Conceptualizing Motivation in Foreign-Language Learning


  • Part of the research reported in this paper was camed out while the author was on a “Soros” research grant at the University of Oxford. The Soros Foundation's assistance is gratefully acknowledged. The author also thanks Csaba Pléh, David Phillips, and John Backhouse for their advice and support, as well as the two anonymous readers for their valuable comments. Requests for reprints may be sent to Zoltán Dörnyei, Department of English, Eötvös University, Pesti Barnabás utca 1,1052 Budapest, Hungary.


This study investigates the components of motivation in foreign-language learning (FLL)–which involves learning the target language in institutional/academic settings without regularly interacting with the target language community. It was assumed that the results obtained from second-language acquisition (SLA) contexts–those in which the target language is learned at least partly embedded in the host environment–are not directly applicable to FLL situations. Therefore a motivational questionnaire was developed and administered to 134 learners of English in Hungary, a typical European FLL environment, with the aim of defining the relevance and characteristics of integrativeness and instrumentality in FLL, as well as to locate other motivational components. Based upon the results, a motivational construct was postulated consisting of (1) an Instrumental Motivational Subsystem, (2) an Integrative Motivational Subsystem, which is a multifaceted cluster with four dimensions, (3) Need for Ach evement, and (4) Attributions about Past Failures. The results also indicated that in mastering an intermediate target language proficiency, the Instrumental Motivational Subsystem and Need for Achievement especially, play a significant role, whereas the desire to go beyond this level is associated with integrative motives.