Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Psychology & Higher Education

First Committee Member

Steven McCafferty

Second Committee Member

Harsha Perera

Third Committee Member

LeAnn Putney

Fourth Committee Member

Margarita Huerta

Number of Pages



This dissertation study investigated motivation as related to goal-directed activity and gesture awareness as well as their interplay in second and foreign language development in different English as a foreign language (EFL) and English as a second language (ESL) contexts. This study included four groups of Chinese learners of English. The first EFL group consisted of college students in China learning English without intention of studying abroad (G1) and the second EFL group in China included Chinese learners of English who were learning English to prepare to study abroad (G2). Participants in the first ESL group were living and studying abroad (G3) while the second group consisted of students who had returned to China after completing their study abroad experience but continued to use English for academic studies and work (G4). This explanatory sequential mixed methods research design involved quantitative data of motivation and gesture awareness surveys and then further explained the quantitative results with qualitative data of video recorded gesture tasks and semi-structured interviews.

The quantitative analysis of motivation tested mean differences of motivation constructs (ideal L2 self, ought-to L2 self, and attitudes toward learning English) based on the second language motivational self-system (L2MSS) (Dörnyei, 2005; 2009) as well as intended effort as a measurement criterion. In the results, participants in the EFL context intended to put in more effort and had lower ideal L2 self than participants in the ESL context. Results found no difference between the EFL and ESL contexts with regard to ought-to L2 self and attitudes toward learning English. In the EFL context, G2 were highly motivated than G1 in terms of ideal L2 self, attitudes toward learning English, and intended to put into more effort. Additionally, the expectation that G3 would have the highest level of motivation was not supported. In fact, attitudes toward learning English were lower for G3 than G4. No statistical differences were found on ought-to L2 self across groups. These quantitative results were supported and clarified by the qualitative findings in phase 2. Motivation as related to goal-directed activity was found to be affected by the orientation of participants in each group toward learning English in association with their particular contexts. Overall findings of motivation as related to goal-directed activity proved highly coherent with the qualitative dimension supporting the quantitative results and providing nuanced and in-depth information on what motivated participants and why, how motivation shaped experience and how experience shaped motivation in each context.

This study also created and validated the first usable scale of gesture awareness, and measurement and structural invariance tests showed that G3 had the lowest scores in terms of comprehension and production across the four groups. Interestingly, no difference was found between G2 and G4. Later, qualitative findings showed that G3 were more aware of their gesture, and their gesture production was more pragmatic than other groups. G1, in particular, were less conscious of gestural differences between Chinese and English than other groups. Quantitative results of gesture awareness were incongruent with qualitative findings, and specific investigation among each individual revealed the importance of conscious awareness of gesture and gesturing for pragmatics.

This study is the first effort to examine the relationship between motivation and gesture awareness and found that the relationship was individual specific in the situated context for communicative needs. The integration of individual and contextual factors constituted the plasticity of second and foreign language development and showed the diversity of individual motivation and gesture awareness in different contexts. This dissertation study brings attention to agency, goals, goal-directed activity, and conscious awareness in EFL and ESL contexts for second and foreign language development.


Chinese learners of English; Gesture awareness; Goal-directed activity; Mixed methods study; Motivation; Second language development


Educational Psychology

File Format


Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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