Review: Teaching and Researching Motivation – Zoltan Dörnyei

A short time ago I read Teaching and Researching Listening by Michael Rost. It was an eye-opening read, to say the least. I was pleasantly surprised to find many other books in the Teaching and Researching series, including Zoltan Dörnyei’s Teaching and Researching Motivation. Having had such a good experience with Rost’s book, I was very keen to get stuck into Dörnyei’s. This book, very much like the previous one, was insightful and with many ‘ah-ha’ moments. Let’s take a look at a few more thoughts that I have.

Three-sentence summary

This books centres on the subject of motivation in language teaching and learning. Dörnyei takes the reader through many different perspectives, both ‘fully theoretical’ and practical, introduces various new concepts and classroom implications, and finishes up with a wide range of research topics and how-tos. It is very detailed without being overwhelming for those of us who have not studied motivation in great detail, and certainly provides a good mixture of theory and practice, something I believe teachers and researchers will appreciate.

Three takeaways

Super difficult to nail down only three main takeaways from the book, but I will do my best.

  1. Motivation is influenced by pretty much everything. So apart from introducing the reader to the significant amount of motivational theories out there, Dörnyei also makes it clear that there are many variables in related to motivation in general and to language learning. The good thing is that many of these variables are known and can be influenced or at least taken into consideration. We as teachers, course developers, managers, school owners, etc. need to take on the responsibility of analysing our context to have a clear understanding of these factors – and then make the necessary changes to support learners. Some of the variables and factors include:
    • Perceptions of the language and its use – if learners view the language as a means to an end as opposed to something they really enjoy working with, then there may be issues with sustained motivation. For more information on this, look at instrumental vs. integrative motivation and intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation.
    • Perceptions of self, self-efficacy, self-worth, etc. – learner success is highly dependent on how learners see themselves. This view of themselves is influenced by numerous factors, but one of the most important is their ‘performance’. Dörnyei writes that learners should not only be tested on their performance in tests, but they should be ‘graded’ on the process through which they learn. That is, we should not only focus on the product of learning, but also the process. This helps learners build a better understanding of what they are doing right and wrong, and creates a much safer environment for learners to operate in.
    • Social dynamics and knowledge – I think the idea that groups form an identity is not new. One thing I don’t think I’d taken into great consideration before though (however, I kind of knew from experience) is that social dynamics within groups and the knowledge they share (e.g. perceptions of worth of the class) plays a significant role in how learners are motivated in the classroom context.
    • Classroom dynamics – connected to the last one really, although one thing I found very interesting was the idea of rewards. Research has shown that giving rewards out may have a negative effect on motivation, if they are given out in an unprincipled manner. To get around this, ensure that rewards are given out only for certain behaviours, they are not done-so ‘willy-nilly’, and that learners don’t get them for easy activities or simply for participating.
    • The teacher (very important) – So, we as teachers play a massive role. I need to say that again – a MASSIVE role. Not only does our in-class behaviour affect learner motivation and success, our perceptions of learners and their abilities does as well. Dörnyei talks about the pygmalion effect – teachers being told that their group is the ‘underperforming’ group or vice-versa. Many studies have shown that this negative perception of the group has an adverse effect on learner performance. This, in my mind, has so many implications for teaching, especially for management.
    • The parents (also very important) – These people, as we all know, play a big role in the lives of our learners. Regarding language learning specifically, they can play both an active and a passive role. The active role is encouraging learners to attend classes, saying that they need to perform well, providing them with support, etc. The passive role is their own perceptions of the language and its use. What is interesting is that Dörnyei says that even if parents play an active role in motivating their children, if they harbour negative attitudes towards the language (e.g. it is too difficult to learn or it’s not really that useful to me), their active participation is likely to be severely undermined.
    • Cooperative vs. competitive learning – Cooperative and collaborative environments are much better for learner motivation!
    • Micro- and macro-educational issues – there are some issues that are out of our control (e.g. government decisions regarding language education). These, however out of our control they are, still may affect our learners’ motivation and this needs to be taken into consideration when planning curriculums.
  2. Motivating our learners initially is not enough. ‘..unless motivation is actively nurtured and protected during the actions phase of the motivational process[…], the natural tendency is to lose sight of the goal, to get tired or bored of the activity and to give way to attractive distractions or competing action tendencies will result in the initial motivation gradually petering out.’ (Dörnyei, 2001, p.127). In short, learner motivation is the prelude to action, however it is also a driving factor in continued action. We as teachers, though, need to help learners maintain their motivation – and we need them to buy in to the long term idea of language learning! So, how can we do this? Well, we can set goals, both distal and proximal (proximal goals being perhaps more important for maintaining motivation), allow for greater learner expression and confidence, and aim to build greater learner autonomy.
  3. Teacher motivation is extremely important in learner motivation and success. So, you might be thinking this a strange one to put here, but hold that thought. Teacher motivation is affected by so many things, as we all know. The effects of low teacher motivation, however, are far-reaching regarding our learners. Low motivation in teachers often leads to the display of less interest in learners and their success, a disconnect from the syllabus and course goals, and reduced efficacy. How do we get around this? Well, here are a few suggestions:
    • Provide teachers with room to breath – teachers need autonomy and personal space. Micromanaging everything they do is likely to demotivate teachers very quickly.
    • Help teachers develop their autonomy – much like our learners, teachers often find it difficult to develop their own autonomy. We need to ensure there are plenty of opportunities for them to develop in this area.
    • Provide bottom-up teacher training – Very often teacher training and development is top-down, i.e. decided and directed by management. Teachers sometimes appreciate this, however there are times when there is also space for a more bottom-up approach. By allowing teachers choice in the selection of workshops or the focus of teacher training sessions, they have a sense of agency over their own development, and they will be much more likely to want to be part of the development programme!
    • Ensure that administration procedures are smooth – there is nothing worse that having to deal with many admin issues that are out of your control. For example, ensure that teachers are paid on time, given up-to-date materials (are know where to find them), clean classrooms, etc. Basic things but they have important consequences if not done correctly.

What I liked

  • Great mix of theory and practice, especially regarding the implications!
  • A good amount of focus on motivation for language learning, but also giving some good information about motivational concepts in general.
  • Plenty of uh-huh moments.
  • Not too difficult to read – Dörnyei writes in a way that is easily understandable and not overly technical. Quite accessible.

What I didn’t like

Much the same as Rost’s Teaching and Researching Listening, I would have loved for there to have been reflective tasks that the reader could have done at the end of each section to consolidate learning. I will say, however, that I read the first edition and I think that later editions have these tasks embedded within the units.

Who should read this book?

  • Teachers: The second section in the book, Motivation and Language Teaching, should be a must read for all teachers. The other two sections could definitely be skipped over, but this section provides so many insights, clarifies so many doubts regarding language teaching and motivation factors that I feel that all teachers should read it.
  • Trainers and academic managers: Chapter 7, Teacher Motivation, is mind blowing. It basically gives you the recipe for motiving teachers and, in turn, ensuring that at least one of the motivation factors influencing learners is ‘positive’.
  • Delta and DipTESOL candidates: Motivation is something diploma-level courses focus on a lot, so definitely well worth a read. Also, speaking about Delta specifically, this book would be great for Module 3 – I wish I had read it while I was doing mine!
  • MA Students: So, if you’re studying linguistics or an MA in (TESOL-related subject), all of this book will be of interest to you. Like I said, plenty of overview of motivation as well as classroom implications. What’s more is that the final section goes into detail about motivation research ideas and how to go about them!

Final notes

This book took me a little while to get through, but it was well worth it. It made me think about pretty much everything that goes on not only in my classroom, but in the academy, my learners’ lives, micro- and macro-educational contexts, and, of course, my own head (and how my motivation affects learners’ success). When I read I highlight and put post-its in the book – then when I am finished I go back and write notes about the most important ones. Usually I do this on pen and paper, but I felt that it might be useful to put them in a place where all you lovely people could access them. With this in mind, I’ve started using Notion, a note-taking/everything site. You can check out my notes here.

Book details

Title: Teaching and Researching Motivation

Author: Zoltan Dörnyei

ISBN: 0582382386

Pages: 295

Amazon affiliate link


Dörnyei, Z. (2001) Teaching and Reaching Motivation. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.


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