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An exploration of undergraduate students’ motivation and

  1. 1. Journal of Behavioural Sciences, Vol. 20, Number 2, 2010 An Exploration of Undergraduate Students’ Motivation and Attitudes towards English Language Acquisition Naser Shirbagi 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 language learning 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. Email:
  2. 2. Shirbagi 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 orientation. From most 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. 2
  3. 3. 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 3
  4. 4. Shirbagi (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 4
  5. 5. 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. Research Questions 1. The investigation addresses the following two research questions: 2. 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. Method Sample 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. Assessment Measures 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' 5
  6. 6. Shirbagi 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 Table 1. Table 1 Reliability Coefficients of Psychological Variables Sub-scales Scale Type No. of items α Integrative orientation 5-point Likert 4 .76 Instrumental orientation 5-point Likert 7 .73 Attitudes toward English speaking people 7-point Likert 6 .70 Self-rating of language 4-point Likertproficiency 6 .75 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 6
  7. 7. 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. Results 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. Table 2 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 Father's Language proficiency 4 1 1.68 0.78 Mother's Language proficiency 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. 7
  8. 8. Shirbagi 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. 8
  9. 9. Attitude towards English Language Acquisition 9 Table 3 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 Entrance exam .07 -.22** .03 1 5- General English Mark .09 -.03 .04 .25** 1 6- Years of learning -.13** -.13** -.01 .18** .07 1 7- Integrative Orientation -.07 -.02 -.02 .22** .18** .05 1 8- Instrumental Ordination .01 .10* -.06 .07 .05 .03 .65** 1 9- Motivation intensity -.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 Language Proficiency -.12* -.26** .09 .46** .22** .32** .29** .08 .38** .24** 1 12-Parents English skills -.07 -.04 -.12* .23** .10 .14** .15** .01 .11* -.04 .30** 1 Note: *p < 0.05 and **p < 0.0
  10. 10. Shirbagi Table 4 Predicting Integrative Orientation Using Hierarchical Regression Analysis *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). Integrative Orientation Variables Model 1 Model 2 Model 3 Model 4 β β β β Students Major English entrance exam marks General English course marks Learning experience out of school Study in overseas Years of learning English Instrumental Orientation Motivation intensity Interest in learning English Self-rating of language proficiency Parents’ language skills .01 .07 .09 .11 .06 .05 - - - -- - .09 - .05 .13 .08 .06 .07 .03 .62** - - -- - .46 .38** .08 .07 .06 .01 .03 .00 .52** .17 .17 -- - .52 .05** .09 .02 .06 .00 .00 .03 .47** .15** .16** .06 .09 .55 .02** 10
  11. 11. 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. Discussion 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. Conclusion 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. 11
  12. 12. Shirbagi 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 Although 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 English. Ajzen, I. References (1988). Attitudes, personality, and behavior, Chicago: IL Dorsey Press. Benson, M. J. (1991). Attitudes and motivation towards English: A survey of Japanese freshmen. RELC Journal, 22(1), 34-48. 12
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  15. 15. Copyright of Journal of Behavioural Sciences is the property of University of the Punjab, Department of Applied Psychology and its content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder's express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use.