An exploration of undergraduate students’ motivation and
Journal of Behavioural Sciences, Vol. 20, Number 2, 2010
An Exploration of Undergraduate Students’ Motivation and
Attitudes towards English Language Acquisition
Faculty of Humanities, University of Kurdistan, Iran
This paper analyzed various socio-psychological orientations
of the Iranian undergraduate students towards learning
English. The research focused on what are considered as the
two most important social psychological variables; attitude and
motivation. A total of 400 students participated (48.3% female
and 51.7 % males). The questionnaire consisted of two parts,
questions eliciting demographic data and a set of attitudes
scales. The respondents showed favorable attitude towards
learning English. Regarding their receptive skills, the
respondents rated their reading skill higher than their listening
skill. On the other hand, concerning productive skills that are
natural of course the respondents rated their writing skill
higher than speaking. Students acknowledged the social
dimension of English as a language that can offer the
opportunity of cross-cultural exchanges. In addition, strong
and positive correlations were found among integrative
orientation and other psychological variables such as;
instrumental orientation, motivation intensity, and desire to
learn English. Hierarchical regression showed that, 38% of
variance in integrative orientation is explained by only
instrumental orientation variable. The results highlight that
Iranian students learn a foreign language mainly for its
utilitarian value rather than integrative motivation.
Keywords: Motivation, Attitudes, Orientation, English
The study of language learner characteristics, or individual
differences, has a long tradition in second language studies and a
substantial amount of research has been conducted in the study of
*Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Dr. Naser
Shebagi, Assistant Professor of Education, Faculty of Humanities,
University of Kurdistan, PO Box 416, 666177-15175 Sanandaj, Iran.
motivation in second/foreign language learning.
Attitude is defined as a disposition to respond favorably or
unfavorably to an object, person, institution, or event (Ajzen, 1988). Most
of the time an individual's attitudes are dormant and can only emerge as
reactions to specific stimuli in the form of stated beliefs, expressed
feelings, or exhibited behavior and thus cannot be directly observed or
measured. Motivation on the other hand "refers to the combination of
effort plus desire to achieve the goal of learning plus favorable attitudes
towards learning" (Gardner, 1985, p10). Attitudes do not influence
learning directly but they are instrumental in the development of
motivation. Gardner and Lambert (1972) first made the well known
distinction between two types of motivation, instrumental and integrative.
The motivation is instrumental if the learner is oriented toward
instrumental goals: desire to study in the country where the target
language is spoken or to get a better job. On the other hand, learners who
are integratively motivated want to interact with members of the other
community, get to know the target language culture better and even
become part of it. What had previously been thought of in the Gardner
and Lambert tradition as motivation more recently has been renamed as
psycholinguists point of view, attitude and motivation play a major role
in the second/foreign language learning (Gardner, 1985; Oxford &
Shearin, 1996; Dornyei, 1990). During the past four decades, many
studies have been conducted on the relationship between attitude,
motivation and language learning (Lin & Warden, 1996; McClelland,
1998; Ogane & Sakamoto, 1999; Warden & Lin, 2000; Lai, 2000;
Yamshiro & McLaughlin, 2001).
It is thought that most successful students in learning a target
language are those who like the people who speak that language, admire
the culture and have a desire to become familiar with, or even integrate
into, the society in which the language is used (Falk, 1978). When
someone becomes a resident in a new community that uses the target
language in its social interactions and integrative motivation is a key
component in assisting the learner to develop some level of proficiency in
the language. This becomes a necessity, for operating socially in the
Noels (2001) asserted that motivation to language learning is
a complex set of variables including effort; desire to achieve goals, as
well as attitudes toward the learning of the language. In addition, he
remarked that individuals’ motivation for second language learning also
includes their motivation orientations, interest, attitudes toward second
language group or learning situations and anxiety.
Attitude towards English Language Acquisition
community and becoming one of its members (Norris-Holt, 2001). It is
also theorized, that "Integrative motivation typically underlies successful
acquisition of a wide range of registers and a native like pronunciation"
(Finegan, 1999, p.568). In contrast to integrative motivation with
instrumental motivation the purpose of language acquisition is more
utilitarian, such as meeting the requirements for school or university
graduation, applying for a job, requesting higher payment based on
language ability, reading technical materials, working as interpreters, and
moving to a higher social status. Instrumental motivation is often
characteristic of second language acquisition, where little or no social
integration of the learner into the community using the target language
takes place, or in some instances is even desired. While both integrative
and instrumental motivations are essential elements of success, it is
integrative motivation that has been found to sustain long-term success in
learning a second language (Taylor, Meynard & Rheault, 1977; Ellis,
1999; Crookes & Schmidt, 1991).
In some of the early researches conducted by Gardner and Lambert
(1972) integrative motivation was viewed as being more importance in a
formal learning environment than instrumental motivation (Ellis, 1999).
In later studies, integrative motivation has continued to be emphasized,
although now the importance of instrumental motivation is also stressed.
However, it is important to note that instrumental motivation has only
been acknowledged as a significant factor in some researches, whereas
integrative motivation is continually linked to successful second language
acquisition. It has been found that generally students select instrumental
reasons more frequently than integrative ones for the study of language.
One area where instrumental motivation can prove to be successful is in
the situation where the learner is provided with no opportunity to use the
target language and therefore, no chance to interact with members of the
target group. Lukmani (1972) found that an instrumental orientation was
more important than an integrative orientation in non-westernized female
learners of second language English in India. The social situation helps to
determine both what kind of orientation learners have and what kind is
most important for language learning. Brown (2000) makes the point that
both integrative and instrumental motivations are not necessarily
mutually exclusive. Learners rarely select one form of motivation when
learning a second language, rather a combination of the two.
Gardner and Macintyre (1993) state that motivation itself is dynamic
and the old characterization of motivation in terms of integrative vs.
instrumental motivation is too static and restricted. According to Lambert
(1974) causal links are established between attitudes, orientation,
motivation, and proficiency in L2. That is, Learners' achievement largely
depends on their attitudes and motivational state. Dornyei (1990) also
identified factors contributing to motivation, interest in foreign
languages, culture and people, desire to broaden one's view and avoid
provincialism, desire for new stimuli and challenge. Schuman (1976)
conducted an early research, on the role of attitude in second language
learning and studied the factors involved such as language shock, culture
shock and language stress and anxiety.
Motivation in the Iranian Context
Students in Iran receive their education in Persian. Majority of
secondary schools in Iran have adopted English as foreign language.
However, this does not imply that students are necessarily proficient in
English after secondary school, as the use of English is strictly confined
to classroom settings. These students pass years of compulsory study of
at least seven years to learn English, but only a few of them learn English
at a satisfactory level. In English as a Foreign Language (EFL) setting
such as Iran, it is important to consider the actual meaning of the term
"integrative motivation". As Benson (1991) suggests, a more appropriate
approach to the concept of integrative motivation in the EFL context
would be the idea that it represents the desire of the individual to become
bilingual, while at the same time becoming bicultural. This occurs
through the addition of another language and culture to the learner's own
cultural identity. As Iran is predominantly a mono-cultural society,
opportunities to use the target L2 language in daily verbal exchanges are
relatively restricted. There is also a limited potential for integration into
the target language community. Thus, the issue of motivation and the
successful learning of English in Iran is complex. One of the most
influential factors is the structure of university entrance exams which
ultimately determine the institution where a student gains acceptance.
Due to the way these exams are structured, schools and instructors are
forced to educate students in a manner that will prove most useful to
them. Therefore, the focus of what is taught is geared toward setting such
entrance examinations. These exams are a rigorous test of grammatical
understanding of the English language, with students being asked to
translate complex passages and have knowledge of extensive vocabulary
and grammatical structures. Certainly, a high percentage of high school
students identify the major reason for studying English as a necessity for
achievement in examinations. The present study closely examined the
Attitude towards English Language Acquisition
relationship between orientations and attitudes and their effect on English
language learning in an Iranian context. For the most part, this is based
on Gardner and Lambert’s (1972) pioneer work which has laid the
foundations for a systematic research into the role of attitude and
motivation as determinants of success or failure in language acquisition.
The investigation addresses the following two research questions:
Which type of motivation- integrative motivation and instrumental
motivation- exist among university level Iranian students?
Which demographic variables predict students’ motivation for
English language acquisition?
For the current study, the descriptive research method was used to
study university student’s attitudes and motivations to English language.
The participants in this study were 400 students studying at Tabriz
and Kurdistan universities, two bilingual areas in Iran. East Azerbaijan
and Kurdistan provinces were chosen as the site of the survey. English
has been used for years and for different purposes and gradually it is
becoming a part of the socio-cultural system. As the use of English is
increasing day by day in different forms, there is significant evidence of
the use of English along with Persian as code-mixing and code-
switching. The sample comprised of 48.3% female and 51.7 % males (the
age range was 18 to 24 years). The participants studied English at school.
A 44-item questionnaire was administrated to students that consisted
of the two parts: Student background information and motivation index -
an instrumental and integrative orientations (adapted from Gardner,
1985).The questionnaire was translated into Persian by a bilingual
Persian national and then back translated into English by a second
bilingual Persian national in order to test for inaccuracies and
ambiguities. Where there were inconsistencies in translated English
version, both translators were consulted as to the best possible solution.
Minor changes were made to the wording of some of the items so that
they could be more easily understood by Iranian students. In the
demographic data section information was elicited about the students'
English learning background and the mark they obtained in English in the
most recent university report. Moreover, students were asked to rate their
knowledge of English on a 5 point scale using a series of subjective
statements. Item responses for all participants were converted into
numerical form by assigning the weights 5,4,3,2 or 1 to each of the five
responses, with negatively worded items being inversely weighted were
based on the Likert Scale which ranged from strongly agree to strongly
disagree. Specifications of attitude and motivation scales are depicted on
Reliability Coefficients of Psychological Variables
Sub-scales Scale Type No. of
Integrative orientation 5-point
Instrumental orientation 5-point
Attitudes toward English
Self-rating of language 4-point
The first scale, orientation, comprises 12 questions dealing with the
views of the respondents regarding the reasons for wanting to learn
English. Items 2, 3, 5, and 9 have been classified as measuring integrative
orientation. Items 1,4,6,7,8,10 and 12 were subsumed under instrumental
orientation. The second scale, attitudes towards learning English, consists
of 3 positively worded and 3 negatively worded questions. This scale
measures the respondents' attitudes toward the learning object itself. The
third scale, attitudes towards learning a foreign language comprises six
positively worded statements. The idea underlying this scale was that
students who are generally favorably disposed to foreign language
learning might show a more favorable attitude to learning English. The
fourth scale, self-rating of language proficiency, is an indication of
students' perception of their English language proficiency. A set of 4
statements was used which the students evaluated on a 4-point scale. The
fifth scale, motivational intensity, comprises 9 multiple choice statements
designed to elicit information about the interest level and the amount of
Attitude towards English Language Acquisition
commitment shown to the study of English. The reliability coefficients of
all sub-scales ranged from .70 to .76. Finally, an indication of relative
English language skills was provided when students were asked to
estimate their listening, speaking, reading and writing skills using a series
of subjective statements.
The number of participants reporting a very low level of proficiency
was striking (Table 2). In addition, by the looking of the mean scores of
students regarding their receptive skills (listening and reading) of the
respondents rated their reading skill higher than their listening skill. On
the other hands, concerning productive skills (speaking and writing)
which are natural of course, the respondents rated their writing skill
higher than speaking. Finally, if we look at Table 2 the mean scores of
students on their parents’ language proficiency were very low.
Mean scores of Students on Self-rating of Language Proficiency (N=400)
Sub-scales Max. Min. M SD
Listening 4 1 2.23 0.79
Reading 4 1 2.75 0.71
Speaking 4 1 2.21 0.80
Writing 4 1 2.62 0.67
4 1 1.68 0.78
4 1 1.47 0.67
In analyzing the reasons of why they are studying English, that is,
whether learning English language will help them one day in finding an
appropriate job, 91% agreed. Therefore, it can be argued that majority of
students acknowledged by their responses that learning English will be
helpful in finding a good career. The second item of the same sub-scale
reflects students’ ideas on whether knowing English language helps
better understand English speaking people, 82.5% agreed.
A Pearson's correlation test was run to examine the relationship
among all variables. Inter-correlation matrix for university students
sample is presented in Table 3.
9TThere is a non-significant correlation between gender and the other main
variables. Also, age of student was not correlated significantly with any
of the variables. Small but significant correlations were seen for student’s
major factor and self-rating of language proficiency needed, and English
entrance exam marks. In addition, significant and positive relationships
were observed among variable labeled as English entrance exam marks
and certain variables were observed as follows: English entrance exam
marks with integration orientation, with general English course marks,
with motivation intensity, with interest in learning English, with parents’
English language skills. Further, strong correlations were found among
integrative orientation and other psychological variables as follows: with
instrumental orientation motivation intensity, their desire to learn
English, English identity. Instrumental orientation variable correlated
significantly with motivation intensity, desire to learn English.
Attitude towards English Language Acquisition 9
Inter-correlation Matrix among Main Variables of the Study
Variables 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
1- Gender 1
2- Major -.06 1
3- Age .07 -.20** 1
4-English marks in
.07 -.22** .03 1
5- General English
.09 -.03 .04 .25** 1
6- Years of learning -.13** -.13** -.01 .18** .07 1
-.07 -.02 -.02 .22** .18** .05 1
.01 .10* -.06 .07 .05 .03 .65** 1
-.09 .01 -.15** .26** .14** .07 .49** .31** 1
10- Attitudes toward
the learning of English
-.11* .05 -.07 .22** .11* .08 .47** .33** .43** 1
11- Self-rating of
-.12* -.26** .09 .46** .22** .32** .29** .08 .38** .24** 1
-.07 -.04 -.12* .23** .10 .14** .15** .01 .11* -.04 .30** 1
Note: *p < 0.05 and **p < 0.0
Predicting Integrative Orientation Using Hierarchical Regression
*p < 0.05, **p < 0.01
9TTable 4 shows the hierarchical regression for the prediction of
integrative orientation among main variables of the study. At the first
step, the students’ demographic variables, namely, the learning
experience, majors and score were entered as control variables. In the
second step, instrumental orientation variable was entered into the
equation. This produced statistically significant increase in R² (9TΔ9TR²=0.38,
p<.001). In the third step, the variables of motivation intensity and
interest in learning English were entered into the equation. This produced
a small, but statistically significant increase in R² (9TΔ9TR²=0.06, p<.001).
β β β β
out of school
Study in overseas
Years of learning
Interest in learning
Attitude towards English Language Acquisition
The introduction of the remaining variables into final step, produced a
very small, but significant increase in R², (ΔR²=0.03, p<.001). Inspection
of the second model indicates that students instrumental orientations
toward English language have a high effect on integrative orientation
among Iranian university students (β=0.619, p<0.01), after having
controlled for other variables in the equation.
The hierarchical regression showed that there is only one strong
predictor of the integrative orientation. The coefficient of determination
indicated that, the changes in the integrative orientation are explained
only by 38% resulting from instrumental variable. As the prediction value
of the other independent variables towards the dependent variable of
integrative orientation was low, perhaps there are other variables, which
contribute toward the prediction of the integrative orientation. English
like every other language brings with it cultural and political baggage that
sometimes conflicts with the prevailing societal mentality. Thus, many
major language researchers have chosen a social psychological
orientation toward language learning motivation. Furthermore, the
applicability of the findings of the research of Gardner and Lambert
(1972) may be questionable in a country like Iran.
The results highlight that Iranian students learn a foreign language
mainly for its utilitarian value rather than integrative motivation. It seems
that, the work of Gardner and Lambert (1972) that the very definition of
instrumental and integrative orientation is debatable and problematic in
regard to the motivation for Iranian students toward English language
This paper began with the definition of attitudes and motivation and
their roles they have in learning second language and went forward by
studying factors involved in motivation and attitudes of the learners.
Numerous motivation studies have suggested that different motives for
learning have an effect on the level of success in a second/forign
language; however it is hard to say exactly what they are. Educators in
Iran are often surprised by university student's lack of ability using
spoken and listening English, compared with that of their grammatical
understanding of the language. In this regard, little work appears to have
been done on Iranian students. For this reason, this paper aims to
investigate the attitudes and motivations of Iranian university students
towards the compulsory study of English.
learning. Whereas Gardner’s socio-educational model may still hold true
for certain countries, it may not be applicable for Iran, considering the
country's linguistic realities including domain usage.
The respondents showed favorable attitude towards learning English.
Also majority of students preferred to spend much of their time on
English-related subjects. Furthermore 85% of the participants indicated
that English is an important subject in their curriculum. This is a
reflection of the priorities of students towards English in spite of the
inadequacies we observe in
presentation of data from the current field study necessarily involved a
great deal of descriptive statistics.
learning English at Iranian universities.
Concerning motivational intensity, the students show that they study
English as much as any other subject.
Regarding their receptive skills (listening and reading) of the
respondents rated their reading skill
Teachers should be sensitive to learners' motives, to recognize their
instrumentality, and at the same time raise their integrative motivation.
Raising their interests towards the culture of the target language (i.e.,
English) can be done by activities such as giving information on the
lifestyle, geography, literature of the English-speaking countries through
visual, written and audio forms, or even organizing group-sharing for
learners who have been to English speaking countries. Apart from raising
Iranian learners' level of integrative motivation, teachers can improve the
contents, teaching methods, classroom activities to raises students'
interests and motivation in language learning.
higher than their listening skill. On
the other hands, about productive skills (speaking and writing) which are
natural of course the respondents rated their writing skill higher than
speaking. Their parents’ language proficiency was very low. Majority of
students acknowledge by their responses that learning English will be
helpful in finding a good career. In addition, strong correlations were
found among integrative orientation and other psychological variables
such as: instrumental orientation, motivation intensity, and desire to learn
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