Disempowering Forces and Disillusioned Selves: A Constructivist Grounded Theory Analysis of Demotivation among French Student Learners of English

Rowland Hill, Véronique Pottier


France sits steadfastly at the bottom of EU rankings for English proficiency, and yet French learners have an equivalent access to educational resources and teacher competence. It is a curious phenomenon which points to pupil demotivation during second language (L2) learning at school as a likely cause. The dominant model in L2 motivation – Dörnyei’s Motivational Self System – with its symbiosis of the ought self, the ideal self and the quality of the learning environment, has had its usefulness verified in other countries, but lacks sufficient flexibility to explain L2 demotivation in France. As a departure from the existing corpus of quantitative research on L2 motivation, this research uses Charmaz’ constructivist grounded theory approach to delve into the L2 learning experiences of twelve French students at a qualitative level. The originality of this approach is that the researcher must relinquish preconceived ideas, enter the constructed world of the participant and make conceptual sense of the data produced from the shared construction. The resulting force field/self-discrepancy model indicates that pupils are prevented from reaching language proficiency by disempowering forces, for example, limited contact with English speakers, and that this is compounded by negative emotions arising from discrepancies between the learner’s actual, ought and ideal selves. To address the complexity of this model, French schools should begin by empowering students to set targets towards a realistic English-speaking ideal self. Otherwise, there is a danger that the ideal L2 self becomes another source of disillusionment and hence another disempowering force.


Demotivation, Second Language Learning, Constructivist, Dis/Empowering Force, Self-discrepancy

Full Text:



Aristotle. (1999). Nicomachean Ethics. (W. D. Ross, Trans.). Kitchener: Batoche Books. (Original work published 349BC)

Arthur, S., & Nazroo, J. (2003). Designing fieldwork strategies and materials. In Ritchie, J., & Lewis, J. (Eds.), Qualitative Research Practice: A Guide for Social Science Students and Researchers (pp. 109-137). London: SAGE Publications.

Atkinson, J. W. (1957). Motivational determinants of risk-taking behavior. Psychological Review, 64(6), 359-372. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/h0043445

Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84(2), 191-215. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0033-295X.84.2.191

Berge, P. L., & Luckmann, T. (1967). The Social Construction of Reality. New York: Anchor.

Blandford, A. (2013). Semi-structured qualitative studies. In Soegaard, M., & Dam, R. F. (Eds.), The Encyclopedia of Human-Computer Interaction (2nd ed.). Aarhus: The Interaction Design Foundation.

Bouchard, K. L., & Berg, D. H. (2017). Students' school belonging: Juxtaposing the perspectives of teachers and students in the late elementary school years (Grades 4-8). School Community Journal, 27(1), 107-136. Retrieved from http://www.adi.org/journal/2017ss/BouchardBergSpring2017.pdf

Burnes, B., & Cooke, B. (2013). Kurt Lewin's Field Theory: A Review and Re‐evaluation. International Journal of Management Reviews, 15(4), 408-425. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2370.2012.00348.x

Campbell, E. & Storch, N. (2011). The changing face of motivation: A study of second language learners' motivation over time. Australian Review of Applied Linguistics, 34(2) 166-192. http://dx.doi.org/10.1075/aral.34.2.03cam

Charmaz, K. (2012). The power and potential of grounded theory. Medical Sociology Online, 6(3), 2-15. Retrieved from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/93d2/8c60474e31cedd4464c5b24ae0af2efbc090.pdf

Charmaz, K. (2014). Constructing Grounded Theory (2nd ed.). London: SAGE Publications.

Charmaz, K. (2015). Teaching theory construction with initial grounded theory tools: A reflection on lessons and learning. Qualitative Health Research, 25(12), 1610-1622. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1049732315613982

Charmaz, K. (2017). The power of constructivist grounded theory for critical inquiry. Qualitative Inquiry, 23(1), 34-45. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1077800416657105

Charmaz, K., & Henwood, K. (2007). Grounded Theory. In Willig, C., & Stainton-Rogers, W. (Eds.), The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research in Psychology (pp. 240-262). London: SAGE Publications.

Council of Europe. (2001) Common European Framework of References for Languages: Learning, teaching, assessment. Strasbourg: Language Policy Unit. Retrieved from https://www.coe.int/t/dg4/linguistic/source/framework_en.pdf

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). The general causality orientations scale: Self-determination in personality. Journal of Research in Personality, 19(2), 109-134. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/0092-6566(85)90023-6

Direction Générale de l’Enseignement Supérieur. (2008) Programme et définition d’épreuve de langue vivante étrangère dans les brevets de technicien supérieur relevant du secteur industriel [Course of study and information vis-à-vis English language learning in an industry sector BTS]. Retrieved from https://www.sup.adc.education.fr/btslst/referentiel/prograLVE_BTS_STI.pdf

Dörnyei, Z. (2005). The Psychology of the Language Learner: Individual Differences in Second Language Acquisition. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Dörnyei, Z., & Ushioda, E. (2011). Teaching and Researching: Motivation. (2nd ed.). Harlow: Pearson.

Dweck, C. S. (1986). Motivational processes affecting learning. American Psychologist, 41(10), 1040-1048. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.41.10.1040

Eccles, J., & Wigfield, A. (1985). Teacher expectations and student motivation. In Dusek, J. B. (Ed.) Teacher Expectancies (pp. 185-226). London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Education First. (2016). EF English Proficiency Index. Lucerne: Education First Ltd. Retrieved from http://media2.ef.com/__/~/media/centralefcom/epi/downloads/full-reports/v5/ef-epi-2015-english.pdf

Eggins, S. (2004). An Introduction to Systemic Functional Linguistics (2nd ed.). London: Continuum International Publishing Group.

Ferguson, D. L., Hanreddy, A., & Draxton, S. (2011). Giving students voice as a strategy for improving teacher practice. London Review of Education, 9(1), 55-70. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14748460.2011.550435

Gardner, R. C. (1985). Social Psychology and Second Language Learning: The Role of Attitudes and Motivation. London: Edward Arnold.

Goleman, D. (1998). Working with Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam Books.

Higgins, E. T. (1987). Self-discrepancy: A theory relating self and affect. Psychological Review, 94(3), 319-340. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0033-295X.94.3.319

Higgins, E. T. (1996). The "self digest": Self-knowledge serving self-regulatory functions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71(6), 1062-1083. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.71.6.1062

Higgins, E. T. (1999). When do self-discrepancies have specific relations to emotions? The second-generation question of Tangney, Niedenthal, Covert, and Barlow (1998). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77(6), 1313-1317. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.77.6.1313

Higgins, E. T., Bond, R. N., Klein, R., & Strauman, T. (1986). Self-discrepancies and emotional vulnerability: How magnitude, accessibility, and type of discrepancy influence affect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51(1). 5-15. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.51.1.5

Higgins, E. T., & Cornwell, J. F. (2016). Securing foundations and advancing frontiers: Prevention and promotion effects on judgment & decision making. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 136, 56-67. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.obhdp.2016.04.005

ICEF Monitor (2016). UK's English Language Teaching sector worth £1.2 billion. 15th February. Retrieved from http://monitor.icef.com/2016/02/uks-english-language-teaching-sector-worth-1-2-billion/

James, W. (1890). The Principles of Psychology (Vol. 1). New York: Dover Publications.

Kim, T. Y., & Kim, Y. K. (2014). A structural model for perceptual learning styles, the ideal L2 self, motivated behavior, and English proficiency. System, 46, 14-27. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.system.2014.07.007

Kostoulas, A., & Mercer, S. (2016). Fifteen years of research on self & identity in System. System, 60, 128-134. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.system.2016.04.002

L. F. R. (2012, July 18). Le niveau en langues des élèves français pointé du doigt [French pupils' language ability takes the blame]. Les Echos. Retrieved from https://www.lesechos.fr/18/07/2012/LesEchos/21229-012-ECH_le-niveau-en-langues-des-eleves-francais-pointe-du-doigt.htm

Legard, R., Keegan, J., & Ward, K. (2003). In-depth interviews. In Ritchie, J., & Lewis, J. (Eds.) Qualitative Research Practice: A Guide for Social Science Students and Researchers (pp. 138-169). London: SAGE Publications.

Lewandowski, J-C. (2015, December 17). Les Français et la langue anglaise : de pire en pire… [French people and the English language: relations go from bad to worse]. Le Monde. Retrieved from http://focuscampus.blog.lemonde.fr/2015/12/07/les-francais-et-la-langue-anglaise-de-pire-en-pire/

Lewin, K. (1939). Field theory and experiment in social psychology: Concepts and methods. American Journal of Sociology, 44(6), 868-896. http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/218177

Lewin, K. (1943). Defining the 'field at a given time'. Psychological Review, 50(3), 292-310. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/h0062738

Lewin, K. (1947). Frontiers in group dynamics: Concept, method and reality in social science; social equilibria and social change. Human Relations, 1(1), 5-41. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/001872674700100103

Lewin, K., Lippitt, R., & White, R. K. (1939). Patterns of aggressive behavior in experimentally created "social climates". The Journal of Social Psychology, 10(2), 269-299. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00224545.1939.9713366

Lieb, K., von der Osten-Sacken, J., Stoffers-Winterling, J., Reiss, N., & Barth, J. (2016). Conflicts of interest and spin in reviews of psychological therapies: A systematic review. BMJ Open, 6(4), 1-9. http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2015-010606

Locke, K., Golden-Biddle, K. and Feldman, M. S. (2008). Making doubt generative: Rethinking the role of doubt in the research process. Organization Science, 19(6), 907-918. http://dx.doi.org/10.1287/orsc.1080.0398

Marx, K. (1887). Capital: A Critique of Political Economy (Vol. 1). (S. Moore, S. & E. Aveling, Trans.). Moscow: Progress Publishers. (Original work published in 1867)

Pirsig, R. M. (1974). Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. London: Corgi.

Popper, K. (1963). Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge. London: Routledge.

Poupore, G. (2013). Task motivation in process: A complex systems perspective. Canadian Modern Language Review, 69(1), 91-116. http://dx.doi.org/10.3138/cmlr.1139

Rappaport, J. (1981). In praise of paradox: A social policy of empowerment over prevention. American Journal of Community Psychology, 9(1), 1-25. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/BF00896357

Sakai, H., & Kikuchi, K. (2009). An analysis of demotivators in the EFL classroom. System, 37(1), 57-69. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.system.2008.09.005

Song, B., & Kim, T. Y. (2017). The dynamics of demotivation and remotivation among Korean high school EFL students. System, 65, 90-103. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.system.2016.12.010

The British Psychological Society. (2009). Code of Ethics and Conduct. Leicester: The British Psychological Society. Retrieved from https://beta.bps.org.uk/sites/beta.bps.org.uk/files/Policy%20-%20Files/Code%20of%20Ethics%20and%20Conduct%20%282009%29.pdf

Tolman, E. C. (1938). The determiners of behavior at a choice point. Psychological Review, 45(1), 1-41. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/h0062733

Waninge, F., Dörnyei, Z., & De Bot, K. (2014). Motivational dynamics in language learning: Change, stability, and context. The Modern Language Journal, 98(3), 704-723. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/modl.12118

Watters, A. (2015). The invented history of 'the factory model of education'. Retrieved from http://hackeducation.com/2015/04/25/factory-model

Weiner, B. (1985). An attributional theory of achievement motivation and emotion. Psychological Review, 92(4), 548-573. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0033-295X.92.4.548

Zimmerman, M. A. (2000). Empowerment theory. In Rappaport, J., & Seidman, E. (Eds.) Handbook of Community psychology (pp. 43-63). New York: Springer.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7575/aiac.ijalel.v.7n.5p.221


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

2012-2019 (CC-BY) Australian International Academic Centre PTY.LTD

International Journal of Applied Linguistics and English Literature

To make sure that you can receive messages from us, please add the journal emails into your e-mail 'safe list'. If you do not receive e-mail in your 'inbox', check your 'bulk mail' or 'junk mail' folders.