Home: My research

I am a PhD researcher at the University of Manchester investigating motivation for learning English as a foreign language. Welcome to my site!

 
 


My research is situated in the field of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). Motivation for learning another language is a broad and well-researched field, but comparatively few studies have explored motivation for learning English in particular. This gap has provided the basis for my research.
 


 My PhD: an overview
 
 My work in second-language learning (L2) motivation focuses on the personal, affective fundamentals of language learning. Recent research indicates that learners wish to access the social, economic, educational, technological and travel opportunities offered by the globalisation movement, and that they may wish to remain integrated into their own culture while simultaneously participating in the global contexts they are helping to create. Motivation, then, is contextual and temporal: it is shaped by learners' history and experience of language learning; by their imagined future as English users and the communities in which they expect to participate.
 
Through a series of narrative interviews with six learners of English, my study will explore the extent to which my participants value, and aspire to gain, access to UK society, culture and education, and the reasons underlying their aspirations. Learners have rarely been given voice in L2 motivation research; my work carries a commitment to bringing individual experience, perception and agency to the fore.
 

 

 

Where it all began

 I was first introduced to language learning motivation theory in 2007, as part of the Psychology of Language Learning module on my MA TESOL. One of my very first readings was on Robert Gardner's model of integrative and instrumental motivation (1959,1972). In brief, the model posits two motivational orientations:

  • Integrativeness: a form of psychological and/or emotional identification with the target language community;
  • Instrumentality: relates to the pragmatic gains of learning a language, such as career advancement or a higher salary.

 This had been devised to apply to Gardner's French Canadian setting, where learners of French or English had a visible community speaking that language with which to identify. I began to wonder if integrativeness could really apply in a similar way to English learners in the UK, with only one language in which the majority of social and pragmatic transactions are carried out. It seemed to me that in this context, the integrative/instrumental model broke down, as learners using the language instrumentally - to make appointments, buy bus tickets, pay bills - were using the language integratively at the same time, in order to participate in and integrate into society.

Of course, this situation is not unique to English - if I were learning Thai in Thailand, or Portuguese in Mozambique, the conditions would be similar. What is different is the global status of English, its growing political, cultural and ideological dominance around the world, and the numbers of people who learn and speak it. In the 21st century, English is associated with many more cultures than those of its 'native' speakers, and there is no longer any specific 'owner' of English for learners to identify with. This has significant implications for the concept of integrativeness, and I argue that it is as likely to expand and create a broader understanding of integrativeness as it is to undermine it. An undefined, shifting, and geographically and culturally disparate L2 community may be perceived by learners as having more potential to fully include them as members, which may be highly motivating.

So, English is different; English is problematic. Attempting to redefine integrativeness in contextually appropriate ways became my starting point. The seed was sown in my Psychology of Language Learning assignment; it germinated into a pilot study, which sprouted into my MA dissertation, and has now blossomed into a PhD project.

 

The importance of sociocultural context 

 I argue that many influential models of learning motivation - the socioeducational model, the L2 motivational self-system, possible selves theory, self-efficacy and self-determination theory - are limited by individualistic, over-simplified and unproblematic conceptions of ‘self’ which fail to consider the broader historical and sociocultural context through which the person as moral agent is formed, rather than just the immediate social environment. Learners are constantly negotiating an individual and collective identity in a complex world, and are capable of influencing that world; and in order to understand this process, and its intersection with motivation, it is necessary to recognise learners as critically engaged and situated individuals. In my view, a move away from an unproblematic, apolitical conception of selfhood is necessary in order to gain any meaningful insight into not only what motivates learners and why, but also into how the sociocultural context engenders or inhibits motivation.

 
Equality and inclusion

My research also has implications for equality of access to culture and society. Learners' visions of using English are often visions of participation in an imagined English-speaking international community, but as learners, they may lack opportunities to access and fashion for themselves of the voices of the particular communities in which they wish to participate. It may be difficult, for example, for students of English in the UK to make friends in the local community - this came to light in research I carried out for my MSc dissertation in 2010, which indicated that students from some cultural backgrounds are intimidated by the the unfamiliar drinking culture in the UK. Without the opportunity to make these community voices their own, the identity to which a learner may aspire, such as 'English speaker', may not be recognised by other English speakers in that community, who may accept them only as 'foreigners' or 'non-native speakers'. As a result, L2 learners continue to be unable to fully participate in the communities they wish to; individual learners may not be granted ‘legitimate’ speaker status, and may have unequal access to social and cultural resources. Thus motivation also has important community and relational dimensions.

 
Methodology
 
I will use narrative methodology, collaborating with participants in articulating their stories. I hope this will offer the potential for an empowering relationship in which all participants have voice. Given the social and temporal nature of L2 motivation, this seems a particularly appropriate methodology as it highlights the temporality of experience and the relationship between past, present and future, as well as allowing researchers to access participants’ experience, cultural stories, and hidden assumptions.
 
 
 

My aim is to glean an in-depth understanding of my participants’ language learning experiences, and to this end I will use a series of interviews. Initial interviews will aim to elicit stories of participants’ language learning histories, experiences and perception; further interviews will explore participants’ particular experiences in more depth and allow participants greater space to discuss what they feel has been important for their motivation. Interviews are a process of making sense of the social world, offering various points of access into participants' experience and social relationships. My framework recognises that participants’ accounts are knowledges created by particular contexts, and are actively constructed through the relationship between themselves and me, the researcher. ‘Truth’ is unimportant, as the point of inquiry is to examine the assumptions through which those stories have been shaped.

And...

There will be more to come, and I'll update these pages accordingly - for more regular updates, please visit my blog. The PhD is an ever-evolving beast, and I'm only six months in - who knows where it'll have led me this time next year, or the year after? (I mean, I have some idea, of course - I think..!). Anyway, I hope you'll come back and check in with me sometime. Thanks for reading!

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