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The data for this study were collected while I was carrying out postdoctoral research at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB); it was a project I had long considered doing while in graduate school but postponed to work on studies more germane to my dissertation research. I owe a debt of gratitude to the Department of Spanish and Portuguese and the Department of Communication at UCSB for providing me with the opportunity to learn whether Self-Determination Theory was relevant outside of the Canadian French-English context. The first purpose of the study was to examine a model in which perceptions of autonomy support and informative feedback from teachers sustain generalized feelings of autonomy and competence, which in turn support feelings of intrinsic motivation. The results supported this contention and interestingly also indicated that perceptions of the teacher as negative or as congenial had only a small, indirect role in supporting learners’ motivation. These results point to specific behaviors that teachers could exhibit to enhance their students’ motivation.

The second purpose was to follow up a study by Noels, Pelletier, Clément, and Vallerand (2000) by examining how the integrative orientation relates to the intrinsic and extrinsic orientations. Although some scholars had suggested that the integrative/instrumental distinction paralleled the intrinsic/extrinsic distinction, others argued that these motivational constructs represented different processes. Nobody, however, had addressed the question empirically, although the earlier Noels et al. study had suggested that external regulation and the instrumental orientation were very similar.

This study focused on the integrative orientation and its link with the intrinsic/extrinsic orientations. The results indicated that the integrative orientation was most strongly correlated with intrinsic motivation and the more self-determined types of extrinsic motivation (i.e., identified regulation). By no means, however, could the integrative and intrinsic orientations be considered one and the same construct. The integrative orientation was shown to be a better predictor of intergroup variables (e.g., aspects of contact and ethnic identity) than the intrinsic/extrinsic orientations. Conversely, the intrinsic orientation turned out to be a better predictor of more immediate variables (e.g., motivational intensity, intention to persist in Spanish study, and attitudes toward Spanish) than did the integrative orientation (although it too independently predicted the first two of these variables). This pattern of results suggested to me that it might be feasible to think of at least three interrelated types of orientations. The first group included reasons inherent in the language learning process, such as whether learning the language is fun, engaging, challenging, or competence enhancing. The second category included extrinsic reasons for language learning lying on a continuum of self-determination, including external pressures, internalized pressures, and self-expressive reasons. Following the results of Noels et al. (1999), the instrumental orientation would likely be a member of this group. The third group comprised integrative reasons relating to positive contact with the language group and perhaps eventual identification with that group. Stated otherwise, the first two types of orientations might be described as an interpersonal motivational substrate, and the last type as an intergroup substrate.

My current research is focused on understanding how contextual factors might explain when these different motivational substrates are more or less important for accounting for variations in learners’ performance. Some of this research concerns how learning a foreign language differs from learning a heritage or second language; how relevant others, such as teachers, parents, peers, and members of the language community, influence the reasons why an individual wants to learn a new language; and how cultural values might moderate the importance of autonomy, competence, and relatedness in motivation. [The present article first appeared in Language Learning, 51(1), 2001, 107–144]