Scholarly article on topic 'Ego Identity Types and Language Proficiency of Iranian EFL Learners'

Ego Identity Types and Language Proficiency of Iranian EFL Learners Academic research paper on "Languages and literature"

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{"Language learning" / "foreign language learning" / "language proficiency" / "psychological factors" / "ego identity" / "ego identity types"}

Abstract of research paper on Languages and literature, author of scientific article — Zahra Tavakkoli, Fatemeh Rakhshandehroo, Mohammad Ali Izadpanah, Mohsen Moradi-Shad

Abstract The present research is an attempt to identify the effect of ego identity types on the language proficiency of the learners. In other words, it is trying to answer the question which identity types achieve higher levels of proficiency in terms of language learning. The results revealed that the achieved ego identity types were better language learners in comparison with foreclosed and diffused types. The results obtained in terms of the effect of gender on language proficiency led the researchers to believe that the significant difference found in this regard was not caused due to such differences.

Academic research paper on topic "Ego Identity Types and Language Proficiency of Iranian EFL Learners"

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Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 98 (2014) 1885 - 1894

International Conference on Current Trends in ELT

Ego Identity Types and Language Proficiency of Iranian EFL


Zahra Tavakkolia *, Fatemeh Rakhshandehroob, Mohammad Ali Izadpanahc,

Mohsen Moradi-Shadd

a Department of Foreign Languages and Linguistics, Sheikh Bahaee University, Esfahan, 81797-35296, Iran bc Department of Foreign Languages and Linguistics, Shiraz University Shiraz, 71964-85115, Iran d Department of English Language, Islamic Azad University, Fars Science and Research Branch


The present research is an attempt to identify the effect of ego identity types on the language proficiency of the learners. In other words, it is trying to answer the question which identity types achieve higher levels of proficiency in terms of language learning. The results revealed that the achieved ego identity types were better language learners in comparison with foreclosed and diffused types. The results obtained in terms of the effect of gender on language proficiency led the researchers to believe that the significant difference found in this regard was not caused due to such differences.

© 2014TheAuthors.Published byElsevierLtd.This is an openaccess articleunder the CC BY-NC-ND license


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

Keywords: Language learning; foreign language learning; language proficiency; psychological factors; ego identity; ego identity types

1. Introduction

1.1. Language learning, ego identity and language proficiency

Among numerous social, psychological, and cultural factors, psychological factors are believed to play an important role in a learner's success in acquiring and using a second language. Ego identity is one of the most prominent psychological factors. Language is a playground for the manifestation of each individual's identity. Therefore, the mutual relationship between language and language learning appears to be of utmost importance.

* Corresponding author. Tel+98-917-738-3397; fax: +0-000-000-0000 . E-mail address:

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


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

doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2014.03.619

The review of literature stressed the urge to investigate the issue of the relationship between ego identity types and language proficiency. As one might have noticed, there is almost no study which has focused on ego identity types and language proficiency. Trying to fill this gap, this study therefore aims at mapping out the relationship between identity processing style and L2 literacy by exploring any probable relationship between ego identity and language proficiency of elementary L2 learners. The current research also sets out to examine how ego identity types can predict language proficiency levels. Finally, this study has also investigated the possible relationship between gender, language proficiency level, and ego identity types of the participants.

2. Literature Review

2.1. Language Proficiency

Language proficiency and the manner to measure and assess it as well as the different learner factors which contribute to further development of research in this area have long been debated by different linguists. Acquiring proficiency in a particular language is assumed to be a cline and is "the degree of control one has over the language in question" (Hamayan & Damico, 1991, p. 41). One of the definitions of language proficiency refers to it as the degree of skill with which a person can use a language, such as how well a person can read, write, speak, or understand language can be contrasted with language achievement, which describes language ability as a result of learning.

Tendero argues that although language proficiency is a commonly used term and understood superficially by ordinary people as one's facility in the use of a certain language particularly in speaking and writing, offering a definition for this type of proficiency is not as simple as many believe (Tendero, 2010). The common aspect among all the language proficiency theories is the fact that they have all incorporated grammatical competence into their framework as a crucial feature of language proficiency and they have tried to highlight the importance of grammatical and lexical knowledge in obtaining proficiency in the target language, in this case English.

2.2. Assessing Language Proficiency

In terms of assessing language proficiency, the main issues are the criteria for determining the validity of language proficiency measures in the specific context of second language education. These criteria can be content, criterion-referenced, construct, face, or ecological validity, but the important factor to keep in mind is the fact that our procedures for determining validity are always based on a theory regarding the nature of the phenomenon being measured. On the other hand, the construct of language proficiency has usually been regarded as independent of the constructs of intellectual and academic abilities, in the above mentioned context. One apparent implication of this is that language measures such as the integrative tests (e.g., dictation) used in the research conducted by Oller and others (see Oller & Perkins, 1980) would have to be rejected as invalid in order to assess the construct of language proficiency because of their strong relationships to achievement and IQ.

Moreover, another important factor which can affect the degree of success a learner achieves in attempting to acquire and use a second language must be considered. This factor is that of individual differences. Individual differences have for a long time been the focus of studies conducted in the field of SLA. Studies in this field started with attempts to come up with a tool for predicting the successful learners in acquiring the target language. The researches in the field are now developed into an endeavour which seeks to explain why some learners succeed more than others, and has been considered complementary to mainstream research in SLA. Dornyei (2005) pointed out that individual learner differences have been consistently shown to correlate strongly with L2 achievement to a degree that no other SLA variable can match.

Different people display considerable individual differences in second-language (L2) proficiency. One study conducted in this regard by Hulstijn and Bossers (1992) among Dutch students who were studying English, reported that most individual differences in foreign language learning can be accounted for by individual differences in students' native language skills. There is a large body of research on individual differences which have focused on factors such as aptitude, motivation, attitudes, personality, and have then established correlations between these

factors and second language proficiency (Lightbown & Spada, 2006). 2.3. Identity Types and Language proficiency

As long as language involves interaction with others, the psychological differences between the interlocutors can influence how they use the target language as a means of communication since a learner is considered to be both an individual and a member of a group when it comes to language use. Other than the linguistic and communicative properties of the target language, EFL teachers need to be aware of all other factors which can promote the learners' achievement, the most prominent of which can be considered as psychological factors. Psychological factors can be divided into two categories: affective or emotional, and cognitive which are not clearly distinguished as two separate domains. Recent research has also looked at other more forceful variables which have been associated with individual differences that seem to have a positive correlation with successful language learning. These variables, however, have not received significant attention in various studies, one of which is each individual learner's identity type and how it can affect the process of language achievement.

Identity has always been a controversial topic (e.g., Waterman, 1982; Eggins &Slade, 1997; Norrick, 1994; Norton, 1997; Pavlenko &Lantolf, 2000; Tannen, 1993; Troemel-Ploetz, as cited in Schwartz, 2005). Norton (1997,

410) asserts ''every time language learners speak, they are not only exchanging information with their interlocutors, they are also constantly organizing and reorganizing a sense of who they are and how they relate to the social world. They are, in other words, engaged in identity construction and negotiation.'' She adds that ''[a]n investment in the target language is also an investment in a learner's own social identity, which changes across time and space'' (p.

Warschauer (2001), states that language has always played an important role in the formation and expression of identity. The role of language and dialect in identity construction is becoming even more central in the post-method era, as other traditional markers of identity are being destabilized, including that of race.

Ruiz-Vasquez (2000) explores the idea of identity and second language acquisition and proposes that second language learners need to acquire a new identity in the second language and that those who do achieve greater competence. He notes, "a reluctance to undergo the process of loss" of identity could be a cause for the lack of success in another language (p. 49).

2.3.1. Ego Identity

It seems that in talking on "self', or sometimes, "ego" a large number of different contributing factors need to be taken into account to give a more elucidating shape of the issue. In the 1950s, the concept of ego identity was introduced by Erikson. Since that time a large number of related studies have been conducted by various scholars in psychology and other areas of humanities. According to Schultheiss and Blestein (1994), ego identity formation occurs through a process of personal exploration to build up a coherent shape and set of values and attitudes. Sanders (1998) believes that people's ego identity is the core of all ideas each person has about one self. "It also encompasses our sense of continuity in time and space and serves as a framework for future actions (Sanders, 1998, p.1)."

Among the many definitions offered for ego identity (e.g., Sabatier, 2008; Kerpelman, 2001) Stout (2006) states that the ego is our identity. It is who we believe ourselves to be. It is our reference point, and our "home" in the world. He then defines ego identity as "a fully-functioning, fully-aware and fully-creative aspect of the whole of you.

Based on the Ego Identity Process Questionnaire (EIPQ), which was developed by Balistreri et al. (1995), ego identity types can be classified into four distinctly different identity groups: diffused, foreclosed, moratorium and achieved. Identity diffusion is "the status in which the adolescent does no have a sense of having choices; he or she

has not yet made (nor is attempting/willing to make) a commitment" (Marcia, 1966, pp. 551-558) whereas identity foreclosure is characterized by a commitment to a certain identity and lack of self-exploration; "it is the status in which the adolescent seems willing to commit to some relevant roles, values, or gaols for the future" (Marcia, 1966, pp. 551-558). The term commitment is the decision that the adolescent makes on what he or she is going to do and exploration is the degree of experimentation with various lifestyles and beliefs (Balistreri et al., 1995). An exploration of alternatives but a lack of commitment to any of them characterizes the identity moratorium and both an exploration of alternatives and a commitment to one or more of them represents the identity achievement status. While in the former status the individual "is currently in a crisis, exploring various commitments and is ready to make choices, but has not made a commitment to these choices yet" (Marcia, 1966, pp. 551-558), in the latter the adolescent has gone through a identity crisis and has made a commitment to a sense of identity.

Among different affective (personality) factors, investigating possible effects of ego identity on second language acquisition (SLA) has been ignored to a large extent on the part of language specialists and even psychologists during the past five decades. Ego Identity (E. I) and second language acquisition may seem unrelated at the first glance. The oversimplification of these two important issues is one of the crucial reasons for overlooking the concepts on the part of language specialists, teachers and even psychologists. This does not mean that these concepts were not studied at all. Some studies (Burkhalter & Pisciotta, 1999; Kaly & Heesacker, 2003; Schultz, 2001; Schwartz, 2002) have been done in the literature on both issues. But none of these studies have focused on possible effect of E.I on foreign/second language learning.

3. Method

3.1. Subjects

Of 131 learners studying English at Soha and Bahar language institutes in Shiraz who seemed to be at the same proficiency level, 98 male and female learners were selected based on the elementary cut-off score of the OPT test which was employed as a pre-test tool to guarantee the proficiency homogeneity of the participants. The 131 primary candidates had been selected based on random sampling. The final sample consisted of 4 classes administered by the same teacher; each class consisted of 17-38 learners. The female participants consisted of two classes one with 17 and the other with 38 learners. While, the two male participant classes consisted of 17 learners in one class and 26 others in the second class. The number of the learner participants in each class was determined based on the policy of the two language institutes involved in the study towards the number of learners that each class should contain hence, it was not something that the researchers could control. The age range of the participants was 16-28. All participants were Iranian learners whose mother tongue was Persian.

3.2 Instruments

3.2.1 Persian translated version of the Ego Identity Process Questionnaire (EIPQ)

The learners' identity types were examined by a Persian translation of the Ego Identity Process Questionnaires (EIPQ) which is the revised version of the Objective Measure of Ego Identity Status (EOM-EIS) developed by Bennion & Adams (1986). The Ego Identity Process Questionnaire developed by Balistreri, et al. (1995) classifies respondents as identity achieved, identity diffused, identity moratorium, and identity foreclosed. Respondents above the median on both dimensions were classified as identity achieved, whereas those below the median were classified as diffused. Respondents above the median on exploration, but below the median on commitment were classified as moratorium, and those with the reverse pattern were classified as foreclosed.

This modified version of EIPQ is comprised of 32 items randomly ordered across the two dimensions of exploration and commitment; each dimension consisted of 16 items on the questionnaire. Eight domains of occupation, religion, politics, values, family, friendship, dating, and sex roles were also included in the questionnaire, each consisting of 4 items. Sixteen of the EIPQ items are devoted to measuring identity exploration and the remainder sixteen items measure identity commitment. The respondents were asked to indicate their degree of agreement or disagreement to each statement based on a 6 point Likert scale.

3.2.2 Oxford Placement Test (OPT)

In this study, the Oxford Placement Test (OPT), version 1, was employed as the instrument to measure the proficiency of the respondents. The OPT was selected since it provides a reliable and efficient means of placing students according to their proficiency levels. The Common European Framework of reference for language learning, teaching and assessment (commonly known as CEF) which is a system of validation of language ability, developed by the Council of Europe has certified the test as one which is standardized and aligned with the proficiency grading system. The test consisted of 60 multiple choice questions which measure the two domains of grammatical and vocabulary proficiency. The highest cut-off score possible for the test is 60 which is calculated by giving each correct item one point making a possible 60 points (raw score) for a perfect score on the test. The raw scores are transferred to scaled ones based on the OPT manual for interpretation of scores (1-17 (Beginner), 18-27 (Elementary), 28-36 (Lower elementary), 37-47 (Upper elementary), 48-55 (Advanced), and 56-60 (very advanced) (Gillett, 2008).

3.3 Procedure

In order to arrive at the entry proficiency level of the students while extracting a sample which is homogenous in terms of proficiency level the OPT was administered among 131 test-takers, out of which 98 male and females were identified as elementary language learners based on the score they obtained on the OPT pre-test (18-27 from a perfect score of 60). Having arrived at a homogenous elementary sample of participants, the ego identity of the participants which was considered as a fixed concept was assessed based on EIPQ. The learners' improvement in terms of language proficiency was determined at the end of the semester by the administration of a revised version of the OPT test which was different from the first pre-test in terms of the order of the questions.

4. Results and discussion

4.1. Multiple comparisons among different ego identity pairs

All identity types were compared in pairs using Tukey HSD comparisons for language performance in order to indicate which identity type scored higher.

Table 4.1. Tukey HSD Comparison for Language performance in different ego identity types

95% Confidence Interval

ego identity (I)ego identity (J)Mean Diff (I-J)Std.ErrorLower BoundUpper Bound

achieved foreclosed 6.58009* .48042 -.0758 13.2360

moratorium 7.48485 .34073 -4.1629 19.1326

diffused 6.81818 .09664 -1.4912 15.1276

foreclosed achieved -6.58009* .48042 13.2360 .0758

moratorium .90476 .11331 10.1328 11.9423

diffused .23810 .76885 -7.1918 7.6679

moratorium achieved -7.48485 .34073 19.1326 4.1629

foreclosed -.90476 .11331 11.9423 10.1328

diffused -.66667 .51177 12.7734 11.4401

diffused achieved -6.81818* .09664 15.1276 1.4912

foreclosed -.23810 .76885 -7.6679 7.1918

moratorium .66667 .51177 11.4401 12.7734

* p < 0.05

As indicated in table 4.1 the mean score of each identity type is compared with that of the other three and the mean differences are measured to see if there is a significant difference between each pair. Tukey HSD tests showed that achieved identity type learners scored statistically significantly higher than foreclosed and diffused learners. This test also indicated the significant mean differences among each ego identity pairs, observed among achieved and foreclosed and achieved and diffused pairs. Achieved/ foreclosed and achieved/diffused pairs were reported to have a positive mean difference while foreclosed/achieved and diffused/achieved counterparts had a negative mean difference which is an indicator of the fact that achieved learners scored higher than diffused and foreclosed students (foreclosed/achieved p = 0.11, SD = 6.5, diffused/achieved p = 0.34, SD = 6.8). ANOVA was employed in order to assure that the significant differences found in this regard were not caused due to gender differences by independently investigating male and female group participants in four different classes.

4.2. Analysis of variance

The relevant results for male and female groups at the beginning and at the end of the semester are shown in tables 4.2-4.3 and the explanations of these tables are mentioned here.

Table 4.2. ANOVA for the female Class A, at the beginning of the semester

Sum of Squares df Mean Square F

Regression 135.678 3 45.226 1.288*

Residual 1193.401 34 35.100

Total 1329.079 37

*p < 0.05

Table 4.3. ANOVA for the female Class A, at the end of the semester

Sum of Squares df Mean Square F

Regression 118.000 3 39.333 1.232*

Residual 1085.500 34 31.926

Total 1203.500 37

*p < 0.05

Scores in the female Class A group are compared at the beginning and the end of the semester indicating that there is no significant difference between scores in different identity categories (p = 0.294, p = 0.313).The observation of female Class B yielded similar results (p = 0.689, p = 0.953). These results are demonstrated in Table 4.4-4.5.

Table 4.4. ANOVA for the female Class B, at the beginning of the semester

Sum of Squares df Mean Square F

Regression 19.559 3 6.520 .500*

Residual 169.500 13 13.038

Total 189.059 16

*p < 0.05

Table 4.5. ANOVA for the female Class B, at the end of the semester

Sum of Squares

Mean Square



9.237 3

364.881 13

374.118 16

3.079 28.068

Sum of Squares

Mean Square

*p < 0.05

Table 4.6. ANOVA for the male class A, at the beginning of the semester






32.873 26.115


*p < 0.05

Table 4.7. ANOVA for the male Class A, at the end of the semester

Sum of Squares

Mean Square



103.059 380.000 483.059

34.353 29.231


*p < 0.05

Table 4.8. ANOVA for the male Class B, at the beginning of the semester

Sum of Squares

Mean Square






194.620 48.644


*p < 0.05

Table 4.9. ANOVA for the male Class B, at the end of the semester

Sum of Squares

Mean Square






56.054 76.773

*p < 0.05

Results in Table 4.6-4.7 in which scores in the male Class A group are compared at the beginning and the end of the semester indicate that there is no significant difference between scores in different identity categories (p = 0.329, p = 0.357). On the other hand, similar results for class B at the beginning of the semester showed a significant difference which was not found at the end of the semester (p = 0.02, p = 0.493).

The overall results of the tables show that the only significant difference is signified in one of the male classes (class B) only at the beginning of the semester. To sum up, since the students had not been exposed to anything at this time, this difference could have been caused by any factor other than identity type.

4. Discussion & Conclusion

The only significant difference found in the groups which were categorized based on gender was in male Class B at the beginning of the semester. Since this difference was not found in the same group at the end of the semester, it can be argued that such a significance was not a symbol of the effect of ego identity types on language proficiency because there had not yet been any type of exposure to the language.

Tukey statistical method was used to determine the effect of ego identity types on language proficiency. These results affirmed that participants with achieved identity types performed better in terms of language proficiency in comparison with participants with diffused and foreclosed identity types. These findings are in line with previous studies in which individuals scoring higher on the achieved style scale have been overachievers in academic skills and have more successfully transited to university (Berzonsky & Kuk, 2000, 2005; Razmjoo & Neissi, 2010). In the same way, Kaplan and Flum (2010) argued that achieved learners are more likely to go beyond learning the material and to engage in refection on the self-transformation occurring through task-engagement. Regarding the integrative nature of the OPT test, achieved learners who are believed to need a high level of cognition and experiential openness, may have performed higher because of having a holistic understanding of the global structure of the text (Berzonsky, 1990; Berzonsky & Kuk, 2000; Berzonsky & Sullivan, 1992).

Based on the results of the present study, it seems that foreclosed identity type learners failed to outperform their achieved counterparts due to the negative mean differences obtained for diffuse/achieved and foreclosed/achieved pairs (see Table 4.1). These results are in accordance with the body of literature in which those individuals with foreclosed identity types are believed to postpone judgment until they are able to process and evaluate the relevant information (Berzonsky, 1990). On the other hand, Berzonsky and Kuk (2005) argued that although students with a foreclosed style of identity may function well in well-structured educational settings their lack of academic autonomy may place them at a disadvantage in more open-ended situations where they have to manage their time and monitor their behavior which is quite the case with OPT.

In the same direction, the same negative trend was observed among individuals with diffused orientation in comparison with achieved learners. These individuals are believed to have an effort to excuse negative performances, limited commitment, an external locus of control, and maladaptive decisional strategies (Berzonsky, 1992, 1990). They also have a rather low tolerance of ambiguity and a high need to maintain structure and cognitive closure (Berzonsky, 1990). This style to self-construction is associated with a foreclosed identity status composing of firm goals commitments, change-resistant (Berzonsky, 1989b; Berzonsky, 2004).That might be the reason achieved learner participants in the present study had performed higher in terms of language proficiency in comparison with their foreclosed and diffused counterparts.

The overall results of the study indicates that there is an interaction between ego identity types and second language ability in which achieved ego identity types are likely to be better at learning a second language in comparison with their counterparts other identity type groups due to the above mentioned reasons. On the other hand, to the best of the researchers' knowledge gender was found to have no significant impact on the language learning process. Due to limitations of the present investigation (limited number of participants and allocated time span) further investigations are needed to confirm the results of this study.

6. Pedagogical Implications

Since the whole conception of who we are is inseparably bound to the issue of identity it seems crucial to investigate the notion of ego identity in the realm of pedagogy. Therefore, the pedagogical implications that can be taken from this study specifically address the issue of ego identity in regards to second language learning and acquisition. Primarily, the results suggested that ego identity styles surveys might shed some light on the nature of the learners and their interactions with the world around them, especially in educational milieus. Moreover, ego identity surveys are suggested to be conducted at the beginning of language courses in order to help teachers, syllabus designers, and curriculum developers realize the true capacities of the learners.


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