Scholarly article on topic 'Iranian Students’ Beliefs and Motivations towards English'

Iranian Students’ Beliefs and Motivations towards English Academic research paper on "Languages and literature"

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Abstract of research paper on Languages and literature, author of scientific article — Mohammad Aliakbari, Maryam Monfared

Abstract English non-native speakers outnumber native speakers and communicating with natives is no more the sole purpose of the large number of people who learn English. English as an international language (EIL) is a model which was introduced to fit the new needs of learners who use it as an instrument for development and communication with the international community. The current research investigated the attitudes of Iranian students toward English as an international language, its significance in the country, and their motivations to learn it. To this end, a modified version of Pan and Block (2011) questionnaire was administered among 100 students from M.A and B.A levels in different faculties in Ilam University. The findings indicated that participants recognized English as the international language of the world which can help development of the country, and that they appeared to have instrumental motives to use it.

Academic research paper on topic "Iranian Students’ Beliefs and Motivations towards English"

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Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 98 (2014) 200 - 206

International Conference on Current Trends in ELT

Iranian Students' Beliefs and Motivations towards English

Mohammad Aliakbari^ *, Maryam Monfared b

a'b English Department of Ilam University, Ilam 69315-516, Iran

Abstract

English non-native speakers outnumber native speakers and communicating with natives is no more the sole purpose of the large number of people who learn English. English as an international language (EIL) is a model which was introduced to fit the new needs of learners who use it as an instrument for development and communication with the international community. The current research investigated the attitudes of Iranian students toward English as an international language, its significance in the country, and their motivations to learn it. To this end, a modified version of Pan and Block (2011) questionnaire was administered among 100 students from M.A and B.A levels in different faculties in Ilam University. The findings indicated that participants recognized English as the international language of the world which can help development of the country, and that they appeared to have instrumental motives to use it.

© 2014 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license

(http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

Selection and peer-review under responsibility of Urmia University, Iran.

Keywords: Language learning and teaching, English as an International Language, motivation, beliefs

1. Introduction

English has been recognized as a global and international language for a few decades now (Crystal, 1997; Graddol, 1997, 2006). Most people, if not all, agree that English is the prominent language of international communication and no other language can challenge its position in future (British Council, 1995). As the lingua-franca of the world, English has such a special position that it has more non-native speakers than native ones (Crystal, 1997; Kachru, 1996), and most of the communications in English happen without a native speaker present (Neuner, 2002; Graddol, 2006; Haberland, 2011). Therefore, the idea of native speakers of English being the ultimate model for correct language use is challenged (Ljosland, 2011). English is considered as the ''language for

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +98-918-341-3283; fax: +98-841-223-8528. E-mail address: maliakbari@hotmail.com.

1877-0428 © 2014 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license

(http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

Selection and peer-review under responsibility of Urmia University, Iran.

doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2014.03.407

communication'' rather than a ''language for identification'' (House, 2003). Consequently achieving native-like accent is no longer the motivation to learn English for most of the learners (Jenkins, 1998; Smith, 1981).

Regardless of how well-established and well-protected local languages and cultures are, the international world of today is linguistically dominated by English almost everywhere (Fishman, 1996). The purpose of learning English for learners is not simply to contact with native speakers any more. They regard it as a window to world and a tool of empowerment (Kachru & Nelson, 2006). Therefore, it is simplistic to assume that growing tendency toward learning English is a wish to become integrated in the native speaker's community (Aliakbari, 2003).

To accommodate to new needs of learners, English as an International Language (EIL) (Smith, 1978) was proposed to compensate for inadequacies of EFL/ESL models (Baxter, 1980). Talebinezhad and Aliakbari (2001) define EIL as the use of English by people of different nations and cultures with the purpose of communication with each other. They further note the advantages of EIL comparing to EFL/ESL models as that it is descriptive, universal, reformative, intervariatal, functional, non-artificial, intercultural, and cross-cultural.

In recent years learners have been seen as the active participants in the language learning experience (Hortwitz, 1987), and their beliefs play an important role in foreign language learning. Such beliefs may influence students' expectations for and commitment to their language learning. Studying learners' beliefs about language learning has become the focus of attentions for many researchers and much research has been done on it. In the context of globalization, and while English is more and more recognized as the most international language of communication, investigating the learners' beliefs towards English as an international language and identifying their motivations to learn it become important in identifying the learners' needs and planning English courses accordingly.

2. Statement of problem

English is used pervasively as a medium of instruction in higher education (Ljosland, 2011). In the same way, students of all fields in Iranian universities have to study English and pass it as a compulsory course. Yet, we do not know what they think about it, and what their beliefs are towards EIL. In spite of the growing number of studies conducted on learners' beliefs about language in various cultural backgrounds (Pan & Block, 2011; Horwitz, 1987), little, if any, research has explored the beliefs of students and their motivations regarding EIL in Iran.

Such research is justified on the ground that learners' beliefs contribute to SLA (Dornyei, 2005), and consideration of motivation and attitude issues in English learning classes can make language learning interesting (Oroujlou & Vahedi, 2011). That is, research on learner's beliefs, attitudes and motivations is essential to understanding learner needs and planning appropriate language instruction (Hortwitz, 1987). Accordingly, to investigate the status of English as an international language and to examine the Iranian students' motivations towards it, this research sought answers for the following questions:

1. What do the Iranian learners of English think about the status and the significance of English as an international language in Iran?

2. Are they instrumentally or integratively motivated to learn and use English?

3. Method

3.1. Participants

One hundred students of Ilam University participated in this study. They were selected from different fields of study, both from M.A and B.A levels. Fifty one of them were female and 49 were male. With the average of 24 years old, their age ranged between 19 to 33. They have studied English since junior high school, therefore it was expected that they had intermediate and advanced proficiency levels in English.

3.2. Instruments

The data was collected by a modified version of Pan and Block (2011) questionnaire to investigate the language beliefs of Chinese learners and teachers. The questionnaire was translated into Persian, piloted, and modified accordingly. Based on the results of the pilot study, five items were added to the original items. The items were divided into three separate parts. The first part was to investigate the students' beliefs about the status of English as an international language in the world and Iran. The students' point of view regarding the significance of English as a second language in Iran was examined in the second part. And the last part examined the students' motivations to learn English. All the items were designed in five points likert scale.

3.3. Procedures

The study was conducted in July 2012, at the end of the second semester. The subjects were approached in different faculties and asked to fill the questionnaires. Filling of the questionnaires was not compulsory, so that the participants would not feel threatened and this would not affect the results. The questionnaires were returned on the spot. After examining the received data, 4 questionnaires were discarded because of insufficient data. The analysis of the collected data was done and mean and SD was calculated for each item.

3. Results

The results of the questionnaires were analyzed and the mean and standard deviation for every item were calculated by assigning values to the choices (1. strongly disagree, 2. Disagree, 3. Not sure, 4. Agree, 5. Strongly agree). To investigate the beliefs more precisely, the percent of agreement, disagreement, and neutral opinions for each item was also calculated. Table 1 presents the results of the first part of the questionnaire.

Table 1. Students' beliefs regarding English as the current dominant global language.

Mean SD A/SA* N D/SD

A1. In the world 4.58 .53 98% 2% 0%

A2. In Iran 3.34 1.16 44% 28% 28%

*A/SA, agree or strongly agree; N, not sure; D/SD, disagree or strongly disagree

Table 2 shows the beliefs of learners concerning the significance of English as the international language of the world in Iran.

Table 2. Students' beliefs regarding the significance of English as an international language in Iran.

Mean SD A/SA* %

B1. It is superior to other languages in terms of language 3.20 1.08 39.5%

Structure and grammar.

B2. It is easy to learn, to understand and to master. 3.6 1.04 68%

B3. It is more 'International' and 'global' than the other languages 4.35 .59 94%

B4.Britain had great influence in world history. 3.18 1.13 39%

B5. Iranian people indiscriminately aspire to everything foreign. 3.55 1.17 59.5%

B6. As the language for international business, English is necessary for Iran's economic 4.21 .87 89.5%

development

B7. English is a handy tool for Iran's rise as a superpower. 4.07 1.00 85.5%

B8. Knowing English is required to use the current technology of the world 4.53 .72 94%

*A/SA, agree or strongly agree

Table 3 presents the results of items related to third part of the questionnaire which intended to examine the motivation of learners.

Table 3. The motivations of learners for learning English.

Mean SD A/SA* %

C1. I have an intrinsic interest in it. 4.07 1.16 78%

C2. I have to pass English exams to graduate 3.37 1.30 59%

C3. I adore western cultures and traditions 2.64 1.23 27%

C4. I want to go abroad to study 3.18 1.25 40%

C5. I want to emigrate / live abroad 2.88 1.27 29%

C6. English is a kind of capital which can bring more opportunities to my career 4.22 .91 89%

C7. English is a kind of capital which can raise my profile among my classmates, friends and colleague 3.98 1.01 72%

C8. English opens a window to the world for me 4.03 .99 74%

C9. English improves my status and I feel I am more 'modern', 'international', and connected with the 4.09 .97 81%

C10. English brings me competitive edge in studying, work and promotion 4.59 .62 95%

C11. It is closely to computers and internet and I can use these more easily 4.52 .69 90.5%

C12. Helps me to know the news and current events of the world 4.03 1.04 78.5%

C13. I can use many sources that are related to my field of study and are in English 4.07 .95 79%

*A/SA, agree or strongly agree

4. Discussion and Conclusion

Over 98% of the students acknowledged that they agree or strongly agree with the proposition that "English is the current dominant global language" (see Table 1). Nobody disagreed with the position of English as the international language of the world. These obtained results pointed to a widespread view among students that English is an international language. However, it seems that students think that the status of English as an international language in Iran still needs to be recognized by more people, because only less than half of the respondent (44%) agreed or strongly agreed that English is the current dominant global language in Iran.

When asked about the significance of English in Iran in the second part of the questionnaire, the top three answers unanimously chosen by students were respectively items: B3: "It is more 'International' and 'global' than the other languages" (94%), B8: "Knowing English is required to use the current technology of the world" (94%), and B6: "As the language for international business, English is necessary for Iran's economic development" (89%). Thus, it is true to think that with the spread of English in the world, Iranian students are getting aware that the country needs English if it is going to fully communicate with the world and be integrated into the global world of economy and technical development.

On the other hands items B1: "It is superior to other languages in terms of language structure and grammar" (39.5%) and B4: "Britain had great influence in world history" with 39% had the lowest mean and agreement percentage. Thus, in students' view, it is the status of being international that makes English popular not the history of Britain as a colonist. Besides, though 68% agreed that "English is easy to learn, to understand and to master" only 39% voted for the superiority of its grammar and structure (item B1). Learners seem not to interpret the power of English to power of Britain or superiority of the language itself. Rather, they recognize English as an international language which is a significant instrument in scientific communications, business world, technology, and political issues.

With regard to motivations to learn English in Iranian society, the questionnaire's results reveal that almost 95% of students agree or strongly agree that English brings them competitive edge in studying, work, and promotion (C10). Items C6: "English is a kind of capital which can bring more opportunities to my career" (89%), C10: "English brings me competitive edge in studying, work, and promotion" (95%), and C11: "It is closely related to computers and Internet and I can use these more easily" (90.5%) have the highest mean and percent of agreement. These motives are connected to the use of technology and improving oneself, since it is widely accepted that fluency in English language is a key to success in personal life.

As it is established one important advantage of English for Iranian is to use the technology especially computer related technologies and Internet (item C11, 90.5%). Internet can be considered in the sense of being connected to the world as it provides connections to other people all over the world, and limitless data in any fields. Learners agree that English opens a window to the world for them (item C8, 74%). Moreover, in item C9 (81%), participants agree that English improves their status and gives them the feeling of being modern, international, and connected with the world. Item C12: "English helps me to know the news and current events of the world" (78%) also shows that learners choose English as a tool in their communication with the world and other non-natives, a point which has truly be accepted in Crystal (2003).

The least agreed upon items were C3. "I adore western cultures and traditions" (27%), C4: "I want to go abroad to study" (40%), and C5: "I want to emigrate/live abroad" (29%). Items C3 and C5 stand for integrative motivations; item C4 can be regarded as both instrumental or integrative depending on the purpose of students to go aboard only to study, or to study and integrate with the target language community simultaneously. But because the percent of item C4 is higher than C3, it can be taken that integration with English speaking people or trying to communicate with native speakers is not a main motive for learning English. Students do not learn English because they admire culture of Britain, US or any other English speaking country and do not consider it as superior or better. All the noted items with higher percent of agreement are instrumental and the ones with low agreement percents are integrative ones. So to answer the second research question, it is right to conclude that the major motivations for Iranian learners to learn English are instrumental rather than integrative.

As Pan and Block (2011) found in their study, which was conducted in China, the results of the present study also reached the conclusion that people realize English as the international language of communication, and it can be used for both personal progress and social development; and the motives of learners are more instrumental rather than integrative. In other words, this is the learner who decides whether to learn culture of the target language or not. With the advent of EIL, and the shift in the learners' needs and motivations, no one can prescribe the learners to learn culture as part of the language.

The current study was conducted to the students of one university of Iran with a small sample. Although students were from different cities of Iran and were studying in various faculties, it remains to be seen whether students at other universities in other cities would show similar results. It is thus, recommended to investigate the beliefs and motivations of students with a larger sample in further research, to compare the findings with the results of the current study.

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