Language Learning, Drives, and Context: A Grounded Theory of Learning Behavior
Commenced in January 2007
Frequency: Monthly
Edition: International
Paper Count: 32794
Language Learning, Drives, and Context: A Grounded Theory of Learning Behavior

Authors: Julian Pigott


This paper presents the Language Learning as a Means of Drive Engagement (LLMDE) theory, derived from a grounded theory analysis of interviews with Japanese university students. According to LLMDE theory, language learning can be understood as a means of engaging one or more of four self-fulfillment drives: the drive to expand one’s horizons (perspective drive); the drive to make a success of oneself (status drive); the drive to engage in interaction with others (communication drive); and the drive to obtain intellectual and affective stimulation (entertainment drive). While many theories of learner psychology focus on conscious agency, LLMDE theory addresses the role of the unconscious. In addition, supplementary thematic analysis of the data revealed the role of context in mediating drive engagement. Unexpected memorable events, for example, play a key role in instigating and, indirectly, in regulating learning, as do institutional and cultural contexts. Given the apparent importance of such factors beyond the immediate control of the learner, and given the pervasive role of habit and drives, it is argued that the concept of motivation merits theoretical reappraisal. Rather than an underlying force determining language learning success or failure, it can be understood to emerge sporadically in consciousness to promote behavioral change, or to protect habitual behavior from disruption.

Keywords: Drives, grounded theory, motivation, significant events.

Procedia APA BibTeX Chicago EndNote Harvard JSON MLA RIS XML ISO 690 PDF Downloads 505


[1] Z. Dörnyei, “Motivation and motivating in the foreign language classroom,” in The Modern Language Journal, Vol. 78/3, 1994, pp. 273-284.
[2] Z. Dörnyei, The Psychology of the Language Learner: Individual Differences in Second Language Acquisition. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1994.
[3] Z. Dörnyei and I. Ottó, “Motivation in action: A process model of L2 motivation,” in Working Papers in Applied Linguistics, 1998, Vol. 4, pp. 43-69.
[4] R. C. Gardner, and W. E. Lambert, “Motivational variables in second-language acquisition,” in Canadian Journal of Psychology, Vol. 13, 1959, pp. 266-272.
[5] R. C. Gardner and W. E. Lambert, Attitudes and motivation in second-language learning. NY: Newbury House. 1972.
[6] K. Julkunen, Situation and Task-specific Motivation in Foreign-language Learning and Teaching. Joensuu, Finland: University of Joensuu, 1989.
[7] K. Julkunen, “Situation- and task-specific motivation in foreign language learning,” in Z. Dörnyei and R. Schmidt (Eds.), Motivation and Second Language Acquisition. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii, pp. 29-41.
[8] M. Williams and R. L. Burden. Psychology for Teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
[9] Z. Dörnyei, P. MacIntyre and A. Henry (Eds.), Motivational Dynamics in Language Learning. Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters, 2015.
[10] B. Norton Peirce, “Social identity, investment, and language learning,” in TESOL Quarterly, Vol. 29/1, 1995, pp. 9-31.
[11] E. Ushioda, “A person-in-context relational view of emergent motivation, self and identity,” in Dörnyei, Z, & Ushioda, E. (Eds.), Motivation, Language Identity and the L2 Self. Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters, 2009. pp. 215-228.
[12] E. Ushioda, “Motivating learners to speak as themselves,” in G. Murray, X. Gao and T. Lamb (Eds.), Identity, Motivation and Autonomy in Language Learning. Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters, 2011, pp. 11-24.
[13] M. Williams, R. L. Burden and S. Al-Baharna, “Making sense of success and failure: The role of the individual in motivation theory,” in Z. Dörnyei, and R. Schmidt (Eds.), Motivation and Second Language Acquisition, Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press, 2001, pp. 171–184.
[14] D. M. MacIntyre, and J. J. Legatto, “A dynamic system approach to willingness to communicate: Developing an idiodynamic method to capture rapidly changing affect,” in Applied Linguistics, Vol. 32/2, 2011, pp. 149–171.
[15] R. C. Gardner and P. F. Tremblay, “On motivation, research agendas, and theoretical frameworks,” in Modern Language Journal, Vol. 78, 1994, pp. 359-368.
[16] H. Markus and P. Nurius, “Possible selves,” in American Psychologist, Vol. 41/9, 1986, pp. 954-969.
[17] E. T. Higgins, “Self-discrepancy: A theory relating self and affect,” in Psychological Review, Vol. 94/3, 1987, pp. 319-340.
[18] Z. Dörnyei, Psychology of the Language Learner. Lond, Routledge, 2005.
[19] Z. Dörnyei, Teaching and Researching Motivation. New York: Longman, 2001.
[20] B. Glaser and A. Strauss, The Discovery of Grounded Theory: Strategies for Qualitative Research. Chicago, IL: Aldine Transaction, 1967.
[21] Z. Dörnyei and E. Ushioda, Teaching and Researching Motivation. New York: Longman, 2011
[22] A. Strauss and J. Corbin, Basics of Qualitative Research: Grounded Theory Procedures and Techniques. London: Sage, 1998.
[23] G. Thomas and D. James, “Reinventing grounded theory: Some questions about theory, ground and discovery,” in British Educational Research Journal, Vol. 32/6, 2006, pp. 767–795.
[24] K. Charmaz, “Grounded theory in the 21st century: Applications for advancing social justice studies,” in Denzin, N. K., & Lincoln Y. S. (Eds.), The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research, 2005, London: Sage, pp. 507-537.
[25] J. D. Pigott, English Learning as a Means of Self-fulfillment: A Grounded Theory of Language Learning Behaviour. Unpublished Ph.D thesis. Downloaded from /79953/1/WRAP_THESIS_ Pigott_2015.pdf
[26] R. Senior, The Experience of Language Teaching, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2006.
[27] G. Hadley, English for Academic Purposes in Neoliberal Universities: A Critical Grounded Theory, Springer, Heidelburg, New York, and London, 2016.
[28] H. W. Allen, “Language-learning motivation during short-term study abroad: An activity theory perspective,” in Foreign Language Annals, 43/1, 2010, pp. 27-49.
[29] J. Bown, “Self-regulatory strategies and agency in self-instructed language learning: A situated view,” in The Modern Language Journal, 93, 2009, pp. 570–583.
[30] Z. Gan, G. Humphreys, and L. Hamp-Lyons, “Understanding successful and unsuccessful EFL students in Chinese universities,” in The Modern Language Journal, 88, 2004, pp. 229–244.
[31] P. Garrett and R. F. Young, R. F., “Theorizing affect in foreign language learning: An analysis of one learner's responses to a communicative Portuguese course,” in The Modern Language Journal, 93, 2010, pp. 209–226
[32] D. Kruger, An Introduction to Phenomenological Psychology. Cape Town: Juta, 1988.
[33] P. Woods, “Conversations with teachers: Aspects of life history method,” in British Educational Research Journal, Vol. 11/1, 1985, pp. 13-26.
[34] J. D. Pigott, “An introduction to ELMS theory and an examination of its implications for language education in Japan and Taiwan,” in Ho, W. (Ed.) Foreign language education in the 21st century: Essays in English and Japanese. Feng Chia University.
[35] C. L. Hull, “The conflicting psychologies of learning: A way out,” in Psychological Review, Vol. 42, 1935, pp. 491-516.
[36] K. Zotzmann, “The impossibility of defining and measuring intercultural competence,” in Rivers, D. (Ed.), Resistance to the Known in Foreign Language Education. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave, 2014.
[37] C. McMahill, “Communities of resistance: A case study of two feminist English classes in Japan.,” in TESOL Quarterly, Vol. 31/3, 1997, pp.612-622.
[38] E. Hall, Beyond Culture. New York: Anchor Books, 1976.
[39] S. T. Fiske and S. E. Taylor, Social Cognition: From Brains to Culture. London: Sage, 1991.
[40] A. H. Maslow, “A theory of human motivation,” in Psychological Review, Vol. 50, 1943, pp. 370-396.
[41] A. H. Maslow, Motivation and Personality. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1954.
[42] J. Schumann, “Forward,” in Z. Dörnyei, P. MacIntyre and A. Henry (Eds.), Motivational Dynamics in Language Learning. Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters, 2015