Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Graduate School

Major Professor

John I. Liontas, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Sanghoon Park, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Phil Smith, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Janet Richards, Ph.D.


Chinese as a second/foreign language, L2 ideal self, L2 motivation, L2 Motivational Self System (L2MSS), mental imagery, study abroad


Second language learner motivation research has witnessed a transition from a historically static approach to a more dynamic approach, yielding extensive research during the past decade. Dörnyei (2005, 2009) proposed a vigorous motivation framework, the Second Language Motivational Self System (L2MSS) that highlights the dynamic nature of learner motivation. The L2MSS consists of three main constructs: the ideal L2 self, the ought-to L2 self, and the learning experiences (Dörnyei, 2005). This study uses the L2MSS framework as the theoretical basis to explore learners’ motivation and learning experiences in a study abroad context. Empirical studies using this framework to explore L2 learner motivation are still limited, especially in a study abroad (SA) context, as well as in the field of learning Chinese as a second/foreign language (CSL/CFL). Accordingly, this study utilizes the framework in a CFL context, hopefully shedding some light on the current fast-developing CFL and motivation research. It uses a qualitative case study approach with multiple data collection instruments including interviews, participants’ reflective journals, and researcher observation. The setting is a study abroad program in China, wherein multiple participants share their in-depth learning experiences and visions during the 2-month stay. The participants of the current study were three undergraduate students, who were enrolled in an intensive study abroad program (Chinese Learning in the Culture – CLIC), who are native speakers of English, and who were enrolled in Mandarin Chinese for at least 2 semesters.

The study mainly has three goals. First, it explores the in-depth learning experience of three participants during their stay in China; their experience is based on their self-reported data from different timescales. Second, it investigates learners’ motivation throughout the SA program that is operationalized by the three aspects of L2MSS. Third, it researches learners’ self-guides mental imageries as motivational factors in their future goal setting and learning behaviors transformation.

Understanding the L2 motivation in a CFL SA context form a dynamic perspective provides insights for other contexts and furthers understanding of motivation as a dynamic construct. The findings suggest that participants showed steady increases of discussion on future goals by the end of the SA program compared to those expressed prior the departure for their SA program. In addition, as the SA program progressed, the participants’ descriptions of their mental imageries of their L2 selves evolved towards more specific and elaborated depictions as they incorporated concrete details from their firsthand experiences in China. Participants reported having had positive experiences from the SA journey. Interestingly, data suggest that participants’ visions of their future L2 selves were mostly shaped by other SA experiences, but not the learning element, such as their homestay experiences, community activities and career related observations and experiences, or professional L2 self related mental imageries. The findings also provide some pedagogical implications in terms of student preparation for SA experiences and curriculum and activity design for such programs.