Motivation as a positive
affective variable in L2

The affective domain of human
nature is not easy to be captured in the scientific framework (is not easy to be studied scientifically). It is that changeable
and complex part of human beings that is primarily opposed to logic and
reasoning. Nevertheless, the deep understanding of this domain can enhance and
accelerate improvements in many social spheres of human lives. For instance, it
can positively transform a language learning process into an effective and
successful one by meeting personal needs and requirements through
individualized learning. Numerous research and attempts have been made to get
the insight of and clarify the issue. Some of the researchers yielded positive
results, some of them not less than controversial. Taking into account its
importance and dimension, this area in spite of a significant interest on the
part of theorists and practitioners is still considered to be understudied and
requires further investigation.  

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The affective domain is the
emotional side of human behavior, and it may be juxtaposed to the cognitive
side (Brown, 2007, p.143). Even linguists in the field of human cognition such as
Ernest Hilgard, noted that “purely cognitive theories of learning will be rejected
unless a role is assigned to affectivity” (1963, p.267). Many other theorists
followed the same lead, for example, Noels, Pelletier, and Vallerand agree,
“In fact, affective variables, such as attitude, orientations, anxiety,
and motivation, have been shown to be at least as important as language
aptitude for predicting L2 achievement” (2000, p.35). Indeed, the
affective side of each learner can determine his/her success or failure in
acquiring second or third languages by influencing his/her future behavior. Popham
(2011, p.233) elaborates more on this issue:

“The reason such affective variables as students’ attitudes, interests,
and values are important to us is that those variables typically influence
future behavior. The reason we want to promote positive attitudes towards
learning is because students who have positive attitudes towards learning today
will be inclined to pursue learning in the future. The affective status of
students lets us see how students are predisposed to behave subsequently”
(cited in Dehbozorgi, 2012).

Even though there are many
respected scientists among those who are in favor of the importance of the
affective domain in language learning, there is neither mutual understanding
nor an unanimous agreement among all of the theorists who work in the target
field. A great deal of studies that were targeted at personality variables have
produced mixed results leading to even further doubts. But one can question the validity
of the results as the relations between variables were not consistent. Lalonde
and Gardner (1984, p.224) provide us with a list of relevant studies on
affective variables. These were on empathy (see, for example, Guiora &
Acton, 1979), anxiety (for a review see Scovel, 1978), creativity (Chastain,
1975), field dependence/independence (Hansen & Stanfield, 1981; Naiman et
al., 1978) and deliberateness and emotionality (Oskarsson, 1975). And they have
noticed that the researchers often include in their studies a number of different
personality variables simultaneously, without consistent relationship between
them. “Based on such research,” according to Lalonde and Gardner, “there is
little reason to conclude that personality variables are directly implicated to
any great extent in second language acquisition” (1984, p.224). This conclusion
is reinforced by a study conducted by Leino (1972) who found that whereas a reasoning
type of verbal ability accounted for 35% of the variance in English achievement,
personality variables as a group accounted for only an additional 7%.

As the author of this article has
stated before, the affective domain is not easy to be captured scientifically.
And one of the clear causes for the above-mentioned irrelevant conclusions is
the fact that such variables are difficult to measure in an objective way
through self-reports and tests that are often used for this purpose and are not
efficient for discernible reasons. One must approach the issue through multiple
methods as interviews, observations and indirect measures as Campbell and Fiske
did in 1959 and take into consideration cultural differences.