When the going gets tough: motivational thinking in autonomous language learning

Murphy, Linda (2011). When the going gets tough: motivational thinking in autonomous language learning. In: Arntz, Reiner; Krings, Hans Peter and Kühn, Bärbel eds. Autonomie und Motivation: Erträge des 2. Bremer Symposions zum autonomen Fremdsprachenlernen. Bochum: AKS-Verlag Bochum.


Autonomous learners are, by definition, motivated learners, but how can teachers help learners to generate and sustain the sort of motivational behaviour and thinking that characterises autonomous learning? Ushioda (1996) argues that development of effective and sustained self-motivational behaviour cannot depend on externally imposed motivational system of goals and rewards in the classroom. She suggests that whereas autonomy implies involvement in and responsibility for all aspects of one’s learning, self-motivation implies taking charge of the affective dimension of that learning experience. This leads to the need to develop effective motivational thinking as an integral dimension of learner autonomy. As Oxford and Lee (2008) ask, how do learners keep going when the going gets tough?

This paper presents the experiences of adult distance learners of French, German and Spanish who logged things which negatively affected their motivation, how they handled setbacks and what inspired or motivated them during a period of seven months while studying with the Open University (UK). These experiences are analysed in the light of motivation, autonomy and learning strategy research, to understand the kinds of motivational thinking which language learners engage in and how it may be developed to support autonomous language learning.

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