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Language Learning Motivation: A Descriptive and Causal Analysis

By Christopher M. Ely (1986)

A Critical Review
Submitted to the Faculty of English Linguistics and Literature
in partial fulfillment of the course ‘Research Writing’

Written by
Bui Hong Uyen Trinh



HO CHI MINH CITY, December 2019


The research was conducted on a population of first year and second year students of Spanish in a
university in northern California. With the freshmen as its target population, the study aimed to discover
the types of motivation present among them and examine the relationship between the determined types
of motivation and their strength.

Initially, the investigator conducted an exploratory survey to gather data on students’ reasons for study.
He approached the second-year Spanish classes and asked students to fill out an anonymous “Language
Study Survey”. Students were requested to list “all of the reasons” for their taking Spanish course at the
university. The 184 reasons listed were then sorted into seventeen categories.

Following the survey, a questionnaire was administered to the first-year Spanish students in the
population. The instrument was designed using the Likert scale and the seventeen categories discovered
in the first stage. The statement “I am taking Spanish” was followed by the seventeen reasons. For each
of the reasons, the students were asked to rate how important it was to them.

Simultaneously, another scale was developed to measure the strength of motivation. First, a pilot
questionnaire was tested on fifty students to identity the most useful items. After employing analysis
procedures, seven items were chosen for the final scale. Each item was followed by a six-point scale with
alternate labels adapted from the original Likert scale.

The final questionnaire which included the type of motivation scale and the final version of the strength
of motivation scale was administered on seventy-five first year students during the eighth week of a ten-
week term. Their participation was voluntary and the results was recorded by number, not by name.

The responses were subjected to factor analysis and grouped into three clusters of motivation patterns.
Three directional hypotheses were proposed, predicting the impact of the three types of motivation on
students’ strength of motivation. The results of the regression test agreed with the predictions.
Consequently, findings indicate the existence of two types of motivation clusters that resemble the
integrative and instrumental orientations.



Overall, the introduction is well-written and straightforward with a precise synthetization and evaluation
of prior researches. The author starts the article with reference to the classic studies of Gardner and
Lambert as the theoretical framework, followed by an identification of the problems regarding the
approach. Then, the lack of research on determining the types and strength of motivation is mentioned
along with a series of researches to justify their importance. This reasoning sequence makes the gap, the
significance of the study and the problem statement appear in a convincing manner.

Overview of the Study and Description of Research Design

The study adopted the correlational design, investigating the type and strength of motivation for language
learning. Though the type of design is not explicitly stated, it is cleverly hinted in the overview of the
study. In addition, each purpose is clearly introduced, followed by descriptions of the instruments, how
they were developed and the population to which they were administered. The author did a good job
depicting the process of designing and developing his instruments in the three sections following the
overview. The steps are put in a logical chronological order that corresponds with and highlights the
purposes. Each of the first two sections covers a scale comprising the final questionnaire, which comes
in the third section. Moreover, final items were carefully selected and categorized through a series of
exploratory surveys in the pilot stage. The items’ reliability was further ensured as they followed a six-
point Likert scale with no neutral options and possessed a high Cronbach alpha. Last but not least, the
anonymity of participants was guaranteed as the questionnaire and results were recorded by number
rather than name.

Beside the good points in the structure, reliability and confidentiality, there are also some deficiencies
that the article fails to address. First, the sections and items in the final questionnaire are not mentioned.
It can only be inferred that the type of motivation scale and the strength of motivation scale are included,
not how they are assigned in the questionnaire. Second, the sampling is “voluntary”, a type of non-
probability sampling. The representativeness of the sample is, therefore, not ensured. Additionally,
though the exact number of participants is clearly stated, the population size is not. Thus, it is
questionable whether the statistical analyses are warranted. Finally, there also exists a contradiction the
characteristic of participants. While the target population and the final sample consist of first year
university students of Spanish, the initial gathering of data was carried out in second year classes. The
same data was used in creating the final instruments. In addition, no persuasive argument is given to
justify the choice. This puts a question to the reliability and validity of the instruments and the research
Data Collection and Data Analysis

The data analysis stage is well organized and provide adequate representations of motivation clusters
along with a sufficient amount of data. To begin with, the procedure of collecting responses, eliminating
items and forming clusters is described in detail. Interestingly, in the stepwise regression,” one item that
had been eliminated earlier was found to be a significant predictor of strength of motivation”. The
contradiction is explicitly acknowledged and followed by a plausible reason for the elimination, ensuring
the validity of results. In addition, the author managed to identify distinctive features of each cluster,
their similarities and differences. Adding to their reliability, these clusters acquire high Cronbach alphas
of .83, .70 and .67 for cluster A (seven items), cluster B (three items), and cluster C (two items)

Since the final analysis attempted to determine how well the three type of motivation clusters would
predict a student’s strength of motivation, the three hypotheses were proposed and clearly stated in the
article. A multiple regression was used to examine the validity of the hypotheses. The author employed
a level of significance of p = .05 and demonstrated the results in a clearly labeled table. Fortunately, there
seem to be no violation of assumptions for the statistical test. The results agree with the predictions
without signs of being twisted or biased. Hence, they can be trusted in gaining insights into the
relationship between types of motivation and strength of motivation.


The discussion directly acknowledges the limitations of the study, specifying the weaknesses in the
design. Though the results supported the integrative and instrumental orientations, the scales are admitted
to be “clearly not isometric” and not made up of the integrative/instrumental scales. Additionally, instead
of stating expected finding, the author gave a satisfactory explanation for true findings. Specific
instructional implications and recommendations are also suggested for replications or further researches.


Overall, the article is quite straightforward, concise and well-structured. The argument stays consistent
throughout the text. Sufficient data and demonstrations of items are provided to support the claims made.
However, the lack of population description and inconsistency in selecting participants should be taken
in consideration when reviewing the reliability of the study. Besides, the extensive use of terminology
suits the academic audience rather than non-academic. It’s advisable to give definitions or adapt simpler
versions of the terms if he wants to target a general audience. All in all, the text is a well-written with
insightful observations on characterizing motivational patterns of language learners. It should also be
noted that the study is exploratory in nature with descriptive data. The results should be considered in
light of assessing the correlation between types and strength of motivation, not the “definitive
establishment of causality” of the two.