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Student Demotivation
by Dimitrios Thanasoulas
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Dornyei's investigation

The Dornyei (1998b) study differs from those by Oxford (1998), Chambers (1993) and Ushioda (1998) in that it focused on learners who had been identified as being demotivated, rather than looking at a general cross-section of students and asking them about bad learning experiences (for details about the nature of the research, please see Dornyei, 2001: 150-151). Among other things, Dornyei identified the following demotivating factors:

1. The teacher (personality, commitment, competence, teaching method);

2. Inadequate school facilities (group is too big or not the right level, frequent change of teachers);

3. Reduced self-confidence (experience of failure or lack of success);

4. Negative attitude towards the L2;

5. Compulsory nature of L2 study;

6. Interference of another foreign language being studied;

7. Negative attitude towards L2 community;

8. Attitudes of group members;

9. Coursebook

Teacher expectations and student achievement

Although not all demotivating factors relate to teachers' stance and behaviour, it cannot be denied that the latter do have a responsibility in this respect. In particular, teachers' expectations of students' achievement are instrumental in increasing demotivation (or decreasing motivation). Research has shown that teacher expectations affect the students' rate of progress, functioning as a self-fulfilling prophecy (also referred to as the 'Pygmalion effect' after Bernard Shaw's play), with students living up or "down" to their teachers' expectations. These expectations trigger off various events and teacher behaviours which, in turn, influence student performance. On a positive note, these influences are likely to affect the students' self-concept, level of aspiration, achievement strivings, classroom conduct and interaction with the teacher (Dornyei, 2001: 176). On a negative note, though, the Pygmalion effect can reduce student motivation. Brophy (1985: 180) lists eight concrete ways by which negative expectations can make inroads into students' self-efficacy:

1. Giving up easily on low-expectation students

2. Criticising them more often for failure

3. Praising them less often for success

4. Praising them inappropriately

5. Neglecting to give them any feedback

6. Seating them in the back of the room

7. Paying less attention to them or interacting with them less frequently

8. Expressing less warmth towards them or less interest in them as individuals.


What we can glean from all the above is that demotivation is a salient phenomenon that should concern every classroom practitioner. It goes without saying that it is a complex issue and the present analysis has not done it justice. There are so many factors that affect student motivation, not the least of which is the role of the teacher. Effective teachers are not necessarily those who successfully transfer cognitive information. Rather, the positive impact of "good teachers" consists in their strong commitment towards the subject matter which becomes 'infectious', that is, instils in students a willingness to pursue knowledge and learn how to learn (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997). Only motivated teachers can "produce" motivated students.


Brophy, J. E. (1985). Teachers' expectations, motives and goals for working with problem students. In Ames, C. and Ames, D. (Eds.), Research on motivation in education: The classroom milieu. Academic Press, Orlando, FL, pp. 175-214.
Chambers, G. N. (1993). Talking the 'de' out of demotivation. Language Learning Journal. 7: 13-16.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997). Intrinsic motivation and effective teaching: A flow analysis. In Bes, J. L. (Ed.), Teaching well and liking it: Motivating faculty to teach effectively. Baltimore: Hopkins University Press.
Deci, E. L. and Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum.
Dornyei, Z. (1998b). Demotivation in foreign language learning. Paper presented at the TESOL'98 Congress, Seattle,WA, March.
Dornyei, Z. (2001). Teaching and Researching Motivation. England: Pearson Education Limited.
Oxford, R. L. (1998). The unravelling tapestry: Teacher and course characteristics associated with demotivation in the language classroom. Demotivation in foreign language learning. Paper presented at the TESOL'98 Congress, Seattle, WA, March.
Ushioda, E. (1998). Effective motivational thinking: A cognitive theoreticalapproach to the study of language learning motivation. In Soler, E. A. and Espurz, V. C. Current issues in English language methodology. Universitat Jaume I, Castello de la Plana, Spain, pp. 77-89.


Dimitrios Thanasoulas studied English Literature and Linguistics at Athens University and then did an MA in Applied Linguistics at Sussex University. After that, he earned an MBA from Mooreland University and is currently finishing the second year of my PhD studies in Education at Nottingham University. His academic interests include fostering cultural awareness and learner autonomy, as well as such issues as language and ideology, Critical Discourse Analysis, Pragmatics, Sociolinguistics, and the Psychology of Education.


Dimitrios can be contacted at:

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