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Multilingual Future Self-Guides: A Mixed-Methods Study of Learners of Multiple Foreign Languages in China



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Liu, Meng 


Drawing on the theoretical literature on L2 Motivational Self System (Dörnyei, 2005, 2009) and multilingual future self-guides (Henry, 2017, 2020), this PhD project is a mixed-method study on university students’ motivation to learn multiple foreign languages in China. Three overarching research aims guided the research:

  • To uncover the motivational profiles of multilingual future self-guides for learners of multiple foreign languages in China
  • To identify personal and contextual factors that contribute to the specific configurations of the motivation profiles
  • To examine the longitudinal effects of the multilingual future self-guides The research adopted a three-stage mixed-methods design, with the first stage and part of the second stage following an explanatory sequential design, and part of the second stage and the third stage following an exploratory sequential design. In Stage 1, 523 students who were studying English and a language other than English simultaneously were recruited from four universities in eastern China to participate in the survey study. Latent profile analysis was conducted to identify the motivational profiles of future self-guides, including both the ideal multilingual self and language-specific ideal and ought-to selves. Four motivational profiles were identified, namely Unmotivated, Obligated, English Dominant and Multilingual. The four profiles were compared in terms of behavioural and affective engagement, intended effort and self-perceived competence. Results point to Multilingual as the best performing group and Unmotivated the worst performing group, with the performance of English Dominant and Obligated being somewhere in between. To better understand the factors contributing to these motivational configurations and their corresponding outcomes, representative participants were purposively sampled from each group for follow-up semi-structured interviews in Stage 2. Specifically, 23 participants were recruited from the four groups, based on their probabilistic group membership. Interview questions were focused on the students’ multilingual learning experience as well as their perceptions of multilingualism. The interview data were subject to thematic analysis, following a procedure adapted from reflexive thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2016, 2013). Four common themes with six sub-themes were identified as reflecting the commonality across the four groups of learners. Eleven group-specific themes, which included six sub-themes, were identified to capture the unique characteristics of each profile. A new motivational construct, labelled as ought-to multilingual self, was discovered from the interview data and informed the measure of this construct used in Stage 3. Stage 3 is a longitudinal quantitative survey research aiming to examine the longitudinal effects of multilingual future self-guides, including the new construct from the Stage 2 findings. Two hundred and fifty-two students who were concurrently learning English and another foreign language at two universities in China were surveyed at the beginning, middle and end of an academic semester. Cross-lagged panel models were fit to the data to assess effects of multilingual future self-guides on intended effort to learn languages and their relationships with language-specific future self-guides. Findings suggest that both the ideal multilingual self and the ought-to multilingual self are relevant to multilingual learning, while operating according to different mechanisms. Combining a variety of complementary perspectives – person-centred and variable-centred, quantitative and qualitative, cross-sectional and longitudinal, this research project contributed to a deeper and more nuanced understanding of multilingual future self-guides. New insights were generated with regards to the interconnections between different types of future self-guides (e.g., motivational profiles), the longitudinal effects of higher-order future self-guides, the different mechanisms according to which the multilingual future self-guides operate, as well as the enablers of and barriers to multilingual motivation. The project also made methodological contributions to the literature, in terms of construct validity, replication research, person-centred and longitudinal quantitative techniques, and sequential mixed-methods design. The findings generated by this research could provide guidance on customised intervention, motivational strategy training, reflexive activities to address contextual barriers to multilingual motivation, as well as the development of a multilingual pedagogy from a motivational perspective.





Fisher, Linda


multilingualism, motivation, L2 motivational self system, multilingual future self-guides, latent profile analysis, cross-lagged panel model


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge