Learning an L2 is a hard slog, an uphill struggle, a daunting challenge, right? Not according to Dörnyei, Henry, and Muir’s (2016) new book, Motivational currents in language learning: Frameworks for focused interventions, which advocates getting a focused vision, blasting into hyperdrive, staying in the zone, riding a directed motivational current, experiencing eudaimonic well-being and authenticity, and finally landing with feelings of joyful fulfillment, job done. Are you ready? Here’s a review of the book.
In Chapter 1, a directed motivational current (DMC) is defined as “an intense motivational drive – or surge– which is capable of stimulating and supporting long-term behavior” (p. 2) [editor’s note: you can listen to a discussion about this framework on the TEFLology podcast]. A DMC is thus an optimal motivational disposition distinguished by its intensity. Csikszentmihalyi’s (1990) “flow experience” is discussed, drawing on the experiences of sportspeople who get into states of complete absorption, often called “being in the zone”. Well-told stories by three L2 learners of different types (second language; foreign language; global English) illustrate what these motivational surges are like.
- Bina is a refugee from the Congo who flees to Sweden. She experiences 2 surges; the first when she is admitted to an English for immigrants programme where she suddenly sees her goal as “getting out of prison” and glimpses her future self as “set free”. After a huge effort, her second surge comes the day she walks into the university, when she feels “This is where I have to be!”
- Hanna lives in Hungary. She did badly at English and French at school. On holiday in Poland, a single comment from a Polish man she meets resonates so deeply (not romantically, by the way) that she feels compelled to learn Polish and this starts her DMC. She goes back to Hungary, listens only to Polish music, watches only Polish films, spends most of her time absorbed in learning Polish. Eight months later she goes back to Poland and at dinner with the man and his family has the conversation she worked so hard for.
- Asan is an Iraqi Kurdistan social worker. His surge started when he went for a job interview which abruptly ended when he couldn’t answer the question he was asked in English. He was stunned by this setback, and determined to overcome it. He went home and spent “80% of my waking life” learning English. A few months later he went back to the company and the interviewer told him he was amazed at his progress. This further inspired him and he continued in this “state of grace” till he was finally accepted for a job working for an international organisation.
In Chapter 2, the DMC construct is further described. It provides an “optimal form of engagement” (p. 33) vital to sustained motivation in L2 classrooms, and thus represents “the last piece of the puzzle”.
Chapter 3 examines how DMCs are preceded by defining a target. This involves seeing a vision of oneself in the future and establishing a target self-image which reflects the long-term goal. This vision, built on the target self-image, is vital to generating commitment to the long term goal and the effort put into it; it guides the whole process by signaling a well-framed concrete image of the person in the future both visually and emotionally. To build the vision, goals need to be self-concordant; and divided into proximal subgoals which provide a sense of progress.
Chapter 4, “The Launch of a DMC: Shifting into Hyperdrive”, describes the two fundamental factors required for the launch: the conditions and the triggering stimulus. The conditions relate to
- setting goals or vision;
- undertaking the ownership of the DMC process,
- keeping a balance between challenges and one’s skills, and
- adopting openness towards the DMC experience.
The triggering stimulus can be positive (an opportunity) or negative (protecting self-worth), but the process is intermittent, so, once triggered, the DMC needs to be constantly recharged by recurrent activations to maintain hyperdrive.
Chapter 5 explains how “Renewable Energy” sustains the DMC through three constituents:
- automatized routines,
- subgoals and progress checks, and
- affirmative feedback.
Thanks to their profound commitment to the ultimate vision, those experiencing a DMC exhibit a kind of “autopilot” process. Subgoals provide criteria for self-evaluation and facilitate the flow of the current by revealing the attainability of the objectives.
Chapter 6 describes the emotional state of a DMC, highlighting the interaction between eudaimonic well-being(the intense pleasure got from an endeavor for self-realization and personal fulfillment), and authenticity, experienced when one takes actions in accordance with one’s self- conceptions(personal values, attitudes, beliefs, etc.).
Chapter 7 discusses the end stage of DMCs. People have mixed feelings about finishing their DMCs, and teachers must manage this phase effectively, providing students in their final stages of DMCs a smooth transition from the rapid flow of the currents to the normal process of L2 learning.
Chapter 8 discusses DMCs in a classroom context. Certain types of “intensive group projects” facilitate group DMCs; specifically, “those centred around topical issues, such as real problems, challenges and opportunities”. Examples of group projects are examined in detail, such as a group of students who create a TV advertisement for their school. They get “carried away” and by the time the DMC surge finishes, they have created a storyboard, written the script, filmed footage, edited it and persuaded the school board to put it on the school website. Tips for helping the generation of group flow (e.g., challenges should be realistic; let the students choose the project; set clear goals; build positive relations; foster deep concentration) end the chapter.
Chapter 9 deals with the practical features of yielding DMCs in the classroom. This rich chapter shows teachers how to develop a project-based mindset, where they act as coaches and facilitators while students gain greater autonomy. The importance of adopting “inquiry- oriented classroom practice” is argued; teachers need to help students frame inquiries and to this end seven effective frameworks for project structures capable of generating DMCs are then presented. One such framework uses “targets”, “pathways” and “sub-goals”; The target must be clearly defined in a content area that is both relevant and real to the students so that they feel the project allows them to act in ways that they experience as authentic to who they are. The structure includes an explicitly laid out pathway with a clear set of subgoals; these act as progress markers and create opportunities for regular feedback. Positive emotionality is constantly fostered through cooperation in a mature and cohesive group (italics are from the original text).
I find the theoretical construct of DMC and the cited research unconvincing, and there’s far too much general exaltation in the book for my taste. Nevertheless, this is a stimulating, enjoyable read, and I found the discussions of the learner-centred, project-based approach to ELT which is so often the conduit for the DMCs examined particularly interesting. Dörnyei’s work on motivation in SLA is nothing if not fresh, and this well-presented, highly accessible book deserves a wide audience.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York, NY: Harper & Row.
Dörnyei, Z., Henry, A., and Muir, C. (2016) Motivational currents in language learning: Frameworks for focused interventions. London, Routledge.