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An Investigation into American University Students’ Motivation for Chinese Learning: A Case Study

The study investigates the motivation behind learners of the Chinese language as a second language at the university level in the United States of America. The study uses Dornyei’s (1994a) three-level framework of L2 motivation and Dornyei’s (2001a) demotivation theory, as the theory guidelines. In addition, the study takes both quantitative and qualitative approaches and uses questionnaires and interviews for data collection. First, the study explores the various constructions of motivation for students learning Chinese at a public university in the New England region. All students who were enrolled in the elementary, intermediate, and advanced Chinese courses at the University in the fall semester of 2019 participated in this study. 108 valid questionnaires have been collected for this investigation. The data from these questionnaires were then analyzed in Excel and the results indicate that the highest motivation is instrumental motivation. The second-highest motivation is achievement motivation, the third is integrative motivation, and the fourth is positive learning attitudes and experiences motivation. While social milieu motivation and language requirement motivation are low. Second, the students were separated based on the students’ gender, ethnic backgrounds, and learning levels. The participants were divided into the following groups: male and female learners, learners of the Chinese heritage and non-heritage, and learners in the beginning, intermediate, and advanced level. The data from the questionnaires were then analyzed in SPSS, with results showing that there are significant differences pertaining to motivation between the female and the male groups as female students’ motivation is higher than that of male students. There were no significant differences found with the amount of motivation between the Chinese heritage and the non-heritage groups. However, the Chinese heritage students displayed much higher integrative and social milieu motivation than the non-heritage students. Furthermore, students of non-heritage background displayed significantly better achievement motivation than students of Chinese heritage. No significant differences with motivational levels between students of different learning levels were found. But in spite of that, there are considerable disparities between these three groups in terms of integrative motivation, language requirement motivation, and social milieu motivation. This study also explores factors that cause students’ demotivation to learn Chinese. The six highest demotivation factors are reported in the following: “Chinese is too difficult for me, tones, characters, grammar, and phrases, etc.”; “my exam grades cannot show my actual Chinese level”; “I feel upset because I put great effort in studying Chinese while making little progress”; “class activities are far too few and boring”; “I cannot understand my Chinese teacher because he/she speaks too fast and difficult for me”; “I do not like using the Chinese textbook”; and “too much homework.” Furthermore, students also complain about the curriculum being too fast-paced with too many exams and homework. Finally, after the analysis and discussion of the data and findings, corresponding pedagogical implications are suggested and explained.
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