Motivation and the Support of Significant Others across Language Learning Contexts


  • Kimberly A. Noels University of Alberta
  • Shelley Adrian-Taylor University of Regina
  • Kristie Saumure New Zealand Ministry of Health
  • Joshua W. Katz University of Alberta


Self-determination Theory, motivation, learning context, social support, autonomy support


According to Self-Determination Theory, intrinsic and self-determined extrinsic motivation are maintained to the extent that learners feel that engagement in an activity is a personally meaningful choice, that the task can be performed competently, and that they share a social bond with significant others in the learning context. These perceptions are enhanced when significant others act or communicate in a way that encourages learner autonomy, provides informative feedback on how to improve task competency, and establishes a sense of connection with the learner. The present study used a focused essay technique to examine how the learning context impacts learners’ motivation and the kinds of support (or lack thereof) received from different people. Heritage (n = 34), modern (n = 34), and English-as-asecond-language (ESL; n = 36) learners described their reasons for language learning, and reported how teachers, family members, peers, and members of the language community encouraged or discouraged their engagement in language learning. The results indicated that heritage students are more included to learn the language because it is integral to their sense of self than the two other groups, whereas ESL students are generally more regulated by external contingencies. Although there were some commonalities, different people supported
learners’ motivation in different ways depending upon the learning context. The results point to the importance of the language learning context for understanding students’ motivation and how others can support them.


2019-06-30 — Updated on 2020-07-23

How to Cite

Noels, K. A., Adrian-Taylor, S. ., Saumure, K. ., & Katz, J. W. . (2020). Motivation and the Support of Significant Others across Language Learning Contexts. JOURNAL FOR THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LANGUAGE LEARNING, 1(1), 106-141. Retrieved from



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