Can we design language education policy and curricula for a motivated learner? Self Determination Theory and the UK language crisis

Ursula Lanvers, Suzanne Graham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


With the UK entering its fourth decade of this crisis with no end in sight, it is
timely to ask how current policy directions for language learning beyond
the compulsory phase (currently age 14 in all 4 UK nations) align with
learners’ psychological needs in relation to language learning. After a
review of these psychological needs within motivational theory, this
article first discusses current foreign languages (FL) policies in all four UK
nations (England, Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland), alongside the
current debates around the recently published 2021 Ofsted Curriculum
Research Review for languages (OCRR), which is likely to underpin
Ofsted’s inspections of provision in England. We then critically evaluate a
range of research-based measures to boost learner motivation, some of
which show promising results. Taking as our theoretical basis the
psychological needs of autonomy, relatedness and competence that
comprise Self-Determination Theory (SDT), we then analyse FL policy and
practices directions in the UK, including those articulated in the OCRR,
and conclude that these tend to ignore or misinterpret motivational
theory. This is followed by recommendations for FL policy which align
both with SDT principles and research evidence. The conclusion critically
evaluates opportunities and risks of current UK policy directions
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)223-237
Number of pages15
JournalLanguage Learning Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 15 Mar 2022

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