself can be an effective tool for
emotion management (Saunders, 1985), and by extending his silent wait-time when
interacting with students he would have gained valuable cognitive appraisal space
to engage in such management.
The Emotional Labour of Second Language Teaching 105

4.3 Bearing the Motivational Burden Through Emotional


Intimately linked to classroom silence is the issue of student motivation. While

recent strides in L2 motivational research (e.g., Drnyei, MacIntyre, & Henry,
2015) have demonstrated how learner motivation is a dynamically evolving con-
struct constantly shaped by any number of intervening variables, a number of
teachers in the current study recounted how they felt it was primarily their
responsibility to instil intrinsic motivation into their learners and that this could be
achieved through manufacturing and exaggerating their displays of pleasant,
positive emotions. The following comments by Marcus and Rufus illustrate the
point well:
I feel responsible for motivation in my classroom. I do believe it is our job to be cheer-
leader. And I explain it to my students in terms of Im like their coach, were a team.
I think theyve not tended to have enjoyed their English classes during their school careers
and I think its important they like whats going on in my classroom and stay engaged. So
Ill do whatever I have to. For 90 minutes Ill be bright, cheerful, enthusiastic. For 90
minutes Im emotionally turned on. (Rufus)

Drnyei and Ushioda (2011) draw on Csikszentmihalyi (1997) to argue that a

teachers enthusiasm is infectious, can therefore be transmitted to students and that
some of the most influential educators are the nutcases whose involvement in the
subject matter is so excessive that it is bordering on being crazy (p. 187).
Unfortunately, the day-to-day reality of teaching is that not all instructors can be
nutcases in every lesson they teach and so when enthusiasm does not occur
naturally, it either has to be summoned up or manufactured. Acheson-Clair (2013)
describes this type of teacher behaviour as bearing the motivational burden, and
while Takanami University is hardly the motivational wasteland found by
Acheson-Clair in her study of US high school L2 classrooms, teachers in the current
investigation nevertheless reported having to sustain efforts to regulate positive
emotions in order to foster intrinsic motivation in the classes they taught.
Interestingly though, four out of the ve participants perceived their motivational
roles at Takanami University to be quite different to their Japanese counterparts and
believed that efforts to appear bright, engaging and enthusiastic in the classroom
had the potential to cause students to view them as having a relatively diminished
professional status, in which they were seen as mere entertainers rather than
serious language practitioners (cf. Shimizu, 1995). Marcus commented, The tra-
ditional role of the foreign EFL teacher at this university is of entertainer, as
cheerleader, encouraging the students to do well, encouraging them in an activity or
lesson, while Rufus explained, You have to smile and keep everyone engaged
which takes a lot of emotional energy on my part. At times I have to be the funny
guy, the joker, the class clown.
106 J. King

Nora also commented on this issue, relating it to the use of a more

student-centred, communicative approach to language teaching:
From my experience, rightly or wrongly, Japanese students expect foreign teachers to be
funnier, amusing, less serious than our Japanese counterparts. Perhaps because a lot of the
way we teach, our teaching methodology is about student-centredness and so the focus is
on them and they see us as being more friendly, less strict as were trying to facilitate their
participation rather than being the centre of attentionOften the hoops we make them jump
throughseem like entertainment to them.

The contrast with Alexanders assessment of the teaching role adopted by some of
his Japanese colleagues is striking:
In the students experiences, if theyve had foreign teachers at school, theyve been sort of
pets or entertainers. Thats been their niche in that situation and thats created an expec-
tation. My students dont expect the Japanese staff to be entertaining. Many of the older
Japanese staff especially, stand at the front and lecture from their notes, the students at the
back of the room, sleeping, eating, taking notes, looking at their phones, whatever. As far as
I can tell, they accept that this kind of sensei ((teacher)) is going to play this kind of role and
they dont question it too much.

It is important to stress that the testimony presented above concerns how par-
ticipants perceived there to be differences in the emotional dimension of how
Japanese and non-Japanese instructors taught and engaged learners at the research
site. Obviously, such dichotomous generalisations should be approached with
caution if we are to avoid an essentialist interpretation of classroom life at the
university. It was beyond the scope of the study either to prove or disprove the
interviewees assertions on this matter, but the fact that they perceived there to be a
disparity in the motivational burden taken on by non-Japanese staff in comparison
to Japanese colleagues is in itself signicant. This points towards the socially
constructed nature of emotions and the believed assumption amongst the sample
that Takanami University implicitly desired its non-Japanese teaching staff to be
bright, cheerful, enthusiastic and entertaining when interacting with its students.
The existence of such tacit psycho-cultural feeling rules supports the notion that
evolving teacher identities are highly context-dependent and are in part shaped by
emotional practice in the classroom. Indeed, by engaging in the sustained regulation
of emotion displays in order to instil intrinsic motivation into students, it seems
participants were resigned to the fact that this would contribute to a diminishment in
their perceived professional status at the university.

4.4 The Performance of Emotions and Emotional


So what strategies did the teachers in the study employ in order to regulate their
emotions and comply with Takanami Universitys implicit feeling rules?
Hochschild (1983, 1990) suggests there are two dramaturgical strategies involved in
The Emotional Labour of Second Language Teaching 107

emotional labour: deep acting and surface acting. In deep acting, an individual
makes an effort to actually feel organisationally desired emotions. This may be
achieved through the use of internal dialogue or by drawing upon mental imagery.
For example, a teacher who may not be in the best of moods prior to entering the
classroom might consciously try to visualise past teaching successes whilst cajoling
herself that she really cares about her students and is going to enjoy teaching the
lesson. Surface acting involves manipulating ones outward appearance so as to
display the surface effects of emotions whilst not actually feeling them. Tone of
voice, facial expressions, gestures, and so on are simulated and work to hide what
one is actually feeling. Simply put, surface acting is faking it.
There is a noteworthy connection between Hochschilds notion of surface acting
and the testimony of Marcus, who spoke about his sustained efforts to appear
bright, cheerful and enthusiastic in front of learners despite the fact that he deemed
such behaviour to be somewhat at odds with his personality. Interestingly, Marcus
had a background in theatre before he became a language teacher:
Ive realised recently the way I prepare for a class is how I used to prepare for theatre.
I arrive early, have a moment by myself, take a few deep breaths and then I put the face on.
Its the persona, its the teaching persona. I look at the whole 90 minutes of class as being a
performance. Before I leave the ofce, I always tell my ofce mate its time, put on the
smile, its time! Its a performance.

Of course, acting can be great fun but the problem with a teaching approach
which relies heavily on the performance of context-appropriate emotions, is that
over a prolonged period of time it tends to result in negative psychological con-
sequences for the teacher in the form of mental strain and emotional exhaustion
(Nring, Brit, & Brouwers, 2006; Nring, Vlerick, & Van de Ven, 2012; Philipp &
Schpbach, 2010). Indeed, the emotional dissonance created by portraying emo-
tions that are not actually felt is inherently stressful and many teachers resort to
protecting themselves from this stress by fostering a sense of depersonalisation and
detachment from their work.
Echoing the ndings from Marcus, Rufus framed this detachment in terms of
having a context-dependent, transformable identity and claimed, When I walk out
of the classroom, I can go back to my true identity. Im not on call, Im not on stage,
I dont have to resume those roles. My job is over. Nora too spoke of maintaining
a disconnection from what occurred in the classes she taught, stating, Im
detached and that her teaching doesnt dene who I amit doesnt inform who I
am as a person. Indeed, Nora was very careful not to let her students into her inner
life and her reluctance to engage in self-disclosure can be regarded as a psycho-
logical defensive strategy. She commented:
If you talk to any of my students over the past 20 years, they will tell you any number of
ridiculous stories about me because I lie to my students all the time. All the time! ((spoken
while laughing)) You know, if you talk to my students now, Im married with three kids
and a dog ((laughsNora is single, childless and has no pets)). They dont know about me.
I make up stories about my family because it suits the situation, I need an example. I dont
need to have my students know about me.
108 J. King

Although somewhat ethically questionable, Noras reluctance to be truthful

when talking about personal issues in class can be interpreted as a means of creating
emotional distance from her students, making her less vulnerable to the day-to-day
stresses of teaching at the university. In contrast, Alexander presents a more
measured, realistic and sustainable approach to maintaining an emotional distance
in his teaching:
From my background in teacher training, I dont think its a good idea to be a buddy or a
friend to the student. Concern and friendliness is appreciated but our roles are different in
the classroom. Im not interested in their social lives or personal, emotional odysseys.
I think maintaining a distance comes naturally to me.

One feature of the research setting related to emotional distancing and which
seemed to play a signicant role in the work-related stress of the studys partici-
pants was that accommodation for the majority of full-time non-Japanese teaching
staff is provided on the campus site. Although there are obvious benets to this
(e.g., not having to pay the huge deposits demanded in Japans private rental sector;
the absence of a stressful daily commute), living amongst colleagues and the close
physical proximity of the teachers homes to their workplace made the mental task
of separating work from home all the more difcult. Rufus explained:
The housing situation makes things worse because we live in a sh bowl and you cant get
away from the university. You have to eke out the quiet moments because the students are
around you 24/7 to some extent.

As Kyriacou (2001) rightly reminds us, maintaining a healthy home life is a key
palliative technique used by teachers to cope with work-related stress. However,
with the blurring of work and home life at Takanami University, successfully
adopting this coping mechanism proved to be a less than straightforward task.
Hinting at an ongoing interplay between the work-related and acculturative stress in
his life, Marcus recounted how he had taken the somewhat surprising step of
renting a second home in order to be able to demarcate work from his personal life:
One of the things thats kept me here is that I got an apartment in another city. Ive got a life
outside of this university. I have a life thats separatethats really important for my mental
health because its stressful being an English teacher living in a foreign country.

According to Kyriacou (2001), the sources of stress experienced by a teacher are

unique to the individual and depend on the precise complex interaction between
their personality, values, skills and circumstances (p. 29). With this in mind, it
would be wrong simply to state Takanami Universitys housing provision directly
causes teachers at Takanami University to experience work-related stress. However,
the challenging nature of forming an appropriate emotional distance from students
and work issues in such a context does appear to have the potential to be a salient
factor in the diminishment of teachers psychological well-being.
The Emotional Labour of Second Language Teaching 109

4.5 Institutional Change, Working Conditions

and Teacher Emotions

A nal theme to emerge in the data was the way in which recent educational
reforms and changes in working conditions at the research site had impacted upon
teachers emotional experiences at work. Prior to the commencement of the
investigation, a change in upper-management at the university had brought with it
extensive reforms to curriculum content, course structure and the administrative
duties of staff. This period of uncertainty and change saw a deterioration in labour
relations at the university which culminated in the formation of a new small-scale
union for teachers concerned about job insecurity and the institutions failure to
enrol them in the shakaihoken (social security) system. An atmosphere of vulner-
ability (see Kelchtermans, 2005) and mistrust pervaded the university as teachers
were denied access to any of the institutions decision-making processes and the
faculty meetings they were required to attend lacked debate, serving merely as
forums for management to inform staff of new policies. Tellingly, Marcus listed the
emotions he attempted to hide during these meetings as disgust, shock, anger
and boredom. He continued:
Teachers here arent treated like professionals. There have been a lot of changes which
dont take into account our experiences and skills. And a lot of the time the decisions and
dialogue about education have nothing to do with education. The primary goal here is
money and decisions arent usually made based on the needs of the students.

One suspects that nancial considerations were also at the heart of the univer-
sitys questionable policy of employing the majority of its full-time non-Japanese
language teachers on one-year renewable contracts with a maximum term of 5
years. After this term, staff were forced to leave the university and reapply for posts
(if available) at a reduced salary (for more on the academic apartheid of
employment practices at Japanese universities, see McVeigh, 2002). Rufus, who
was approximately a year away from being forced to leave his job at the university,
spoke about his concerns for the future and how the institutions policy made him
feel expendable and incredibly undervalued as professional. He described how it
had become increasingly difcult for him to emotionally invest in his teaching with
the enforced end of his career at Takanami looming large. Both Marcus and Rufuss
testimony underlines the notion that teachers emotions are dynamically influenced
by interaction between the individual and his/her institutional and social environ-
ment, and that reforms to teaching practices and changing working conditions can
play a central role in this process (van Veen & Sleegers, 2009). As I pointed out
earlier, emotional labour does not necessarily have to result in negative psycho-
logical consequences for teachers, but if institutions fail to ensure a supportive and
positive working environment in which employees are valued and nurtured, we
should not be too surprised if such consequences occur.
110 J. King

5 Conclusion

This study has demonstrated that emotional labour is an important, yet neglected
aspect of L2 teaching and that the investigation of teachers in-class emotional
experiences represents a new and potentially fertile direction for future language
learning psychology research to take. With its focus on the emotional labour per-
formed by a group of experienced instructors employed to teach English at a private
university in Japan, using self-report qualitative data the study shed light on the
ways in which participants managed their in-class, public emotional displays in
order to achieve educational goals and to conform to their institutions
socially-derived tacit rules concerning appropriate emotions during classroom
encounters. The studys ndings highlight the signicant role that contextual factors
play in dynamically influencing teachersemotional experiences and how these
experiences not only help shape their classroom practices, but also in the long run
have the potential to negatively impact upon their personal well-being. The
implication of this is that teacher training programmes and in-house professional
development forums need to begin raising awareness of the emotional demands of
language teaching and introduce teachers to a range of effective emotion regulation
skills and coping mechanisms aimed at combating teaching-related stress. Of
course, ideally, we should be aiming to prevent language educators from experi-
encing emotional labour-related stress in the rst place rather than dealing with it in
a palliative manner. But where can realistic, research-based solutions to this issue
best be found? With its focus on well-being, contentment and the building of
positive emotions and greater engagement, perhaps the new and expanding subeld
of positive psychology in SLA (see MacIntyre & Mercer, 2014) is the perfect place
to start looking for answers

Acknowledgments I would like to express my gratitude to Michael Moraga for his invaluable
assistance during the latter stages of this project.


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A Tale of Two Learners: Discovering
Mentoring, Motivation, Emotions,
Engagement, and Perseverance

Rebecca L. Oxford and Diana Bolaos-Snchez

Abstract The eld of positive psychology has brought to the foreground the rel-
evance of positive emotions in forging learners identities, overcoming difculties,
building resources and fostering general well-being. This chapter highlights the role
of positive emotions, motivation, engagement, perseverance, and positive mentor-
ing in the journeys of two individuals who learned English as a foreign language
despite adversities and who eventually became accomplished English professors.
The researchers analyzed the learners narratives using a grounded theory approach
and identied the most salient themes. Results revealed the positive influences of
mentors in learners lives, as well as indicating the importance of intrinsic moti-
vation, positive emotions, engagement and perseverance in leading to success and
satisfaction. The two learners continued toward English prociency even when
others around them might have seen only difculty or impossibility. Their stories
echo the fascinating, dynamic complexity that is central to language learning.

Keywords Motivation  Emotions  Engagement  Perseverance  Narratives 

Positive psychology

1 Introduction

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (2008) begins with the words, It was the
best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the season of Light, it was the
season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair (p. 1).

R.L. Oxford (&)

University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA
D. Bolaos-Snchez
Universidad de Costa Rica, San Pedro, Costa Rica

Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016 113

C. Gkonou et al. (eds.), New Directions in Language Learning Psychology,
Second Language Learning and Teaching, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-23491-5_8
114 R.L. Oxford and D. Bolaos-Snchez

Instead of a tale of two cities, this chapter is a tale of two English learners, Jaime
and Laura,1 both native Spanish-speakers, whose dedication to the English lan-
guage began as early as childhood for one and adolescence for the other. Even
when facing severe challenges, these learners refused to fall prey to despair. They
worked assiduously to make their English learning experiences the best of times
and a hopeful, lifelong adventure, during which they experienced help from sig-
nicant mentors and in turn showed motivation, positive emotions, engagement,
and perseverance. These two learners succeeded brilliantly. Ultimately they both
became talented, respected university English language teachers.
This chapter offers a new direction in psychological research on language
learning. The aim of the chapter is to explore the two learners narratives while
simultaneously taking a positive psychology approach and a complex dynamic
systems perspective in order to better understand the factors affecting and con-
tributing to these learners developmental trajectories and ultimate success. Positive
psychology (see, e.g., Dewaele & MacIntyre, 2014; Lopez & Snyder, 2011; Oxford
& Cullar, 2014) rounds out psychology as a whole by considering positive
elements and strengths in the human psyche and human experience (Lopez &
Gallagher, 2011). With its concentration on well-being, positive psychology does
not ignore human problems, but it faces them from the point of human strength
rather than weakness. Many positive psychology factors that have rarely been
discussed by language learning researchers are important in this chapter.
In discussing the stories, we contend that the two learners are not isolated beings.
Instead, they are part of a complex dynamic system, which includes the learner, the
environment, and a vast array of cross-linkages. In a complex dynamic system, the
context is not a static backdrop but instead a developing process (Drnyei &
Ushioda, 2011, p. 32; see also Larsen-Freeman & Cameron, 2008). Ushiodas
(2009) person-in-context relational view emphasizes the interaction between the
self-reflective, intentional, agentic learner and the fluid and complex system of
social relations, activities, experiences and multiple micro- and macro-contexts in
which the person is embedded... (p. 220). A truly dynamic systems approach will
need to bridge [the] gap between the inner mental world of the individual and the
surrounding social environment (Drnyei, 2009a, p. 244). One goal of this chapter
is to bridge that gap through the use of learner narratives (see also Barkhuizen,
Benson, & Chik, 2014; Oxford, 2011a, 2013). In the complex dynamic system of
the two learners, key factors that emerged were mentoring, motivation, emotions,
engagement, and perseverance. Each of these arose in a grounded theory analysis of
the narrative data (see methodology in Sect. 3). These themes are explored in the
literature review (see Sect. 2) and highlighted in the results and discussion (Sect. 4)
and the conclusion (Sect. 5).

These are pseudonyms.
A Tale of Two Learners: Discovering Mentoring 115

2 Literature Review

This literature review focuses on mentoring, motivation, emotions, engagement,

and perseverance, because these factors emerged thematically from the studys

2.1 Mentoring

Positive mentors have strong influences on learners. Lack of appropriate mentoring

also has its effects.

2.1.1 Mentors Who Nurture

Gertrude Moskowitz (1978) and Earl Stevick (1976, 1980, 1990) described the role
of humanistic educators, who teach to the whole person, honor the dignity and
freedom of the individual, and help the learner to self-actualize, i.e., get in touch
with the real self.2 [T]he most important aspect of what goes on is the
presence or absence of harmony within and between the people in a language
course (Stevick, 1980, p. 5). Anderson and Shannon (1988) depicted mentoring
as a nurturing process in which a more skilled or more experienced person, serving
as a role model, teaches, sponsors, encourages, counsels, and befriends a less
skilled or less experienced person for the purpose of promoting the latters
development. Mentoring functions are carried out within the context of an ongoing,
caring relationship between the mentor and the protg (p. 40).

2.1.2 Vygotskys More Capable Other as a Mentor

A social constructivist view is provided by Lev Vygotsky, who described the

mentor as a more capable other who helps learners transit the zone of proximal
development (ZPD), i.e., the distance between what the learner can do alone and
what the learner can do with assistance (Benson, 2011; Oxford, 2003; Vygotsky,
1978, 1981). In Vygotskys perspective, dialogic (interactional or mediated)
learning occurs through the learners conversations with a more competent person,
who might be a teacher, a parent, or a more advanced peer; who provides scaf-
folding; and who models higher thought processes, such as analyzing, synthesizing,
and evaluating, for learners to internalize.

Poststructuralist authors (see, e.g., Pavlenko & Blackledge, 2004) would suggest that a learner has
no sole or single real self but instead has multiple selves.
116 R.L. Oxford and D. Bolaos-Snchez

2.1.3 Cognitive Apprenticeship as a Mentored Experience

Cognitive apprenticeship occurs in a community of practice sharing a common

interest (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Wenger, McDermott, & Snyder, 2002). Such an
apprenticeship is a strategic, learning-based relationship involving a peripherally
positioned novice who is allied with a more centrally positioned old-timer or
expert (Collins, 1988). By observing, following, and internalizing the performance
of the expert, the learner gradually moves to a more central place in the community.

2.1.4 Classrooms Where Appropriate Mentoring Does Not Occur

The language classroom has two dimensions: the instructional context, concerning
the influences of the teacher, students, curriculum, learning tasks, and teaching
method, and the social context, involving the fact that the classroom is also the
main social arena for students, offering deeply intensive personal experiences such
as friendship, love, or identity formation (Drnyei, 2009a, p. 237). One reason
why some teachers fail at mentoring is that they do not adequately consider
learners beliefs and needs in social contexts (see, e.g., Oxford et al., 1998; Woods,

2.2 Motivation

Motivation has at least three important features related to the present study.

2.2.1 Intrinsic Motivation

Motivation is a cumulative arousal, or want, that we are aware of (Drnyei, 2009b,

p. 209). A particularly important kind of motivation is intrinsic motivation, dened
as the desire to do something for its own sake due to (a) interest, (b) enjoyment, and
(c) challenge (Deci & Ryan, 2000; Ryan & Deci, 2001). Intrinsic motivation is
integral to learners self-determination (Benson, 2011; Deci & Ryan, 2000; Ryan &
Deci, 2001). In self-determination theory (SDT), intrinsic motivation is tied to
autonomy, competence, and relatedness. An SDT study (Noels, Clment, &
Pelletier, 1999) found that when teachers supported learner autonomy, learners
sense of self-determination (hence their intrinsic motivation) increased.
Another SDT study (McIntosh & Noels, 2004) showed that intrinsically motivated
students described learning a language for the enjoyment of nding out new things,
for the pleasure experienced when grasping something difcult, and for the high
experienced when learning or using the language.
A Tale of Two Learners: Discovering Mentoring 117

2.2.2 Motivation Through Imagination

Imagination is a process of expanding our self by transcending our time and space
and creating new images of the world and ourselves (Wenger, 1998, p. 176).
Imagination helps us to see ourselves in new ways (Wenger, 1998, p. 185).
Identity is an individuals sense of self in relation to a particular social context or
community of practice (Mercer, 2012, pp. 11-12). One motivating aspect of
imagination emerges in imagined or possible selves, which we internally theorize
through mental simulation (Ryan & Irie, 2014, p. 109). Imagined or possible
selves can be conceptualized in terms of the ideal L2 (second language) self and the
ought-to L2 self, along with the L2 learning experience, according to Drnyeis
(2009b) L2 Motivational Self System. For the ideal L2 self to be an effective
motivator, it must be both a vision of oneself in a future state and a knowledge of
how to attain that state.

2.2.3 The Substrate of Motivation: Meaning

Meaning undergirds intrinsic motivation and imaginal motivation. We are moti-

vated only by those things that seem meaningful to us (Oxford, forthcoming). In
language learning, meaning is the degree to which learners comprehend, make
sense of, grasp the signicance and purpose of, and value their learning process
(adapted from Steger, 2011, p. 682). Furthermore, meaning enables language
learners to interpret and organize their experience, sense their own worth, identify
things that matter the most to them, and direct their energies to goals (adapted from
Steger, 2011, p. 680). Oxford (forthcoming) argued that meaning is necessary to
learners peak experiences (especially joyous, exciting, ego-transcending moments
involving sudden feelings of intense happiness, ecstasy, creativity, well-being,
wonder, awe, love, empathy, and timelessness; Maslow, 1971), their periods of
inspired consciousness (superior states, such as intuitions, flashes of insight,
visions, and sudden ecstasy, rapture, or recognition, all achieved without deductive
or discursive thought; Silo, 2006), and their experiences of flow (see 2.4.2 below).

2.3 Emotions

Emotions play key roles in triggering or preventing action in language learning.

2.3.1 Importance and Complexity of Emotions

Emotion functions as an amplier, providing the intensity, urgency, and energy to

propel our behavior in everything we do (MacIntyre, 2002, p. 61), including
language learning (Arnold, 1999). Emotions are complex and multicomponential,
118 R.L. Oxford and D. Bolaos-Snchez

containing recognition of antecedent events/situations, appraisal, subjective feel-

ings, physiological reaction patterns, action readiness, behavioral expression, and
expression regulation (Berry, Poortinga, Segall, & Dasen, 2002).

2.3.2 Value of Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is important to language learning and is dened as the

ability to understand feelings in the self and others, and to use these feelings as
informational guides for thinking and action (Salovey, Mayer, Caruso, & Yoo,
2011, p. 238). Dewaele, Petrides, and Furnham (2008; also Dewaele, 2013) found
that adult multilinguals with higher emotional intelligence had lower levels of
foreign language anxiety and, during conversation, perceived themselves as more
capable of (a) gauging the emotions of their interlocutor, (b) controlling stress, and
(c) feeling self-condent. Abe (2011) asserted that positive emotions and emo-
tional intelligence are associated with multiple successful outcomes (p. 817).

2.3.3 Positive Emotions

Frederickson (2001, 2003, 2004) cited happiness, curiosity, interest, pleasure, and
joy as positive emotions, while Seligman (2011) added ecstasy, comfort, warmth,
and the like (p. 17). Learner narratives (e.g., Oxford, 1996, 2011a, 2014; Oxford,
Lavine, Felkins, Hollaway, & Saleh, 1996; Oxford, Meng, Zhou, Sung, & Jain,
2007; Oxford, Pacheco Acua, Sols Hernndez, & Smith, 2014) revealed many
positive emotions, such as excitement, pleasure, pride, contentment, satisfaction,
joy, and love. According to Frederickson (2001, 2003, 2004), positive emotions
broaden the individuals attention, build toward innovative thoughts and actions,
spark emotional well-being, and contribute to resilience. Dewaele and MacIntyre
(2014) found that enjoyment was associated with higher levels of prociency, while
Oxford (2011a) noted that positive emotions play a signicant role in language
learners hot cognition and autonomy, and Schunk and Ertmer (2000) linked the
emotions of pride and satisfaction to self-regulation.

2.4 Engagement

Engagement is enmeshed with emotions. Positive emotions, such as joy, are linked
to successful engagement, while negative emotions, such as anxiety, often under-
mine motivation and halt further engagement. Engagement is also linked with
agency and flow.
A Tale of Two Learners: Discovering Mentoring 119

2.4.1 Engagement as Active Involvement Reflecting Agency

An agentic, autonomous learner enthusiastically engages in language learning.

Agency is the capacity to act intentionally to affect outcomes (Ryan & Irie, 2014),
to control behavior and shape actively the terms and conditions of learning
(Lantolf & Pavlenko, 2001, p. 145), and to assign relevance and signicance to
things and events in the learning process (Lantolf & Thorne, 2006). Autonomy,
which is based on agency (Benson, 2007), is the capacity to take charge of or
control ones own learning (Benson, 2011; Gao & Zhang, 2011; Murray, 2014;
Murray, Gao, & Lamb, 2011; Oxford, 2015), often through the active use of
learning strategies (Grifths, 2013; Oxford, 2003, 2008).

2.4.2 Flow as the Apex of Engagement

Flow occurs during total engagement with a task and is, in fact, the apex of
engagement. During flow, an individuals body or mind is stretched to the maximum
in an effort to do something worthwhile but difcult (Cskszentmihlyi, 2008). Flow
includes the following: a merging of action and awareness without distraction, a
subjective sense of joy and condence unhampered by self-consciousness, intrinsic
motivation (see earlier), an effortless balance between challenges and competence,
heightened control (security and lack of worry about failure), and an altered per-
ception of time (slowing down or speeding up) (Cskszentmihlyi, 2008, 2013).

2.5 Perseverance

Perseverance, a continued effort to do or achieve something despite difculties, can

be viewed as a stool with four legs: resilience, hope, optimism, and strategy use.

2.5.1 Resilience

Resilience is described as patterns of positive adaptation during or after signicant

adversity or risk (Masten, Cutuli, Herbers, & Reed, 2011) and as an ability to
rebound from adversity (Oxford et al., 2007). In an international, multi-case study
(Oxford et al., 2007), successful language learners demonstrated resilience in par-
ticularly difcult situations. Theories of resilience (Luthar, Cicchetti, & Becker,
2000; Luthar, Sawyer, & Brown, 2006; Masten & Obradovic, 2006; Truebridge,
2014) describe personal protective factors, such as self-esteem, attractiveness,
outgoingness, competence, educational aspirations, problem-solving and learning
skills, and goal-setting and self-regulating behaviors, and social protective factors,
such as compassionate relationships, supportive institutions, and opportunities for
participation and responsibility. All protective factors promote resilience.
120 R.L. Oxford and D. Bolaos-Snchez

2.5.2 Hope

Hope is a goal-oriented, future-referenced desire accompanied by (reasonable)

expectation (Clarke, 2003, p. 164; also see Snyder, Lopez, & Pedrotti, 2011) and is
thus not a wish, fantasy, or false hope. Higher levels of hope are linked to greater
academic success, energy, inspiration, goal-orientation, condence, and self-worth
and less depression (see, e.g., Snyder, 1994, 2000, 2002). Hope involves a cog-
nitive set that includes an agentic persons beliefs in his or her capacity to produce
new, goal-directed pathways, i.e., routes or strategies, even in the face of road-
blocks (Snyder, 2002).

2.5.3 Optimism

Optimists anticipate good outcomes, condently persevere in the face of adversity,

have positive emotions, and use approach-type coping strategies, such as
problem-solving, acceptance, reframing, and humor (Carver, Scheier, Miller, &
Fulford, 2011; Scheier & Carver, 1993). Optimists view defeat temporary, restricted
to a specic case, and not their fault (Oxford, forthcoming). People with an opti-
mistic explanatory style perform better academically, have better physical and
mental health, are more active and persevering, and may live longer (Seligman,

2.5.4 Learning Strategy Use

Learning strategies are activities consciously chosen by learners for the purpose of
regulating their own language learning (Grifths, 2013, p. 36; see also Cohen,
2011; Oxford, 1990, 2011b). Cognitive strategies such as activating knowledge,
reasoning, and conceptualizing, and metacognitive strategies, such as planning,
monitoring, and evaluating, offer learners concrete success experiences that moti-
vate them to persevere in language learning. Affective strategies, such as positive
self-talk, are particularly helpful for emotional support. Sociocultural-interactive
strategies enable learners to interact, overcome knowledge gaps in communicating,
and deal effectively with multiple sociocultural contexts and identities.
In this literature review, we have presented research and theory regarding
mentoring, motivation, emotions, engagement, and perseverance, which are the key
themes of the narratives we will analyze and report on in Sect. 4. The overview of
the literature has shown not only how complex and interconnected multiple aspects
of a learners psychology are but also how fundamentally socially situated these
aspects are. Thus, in order to understand learners and their development, we must
employ research methods that allow the contextualized, socially situated and also
complex nature of learners as individuals to emerge.
A Tale of Two Learners: Discovering Mentoring 121

3 Methodology

3.1 Participants

Two university faculty members, one male and the other female, participated in the
study. Their role was to share the stories of their language learning. One was in her
60s and had taught at the university for over 30 years, and the other was in his 30s
and had taught there for 8 years. They were selected on the basis of having a
passionate interest in English, being highly procient in English (a requirement for
faculty membership), and having learned the language through much personal
effort. One of the researchers had worked in the same university program as the
participants and knew their qualities through academic discussions, meetings, and
seminars. In addition, one of the participants had shared part of his story during a
workshop given by the other researcher. Given the limited opportunities in the
country for learning English at the time the participants were growing up, it was
interesting and important to explore how they had become so procient.

3.2 Setting

Interviews were conducted in a major urban Costa Rican university, where the
participants and one of the researchers were teaching in the Bachelors Program in
English. One of the participants and one of the researchers were also teaching in the
Masters Program in the Teaching of English at that university. In both programs,
instruction took place only in English, and students had mixed prociency levels.

3.3 Data Gathering Procedures

Data were gathered in personal interviews conducted by one researcher. During the
interviews, the participants were asked to tell the story of how they had learned
English as a foreign language in Costa Rica and how one of them had also learned
English as a second language in the U.S. The rst question was, Please describe to
me your English language learning experience from the very rst memory. This
prompt was enough for them to narrate their entire lives as learners, although other
questions were also asked, such as the following: How did the experience of
learning English change you as a person? How did it make you rethink yourself?
Did you look for resources on your own? Did you look for other opportunities to
socialize in English outside the academic context? What difculties did you face
when trying to communicate in English? When did you know that you wanted to
major in English? How difcult were the courses in the English major for you?
122 R.L. Oxford and D. Bolaos-Snchez

What study strategies did you use? When you started to work as a teacher, did
you continue to work on your own English skills for improvement? What do you
think motivated you to learn English? What critical positive moments or peak
experiences do you recall in your language learning process?
While each story was narrated, the interviewer asked some questions for further
details and clarication. Examples were, Why didnt you like that book? How
did you get access to that material? How did you meet that person? Why did
you choose that strategy? During interviews, participants referred to their mentors
without being asked. Upon mentioning and describing a mentor, the participant was
asked what instructional methodology was used and whether the mentors style was
compatible with the participants.

3.4 Data Analysis Procedures

We used a grounded theory analysis (Corbin & Strauss, 2007; Strauss & Corbin,
1998), in which the themes arose from the narrative data rather than being imposed
on the data. The two researchers independently reviewed the transcript of each
interview and compared their perspectives. The rst stage was open coding, during
which many themes were observed and recorded in a preliminary way. Due to
length restrictions, those themes are not reported in this chapter. The second stage
was axial coding, which involved nding relationships across the themes and
creating larger themes. The third stage, selective coding, entailed nding the
overarching theme for the entire set of data. At the various stages, there was
frequently a high rate of intercoder agreement.

4 Results and Discussion

The most general nding, i.e., the overarching theme that emerged from selective
coding, is as follows. In this study, the two learners, Laura and Jaime, were highly
motivated and strongly engaged in learning. They persevered despite hardships and
remained emotionally positive. They took great advantage of being mentored and
actively sought out nurturing yet challenging mentoring relationships. Their men-
tors took on a range of roles, sometimes leading the learners and sometimes fol-
lowing the learners but always being supportive.
The axial coding stage resulted in the following thematic categories: mentoring,
motivation, emotions, engagement, and perseverance. Interrelationships emerged
naturally across these themes. Verbatim quotations from the narratives are shown in
italics below.
A Tale of Two Learners: Discovering Mentoring 123

4.1 Mentoring

Despite Jaime and Lauras intrinsic motivation and the astounding progress they
made while learning on their own, these two learners were able to reach their full
potential only by actively identifying and involving excellent mentors. Mentors
became important points of reference: different stages of the learning process often
were signaled by the appearance of a new person as a positive influence. Laura and
Jaime referred to their mentors personalities, origins, attitudes, likability, and
potential as role models. Lauras mentors were primarily teachers and professors,
but they also included a host family in America. Jaimes main mentor was an
American restauranteur, but he also had other mentors, such as a neighbor and a
university professor. Thus, a mentor may be a professional in the eld of language
learning or a friend or acquaintance who is simply willing to help. The analysis
identied four mentoring roles (4.1.1-4.1.4), some of which occurred simultane-
ously in a given mentor. In addition, the participants experienced a lack of men-
toring at times (4.1.5).

4.1.1 Mentoring Role #1. A More Capable Person Who Cares, Devotes
Time and Dedication, and Provides New Resources,
Opportunities, and Challenges When the Learner Is Ready

This type of mentor helps the learner move across his or her ZPD and propels the
learner from more peripheral to more central participation in the community of
For Laura, the last year of high school in Costa Rica was marked by the entrance
of a new teacher, who became a mentor whose support went beyond the regular
classroom responsibilities. The mentor promoted Lauras development by encour-
aging her to read articles in English that were novel to her. He also provided
scaffolding so that with his assistance she could be ready for the foreign exchange
scholarship she yearned for.
While she was an exchange student in the U.S. during her high school years, she
appreciated a very kind mentor who provided her with weekly questionnaires to
complete at home as a means of gaining practice. These questionnaires became
learning tools and were allowable sources to use during exams, leading to high
marks. Several mentors also opened up literary doors for Laura. A literature teacher
brought her a punctuation book to study and for Christmas gave her a big pile of
books, literary works such as Pearl Bucks The Good Earth. In response Laura
said, I was very impressed by them. I was very fond of her. The teacher also
brought many books to the class for all the students to read for pleasure.
When Laura was back in Costa Rica studying to be an English teacher, her
methods professor offered her a job as the supervisor of members of the English
124 R.L. Oxford and D. Bolaos-Snchez

teaching practicum. Much later, while studying for the literature degree in Costa
Rica, Laura had a wonderful, brilliant professor who loved literature, gave
great explanations that made the reading come alive, and brought special resources
to her and her classmates. He brought us an edition of Shakespeare that had
comments and annotations, and that helped Laura learn the vocabulary. Lauras
imagination was stimulated by this professor, whose explanations made you live
what you were reading. Living and learning were thus intertwined.
Jaimes main mentoring relationship was with a female American
restaurant-owner, who devoted time to help him when he started learning English
through music. Jaime bought tapes with music by his favorite Christian bands that
played in English. He extracted vocabulary, sang, and translated the lyrics. I
started writing letters to the bands, asking about their music and possible trips to
Costa Rica, and they replied. My new American mentor would read and check my
letters, Jaime said.
Later, the mentor became his teacher at school and communicated with him
extensively in English. Because Jaime was so far ahead of the other students in his
English class, his mentor gave him special tasks and evaluations.
She decided to give me different tasks in class that were more challenging and meaningful
for me, such as reading a book and writing a report instead of studying the rules of present
progressive For my nal exam, I wrote a book of poems in English. My teacher was also
a painter, so she was also the arts teacher. She asked me to illustrate my poems in the arts
class I became the teachers assistant and helped her correct tests.

The mentor provided him with social learning opportunities. Given that she was an
actress as well as a restauranteur, she organized an English language acting group
for Jaime and others in a local hotel a safe environment, as he described it. She
also invited him to interact with American students in Costa Rica.
More opportunities kept coming my teachers restaurant became a sort of hostel. She
started to invite American students to come to Costa Rica and asked them to interact with
us, her Costa Rican students. Friendships started to form, and we exchanged phrases in both
languages. Hanging out with my new friends became something I loved to do.

She also encouraged him to sing karaoke with her daughter. Jaime stated, My other
friend was my teachers daughter We would get tracks of old English songs to
sing. Once more, my teacher made of this a positive experience; she asked me to
sing in English in school for a cultural event, which I of course gladly accepted.
Perhaps most striking was the mentors offer for Jaime to stay in her home if
necessary so that he would be able to attend English classes when his family moved
further from town. Luckily, my dear American mentor offered me to stay at her
place from time to time to help me continue studying in high school. At this point,
my mentor started her own language institute, and I was able to attend for free, or
in exchange for helping her grade tests.
A Tale of Two Learners: Discovering Mentoring 125

4.1.2 Mentoring Role #2. A Practice Companion or a Supportive

Source of English Input

Lauras high school teacher was a supportive source of English input since he spoke
perfect English. Later on, her U.S. host family became practice companions and
sources of English for listening and speaking. While on the exchange scholarship,
she suddenly felt that she was starting from scratch, so the mentoring of her host
family through conversations at the dinner table became very important. Laura also
found practice companions and cultural mentors among her age-mates from the U.S.
and other countries.
Over that year, I also learned about culture. I realized that family relationships were
different I also learned about dating, since I had an American boyfriend when I was there.
We would go out with a group of friends and this gave me the opportunity to com-
municate with more people in English. I also had the opportunity to travel to Milwaukee to
meet with other AFS students from around the world and their host families. I enjoyed
chatting with my new friends and we understood each other perfectly.

Later on, back in Costa Rica, Lauras two university study partners were also
mentors for her. As students who shared the desire to improve their language skills,
they built their own small learning community in which they helped each other
practice, clarify questions, and review concepts.
Jaime had plenty of opportunities to practice English with his American friends
in the conversation groups at the local hotel. He received especially valuable input
from his main mentor, who devoted much time to speak with him. Realizing I
could communicate in English with my teacher in and out of class for any purpose
gave me great satisfaction.

4.1.3 Mentoring Role #3. A Nurturing Believer Who Enhances

the Learners Condence, Praises Good Work, and Provides
Appropriate Feedback

Laura was impressed by her high school teachers praise. In my fourth year of high
school I had a new teacher, who had studied in the U.S. He always made
positive remarks regarding my friends and my level of English. Laura also
mentioned that a U.S. teacher told her she was a true scholar, a statement that
raised her condence and helped her gain a new vision of her ideal self. While in
Costa Rica, at the university, she noted positive feedback towards her and the
classmates she studied with, Our professors always showed us appreciation.
Even very early in their relationship, Jaimes mentor provided useful feedback:
I still remember one of the corrections my American mentor made to one of the letters (to a
Christian band); I learned the difference between saying You have a very nice hair, and
what I really wanted to say, You have really nice hair. I would also read the letters out
loud for my mentor to correct my pronunciation.
126 R.L. Oxford and D. Bolaos-Snchez

The mentor demonstrated her belief in Jaime over many years, giving him
well-earned reassurance. She told me I had a good English accent, and she
committed to help me improve it even more. Jaimes mentor and her husband were
gentle when correcting his mistakes. They carefully chose their words to correct
me. Not understanding a new expression was sometimes embarrassing for me.
The positive way in which they gave feedback helped him remember and correct his
mistakes, spurred his desire for accuracy, and boosted his self-condence.

4.1.4 Mentoring Role #4. An Inspiration, a Role Model,

an Old-Timer in the Community of Practice

As a result of their mentors inspiration, role modeling, and personal relationships,

Lauras and Jaimes experiences with their mentors went beyond traditional
teacher-student interactions and became major life experiences. Laura frequently
referred to her mentors as people she grew to love. When referring to her learning
experiences with her literature teacher in the U.S. she said This denitely had an
impact, and one of my degrees is actually in Literature. When she described the
mentors that played a positive role in her life, she said how much she admired their
intelligence, and how knowledgeable and articulate they were. Laura described
her graduate language acquisition professor (in the applied linguistics program) as
an inspiration, as being very knowledgeable and a well-known researcher, and as
teaching amazing classes.
Jaime admired one of his professors in college, who afterwards showed great
belief in him. I remember a very good professor, who invited us to actively
analyze sentence structure, and I admired how knowledgeable she was in English.
I liked her dynamic style and the fun I had in her class. This professor recom-
mended me for my rst job. Jaimes American mentor. engaged him in acting,
poetry, and the visual arts to help him learn English. The extent to which she
inspired him can be seen in all the activities he pursued thanks to her and also in
what he said about her: My mentor had a great influence in my life.

4.1.5 Lack of Positive Mentoring

Laura and Jaime did not always receive good mentoring. For instance, Laura
described negative feelings about teachers who stood in the way of her learning of
[M]y mother enrolled me in English classes with an elderly lady, who taught us with a
book that featured the Grammar Translation method. Her methodology also involved a lot
of repetition and correction of pronunciation and she was very strict. I didnt like the class
that much, and in fact, I got a little bored. My teacher in the rst year of high school did not
have good pronunciation. She mainly spoke Spanish and explained the grammar. My
second year teacher still taught through repetition, according to the Audio-lingual method.
A Tale of Two Learners: Discovering Mentoring 127

Like Laura, Jaime was distressed by an early teacher of English. In this case, his
high school teacher was totally unqualied. When I started high school, I nally
had an English teacher, who did not speak English. The English classes consisted
of playing ball. In one occasion that Jaime had to change schools, an unskilled
English teacher made fun of him.
I still remember my teachers mistakes I tried to clarify with my teacher the incorrect
questions that appeared in the tests, such as the reading comprehension question what
about the text? My teacher did not react positively to this. My classmates asked the teacher
for key terms, and while the teacher could not answer, I did. My teacher would make fun of
my answers.

When seeking opportunities to learn autonomously with the different volumes of an

encyclopedia, Jaime faced difculties due to the lack of appropriate mentoring. I
did not like book number three. It was very difcult and I did not have anyone
around to help me. For example, there was an explanation for the verb get and all
its different uses and meanings, and I could not understand how that word could be
used with such different meanings.
While at the university, the way his professors corrected his English was
sometimes humiliating.
I was not corrected at the university by my professors as I had been corrected by my mentor
before, which I had learned to appreciate as a tool for growing. The special connection I
shared with my mentor had made correction a positive resource for me. When I was
corrected at the university, however, it was sometimes more humiliating than helpful, and I
do not remember the language points I was corrected on as I remember my mentors
interesting corrections.

4.2 Motivation

Jaime mentioned that his passion for music lured him to English when he was
The rst inspiration to explore English as a foreign language was music. I would watch an
American cartoon on television, in which a group of pop singers would sing in English. My
parents tell me that I made up songs with invented words that I said were in English
Music played a big role, and my tapes are still very dear to me

Later on he ignored the derision of his cousins and continued to pursue his passion,
English learning. My cousins made fun of me and told me I did not know English,
and that I would never learn it. I had a different view on what I could accomplish in
life, and I continued with my hobby, which I was passionate about.
Intrinsically motivated and completely invested in learning English, Jaime
seemed to have a variety of peak experiences while practicing English. For
instance, his skill in English was validated during a conversation class at a hotel.
One day, the American teacher in the group was drilling the word curtain,
emphasizing the fact that vowels in that word were either reduced or not
128 R.L. Oxford and D. Bolaos-Snchez

pronounced at all; I was the one student who was able to pronounce it correctly,
and this gave me great satisfaction again.
By the end of high school, Jaime had decided to pursue English as a career.
Upon successfully completing my rst university courses [in the teaching of English],
I conrmed that that was what I really wanted. The more I learned, the more I was able to
recognize my own mistakes. I became more and more demanding of myself It felt good
to be among the top students in the class.

Laura was aware of her career motivations early: My entire life I wanted to be a
teacher. Therefore, it seemed right to apply for the university English teacher
education major in Costa Rica. I also wanted to continue developing the language
skills and knowledge I had acquired, so I applied for the English major at the
university. Since the very beginning I loved it. The solid basis I already had for the
language made my university studies easier for me; this gave me the possibility of
being at the top of the class. Upon completing her university degrees, she com-
pared her actual self with the ideal self and found similarity: It was then that I
realized that I was very prepared and ready to teach at the university level.

4.3 Emotions

Positive emotions arose when Laura interacted with her mentors. She said this about
her high school English teacher: Regarding how I felt in his classes, I can say that
we loved him. I dont remember much about the activities, but I do remember we
liked him. In the U.S., she experienced pride and relief when she understood the
joke told by her host father at the dinner table, and then her happiness soared when
she was described as a true scholar by a U.S. teacher. Pride emerged again after she
spent many months interacting with her host family, teachers, U.S. friends, and
other students, After that wonderful experience, I returned home very proud that I
had learned the language. Later, she felt very satised as she energetically poured
herself into studying for a literature degree in Costa Rica. While I studied the
literature degree it was very rewarding to see my progress in writing. Each day I
felt more condent when writing.
Jaime also experienced positive emotions when gaining access to new resources,
learning autonomously, and succeeding in communication.
By eighth grade, I felt more condent with the language I had been learning by myselfI
felt very happy to have one more book to learnDuring one exam I encountered the word
bakery and could not remember its meaning. This was the rst time I dared to speak in
English to obtain the information I needed. I asked my teacher And I was able to
understand my teachers reply I was very excited to realize I was able to communicate, to
understand and be understood.
A Tale of Two Learners: Discovering Mentoring 129

4.4 Engagement

Laura showed strong engagement in applying for the exchange scholarship and
involved herself fully in the high school exchange. Much later, during her graduate
studies, a literature professor in Costa Rica suggested that she should go to the U.S.
to search for more resources and she willingly invested valuable time on that. I
went to Louisiana for a week, to Loyola and Tulane Universities. I spent every day
of that week in the library. When writing for her literature degree, she was
completely engaged. I read each paragraph I wrote and edited it and rewrote it,
until I was satised with the outcome. Those literature courses were fundamental in
my learning process.
Jaime initiated the development of his mentoring bond with the American
restauranteur/teacher and was fully engaged in that relationship. To get the rela-
tionship going, he told a white lie. I went looking for the American lady. I made up
a story about having to make an oral presentation about [an English] text for
school, and asked her for help with pronunciation. She sat with me and gave me
feedback. Many other times he showed initiative and engagement in learning

4.5 Perseverance

Jaimes story shows that he was a master of perseverance against great odds. He
faced more barriers than Laura, and he developed resilience early. His earliest
problem was this: I did not have the opportunity to study English in school; it was
not offered where I lived, in a rural community in Sarapiqu, in the countryside of
Costa Rica. He persisted in nding ways to overcome this problem by the time he
was nine.
I went to a neighbors house and asked if I could borrow a basic English book. The book
featured vocabulary lists and sentences. I would read, study and memorize the book while
sitting by a river near my house. I didnt get distracted over there I learned the entire
book and returned it to my neighbor; I would borrow it again anytime I had forgotten a part
of it.

He persevered, gaining access to a tremendous resource: an English encyclopedia.

I was so eager to learn the language that I asked my parents for an English encyclopedia
My family did not have many economic resources My father made great efforts to collect
the money and buy me the encyclopedia. It contained four volumes and the four corre-
sponding tapes. I went to school and came back, eager to grab my encyclopedia and rush to
a rock in a creek nearby, and enjoy the pleasure of reading in English. I avidly read and
took the tests at the end of the units and checked for any questions I had after solving the
exercises. As for the tapes, I did not have access to a tape recorder to listen to them. My
cousin had a [Sony] Walkman, so whenever my cousin was around and I had money for
batteries I would borrow the Walkman and listen to the tapes. I would listen and repeat,
imitating the voice in the tape. There was this echo for words in the recordings that you
130 R.L. Oxford and D. Bolaos-Snchez

could hear until the words vanished, which allowed me to hear the word several times and
repeat After one year I had completed all the four books. I decided then to experiment
with words and start mixing them in order to form sentences in a notebook.

Jaime optimistically and hopefully created learning opportunities and designed

personalized learning strategies. I managed to create learning opportunities for
myself as well I also started a diary and chose to write sometimes in English,
sometimes in Spanish, and sometimes in both languages. Over time, his perse-
verance, combined with the assistance of mentors, paid great dividends in the
development of English prociency.
Laura also demonstrated resilience, hope, optimism, and individualized learning
strategies. When she arrived at the U.S. high school while on the exchange fel-
lowship, she felt sad, tired of trying so hard to understand, and wondered, Why
did I come? What am I doing here? She was disappointed but resilient when the
school director in the U.S. decided to demote her to a much lower grade level due to
her level of English. I did not like his decision a lot, but was happy to see that my
grades were among the highest despite my level of English. Later, she showed
optimism and hope while devotedly studying English as a student of English lan-
guage teaching in Costa Rica. She used a number of learning strategies and took
leadership in the study group she formed.
During the rst year courses in the major, I would meet with my friends and direct our
study group. We solved all the exercises from class again. Whatever one of us did not
understand, the other two would explain. In third and fourth year, our professor would give
us long lists of words, and we looked them up, looked for their pronunciation, memorized
them, and then used them in our compositions and oral tasks. I learned a lot by memorizing
[and] by rewriting several times what I could not remember. I used the same technique
when I learned Swahili, Italian and Portuguese later on. I lled notebooks with writing and
writing. I also remember professors sent us to the language laboratory for one hour and I
spent three to practice more.

In graduate literature courses, where she continued to study with friends, she hoped
for the highest performance possible, not settling for a 98. After starting to teach at
the university, Laura optimistically and successfully pursued graduate studies in
applied linguistics in the U.S. As part of the program I took grammar courses that
furthered my knowledge of English. It was a pleasure to be able to study full time
again I gained a lot of fluency.

5 Conclusion

The two learners in our stories were very active, engaged, and agentic in their
English learning process. They did not wait for others to do the work for them.
Inspired by their visions of their future selves and by role models, they wanted to
learn and sought learning opportunities. Although they were able to make great
progress on their own, they also sought and received help from a stunning set of
mentors. The mentors offered supportive guidance that allowed these learners to take
A Tale of Two Learners: Discovering Mentoring 131

more central positions in their communities of practice, leading nally to their highly
successful university teaching careers. Jaime and Laura continued on their journeys
toward English prociency even when others around them might have seen only
difculty or impossibility. Their stories echo the dynamic complexity that is at the
heart of language learning. In one sense our tale of two learners ends here, but in
actuality Laura and Jaime will keep their English-learning stories going for the rest
of their lives. For these two remarkable learners, the best might be yet to come.


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Language-Teacher Professional Identity:
Focus on Discontinuities
from the Perspective of Teacher Afliation,
Attachment and Autonomy

Dorota Werbiska

Abstract This chapter describes the investigation of language teachers

professional-identity trajectories through an analysis of discontinuities (interrup-
tions), as inspired by Herbart and Dewey, such as encounters with difference,
unfamiliarity or disagreement. The paper discusses a four-year qualitative study that
investigates the experiences of four pre-service teachers from Poland throughout
their training course and the year following the course. Drawing on the proposed
Three-A Teacher Identity Framework (3ATIF) comprising teachers willingness to
teach English (Afliation), their beliefs related to their teaching (Attachment), and
agentive-reflective powers (Autonomy), the study traces the participants identity
formation from their experiences as students to the time after the completion of their
training. It focuses on what happened to various participants: the one who wanted to
become a teacher and managed to do so, the one who did not want to but took up
the job anyway, the one who wanted to become a teacher but dropped out and the
one who never really wanted to be a teacher and did not become one. The procedure
of working with the material is an analysis of narratives followed by a narrative
analysis (Polkinghorne, 1995). The study reveals how complex the formation of
teacher identity can be, questions the existence of clear dichotomies in professional
trajectories and argues for the investigation of discontinuities that may initiate a
new direction in language learning psychology.

Keywords Professional identity 

Pre-service teachers  First-year teachers 

Afliation-attachment-autonomy Discontinuities

D. Werbiska (&)
Pomeranian University in Supsk, Supsk, Poland

Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016 135

C. Gkonou et al. (eds.), New Directions in Language Learning Psychology,
Second Language Learning and Teaching, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-23491-5_9
136 D. Werbiska

1 Introduction

The body of knowledge on teacher professional identity covers studies that can be
divided thematically into three general strands: teacher identity as a whole (e.g.,
Akkerman & Meijer, 2011; Cheung, 2015), teacher identity shaping (e.g., Abednia,
2012; Clarke, 2008) and teacher identity reshaping (e.g., Farrell, 2011; Wong,
2013). This chapter attempts to contribute to the second themethe formation of
language-teacher professional identityfrom a discontinuity (interruption) per-
spective and make contextually specic Polish data available to the international
audience. The word discontinuity is understood here according to English (2013)
and refers to Herbarts1 and Deweys2 philosophical inspirations, rather than
mathematical implications of discontinuity as elaborated by Rastelli (2014). Since it
is impossible to describe every work on teacher identity in the space available,
I have chosen to focus on three key concepts that inform the framework of my
study: afliation, attachment and autonomy through the discontinuities encountered
by a language teacher. For this purpose, I briefly discuss a Three-A Teacher Identity
Framework (3ATIF) and then describe a longitudinal four-year study, exploring
four pre-service language teachers construction of discontinuity-focused profes-
sional identity with reference to the suggested model. In the concluding part, I draw
on the study as a whole to address possible research directions for language learning
psychology from the insights obtained.

2 Theoretical Underpinnings

2.1 Teacher Identity

In teacher-education literature, there are three main conceptions concerning iden-

tity: psychological, sociocultural, and poststructuralist. Psychological accounts
include the classic theories of Erickson and Mead (1934), whose contributions are
understanding identity as stable, immutable, located within individuals and
logically prior to the social process in which they are involved (p. 222).
Sociocultural explanations are associated with Wenger (1998), according to whom
identity is negotiated and developed through community practices. Current litera-
ture on teacher identity in second language acquisition (SLA) draws on

J. F. Herbart (17761841) was a German professor of philosophy at Knigsberg University
whose aim was to investigate educational dilemmas. He referred to I. Kant, G.W. Leibnitz, W. von
Humboldt in the eld of philosophy but his key inspiration in education was J. H. Pestalozzi. He
was one of the foundational thinkers in modern pedagogy (Murzyn, 2004).
J. Dewey (18591952) was a leading American proponent of pragmatism and one of the founders
of functional psychology. His most cited work translated into many languages is Democracy and
Education (1916).
Language-Teacher Professional Identity 137

poststructuralist understandings (Norton, 2013), in which identity consists of a

number of sub-identities (subjectivities) that a teacher can assume at different times.
For example, discussing teacher role identity clusters, Farrell (2011) presents a total
of sixteen sub-identities, such as vendor, entertainer, communication controller,
socialiser, social worker, collaborator, to mention the most frequent ones.
Although a variety of elements creating a persons identity result in a situation in
which identity may mean different things for different people at different times, in
this chapter, I use the term identity to refer to how teachers understand their being a
language teacher, whether that shifts across time and space, and how they under-
stand their possibilities for the future. This indicates that teacher identity refers not
only to who teachers believe they are but also what they believe they might become.

2.2 The Three-a Teacher Identity Framework

The framework of teacher identity that serves as the present studys reference point
is a 3ATIF model in which the three As stand respectively for afliation, attachment
and autonomy (Werbiska, forthcoming). The choice of the components has been
informed by other identity frameworks (Benson, Barkhuizen, Bodycott, & Brown,
2013; Clarke, 2009; Gee, 2000; Pennington, 2015; Trent, 2015; Varghese, Morgan,
Johnston, & Johnson, 2005; Wenger, 1998). I have considered the elements con-
stituting identity framework tools suggested by these scholars and attempted to nd
relations among different terms so as to build one comprehensive framework that
would accommodate the range of issues discussed and provide a useful foundation
for investigating professional-teacher identity at the same time. This has resulted in
the creation of the 3ATIF, which, to my mind, offers a combination of useful
conceptual lenses through which to view teacher professional identity. This is
because the constituents of the framework, however wide and general, are what a
professional language teacher seems to represent. In the 3ATIF, afliation signies
the individuals willingness to become a language teacher and desire for recognition
as a legitimate member of the teaching community. Attachment implies a teachers
ideological stances and has to do with beliefs signalling his or her relationships with
language teaching. Autonomy signies a teachers capacity to act while being
guided by a sense of self-dependence and responsibility for educational choices
formed by ongoing reflection. The constituent parts of the 3ATIF provide a locus
for studying teacher identity in terms of categorisation (afliation), stance taking
(attachment) and agentive powers (autonomy). Similarly, as parts of the same
model, the question Who am I as a language teacher? (afliation) is not separated
from the questions of How do I teach? (attachment) and What am I allowed to do?
(autonomy). All of these are major questions when it comes to discussing profes-
sional identity.
138 D. Werbiska

2.3 Discontinuities

Afliation, attachment and autonomy, the three elements making up the 3ATIF,
may produce teacher experiences that are hardly continuous transitions from
ignorance to becoming a fully-fledged teacher. This implies that a teacher desiring
to be categorised as a certain kind of teacher, or advocating a certain teaching
approach, or ready to voice his or her opinions may be subjected to negative
experiences. Due to a number of contextual factors related to being a pupil, initial
teacher training or teaching practice, teachers may be afflicted with doubts, per-
plexities, frustrations, difculties, or discontinuities, to use Englishs (2013) term.
These usually stem from peoples encounters with difference and unfamiliarity
which make their experiences problematic and undesirable. Their negativity may
result in overlooking their educative value, under-investigation or even elimination
from educational discourse. Yet, it is my contention, inspired by English (ibid)
through her readings of Herbart and Dewey, that these interruptions in a language
teachers afliation, attachment or autonomy can be viewed in the long run as
productive phenomena, springboards for further decisions and foundations for the
transformation of teacher sub-identities. Reaching the limit of his or her knowledge,
beliefs or expectations, a teacher experiencing a discontinuity goes through an
internal struggle which can make him or her stronger, more reflective and mature.
Therefore, despite the pejorative connotation of the word negative in colloquial
English, negativity in experience can be used to describe the halting phenomena
taking place within the three concepts of the 3ATIF that may end up with a positive

3 The Study

3.1 Research Questions

The general research question guiding this study was: What are the participants
professional identities as shaped by their discontinuing experiences in terms of their
afliation, attachment and autonomy at four key stages in their development
before joining their studies,
during their college tuition,
during their school placement and
during their rst year of school work?
Language-Teacher Professional Identity 139

Table 1 Demographic proles of study participants

Participant Age Teaching commitment at the beginning of Teaching
(pseudonym) the study commitment after
Vera 2226 Willing to become a language teacher Committed
language teacher
Pete 2428 Willing to become a language teacher Language teacher
who dropped out
Iza 2125 Unwilling to become a teacher, joined the Language teacher
studies to improve English without much
Jacob 4549 Unwilling to become a teacher, a retired Never became a
policeman who joined the studies to teacher
improve English

3.2 Participants

This chapter describes the results of the sample drawn from a larger project on
language teachers (N = 95). Four participants were selected here due to their
contrasting motivations and professional-path trajectories, as well as their will-
ingness to participate in the study after their graduation. In a way, they are pro-
totypical of the four trajectories of all the participating teachers because they
wanted to become language teachers at the beginning of the study and this was
fullled (Vera) or was not (Pete), or they joined language-teaching studies because
of their desire to improve their English, but became teachers (Iza) or never became
teachers (Jacob). Table 1 shows the demographic proles of the four participants.

3.3 Instruments and Data Collection

The data of the present study include the four participants experiences during the
period of their education in becoming a teacher and the rst year of full-time
teaching. With the participants consent to take part in the study, the insight into
those experiences was obtained from language autobiographies written at the very
beginning of their studies (stage one), in-depth interviews conducted in the
mid-studies period (stage two), school-placement diaries followed by in-depth
interviews (stage three), and lesson observations and in-depth interviews held at the
end of the rst year (stage four).3
The autobiographies covered the participants language learning histories until
the beginning of their studies, the diaries provided accounts of their monthly school
eld placements entered on almost a daily basis, whereas in all the interviews

More details about the whole research design in Werbiska (forthcoming).
140 D. Werbiska

I constantly interpreted the obtained responses, requesting for clarications, repe-

titions or conrmations. In fact, prior to all interviews, I had prepared only a few
opening questions, such as: How do you nd language teaching studies in terms of
language learning and content? (stage two), What did the school placement mean
to you?, Was it more a story of success or failure for you? (stage three), What is the
rst year of teaching like? (stage four). In stages three and four, the interview
questions were also related to the participants entries in the diaries that attracted
my attention or lesson behaviours observed by me that I considered as critical
incidents. In practice, however, examples of the most frequent questions asked by
me were How do you understand this?, What does it mean for you?, How did you
experience this? Such a way of approaching interviews was purposeful because the
participants were able to express their personal perspectives on an investigated issue
or verbalise their experiences without guiding prompts on my part. The interviews
lasted over an hour and were held in English.

3.4 Data Analysis

Since the aim of this study is to understand the differences among teacher expe-
riences influencing the formation of their professional identities, my interest is less
in events taking place in the participants lives and more in how they experience
these events. This is because tensionsdiscontinuitiesmediate the path of a
persons development and contribute to the development of professional-teacher
identity. The data are rst analysed in terms of analysis of narratives (Barkhuizen,
Benson, & Chik, 2014; Polkinghorne, 1995) with the employment of the 3ATIF
categories: afliation, attachment and autonomy. This is followed by narrative
analysis (ibid), which presents the ndings and provides explanations for the
stories produced.
My analysis of narratives started with intensive and multiple reading and
listening to all the data, transcribing them, rereading, making marginal comments
and a provisional evaluation of the events. Then, I looked for the participants
negative experiences, extracted their meanings and identied the discontinuities.
Minding the words that the teachers used and the chronology of experiences, I
assigned the obtained discontinuities to the 3ATIF categories: afliation, attachment
or autonomy. My next step was to look for categories (themes) across all the
participants different experiences which could stand for 3ATIF operative catego-
ries and include the identied discontinuities. Such a procedure resulted in a linear
succession of the stages depicting the participants identity formations (Tables 2, 3,
4 and 5). It should be noted that some of the discontinuities and themes were
already visible in the data, whereas some others emerged from my interpretation
made on the basis of their reoccurrence. Finally, trying to understand the data in
their full context, I attempted to give them coherence in the shape of reconstructing
the four teachers identity stories. This narrative analysis was indispensable to
gain a deeper understanding of the differences between the professional identities of
Language-Teacher Professional Identity 141

Table 2 Discontinuities in the flexible identity stage

Identity Theme Vera Pete Iza Jacob
Afliation Language Unwillingness Unwillingness
studies to teach to teach
Attachment Beliefs on Difculty in Displeasure Disapproval of Regret that a
subsystems learning with making too much time native
theory by fool of himself spent on pronunciation
heart, dislike due to grammar presentation, is an
of teacher errors. and too little on unfullled
improvisation rule learning dream
Dislike of Regret that a and
learning native consolidation
masses of pronunciation is Disapproval of
words by an unfullled teachers lack
heart without dream of presenting
teachers vocabulary
checking learning
Hatred of strategies
deciphering Dislike of
phonetic reading aloud
symbols by
Beliefs on Disappointment
skills that listening
was not taught
at his school
Autonomy Decisions Frustration at Discomfort at
being the only studying
person in English with
school who much younger
took extended classmates
A-levels exam

the four teachers, especially in relation to how the stages affected their afliations,
attachments and autonomies. In the next sections, the two kinds of analyses are
presented and discussed.

4 Results and Discussion (Analysis of Narratives)

4.1 Stage 1: Flexible Professional Identity

In terms of professional identity formation, the stage of applying for language

teacher studies can be called a flexible stage of identity formation. I call it as such
because some applicants want to become teachers (as Vera and Paul), whereas
142 D. Werbiska

Table 3 Discontinuities in the formal identity stage

Identity Theme Vera Pete Iza Jacob
Attachment Beliefs on Regret at Dislike of Regret at having Difculty
skills and having no listening to no with
subsystems pronunciation English pronunciation listening in
classes at heavily classes at class
previous affected by L1 previous schools Regret at not
schools Disappointment having
at no teachers natural
word checking competence
of native
Beliefs on Dislike of Dislike of Dislike of
teaching methods with methods with methods with
methods little little speaking, little speaking or
contribution or lack of no explicit
by teacher teacher grammar rules
Autonomy Reflection Displeasure
skills with too
little student

others still do not know what to do in the future (Iza), regarding the
language-teaching program as an investment in themselves (Jacob).

4.1.1 Afliation

The data collected in stage one demonstrate that, in contrast to students who already
have a well-developed sense of teaching mission, there are those who decide to
study language teaching without regarding themselves candidates for the teaching
profession at all. Considering the fact that most courses are taught with future
teachers in mind, this unwillingness to teach can produce disagreement (disconti-
nuity) with the primary purpose of the studies.

4.1.2 Attachment

In terms of attachments, there is a lot of criticism related to the participants

language teaching when they were pupils. Pete writes in his autobiography:
In my secondary school, there were only few times when listening was practised. I can
imagine that this sounds strange but I wasnt taught listening at all. Thats why I thought
this skill was unimportant. There wasnt much speaking, either.
Table 4 Discontinuities in the fragmentary identity stage
Identity Theme Vera Pete Iza Jacob
Afliation Perception Disappointment with
of students pupils low level of English
Teacher Hatred of paperwork Dislike of
roles paperwork
Perception Dislike and frustration at mentors Disappointment with mentors double
of mentor incompetence standards (required from Jacob what he
didnt do himself)
Willingness Doubts
to teach
Teachers Hopelessness from the fall of teaching Astonishment that he never received answers
Language-Teacher Professional Identity

community standards, nepotism, and teacher to his teacher cooperation questions

Recognition Disagreement at not being recognised Sadness at not being recognised as teacher
by others as teacher by mentor by mentor, and sometimes by learners
Attachment Beliefs on Displeasure at learners
language problems with basic
grammar tenses
Beliefs on Anger at pupils Astonishment that he never receives answers
teacher indiscipline, punishing to his discipline questions
strategies them with tests
Beliefs on Dislike at pupils reluctance Unease that time-consuming lesson
teaching to do grammar exercises preparation affects the success of the lesson
activities so much
Use of L2 Displeasure with restricted Surprise at Fear of language errors
use of L2 restricted use
of L2
Autonomy Ownership Anger at not being allowed to
of lesson experiment with activities
144 D. Werbiska

Table 5 Discontinuities in the fragile identity stage

Identity Theme Vera Pete Iza
Afliation Teaching Hatred of Disillusionment
community teachers envy with teachers
and passivity job
Teacher roles Boredom with Dislike of
routines. paperwork
Hatred of
paperwork and
Recognition Disagreement at
by others not being
recognised as
teacher by older
Attachment Beliefs on Anger at pupils
discipline indiscipline,
punishing them
with tests
Beliefs on Rejection of Rejection of
skills and other forms of practicing
assessment assessment than reading or
written tests writing with
primary kids
Teachers Irritation at not
language improving L2
development skills
Autonomy Responsibility Unwillingness
to invest in
Fostering Unwillingness to
autonomy foster autonomy
Agency Dislike of Dislike of school
school initiatives
Individual Overdependence
strategies on her colleague
Reflection Astonishment at Consideration Lack of topic
skills school of another job expansion

Therefore, it can be expected that students perceive studies as a watershed in

their language learning journey. In contrast to their previous learning experiences,
they anticipate plenty of communication, especially through speaking tasks con-
ducted by native-speaking teachers, the interactions with whom, they believe, will
Language-Teacher Professional Identity 145

make their own speech sound native-like. It can be surmised that deep down there
are their hidden desires of freedom, usefulness and personal attractiveness that
learning a language through communication would imply.

4.1.3 Autonomy

The teachers autonomy in stage one can be discerned in their language-related

decisions concerning studying English at an advanced level. For two of them,
joining the studies is an independent decision about becoming a teacher, whereas
for the others it means a challenge full of discomfort, frustration or uncertainty. Iza,
for example, happens to be the only student in her school who takes an exam paving
her way to English studies. Jacobs decision to study with students half his age
involves more identity negotiations (Benson & Cooker, 2013). Considering the fact
that his linguistic skills are poorer than those of his group mates, his determination
to study languages is strong. Jacobs autonomy is formed through difference and the
extension of the self in time (ibid) manifested in his resolution to give up a peaceful
life as a retired, middle-aged policeman and begin language teaching studies as a
day student. For him, the dream of learning a language, rather than being a teacher,
is now coming true.
Overall, in the flexible stage of identity, students usually have flexible minds that
need formation. Their imaginations are full of ideals related to communication,
language use and native-speakerism (Houghton & Rivers, 2013). In terms of their
teacher identities, they perceive themselves as takers or imitators of native users of
language whom they categorise as infallible language judges. High language pro-
ciency seems to be the participants main expectation, both in relation to those
who teach them and to their own linguistic progress.

4.2 Stage 2: Formal Professional Identity

The second stage of professional-identity development concerns encounters with

new knowledge. I call it formal because students experiences result from the
codied and transferred knowledge gained formally during theoretical courses,
planned in advance and mostly prescriptive, which would not be the case with
knowledge acquired informally.

4.2.1 Afliation

Afliation in stage two is mostly realised through the interest in language. It seems
that those who want to become teachers are strengthened in their choices, whereas
those who were not in favour of the profession in the previous stage show a slight
pro-teaching modication in their thinking, at least at a rhetorical level.
146 D. Werbiska

4.2.2 Attachment

Although learning to teach rather than acquiring knowledge should be primarily

involved in a process of teacher identity formation (Clarke, 2008; Kanno & Stuart,
2011), the courses in knowledge acquisition can lead to positive changes in teacher
Probably the greatest change takes place with regard to the learning of and about
English oral skills. A course that seems to have an immediate effect on the nature of
the participants beliefs regarding effective language teaching is in pronunciation.
School students are seldom provided with information about segmental or supra-
segmental elements of English pronunciation. This frequently results in their
inability to read phonetic transcription, sometimes fossilised pronunciation errors or
poorer oral skills in terms of listening comprehension. Students may not be aware
of their inadequacies, but after exposure to pronunciation models they seem to take
a liking to learning about the production of speech sounds, well-illustrated by
Veras words articulated during the interview:
I dont know why but Ive always wanted to speak English very wellIm fascinated when
I hear native speakers or some of our teachersin such situations this language simply
flows. Im not saying that grammar or writing are less important. We cant be good
speakers without them. But all I want to say is speaking is something that shows other
people how sophisticated speakers in a foreign language we are. And if youre a good
foreign language speaker, youll see prots very fast. If only Id known earlier how much
your good pronunciation changes your speaking

Veras regret can be an example of a discontinuity on a positive note. As for

negative discontinuities, the restricted teachers contribution in some ELT methods
that the students learn about, such as his or her withdrawal from deductive pre-
sentations of grammar or absence of explicit student correction as it is in com-
municative language teaching or task-based learning seem rather disapproved of.

4.2.3 Autonomy

Learning about autonomy can make a person think about how much autonomy is
exercised in his or her milieu. Older than the other participants, Jacob looks at the
issue more reflectively than the remaining participants. From the distance of his
long and various apprenticeship of observation (Lortie, 1975), he ruminates in the
interview over the little learner autonomy practised in Polish schools.
It can be said that in stage two, market-governed instrumental motivations seem
to penetrate these teachers mindsets in nding their learning of oral skills the most
attractive. The newly gained knowledge is accommodated in their narratives when
they refer to interesting pronunciation techniques or learner autonomy. At the same
time, they may still pursue their own preferences of learning, such as teachers
explicit presentations of rules or error correction.
Language-Teacher Professional Identity 147

4.3 Stage 3: Fragmentary Professional Identity

The school-placement stage of identity formation is called fragmentary. I opt for

this adjective because, however educative it can be, the placement at school for a
temporary period provides only a fragment of school reality or access to restricted
situations if compared to the ones in which a regular teacher nds himself or herself
during everyday school activities. The experiences influencing the development of
teachers are partial, and there might be many school events which a practising
teacher never encounters during school placement. Moreover, teacher students
awareness of a relatively brief time at schools may not contribute to the sufcient
engagement and development of long-term professional identity but focus more on
developing trainees temporary functional competence (Walkington, 2005).

4.3.1 Afliation

Strangely enough, none of the participants in stage three of the study has com-
plained about disillusionment with the job due to learners. In fact, the only negative
opinion concerning the learners is expressed by Pete, who draws attention to a wide
diversity in the level of their English.
However, a scar is put on the trainees afliation with the job when it comes to
the teacher community characterised, as they report, by falling standards and poor
linguistic or methodological competence, probably resulting from cursory requal-
ication or unwillingness to perform the mentoring job. In fact, only Iza recalls
nice people, but then her learning to teach is conned to the mimetic tradition.
Such experiences can undermine the willingness to join forces within the teaching
profession, which actually happens to Jacob, who conrms that he does not want to
become a teacher. Disappointment with the mentor and not being recognised as a
teacher by him produce more doubts in Jacob and nally make him return to stage
one when he is against becoming a teacher. Disappointment with her mentor does
not have any adverse effect on Veras future plans, though. She would rather blame
the system and incompetent mentors for her disequilibrium causing frustrations and
a sense of powerlessness, but the contact with language learners and the ability to
see how much she can teach them remain unscathed.

4.3.2 Attachment

Probably the only variable for which the participants themselves can be responsible
is how much English is used in their lessons. Vera says that her use of the L2 with
students unaccustomed to hearing it from their regular teacher is a major difference
she is able to make. Irrespective of his own linguistic problems, Jacob feels strongly
about the value of using the L2 in the classroom. Pete also tries to speak English
during lessons but the poor competence of his students and, as he reveals in the
148 D. Werbiska

interview, little patience on his own part make him resort to speaking Polish more
than he intended. Iza does not use too much English with her elementary pupils
because, agreeing with her mentors words, they are simply too young and wont
As to other negative experiences concerning attachment, a problem of discipline
crops up. Jacob never receives answers on discipline issues bothering him, whereas
Pete, frustrated with learners grammar problems, admits in his diary that he resorts
to grammar tests as effective punishments for students talking. Clearly, the
development of identity through the lens of attachment in stage three is mostly
conned for these four teachers to discipline issues and how much or rather how
little L2 is used.

4.3.3 Autonomy

Autonomy is present in the periods of school placements on both a declarative and

practical level, although the latter is often abandoned. On the declarative plane,
three of the trainees express their self-efcacy and the desire of the ownership of
the lesson. This is reflected well in the words of Pete, eager to pursue his own
teaching strategies without the mentors interference: I like to have my own les-
sons. She once came to my lesson, didnt have any comments and gave up on this
mentoring. What can she teach me? Paradoxically, little contact with his mentor is
perceived by Pete as a recognition of his expertise. On the practical level, only
Jacob is allowed to implement autonomy by giving students a choice in what they
can do, whereas Iza, again inspired by her mentor, dismisses it altogether as a
teaching strategy for children.
Nevertheless, the school placement can be called an eye-opening stage in the
formation of teacher identity. In contrast to what can be commonly held as the time
of learning and experimentation with teaching techniques in an effort to nd a
teachers own style, this turns out primarily to be a period of mentor-dependent
development full of discontinuities for trainees. Convinced of their own
self-efcacy and rmly motivated to realise their versions of language teaching, the
strong individuals (Vera) are able to manage despite the tensions, perceptions of
school ills and their own discomforts. By their own admission, less-motivated
trainees, such as Jacob and Iza, however, will give up their further teaching plans
altogether upon failing to pass the test of recognition, or become replications of
their overpowering already functioning as full-time teacher mentors. Ironically, the
absence of a mentor in the practical sphere enabled a motivated and linguistically
procient student, such as Pete, to pursue the teaching profession further.
Language-Teacher Professional Identity 149

4.4 Stage 4: Fragile Professional Identity

The last stage of this teacher-identity project falls upon the construction of the
fragile professional identity of rst-year teachers. I call it this because it is built on
the fragmentary experiences accumulated so far and, thereby, fledgling. However, it
is related to everyday language-teacher practice and accommodates all the aspects
of school life that stage three fails to provide. Since Jacob makes the decision
against working at school, stage three is conned here to investigating the fragile
identities of the only three remaining participants.

4.4.1 Afliation

The afliation dimension of teacher identity during the rst year of teaching is
largely determined by recognition, both by teachers themselves and by other school
stakeholders. Among the discontinuities experienced by some of the participants,
now is growing boredom and repetitiveness, and, again, disappointment with their
colleagues, leading to gradual disillusionment with the job. Vera complains about
the generation gap when she recalls an incident in which her suggestion is rebutted:
When during a teachers meeting, I expressed my opinion one senior teacher
said aloud: I wont be listening to an apprentice.

4.4.2 Attachment

Most teacher stances from stage three seem to be continued. The most visible
discontinuities can be spotted in Pete, who nds himself frustrated with the low
level of English presented by his pupils, as he says: This is the third lesson about
the same structure and they treat it as if it was the rst. I want to teach a lot but they
slow down. Tests are still his remedy to disciplinary problems, providing him with
reassurance of proper job performance and student progress. The thought of
wasting time at school and failing to develop linguistically seems to recur in his

4.4.3 Autonomy

Out of all the attributes of autonomy identied as themes in Table 5 (see

Appendix), only Vera seems to possess almost all of them. Her tension-producing
discontinuity is the awareness of school complexity with incompetent teachers and
the impossibility of improving this status quo. Similar reflections are produced by
Pete, giving vent to his contempt for the low linguistic level demonstrated by
language teachers in his school. Daunted by unmotivated students and his own
accountability for their imminent external exams, he accepts afternoon employment
150 D. Werbiska

in a translators ofce and dreams about joining another MA programme. In one of

his interviews, he confesses that new challenges give him adrenaline, provided that
he can feel their positive effects on himself. In contrast to Pete and Vera, who have
intentionally chosen the teachers profession, Iza still treats her previous mentor as
an authority on all teaching matters. Asked about autonomy, she hardly expands the
topic, reiterating that her learners are too small to be responsible for their learning.
In summary, stage four offers the context of teacher learning, socialisation and
professional development in terms of classroom practice and school culture, as well
as their impacts on professional identity (Flores & Day, 2006). The fragile identity
stage can be considered a real test on teachers. Statistics show a high level of
attrition among beginning teachers and that most drop out of teaching after the rst
year (Hong, 2010), possibly unready to shoulder so many discontinuing chal-
lenges of their professional lives alone. In fact, the participants of the study are not
exceptional in this respectPete leaves the job after the rst year, Vera changes
schools after the rst year, and only Iza continues working in the same school
where she had her internship.

5 Results and Discussion (Narrative Analysis)

So far I have illustrated the four stages of the flexible, formal, fragmentary and
fragile nature of identity construction of four Polish prospective EFL teachers
during their studies and the rst year of working at school. Now I will try to create
some coherence in the participants data by presenting the four stories in com-
parison with one another. This part is interpretation through narrative analysis since,
following Benson (2013b), my interpretive work has been realised via narrative

5.1 Veras Story

Vera provides a good example of a teacher who sets a career goal in the teaching
profession and strives to achieve this goal. Looking at the data, it transpires that
Veras desire for recognition as a teacher seems so strongly ingrained that her
professional identity is formed before she obtains formal teaching credentials. Her
passing into the profession does not interrupt her sense of afliation, attachment or
autonomy, and the subsequent stages offer an opportunity for her to deepen her
teacher identity. Throughout her studies, Vera develops her professional identity
without major frictions on the level of content teaching, management strategies,
planning, acting upon feedback and care for student learning. However, there are
discontinuities related to the others working as teachers in her environment who do
not seem to reach her imagined standards. She feels an insider apparently too soon
and this is why she fails to establish good relations rst with her mentor and then
Language-Teacher Professional Identity 151

with her colleagues. This may be due to the fact that novice teachers are allowed
only peripheral legitimate participation (Lave & Wenger, 1991) and Vera trans-
gresses into the territory operated by senior teachers. Interestingly, despite tensions
and bad relations at work, she never questions her powerful sense of self-efcacy.
Being recognised as a good English teacher by her pupils seems sufcient to
strengthen her professional commitment. She strives to become faithful to her
previous ideals, yet her low position among her colleagues in the public school or
lack of support in extracurricular activities make her feel powerless and culminate
in her decision to leave the state school and establish her own language school in
which she is allowed to experiment in line with what teaching English means to her.
Although she considers her way of teaching important to the linguistic development
of her state-school pupils, the thought of being ignored in matters in which she
knows and feels she is right, coupled with the fear of resembling her colleagues
from the state school in the future, seem unacceptable to her. Therefore, her neg-
ative future self-perception may have an effect on her present decisions. Veras
identity development does not result so much from external institutional structures
as her own agency. Discontinuities in the form of tensions and disappointment with
school as a system make her create her own psychological space (Benson, 2013a,
p. 87) where she can retain her own conceptions of teaching English. Hence, her
failure to function in a state school becomes a success if her private school is taken
into account.

5.2 Petes Story

Petes initial willingness to become a language teacher does not seem to pass the
test in school realities. During the school placement and rst-year teaching, he is
provided with a lot of freedom in his approach to teaching English. His mentor
practically withdraws from guiding him, trusting Petes teaching skills and
admiring his condence in oral skills. Despite repetitive assurances about how
much he likes teaching, Pete quickly becomes afflicted by the conflict between his
initial subject-teacher professional identity and the emerging identity of a disci-
plinarian, a frustrated or bored teacher whose real linguistic ambitions lie else-
where. His overemphasis on advanced vocabulary is a way of protecting his
previous ideals of teaching English and simultaneously developing professionally.
Yet, in this case he develops his own vocabulary stock rather than his pupils, for
whom the frequently assigned English phrasal verbs are too difcult to remember.
Like Vera, Pete also complains that his school experiences have little connection to
his previous imagined communities. He nds it difcult to reconcile the lack of
motivated pupils in a rural school with his dreams of professional linguistic
development, so when an opportunity appears, he drops out, butunlike Verato
another profession that seems to offer him more satisfaction and professional
fullment. Kyriacou and Coulthard (2000) claim that those who choose the
teaching career do it for three reasons: altruistic in the effort to improve society,
152 D. Werbiska

intrinsic to use their knowledge and expertise and derive satisfaction from it, or
extrinsic to enjoy a secure job, status, pay or long holidays. Although altruistic
reasons are the most common incentives among pre-service teachers, when they
give way to realistic views caused by problems involving tense relations or lack of
sufcient autonomy, teaching may become a nuisance. Then it is brought down to
mere information transmission in which the students learning needs become
overlooked. This may have happened to Pete, who after a year, due to disconti-
nuities emerging as boredom and oppressing bureaucracy, nds teaching a
less-than-attractive career option. It could be induced, however, that his exit deci-
sion is not an immediate choice resulting from a single event. His previous words
stating how much he likes teaching seem false and echo his uncertainties, as if he
wanted to convince himself that teaching is his desired profession. Hence, in both
Veras and Petes cases, changes in career decisions are dictated by their own
senses of teacher identity, which are all the time constructed, challenged and
modied by past experiences, current circumstances and future self-perceptions.

5.3 Izas Story

Iza chooses language-teaching studies as an investment in language learning rather

than as an effort to pursue a teaching profession. Her initial professional identity in
terms of the 3ATIF, and especially the afliation and autonomy components, is
clearly underdeveloped. Therefore, when overpowered by a mentor eager to transfer
to Iza her own teaching ideas, she accepts it. Lacking features related to personal
agency, such as determination, condence, self-regulation or planning, as illustrated
by the data, she somewhat becomes a victim of the context in which she nds
herself when forced to perform a professional role with which she herself is not
fully engaged. It seems that her stage three mentor, now her colleague, still treats
Iza as a practitioner, disciplining her towards meeting the mentors standards and
denying her the opportunity to exercise responsibility, empowerment or victorious
status. The mentor is hardly aware that her protg is no longer a pre-service
teacher, and different support would be valuable. Perhaps this passivity suits Iza,
who accepts this position. Adopting the norms of a veteran teacher who no longer
suffers from the same experiential effects, Iza may be protecting herself from the
discomforts of her new environment. In fact, Izas case is an example of what can
become of a teacher when afliation and autonomy are absent and where attach-
ment depends on other peoples ideological stances. In Izas professional-identity
formation, only continuities abound, with their warmth, stability and comfort,
tenacious adherence to authority and ignorance of differences. Without moving
beyond the established status quo, Izas trajectory of identity formation seems too
one-sided and somewhat too simple to bring about a fully-fledged teacher. That
said, it should be noted that with no obvious discontinuities in the foreground, there
might be hidden tensions with unpredictable consequences for Izas teaching career,
as being positioned as dispowered is not the same thing as having no agency
Language-Teacher Professional Identity 153

(Miller, 2014, p. 9). It is possible that Izas reliance on traditional teaching methods
is only a temporary coping strategy employed in the beginning years which will not
become the lasting characteristic of her pedagogical alignment. Otherwise, she will
become a one-faceted language teacher relying on xed habits and emphasising
what is known and well anchored in her school reality, without prospects for

5.4 Jacobs Story

For Jacob, a second-career teacher, the development of his professional identity

yields several points of agreement with the other participants as well as diver-
gences. Like Iza, he is not convinced that he wants to work as a teacher, opting for
language-teacher studies as a cost-free opportunity to learn a useful language. Like
Vera and Pete, he is autonomous enough to establish his own professional chal-
lenges and do things in a responsible manner. In contrast to the others, however, the
relations with his school mentor cause Jacob to question recently formed positive
ideas about teaching resulting from the formal stage of teacher education.
Discouraged by the young mentors repetitive criticisms and beset with linguistic
insecurity, Jacob never applies for a teaching position. In other words, Jacobs
professional identity is more affected by discontinuities assuming the form of
confusing interactions with the external environment in the person of his mentor
than by the signs of his autonomous identity. His decision to leave the profession
without even starting to work in it may equate to never realising the pedagogical
success promised to him during the formal stage of identity construction.
Although these are four examples of language-teacher initial career trajectories,
there is no clear dichotomy in the participating teachers. Instead, the cases point to
the fact that it is possible to be a motivated teacher and leave the dream job for
another profession (Pete) or version of the profession (Vera). Alternatively, teachers
can be unmotivated and work as full-time teachers (Iza), or nish their teaching
studies with the conviction that their professional place is elsewhere (Jacob). The
differences between teachers simply indicate how much identities are influenced by
obstructions in context, resulting from interactions with others, shifting meaning
making, and continual emerging and becoming. Had it not been for her disagree-
ment with the school reality, full of envy, passivity and low standards, Vera would
have never become motivated to establish another school. Had it not been for Petes
decision to halt the monotonous work stifling his linguistic ambitions, he could
have continued working as an unpopular, stuck-in-a-rut, frustrated teacher. Had it
not been for Jacobs discontinuous experience of meeting a well-qualied
school-placement mentor who convinced Jacob that a good linguistic command
of English is part and parcel of teaching in a secondary school, Jacobs concept of
language-teaching preparation might have amounted to the obtainment of formal
college credentials only. There is no distance whatsoever from the comfortable and
the secure in the case of Iza. Strangely enough, whatever she has experienced
154 D. Werbiska

during her school placement and up to now is mostly based on taken-for-granted

assumptions or black-and-white categories. Any deviation from the norm (for
example, in the interview, she criticises teachers departures from lesson plans) is
treated as an obstruction to be overcome. Since Iza had never really been interested
in language teaching, she did not invest in ELT theory during college courses. Her
mentor, to her mind, is probably a very reasonable teacher, and Izas natural pas-
sivity and perhaps an unwillingness to change are likely to make her a dogmatic
teacher, enjoying the realm of the expected (English, 2013, p. 25).
Obviously, the mere appearance of a discontinuity does not change (develop)
professional identity. The prerequisite is the ability to reflect, examine connections
and exercise resilience rather than to look for a quick solution to the immediate
problem (Schuck, Aubusson, Buchanan, & Russell, 2012). Those who make use of
negativity in experience are said to stop and consider its different perspectives, to
look forward but also look back on what went wrong. The decisions to start up a
language school, change ones job or not apply for a teaching position are not made
spontaneously. Interruptions evoke them, but only open up a space for teachers to
reflect, struggle internally, make decisions and sometimes self-transform.

6 Conclusions and Implications

The ndings from this study corroborate the existing research about the changeable,
multiple, and relational aspects of teacher identities (e.g., Farrell, 2003; Liu & Xu,
2011; Thomas & Beauchamp, 2011) and add some particulars of the cases of
language teachers at four stages along the teaching trajectory to the literature in this
area. The results indicate diverse patterns of professional identity, depending on the
participants initial teaching motivation and the discontinuities they experience. The
generation of the 3ATIF as an organising model may also prove useful for
examining teacher professional identity during the core years of its formation.
There are four main conclusions from this study.
Firstly, teacher professional identity is an important issue to address in
teacher-education programs. Identity formations, alongside teacher roles in the
wider community, provide the basis for teacher candidates meaning and decision
making and increase their awareness and development of more complex and
realistic understandings of language-teaching school practices.
Secondly, the formation of language-teacher identity is heavily affected by
systemic educational policies, out of which the form of mentoring as a practice
seems crucial. Of central importance are the relations between mentors and men-
tees, influenced by proper selection of mentors during eld experiences. Pre-service
teachers usually trust their mentors when they come to schools, believing in their
professionalism. Mentors, on the other hand, may have an unrealistic image of their
mentees preparation, both linguistically and methodologically (Jacobs mentor),
which interferes with the relationship between the two. Of interest could be also
cases in which mentees resist mentoring (Pete) due to a failure to see its benets.
Language-Teacher Professional Identity 155

It could also be worthwhile to explore what characteristics of mentoring programs

produce career stability or change a mentees attitude from resistance to trust.
Thirdly, merely belonging to the community does not equate with a sense of
afnity with that community. The question is why people attach to identities that do
not serve them (Jacob) and what social forces produce these identities. In a like
manner, the study exposes inadequate mentors identities, totally unprepared to
perform their roles. What values or models of teaching can Veras or Petes mentors
offer? There is denitely a need to investigate more the relationship between a
professional role and ones identication with it.
Finally, what is worth highlighting as a new direction in language learning
psychology is the acknowledgment of philosophical inspirations, here taking shape
from considering peripheral discontinuous moments as opportunities for cognitive
(Deweys inspiration) and somewhat moral (Herbarts inspiration) growth. This is
because ruptures in experience may foster teacher noticing of what works and what
does not, why something has happened and how it is related to the decisions a
teacher has made or is about to make, provided there is time and will on his or her
part for critical reflection. Discontinuities have consequences in altering peoples
horizons. They can be positive (we learn from them) and negative (we learn the
hard way) at the same time (English, 2013). It would also be interesting to
investigate what kinds of discontinuities abound at different stages of being a
teacher (pre-service, rst-year, mid-career, retired) and how transformative they
may prove in transforming language teachers identities in the short and long run.
Hence, if the aim is to educate language teachers who are willing to stay in the
profession (afliation), have informed individual styles of teaching (attachment)
and have a capacity to make choices (autonomy), a shift in the emphasis from
consensus and continuity to dissensus and discontinuity seems inevitable.


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Drawings Reveal the Beliefs of Japanese
University Students

Sakae Suzuki and Marshall R. Childs

Studying English is like putting a needle into my body. (Male

I study English because I like it, not because it is necessary in
society. English happens to be needed, for example, for
entrance exams. I study English not because it has advantages
or is benecial for getting a job but because I like it. (Female

Abstract Although Japanese students study English for 6 years in secondary

schools, they demonstrate little success with it when they enter higher education.
Learners beliefs can predict the future behaviour of students, so it may be effective
to investigate how learners beliefs limit their success and how beliefs might be
nudged in a positive direction. While many researchers still depend on a ques-
tionnaire called BALLI [by Horwitz (Learner strategies in language learning,
1987)] to reveal explicit beliefs, alternative approaches, especially those designed to
reveal implicit beliefs, might be helpful for promoting learning. The present study
seeks to identify beliefs with a discursive approach using visual metaphors as
narratives. Employing a Jungian approach, this study investigates how students
beliefs are revealed within drawings of themselves and their surrounding envi-
ronments and artifacts while they are engaged in language learning. Participants
were university students majoring in science and technology in Japan. The ques-
tionnaire was administered to 70 entering students in April, 2014. Data included
students drawings of themselves as learners of English as well as written

S. Suzuki (&)
Shonan Institute of Technology, Fujisawa, Japan
M.R. Childs
Temple University Japan Campus, Tokyo, Japan

Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016 159

C. Gkonou et al. (eds.), New Directions in Language Learning Psychology,
Second Language Learning and Teaching, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-23491-5_10
160 S. Suzuki and M.R. Childs

descriptions of students backgrounds, English-learning experiences and written

descriptions of themselves as learners. It is our aim to examine how a Jungian
approach analysis can function as an alternative method to investigate learners

Keywords Beliefs  Language learning  Drawings  Jungian approach

1 Introduction

1.1 The English as a Foreign Language (EFL) Situation

in Japan

English has achieved the status of a world language (Crystal, 2003; Jenkins, 2009)
and is used as the ofcial language and as a second language in several countries. In
Japan, English has long been considered an important tool for business and com-
munication. English education has been perceived nationwide as an important
subject in schools and as a step towards personal development. Yet, English is
neither the ofcial nor the second language in Japan.
Many Japanese do not depend on English in their daily life; they can buy food in
Japanese, use Japanese at work and communicate with their peers or colleagues in
Japanese as long as they work and live in a Japanese-discourse community. Many
students, while they study English in school, do not often use English out of school.
Thus, English learners in Japan do not usually have social practices in a context in
which individual learner L2s develop (Norton & Toohey, 2001, p. 318). Many do
not study English unless they have to take examinations in English or they expect to
go overseas for sightseeing, study or work. As Yashima, Nishide, and Shimizu
(2004) observed,
many Japanese adolescents, preoccupied with preparing for entrance exams to higher
education, concentrate on raising test scores by memorizing vocabulary, idiomatic
expressions and practising sentence translation. These activities are of some value for
improving L2 prociency, but under these circumstances, communicating with people in
the world as a goal of EFL may seem somewhat unrealistic (p. 121).

In EFL contexts, especially in a monolingual country such as Japan, language

learners have difculties in real life accessing English-speaking communities or
communicating with dissimilar others (Ting-Tommy, 1999). The English language
is seen as a foreign thing, not an integral part of learners lives. In theory, learners
could access English communities in the virtual world; however, learners without
motivation driven by the personal value of learning English dare not reach those
communities by themselves.
Drawings Reveal the Beliefs of Japanese University Students 161

1.2 English Education in Japan

In Japan, elementary schools have ofcially included regular English lessons for
fth and sixth graders to enhance the cultural and linguistic awareness of foreign
cultures and languages. Students begin studying English as a required subject in
junior high school. Most of them complete 3 years of English classes in junior high
school, followed by 3 years in high school. Thus, most Japanese students study
English for 6 years before graduating from senior high school at around 18. The
length of time students spend learning English often invites criticism from educa-
tors, foreign teachers and the public. Writers such as Cotterall (2008), for example,
have stated that although a signicant amount of time and money is devoted to
language learning in Japan, Japanese students study English for 6 years without
much success. In high school, students face difculties preparing for entrance
examinations. Moreover, in English classes, students have to prepare for what
Sakui (2004, p. 158) calls grammar-skewed entrance examinations. In this cur-
riculum, English classes essentially comprise grammar, vocabulary and pronunci-
ation exercises; ubiquitous translation questions (Burden, 2005); and rote learning.
Once students graduate from high school, they do not often use English.
In EFL contexts, learners English-related goals vary, and becoming a successful
and active learner is only one of several possible goals. Many high school students
are motivated to study English because of a desire to attend a certain university in
Japan, but some lose their motivation after passing the university entrance exam-
ination. Although they may pass the examination, they do not necessarily consider
themselves successful learners of English.
Being in this EFL situation and the requirement to study English have put
pressure on some students. It may be that students feel the permanent sense of
crisis (Ryan, 2009, p. 407) because of dissonances and tensions between English
for tests and English for communication. Recent studies on demotivation conducted
in Japan report that English classes often cause students to lose motivation
(Hasegawa, 2004; Ikeno, 2002; Kikuchi, 2009). Demotivation factors investigated
at the junior and senior high school levels include inappropriate teacher behaviour
(Hasegawa, 2004), a focus on memorising vocabulary, the grammar-translation
method and dissatisfaction with the textbook (Kikuchi, 2009). In tertiary education
as well, demotivation among students has been observed (Berwick & Ross, 1989;
Ryan, 2009). For example, Tsuchiya (2004a, b) studied lower prociency learners
and concluded that demotivating factors include teachers, classes, the compulsory
nature of English study, a negative attitude towards the English community, a
negative attitude towards English itself, reduced self-condence, the lack of an
English-speaking model and the methods of learning.
These results suggest dissonances between institutional or pedagogical orienta-
tions focusing on the pragmatic value of learning English and learners interests and
feelings towards learning English. In the large picture of English education, learners
162 S. Suzuki and M.R. Childs

seem to be left behind although they are supposed to be leading parts in this
scenario. Research in light of learners perspectives on learning English can help ll
the gap between students needs and their actual learning experiences.

2 Research on Learners Beliefs

2.1 Learners Beliefs

Learners beliefs are one type of individual learner difference (Kalaja & Barcelos,
2006) and researchers have investigated their potential effects on learners strategies
and motivation in the classroom (Horwitz, 1987, 1988; Wenden, 1987; Yang,
1992), the process and outcomes of learning (Dweck, 2000; Schommer, 1994) and
attitude change (Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975).
Beliefs influence both the process and product of learning (Tanaka & Ellis,
2003). Beliefs can also hinder or enhance the learning process, or clash with the
teachers beliefs or the culture of a particular classroom (Sick, 2007). Negative
beliefs can even cause students to withdraw and feel unhappy (McCargar, 1993). In
sum, learners hold individual learner beliefs and these influence their behaviours
and learning. In light of the impact of these perceptions on learners beliefs, in this
study, learners beliefs are dened broadly to include learners perceptions, ideas
and opinions about learning English that are present in their learning and social
Learners are consciously aware of some of their beliefs, but others are implicit;
thus, they possess both explicit and implicit beliefs. Explicit beliefs can be elicited
through interviews or questionnaires; on the other hand, implicit beliefs (beliefs
which learners are not aware of) are not easy to grasp. There may not be an absolute
method to nd learners beliefs because of their complex nature (explicit and
implicit) and because they may change as learners move on.

2.2 Methods of Researching Beliefs

The most prominent survey instrument used in earlier studies of learners beliefs,
the Beliefs about Language Learning Inventory (BALLI) (Horwitz, 1987, 1988),
was designed to sensitise teachers and researchers to various beliefs held by
American students who were learning foreign languages in the United States as well
as to the possible consequences of specic beliefs for second language learning and
Researchers who used questionnaires, such as the BALLI (Horwitz, 1987; Yang,
1992), were considered to be applying a normative approach, wherein types of
learners beliefs about second language acquisition are described and classied
Drawings Reveal the Beliefs of Japanese University Students 163

(Barcelos, 2006). In these quantitative studies, researchers viewed learners beliefs

as preconceived notions and tended to consider them as generally stable (Horwitz,
1987; Hosenfeld, 2006; Kuntz, 1996; Mantle-Bromley, 1995). These studies did not
provide a consensus on the relationship between beliefs and behaviours. In addi-
tion, they could not adequately describe the context-bound and dynamic nature of
beliefs about foreign language learning because they used only Likert-scale ques-
tionnaires and investigated learners beliefs as stable constructs (Barcelos, 2006;
Sakui & Gaies, 1999). While belief changes can be identied by administering
questionnaires multiple times, such an approach is not ideal for investigating the
dynamics of change, that is, how easily and under what conditions beliefs change.
Thus, to examine emergent beliefs and the processes of belief change and belief
ascription (Kramsch, 2006), a more discursive approach using naturalistic discourse
such as written or spoken texts or mixed-methods designs is appropriate (Barcelos,
In the metacognitive approach to researching beliefs, beliefs are dened as
metacognitive knowledge, which is the stable, statable, although sometimes
incorrect, knowledge that learners have acquired about language, learning and the
language learning process (Wenden, 1987, p. 163). Wenden (1999) later
acknowledged that metacognitive knowledge might change over time as people
mature and their situations change. In such cases, researchers can collect verbal data
through semi-structured interviews and self-reports in which research participants
beliefs and feelings emerge to investigate the nature of the changes (Victori &
Lockhart, 1995; Wenden, 1987).
Recently, several researchers have used the contextual approach by collecting
multiple data to better understand beliefs in specic contexts. In general, they
described beliefs as embedded in students contexts (Barcelos, 2006) and tended to
view learner beliefs as changing and dynamic (Hosenfeld, 2006). These researchers
used methods such as participant observation, semi-structured interviews (Barcelos,
2006; Malcolm, 2005), open-ended questionnaires (Barcelos, 2000), document
analysis, written reports and narratives (Barcelos, 2008). Case studies and narratives
have revealed some aspects of beliefs not reported by previous researchers
(Barcelos & Kalaja, 2006). Specically, case studies can portray learners as social
beings interacting in their environment and can reveal complex beliefs.
A new trend in belief studies uses visual outcomes such as photographs (Nikula
& Pitknen-Huhta, 2008) and drawings (Kalaja, Alanen, & Dufva, 2008). As a data
source, Kalaja, Alanen, and Dufva (2008) employed a sociocultural approach,
meaning that the social and cognitive activity in which human beings participate is
mediated by semiotic and material tools. Hence, investigating what kind of medi-
ating artefacts learners use in the learning process and how they use them is likely
to be helpful. They employed drawings as a type of visual narrative to investigate
the second language learning process and to identify the mediational means (ibid,
p. 189). The authors concluded that an individuals beliefs about EFL learning are
situated and multi-voiced and that one research method or modality cannot capture
the multiplicity of meanings present in the views held by a learner.
164 S. Suzuki and M.R. Childs

Another new approach of studying beliefs is metaphor analysis (Ellis, 2002;

Kramsch, 2006; Tanaka & Ellis, 2003), which entails analysing metaphors used by
learners to describe their learning. Metaphor is an intrinsic part of our conceptual
apparatus or phenomena (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980); it is a cognitive and not merely
a stylistic construct (Kramsch, 2006) and it reflects how people represent the world
and their experiences of it to themselves (Tanaka & Ellis, 2003).

3 The Study of Drawings

Studies of drawings have been undertaken in the eld of psychology and therapy.
Many theories in the interpretation of art have evolved from ideas in works of Carl
Jung. Jungs (1964) contribution to psychological understanding is his concept of
the unconscious. For him, the language and people of the unconscious are
symbols, and dreams are the means of communication (p. 12). He also wrote that a
word or an image is symbolic when it implies something more than its obvious and
immediate meaning and when it has a wider unconscious aspect.
Jung (1964) emphasised the importance of symbols in drawings that come from
the unconscious. Jung saw value in the symbols in drawings because he believed
that these symbols could work as a healing agent for people with problems.
Although Jung emphasised the importance of symbols depicted in drawings, he did
not present any specic tools for analysing such drawings.
Furth (2002) published a book called The secret world of drawings in which he
presented a practical approach to interpreting drawings, including some focal points
on how to approach them to understand certain psychological and somatic events
within the individual. He wrote that [in] Jungs conception, the realm of the
unconscious, collective or personal, can be represented in art through images and
symbols (ibid, p. 2). Furth also stated that a systematic analysis of drawings can
further the understanding and awareness of these messages from the unconscious.
The analysis of drawings has been used for psychotherapy wherein people with
emotional problems learn about their own psychological state and discover their
unconscious minds through art. Although this analytical method of creating
drawings has typically been used for psychotherapy, it may also be applied to
investigating learners thoughts and feelings because most of them are implicit (i.e.,
within the unconscious). In fact, drawings have already been used in developmental
psychology in Japan. Tsugeue (2014) studied the social interaction of a student with
autism via a picture diary, focusing on joint attention and emotional expression.
Amaiwa (2014) studied the change in expressive images made by a mentally dis-
abled child through the use of computer-drawing software. Okada (2009) also
studied the effects of a psycho-educational approach for elementary students
through picture drawing play. The results of these studies using drawings for
understanding childrens psychological states conrmed that children enjoyed
drawings and developed condence. A positive outcome of these studies was that
after expressing themselves through drawings, children could easily join in
Drawings Reveal the Beliefs of Japanese University Students 165

activities with other students. These studies indicated that childrens emotions could
be revealed in the drawings.
To the best of our knowledge, however, no study thus far has used drawings in a
Jungian framework of the unconscious as a data collection tool for eliciting EFL
students beliefs in Japan. The above studies in psychotherapy suggest that draw-
ings could extract students thoughts and feelings towards learning English without
students feeling pressured.

4 The Context of the Study

The current study was conducted at a private university in Japan where most
students are boys majoring in technology: mechanical engineering, electronic
engineering, information science and applied computer science, and computer
applied design engineering. Since English is a mandatory subject, all rst-year
students have to take two 90-min English language classes (English Literacy and
English Communication) per week. Students Test of English for International
Communication scores (maximum score is 990), measured in 2014, ranged from
535 (highest) to 273 (lowest).
A previous study conducted by Suzuki (2013) at the same university found that
many students (47% of 105 rst-year students) had negative beliefs about learning
English. In that study, students beliefs about learning English were elicited through
written metaphors or similes. Examples of metaphors for learning English elicited
through a questionnaire included hell, sickness, torture, a headache, a nightmare,
an enigma, a lost game and others. These ndings helped the researcher develop a
suitable syllabus for those students, so that they could at least sustain learning
without pain. After 5 months of teaching, some students changed their negative
beliefs into positive ones (from 47% to 38%). This study suggested that the
rst-year students enrolled at university in April 2014 also hold negative beliefs
about learning English.
Metaphor analysis used in this study, however, had a problem. Some students
did not write metaphors or wrote unexpected answers. Missing data was 28 out of
105 responses. An instrument in which students can more comfortably express their
beliefs was needed.

5 Method

5.1 Data Collection

Furth (2002) introduced techniques used by counsellors, therapists and analysts

when they used drawings as a means to aid a patients growth. Regressed-Kinetic-
Family Drawing (RKFD) by Furth, for example, asks to draw a patient and his or her
166 S. Suzuki and M.R. Childs

family at age ve, making everyone doing some activities. Furth intended to elicit a
patients unconscious feelings toward family members and to see what relationship
the patient had with his or her family. In the present study, students were asked to
draw a picture of learning English.
The questionnaire was distributed to 126 rst-year students (1920 years old,
121 male and 5 female) in April, 2014. In their rst class, students were asked to
answer a questionnaire (see Appendix) about their previous learning experiences,
provide metaphors on learning English and create an impromptu (Furth, 2002,
p. xix) drawing on learning English and its explanation either in Japanese (for
Japanese students) or English (foreign students might be more comfortable using
English). They had 90 minutes to complete the questionnaire. They could access
electronic dictionaries and discuss questions with peers. For the drawings, students
were allowed to use their own pens. The purpose of eliciting drawings from the
students was to discover how these learners construct the meaning of learning
English in their unconscious beliefs. Ethical considerations prompted an explana-
tory sentence on the questionnaire saying that the results of the survey would only
be used for research and that no identifying information will be revealed.
The current study attempted to answer the following research questions:
(1) Can we identify (positive and negative) beliefs through an analysis of stu-
dents drawings?
(2) What are the characteristics of the positive and negative beliefs found in the
(3) In light of the ndings about beliefs, what changes in teaching practices might
be made?

5.2 Data Analysis

Collected data (questionnaire sheets) were analyzed by two researchers. Two

phases of analysis were conducted. In the rst phase, indicators of positive and
negative beliefs were identied based on Suzukis (2012) study of Japanese stu-
dents beliefs on learning English, which found both benecial (positive) beliefs
and interfering (negative) beliefs. These became assumptions to nd negative and
positive beliefs among drawings. Along with the results of the study, an analysis of
metaphors was conducted. Metaphors were categorised into negative and positive
metaphors, so that different accounts from learners (drawings and metaphors) were
consistent. In the second phase of analysis, that is, interpreting drawings, Furths
(2002) Guidelines for picture interpretation, which will be explained below, was
used. Through interpretations of drawings, indicators of positive and negative be-
liefs were elicited according to Furths picture interpretation. Students learning
strategies and objects students consider aids to learning were counted. Thus, the
data were analysed both qualitatively and quantitatively. Table 1 summarises the
Drawings Reveal the Beliefs of Japanese University Students 167

Table 1 Guidelines for the interpretation of drawings

Implications from Suzukis (2012) study
Positive beliefs Anticipated drawings
1. Interest in English and foreign people Symbols of happiness, satisfaction, curiosity,
2. English as a language tool winning, success or making efforts
3. Positive attitude towards change Images of communicating with others
(speaking English with others), self-study or
4. Reflective thoughts on their own learning
studying hard.
5. Intentions and ambitions: a feeling of
6. Commitment to learning
7. Self-image of speaking English
Negative beliefs Anticipated drawings/symbols
1. Loss of condence (negative feelings of Symbols of sadness, being frightened,
oneself) intimidated, being anxious or disturbed
2. Fixed mindsets or stereotypical ideas Images of authority, taking tests or
stereotypical images of lessons or learning
3. Overdependence on the opinions of others
4. Attributing learners deciency to outside
factors, such as English education in Japan
Examples of Furths (2002) guidelines
1. Odd presentation: specic problems
2. Barriers: objects/people that block communication with others
3. Centre: the core of a problem/important matters to the individual
4. Out of proportion: large gures (emphasis)/small gures (devaluation)
5. Shape distortion: problem areas
6. Words: add denition/avoid misinterpretation
7. Abstract portion: either something that is hard to understand, difcult or signals of avoidance
(e.g., avoiding showing ones problems or conflict)
8. Shadings: reflection on xation on or anxiety about what the shaded object or shape represents
9. Colours: feelings and moods

guidelines for picture interpretation used in the present study. These guidelines are
discussed in more detail in the next three sub-sections.

5.2.1 Indicators of Data Analysis: Benecial (Positive)

Beliefs (Suzuki, 2012)

Learners beliefs can be benecial if they lead to an awareness of effective learning

strategies and are therefore facilitative of learning (Bernat & Gvozdenko, 2005).
There can never be an absolute list of benecial (positive) beliefs because people
and situations differ from each other in complex ways. In Suzuki (2012), however,
168 S. Suzuki and M.R. Childs

seven beliefs emerged as supportive in helping the participants develop more

effective learning strategies and sustain deep learning.
1. Interest in English and foreign people;
2. English as a language tool;
3. Positive attitude towards change;
4. Reflective thoughts on students own learning;
5. Intentions and ambitions: a feeling of competitiveness;
6. Commitment to learning;
7. Self-image of speaking English.
Those benecial (positive) beliefs show that students who hold positive beliefs
about learning English have positive feelings towards meeting foreign people and
going abroad, thinking of English as a communication tool, making efforts, taking
risks and facing challenges. Thus, drawings that imply such feelings are indicators
of learners positive beliefs.

5.2.2 Indicators of Data Analysis: Interfering (Negative) Beliefs

(Suzuki, 2012)

Interfering (negative) beliefs (Suzuki, 2012) inhibit language learning or allow

learners to rationalise failures to expend effort to learn. Interfering (negative) beliefs
seem to have four manifestations: rst, loss of condence; second, xed mindset or
stereotypical ideas; third, an overdependence on the opinions of others; and fourth,
attributing learners deciency to outside factors such as English education in Japan
or in schools.
These interfering (negative) beliefs include feelings towards themselves and
develop stereotypical images towards learning English such as learning is done
only in a classroom or memorisation is most important, and learners often
picture themselves as victims of English study. Thus, drawings that imply these
feelings would be indicators of learners negative beliefs.

5.2.3 Guidelines for Picture Interpretation

In approaching picture interpretation, Furth (2002, p. 34) wrote, the picture knows,
and one needs only listen to the picture. This was followed by three principles:
noting our initial impression of a picture, looking at focal points and, nally,
synthesising what has been observed to grasp meanings that learners try to convey.
According to Furth, a helpful guideline in picture interpretation is to try to
discover why some things are drawn. Odd presentation suggests a specic problem
of which the drawer of the picture may not be aware. Barriers can be persons or
objects, such as a wall or a door, which hinder communication. What is drawn in
the centre of the picture is the core of the problem or something important. The
proportions of objects are important: if things are out of proportion (large), they are
Drawings Reveal the Beliefs of Japanese University Students 169

emphasised and small things are devalued. Shape distortion implies problem areas
where understanding could help. Energy invested in shading in the drawings may
reflect xation on or anxiety about what the shaded object or shape represents.
Words in drawings add denition to the statement and reduce the drawings chances
of being misinterpreted. They also indicate additional communication. An abstract
portion of a drawing represents either something that is hard to understand, difcult
or something that the drawer wants to run away from. Colours symbolise certain
feelings, moods or the tone of a relationship: red may signal an issue of vital
signicance; pink may suggest the resolution of a problem or recovery from a past
illness; purple may indicate a responsibility; bright blue may indicate health, the
vital flow of life; dark brown may indicate nourishment; black may symbolise the
unknown; white may indicate repressed feelings; and pale brown may denote rot or

6 Findings

A rst level of analysis was to observe the data carefully to identify the messages
the students were conveying. For this purpose, it was important to capture the
initial, spontaneous impression rst and encapsulate it in one word such as happy,
sad, frustrated or confused (Furth, 2002). In order to capture the messages from
learners, drawings were examined by the researcher who actually taught the stu-
dents. This process was followed by discussion between the two researchers for
mutual agreement on analysis.
Table 2 shows information about the participants in the current study, and
Table 3 shows the numbers of positive and negative beliefs found in the drawings.
Then, some examples of drawings with signicant positive and negative beliefs
found within Furths (2002) framework of interpreting drawings are described.

Table 2 Participants Numbers

Male students 121
Female students 5
Foreign students 12
Total 126
Note Nationality of foreign students: Chinese (N = 6), Malaysian
(N = 1), Nepalese (N = 1), Korean (N = 2), Vietnamese (N = 2)

Table 3 Percentages of Positive beliefs in drawings Negative beliefs in drawings

positive and negative beliefs
in students drawings n n
(N = 126) 33 (27%) 88 (73%)
Unidentied drawings 5 (4%)
170 S. Suzuki and M.R. Childs

6.1 Positive Beliefs Towards Learning English

It is assumed that learners who hold positive beliefs towards learning English have
happy and positive feelings towards meeting foreign people and going abroad. They
may believe that English is a communication tool and that expending effort and
taking risks and challenges are crucial for learning English (Suzuki, 2012). Those
positive beliefs about learning English were observed in some drawings.
Positive attitudes were portrayed as a happy smile on the learners face (Fig. 1)
and communicating with other people (Figs. 1 and 2). Figure 1 was drawn by a
Chinese student (male), who wrote: This is an image of me studying English.
I have studied English to travel in the world. I speak with people through English.
Through English I can learn foreign cultures. English is so interesting [original in
Japanese]. Pictures of people with different ethnicities may indicate that the stu-
dent has an open mind to different races and cultures and is willing to communicate
with dissimilar others. As a written note suggested, the person in the centre of the
drawing is the student who drew, which means that the student plays an important
role. Words in the drawing, Sing English song and Hello world, add positive
attitudes for using English. The words Hello world indicate a self-image of
speaking English, which implicates positive attitudes. Figure 2 was drawn by a
Japanese student (male). Four seasons are depicted with cherry blossom petals
(spring); the shining sun, a watermelon and a cicada (summer); a swimming
mackerel pike (autumn); and a Christmas tree with a snowman (winter). A large
textbook and a large notebook are depicted in the centre of the picture. This may
mean that studying English using a textbook and a notebook plays an important role
for this student. This gure might also mean that he studies English throughout the
four seasons. The road (a symbol of his path to the future) leads to an American
flag. Two people on the path are speaking English. This picture can be interpreted
as showing that he will study English all the time and, eventually, he will be able to

Fig. 1 Positive beliefs

Drawings Reveal the Beliefs of Japanese University Students 171

Fig. 2 Positive beliefs

speak English and go to America. He wrote: I hold out a one-year English to

become the person who works in the world [original in English].
Other positive beliefs found in drawings include being engaged in activities,
such as watching English-language television programmes, singing English songs,
writing in English (interest in English and foreign culture/English as a language
tool), and holding hands (connection). These results indicate that learners positive
beliefs are associated with communicating or connecting with others and with
favourable feelings about learning. These are depicted as smiling, chatting with
others and some connecting indicators such as bridges, roads and flags of foreign

6.2 Negative Beliefs Towards Learning English

Negative beliefs can inhibit language learning or allow learners to rationalise

failures to expend effort to learn English (Suzuki, 2012). Thus, students who hold
negative beliefs about learning English tend to draw images expressing frustration,
fear and problems or depicting themselves as victims.
These attitudes can be observed in some drawings. A huge stone (barrier) in a
drawing emphasises the difculty of learning English. This student wrote, To me,
learning English has been a burden. I have felt that for a long time. The person in
this picture is me [original in Japanese]. In another picture, a big monkey is in the
centre of the picture. This may mean that the monkey is at the core of the problem
and that it represents the learner. The monkey is apparently a visual metaphor of
being ignorant. The student (male) wrote: This is me, giving up because I have no
idea what is happening in English class.
In Fig. 3, odd representations imply that some problems can be observed. First, a
persons head is covered with something, which seems to explode. Second, a bird is
172 S. Suzuki and M.R. Childs

Fig. 3 Negative beliefs

coming out of the persons head. Odd images point to specic problem areas of
which the individual may not be aware but which need to be brought into attention.
The student implies that the problem is inside him and that he has let what he has
learnt (English) escape from his head. The bird could symbolise freedom, which the
student desired. Shading is used for the head and the bird. The shadings could
represent anxiety. He wrote: I do not understand [original in Japanese]. In a
metaphor, the student wrote: Learning English is like a journey and he explained
that the journey was long. For him, learning English was a long process, and he was
at a loss because he did not understand it at all.
In Fig. 4, a big barrier, a wall, is depicted. This wall is blocking the learner from
communicating with others. Other people in this picture do not have faces, which
means that these people are the unknown and that the student cannot communicate
with them because of the big barrier (the wall), English. He wrote: I see the sky
with people from foreign countries. Although we see the same sky, I cannot share
how I feel with those people because I cannot make myself understood with words
they speak. There is a wall between us. I want to break the wall and communicate
with them. For him, learning English is like breaking down a wall between him
and foreign people who speak English.
Drawings Reveal the Beliefs of Japanese University Students 173

Fig. 4 Negative beliefs

Other symbols found in drawings are grimaces (pain), silence (indifference),

sleeping (boredom), zzz (fatigue), blank sheet (refusal), small size (timidity), neg-
ative emoticons (negative feelings) and some problem indicators such as a wall,
polar ice caps and missing self.

6.3 Quantitative Findings

6.3.1 Learning with Other People

In drawings, 70% of students did not draw others when learning English (Table 4).
Only 14 students (10%) drew a picture of a teacher, and nine students (7%) drew
pictures of peers, although 38% of students drew a classroom as a learning envi-
ronment (Table 5). This implies that many students believe that learning English is
solitary work. These results echo the results of Kalaja, Alanen, and Dufvas (2008)
study in Finland showing that from the perspective of learners, other people do not
seem to play a very signicant role in their EFL learning. Moreover, the results
suggest that teachers frequently demand that students do solitary work (memorising
sentences, translation, doing exercises). It can be assumed that if teaching involved
active learning, such as group work, discussion, pair work and presentations, stu-
dents would draw pictures that included other people.

6.3.2 Learning with Books

Half of the students (44%) drew a book in their drawings (Table 4). These students
believe that studying English needs books, and perhaps for them studying English
174 S. Suzuki and M.R. Childs

Table 4 EFL leaning help as Items With Without Total

expressed in drawings
Other people 34 (27%) 95 (73%) 129 (100%)
Teacher 14
Foreign people 4
Other people 8
Other students 9
Self 100 (75%) 33 (25%) 133 (100%)
Book 55 (44%) 70 (56%) 125 (100%)
Other media 21 (17%) 100 (83%) 121 (100%)
Desk 57 (43%)
Chair 44 (33%)
Pen (pencil) 46 (35%)
Eraser 26 (20%)
Notebook 29 (22%)
Blackboard 12 (9%)

Table 5 EFL learning Classroom 47 (38%)

Home 29 (23%)
Outside of Classroom 16 (13%)

does not happen without books. Also, 38% of students drew a classroom (Table 5).
It appears that students think that learning happens in the classroom. They have
limited settings in mind for learning English.

6.3.3 Learning with Other Media

Other media that students drew (Table 4) included a television, an electronic dic-
tionary, a tape recorder, an iPod and a PC. Only 17% of students drew any of these
devices, although students at the university who were majoring in technology and
science can be seen to use a PC or an iPod when studying English. Kalaja, Alanen,
and Dufva (2008) found that 53% of students drew media, usually electronic, which
Drawings Reveal the Beliefs of Japanese University Students 175

Table 6 Categories of Positive metaphors 33 (27%)

metaphors (N = 121)
Negative metaphors 88 (73%)

Table 7 Examples of Learning English is like

metaphors Positive metaphors
Bridge to the future/Making life fruitful/Hobby/Kissing my
girlfriend/Meeting new me/Learning the world
language/Opening the view/Knowing the world/Roller coaster
(exciting)/Making friends around the world/Traveling around
the world/Challenge
Negative metaphors
Becoming a baby again/Fallen leaves/Eating nasty food/High
wall/Washing time/Hell/Going on a diet/Climbing a
mountain/Torture/Washing a toilet/Morning (busy)/
Tomato/Getting up early/Spider silk/Boring
routine/Training/Sky (no limit)/aojiru (bitter juice)

suggested that students were actively seeking opportunities to learn or use the
language outside the classroom. The fact that only 17% of the students in the
present study drew other media may indicate that students are not actively looking
for opportunities of learning English outside the classroom (Table 4, 6 and 7).

6.4 Symbols in Drawings

In some drawings, students drew a hachimaki on their head. A hachimaki is a

sweatband with words written on it such as ght or win, a Japanese symbol of
making an effort or ghting against difculties. In Japan, a hachimaki is worn on
the brows of men who carry floats at festivals, work at sh markets and in con-
struction. The students who drew this picture intended to show that learning English
requires effort and patience. As the gure indicates, the Japanese traditional sense of
making an effort or working hard is shown in pictures that reflect the learners
cultural experiences. Although Horwitz (1999) concluded that there was insufcient
evidence to show that learners beliefs varied according to cultural background,
symbols such as hachimaki, a culturally unique symbol, imply that symbols may be
culturally determined (Ellis, 2002) ways of expressing learners thoughts and be-
liefs (Table 8).
Other signicant symbols which were not found in Furths interpretations were
emoticons (Table 8). Emoticons are modern symbols representing facial expres-
sions created by typing a sequence of characters on a computer. Just as words in
drawings add denition to a statement or emphasis to what the drawing commu-
nicates (Furth, 2002), so do emoticons.
176 S. Suzuki and M.R. Childs

Table 8 Symbols in
` (snapped) _ (troubled) T_T (crying) (angry)
^_^ (worried)

Table 9 Discrepancy rate Group 1 20 out of 36

(N = 111)
Group 2 20 out of 25
Group 3 18 out of 19
Group 4 22 out of 31
Total 80 out of 111 (72%)

6.5 Discrepancy of Beliefs Among Different Accounts

The study indicated that written data elicited via metaphors are not always consistent
with drawings (Table 9). For example, a students drawing includes positive factors,
but the same student wrote in a metaphor that learning English is like drinking
aojiru, a bitter green vegetable juice. This indicates that the student has a positive
image of himself speaking English, perhaps his ideal L2 self (Drnyei & Ushioda,
2009), but that he thinks that learning English is bitter and difcult. In another
picture, the facial expressions show that learning English is difcult, invites con-
fusion and is time-consuming (as the clock indicates one oclock in the morning).
However, the same student wrote in her metaphor: Learning English broadens my
horizon to the world because if we can speak English, we can talk with people from
all over the world. Thus, the drawing presents the difculty of learning English,
while the student at the same time believes that learning (especially) to speak English
can connect her to the world. It may be the case that written responses show feelings
that are more publicly acceptable than those revealed by drawings.

6.6 General Characteristics of Learners Beliefs

As revealed by some verbal accounts in this study, learners beliefs are developed
through experiences, especially their previous learning experiences. This is par-
ticularly evident in negative belief formation, including fear, barriers, problems and
hatred. Students with these beliefs drew symbols such as a wall, a waterfall and
mountains as barriers (see Table 5).
Most drawings have depicted students struggling in solitude (73%); if there are
other people who might help, such as teachers or conversation partners, they are
Drawings Reveal the Beliefs of Japanese University Students 177

present in drawings. Although there were few positive drawings, the fundamental
attractiveness of English is shown by depictions of multiple people in the English
world doing interesting things (talking and dancing) and seeming to enjoy com-
municating with each other. Thus, positive beliefs were drawn as positive feelings
towards learning and learning with others (teacher, peers, other people). Students
with positive beliefs might believe that English is learned amidst people. This
suggests that students might have successful or enjoyable learning experiences
outside of class with others, and in the same vein, it also suggests that learners may
have hope for their future.

7 Discussion

This section rst discusses the potential for using drawings to elicit learners beliefs
and reflects on the process of identifying positive and negative beliefs through an
analysis of students drawings.

7.1 Drawings as Indicators of Learners Beliefs

The ndings indicate that drawings can capture learners implicit beliefs about
learning English to a certain extent, and in fact, can elicit more data than metaphors.
In Suzukis (2013) study, 28 out of 133 students failed to offer metaphors; however,
in this study, only one student did not draw anything. This student seemed to be lost
and said that he did not know what to draw. For him, a blank paper was an answer
and a message. Possibly, most students feel that drawings give them greater access
to express their thoughts than writing a sentence that includes a metaphor, or they
might feel free to draw pictures because such pictures do not hurt the feelings of
teachers, while words, particularly, negative words such as boring or worthless,
might hurt teachers feelings.
Although Furths (2002) guidelines on picture interpretation helped identify
students beliefs and feelings about learning English, it is not an absolute method
for nding beliefs. When analysing dreams, Jung (1964) reminded us that sticking
to the context of a particular dream was important and that we could not lay down
general rules for interpreting dreams. In the same vein, we assumed that there were
no general rules for interpreting drawings.
Learners have their own unique beliefs which are situated in their unique con-
texts. In the light of the study of drawings, the more drawings we examined, the
more different beliefs emerged. This echoes the conclusions of Kalaja, Alanen, and
Dufva (2008), who found that an individuals beliefs about EFL learning are sit-
uated and multi-voiced and that there may be no single set of authentic beliefs
(p. 198). There are no general beliefs for any settings; beliefs are elicited in a
particular setting and particular moment in time.
178 S. Suzuki and M.R. Childs

The beliefs revealed through students drawings have certain implications for
teaching. Small gures in the corner of the paper implicate students low
self-efcacy and anxiety. Observing those small gures may encourage teachers to
implement strategies to enhance students condence and motivation. As Table 4
indicates, 25% of the students did not draw themselves in the drawings. Drawings
with a missing self imply that students lack an identity as a learner of English or are
detached from learning. Drawings are, in this sense, not only a research tool but
also a communication tool between students and teachers.

7.2 Reflections on the Process of Identifying Beliefs

The analysis of drawings is a useful means of studying beliefs especially in lan-

guage classes. Drawings can be used as materials for discussing learning English.
Although students holistic beliefs cannot be elicited only with one drawing, it is
possible to know in the aggregate what percentage of students hold negative and
positive attitudes towards learning English. Thus, drawings are informative for
teachers at the beginning of an English course. Drawings are benecial in a large
class; teachers quickly grasp how many students might hold positive or negative
beliefs about learning English and they can reflect those on curriculum
Reservations that researchers should keep in mind when using this method are as
follows. Precise instructions on drawing a picture are necessary: on what theme or
topic students draw pictures; if colour pens are available; and how much time
students can spend on drawings. Although they were developed for the therapy of
somatic ailments, Furths (2002) guidelines of the interpretation of drawings can
guide us to focal points on what to look into and how to interpret drawings. For
analysis purposes, synthesising multiple analyses would increase the reliability of
the results. When analysing drawings, researchers do not depend solely on judging
drawings from their personal perspective. For example, we can easily assume that
smiles and singing always reveal positive feelings. As the present study indicated,
however, the discrepancy between drawings and metaphors suggests that learners
beliefs may be complex and layered. Thus, backup data such as students written
explanations of drawings, gures of speech and questionnaires could complement
the analysis of drawings.
What might be missing from the interpretation of drawings includes processes of
learners belief construction and change. In the present study, drawings were eli-
cited once in the rst class at the beginning of the term, which means that the results
indicate momentary beliefs as opposed to dynamic beliefs. In order to elicit
dynamic beliefs or investigate belief changes, drawings can be elicited multiple
times during a semester.
Drawings Reveal the Beliefs of Japanese University Students 179

8 Conclusion

This study took a Jungian approach to understanding learners beliefs. The study
revealed that such an approach can help educators and researchers gain an insightful
perspective on learners negative and positive attitudes towards learning English.
We must, however, acknowledge two limitations of this approach.
First, as some of the discrepancies between the messages in the drawings and the
metaphors suggest, grasping learners beliefs is not a simple task and learners
beliefs are complex, situation-specic and dynamic (Kern, 1995). Therefore, a
multidimensional approach investigating a variety of dimensions of beliefs, such as
learning strategies (Park, 1995), epistemological beliefs (Mori, 1999) or changing
of beliefs (Tanaka & Ellis, 2003), is required. Second, drawings are xed in time
(Kalaja, Alanen, & Dufva, 2008), and, thus, they may not reveal the process of
learning. To identify the development and process of change in learners beliefs, it
would be necessary to collect drawings along with verbal accounts several times.
As this study indicates, drawings can easily reveal learners hidden feelings, which
are not always recognised by teachers and those in authority. Thus, it is hoped that a
more precise methodology for identifying students situated feelings can be used for
developing a curriculum that ts more closely with the needs of the learning
This study has also revealed that many students have negative feelings about
learning English. However, the sources of these negative beliefs are not implicated
in students drawings and metaphors. Thus, further studies in investigating sources
of learners negative beliefs would help develop a deeper understanding of learners.
By knowing why learners bring negative beliefs into classrooms, teachers can
change those negative beliefs into positive ones, for example, by rational expla-
nation (Drnyei, 2005; Victori & Lockhart, 1995).
In light of this studys ndings, teachers could focus more on creating moti-
vational conditions as well as maintaining and protecting learner motivation
(Drnyei, 2001). As this study has demonstrated, many learners hold negative
beliefs about learning English, and these beliefs can lead to demotivation, which is
part of academic emotional baggage (Falout et al., 2013). Teachers may try to
promote more productive beliefs by talking learners through the language learning
process (Horwitz, 2008).
To better understand students beliefs, feelings and psychological states of mind,
an interdisciplinary approach that builds on insights from the eld of psychology
and applies them within the domain of foreign language learning might help
(Mercer, 2011). With regard to researching beliefs, nding an appropriate research
method needs patience and creativity for researchers. New opportunities open up
when they attempt to create a new method as a chef creates a new dish. Thinking
out of the box brings innovation and novelty, and every new method is worth a try.
180 S. Suzuki and M.R. Childs


Questionnaire (April, 2014)

The results of this survey will be used only for research and no identifying information will be

1. Do you study at home?

If your answer is Yes, please write what you do.
If your answer is No, please write reasons why you do not do this.

2. Please write down your previous learning experiences at school and at a private school.

Elementary school
Junior high school
High school

3. Please write down your overseas experiences (places and length of stay).

Overseas experiences:
Foreign countries you want to go to and reasons for it:

4. Please write down the results of your English prociency tests.

Example: October 2011 Eiken Step Test 2nd Grade Pass

5. Please ll in the blank below and explain why you wrote these words.

Studying English is like ( ).


6. What is (are) your goal(s) in studying English?

7. Please write down your self-introduction in English below.

8. Draw a picture entitled Learning English.

9. Write an explanation of the drawing in Japanese.

Drawings Reveal the Beliefs of Japanese University Students 181


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Love or Money? Reinterpreting
Traditional Motivational Dimensions
in Modern Social and Economic Contexts

Virg Csillagh

Abstract Categorising language learning motives according to their sources or

directions is an essential aspect of traditional L2 motivation theory, and the most
influential of all such dimensions is the external-internal continuum. The chapter
discusses dominant conceptualisations of the dichotomy from the perspective of
modern learning contexts, which represent considerable challenges to traditional
approaches to L2 motivation. Based on Drnyeis model of motivation as a con-
tinuous, dynamic process of identity construction and reinforcement, the present
study explores the question of how aspects of the self interact with elements of the
social and economic environment. In order to investigate the impact of contextual
influences on Swiss university students attitudes to English, the study adopts an
interdisciplinary perspective, complementing the analysis of L2 motivational phe-
nomena with concepts and ndings from the eld of language economics. The
results are indicative of the role that social and economic factors play in forming
participants attitudes and self-concept, and attest to the potential of applying
interdisciplinary approaches to the study of contextual influences on language

Keywords Motivation  Self  Language economics  Value  Plurilingualism

1 Introduction

Traditional approaches to L2 motivation theory classify motives according to their

sources or directions and test these models through empirical tools. However, recent
developments in the eld indicate that twenty-rst century L2 learning is a complex
dynamic process which calls for flexible theoretical frameworks and interdisci-
plinary perspectives in research design (cf. Drnyei, MacIntyre, & Henry, 2015).

V. Csillagh (&)
University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland

Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016 185

C. Gkonou et al. (eds.), New Directions in Language Learning Psychology,
Second Language Learning and Teaching, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-23491-5_11
186 V. Csillagh

During a recent panel discussion (Drnyei, Noels, Ushioda, Lamb, & Kormos,
2014), lead theorists agreed that different approaches are to complement one another,
since they are the pieces of the puzzle that represents L2 motivation theory as a
whole. Therefore, after a brief overview of traditional motivational concepts, the
present review moves on to examine the potential of an interdisciplinary approach
using tools from the eld of language economics. A relatively new branch of eco-
nomics, this emerging discipline investigates interactions between economic and
linguistic phenomena. Subsequent sections also discuss the ndings of a question-
naire study of Swiss university students language skills and attitudes in the light of
current contextual and economic trends.

2 The Internal-External Dimension in L2 Motivation

The origin or the direction of the learning motive has long been the focus of
motivation theory. The intrinsic-extrinsic dichotomy, as an element of
Self-Determination Theory (SDT; cf. Deci & Ryan, 1985; Ryan & Deci, 2000),
became one of the most influential approaches to learning behaviour in the twen-
tieth century. According to this model, since internal motives are the result of
genuine interest and desire, they represent a greater motivational power. However,
as Sugita McEown, Noels, and Chaffee (2014) point out, the two poles of the
dichotomy should not be regarded as distinct, mutually exclusive motivational
regulators but rather as two axes of a more complex system. In SDT, this is captured
by the concept of internalisation, the process through which external influences
become part of learners internal drive (Ryan & Deci, 2000).
Gardners Socio-Educational Model (SEM; Gardner, 1985, 2001) offers a
slightly different view of internal-external influences. It conceptualises L2 learners
most important internal orientation as an integrative attitude towards a native
speaker target group. External influences in the SEM are gathered under the concept
of instrumentality, which refers to the utilitarian aspects of language prociency,
from nancial gains to being able to communicate abroad or enjoy content in the
language. Even a cursory comparison of these two models raises the question of
compatibility. In an in-depth overview, Sugita McEown et al. (2014) draw attention
to a large pool of empirical results that not only indicate a strong relationship
between integrativeness and intrinsic motivation but also closely link an integrative
disposition to more self-determined forms of extrinsic influences. The authors
conclude that the connections between the two models are bound to be more
Interestingly, however, both models demonstrate an essential feature of language
learning and an increasingly relevant theme in theoretical thinking: the interplay of
individual and contextual factors. This becomes even clearer if one considers that
integrativeness, a representation of the convergence of innate aspirations and
obligations, has been repeatedly shown as a major motivating factor in second
language (SL) environments. On the other hand, the question that ensues is how this
Love or Money? Reinterpreting Traditional Motivational 187

convergence manifests itself in foreign language (FL) contexts, where integration

into a target language community is often not a relevant goal.
While most of the literature uses the term L2 motivation to refer to language
learning in general, SL contexts differ from FL environments in a number of ways.
The most important of these is that the latter often lack a clearly dened, pertinent
or attractive target group to which learners could adhere. Moreover, in some set-
tings, such as the Swiss one discussed in this chapter, relationships among the
different SLs and FLs, in different social and economic roles respectively, further
enrich the language learning milieu and render the issue of L2 motivation research
even more complex. In this chapter, I continue to refer to all languages learned in an
educational setting as L2s unless a distinction is to be made as regards the presence
of a salient target language community.

3 A Dynamic View of Motivation in FL Contexts

In order to account for the complexity of FL learning environments, the L2

Motivational Self System (Drnyei, 2009) proposes a reinterpretation of the inte-
grative motive. It denes motivation as a continuous, dynamic process of identity
construction and reinforcement. The ideal L2 self, a central element of the model,
measures the strength of learners self-vision (cf. Drnyei, 2014) and amalgamates
a number of influential motives traditionally considered internal, intrinsic or inte-
grative. On the other hand, the ought-to L2 self represents external influences
through individuals perceptions of the different expectations they are faced with as
language learners and members of certain communities, which might range from
very close and local to distant and international. While empirical tests have con-
stantly showed the ideal L2 self as an important predictor of learning effort, the
ought-to L2 self has been more difcult to capture. This might reflect the power of
internalisation, since the ought-to L2 self was often identied as a predictor, or even
constituent, of the ideal L2 self (Csizr & Kormos, 2009).
The relationships between the self-guides and motivated learning behaviour
highlight the complexity of the interplay between internal and external factors and
FL learners motivation. From an even more comprehensive point of view, Ushioda
(2009) argues for a person-in context view of motivation, which centres on the
individual but also takes into account the multitude of contexts that a person par-
ticipates in. Undoubtedly, the economic milieu is often part of this network of
contexts, and language economics, an emerging eld focusing on the interplay of
economic and linguistic phenomena, offers valuable tools and insights into its
188 V. Csillagh

4 Language Learning, Economic Value and Motivation

Language economics refers to the paradigm of mainstream theoretical economics

and uses the concepts and tools of economics in the study of relationships featuring
linguistic variables (Grin, 2003, p. 16). Although economic elements in this
concrete sense are not part of traditional L2 motivation discourse, there is good
argument to be made for the use of such tools in the investigation of contextual
influences. Economic concerns regarding the special status of English worldwide
have serious implications for the teaching and learning of not only English but other
languages as well. Therefore, it is worth examining the motivational impact of these
global processes in the light of the basic principles of economic theory.

4.1 A System of Values

At the heart of any economic approach lies the intricate relationship between supply
and demand, and the case of languages is no exception. However, due to their
particular nature as social constructs and their qualitative characteristics, language
skills hardly t into the conventional typology of a marketable, exchangeable
commodity. Perhaps the best way to illustrate this uniqueness is through the
examination of economic value as it is applied to language. Language economists
propose a complex system of values, displayed in Table 1.
Relying on well-established constructs in economic analysis, Grin (1999, 2003)
categorises the different values associated with language prociency, such as
nancial gains and more abstract benets like the enrichment of individual or social
culture, along two central dimensions. On the one hand, market value is distin-
guished from non-market value, separating nancial gains from other types of
benets. On the other hand, according to their level of impact, values can be further
categorised as either individual or social. In economic analysis, generally the sum
of individual benets equals, with some extra calculations, the total of social gains.
However, languages, anchored in their social and economic milieu, represent
more complex systems. Thus, the equation cannot be upheld without factoring in a
number of variables, many of which, such as the fluctuations of the market value of
language skills due to changes in the number of speakers in a given community, are
difcult to gauge or simply unavailable to the analyst (Grin, 2003). Moreover,
languages play an important role in complex economic and social processes that
surpass national boundaries (cf. Crystal, 2003), rendering the computability of the
overall market value of language skills difcult, if not impossible. In addition, while

Table 1 The four values in Individual market value Social market value
language economics, adapted
Individual non-market value Social non-market value
from Grin (2003)
Love or Money? Reinterpreting Traditional Motivational 189

some benets can clearly be classied as market- or non-market-related, others are

more complex than to t into these categories. Therefore, language economics does
not aim to calculate the overall value of any given language. Rather, it focuses on
investigating market values both at the individual level, in the form of salary
differentials (Grin, 1999), and at the social level, by comparing state investment and
gross domestic product (GDP) (Grin & Sfreddo, 1997).
L2 motivation research takes a slightly different perspective. By denition, it is
mainly concerned with private values, of which societal benets are sometimes
considered a part. On the other hand, both market and non-market values are central
to motivation research, with considerable emphasis on their relationships. While
both external and internal motives have non-market aspects, market values have
been mostly associated with the extrinsic or instrumental dimension. The most
important difference between psycholinguistic and economic perspectives is in the
conceptualisation of value. Whereas motivation research is essentially based on
learners perceptions, language economics denes the net economic value of a
language according to the fundamental laws of supply and demand (Grin, personal
communication, October 2, 2014).
Language skills are considered to possess economic value if they are in demand
and are compensated accordingly. Therefore, in strictly economic terms, in order to
be deemed protable, a system of language education is required to produce such
skills of an overall value outweighing the cost of investment. Consequently, the
notion of efciency is introduced, so as to measure the protability of policies inside
and outside the educational system (Grin, 1999). The dynamics of efciency, both
internal and external, are shown in Fig. 1.

Fig. 1 Economic efciency

in education (based on Grin,
1999, 2003)
190 V. Csillagh

As the difculties of assessing the overall value of skills in a given language

demonstrate, there are considerable limits to analysing linguistic phenomena using
an exclusively economic approach. Nevertheless, it is also evident that economic
aspects form an integral part of modern language learning contexts. Moreover,
economic considerations are inherent to theories of language learning and moti-
vation, manifest not only in different conceptualisations of internal and external
motives but also in notions of symbolic capital (Bourdieu, 1991) and investment
(Norton, 2013).

4.2 Love or Money? Economic Aspects of L2 Motivation

Although the current economic status of English is often considered as an inherent

aspect of teaching and learning the language (Crystal, 2003), there is little empirical
research investigating its impact on learners motivation. Nonetheless, the above
discussion of economic concepts nds an echo in L2 motivation research ndings.
First of all, there is a clear link between economic values and the external-internal
dimension of language learning motives. While integrativeness and the ideal L2 self
incorporate rst and foremost individual non-market values, market benets are an
important part of the aspired identity. Market values are also an essential compo-
nent of instrumentality and, indirectly, of the ought-to L2 self, since nancial
benets are often part of the argument for learning English. Although motives are
generally driven by individual goals, social values often play an indirect role in
learners attitudes, with the Swiss context, discussed in the following section, being
a perfect example.
Secondly, investment and efciency are not alien concepts to L2 motivation
theory. Motivation by denition implies investment (see Norton, 2013) on the part
of the learner, both in terms of effort and time, but also in terms of other, often
costly, resources. The learning process is thus efcient if it brings sufcient returns,
that is, if certain language goals are achieved. As Fig. 2 demonstrates, the dynamics
used to describe language education as part of the economic system can also be
applied to analyse processes of language teaching and learning, where motivation
becomes key to efciency.
In summary, economic concerns have never been far from issues of language
education, and their influence in mainstream motivation theory is unmistakable. As
learners are inseparable from their cultural and economic milieu, these contexts
have important reflections in their self-concepts. Therefore, as Csizr (2012) who
laments the lack of interdisciplinary approaches in second language acquisition
(SLA) research training has also claimed, I would argue for more studies investi-
gating the link between the economic setting and L2 motivation. While recent years
have seen an increase in initiatives to bring together different perspectives in lan-
guage learning motivation research (cf. Ushioda & Drnyei, 2009; Drnyei et al.,
2015), the eld continues to offer little in terms of projects merging the instruments
and the benets of seemingly distant disciplines. The study presented in the
Love or Money? Reinterpreting Traditional Motivational 191

Fig. 2 Economic efciency (cf. Fig. 1) as applied to the subsystem of language education. Note
MLB stands for motivated learning behaviour

following sections takes a step towards that direction, examining university stu-
dents language skills and attitudes in the light of the educational context and recent
ndings of language economics.

5 Languages in Switzerland: A Story of Diversity

The history of the language issue in Switzerland goes back to the time of Napoleon,
under whose reign the three language regions (German, Italian and French) were
united by force, and the rst plurilingual state was formed (Elmiger & Forster,
2005). Although that confederation was short lived, the 1848 Constitution of the
new nation state reinstated the three-language policy. Today, with four ofcial
languages (German, French, Italian and Romansh, which was added in 1938), the
Swiss context is arguably among the most intriguing ones in terms of FL learning.
While the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education (CDIP) coor-
dinates policies and issues recommendations, regulations on language, culture and
education are formulated at the cantonal level. Therefore, the 1999 Constitution
(cited in Grin, 2010, p. 67) lists twenty-two monolingual cantons. The seventeen
German-speaking and four French-speaking cantons are separated by the
Rstigraben, the mythical border dividing Switzerland into two culturally and
linguistically different regions, in addition to the single Italian-speaking canton of
Ticino. Furthermore, in the three bilingual cantons, both ofcial documents and
road signs demonstrate this duality, while the trilingual canton of Grisons
(Graubnden in German, Grischun in written Romansh) has been the centre of the
192 V. Csillagh

ght for the preservation of Romansh and the initiative to support plurilingualism
(cf. Grin, 2010). Last but far from least, in cantons like Geneva, foreign residents
account for a considerable number of the population, which further enriches the
linguistic landscape of the country.

5.1 Speaking Swiss

According to the 2000 census data, 63.7% of the population in Switzerland are
German L1 speakers, while 20.4% declared French, 6.5% Italian and .5% Romansh
as their mother tongue (Ldi & Werlen, 2005). Although in this case participants
were allowed only one option, eliminating the possibility of bilingualism, questions
on family languages elicited comparable answers. In addition, in German-speaking
cantons, 80.5% of all respondents and 90.8% of Swiss residents speak a Swiss
German dialect (or the dialect) but not Standard German at home (Ldi & Werlen,
These gures showcase an intricate balance, which, as Elmiger and Forster
(2005) explain, is the result of a long history of Swiss German dialects living
alongside Standard German. The former have always been a metaphor for the home
and everyday life, while the latter traditionally represented the professional sphere
until schwyzerttsch started gaining ground and became an emblem of Swiss ide-
ological and economic independence in the twentieth century and gradually
replaced Standard German in a number of contexts. As local varieties have become
all but in name the main language of German-speaking cantons, French speakers
start to question the usefulness of learning Standard German.
Foreigners comprise one fth of the countrys population, and many of them live
in the highly multilingual French-speaking areas, where 18.4% of residents have a
mother tongue other than French (Ldi & Werlen, 2005). Most foreigners speak
one of the ofcial Swiss languages as an L1, French or Italian being a more frequent
choice than German, while 37.7% of them use a non-ofcial language at home
(ibid). Multilingualism at this scale raises the question of whether, indeed,
a common language can be found.
Scholars like Heller (2003) have suggested that the use of English could be a
solution to the challenges of such contexts. However, investigating Swiss rms,
Ldi, Barth, Hchle, and Yanaprasart (2009) found that linguistic policies as well
as employees language practices reflect a different reality in which diversity and
even linguistic virtuosity play an important role. Murray, Wegmller, and Khan
(2001) conclude that, in Switzerland, English is a resource rarely resorted to as a
lingua franca. Furthermore, they emphasise the lack of empirical data supporting
claims of a future where English becomes more prevalent in Swiss communication
(ibid). Studies conducted under the DYLAN project (Berthoud, Grin, & Ldi,
2013) discuss the economic and social benets of cultural and linguistic diversity,
lending further support to the argument for plurilingualism.
Love or Money? Reinterpreting Traditional Motivational 193

5.2 Plurilingualism, the Swiss Form of Multilingualism

The term plurilingualism stands for more than the mere coexistence of the four
ofcial languages and many dialects. Plurilingualism, which entails equality among
different languages and speakers awareness of the linguistic and social interrela-
tionships of these languages, is an emblem of modern Europe and an inherent
aspect of Swiss national identity (Breidbach, 2003). Consequently, in line with
recommendations issued by the Council of Europe, it has become a term of ref-
erence in Swiss education and language policy, with visible effects on language use
and teaching practices at various institutional levels (Elmiger & Forster, 2005). In
its institutional form, plurilingualism also provides the necessary basis for both
federal and cantonal language policies. On the other hand, as a skill, it is often
regarded as the life blood of the countrys economy.
Ldi et al. (2009) observe that plurilingual practices are essential in professional
communication in all linguistic regions, as many rms operate across linguistic
borders and in multilingual contexts. Individual plurilingualism of staff members is,
therefore, key to their proper functioning, and employers and employees navigate
this delicate situation through the use of corporate guidelines and plurilingual
communication techniques respectively. The latter seem especially effective in
successfully resolving communicative situations where no common language is
available. Although the policy relative to these instances recommends the use of
Standard German, employees often use a combination of languages to bridge the
gap (ibid). Non-local languages are often used in all three linguistic regions (Grin,
Sfreddo, & Vaillancourt, 2009). In French-speaking areas, German is used on a
daily basis by 29.9% of employees, English by 27.5% and Italian by 11.8%, while
13% of all professional communication takes place in English, 10% in German and
2% in Italian (ibid).
Statistics show that if, from one day to the next, all residents who speak another
ofcial language became monolingual, the loss could amount to as much as 10% of
the countrys GDP (Grin et al., 2009). However, plurilingualism is more than a
professional practice, and Grin (2014) argues that, as a political entity, Switzerland
exists mainly on the basis of active cooperation among linguistic regions but even
more importantly on the willingness to put such cooperation into place. In a recent
blog post, the former spokesperson for the State Councillor of the canton of Vaud,
Chantal Tauxe (2014), called plurilingualism a pillar of Swiss national identity and
expressed her concerns over changes in language education policy that might
damage this balance. Recent events indeed seem to suggest a growing interest in
English as opposed to Swiss ofcial languages. L2 teaching in Switzerland will now
be discussed from the perspective of the plurilingual context and its relevance to the
countrys economy.
194 V. Csillagh

5.3 Foreign Language Teaching

First of all, it is important to note that, regardless of their status or target com-
munity, all languages taught in Switzerland are treated as FLs both in policy
documents and in daily practice. Secondly, a historical overview (Elmiger &
Forster, 2005) clearly demonstrates the impact that the emergence of English as an
international language has had on Swiss language education policies. Built on the
principle of promoting understanding among Swiss citizens put forward by the
CDIP in 1975, language education in the different cantons traditionally favoured the
other ofcial languages, mainly German or French but also Italian. In 1997, how-
ever, the canton of Zurich announced its intention of introducing English as the rst
FL, opening a series of debates.
The reform took effect in 1999, requiring primary schools to teach English and
one more obligatory language, with a third language as an option. One ofcial
language was still mandatory, although the order of introduction was not specied.
The CDIP subsequently appointed regional Conferences to evaluate the proposal
and design the new framework, which gradually introduced the same changes all
over the country.
In 2014, the cantons of Nidwalden and Thurgau also established English as the
rst FL to be taught at primary school, relegating French to the second place and
reigniting the debate. Grin (2014) addresses the arguments in favour of English as
the more pragmatic option over Swiss ofcial languages, pointing out that not
only might hopes put into the early introduction of English be misplaced but that
abandoning or even postponing ofcial language instruction might have dire
sociological, political and economic consequences.
Since FL education constitutes CHF 1.5 billion of the yearly federal budget
(Grin & Sfreddo, 1997), economic considerations are, indeed, far from negligible.
Earlier I argued that individual plurilingualism and especially skills in ofcial
languages are key to the countrys economy. However, they are also a major source
of nancial benets at the individual level. A recent study of more than 2,000
companies and of over 1,000 employees revealed that, in business dealings across
linguistic borders, ofcial languages were used more often than English (Andres
et al., 2005). Similarly, in the French-speaking cantons, German skills were in
higher demand than English (54 against 42%), while, across the language border,
French was even more sought after (77% as opposed to 51% for English) (Grin
et al., 2009).
Revenue differentials showed a similar pattern. In French-speaking Switzerland,
prociency in English resulted in an average salary increase of 10%, whereas
German skills were rewarded by a raise of 14% (Grin, 1999). In the
German-speaking cantons, these gures amounted to 12% against 17% for English
and French respectively. Thus, it can be concluded that, from an economic point of
view, ofcial languages represent a greater asset, and the premise of English as the
pragmatic choice is only a myth. The question, then, is whether Swiss university
students are aware of this harsh reality. At the dawn of their professional career,
Love or Money? Reinterpreting Traditional Motivational 195

do students attitudes towards English reflect the still considerable market value of
the language or do their perceptions rely on non-market benets of self-expression
and international openness? In addition, in the light of their plurilingual back-
ground, do they respond to these questions differently than students in other

6 The Study

A few years ago, Drnyei and Ushioda compiled a volume dedicated to the
investigation of L2 motivation as a self-based, dynamic concept (2009). Although
many of the research reports included focused on English, even a cursory com-
parison of the results reveals marked differences in learners motivation in the
different research settings mentioned in the book. This prompted the author of this
chapter to design a study exploring a very special learning context, multilingual
Geneva. It soon became apparent that not only is Swiss language learning influ-
enced by the countrys plurilingualism, but learners and teachers are also very much
concerned about the economic issues underlying L2 education. A simple quanti-
tative analysis of university students attitudes towards English, therefore, devel-
oped into an exploratory project on the impact of these economic undercurrents.
This change in scope inevitably introduced certain limitations on the conclusiveness
of the study, which are discussed at the end of the chapter. Nevertheless, the results
are indicative of the interplay between motivational and economic factors in this
setting. Thus, they open new directions in the analysis of motivational phenomena
and might generate some thoughts about the increasingly frequent questions con-
cerning the learning and teaching of an international language.
In addition to a general enquiry into Swiss university students motivational
prole, the questionnaire study aimed to explore the relevance of the economic
aspects of L2 learning in Switzerland to participants attitudes through the fol-
lowing research questions:
1. Do university students language skills correspond to labour market demand and
to their plurilingual environment?
2. Do their attitudes and motivation towards English reflect global and/or local
economic trends? If so, in what form?
3. Do students of various faculties differ in their language skills and attitudes
towards English?
4. Do Swiss students have a different linguistic and motivational prole from their
foreign peers?
196 V. Csillagh

7 Method

In order to answer these questions, an online questionnaire consisting of 102 items

was created. The message containing the web link to the questionnaire was for-
warded to students of four faculties at the University of Geneva during the fall of
2013 by the secretariats, teachers and student associations of these faculties.
Students who consented to participate in the study were redirected to the
LimeSurvey platform (2012, V. 2.0), where data collection took place in complete
anonymity. The data obtained were submitted to statistical analysis and compared
with research results in language economics (see Sect. 11).

8 Participants

A total of 375 students at the University of Geneva from the Faculties of Law and
Medicine, Sciences, and Economic and Social Sciences (SES, as of January 1, 2014
two separate entities) participated in the study. Their numbers are listed in Table 2
per faculty, mother tongue and L2 level reported. Seven students attended more
than one of the four faculties and were thus excluded from the comparative analysis
of these faculties. Of the 368 remaining participants, 25.5% attended the Faculty of
Law, while 17.4% studied Medicine, and 40.8 and 16.3% were students at the
faculties of Science and SES respectively. Low participation rates from the latter
were due to difculties in reaching out to these students. Female students repre-
sented 66.8% and male students the remaining 33.2%.
Respondents answers reflect the multilingual setting of the study, as only 24
(6.4%) were completely monolingual. Competences in two languages were reported

Table 2 Participants grouped by gender, faculty and language prociency

Law Medicine Science Economic and Social Sciences Total
Male 27 20 52 23 122
Female 67 44 98 37 246
Total 94 64 150 60 368
L2 Level (scale option) German French Italian English Other
A1 (1) 29 1 17 7 n/a
A2 (2) 34 3 13 14 n/a
B1 (3) 50 3 20 59 n/a
B2 (4) 48 10 14 74 n/a
C1 (5) 17 23 8 112 n/a
C2 (6) 9 62 4 62 n/a
Means L2 3.09 5.32 2.93 4.39 n/a
Total L2 speakers 187 102 76 328 103
Total L1 speakers 25 291 25 21 98
Love or Money? Reinterpreting Traditional Motivational 197

by 68 students (18.1%), and 136 students (36.3%) spoke three and 106 (28.3%)
four languages. Interestingly, as many as 35 participants (9.3%) had skills in ve
languages, and 6 students spoke six to eight languages. Although the majority of
students were French L1 speakers, the results revealed trends of diversity. Other
ofcial languages corresponded to 13.3% and English to 5.6% of all L1 s, whereas
26.1% of respondents declared another non-national language as their mother
tongue. Moreover, students could choose multiple answers, and while the majority
of participants (i.e., 298) indicated only one L1, 69 (18.4%) reported two, with 6
having three and 2 four mother tongues respectively. Participants ratings of their
L2 skills on a six-point scale adapted from the Common European Framework of
Reference (CEFR; Council of Europe, 2001) were even more diverse and will be
discussed in detail in the following section.
However, one interesting aspect of the language data that is worth mentioning
here concerns the discrepancy between mother tongue and L2 learning on the one
hand, and L2 speaking and L2 learning on the other. The results showed that
various L1s were also mentioned in the category of L2s learned at the moment, and,
reversely, some L2s were being learned but not spoken by respondents. German
was among the most frequent languages (28) of the latter kind, after the languages
categorized as other (36). In addition, Swiss German dialects were treated in the
same category as German throughout the analysis.
Since nationality and citizenship are similarly complex issues in the Geneva
context, participants who had taken their school-leaving exams in Switzerland were
assigned the label Swiss, indicating that they had participated in foreign language
classes in Switzerland during their upper secondary education. As expected, the
majority of respondents (N = 256, 68.3%) belonged to this group, whereas 69
foreign students came from France, reflecting the social and economic ties
between Geneva and the neighbouring regions of France. Participants came from all
levels of university education and age groups (1665), with an average age of 23.
The majority of the Swiss students had completed their secondary studies in the
canton of Geneva (187), and a similar number (191) were already engaged in a
professional activity.

9 The Questionnaire

The three-part questionnaire was written in French and, after a brief introduction,
started with questions on students demographic and linguistic background,
including the ones discussed above. The second section asked participants to rate
various statements about English on ve-point Likert scales, and in the third part
(consisting of one scale, Direct contact) students chose one out of ve options
based on how often they used English in different activities. The 11 multiple-item
scales in the last two sections were chosen based on previous studies in other
contexts. They were further developed as part of the authors MA research in
198 V. Csillagh

Hungary and then translated and adapted to the Geneva context. Reliability scores
and the number of questions included in the nal analysis were the following:
(1) Motivated learning behaviour (3 questions; Kormos & Csizr, 2008;
= 0.755)
(2) Ideal L2 self (4 questions; Kormos & Csizr, 2008; = 0.874)
(3) Ought-to L2 self (3 questions; Kormos & Csizr, 2008; = 0.635)
(4) Attitudes to learning English (3 questions; Kormos & Csizr, 2008; = 0.907)
(5) Attitudes towards traditional target groups (10 questions; Kormos & Csizr,
2008; = 0.897)
(6) International posture (4 questions; Csizr & Kormos, 2009; Yashima, 2009;
= 0.736)
(7) Ethnocentrism (5 questions; Ryan, 2009; = 0.805)
(8) Global village (4 questions; Csillagh, 2010; = 0.806)
(9) Willingness to communicate (6 questions; McCroskey (n.d.); = 0.933).
(10) Perceived importance of contact (3 questions; Kormos & Csizr, 2008;
= 0.763)
(11) Direct contact (21 questions; Kormos & Csizr, 2008; = 0.894)

10 Analysis

Participants answers were recorded through the universitys LimeSurvey plat-

form (2012, V. 2.0) and exported to Microsoft Excel (2010), where cleaning and
decoding took place. Reliability measures were controlled in SPSS (2013, V.
22.0) and the software was used to compute scales. The results of the descriptive
statistics and multivariate analysis are discussed in the next section.

11 Results and Discussion

In this chapter, I argue for the potential of applying interdisciplinary approaches to

the study of motivational phenomena in order to better understand the impact of
contextual influences. Therefore, the following discussion brings elements of lan-
guage economics to the analysis of L2 motivation in the plurilingual context of
Geneva. Although the design of the study, from the choice and composition of the
scales to the statistical procedures involved, follows quantitative L2 motivation
research traditions, the results obtained lend themselves to some noteworthy
comparisons between university students language attitudes and the economic
reality of Swiss FL learning.
Love or Money? Reinterpreting Traditional Motivational 199

12 Foreign Language Skills

Swiss university students language portfolio is highly plurilingual. On the whole,

more than one in ve (22.4%) students speak three L2s, more than an additional
third (37.1%) reported skills in two L2s, and an extra 24.8% speak one L2. As seen
in Table 2, Swiss ofcial languages have an especially important role to play in this
wide-spread plurilingualism.
A remarkable number of participants (187) speak German, most of them rating
their prociency level as B1B2, which corresponds to the ofcial school-leaving
exam (maturit) requirements and is also the average level of German skills for the
sample in this study. Many of them (53) continued to study German at the time of
enquiry: after English, German was the most popular language currently learned.
These results, rstly, underline the efciency of German teaching in secondary
education. Secondly, they indicate that university students are aware of the
importance of German skills, which Grin et al. (2009) found to be in high demand
in French-speaking Switzerland.
In addition, a considerable number of 76 (20%) participants spoke Italian as an
L2. Interestingly, despite a more equal distribution, students most frequent level of
Italian was also B1. In their Italian skills, these students also possess a great asset,
since more than one in four (26%) companies seek Italian speakers (ibid). French
L2 speakers (102) in general rated their prociency very high, which is under-
standable in a French-speaking context where these skills are basic requirements for
employment and also for most university programs.
Unsurprisingly, English was by far the most popular L2 among participants.
Altogether, 328 students spoke English as an L2, with an average level of B2, the
highest after French. In addition, one third of them (112) mastered English at a
remarkable C1 level. These gures characteristically surpass the demand expressed
by companies (ibid), corresponding to global trends of market saturation. Therefore,
it is questionable whether such high levels of English skills are sufciently com-
pensated by market-related gains either at the individual or the social level. At the
same time, these results might also indicate intriguing underlying patterns of
motivation that point beyond the appeal of nancial benets obtained through
language prociency.
In order to gauge L2 users prociency, native speakers and students with no
competence were excluded from the above analysis. However, more focused
analysis including participants who reported no skills in the language in question
revealed interesting patterns. Swiss students (N = 256) consistently outperformed
their international peers (N = 119) in the three ofcial languages. This difference
was statistically signicant in the case of German (p = 0.000) and French
(p = 0.011). Interestingly, there were no marked differences between the two groups
in terms of English skills. The conclusion that Swiss participants were better geared
to meet labour market L2 requirements might, on the one hand, testify to the merits
of Swiss foreign language education. On the other hand, it also mitigates claims for
abandoning national languages in favour of English in Swiss primary schools. The
200 V. Csillagh

interesting question is what role these different languages are allotted to in students
life, and whether students attitudes towards German and English clearly mark the
former as the pragmatic choice associated with market benets and the latter as a
means to self-expression and identity creation.

13 Differences Between Faculties

Not all vocations require the same level or combination of language skills, and a
comparison of the different faculties, displayed in Fig. 3, indeed shows a remark-
able pattern. Differences were statistically signicant for French (p = 0.014), while
Italian skills virtually disappeared with the inclusion of non-speakers. It is visible at
a glance that French skills were strongest at the faculties of Law and Medicine,
followed by the SES. Although not statistically signicant, the gures for German
(p = 0.056) suggest similar trends, indicating that Swiss ofcial languages might
belong to the same category. On the other hand, Law students also excelled at
English (p = 0.228), with the SES ranking slightly higher than Medicine. However,
as these differences were non-signicant, it can be concluded that the study showed
no clear distinction between faculties in terms of English skills. Finally, the faculty
of Science ranked lowest on all three measures.
Table 3 shows that even the lowest gures for French at the faculties of Science
and SES reached C1 level. Again, at all faculties, Swiss students competence in
French (p = 0.011) and German (p = 0.000) considerably surpassed their interna-
tional counterparts, even though in the case of German the presence of false L2
speakers (i.e., students who marked German both as an L1 and an L2) was neg-
ligible. Skills in English (p = 1.000) remained quite strong throughout all the
sub-groups without any signicant difference.

3.0 English
Law Medicine Science SES

Fig. 3 Average foreign language levels by faculty

Love or Money? Reinterpreting Traditional Motivational 201

Table 3 Average foreign language levels per faculty and place of secondary education
Faculty Place of L2 levels (1 = A1, 6 = C2)
secondary German French Italian English
Law Abroad M 1.83 5.57 0.35 4.71
N 23 14 23 21
SD 1.90 0.65 1.11 1.19
Switzerland M 1.92 5.58 0.74 4.08
N 66 24 65 65
SD 1.89 1.10 1.54 1.97
Medicine Abroad M 1.79 6.00 0.07 3.80
N 14 2 15 15
SD 1.67 0.00 0.26 1.78
Switzerland M 1.88 5.88 0.98 4.11
N 48 8 48 45
SD 2.01 0.35 1.64 1.63
Science Abroad M 0.84 4.52 0.47 3.79
N 63 21 60 61
SD 1.52 1.25 1.16 1.87
Switzerland M 1.67 5.54 0.62 3.77
N 85 13 79 87
SD 1.78 1.20 1.41 1.70
Economic and social Abroad M 0.64 4.83 0.45 3.83
sciences (SES) N 11 6 11 12
SD 1.03 0.98 1.51 1.70
Switzerland M 2.13 5.33 0.65 4.19
N 40 12 46 47
SD 2.00 0.78 1.32 1.44

Interestingly, these results show only partial convergence with the latest report
on linguistic practices in different sectors. Ldi and Werlen (2005) found that in
French-speaking Switzerland 22.9% of employees in the sectors of management,
banking and law used Swiss German at work, while 30.4% reported using English
and 7.5% Italian. In the medical, scientic and education sectors, the gures were
considerably lower, 14.2% for Swiss German and 17.1 and 4.9% for English and
Italian respectively. In the present study focusing on university students, two trends
were identied. Whereas medical and law students excelled in Swiss ofcial lan-
guages, the faculties of Medicine and Science reported the weakest skills in the case
of English. One possible reason for this could be the importance of ofcial lan-
guages in professions concerned with local affairs and in which skilled labour is in
high demand locally. In contrast, science students had the lowest L2 averages
throughout all comparisons, even in English, which is perhaps unexpected given the
often-cited international nature of science.
202 V. Csillagh

14 Attitudes, Motivation and English in the Swiss Context

There were further differences between faculties regarding the motivational scales.
Figure 4 shows that students attitudes to learning English (p = 0.053) were most
positive at the faculty of Law, although with an average of 4.2 for all participants
the gures were very high overall. More importantly, contrary to research ndings
in other countries (Sect. 3), medical students ought-to L2 self (p = 0.015) was
especially strong at 3.8, which showcases a general trend among respondents. In
addition, students also valued opportunities to speak English the most (p = 0.053).
That the self-guide representing expectations and social pressure emerged as a
concept highly relevant to students life might reflect, rst of all, the strictness of
their university environment and their goal-orientedness. Furthermore, it also
reveals some noteworthy undercurrents characteristic of the Swiss learning context.
Participants strong ought-to L2 self is suggestive of their aspirations to nd their
place in a society that highly values language skills.
Differences between the Swiss group and that of foreign students were most
signicant on six attitudinal scales, which are shown in Fig. 5. Foreigners reported
stronger Ideal L2 Selves (p = 0.019) and were more positive towards the global
village and the international community (p = 0.021). These attitudes were more in
line with research ndings in other contexts discussed in Sect. 3. It can be con-
cluded that, in contrast with their Swiss peers, foreign students were more inclined
to view language learning and career as personal endeavours and elements of their
imagined future self in an international world.
Swiss students attitudes, on the other hand, followed an altogether different
pattern. They had more favourable attitudes to English and American native
speakers, a trend also observed by Murray (2003) in her study of language teachers
in Switzerland. However, are such views merely a reflection of cultural interest, are
they based on frequent themes in language education, or might they suggest a more

4.5 Law
4.0 Medicine

3.5 Science
Attitudes to Ought-to L2 Self Perceived Ethnocentrism Contact: Films Contact: Talk
learning English importance of and social about English
contact networks speaking

Fig. 4 Mean values by faculty

Love or Money? Reinterpreting Traditional Motivational 203

3.0 Switzerland
Ideal L2 Self Global Direct Attitudes Reading, Traveling
village contact toward writing and
target studying

Fig. 5 Mean values by place of secondary education

serious issue of linguistic inequality? Phillipson (1992) argues that, as an effect of

linguistic imperialism, native speakers of English enjoy certain benets that others
are deprived of. Swiss students remarkable attraction to these traditional target
groups raises the question of whether it might be linked to the advantages native
speakers represent.
Despite these differences, students in both groups demonstrated strong future
self-visions, and the ideal L2 self was the variable with the highest mean value for
the whole sample. Moreover, the question linking English to a desired career
yielded the highest score among all the attitudinal items. However, although a
relevant aspect of students self-concept and of their language attitudes, the ideal L2
self was not the most important factor in terms of its link to motivated learning
behaviour. Correlational analysis of the attitudinal scales, as shown in Table 4
below, sheds more light on the relative strength of the different factors.
As expected, the strongest correlation was found between motivation and atti-
tudes to learning English. More interestingly, among the rest of the scales motivated
learning behaviour was linked rst and foremost to students ought-to L2 self,
indicating the importance of an individuals obligations and responsibilities in a
highly value-centric society. Indeed, views concerning ones responsibility in
securing gains at a social level at the same time as achieving personal nancial
stability are arguably more overt in Switzerland than in other contexts. Therefore,
these relationships suggest that social values and, indirectly, market-related benets
might play an important role in the construction of university students self-concept
and motivation.
The ideal L2 self had a less strong but still marked connection to motivation,
indicative of the link between motivation and more personal aspects of the self.
Consequently, although not as powerful as social expectations, personal goals are
still an important element of Swiss university students language attitudes. These
results are suggestive of the influence that both market and non-market values exert

Table 4 Correlation coefcients (Pearsons) for the main attitudinal scales

2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11A 11B 11C 11D
1 Motivation 0.580** [ns.] 0.388** 0.405** 0.327** 0.256** .316** [ns.] 0.394** [ns.] 0.181** 0.214** [ns.]
2 Attitude 0.335** 0.336** 0.367** 0.374** 0.328** 0.225** 0.151** 0.547** 0.280** 0.255** 0.383** 0.219**
3 WTC 0.223** 0.216** 0.180** 0.312** [ns.] 0.144** 0.245** 0.452** 0.303** 0.328** 0.217**
4 Ideal Self 0.456** 0.429** 0.382** 0.316** 0.233** 0.320** 0.353** 0.213** 0.280** 0.135**
5 Ought-to Self 0.500** 0.430** 0.358** 0.181** 0.409** 0.278** 0.270** 0.275** 0.212**
6 Global village 0.407** 0.471** 0.243** 0.443** 0.189** 0.265** 0.316** 0.133**
7 Imp. of contact 0.268** 0.470** 0.397** 0.228** 0.223** 0.162** 0.301**
8 Intl posture 0.151** 0.359** [ns.] 0.143** 0.142** [ns.]
9 Ethnocentrism 0.263** [ns.] 0.140** [ns.] 0.114*
10 Target group 0.212** 0.199** 0.297** 0.267**
11A Read-write 0.472** 0.579** 0.371**
11B Travel 0.422** 0.302**
11C Films-social 0.306**
11D Talk about
Notes *Signicant at the p 0.05 level (2-tailed). **Signicant at the p 0.01 level (2-tailed)
V. Csillagh
Love or Money? Reinterpreting Traditional Motivational 205

over participants motivation, especially as an element of their responsibilities in

their social milieu. Moreover, since the two self-guides were also strongly linked, it
can be argued that they represent important social as well as individual aspects of
university students self-concept. The exact motivational impact of these compo-
nents is to be investigated in further stages of the project.
In addition to the self-guides, positive attitudes to native speakers and favourable
views on the notion of the global village and international posture all emerged as
factors closely related to motivated learning behaviour, which might reflect the role
of English as a means of international communication, regardless of the origin of its
speakers. Competence in English as an international language offers indisputable
nancial benets, while it also represents more subtle aspects of modern learner
identity and thus carries considerable non-market gains, ranging from cultural
elements to social media. Indeed, lms and social media displayed strong links to
motivation, which might indicate the relevance of non-market values associated
with English and conrm widespread impressions among language teachers.
Further analysis is needed to establish the direction and relative strength of these
relationships, but the results treated in this section suggest that Swiss university
students motivation might be linked to both market-related benets and
non-market values. These values are represented, on the one hand, by a general
openness to native speakers as well as international issues and communication. On
the other hand, social responsibility and expectations were also shown as relevant to
participants self-concept and motivation, as were career prospects and a
future-oriented disposition. It is clear that university students view English as
highly important in a professional context, even though their motives point beyond
the influence of market-related benets.

15 Conclusion

In summary, these preliminary results reveal, rst of all, that students at the
University of Geneva show an outstanding level of plurilingualism, both in terms of
L1 and L2 skills. In line with the requirements of the local context, Swiss ofcial
languages are central to this plurilingualism. Altogether, the gures look promising
in the light of labour market demand and are indicative of the strength of FL
education in Switzerland.
Moreover, the study investigated the relevance of economic factors using
established concepts in L2 motivation research and relying heavily on the economic
elements inherent to these constructs. On the one hand, Swiss participants reported
a remarkably powerful ought-to L2 self, which was also strongly linked to their
motivation to learn English. This indicates the importance of social values in stu-
dents life and language learning, while the relevance of the ideal L2 self draws
attention to personal values.
On the other hand, the study conrmed that career prospects as well as social
requirements are relevant aspects of participants self-concept and motivation. Both
206 V. Csillagh

market-related benets, in the form of career opportunities, and non-market values,

such as social acceptance and international interests, were revealed to have a strong,
indirect influence on university students attitudes. Arguably, the most intriguing
question the above analysis raises is how economic values as standalone factors are
related to motivation. This question, in turn, introduces two issues.
The rst is methodological in nature and concerns the suitability of traditional
research methods for the analysis of modern motivational phenomena and their
composite relationships. As I argued above, interdisciplinary research designs carry
enormous potential for the exploration of contextual influences in language learning
and the present chapter takes a step towards integrating an interdisciplinary lens into
traditional quantitative analysis. However, further studies are required to fully
explore the applicability of interdisciplinary perspectives and to test to what extent
such new methods are suited to assess the influence of contextual variables.
Secondly, this chapter discussed the theoretical links between motivational and
economic constructs. The results of the survey study indicate that such ties are
worth investigating beyond the bounds of theory. Therefore, the interface of L2
motivation and language economics offers an interesting territory for future research
to explore.


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Attribution Theory: Dimensions
of Causality, Stability and Controllability
According to Learners

Ana Soa Gonzalez

Abstract The reasons learners construe for their perceived successes and failures
in foreign language learning (FLL) have received considerable attention in recent
years. These perceptions, which are called attributions, have mostly been classied
according to their dimensions of locus of causality, stability and controllability.
A recent study, however, has revealed that learners may classify attributions for
their perceived successes and failures differently from researchers in previous
studies if they are given the opportunity to sort these attributions into their
dimensions, and that this classication may be linked to learners cultural traits.
This chapter will rst provide a brief historical background to attribution theory and
will present the most relevant research in the eld. It will then consider factors that
may influence the construction of language learners attributions. Finally, it will
discuss the results of research that related learners attributions for perceived suc-
cess and failure to culture, and show the different ways in which learners see
attributions according to the dimensions of causality, stability and controllability.

Keywords Attribution theory  Locus of causality  Stability  Controllability

1 Introduction

For many years, attribution theory deserved researchers attention due to its
importance in successful goal achievement (Graham & Folkes, 1990; McAuley &
Duncan, 1990; Vispoel & Austin, 1995). Attribution theory deals with individuals
perceptions of their successes and failures in an area of achievement. It is worth
noting that it does not focus on true reasons for success and failure (or facts), but it
is concerned with what individuals believe are the reasons for what they perceive as
a success or failure. Once again, what a person feels to be a success or failure may

A.S. Gonzalez (&)

Instituto Superior de Cincias da EducaoISCED, Luanda, Angola

Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016 209

C. Gkonou et al. (eds.), New Directions in Language Learning Psychology,
Second Language Learning and Teaching, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-23491-5_12
210 A.S. Gonzalez

not be perceived as such by others, but it is the individuals own interpretation as

opposed to a standardised score or external perspective that transforms an experi-
ence into a perceived success or failure. These perceptions play a vital role in
language learning as they have been shown to influence learners motivation as well
as behaviours and goal setting for the future (Drnyei & Ushioda, 2011; Frsterling,
2001; Williams & Burden, 1997, 1999).
Attributions may be classied according to three dimensions, namely, their locus
of causality, stability and controllability. Locus of causality refers to whether
individuals perceive their successes and failures as being due to internal or external
causes, that is, whether they believe their more successful or less successful
achievement is their responsibilityor the responsibility of others or of circum-
stances. Stability refers to whether an attribution is perceived as stable
(unchangeable) or whether it may change, whereas controllability is related to the
extent to which individuals perceive their attributions for success and failure to be
under their control or under the control of others.
The classication of attributions according to their dimensions is a decision that
in attribution research has traditionally been carried out by researchers and not the
learners themselves. However, individuals may view these categories and dimen-
sions of attributions differently. In a study recently conducted by Gonzalez (2015),
research has revealed that, given the opportunity to sort their success and failure
attributions into different dimensions, not only may learners classify them in a way
that is different from that of researchers in previous studies, but also that learners
classication may be linked to learners specic cultural traits. This has implica-
tions not only for the conclusions that can be drawn from research, but also for
attribution retraining. The latter refers to a set of procedures used to change mainly
stable, uncontrollable, external attributions into more changeable, controllable,
internal ones, in order to increase self-esteem and perceived chances of success,
leading to perseverance to achieve the designated goal. Naturally, it depends on
learners perceptions of the dimensions of their attributions before retraining can be
appropriately employed.
This chapter will rst provide a brief historical and theoretical overview of
attribution theory, referring to factors that may influence the construction of attri-
butions for success and failure. It will then discuss the results of research that
related culture to language learners attributions for success and failure. Next, it will
present the results of a study which examines how learners see their attributions
according to the dimensions of causality, stability and controllability.

1.1 Brief Historical Background

The idea that an individual in pursuit of a specic goal considers the chances of
successful achievement was rst put forward by Heider in the 1940s. Specically,
Heider (1958) argued that, while trying to achieve a particular goal, people think
Attribution Theory: Dimensions of Causality, Stability 211

about how easy or difcult achieving that goal might be, and what the reasons
behind a more or less successful outcome may be, making individuals nave
psychologistsuntrained observers, ordinary explainers. As far as success or
failure achievement events are concerned, Heider (1958) considered the close
relationship between actor and event, suggesting that individuals would tend to
construe more internal causes for success but attribute failure to other people or
external circumstances and causes. These ideas were later further explored by Jones
and Davis (1965), who developed the theory of correspondent inferences, in an
attempt to describe the processes individuals go through to construe reasons for
events. This has led to the establishment of the Actor-Observer bias, which was
later described by Jones and Nisbett (1971) and refers to the fact that an individual
performing a particular event will have a view about it that is different from the
view of an outsider about that same behaviour or event. Additionally, in his
Covariation Model of Attribution, Kelley (1971) sustained that causes could be
personal, environmental or a combination of both, based on extra information an
individual would have about the event, such as depending on whether the same
event occurred in similar or different situations, and how often it was performed
(Antaki, 1982; Hewstone, 1983; Miller, Vandome, & McBrewster, 2010).
Despite noticeable advances in the development of attribution theory achieved
by Heider, Kelley, and Jones and Davis among others, it was Weiner (1979) who
researched success and failure attributions from an academic perspective, stating
that ability, effort, task difculty and luck were the most probable reasons for
success and failure, and who initially classied attributions according to the
dimensions of locus of causality and stability. As Weiner argued, an individual
could attribute his/her success and failure to more internal or external causes (locus
of causality), and to causes that would be either xed/stable or changeable
(stability). He later claimed that attributions for success and failure could also be
controllable or uncontrollable, adding to his theory the dimension of controllability.
Within second language acquisition (SLA), Weiners set of attributions was
criticised by Little (1985) who maintained that, if given the opportunity, individuals
would provide more reasons for success and failure, and that there would be a
difference between the reasons put forward by adults and the ones construed by
children. More recently, research conducted mainly on language learning has
revealed that the construction of attributions for success and failure is influenced by
factors like age, gender, perceived level of success, language learnt and culture
(Gonzalez, 2015; Williams, Burden, & Al-Baharna, 2001; Williams, Burden, &
Lanvers, 2002; Williams, Burden, Poulet, & Maun, 2004), and that these factors
may suggest the prominence of some causes over others. Furthermore, the idea that
attribution classication is fairly straightforward and common sense has been
questioned by Gonzalez (2015). These issues will be discussed in more detail later
in the chapter.
212 A.S. Gonzalez

1.2 Reasons for Success and Failure

Over the years, different attributions for success and failure have been put forward,
either by researchers or participants. Weiner (1979) rst presented what he claimed
were the four major attributions for success and failure: ability, effort, task difculty
and luck. These were classied according to locus of causality and stability. In
particular, ability was seen as internal and stable, effort as internal and changeable,
task difculty as external and stable and luck as external and changeable. Weiner
(1985) later revised his dimensions model adding the controllability dimension and
more attributions. The new model consisted of the following attributions: typical
effort, immediate effort, ability and moodall classied as internal attributions, and
teacher bias, unusual help from others, task difculty and luckall categorised as
external attributions.
As mentioned earlier in this chapter, Little (1985) stated that there could not
possibly be only eight attributions for success and failure and that, when given the
chance to state their own attributions, individuals could point out other attributions
too. He also claimed that mentioning a particular attribution for success does not
necessarily mean that an individual would state the same attribution as a cause for
failure. Furthermore, Little explained that age could be a factor of influence, that is,
children might indicate attributions for success and failure that are different from the
ones adults would mention. In fact, in his study with children, Little (1985)
uncovered eighteen different categories of attributionsten more than the ones
proposed by Weiner in his revised model of dimensions of attributions.
Since then, in several studies, participants of all ages were asked to reflect on the
reasons for their successes and failures in areas of achievement other than language
(e.g., Choi, Nisbett, & Norenzayan, 1999; Hess, Chih-Mei, & McDevitt, 1987;
Kivulu & Rogers, 1998; Marsh, 1986; McAuley & Duncan, 1990; Vispoel &
Austin, 1993, 1995; Vlachopoulos, Biddle, & Fox, 1997). Other studies have
focused on participants attributions for success and failure specically in language
learning (e.g., Gonzalez, 2006; Williams & Burden, 1999; Williams et al., 2002,
2004). In all of the studies mentioned above, new categories of attributions often
emerged, some of which were closely linked to the participants environment, thus
suggesting that not only age but also culture could affect the choice of attributions
for success and failure and influence the construction of attributions. Some of these
new categories concern teaching methods and techniques, teaching materials,
interest, signicant others, metacognitive strategies, attention, practice, and time.
Gonzalez (2015) found that, due to context specicities, participants mentioned
categories that were not common in other contexts (for example, attitude towards
English, appropriate content, attention and attendance), as well as categories that
were totally new, namely, previous and/or additional experience, mother tongue,
exposure to authentic language, and physical and emotional state. Additionally,
certain attributions considered by Weiner (1985) as major reasons for success and
failure as per his initial models were found to be seldom mentioned by participants
in subsequent studies (Gonzalez, 2006, 2015). For instance, in Gonzalezs (2015)
Attribution Theory: Dimensions of Causality, Stability 213

study, participants rarely mentioned ability and task difculty (task difculty was in
fact classied by her as ease, since the category did not have to do with dif-
culties faced in particular tasks or language input, but with the more general per-
ception of nding learning English as a whole an easier or more difcult
endeavour), and luck and mood were not mentioned at all. Further, in this same
study, participants top ve attributions for success did not match their top ve
attributions for failure, showing that the fact that an individual considers a particular
attribution to be one of the reasons for his/her success does not mean s/he would see
the lack or absence of it to be a cause for failure.
In attribution research, many questions remain and the potential for individual
variation is considerable. Since attributions are personal, there could be at least as
many reasons as there are individuals, and there is no limited number of attributions
for either success or failure. To date, very little research has explored personal
subjective variations. For example, the rst way in which attributions may vary is
related to past experience and context-specic features and conditions, which
favour the emergence of new categories of attributions or of context-specic
attributions. Moreover, the most frequently mentioned attributions in some contexts
may be seldom cited in others. For example, ability may be one of the most
frequently mentioned attributions in many contexts but rarely mentioned in others.
In addition, attributions mentioned for success may not even be considered as
reasons for failure. For example, the fact that an individual mentions effort as a
cause of success does not mean s/he will mention lack of effort as a reason for
failure. Also, an individual may not only have just one reason for a success or
failure, but several differently weighted reasons. It is therefore wise to give par-
ticipants the opportunity to indicate the reasons why they believe they succeed in
achieving or fail to achieve certain goals, instead of pre-dening them as was the
case in previous research, since the construction of reasons for success and failure is
primarily a personal event.

1.3 Factors Influencing Success and Failure Attributions

Previous studies in domains other than FLL have investigated whether individuals
with different characteristics, such as age, gender, perceived level of success, lan-
guage learnt and culture, would share the same kind of attributions for their suc-
cesses and failures. For instance, Little (1985) concluded that the frequency with
which some categories, such as specic and general competence, effort and interest,
and influence of others were mentioned, increased with age, while the frequency
with which categories like performance ability were mentioned decreased with age.
Within SLA, research that has been most influential was conducted by Williams
and Burden along with other colleagues, in a range of settings (Williams & Burden,
1999; Williams et al., 2002, 2004). Their studies were mainly carried out with
children and signicant differences were found in attributions mentioned depending
on childrens age, gender, perceived level of success and language learnt. In their
214 A.S. Gonzalez

1999 study, Williams and Burden individually interviewed 36 1015 year-old

children learning French in the southwest of England (twelve from year 6, twelve
from year 7, six from year 9 and six from year 10). They concluded that younger
children produced a smaller number of attributions for both success and failure than
older ones, which suggests that the range of attributions increases with age.
In another study, Williams, Burden, and Lanvers (2002) administered a ques-
tionnaire to 228 secondary school learners of both genders, studying French and
German in grades 7, 8 and 9 in three schools and later interviewed 24 of them. The
study centred on the degree of student motivation and the influence of age, gender,
different levels of prociency and language studied on student motivation. It was
found that learners had a strong willingness to perform well in language learning, a
high sense of responsibility for their own learning and positive perception of
success and ability. Differences emerged in terms of gender, age and preferred
language: girls differed from boys in that they were more integratively oriented,
enjoyed learning the language more, put more effort into their study and showed a
higher degree of intrinsic motivation; younger students proved to be more integ-
ratively oriented, had a more positive attitude and a higher perception of ability
and language need, and used metacognitive strategies more frequently than older
students, thus indicating a decrease in motivation levels with age; and students
(especially boys) had a more positive attitude towards learning German than
In their 2004 study, Williams, Burden, Poulet and Maun asked 285 male and
female secondary school students aged 1116, who were learning three different
foreign languages (Spanish, French and German) in ve secondary schools in the
UK, to indicate their perceived level of success by selecting the most appropriate
statement on a questionnaire and give reasons why they succeeded or failed to learn
the foreign language in question. The study revealed that attributions varied
depending on the students gender and age, the language they were studying and
whether they perceived themselves as success- or failure-oriented, that is, whether
students considered themselves as more or less successful in learning a foreign
Two of these studies (Williams et al., 2002, 2004) were later replicated by
Gonzalez (2006), who concluded that the attributions suggested by learners for their
successes and failures differed from the ones indicated by their teachers. Learners
believed that their successes were mainly caused by external factors, as the only
internal factor that appeared in the rst six attributions was effort. In particular, of
the 520 attributions for success, 73.27% were external, disconrming the general
belief that learners tend to attribute their successes to themselves and their failures
to others. Teachers stated that their learners success was primarily due to effort,
interest and enjoyment, whereas learners believed that teaching methods and
techniques and teaching materials contributed more to their success. With reference
to failure, learners still attributed it to external factors, thus not blaming themselves
for their failures, while their teachers attributed learners failures mainly to internal
factors, making learners more responsible for their failures than themselves. This
difference in attributions mentioned by learners and by their teachers calls for a
Attribution Theory: Dimensions of Causality, Stability 215

need for teachers to nd out what their learners attributions for success and failure
are, in order to help them maintain or increase their motivation, since these attri-
butions reflect learners opinions about their learning experience and may influence
motivation to persist with their learning.
Further, studies conducted in different settings (e.g., Ames & Felker, 1979;
Butler, 1986; Hau & Salili, 1990; Ho, Salili, Biggs, & Hau, 1999; Juvonen, 2000;
Kashima & Triandis, 1986; Murphy-Berman & Sharma, 1986; Niles, 1985; van
Laar, 2000) have suggested that interaction with different environmental conditions
and settings could lead to the construction of different attributions for success and
failure. In other words, the individuals culture or micro culture(s) could also
influence success and failure attributions. Essentially, in all of these publications,
the learners culture was at the heart of the reasons they construed for their suc-
cesses and failures. However, these studies were all conducted in achievement areas
other than language learning. Within FLL, the only study which examined the
influence of culture on learners success and failure attributions was conducted by
Williams, Burden and Al-Baharna (2001). The authors investigated the reasons
Bahraini learners constructed for their successes and failures in learning English,
how these differed from the ones presented by their teachers, and how different
these reasons were from the ones presented by Western European learners, in an
attempt to highlight the influence of culture. They found that learners reasons for
success and failure were in fact different from those of their teachers and fellow
learners from Western Europe. They also argued that the study uncovered certain
cultural issues in regard to learners attributions for success and failure, suggesting
that learners from different cultural backgrounds and/or educational traditions may
also present different attributions.
In order to ll this gap in research which relates culture to attributions, Gonzalez
(2015) conducted a study with adult Angolan learners whom she rst divided into
two groups with distinct cultural characteristics based on criteria established
through empirical data: more traditional learners and more globalised/progressive
learners. This distinction was made on the basis of the researchers prediction that,
within the Angolan setting, there were two major cultural groups with marked
differences in attitudes towards authority, group acceptance and approval, and sense
of belonging to a larger group, and that these characteristics would lead to the
emergence of different success and failure attributions. It was found that certain
cultural parameters like integrativeness versus ethnocentrism, collectivism versus
individualism, relationship with peers in terms of acceptance and support, teacher
dependence, teacher acceptance and support, teacher authority, family acceptance
and support, family and tribal authority, to name a few, were associated with
specic attributions, especially in terms of the frequency with which some attri-
butions were mentioned. For example, the fact that learners did not regularly seek
peer acceptance and approval led to the low frequency with which the attribution
peers was mentioned. Likewise, the fact that learners with a more traditional
orientation attributed their success mainly to the teacher and to teaching methods
and techniques, while learners with a more progressive orientation believed effort to
be a reason for their success, depended on the degree of deference towards teacher
216 A.S. Gonzalez

authority and teacher dependence. Contextual specicities also explained the

appearance of new categories of attributions closely linked to context specications
(case of previous and/or additional experience, mother tongue, attitude towards
English, and physical and emotional state). Therefore, it was concluded that
learners culture can exert an influence on attributions for success and failure, since
it not only affects the choice of attribution but also how attributions are seen in
terms of their dimensions and how closely they match the attributions mentioned by
teachers for these learners successes and failures.

1.4 Attribution Dimensions

The notion of attribution dimensions was introduced by Weiner (1985), who pro-
posed that attributions could be classied according to locus of causality, stability
and controllability. In other words, an individual may consider him/herself more
responsible for his/her success or his/her failure indicating, therefore, an internal
attribution (for example, ability or effort) or may see his/her success or failure as
caused by others (for example, the teacher)an external attribution. As far as
stability is concerned, attributions for success and failure may be more xed or
changeable; luck, for instance, may change, but ability was perceived by Weiner as
a more stable attribution. With regard to controllability, an individual may attribute
his/her success or failure to more or less controllable causes. For example, the
amount of effort one puts into achieving a goal may be determined or controlled by
Generally speaking, attributions possess these characteristics. However, the idea
that attribution classication according to these dimensions is common sense is a
different story. Throughout the years, researchers have divided respondents attri-
butions based on the three dimensions of locus of causality, stability and control-
lability, assuming that this classication was a matter of logic or common sense.
Who would question that effort and interest, for instance, were internal attributions
and that effort was changeable and under ones control? The study reported on in
this chapter will show that, given the chance to classify their attributions into
dimensions, individuals might do so in an individual wayone that does not
necessarily match researchers classications.

2 The Study

2.1 Aims and Research Questions

The main purpose of the present study was to uncover Angolan English learners
attributions for their perceived successes and failures. It also attempted to explore
how context characteristics could influence these learners classications of the
Attribution Theory: Dimensions of Causality, Stability 217

categories of attributions according to the dimensions of locus of causality, stability

and controllability. The study reported on here is part of a larger study that
examined the potential influence of contextual factors, but this aspect of the data
will not be discussed in this chapter. This chapter will address only the following
two research questions:
1. What do Angolan learners attribute their perceived successes and failures in
learning English to?
2. How do Angolan learners dene their attributions in relation to causality,
stability and controllability, and how is this classication similar or different
from the classications typically found in previous attribution theory research?

2.2 Research Sites and Participants

366 students at two universities in Luanda, aged between 18 and 50, both male and
female, with an elementary English language prociency level, participated in the
study. Access to the participants was gained through permission from their teachers
to conduct the study in their classrooms as well as participants own voluntary
informed participation. Participants were informed about the nature and purpose of
the research and signed a consent form.

2.3 Research Instruments and Methods of Data Analysis

Participants were asked to complete a questionnaire on their perceived reasons for

their successes and failures in learning English as a foreign language. They were
also asked to classify these reasons according to the dimensions of locus of
causality, stability and controllability (please refer to the Appendix for the full
questionnaire). The questionnaire included a closed-ended question on learners
perceived level of success, two open-ended questions that aimed at uncovering
learners attributions for success and failure followed by three closed-ended
questions that asked participants to classify their attributions into the dimensions of
locus of causality, stability and controllability. The remainder of the questionnaire
included a set of 46 statements on participants cultural characteristics and bio data
about the participants. The questionnaire was written in Portuguese (the partici-
pants rst language), since their English language prociency was not high (de-
spite having had 5 years of English before getting into university, learners actual
level of English resembled elementary and, in fact, this was the level of language
being taught to learners in the year 1 at university).
The statements provided by the participants in terms of their attributions were
analysed again using grounded theory open coding techniques, and categories of
attributions emerged. For instance, attribution statements like I put a lot of effort into
218 A.S. Gonzalez

learning, Im a dedicated student, I participate in class and I always do my

homework were coded as effort. These categories were then related to respon-
dents classication of attributions into their dimensions to check how these were
perceived by them and whether this classication matched researchers classica-
tions. Since crucial differences were found, it was necessary to understand what logic
respondents had followed in their attempt to classify their attributions. Thus, ques-
tionnaire debrieng sessions were conducted with selected groups of participants
(the classes containing participants who had proposed the confusing classications).
Questionnaires were anonymous, but as classes responded to the questionnaire, a
class code was put in all sheets so the researcher could get back to groups providing
answers that needed clarication. The following section presents the major ndings
of this study with regard to learners attributions and their dimensions.

3 Findings

Respondents attribution statements were organised according to categories.

Table 1 below lists twenty-two different attributions that emerged from the data.
The majority of the most frequently cited attributions do not match the attributions
put forward by Weiner (1979) in his initial models of attribution dimensions. In
fact, the data uncovered the following new categories of attributions: mother ton-
gue, attitude towards English, appropriate content, physical and emotional state and
exposure to authentic language.
Table 1 also shows the number of occurrences for each attribution for both
success and failure as mentioned by Angolan learners. It is important to note that,
apart from the rst top three mentioned attributions for success and failure, attri-
butions for success were not mentioned as often as those for failure. Also, given that
the data analysis focused on comparing the attributions mentioned by this studys
participants with what has been found in other studies, one might think that the
majority of learners consider interest, teaching methods and techniques and effort as
the major causes for both success and failure.
In the remainder of this section, Angolan learners classication of the above
mentioned attributions will be discussed according to their dimensions, and com-
pared with classications based on what is typical for much of the research
(Williams et al., 2001, 2002, 2004, among others).
Teaching methods and techniques and teaching materials are considered by the
existent literature (Gonzalez, 2006; Williams et al., 2001, 2002, 2004) to be
external, uncontrollable and changeable (see Table 2 below). Learners also con-
sidered teaching methods and techniques and teaching materials to be external to
them (as attributions for both success and failure) and changeable. They believed
that they can either suggest to the teacher to change the way s/he teaches or report
him/her to a higher authority. In this way, they would have made an attempt to
change things. However, ultimately, the teacher would have to be the one who
implements the changes. The same view was held about teaching materials:
Attribution Theory: Dimensions of Causality, Stability 219

Table 1 Success and failure attributions mentioned by all participants

Attributions Success N Success% Rank Failure N Failure% Rank
Interest 129 17.89 1 109 15.16 1
Teaching methods and 124 17.20 2 104 14.46 2
Effort 82 11.37 3 92 12.80 3
Attitude towards English 60 8.32 4 13 1.81 14
Attention 53 7.35 5 59 8.21 4
Teacher 52 7.21 6 49 6.82 5
Metacognitive strategies 46 6.38 7 15 2.09 12
Previous and/or additional 33 4.58 8 37 5.15 8
Practice 28 3.88 9 39 5.42 7
Signicant others 27 3.74 10 10 1.39 15
General competence 19 2.64 11 45 6.26 6
Teaching materials 14 1.94 12 30 4.17 9
Ease 10 1.39 13 30 4.17 9
Specic competence 9 1.25 14 25 3.48 11
Appropriate content 9 1.25 14 9 1.25 16
Mother tongue 7 0.97 16 6 0.83 21
Peers 6 0.83 17 7 0.97 19
Physical and emotional 5 0.69 18 14 1.95 13
Attendance 4 0.55 19 9 1.25 16
Pace 2 0.28 20 7 0.97 19
Exposure to authentic 2 0.28 20 2 0.28 22
Time 0 0.00 8 1.11 18
721 100.00 719 100.00

materials are not imposed by institutions but are instead selected by the teachers.
Thus, students believed they could always complain about the materials being used
and that they could make the teacher bring in different materials. For this reason,
some respondents believed that these attributions were under their control. Other
respondents, however, classied teaching methods and techniques as uncontrolla-
ble, since the teacher is the person who makes use of the methods and chooses a
suitable approach to language teaching.
Effort is typically considered by researchers (Gonzalez, 2006, 2015; Williams
et al., 2001) as an internal, changeable and controllable attribution. As far as
students were concerned, effort could be either internal or external. Students
explained that teachers are responsible for making them study hard, both in class
and at home, and for checking that this work is done. In other words, although it is
the students who have to put effort into learning/studying, teachers should make
sure students do so. Nevertheless, students opinions differed from some researchers
220 A.S. Gonzalez

Table 2 Typical classication of attributions for success and failure in learning English according
to causality, stability and controllability dimensions based on previous research (Gonzalez, 2006,
2015; Williams et al., 2001, 2002, 2004)
Attribution Causality Stability Controllability
Teaching methods and techniques External Changeable Uncontrollable
Teaching materials External Changeable Uncontrollable
Effort Internal Changeable Controllable
General competence Internal Stable Uncontrollable
Specic competence Internal Stable Uncontrollable
Peers External Changeable Uncontrollable
Signicant others External Changeable Uncontrollable
Ease External Stable Uncontrollable
Attendance Internal Changeable Controllable
Attention Internal Changeable Controllable
Interest Internal Changeable Controllable
Practice Internal Changeable Controllable
External Changeable Uncontrollable
Teacher External Changeable Uncontrollable
Metacognitive strategies Internal Changeable Controllable
Previous and/or additional experience Internal Changeable Controllable
External Changeable Uncontrollable
Pace External Changeable Uncontrollable
Appropriate content External Changeable Uncontrollable
Attitude towards English Internal Changeable Controllable
Mother tongue External Stable Uncontrollable
Time Internal Changeable Controllable
External Changeable Uncontrollable
Physical and emotional state Internal Changeable Uncontrollable
Exposure to authentic language Internal Changeable Controllable
External Changeable Uncontrollable

who viewed effort as a changeable attribution, as reported in previous studies

(Gonzalez, 2006, 2015; Williams et al., 2001), since, according to the students,
effort could be stable when mentioned as a cause of failure. As far as success was
concerned, respondents considered effort to be changeable and controllable.
However, when considering effort as a reason for failure, although students thought
it was under their control, some believed that they could not put any more effort into
learning English than they already did and thus characterised it as stable.
General and specic competences were an interesting case. While they would
usually be seen as internal, fairly stable and uncontrollable for both success and
failure (as a matter of common sense), Angolan learners did not view them that
way. According to them, as reasons for failure, they occur as a consequence of
others inaction or lack of intervention, that is, they blame other people for not
Attribution Theory: Dimensions of Causality, Stability 221

helping them improve, turning these attributions into external causes. Similarly,
these attributions were perceived as changeable, since, if some kind of intervention
occurs (for example, help from the teacher, peers, family, exposure to authentic
language and the like), they may improve in their skills, indicating that they believe
they could be trained and improve. Likewise, they believe that general competence
and specic competence are under their controla belief completely different from
that expressed in Weiners (1979) models.
Peers, signicant others and ease were considered by participants to be
changeable due to their general belief that there is always something one can do to
change things. They said they could ask for help from others, ask them not to talk to
them during class and try not to allow them to interfere in their learning. As for ease,
participants believed that the teacher could always make the learning of new lan-
guage items/input an easier task than what it actually is by not complicating things in
the presentation stage or by bringing less demanding tasks into the classroom.
The participants disagreed with researchers who consider attention and atten-
dance to be internal, changeable and controllable (Gonzalez, 2006, 2015; Williams
et al., 2001). While participants agreed with this classication as far as success is
concerned, they believed that, as reasons for failure, these attributions were external
because other people prevented them from paying attention to the teachers
explanation or from attending the class. Attention and attendance were also
uncontrollable, because, in their view, learners could not prevent themselves from
being disturbed by others. Nevertheless, they still perceived these attributions for
failure as changeable.
Certain participants thought that interest, seen as internal, changeable and
controllable by some researchers (Gonzalez, 2006, 2015; Williams et al., 2001),
could be external, meaning that interest can be promoted by others. In fact, they
suggested that it was the teachers responsibility to generate interest in learning
English, and that s/he could also make students lose interest in learning the lan-
guage. As a reason for failure, participants reinforced the idea that interest could be
an internal attribution as well as an external one, arguing that people in their
microsystem or their immediate learning environment (i.e., parents, siblings, peers
and teachers) could either make them lose interest in learning English or even
prevent them from ever cultivating this interest. They also considered that, when
lack of interest in learning English was reinforced by ones family from the outset,
lack of interest could be stable and not changeable and uncontrollable.
Practice was considered to be internal or external, depending on how participants
perceive the notion of practice. On the one hand, if they felt that they did not practise
enough outside of class, it was an internal attribution. If, on the other hand, they felt
that the teacher does not give them enough opportunities for practice, then it was an
external attribution. Practice being internal or external could also determine con-
trollability, with internal seen as controllable and external as uncontrollable.
Nevertheless, they considered practice to be changeable, regardless of whether it was
seen as internal/controllable or external/uncontrollable. No differences were found
between the researchers way of classifying practice into locus of causality, stability
and controllability and the way participants classied it.
222 A.S. Gonzalez

Researchers (Gonzalez, 2006, 2015; Williams et al., 2001, 2004) and this studys
participants agree that the teacher is an external, changeable and uncontrollable
attribution. Participants described the teacher as an external and changeable attri-
bution as they believed that they can always either talk to the teacher or complain
about him/her, and thus force him/her to change. For this same reason, some
considered that, in certain situations, it is a controllable attribution: if they can
change the way the teacher acts, they can control him/her. Still, many participants
considered this attribution to be uncontrollable, since the teacher is free to do as s/he
pleases and nobody can control his/her actions.
Angolan learners argued that metacognitive strategies should be provided by the
teacher and, for this reason, were external and uncontrollable but, still, changeable.
They rationalised that the teacher could suggest strategies and the students would
try them out. From this perspective, the participants viewpoints differed from
researchers (Gonzalez, 2006, 2015), who would think of metacognitive strategies
as internal, changeable and controllable.
In addition, some research (Gonzalez, 2006, 2015) views previous and/or
additional experience as internal in cases where people decide to have extra
exposure to the language by attending a language course in a private language
centre in their country or abroad, but also as external when this experience is gained
or not gained at school in previous years, meaning that exposure, or a lack of it,
might be affected by external forces. Depending on whether the attribution in
question is internal or external, it would be considered under or out of ones control,
but always changeable. Participants classication was based on whether the
attribution was mentioned for success or failure. When mentioned for success,
participants considered that this was an internal attribution because they could
choose to go to a language centre for better quality of teaching, instead of relying on
regular school teachers. They also perceived it to be changeable and under their
control. On the other hand, when this attribution was suggested for failure, the
extent to which participants saw previous and/or additional experience as internal or
external depended on whether they considered their failure to be due to their
unwillingness to attend an institute or language centre (in which case this would be
an internal, changeable and controllable cause), or to things out of their control that
they could not change, such as not having had an English teacher in certain school
years or not affording to attend an institute of languages, in which case they
considered this attribution to be external.
Pace and appropriate content are conceived of by several researchers as
external, changeable, and uncontrollable (Gonzalez, 2006, 2015; Williams et al.,
2001). Participants mostly agreed with this classication except for controllability.
They stated that they could ask the teacher to moderate the pace of the lessons and
change their content when they felt it was not appropriate for them. For this reason,
they considered these attributions to be changeable and under their control.
Attitude towards English is regarded as internal, changeable and controllable by
some researchers (Gonzalez, 2006, 2015; Williams et al., 2001). However, it was
classied differently by participants depending on whether it was mentioned for
success or failure. When mentioned as a cause of success, attitude was considered
Attribution Theory: Dimensions of Causality, Stability 223

to be internal, changeable and controllable. When mentioned as a cause for failure,

although certain participants considered it to be exactly the same as for success,
others considered it to be external, stable and unchangeable because they thought
that their negative attitude towards English had been imposed on them by their
family and was thus external, out of their control and would not change as that was
what they were taught to believe in.
Mother tongue has been regarded by research (Gonzalez, 2006, 2015) as an
external, stable and uncontrollable attribution. Participants, however, considered
mother tongue to be internal, stable and controllable as a reason for success, and
internal, stable and uncontrollable as a cause for failure. It may seem odd to have
this attribution mentioned for success, as one would expect language interference to
be mainly a cause of failure and not of success. However, in Angola, for certain
individuals, mother tongue represents an African language, while, for others, it is
Portuguese. Hence, respondents whose mother tongue is Portuguese consider it to
be an advantage to learn another European language (English), as opposed to those
whose mother tongue is a local (African) language, who see it as getting in the
way of their English language learning.
Considering that time does not often depend on the individual but is usually
dictated by the number of activities in ones agenda, researchers view time as
external and uncontrollable, although potentially changeable, since, occasionally,
one can manage ones time to suit all the activities that need to be done (Gonzalez,
2006, 2015; Williams et al., 2001, 2004). The way time was classied by partici-
pants as a reason for success is different from the way they saw time as a reason for
failure. Specically, participants considered time as an attribution for success as
internal, changeable and controllable, since they could arrange their schedules in
order to have enough time to study English and/or attend English classes. However,
as far as failure is concerned, they considered this attribution to be external and
uncontrollable, because they thought that their work commitments, enforced by
their superiors, prevent them from having enough time to study English and in some
cases attend classes. Nevertheless, as they still felt they could possibly do some-
thing to change this situation, they perceived it as changeable.
Physical and emotional state is seen as internal, changeable and uncontrollable
by research (Gonzalez, 2006, 2015). Differences were found in the classication of
this attribution too, depending on whether it was mentioned for success or failure by
the participants. As an attribution for success, physical and emotional state was
considered as internal, changeable and controllable when individuals were young
and thought they had enough time to do sports, or uncontrollable when individuals
were older, considered themselves prone to diseases and were already working, so
their emotional state would largely depend on the environment at work. However,
as an attribution for failure, it was considered as external and, therefore, stable and
out of their control.
Finally, according to previous research (Gonzalez, 2006, 2015), exposure to
authentic language being internal or external depends on whether this exposure is
sought by the individual (in which case it should be internal and, consequently,
changeable and controllable) or is provided by someone else, like the teacher, or by
224 A.S. Gonzalez

constraints/situations created at the workplace, in which case it would be external,

changeable and uncontrollable. As a reason for success, this attribution was con-
sidered by participants to be internal, changeable and uncontrollable because it was
entirely up to them to nd opportunities to be exposed to authentic language in order
to improve their English. However, with relation to failure, they considered this
attribution to be external, because they thought the teacher rather than themselves
should create conditions for the students to be exposed to authentic language.
Participants also claimed that certain people depended on having to use English at
work to be exposed to authentic language. Generally speaking, English is not used in
Angolans everyday life unless it is required at work, so only those with such jobs are
exposed to English in a real-life situation outside the classroom. Thus, as a cause of
failure, exposure to authentic language was considered stable and uncontrollable.

4 Discussion

This study aimed to discover whether, given the opportunity to sort their attribu-
tions for success and failure in FLL, individuals would do so in a way similar to the
way they have been classied in previous studies. It was found that the way this
studys participants saw attributions for success was not the same as the way they
saw attributions for failure. For instance, general competence, previous and/or
additional experience and attitude towards English were classied as internal by all
respondents when mentioned for success, while certain respondents considered
these attributions as external when they mentioned them for failure, claiming that
they were affected by the interference of others (teachers, family, socio-economic
conditions, etc.). In other words, when mentioned for success, attributions would be
more closely linked to individuals own choices, whereas, when mentioned for
failure, they were associated with the actions of others. These Angolan learners
tended to classify attributions in general as more internal when talking about suc-
cess, thus taking credit for their successes, and more external when it came to
failure, by blaming others for their failures.
The fact that an attribution is seen as a reason for success or failure also
influenced the participants classication of attributions according to stability and
controllability. Certain attributions, such as effort, interest and attitude towards
English, were seen as changeable when mentioned for success but stable when
pointed out as reasons for failure. Similarly, certain attributions were considered as
under participants control when mentioned for success and as uncontrollable when
mentioned for failure. For instance, participants felt that, as attributions for failure,
attendance, attention, time and exposure to authentic language were caused by
others. Certain participants also considered lack of effort as a stable attribution
because they thought they had made all efforts possible and could not expend more
effort in learning. This shows that learners tended to confuse stability with the
inability for them to undertake the change and did not view it as something that
could change, provided that certain conditions were created. Also, as far as
Attribution Theory: Dimensions of Causality, Stability 225

controllability is concerned, differences occurred for both success and failure. In the
case of teaching methods and techniques, teaching materials and the teacher, some
learners believed these attributions to be under their control, meaning that they
could talk to the teacher to change his/her methods, materials used and/or attitude
towards them, or report him/her to higher authorities and expect these authorities to
make the teacher change. It is possible that the learners who shared this view did
not also defer to teachers authority. Differences were also found with regard to
other attributions. Specically, content and pace are controlled by the teacher, and
learners think that they can take action to change them, as they do with teaching
methods and techniques and teaching materials. Metacognitive strategies, however,
were thought to be uncontrollable because learners believed that their teachers
decide whether to provide them with these strategies or not, which seems a little
odd, seeing that they considered attributions like teaching methods and techniques,
teacher and teaching materials to be under their control. So, they believe not to
control something that should be of their total responsibility (metacognitive strat-
egies), but they think they have some degree of control over attributions that should
be of the total responsibility of others (teaching methods and techniques, teacher
and teaching materials).
Another point that is worth making concerns learners justications for their
classications of their attributions. It soon becomes clear that the reasons provided
by learners for their choices of dimensions were context-dependent and, ultimately,
culture-dependent. The fact that learners believed that the teacher should provide
them with metacognitive strategies, that lack of exposure to authentic language and
previous and/or additional experience were caused by a lack of teachers (due to the
reduced number of English teachers in certain schools, learners are occasionally left
with no teacher at all in some school years), and that the teacher would not create
real-life situations in class (turning these attributions for failure into external
attributions), exemplify this point.
This study has thus revealed that the same attributions may be classied differ-
ently by different people according to their dimensions, that the same individual may
classify the same attribution differently depending on whether this attribution is
mentioned for failure or for success, and that this classication of attributions into
dimensions may be influenced by experience and factors that belong to the envi-
ronment individuals are in. Ultimately, it is what an individual understands about the
reasons behind their successes and failures that influence their willingness to pursue
a particular goal, the amount of effort put into this pursuit, and their goal achieve-
ment, since success and failure attributions may facilitate or hinder this achievement.

5 Conclusion

This chapter reported on a study investigating Angolan EFL learners attributions

for success and failure. In particular, it has shown that attributions constitute
behaviours that are personal as well as dependent on a number of physical and
226 A.S. Gonzalez

environmental factors, such as interaction with signicant others and the environ-
ment surrounding learners. This implies that categories of attributions mentioned in
a particular context may not be the ones favoured in another, and new categories of
attributions frequently emerge in a particular setting. In addition, the fact that one
attribution is mentioned as a cause for success is not a pre-dening condition for the
same category to be mentioned for failure. The ndings also suggest that attribution
biases (Gonzalez, 2015) may not exist in particular settings or occur in a slightly
different way to how they are typically described.
With regard to attribution dimensions, it was found that the way individuals see
a particular attribution in terms of locus of causality, stability and controllability
may not be the same as when this same attribution is perceived as a cause for
failure. This difference is primarily dependent on features of the context the indi-
vidual is embedded in and the experiences gone through in pursuit of a goal. Most
importantly, individuals do not classify their success and failure attributions in
terms of their dimensions in the same way. In addition, having participants classify
their attributions and asking them about how they came up with these classications
may help to make sense of certain statements initially difcult to understand, thus
facilitating their categorisation, and also uncover the reasons behind certain attri-
butions that learners make. It is therefore crucial that researchers allow participants
to not only indicate their attributions for success and failure, but also to classify
them according to the attribution dimensions and explain how they did so. This will
enable us to have a more accurate understanding of the complex nature of attri-
butions of different individuals in different contexts. Further, this may facilitate the
practical process of attribution retraining, since teachers will have a clearer idea of
the characteristics of their learners attributions and may be able to interact with
them more effectively once they understand how learners perceive a specic
attribution. Teachers cannot assume that the way they see learners success and
failure attributions in terms of dimensions is the same as the way their learners see
these attributions. It requires teachers to be aware of their learners views on their
successes and failures and whether these attributions are perceived by them as being
internal or external, stable or changeable, and controllable or uncontrollable. This
will put teachers in a better position to be able to help learners to change dys-
functional attributions into more adaptive ones and thereby ultimately become more
successful language learners.

AppendixLearners Questionnaire


We are interested in your experience in learning English. First, we would like to know how you
feel you are at learning English, your opinion on the reasons why you think you do well in learning
English and the reasons why you might not do so well, and how you classify these reasons
(Section A). Second, we are interested in knowing your opinion on certain aspects of your learning
process and on the language you are studying (Section B). Finally, we would like you to provide us
Attribution Theory: Dimensions of Causality, Stability 227

with some information about you for statistical purposes (Section C). Your experience is very
important to our study. Please complete it as fully and honestly as you can.
This questionnaire is part of a research study undertaken for the University of Reading and,
therefore, is not to be used by either the university you are currently studying at or your teacher. The
questionnaire is anonymous and all your answers will be treated as strictly condential. By com-
pleting this questionnaire you will be giving consent for your responses to be used for the purposes
of this research project.

Section A

1. How do you feel you are at learning English? Please circle the option that best
applies to your case:

Very poor Poor Satisfactory Successful Very successful

2. When you do well at learning English the main reasons are:

2.1. _____________________________________________________________________
2.2. _____________________________________________________________________
2.3. _____________________________________________________________________

3. When you dont do so well at learning English the main reasons are:
3.1. _____________________________________________________________________
3.2. _____________________________________________________________________
3.3. _____________________________________________________________________

4. Now go back to the reasons you presented for doing well and for not doing so well at
learning English, and analyse each of them. Do you think these reasons are caused by/because
of you (internal cause) or caused by/ because of someone or something else (external cause)?
For example: You are driving and you hit your car. When asked why you did it, if you say it
was because you were not paying much attention, it is because of you. If you say it happened
because the car had a mechanical problem, it is because of something else (or others). Tick the
correct boxes.

Reasons Is caused Is caused Reasons for Is caused Is caused

for doing by/is because by others not doing by/is because by others
well of me well of me
Reason 2.1 Reason 3.1
Reason 2.2 Reason 3.2
Reason 2.3 Reason 3.3
228 A.S. Gonzalez

Section B

5. Still thinking about the same reasons, do you think these reasons are things/situations
that can change (changeable) or that cannot change (fixed)? For example: talking about driving,
weather conditions are an example of something that can change, whereas the width of the road
is something fixed. Tick the correct boxes.
Reasons Can Cannot Reasons for Can Cannot
for doing change change not doing well change change
Reason 2.1 Reason 3.1
Reason 2.2 Reason 3.2
Reason 2.3 Reason 3.3

6. Now, do you think the reasons why you do well or dont do so well at learning English
are under your control (controllable) or under the control of others (uncontrollable)? For
example: Following from the driving hitting the car example, if you hit your car because you
were not paying attention to what you were doing, your attention is something you can control
(controllable). On the contrary, a sudden mechanical problem would be something out of your
control (uncontrollable). Tick the correct boxes.
Reasons Under my Under Reasons for Under Under
for doing control control of not doing well my control
well others control of others
Reason 2.1 Reason 3.1
Reason 2.2 Reason 3.2
Reason 2.3 Reason 3.3
Attribution Theory: Dimensions of Causality, Stability 229

Section C

Read the following statements and circle the option that best reflects your opinion:

Agree (Ag), Disagree (Disag) or No opinion (No op).

1. I have only studied English at school. Ag Disag No op

2. I have attended an English course in an institute of languages. Ag Disag No op
3. I have attended an English course in an English speaking
country (for example South Africa). Ag Disag No op
4. I only use English in the classroom (I dont use it anywhere Ag Disag No op
5. I dont enjoy learning English. Ag Disag No op
6. I only study English because it is part of my course. Ag Disag No op
7. English should not be a compulsory module at Ag Disag No op
8. English isnt relevant to my academic degree. Ag Disag No op
9. I like mixing with people who can speak one or more
European languages. Ag Disag No op
10. English is being imposed on Angolan people against their will. Ag Disag No op
11. Angolan national languages should replace English in school
programs. Ag Disag No op
12. What comes from abroad is good. Ag Disag No op
13. When I speak English, Im happy to speak English with an
Angolan accent (I dont aim to sound British or American). Ag Disag No op
14. More effort would not make a difference in my ability to
learn English. Ag Disag No op
15. The ability to learn languages is something you are born with. Ag Disag No op
16. You can become good at learning languages if you try hard. Ag Disag No op
17. I prefer working in pairs/groups in class (rather than on Ag Disag No op
my own).
18. I prefer exercises that make us compete against each other. Ag Disag No op
19. I prefer exercises that make us cooperate with each other. Ag Disag No op
20. When I have a test, I organise a study group with my peers. Ag Disag No op
21. I prefer assignments that are to be done individually, rather
than in groups. Ag Disag No op
22. I like it when the teacher praises me in front of the class Ag Disag No op
(instead of praising me in private).
23. I dont mind being told off or corrected in front of the class. Ag Disag No op
24. My peers opinion about me doesnt matter to me. Ag Disag No op
25. My peers would appreciate seeing me do well in class. Ag Disag No op
26. Having moral support from my peers is very important to me. Ag Disag No op
27. The teacher is responsible for my learning (not me). Ag Disag No op
28. The teacher should tell me how to improve my English and
provide me with learning strategies (I shouldnt have to find Ag Disag No op
out by myself).
29. The teacher should explain (grammar) rules in detail. Ag Disag No op
30. When I fail a test, the teacher is responsible for that (its the
teachers responsibility/fault). Ag Disag No op
230 A.S. Gonzalez

31. The teacher should support me. Ag Disag No op

32. My teacher doesnt care about my personal life/problems. Ag Disag No op
33. My teachers opinion about me doesnt matter to me. Ag Disag No op
34. Only the teacher (and not the students) is responsible for
discipline in the class. Ag Disag No op
35. What the teacher says is beyond question (s/he can never be
challenged). Ag Disag No op
36. Only the teacher should decide on what should happen in class. Ag Disag No op
37. I (not the teacher) should decide what group I should work with
in class. Ag Disag No op
38. Having moral support from my family is very important to me. Ag Disag No op
39. I prefer doing what my parents tell me to than risking making the
wrong decision by myself. Ag Disag No op
40. My familys opinion about me doesnt matter to me. Ag Disag No op
41. My family (and not me) is in control of what happens to me in
life. Ag Disag No op
42. My ethnic group (and not me) is in control of what happens to
me in life. Ag Disag No op
43. My family didnt want me to go to university. Ag Disag No op
44. My family obliged me to go to university. Ag Disag No op
45. Doing well at this course is more important to my family than
to me. Ag Disag No op
46. My family doesnt interfere in my choices/life. Ag Disag No op

1. Age: ____________ 2. Gender: ______________ 3. Job: _______________

4. Fathers job: ______________________ 5. Mothers job: _______________________

6. Fathers highest academic background (tick where appropriate):

Primary ___ Lower secondary ___ Higher secondary ___ University ___ MA/PhD ___

7. Mothers highest academic background (tick where appropriate):

Primary ___ Lower secondary ___ Higher secondary ___ University ___ MA/PhD ___

8. Fathers place of birth: _____________ ___ 9. Mothers place of birth: ________________

10. Your place of birth: _____________ 11. Neighbourhood where you live: _____________

12. Do you usually travel abroad? Yes___ No____

a) If yes, where do you usually go? ______________________________ ___________

b) How often do you go there? ____________________________________________

c) Do you usually travel for pleasure or on duty? ______________________________

Attribution Theory: Dimensions of Causality, Stability 231

13. Do you have a satellite dish/cable TV at home? Yes____ No____

If yes, which channels do you watch most? __________________________________

14. Do you have internet at home? Yes_____ No ______

Do you have internet at work? Yes _____ No ______

If you usually use internet, which websites do you access most ? _____________________


15. Who pays for your university tuition? I do __ My family does __ I have a sponsor __


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Scaffolding 2.0Redening the Role
of the Teacher in Online Language
Learning Environments

Margit Reitbauer and Hannes Fromm

Abstract In this chapter, we investigate the impact of the Internet as a learning

environment for language students, and the changes as well as potentials it has
brought about for teachers. We identify four theoretical concepts that correspond to
recent developments in online learning (cognitive flexibility theory, cognitive load
theory, cognitive styles and new learning interactions) and then address each with
respect to their potential for a contemporary teachers skillset. We then explore
novel concepts, such as passionate afnity-based learning and the role of avatars in
the online classroom, and assess their practicality. In our concluding section, we
combine the essential notions of these concepts in a catalogue of criteria for
effective online teaching.

1 Introduction: The Web as a Learning Environment

The emergence of the Web as a learning environment has given rise to a number of
new theoretical approaches that have, in turn, led to a reconceptualisation of the
learning process. Frameworks such as the cognitive flexibility theory and cognitive
load theory suggest a possible paradigmatic change of the role of the teacher and a
shift towards the role of a facilitator and coach. Passionate afnity spaces (Gee &
Hayes, 2011) and a variety of new learning interactions (Dabbagh, 2005) could
facilitate learner autonomy in the future, while software agents as well as e-tutors
will likely pose challenges for the instructor.
Constructivist-based, technology-enhanced learning environments are said to
provide learners with opportunities for inquiry and/or collaboration outside the
traditional classroom. Large-scale evaluations have shown that inquiry, if scaffolded,

M. Reitbauer (&)  H. Fromm

University of Graz, Graz, Austria
H. Fromm

Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016 233

C. Gkonou et al. (eds.), New Directions in Language Learning Psychology,
Second Language Learning and Teaching, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-23491-5_13
234 M. Reitbauer and H. Fromm

outperforms other forms of learning (see Aleri, Brooks, & Aldrich, 2011). We
propose a redenition of the role of the teacher taking into account seminal theo-
retical approaches and empirical ndings as well as constructs such as passionate
afnity-based learning and new learning interactions. We aim to identify the skillset
required of teachers in web-based learning environments in association with the shift
in learner needs, and combine these previously separate aspects in order to form a
concept we have labelled Scaffolding 2.0. The theoretical foundation of
Scaffolding 2.0 is based on the development of digital literacy skills as well as
seminal ideas in language learning psychology, such as the nurturing of intrinsic
motivation and the promotion of learner autonomy.
Our concept draws on the constructivist views of learning of Vygotsky and
Wood (Wood & Wood, 1996, p. 5ff), who use the term scaffolding metaphorically
to symbolise a temporary guidance and support that helps learners reach their
learning goals:
Borrowed from the eld of construction, where a scaffold is a temporary structure erected to
help with the building or modication of another structure, the use of scaffolding as a
metaphor within the domain of learning refers to the temporary support provided for the
completion of a task that learners otherwise might not be able to complete. This support can
be provided in a variety of manners that for example include modeling and the posing of
questions for different subjects (e.g., science, social studies) at different ages (van de Pol,
Volman, & Beishuizen, 2010, p. 271f).

Thus, the ultimate goal of scaffolding as a teaching strategy is to lead the learner
towards mastery of the respective cognitive and social skills that allow him or her to
consequently solve tasks autonomously.

1.1 Types of Online Learning Environments

Online learning environments present new opportunities and challenges, both in

terms of the learning process itself and in support of skills development. Arguably,
the biggest challenge of the Web in a teaching context is its open-endedness; once
students are browsing the Internet, it is almost impossible for teachers to trace their
pathways and manage their working processes. A proper structuring of a task as
well as the provision of coaching and assistance from the part of the teacher can
facilitate efcient learning in open-ended scenarios (i.e., research tasks). Continuous
monitoring of students working processes is also important in the traditional
classroom, but the complexity of the Web and its potential for distraction makes
frequent guidance and mentoring from the part of the teacher an absolute necessity
in open-ended online tasks. Compared to the traditional classroom, the Web can be
seen as a high-risk, high-reward learning environment.
Closed online learning assignments (e.g., the online learning platform Moodle),
on the other hand, allow the teacher to adapt the tasks and the learning environment
itself according to the level of the students and the content requirements of the
subject being dealt with. In language learning, for example, a teacher might enable
Scaffolding 2.0Redening the Role of the Teacher 235

students to collaborate on texts, provide peer feedback or moderate forum discus-

sions. Importantly, in most cases, these environments are only open to a selected
group of students. While open-ended online learning environments grant students
[] instantaneous access to global resources [and] the opportunity to publish to a
world audience [] (Dabbagh, 2005, p. 25), closed online environments empower
the teacher to structure the learning material and to seal off the learning space from
the rest of the Web. This allows for a greater measure of control and therefore is
likely to result in a more efcient learning process, especially when time is limited.
While teachers can adapt closed online learning environments to the needs of the
learner, the Web as an open-ended learning space is itself adaptive to user
behaviour. Software assistants and interface agents record user behaviour (for
example, in the form of cookies) and, over time, adapt websites and their sub-
structures to the preferred pathways of users (cf. Webster, 2001). While many
non-pedagogical websites are adaptive, some online learning spaces can be con-
tinuously adapted to the needs of a group of learners as a course advances.
In Fig. 1, key elements of open-ended and closed online learning scenarios are
summarised. In open-ended and adaptive learning environments, it is virtually
impossible for teachers to lter the content students accessunless an educational
institution has installed search lters. Closed assignments, on the other hand, enable
instructors (or, more generally speaking, more knowledgeable others (MKOs)) to
design and limit research material for their students themselves. While interactions
that students engage in during open-ended assignments are potentially public (in the
digital sphere of the Web), closed environments allow teachers to limit digital
discourse to the classroom, thus building a (protective) wall between the students
and the digital public.

Fig. 1 Types of online

learning environments
236 M. Reitbauer and H. Fromm

The growing popularity of the Web as a learning space in the language class-
room has led to the emergence of a number of new learning interactions. In
open-ended assignments, students can take virtual eldtrips and connect with
experts from around the world. Furthermore, they can share and compare infor-
mation online, negotiate meaning and co-construct knowledge while engaging in
writing, speaking and listening activities (cf. Dabbagh, 2005). Extracting infor-
mation from a video on YouTube, for instance, requires students to develop
receptive skills for audio-visual genres that are restricted to the online sphere.
Moreover, according to Crystal (2011, p. 21), formerly exclusively spoken or
written genres converged online to new hybrid forms of discourse: On the whole,
Internet language is better seen as writing which has been pulled some way in the
direction of speech rather than as speech which has been written down. Chat
rooms, microblogging platforms, and even newswriting in some cases show sty-
listic features of these aforementioned hybrid forms.
Closed online learning environments enable students to form asynchronous
learning networks and temporary communities of practice. In both scenarios, the
multi-perspectivity inherent in online learning causes students to constantly ques-
tion their hypotheses. When online, students are part of a permanent discourse with
a potentially innite number of participants who can comment on their views. Also,
hyperlinks (in closed as well as open settings) visualise intertextual relations
between their texts and potentially any other text in the Web, thus facilitating the
constant renegotiation of meanings. Moreover, Dabbagh (2005) argues that, within
the framework of constructivism, these questioning strategies are as important as
the actual learning content.
A general requirement of online learning environments, pertaining to both
open-ended and closed learning environments, is that students must develop digital
literacy skills in order to successfully navigate the Web and effectively access the
information stored in it. This poses a huge challenge to teachers in less prosperous
countries where pupils do not have access to the Internet or computers. For these
teachers, preparing students for the kinds of literacy practices they will encounter in
higher education or certain job domains is likely to become more and more difcult.

1.2 Passionate Afnity-Based Learning

Gee and Hayes (2011, p. 69) introduced a theoretical concept for free online
learning in an open-ended environment and labelled it passionate afnity-based
learning. This kind of learning takes place in so-called passionate afnity spaces
[] when people organize themselves in the real world and/or via the Internet (or
a virtual world) to learn something connected to a shared endeavour, interest or
passion (ibid). Examples of such passionate afnity spaces are collaboration in
online role-playing games as well as expert forums. According to Gee and Hayes
(2011), the most important aspect is the learners passion for the subject matter,
which, of course, is difcult to gauge. The role of the teacher in this context is as of
Scaffolding 2.0Redening the Role of the Teacher 237

yet unclear but may involve introducing students to potential passionate afnity
spaces by supplying links to websites and forums and by assisting the students in
joining such virtual communities outside the classroom.
In addition to the central purpose of sharing and generating knowledge in an
ongoing discourse in which every member can consume and produce knowledge,
the main features of passionate afnity spaces are the existence of a core group that
provides stability and flexibility of leadership and mentorship. Gee and Hayes
(2011, p. 71) distinguish between caring and cruel passionate afnity spaces.
The former are friendly and open communities with members often adhering to a
polite code of conduct. In contrast, an example for the latter would be a group of
experts who are reluctant to admit new members to their community and who
therefore may express a certain measure of initial hostility. Most importantly, both
can produce knowledge and learning.
Rather than group endeavours, passionate afnity spaces are predominantly
individual ways of pursuing learning aims. An essential aspect of passionate
afnity-based learning is that the individual learner is given the freedom to choose
whatever he or she wants to investigate or explore (without having to concede to
interests of fellow students). This, in turn, results in a comprehensive workload for
the teacher as he or she would have to coach students on potentially very diverse
topics and research paths.
Another potentially problematic aspect of passionate afnity-based learning is
that the object of passion has to come from within the individual student, which
means that the teacher needs to help the student discover his or her passion for a
certain topic. This high degree of autonomy, however, is the reason why it is
unlikely that objects of passionate learningand, consequently, the respective
passionate afnity spacesare shared by larger groups of students. Learning
groups, in this setting, form online, beyond the reach and control of the teacher.
Students may enter new digital communities, often consisting of a number of
intimate strangers. When focusing on passionate afnity spaces, students enthu-
siasm and commitment can be sparked, but this also means that the teacher needs to
be willing to abandon control over the learning process to a large extent. In sum,
passionate afnity-based learning is highly individualised and promotes learner
autonomy but comes at a cost: the loss of control on the part of the teacher and the
questionable efciency of a self-governed but largely unguided learning process.

2 Reconceptualising the Learning Process

The vast potential of the Internet as a possibly innite learning space has naturally
led to fundamental changes in the behaviour of learners. With virtually the whole
world at their disposal, students have to develop broader and more sophisticated
skills, for example, various aspects of digital literacy, navigating, validating,
cross-checking and assorting information. This, in turn, promotes a more global
approach to learning as the process of language learning is extended to and
238 M. Reitbauer and H. Fromm

interwoven with the more abstract and holistic concept of problem-solving in

environments that are dominated by digital literacy practices.
Moreover, this comprehensive view of the learning process has implications for
learner engagement and motivation, since, according to Saeed and Zyngier (2012),
authentic forms of engagement lead to high academic achievement throughout a
students life. Saeed and Zyngier (2012) understand authentic forms of engagement
as dened by Schlechty (2011) as a task, activity, or work the student is assigned
or encouraged to undertake [and that] is associated with a result or outcome that has
clear meaning and relatively immediate value to the student. Saeed and Zyngier
(2013) further emphasise that engagement is closely linked to intrinsic as well as
extrinsic motivation, the former being crucial for authentic engagement.
Analogous to the scaffolding mechanism underlying the theory of passionate
afnity-based learning, it is therefore vital to help students discover and nurture
intrinsic motivation for the subject. Teachers need to be on the lookout for students
passions. Once they have identied these, teachers can seek to incorporate them
into classroom activities in a meaningful way, thus fostering learner autonomy. If,
for example, a student is passionate about a new online game, the teacher could
encourage the student to do research on the game and its developers and subse-
quently compose a Wikipedia entry. A students intrinsic motivation would stem
from his or her own passion for the subject, the complexity of the task and its
relevance for the online public sphere since students are able to link learning items
to existing structures in the Web. In cognitive flexibility theory (discussed below),
this complexity is considered a highly motivating aspect. Learning outcomes, in this
scenario, include training for online research skills (in an open-ended setting);
practising a new digital literacy skill, text composure and structuring; and,
optionally, presentation skills as part of a concluding statement in front of the class.
Online learning, more than ever, requires learners to primarily focus on the
development of research and information retrieval strategies rather than the mere
accumulation of knowledge. In the context of social constructivism, an essential
feature of online learning is the importance of collaboration. Pea (1997) and Fosnot
(1996) claim that intelligence is not merely a trait of the individual but, at least to
some extent, is developed collaboratively. Before the emergence of online learning,
learners were trying to negotiate meaning by seeking expertise from peers and
instructors. Nowadays the Internet enables them to breach the connes of the real
world and connect with multiple experts and members of communities of practice.
Teachers and educational professionals need to gain an in-depth understanding of
online social and literacy practices in order to use them to scaffold efcient online
learning based on intrinsic motivation.
Many forms of online learning are in line with the central assumptions of the
cognitive flexibility theory (Spiro, Feltovich, & Coulson, 2004). An idea shared by
the distributed cognition view of learning (Salomon, 1997), a descriptive frame-
work for cognitive processes underlying learning, and the cognitive flexibility
theory, is that the ability to solve problems (driven by the wish of the learner) lies at
the heart of the learning process. One of the essential aspects of this theory is that
multiple perspectives of a problem need to be available to learners (cf. Spiro,
Scaffolding 2.0Redening the Role of the Teacher 239

Feltovich, & Coulson, 2004). Firstly, learners need to be aware of the variety of
perspectives and, secondly, they need to choose for themselves which pathway to
follow. Trying out ways of solving a problem and testing those in various settings
generates a cognitive flexibility that is applicable in different learning scenarios.
To address this purpose, teachers need to provide well-designed and structured
materials and create conditions that facilitate cognition (cf. Spiro, Feltovich, &
Coulson, 2004). This can be achieved through the use of specic
constructivist-based instructional strategies. In her online brieng on instructional
strategies, Leigh (2010) distinguishes between three types of learning environments
that facilitate constructivist-based learning: exploratory, dialogic and supportive.
Exploratory strategies encompass, among others, problem solving and autonomous
exploration. Examples of dialogic strategies are collaboration or the integration of
multiple perspectives in the learning process. Finally, essential supportive strategies
are coaching by means of monitoring student performance and providing guidance
as well as scaffolding, involving the reduction of cognitive complexities.
However, a crucial notion within the cognitive flexibility theory is that com-
plexity should not be reduced. In this vein, Cifuentes, Mercer, Alvarez, and Bettati
(2010) argue that oversimplication should be avoided. Complexity often originates
from the interconnectedness of various problems within a certain subject area. This
context-dependent knowledge is what learners ideally should strive to obtain.
Lowrey and Kim (2009, p. 547) state that cognitive flexibility theory addresses the
sort of learning needed when knowledge is to be applied across uncertain, changing
conditions. In the long run, practising different conceptual approaches in a specic
knowledge area helps learners to successfully apply learning strategies across a
broad range of study elds. This concurs with what theorists call problem-solving
ability, which is achieved through real-world experience (Lowrey & Kim, 2009,
p. 547). Real-world experience, in this context, includes the virtual aspects of
students everyday lives. Today, more and more communicative and social prac-
tices are located in online settings (i.e., applications, public service etc.). Therefore,
online language learning should facilitate the use of a language in these domains
and situations.
In contrast to this view, advocates of the cognitive load theory (Chandler &
Sweller, 1991; Kirschner, Sweller, & Clark, 2006; Paas, Renkl, & Sweller, 2003)
suggest that complex problem-solving tasks impose heavy loads on working
memory and are thus detrimental to learning (Aleri et al., 2011). They argue that
the burden placed on students minds should be reduced to an absolute minimum.
The aim is to expose students to cognitive loads they can easily deal with, which, in
turn, allows for effective retention of information.
The cognitive load theory emerged from the 7 +/ 2 rule, introduced by Miller in
1956. It is based on the assumption that the human cognitive system can only
process seven plus/minus two items at a time, and it has developed into a com-
prehensive set of principles. Clark, Nguyen and Sweller (2006, p. 9ff) distinguish
between three types of cognitive load: intrinsic, extraneous and germane. Intrinsic
cognitive load refers to the cognitive load inherent in the subject matter, that is, the
instructional goal in a learning context. Extraneous load is all cognitive load that is
240 M. Reitbauer and H. Fromm

irrelevant to the learning process but nonetheless present. In an online learning

scenario, an example of extraneous load could be a postal banner that a learner has
to navigate or any superfluous information on a website. The third type is germane
cognitive load, which is the mental work imposed by instructional activities that
benet the instructional goal (ibid, p. 11). In an open-ended online learning sce-
nario, this translates into Web-navigation skills, including dealing with different
types of site structures and genres, such as blogs, hypertexts and wikis. In other
words, the germane load in online learning is, to a large extent, digital literacy, or
the sum of digital literacy practices. Clark et al. (2006) argue that some forms of
cognitive load are useful, while others waste mental resources (ibid, p. 9).
According to them, teachers should aim to minimise the overall load while maxi-
mising the effective/functional load.
Well-designed online learning assignments are attentive not only to the cognitive
load but also to the cognitive styles of the students. A cognitive style is an
individuals characteristic and consistent approach to organizing and processing
information (Tennant, 1988, p. 89). Although the terms cognitive styles and
learning styles are often used interchangeably, they should be differentiated.
Learning styles can cover a broader range of approaches to learning and, thus, can
differ according to subject, mode of assessment and amount of time available.
Cognitive styles, on the other hand, are seen as individual and non-changing.
Riding and Rayner (1998) distinguish between two major cognitive style dimen-
sions: verbal versus imagery (depending on whether a person tends to use verbal
representations or images when thinking) and holistic versus analytic (referring to
whether information is processed as a whole or in parts). While teachers in tradi-
tional classrooms are limited in their possibilities to adapt to individual learning
styles, in online scenarios they can help single students nd information structured
according to their respective cognitive styles.
With relation to individuals, Armbruster, Ueltzhffer, Basten, and Fiebach
(2012, p. 2386) have posited that from a neurocomputational perspective, we can
derive the hypothesis that cognitive stability and cognitive flexibility are antago-
nistically related and that persons differ in their degree of cognitive flexibility. The
individual cognitive flexibility/stability of a learner can be referred to as his/her
spontaneous switching rate. High flexibility allows a learner to readily switch
between tasks but at the expense of in-depth processing because of a propensity to
distraction. Low flexibility results in the ability to completely immerse oneself in
the subject matter at the cost of an extremely high cognitive load when switching
tasks. Low-flexibility learners are better equipped to resist distraction, but switches
between tasks are executed less efciently and less accurately. In free and
open-ended online learning scenarios, both types of learners are likely to excel and
teachers can guide them appropriately. For example, a cognitively fairly stable
student might be able to efciently derive information from a long text in a PDF that
he or she found in a database online, as they are potentially capable of concentrating
for a long period of time on a single task. A cognitively rather flexible student, on
the other hand, might be prone to gathering information from interconnected
sub-sites, drawing on an abundance of hyperlinks and benetting from intertextual
Scaffolding 2.0Redening the Role of the Teacher 241

links. In the latter case, instructors need to closely monitor student behaviour, as
cognitively flexible students are far more likely to be distracted by irrelevant
information and, subsequently, they might get lost in cyberspace. Thus, it is of
paramount importance for teachers to be familiar with the concepts of learning
styles and cognitive flexibility, and recognise cognitive styles in students.

2.1 Innovative Tools for Teachers

Instructors, however, do not necessarily have to be human as innovative tools, for

example in the form of avatars, are on the rise in educational settings. There are a
number of different agents that directly or indirectly support teachers in online
learning scenarios (cf. Webster, 2001). Some of them merely assist human
instructors, whereas others largely substitute them and represent the main source of
reference for students. Arguably, the most remote of these are software agents,
which are integrated into the architecture of a website or Web space. They record
user data in order to optimise usability. In online learning settings, these agents
have virtually no effect on learners, because the input a single user contributes to the
sample is negligible and hardly ever translates into a signicant adaptation of the
system to the individual. Nevertheless, this kind of software (that often works based
on cookies) can be considered the most basic and most global variety of agents that
assist learners, and at some point in the future might ultimately become a useful tool
for the design of online learning environments.
Interface agents, on the other hand, can be implemented in closed learning
environments to provide support and advice for the user (cf. Maes, 1994). They
pick up on user behaviour, memorise patterns and thereby ease the workload. The
automation of certain steps also translates into a reduction of the germane cognitive
load. Since this kind of cognitive load is irrelevant to the learning process, it should
be kept to a minimum. An example of excessive or germane cognitive load would
be a highly complex page structure that requires students to click through various
sub-sites in order to advance in the task. The added cognitive load stemming from
an inefcient page structure, in this case, represents germane cognitive load. In the
light of cognitive flexibility theory, however, it can be argued that interface agents
reduce complexity and may lead to an oversimplication of the task at hand, which,
according to this theory, should be avoided. The vast majority of teachers, though,
may never come across interface agents in their course preparations. As of now,
they are only used in specialised tertiary education settings.

2.2 Pedagogical Agents

In contrast to distant technologies such as software and interface agents, peda-

gogical agents may actively influence and structure the learning process.
242 M. Reitbauer and H. Fromm

Pedagogical agents are avatars designed to add a social component to online

learning. They are virtual personas that learners can turn to for assistance or advice
in online learning scenarios.
Baylor and Yanghee (2005) designed and evaluated a set of pedagogical agent
roles within the MIMIC (Multiple Intelligent Mentors Instructing Collaboratively)
agent-based research environment. Students could choose from three distinct agent
roles: the Expert, the Motivator and the Mentor. These roles were designed
according to the qualities that students typically prefer in a teacher. The software
designers created three different visual representations of avatars with distinct
voices, pre-scripted feedback and dialogue. While the expert resembles a teacher in
his late forties, being there to merely provide information, the motivator is a more
peer-like avatar providing encouragement and emotional reactions. The mentor
avatar unies the instructive characteristics of the expert and the peer-like traits of
the motivator. It combines information and encouragement in its feedback. The
design of the expert is based on research ndings about the development of
expertise. Characteristics of this avatar are mastery, authority and extensive
knowledge. Importantly, the expert is not affected by the learners emotional
reactions (cf. Ericsson, Krampe, & Tesch-Romer, 1993). The basis for the design of
the motivator was ndings from research in social modelling, self-efcacy beliefs as
well as learner motivation (cf. Schunk, 1989). The reason why the motivator is
closer in age to the students than the other avatars is that, according to Schunk
(1989), learning and motivation can be enhanced when learners observe a model of
their own age. The mentors primary objective is to bridge the gap between current
and desired skill levels (cf. Driscoll, 2000). This avatar unites features of the other
two; it is not an authoritarian gure but rather a coach that students may collaborate
with in order to achieve learning goals. Baylor and Yanghee (2005) found that
agent roles led to signicant changes in learning and motivation. The expert opti-
mised knowledge acquisition, the motivator increased self-efcacy and the mentor
had an overall positive impact on learning and motivation.
Another investigation of open-ended, pre-scripted dialogue (Veletsianos &
Russell, 2013) revealed that students were reluctant to pursue learning goals in their
interactions with avatars but rather engaged in playful off-task conversations. These
strikingly different outcomes of studies suggest that further research needs to be
done on avatars in online learning. Large-scale empirical studies have yet to
determine whether mentoring and scaffolding by articial digital personas reliably
improves the learning process, and if so, what congurations might yield positive
results. Also, it should be noted that there is no clear denition of avatar. Generally,
avatars refer to human-like digital personas that, in the context of online learning,
are designed to support the learning process. These, however, range from mere
humanoid help icons providing a couple of pre-scripted utterances to elaborately
designed digital entities that are reactive to students performances and capable of
providing individualised guidance, reacting to individual cognitive and learning
Scaffolding 2.0Redening the Role of the Teacher 243

2.3 Blogging

Another useful tool in online language learning is blogging and, more specically,
collaborative blogging. Drexler, Dawson, and Ferdig (2007) conducted a study that
highlighted the efciency of collaborative blogging as a tool for developing
expository writing skills. Feedback was mainly generated from collaboration rather
than from the technology itself, and thereby increased students motivation to write.
In addition to this, students were able to transfer the knowledge to other domains.
For example, they developed visual as well as digital literacy skills by transforming
essays into online presentations.
A blog project in a literary studies course at the University of Graz provides an
insight into how blogging can be used to facilitate the generation of knowledge in
addition to the development of digital literacy skills. A group of thirty students was
asked to blog about their reading habits as well as the works covered in class over
the course of one semester. The course convenor adapted the default blogging site
to the needs of the students and provided a FAQ area, a section for paper topics as
well as a forum for organisational matters. One special feature of this project was
that, while the blog entries written by students were openly accessible on the Web,
only members could comment on them, which makes it a rare hybrid of an
open-ended, yet simultaneously closed, online learning environment. The exclu-
sivity of the commenting function provided a safety net for the students.
At the beginning, students were reluctant to write freely about their reading
activities, as most of them were not familiar with blogging. As they got to know
their fellow students and advanced in the course, the participants gradually became
more comfortable with the novel digital literacy practice and its virtual publicity.
A shift from rather traditional classroom-like summaries towards a less limited but
potentially more creative blogging style became salient in the texts. The learning
environment designed by the teacher as well as his gentle scaffolding and assis-
tance, when needed, triggered lively interactions in the comment threads.
This project suggested that the adaptation of a Web space and the incorporation
of features of passionate afnity spaces can provide a solid foundation for an online
learning scenario. While this allows for the reduction of the extraneous cognitive
load to an absolute minimum, it also encourages students to engage with new digital
genres and develop knowledge that can be transferred to other spheres.

3 Scaffolding 2.0

In an attempt to redene the role of the teacher in online learning, we have tried to
encompass all of the theories, constructs and tools mentioned above in a concept we
termed Scaffolding 2.0. In order to provide a useful framework for teachers, we
have summarised these redening elements and the resulting requirements for
teachers in Table 1 below. The various criteria mostly relate to the theoretical
244 M. Reitbauer and H. Fromm

Table 1 Scaffolding 2.0Criteria for effective language teaching in online learning environments
1 Guidance: Teachers should be familiar with a wide spectrum of digital genres and digital
literacy practices. They should be able to provide guidance and, to some extent, technical
support for the student, especially in open-ended settings.
2 Adapting learning spaces: Teachers should be able to adapt online learning spaces to
the needs of learners, taking into account their cognitive styles, learning goals and level
of prociency.
3 Validating information: Teachers should raise awareness of the reliability and
transparency of online sources and provide students with strategies for cross-checking
and validating information.
4 Research skills: Teachers should be able to help students develop research strategies and
to competently navigate large amounts of information in a structured way.
5 Filtering: Teachers should assist students in ltering information and thus reduce their
navigational load. They should furthermore demonstrate how to deal with and make
sense of multiple perspectives.
6 Reducing cognitive load: By adapting learning spaces or helping students develop
digital literacy skills, teachers should help to substantially reduce the germane cognitive
load (inherent in complex online tasks). Moreover, teachers can evaluate/assess their
students cognitive styles in order to optimise individual instruction.
7 Finding and creating passionate afnity spaces: Teachers should be able to create
and/or guide students to passionate afnity spaces in order to spark their passion for the
subject matter and motivate them to take ownership of the learning process (cf. Gee &
Hayes, 2011).
8 Understanding social practices of the Web: Teachers should be familiar with
phenomena, such as the wisdom of the crowd, trolling, the co-construction of knowledge
and the concept of the intimate stranger.
9 Developing digital literacy: Teachers should introduce students to the multiple ways in
which language is used online and help them develop productive as well as receptive
skills for various online literacy practices, taking into account their varying degrees of
persistence and publicity.
10 (Traditional) Scaffolding: Teachers should provide temporary guidance and support to
facilitate autonomous learning.

approaches discussed in this article. While some of them, such as Criterion 7

(passionate afnity spaces) focus on specic theories, others (Criteria 3 and 4
referring to validating information and research skills) go in line with approaches to
constructivist-based instructional strategies as well as insights into cognitive flex-
ibility theory. A common objective shared by Criteria 1 through 8 is the devel-
opment of various aspects of digital literacy. The nature of online learning
environments, open-ended as well as closed, makes the reconceptualisation of
scaffolding necessary.
While all of the above criteria may facilitate language learning online, not all of
them apply to any given scenario (i.e., open-ended and closed environments). The
above online-specic criteria are not supposed to replace but to complement the
traditional aspects of scaffolding rst developed by Vygotsky (Wood, Bruner, &
Ross, 1976). Furthermore, many of these propositions are also likely to improve
offline learning. Scaffolding 2.0 is meant to provide a general framework of skills
Scaffolding 2.0Redening the Role of the Teacher 245

for language teachers, but should not be used as a catalogue for the evaluation of a
teachers performance. Rather, it may serve as a manual for teacher training and the
facilitation of continuous professional development.

4 Conclusion

In our chapter, we set out to provide an overview of constructs and theories that are
relevant to online learning practices. We started out with a brief recount of the
emergence of the concept of scaffolding and proceeded to analyse theoretical
approaches such as cognitive flexibility theory, cognitive load theory as well as the
theory of cognitive styles. We then moved on to apply more recently developed
notions, such as passionate afnity spaces, to online language learning settings.
The various theories discussed in our chapter point towards one underlying
notion: online learning environmentseither open-ended or closedhold vast
potential for teachers to investigate their learners cognitive dispositions and ten-
dencies, and subsequently help them adapt tasks and teaching styles. The role of the
teacher shifts from that of the instructor to the role of the observer and coach,
surveying students performance in tasks that, for example, involve blogging,
online research or online interaction with peers or strangers. Consequently, teachers
can focus on a wide spectrum of aspects to facilitate the learning process, ranging
from adjusting tasks towards their students cognitive styles to selecting appropriate
avatars or providing individual guidance for students in their search for passionate
afnity spaces. Online learning environments, as opposed to traditional classroom
settings, provide teachers with a broader spectrum of opportunities to adapt their
teaching strategies and tasks to their students learning styles and elds of interests,
thus enabling them to react to ndings in language learning psychology in a more
efcient manner.
Building on the reconceptualisation of the learning process through the Internet,
we investigated selected tools and strategies for teachers (i.e., the use of various
forms of agents, collaborative blogging and hybrid forms of open-ended and closed
learning environments). We concluded that a framework for online language
learning requires transformative interaction between pedagogical models, instruc-
tional strategies and learning technologies. Based on this, we summarised the skill
set required from teachers in online language learning settings in a list/taxonomy of
ten criteria.
Further research in this eld is needed to investigate novel constructs, such as
passionate afnity spaces or the large-scale use of pedagogical agents, in order to
map out future directions in online language learning. Moreover, the concepts of
cognitive and learning styles need to be investigated with respect to teaching
scenarios and online learning environments. The former will likely pose consid-
erable methodological challenges to language learning psychology researchers
because of its elusiveness and complexity. Possible methods to gain insights into
the construct of the passionate afnity space could be large-scale surveys or,
246 M. Reitbauer and H. Fromm

alternatively, individual qualitative interviews with students from classes in which

the concept has been tested. As for the assessment of the impact of pedagogical
agents on language learners performance, a systematic overview of the ndings of
various studies on different kinds of avatars will be needed to provide a general
directive for practitioners. Scaffolding 2.0 can serve as a guideline in teacher
training and provide a comprehensive framework for meeting the demands of
language students in online learning environments. Scaffolding 2.0 promotes the
development of digital literacy skills and facilitates learner autonomy based on
intrinsic motivation.


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Christina Gkonou, Dietmar Tatzl and Sarah Mercer

1 Introduction

Our main aim in compiling this volume has been to draw attention to the emerging
eld of language learning psychology and lay some groundwork for future possible
developments in both theoretical and empirical terms. In this nal chapter, we
explore some common themes that we see as emerging from the chapters, con-
sidering explicitly what the multiple new directions in language learning psy-
chology could be in terms of constructs, contexts, populations as well as theoretical
and methodological frameworks.

2 New Constructs

Viewing the eld of language learning psychology as a whole, it has tended to be

dominated by particular topics, with motivation being the most prominent one. As
Ushioda (2012, p. 58) succinctly expressed, among the psychological constructs
implicated in L2 learning, none has perhaps generated as much literature as
motivation. Whilst this remains a central construct of concern for language
learning psychology, as this volume shows, there is a much broader range of related

C. Gkonou (&)
University of Essex, Colchester, UK
D. Tatzl
FH Joanneum, University of Applied Sciences, Graz, Austria
S. Mercer
University of Graz, Graz, Austria

Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016 249

C. Gkonou et al. (eds.), New Directions in Language Learning Psychology,
Second Language Learning and Teaching, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-23491-5_14
250 C. Gkonou et al.

constructs that are being examined across this eld. Thus, whilst more familiar and
well-researched topics such as learner autonomy (Chaps. 4 and 5), identity (Chap. 9)
and language learning strategies (Chaps. 3 and 8) are included, the volume also
opens up new topics and constructs worthy of further investigation.
For example, in Chap. 7, King introduces the concept of emotional labour and
discusses his study, which examines the emotional self-regulation that teachers
engage in within the context of Japanese higher education. Another construct that
has received little attention in the SLA literature to date is that of intentionalities. In
Chap. 2, Kostoulas and Stelma argue for a Complex System of Intentions, which
comprises the purposes or intentionalities of individual learners, groups of learners
and larger communities learners are embedded in. In Chap. 11, Gonzalez discusses
her work on another less frequently researched construct, namely, that of learner
attributions for perceived success and failure in foreign language learning. She
extends work on this construct by showing how important it is that learners own
perceptions of locus of control, stability and controllability are taken into account as
there may be variations in perceptions of these categories in different cultural
settings. In Chap. 8, Oxford and Bolaos-Snchez discuss a range of new psy-
chological constructs which emerged from their research into the development
trajectories and success of two English language learners. The authors have taken a
positive psychology approach focusing on intrinsic motivation, imagination, posi-
tive emotions, emotional intelligence, learner engagement and perseverance.
Together, these contributions suggest that the eld has much more yet to explore by
considering constructs that have not to date received much attention in respect to
language learning psychology, alongside many others not considered in this col-
lection but evident in related publications and the Graz conference from which this
book emerged.

3 New Theoretical Frameworks

Another new dimension to the eld of language learning psychology that is evident
from these chapters concerns the recognition of the strong interrelatedness among
constructs. For example, Oxford and Bolaos-Snchez took a more holistic view of
their learners to look at the situated complexity of their psychologies through the
lens of positive psychology. Their study showed the ways in which their two
participants were motivated, engaged and agentic throughout the process of English
language learning. In Chap. 6, Tassinari showed that strong emotional dynamics
were evident in the language advising sessions with her students. In particular, the
participating students were found to experience frustration, lack of trust in their
teachers, embarrassment, anxiety, annoyance but also hope, anticipation and opti-
mism. This combination of both negative and positive emotions echoes the com-
plexity of students emotions and points to the difculty of looking at them
individually but rather the need for them to be understood in combination and in
terms of their different functions for learners (Dewaele & MacIntyre, 2014).
Conclusion 251

One way of working with such complexity and interrelatedness has been to turn
to various theoretical frameworks such as Dynamic Systems Theory (DST;
Larsen-Freeman & Cameron, 2008). In this collection, the framework was applied
explicitly by Kostoulas and Stelma to their research. They used it to illustrate how
the complex systems of intentions were organisationally open and emergent. DST
was also used by Tatzl as a lens to understand autonomy. He considers the com-
plexity of relationships surrounding learner autonomy and the vital role of others
and contextual factors in co-dening the emergence and ongoing dynamism of
learner autonomy. Using frameworks such as DST adds another perspective to the
theoretical toolkit of researchers working in this area, and theoretical diversity will
be invaluable in helping to develop our understandings of language learning psy-
chology from multiple viewpoints.
In Chap. 5, Toffoli examines the potential of attachment theory for (re)inter-
preting language learner autonomy. Initially proposed within the eld of develop-
mental psychology, attachment theory looks at the links between childrens
attachment to their caretaker and childrens progressive degree of autonomy. With
relation to adults, attachment theory explores relationship dynamics. Toffoli
explains that in the process of foreign language learning, learners explore the
surrounding environment, attempt to situate themselves into it and attach both to the
target language and to the people involved in learning and teaching (e.g., peers and
teachers) but to different extents. Thus, she argues that attachment theory could
potentially help reveal how autonomous an individual can be in future behaviours,
and could constitute a useful theoretical framework to inform understandings of
learner and teacher autonomy.

4 New Methodological Frameworks

To meet the challenges of working with a range of constructs, exploring inter-

connections and engaging with multiple theoretical frameworks, a wider range of
methodological approaches are needed. The current volume offers a diversity of
novel methodological designs. For example, in addition to the more traditional
content analysis, Tassinari uses discourse analysis to investigate the emotions and
feelings generated in language advising sessions between her students and herself
as the advisor. Her study indicates that examining the actual discourse and con-
versation among interlocutors in terms of aspects such as communicative attitudes
and discourse sequences helps to elucidate emotions and feelings. In Suzuki and
Childss chapter, they report on the use of drawings to interpret learner implicit
beliefs using an analytical framework proposed by Furth (2002). The authors
explained that drawings are more neutral than written narratives and can thus be
used to capture negative beliefs that students may hold about language learning and
the teacher. They are also well suited to accessing less conscious dimensions of
learner beliefs. Therefore, they suggest that students drawings could be integrated
in research into beliefs alongside more widely-used instruments and methods of
252 C. Gkonou et al.

analysis such as metaphors, narratives and standardised questionnaires. Another

example of a new methodological framework is given by Toffoli in Chap. 5. The
author analyses the results of a case study involving qualitative, self-report data by
student participants who were asked to keep blogs.
However, this collection shows that more traditional research methods still have
a central role to play in understanding the psychology of teachers and learners. For
instance, Csillagh used a Likert-type questionnaire by combining items from scales
that were designed to measure motivation and a range of interrelated constructs,
such as the ideal L2 self, the ought-to L2 self and attitudes (Kormos & Csizr,
2008), and international posture (Yashima, 2009).

5 New Populations

Another new direction in the eld concerns a growing interest in teacher psy-
chologies. To date, research into language learning psychology has primarily
focused on learners, although there has been growing interest in language teacher
motivation (see, e.g., Drnyei & Kubanyiova, 2014) as well as teacher cognitions
(see, e.g., Borg, 2009) and identities (see, e.g., Clarke, 2008). However, as con-
tributions to this volume have revealed, a range of psychological constructs are now
being applied to the investigation of how teachers experience the language learning
and teaching process. For example, Kings chapter on the emotional labour of
teaching raises interesting questions about how teachers manage their emotions in
the classroom, how certain emotions need to be suppressed in an attempt to con-
form to social norms about appropriate in-class behaviours dictated by institutions,
and how teachers emotional experiences might influence their overall long-term
well-being. In Chap. 9, Werbiska explores the experiences of four pre-service
teachers in Poland in order to understand their identity formation. To this end, she
analyses teachers discontinuities; a notion which is inspired by the fact that teacher
experiences are primarily context-bound and therefore teachers might have different
difculties, frustrations and concerns. The author also applies the Three-A Teacher
Identity Framework which focuses on teachers willingness to teach English
(Afliation), their beliefs about their teaching (Attachment), and teachers agentic
and reflective behaviour (Autonomy).
Given the interrelatedness between teachers and learners in the classroom, we
can expect a strong connection between learner psychology and teacher psychol-
ogy. In this collection, Tassinari reports on a strong link between the teachers and
students moods and emotions, as the former tend to mirror or reflect as a reaction
to the latter. It can be expected that if teacher psychologies are healthy, they will be
in the best position to create the conditions for their learners to develop healthy
psychologies in respect to language learning too. We hope that in the future more
research will be devoted to language teacher psychologies covering a broader
selection of constructs across a range of settings, examining also how their psy-
chologies interact with those of their learners. Indeed, we feel it necessary to
Conclusion 253

explicitly stress that we see the term language learning psychology as inherently
embracing the psychology of learners, teachers and collective groups involved in
the language learning process.

6 New Contexts

The chapters in this volume also point to a wider recognition that the eld of
language learning psychology is continuing to move towards more situated
understandings of learners and teachers. Ushioda (2009, p. 218) had already called
for a person-in-context view of emergent motivation. Looking at individual
learners and teachers in all their complexity and at how they might behave and react
in language classrooms helps to reveal dynamic patterns of their psychology. Given
the inherently social and interpersonal nature of classroom language learning and
teaching, studying the contexts learners and teachers are embedded in could add
valuable insights into more holistic understandings of psychology.
However, the demands on both teacher and student psychology are also
changing because of the advent of new technologies and their respective affor-
dances. This changing language learning and use landscape is the direction that
Reitbauer and Fromm take in Chap. 13. Focusing on online learning environments,
the authors claim that a redenition of the role of the teacher in the context of online
learning is unavoidable. They go on to describe what they term Scaffolding 2.0,
which incorporates a list of criteria for effective language teaching in online
learning environments taking into account new roles and relationships for teachers
and learners.

7 Final Note

As has repeatedly been acknowledged, also in this volume, language learning

psychology is a highly interdisciplinary eld. It brings together ideas from elds
such as social and educational psychology with insights from language teaching
and SLA. This makes it an exciting area to work in but also challenging for scholars
to feel broadly competent across this range of expansive and complex disciplines.
However, with an increasing number of scholars identifying explicitly with the
community of language learning psychology, a growing number of publications in
the area including monographs (e.g., Drnyei & Ryan, 2015; Williams, Mercer, &
Ryan, forthcoming), edited volumes (e.g., Gregersen, MacIntyre, & Mercer,
forthcoming; Mercer, Ryan, & Williams, 2012) and special issues in journals
(Mercer & Ryan, 2015a, 2015b), as well as the establishment of a regular bi-annual
conference (see Graz in May 2014; Jyvskyl in August 2016), it can be expected
that the eld will continue to go from strength to strength. It is hoped that this rich
collection of chapters in this volume will help add to this growth and the future
254 C. Gkonou et al.

development of the eld. We hope that it may also motivate readers to undertake
their own research in the psychology of language learners and teachers and inspire
practitioners to teach with psychology in mind.
To conclude, inspired by the papers in this collection, we would like to reflect on
possible future directions for those researching in this exciting eld and some
questions we may wish to address:
How can language learning psychology be researched in ways which capture
situated understandings and the interconnections between diverse facets of
What do we know about language teacher psychology, particularly in terms of
teachers professional well-being?
In what ways are teacher and learner psychologies related?
What do we know about collective and group psychologies in language learning
What constructs in educational and social psychology may have relevance for
the domain of language learning?
In addition to methods of conscious reflection and self-report, what other
methods could be explored for accessing less conscious and more implicit
dimensions of learner psychologies?
How can change in learner, teacher and group psychologies be researched across
different timescales and multiple contexts and settings?
What potential do theoretical perspectives such as DST have for helping us to
explore embodied and extended psychologies in language learning?
What other theoretical frameworks can be introduced and explored to cast light
on various aspects of language learning psychologies?
How might online learning and the use of social media influence language
learning psychology constructs of both learners and teachers such as motivation,
sense of self, agency, strategies, self-regulation, rapport and group dynamics?
To what extent are language learning psychology insights integrated in teacher
training both pre-service and in-service? And what scope is there for further
development in this respect?
What other new directions lie ahead for the eld of language learning psy-
chology? And how can practitioners and researchers come together in dialogue
about these directions? We hope this book may open up that conversation.


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Dewaele, J.-M., & MacIntyre, P. D. (2014). The two faces of Janus? Anxiety and enjoyment in the
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Conclusion 255

Drnyei, Z., & Kubanyiova, M. (2014). Motivating learners, motivating teachers. Cambridge:
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Drnyei, Z., & Ryan, S. (2015). The psychology of the language learner revisited. New York:
Furth, G. M. (2002). The secret world of drawings: A Jungian approach to healing through art.
Boston: Inner City Books.
Gregersen, T., MacIntyre, P., & Mercer, S. (Eds.). (forthcoming). Positive psychology in SLA.
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Kormos, J., & Csizr, K. (2008). Age-related differences in the motivation of learning English as a
foreign language: Attitudes, selves, and motivated learning behaviour. Language Learning, 58
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Larsen-Freeman, D., & Cameron, L. (2008). Complex systems and applied linguistics. Oxford:
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Mercer, S., & Ryan, S. (Eds.). (2015a). Special Issue of Studies in Second Language Learning and
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A Cognitive flexibility theory, 233, 238, 239,

Activity, 3, 816, 1922, 26, 27, 29, 32, 41, 57, 241, 244
75, 105, 163, 197, 238 Cognitive load, 233, 239241, 243, 244
Activity theory, 29 Cognitive load theory, 233, 239, 241, 245
Affect, 4, 12, 31, 32, 43, 44, 46, 48, 72, 73, 76, Cognitive styles, 240, 241, 244, 245
85, 119, 212, 216 Collaborative blogging, 243
Afliation, 136138, 140142, 145, 147, 149, Commitment, 10, 42, 80, 139, 151, 168, 223,
150, 152, 252 237
Affordances, 11, 30, 31, 34, 39, 43, 46, 47, 253 Communities of practice, 236, 238
Age, 62, 63, 145, 166, 197, 211214, 217 Complex dynamic systems, 39, 40, 43, 114
Agency, 8, 10, 22, 43, 47, 57, 78, 118, 119, Complexity, 2, 3, 8, 10, 21, 22, 29, 30, 34, 40,
151, 152, 254 46, 47, 49, 74, 117, 149, 187, 234, 238,
Agent roles, 242 239, 241, 250, 251, 253
Appropriate methodology, 48 Complexity theory, 2, 3, 29, 40, 46, 49
Aptitude, 31, 32, 67 Content and language integrated learning
Attribution dimensions, 216, 218 (CLIL), 31, 34
Attribution theory, 209211, 217 Context, 3, 4, 15, 16, 21, 22, 25, 28, 30, 31, 33,
Attributions, 2, 4, 210219, 221, 222, 224, 34, 3950, 56, 60, 66, 73, 7578, 81, 82,
225, 250 84, 85, 98, 100, 102, 103, 108, 114117,
Avatars, 241, 242 140, 150, 152, 153, 160162, 165, 177,
187, 190193, 195, 197, 199, 202, 203,
B 212, 213, 216, 238, 239, 249, 250, 253
Behaviourism, 28 Controllability, 4, 210212, 216, 217,
Beliefs, 2, 4, 11, 16, 20, 31, 46, 47, 59, 67, 73, 220222, 224, 250
75, 77, 78, 99, 101, 116, 120, 137, 138, Cross-cultural communication, 76
146, 162, 163, 165171, 175178, 242, Culture, 10, 13, 17, 20, 31, 4346, 48, 63, 66,
251, 252 75, 102, 125, 150, 161, 162, 170, 171, 188,
Blogs, 2, 42, 6062, 65, 193, 240, 243, 252 191, 210213, 215

Caring relationships, 102 Deep acting, 4, 107
Choice, 15, 26, 27, 29, 31, 32, 42, 45, 49, 57, Desire, 16, 75, 85, 98, 106, 107, 116, 120, 125,
61, 80, 101, 137, 145, 148, 152, 192, 194, 126, 137, 139, 145, 148, 150, 152, 161,
198, 200, 212, 216, 224, 225 172, 186, 203, 242
Closed learning environments, 236, 241 Diaries, 2, 34, 139, 140
Coding, 101, 122, 217 Digital literacy skills, 234, 236, 243, 244
Cognition, 5, 28, 75, 118, 238, 239, 252 Discontinuities, 4, 136, 138, 140, 146,
Cognitive apprenticeship, 116 148153, 252

Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016 257

C. Gkonou et al. (eds.), New Directions in Language Learning Psychology,
Second Language Learning and Teaching, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-23491-5
258 Index

Discourse analysis, 2, 3, 72, 81, 82, 84, 86, 251 117120, 136, 137, 148, 160, 162164,
Diversity, 2, 3, 39, 41, 42, 44, 46, 48, 65, 147, 172, 177, 186190, 193, 194, 199, 203,
191, 192, 197, 251 205, 209213, 216, 223, 225, 237, 240,
Drawings, 2, 4, 163166, 168171, 173, 241, 244, 250, 251, 253
175178, 251 Individual differences, 3, 26, 31, 34, 41
Insecurity, 64, 87, 109, 153
E Intentionality, 3, 812, 1422
Educational reform, 109 Interaction, 3, 8, 1012, 14, 15, 20, 21, 26, 29,
Embarrassment, 81, 87, 250 40, 4247, 49, 58, 72, 75, 78, 84, 86, 98,
Emergence, 5, 8, 9, 11, 12, 14, 16, 17, 21, 40, 99, 102, 104, 108, 109, 114, 126, 144, 153,
47, 194, 213, 215, 233, 236, 238, 251 164, 186, 215, 233235, 242, 243
Emotional distancing, 103, 106, 108 Interface agents, 235, 241
Emotional intelligence, 118, 250 Interpretative research, 60
Emotional labour, 2, 4, 98, 99, 101103, 105, Intrinsic motivation, 101, 105, 106, 116, 117,
107, 109, 250, 252 119, 123, 186, 214, 234, 238, 250
Emotions, 24, 47, 7276, 7888, 9799, 102,
103, 105107, 109, 114, 117, 118, 120, J
122, 128, 165, 250252 Joy, 74, 83, 98, 118, 119
Empathy, 87, 117
English for specic purposes (ESP), 30, 34 L
Enthusiasm, 34, 49, 72, 105, 237 Language advising, 3, 72, 73, 7781, 83, 84,
Environment, 4, 5, 12, 30, 32, 4147, 49, 50, 87, 250, 251
58, 78, 85, 103, 109, 114, 124, 150, 152, Language anxiety, 10, 65, 72, 86, 118
153, 163, 173, 186, 187, 195, 202, 212, Language learning strategies, 2, 2629, 34, 250
221, 223, 225, 233236, 238, 239, Learner autonomy, 2, 3, 3950, 56, 57, 60, 62,
241244, 251, 253 63, 6567, 76, 77, 79, 116, 146, 233, 234,
Extrinsic motivation, 238 237, 238, 250, 251
Learner engagement, 238, 250
F Learner motivation, 41, 105, 242
Feelings, 1, 3, 4, 62, 6567, 7275, 7779, Learning goals, 31, 41, 45, 49, 77, 234, 242,
8184, 86, 98, 99, 103, 104, 117, 118, 126, 244
161, 163166, 168171, 173, 176178, 251 Learning styles, 5, 26, 45, 48, 240242
Flow, 19, 117119, 146, 169 Likert scales, 32, 33, 197
Frustration, 66, 72, 80, 83, 86, 87, 103, 104, Locus of causality, 210212, 216, 217, 221
138, 145, 147, 171, 250, 252
G Meaning, 13, 19, 43, 81, 82, 99, 117, 127, 128,
Goal, 3, 4, 2527, 2931, 34, 41, 44, 45, 49, 140, 153, 163, 164, 166, 168, 221, 222,
50, 56, 57, 76, 77 225, 236, 238
Goal orientation, 30, 120 Mentoring, 2, 4, 41, 114116, 120, 122127,
Good language learner studies, 33 129, 147, 148, 234, 242
Grounded theory, 2, 101, 114, 122, 217 Metacognitive strategies, 120, 212, 214, 219,
220, 222, 225
Hope, 2, 5, 42, 48, 59, 87, 102, 113, 119, 120, N
130, 177, 194, 250, 252, 254 Narrative analysis, 140, 150

Imagination, 2, 117, 124, 145, 250 Online learning environments, 5, 234236,
Individual, 13, 912, 20, 22, 26, 29, 31, 32, 241, 244, 253
34, 39, 4148, 57, 58, 60, 64, 66, 7279, Open-ended learning environments, 217,
85, 87, 88, 102, 104, 107109, 114, 115, 234236, 240, 244
Index 259

Optimism, 87, 119, 120, 130, 250 Self-efcacy beliefs, 242

Orchestration, 29 Self-regulation, 26, 76, 98, 118, 152, 250, 254
Out-of-class learning, 3, 55 Self-regulation of emotions, 3, 72, 73, 76, 98
Self-regulation of learning, 72
P Self-report data, 252
Paraverbal aspects, 82 Signicant others, 42, 212, 219221
Passionate afnity spaces, 233, 236, 237, 243, Silence, 104, 105, 173
244 Situated understandings, 253, 254
Pedagogical agents, 241, 242 Social constructivism, 238
Performance of emotions, 106 Social modelling, 242
Perseverance, 4, 114, 119, 120, 122, 129, 130, Sociocognitive theory, 78
210, 250 Sociocultural theory, 29
Personality, 31, 32, 41, 66, 73, 107, 108 Software agents, 233, 241
Planning further learning, 71, 93 Stability, 4, 40, 152, 203, 210212, 216, 217,
Positive psychology, 114, 250 220, 221, 224, 237, 240, 250
Poststructuralists, 136, 137 Strategy inventory for language learning
Practising teachers, 147 (SILL), 28
Pre-disposition, 57, 58, 60 Study abroad, 30
Pre-service teachers, 4, 152, 252 Sub-identity, 137, 138
Professional identity, 4, 102, 136, 141, 147, Surface acting, 4, 107
Q Teacher identity, 2, 4, 136140, 146, 148150,
Qualitative content analysis, 8184 152, 252
Teacher roles, 137
R Teacher stress, 98
Relationships, 24, 26, 32, 4043, 4650, 56, Teacher training, 108, 138, 245, 254
5861, 6567, 98, 99, 102, 103, 119, 122, Teacher well-being, 44, 98, 103, 108, 114, 117,
125, 126, 137, 187189, 193, 203, 205, 118, 252, 254
251, 253 Three-A teacher identity framework, 135
Reporting learning experiences, 87
Resilience, 4, 21, 118, 119, 129, 130, 154 V
Verbal aspects, 82
Satisfaction, 16, 66, 72, 80, 83, 87, 118, 125, W
128, 151, 161 Will, 10, 15, 31, 32, 4749, 129, 137, 139, 147,
Scaffolding, 5, 115, 123, 234, 238, 239, 170, 193, 198, 214, 225, 237, 252
242244, 253 Working conditions, 109
Schema theory, 29
Self, 46, 59, 63, 66, 75, 115, 117, 118, 125, Z
128, 145, 173, 174, 176, 178, 187, 190, Zone of proximal development (ZPD), 115,
202, 203, 252, 254 123