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What makes a flourishing language self? A positive psychology perspective on LOTE learners’ language learning motivation



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Li, Zixuan 


Informed by Dörnyei’s (2009) L2 Motivational Self System and Seligman’s (2011) PERMA model, this PhD research investigates Chinese learners’ motivation to learn a language other than English (LOTE) from a positive psychology perspective (PP). Three overarching research aims were adopted as follows:
1. To unravel Chinese learners’ LOTE motivational profiles;
2. To identify the LOTE motivational trajectories among Chinese learners;
3. To examine the role of L2 learning experience in constructing various LOTE motivational trajectories.
In recognition of the dynamic nature of L2 motivation, a fully longitudinal mixed-method design was employed to obtain a comprehensive while nuanced understanding of learners’ motivational dynamics over six months. To address three primary research objectives, the study was structured into two phases.

The first phase was aimed at achieving the first research objective. In order to present a fine-grained, item-level analysis of Chinese learners’ LOTE motivational profiles, a PP-inspired instrument of L2 learning experience was first developed and validated. This new scale, along with established scales measuring learners’ ideal L2 self and ought-to L2 self was administered to 304 Chinese learners studying a LOTE at universities. Qualitative data were also collected during this phase from open questions. Results indicated that Chinese learners displayed prominent ideal L2 selves, as well as predominantly positive L2 learning experience—including emotions, engagement, relationships, and a sense of meaning and accomplishment. In contrast, learners’ ought-to L2 self was relatively weak, exerting limited influence on learners’ LOTE motivation.

To better understand the motivational dynamics among Chinese LOTE learners, the second phase focused on the remaining two research aims. Specifically, the sample was narrowed down to a smaller cohort of 29 LOTE learners, with three rounds of data collection over six months. A combination of methods including quantitative questionnaires, motigraphs, Critical Incident Technique (CIT) written reports, as well as semi-structured interviews were used to track the evolution of learners’ LOTE motivation.

To address the second research aim, both quantitative data unravelling learners’ self-reported motivational dynamics and qualitative data facilitating an in-depth analysis were adopted. Taken together, four distinct LOTE motivational trajectories were identified, namely Increased, Fluctuating, Sustained and Decreased. Each trajectory featured various changes in the ideal L2 self, ought-to L2 self and L2 learning experience. Regarding the third research aim of uncovering the role of L2 learning experience in LOTE motivation, both large-scale quantitative data collected from phase 1 and longitudinal data from phase 2 were taken into account. Firstly, structural equation modelling (SEM) was conducted to investigate the interrelation between the various dimensions of the L2 learning experience and learners’ future L2 selves. Statistical results suggested that learners’ L2 learning experience include positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, and a sense of accomplishment positively predict the construction of learners’ ideal L2 selves. Conversely, negative emotions negatively affect ideal L2 selves whereas contribute to the formation of ought-to L2 selves. Qualitative data also confirmed the role of L2 learning experience and revealed more nuances. These various dimensions of the L2 learning experience function cumulatively to reformulate learners’ ideal and ought-to L2 selves, and it is through this process that distinct motivational trajectories come into shape.

Overall, situated at the intersection of second language acquisition and positive psychology, this PhD project contributes to a more granular understanding of LOTE motivation among learners in China. Innovatively reconceptualising learners’ L2 learning experience from a positive psychology perspective, the research not only provides a holistic picture of Chinese learners’ LOTE motivational profiles but also highlights the significant role of multifaceted L2 learning experience in shaping the overall motivational dynamics. This project also makes methodological contributions by developing a rigorous scale measuring the L2 learning experience and employing a fully longitudinal mixed-method design. Pedagogically, it offers insights into enhancing learners’ LOTE motivation by promoting various dimensions of L2 learning experience.





Liu, Yongcan


L2 learning experience, LOTE motivation, Motivational dynamics, Positive psychology


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge