Scholarly article on topic 'The relationship between language learning motivation and foreign language achievement as mediated by perfectionism: the case of high school EFL learners'

The relationship between language learning motivation and foreign language achievement as mediated by perfectionism: the case of high school EFL learners Academic research paper on "Languages and literature"

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Academic research paper on topic "The relationship between language learning motivation and foreign language achievement as mediated by perfectionism: the case of high school EFL learners"

Journal of Language and Cultural Education, 2016, 4(3) ISSN 1339-4045 (print) ISSN 1339-4584 (online)

SlovakEdu, o.z.

DE GRUYTER

DOI: 10.1515/jolace-2016-0027

The relationship between language learning motivation and foreign language achievement as mediated by perfectionism: the case of high school EFL learners

This study examined the mediating effect of perfectionism on the relationship between language learning and foreign language achievement of high school EFL learners. To this end, 400 eleventh grade high school students were recruited through cluster random sampling. They were selected from eight high schools in four cities of Iran (i.e., Tehran, Ahvaz, Semnan, and Kerman). Afterwards, two questionnaires were administered to the participants. The first questionnaire was the shortened form of Gardner's Attitude/Motivation Test Battery (AMTB) for EFL learners, and the second one was Almost Perfect Scale-Revised (APS-R) measuring the level of perfectionism among respondents. Moreover, the participants' scores on the English final exam held by Iran's Ministry of Education was considered as the indicator of foreign language achievement. The obtained data were analyzed through Pearson correlations and bootstrap resampling statistical method. The results indicated a positive correlation between all variables. Furthermore, it was revealed that language achievement and language learning motivation were partially mediated by perfectionism.

Key words: motivation, perfectionism, language achievement, mediation effect, high school, EFL learners

1. Introduction

Second language (L2) motivation is defined as "the extent to which an individual works or strives to learn the language because of a desire to do so and the satisfaction experienced in this activity" (Gardner, 2010, p. 10). Language learning motivation has been recently received research interest in EFL/ESL contexts (Zusho, Anthony, Hashimoto, & Robertson, 2014). It is argued that an L2 learner with high motivation will be successful (Brown, 2007). In the same vein, Gardner (2010, p. 241) reports that "students with higher levels of motivation will do better than students with lower levels".

Parisa Dashtizadeh & Mohammad Taghi Farvardin

Islamic Azad University, Iran dashtizadeh@itc.ir, farvardin@iauahvaz.ac.ir

Abstract

On the other hand, among the most influential personal factors in one's academic achievement is perfectionism which is defined as a high level of performance associated with a propensity to critical self-evaluation (Frost, Marten, Lahart, & Rosenblate, 1990). In the realm of education, perfectionism has been examined concerning students' academic achievement (e.g., Altun & Yazici, 2014; GhorbanDordinejad & Farjadnasab, 2013; Pishghadam & Akhondpoor, 2011). However, in the field of L2 leaning, this variable has not adequately been caught remarkable attention. It should be also put forward that perfectionism as an affective factor infuses a desire and tendency toward getting high standard of performance in learners (Frost et al., 1990). Accordingly, the nature of these variables per se raises the possibility of any close relationship between them.

2. Literature review

Some studies have explored the relationship between motivation and L2 learning (e.g., Fatehi & Akbari, 2015; Karahan, 2007; Tahaineh & Daana, 2013; Vaezi, 2008).

Karahan (2007) investigated the dissatisfaction caused by learners, teachers, and parents showing that most of EFL students in Turkey cannot achieve the anticipated level of English proficiency. The findings revealed that in spite of exposing students to English in the school environment constantly, they had little affirmative attitudes. In addition, the participants conceived the value and significance of the English language but did not show high level inclination toward learning English. In another study, Vaezi (2008) examined Iranian undergraduate students' integrative and instrumental motivation toward EFL learning. It was found that Iranian EFL learners had high motivation and positive attitude toward EFL learning. They were also more instrumentally motivated. Tahaineh and Daana (2013), later, studied the motivation orientations (i.e., instrumental and integrative) of the EFL undergraduates and their attitudes towards English learning and its community. The results showed that learning English had the minimum effect on the students' English language motivation, while the participants' attitudes toward the English community were highly positive.

Conversely, Binalet and Guerra (2014) found that motivation is not highly associated with language learning achievement. They suggested that the success or failure of language learners to acquire a language is not related to the EFL learners' motivation in learning. However, in a recent study by Fatehi and Akbari (2015), a positive relationship between motivation and language achievement was found. In their study, they equipped the teachers with new and modern strategies in order to increase the learners' motivation in classrooms. The results indicated that highly motivated learners obtained better scores in their final exams.

Generally, few studies have ever dealt with the role of perfectionism in L2 learning, but fortunately, research on perfectionism has been recently growing at

a rapid rate (e.g., Altun & Yazici, 2014; GhorbanDordinejad & Farjadnasab, 2013; Pishghadam & Akhondpoor, 2011; Ram, 2005).

Ram (2005) investigated the relationship between perfectionism, academic achievement, motivation and well-being in university students. It was found that higher levels of positive perfectionism can be related to higher academic achievement, higher achievement motivation, and lower levels of anxiety. Ram (2005) also found that positive perfectionism can be highly correlated with the use of adaptive coping strategies and positive personality variables. In another study carried out by Pishghadam and Akhondpoor (2011), the roles of learners' perfectionism in EFL achievement and L2 learners' anxiety were examined. The results revealed a negative significant correlation between EFL skills and perfectionism. In the same vein, GhorbanDordinejad and Farjadnasab (2013) carried out a study to answer whether there was a significant relationship between students' levels of perfectionism and their English achievement. The participants were third grade high school students (n = 239, 110 males and 129 females). The participants' scores on their levels of perfectionism were measured by a questionnaire and their scores of the final English exam were also used as the measure of their English achievements. The results showed that there was not any significant relationship between students' levels of perfectionism and their achievement (F = .515, p > .05).

Altun and Yazici (2014), further, examined whether perfectionism, motivation, learning styles and academic achievement could differentiate gifted students from non-gifted students. The participants were 386 (164 female and 222 Male) gifted and 410 (209 female and 201 male) non-gifted students. The results showed that the model correctly predicted 98.4% of gifted students and 81% of non-gifted students. In a recent study, Fahim and Noormohammadi (2014) investigated perfectionism as a moderator between language learning styles and strategies. The study followed a mixed method design. The participants consisted of 265 EFL sophomores. The Persian version of Learning Style Questionnaire and Strategy Inventory for Language Learning (SILL) were adopted. Afterwards, semi-structured interviews were administered on 34 high- and low-achievers. It was revealed that high-achievers had more positive perfectionism, while low-achievers showed signs of both positive and negative perfectionism.

The existing literature suggests apparent inadequacies in the L2 motivation research and scarcity of studies on perfectionism in the EFL context. On the other hand, there is dearth of research on the role of perfectionism as a determinant between language learning motivation and language achievement. Therefore, this study intends to explore the mediating role that perfectionism may play in the relationship between language learning motivation and language achievement. Additionally, the present study aims to examine if there is any relationship between perfectionism, language learning motivation, and foreign language

achievement. To fulfill the objectives of the study, the following research questions are raised:

Q1: To what extent do EFL learners' language learning motivation and their

language achievement correlate? Q2: To what extent do EFL learners' perfectionism and their language

achievement correlate? Q3: To what extent do EFL learners' perfectionism and language learning

motivation correlate? Q4: Does perfectionism mediate the relationship between EFL learners' language learning motivation and their language achievement?

3. Methods 3.1 Participants

A total number of 400 (210 female and 190 male) eleventh grade high school students were recruited for this study (Table 1). The participants' age ranged from 16 to 18. They were selected from eight high schools in four cities of Iran (i.e., Tehran, Ahvaz, Semnan, and Kerman). The researcher had an attempt to select the sample from the students of different cities across various geographical regions of Iran in order to gain more reliable and generalizable data. The participants were selected randomly through cluster sampling. All of the schools were selected among semi-public and gifted ones since perfectionism construct has been observed in talented and high-achieving students more than other students (LoCicero & Ashby, 2000; Schuler, 2000)

Table 1. Distribution of Participants

Sex Frequency Percentage

Female 210 52.5

Male 190 47.5

Total 400 100

3.2 Instruments

3.2.1 Gardner's Attitude/Motivation Test Battery Questionnaire

In this study, to assess the participants' language learning motivation, Gardner's (1985) Attitude/Motivation Test Battery (AMTB) was adopted. The main reason behind selecting Gardner's AMTB in many studies is its established validity and reliability (Shams, 2008). Since the original version of this questionnaire includes 104 items, the shortened form of AMTB developed by Dordi-nezhad (2015) was adopted in this study (Appendix A). The shortened form of AMTB consists of 37 Likert scale items measuring four factors: 1) attitude towards importance of learning language; 2) parents' motivation towards their children's learning

English; 3) motivation tendency to foreign language learning; 4) attitudes towards origin of target language. The minimum and maximum possible score on this test range from 37 to 148. Cronbach's alpha for factors 1, 2, 3, and 4 has been reported to be .90, .85, .73, and .80, respectively. Moreover, the reliability of the questionnaire measured by Cronbach's alpha was 0.848 (Dordi-nezhad, 2015). In this study, the Cronbach's alpha for AMTB was found to be .87.

3.2.2 Almost Perfect Scale-Revised Questionnaire

The Almost Perfect Scale-Revised (APS-R) (Slaney, Rice, Mobley, Trippi, & Ashby, 2001) contains 23-items with three scales (i.e., High Standards, Discrepancy, and Order) APS-R is designed to assess the multidimensional construct of perfectionism. The High Standards subscale (7 items) measures high personal standards for performance and achievement (e.g., "I have high expectations for myself'). The Discrepancy scale (12 items) measures respondents' perceptions of themselves as failing to meet their personal standards for performance (e.g., "Doing my best never seems to be enough"). The Order subscale (4 items) measures a preference for neatness and order (Rice & Slaney, 2002). That is to say, the high standards and order are considered as adaptive perfectionism and the discrepancy as maladaptive one. The translated and validated version of APS-R (GhorbanDordinejad & Farjadnasab, 2013) was adopted in this study (Appendix B). The total scores for the entire instrument range from 23 to 165. The reliability of the complete APS-R scale is reported as .85 (GhorbanDordinejad & Farjadnasab, 2013). In this study, the Cronbach's alpha for APS-R was found to be .76.

3.2.3 English Language Achievement Test

In this study, the indicator of language achievement was the students' English language final exam held by Iran Assessment and Evaluation Center early in June 2015, all over the country. Since the participants were selected from different regions and to ensure the integrity and reliability of the test scores, this national final exam was adopted as the achievement test. This test includes items assessing English reading, writing, vocabulary, and grammar. The researchers were provided with the students' scores by the given authorization of Education Office and the schools principals.

3.3 Procedures

First, all the ethical points and considerations of Iran Ministry of Education were observed and the participants filled out the consent forms. The target sample included 210 female and 190 male students from eight high schools in four cities of Iran. Early in June 2015, the last month of Iran's academic year, the participants completed AMTB and APS-R questionnaires. The participants were asked to

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complete both questionnaires in one session. The questionnaires were administered in participants' first language, Persian. Afterwards, the participants' scores on the final English test were collected by the permission of Education Office and also the schools' principals.

3.4 Data Analysis

First of all, the Cronbach's alpha coefficients were computed to estimate the internal consistency estimate of reliability for each instrument. To investigate the first, second and third research questions, Pearson Correlational analyses were conducted to examine the relationship between perfectionism, language learning motivation, and language achievement. Considering the fourth research question, a bootstrapping procedure provided by Preacher and Hayes (2008) was adopted. Its macro program on SPSS version 21 was run to explore the mediating effect of perfectionism in the relationship of language learning motivation and language achievement. Scholars who study mediating effect of variables have advocated bootstrapping as one of the best methods for measuring and testing hypotheses on mediation (Preacher & Hayes, 2008; Shrout & Bolger, 2002).

4. Results

Initially, the Cronbach's alpha coefficients were computed to estimate the internal consistency estimate of reliability of both questionnaires (Table 2).

Table 2. The Results of Cronbach's Alpha for AMTB and APS-R Questionnaires

Questionnaire Cronbach's alpha

AMTB 0.87

APS-R 0.76

As shown in Table 2, the Cronbach's alphas for AMTB and APS-R were 0.87 and 0.76, respectively. Table 3 depicts the means and the standard deviations of AMTB, APS-R, and the achievement test.

Table 3. Means and Standard Deviations of the Tests

Tests M SD n

AMTB 94.79 15.55 400

APS-R 61.83 8.43 400

Language Achievement Test 18.65 1.27 400

As displayed in Table 3, the mean and standard deviation in AMTB were 94.79 and 15.55, respectively. In APS-R, the mean and standard deviation were 61.83 and

8.43, respectively. Finally, the language achievement test had the mean and standard deviation of 18.65 and 1.27, respectively.

Table 4. Mean and Standard Deviation of the Motivation Sub-scales

Variable Sub-scales M SD

Motivation Attitude towards the importance of learning language 45.92 7.65

Parents' motivation toward their children's learning English 20.11 4.22

Tendency motivation to learning foreign language 15.38 3.68

Attitudes towards origin of target language 36.77 2.50

As Table 4 shows, the mean and the standard deviation were reported in attitude towards the importance of learning language variable 45.92 and 7.65, in parents' motivation in their children's learning English variable 20.11 and 4.22, in tendency motivation to learning foreign language variable 15.38 and 3.68, and in attitudes towards origin of target language variable 36.77 and 2.50, respectively.

4.1 Results of Correlational Analyses

To answer the first three questions, Pearson's correlation coefficients (Pearson's r) were computed.

Table 5. Correlation Coefficients between Students' Language Achievement and Second Language Learning Motivation and Its Sub-scales

Criterion variable Predictor Variable r P

Language achievement second language learning motivation 0.42 .00

attitude towards the importance of learning language 0.49 .00

parents' motivation toward their children's learning English 0.33 .00

tendency motivation to learning foreign language 0.44 .00

attitudes towards origin of target language 0.29 .00

Table 5 illustrates that there was a significant relationship between motivation and students' second language achievement (r = 0.42, p < .001). According to Cohen (1988), it is a positive and moderate correlation. Table 5 also shows that there were moderate correlations between all the sub-scales of motivation and language achievement: attitude towards the importance of learning language, r = 0.49, p < .001; parents' motivation toward their children's learning English, r = 0.33, p < .001; tendency motivation to learning foreign language, r = 0.44, p < .001; and attitudes towards origin of target language, r = 0.29, p < .001.

Table 6. Correlation Coefficient between Perfectionism and Students' Language Achievement

Predictor variable Criterion variable r P n

Perfectionism Language 0.14 .003 400

achievement

As shown in Table 6, there was a positively weak correlation between perfectionism and students' language achievement (r = 0.14, p < .01).

Table 7. Correlations between Students' Perfectionism and Second Language Learning Motivation and Its Sub-scales

Criterion Predictor variable r P

variable

Perfectionism second language learning motivation 0.15 .00

attitude towards the importance of learning 0.18 .00

language

parents' motivation in their children's 0.17 .00

learning English

tendency motivation to learning foreign 0.19 .00

language

attitudes towards origin of target language 0.11 .00

Table 7 displays that there was a significant relationship between motivation and perfectionism (r = 0.15, p < .01) which is, according to Cohen (1988), a weak and positive correlation. Table 7 also depicts that there were weak correlations between all the sub-scales of motivation and perfectionism: attitude towards the importance of learning language, r = 0.18, p < .001; parents' motivation toward their children's learning English, r = 0.17, p < .001; tendency motivation to learning

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foreign language, r = 0.19, p < .001; attitudes towards origin of target language, r = 0.11, p < .001.

4.2 Results of Bootstrap Resampling Method

To examine the fourth research question, Preacher and Hayes' (2008) bootstrap method was used to investigate the mediating (indirect) effects on L2 learning motivation and language achievement. Initially, all the paths regarding the variables of the study were described clearly. Each path was composed of three variables: Mediator variable, criterion (dependent) variable, and predictor (independent) variable. During this statistical procedure, perfectionism was considered as a mediator variable, motivation and its sub-scales as predictor variables, and finally, foreign language achievement as a criterion variable (see Table 8).

Table 8. Bootstrap Results for Indirect Effects of Perfectionism on the Relationship between Second Language Learning Motivation and Language Achievement

Paths Data Boot Bias SE Confidence interval

Lower level Upper level

1. second language learning motivation .0008 .0008 .0001 .0008 -.0007 .0027

2. attitude towards the importance of learning language .0018 .0018 .0001 .0015 -.0005 .0056

3. parents' motivation toward their children's learning English .0047 .0005 .0002 .0032 .0002 .0134

4. tendency motivation to learning foreign language .004 .0042 .0001 .0034 -.0007 .0133

5. attitudes towards origin of target language .0064 .0064 .0001 .0045 .0006 .021

As can be seen in Table 8, the mediating (indirect) effect of perfectionism on L2 learning motivation and its four sub-scales and also language achievement are illustrated. The bootstrap procedure could find the upper (UL) and lower levels (LL) of confidence interval (CI) for all variables. Initially, we examined the mediating paths between L2 learning motivation, perfectionism and language achievement. The upper and lower levels of CI were reported between -.0007 and .0027. According to Preacher and Hayes (2008), since zero is placed in this

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interval, there would be no logical and meaningful mediating role for perfectionism in this path. The second step was investigating the paths between attitude towards the importance of learning language, perfectionism and language achievement (UL = .0056, LL = -.0005); again, no mediating effect was found. The third path was the one between parents' motivation in their children's learning English, perfectionism and language achievement (UL= .0134, LL= .0002). Here, an indirect effect was discovered since zero was not placed in this interval. The results of the fourth path which was between tendency motivation to learning foreign language, perfectionism and language achievement were similar to that of the first and the second ones (UL=.0133, LL= -.0007). The overall result of the last path was similar to the third one. This path attempted to investigate the indirect effect of perfectionism on attitudes towards origin of target language and language achievement. In this mediating path, UL and LL were reported as .0210 and .0006 in sequence.

Discussion

To answer the first research question, Pearson's correlation coefficients were computed to determine whether there were significant relationship between L2 learning motivation and language achievement. Results of the study showed that there was a moderately positive correlation between the two variables. This implies that the respondents with higher language motivation were likely to have higher language achievement. Moreover, among all motivation sub-scales, attitude towards the importance of learning English language had the highest correlation coefficient with language achievement, and attitude towards origin of target language had the lowest correlation coefficient. These findings are in line with Dornyei (2005) who argued that attitude and motivation plays an important role in the rate and success of second/foreign language learning. The results are also in agreement with some previous studies (e.g., Fatehi & Akbari, 2015; Karahan, 2007; Tahaineh & Daana, 2013; Vaezi, 2008). However, the results are in contrast with Binalet and Guerra (2014) who found that motivation may not be related to L2 achievement.

The second research question examined the relationship between the L2 learners' perfectionism and their language achievement. In fact, there was a positively weak correlation between the two variables. That is to say, participants with higher levels of perfectionism were less likely to have higher language achievement. The results are in line with GhorbanDordinejad and Farjadnasab (2013) who reported weak relationship between perfectionism and English achievement. However, the findings of Pishghadan and Akhondpoor (2011) oppose the results of the present study. They found that EFL learners' perfectionistic tendencies can be related to low academic achievement and poor performance in language skills. The third research question delved into the

relationship between the L2 learners' perfectionism and their language learning motivation. A positively weak correlation was found between these variables. The results imply that L2 learners who enjoy high levels of learning motivation are not likely to be perfectionists and the other way round.

To answer the last research question, the bootstrap resampling method was used. The results indicated that perfectionism as a mediating variable did not have an indirect effect on all sub-scales of motivation. Therefore, it can be concluded that language achievement and L2 learning motivation were partially mediated by perfectionism. The only paths which confirmed the mediating role of perfectionism were told to be motivation in children's learning English and attitudes towards origin of target language. The results are in contrast with Pishghadam and Akhondpoor (2011) and Ram (2005). There is no doubt that many factors can affect the process of foreign language learning positively or negatively. In this study, we investigated motivation which is a complex psychological and it can be regarded as one o f the determinant factors in successful foreign language learning. Moreover, the interrelation of motivation with other variables such as perfectionism, anxiety and personal traits can be crucial for learners since a better understanding of the link between these variables can accelerate the speed of a successful learning and lead them to a more successful language achievement.

Conclusion

The present study provides several pedagogical implications. As the first pedagogical implication, students should become aware that setting perfectionist high standards can change them into the stressful and disappointed learners with an unsuccessful learning process. They should replace their high and unachievable standards with logical aims in second language learning. One of the most useful and important implications in L2 learning is that teachers should find the origin of the feeling of perfectionism in their students and also to take remedial actions accordingly. Also, the teachers can be provided with training courses in which they learn how to tackle with psychological barriers such as maladaptive perfectionism, anxiety, stress, shyness, and etc. in their classes. By creating a friendly atmosphere and motivating the learners, the fear of making errors in students will be reduced. In other words, by providing an appropriate feedback to the learners, the students may stay away of perfectionism and accept that being fluent and proficient does not necessarily mean being perfect.

Furthermore, those who have the authority to control the educational system and make decisions about it should also consider much more about the effects of perfectionism on language learning in general and on motivation and language achievement in particular. Furthermore, many workshops can be conducted that

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aim at familiarizing the students of how to control and overcome their negative dimension of perfectionism.

This study like any other is not devoid of limitations which should be dealt with in future research. First, the data of the study was collected from four cities in Iran. In order to have more valid results, the data can be collected in other EFL and ESL contexts with different teaching and learning styles and this can affect the results. Second, all the participants of the study who answered the research questionnaires were eleventh-grader students, aged 16 to 18. Due to our access limitation, we were not able to have participants from different age groups. Age as an important factor in L2 learning may influence the results. Moreover, different questionnaires might lead to different results. Furthermore, since the sample of this research involved the students of semi-public and the gifted schools, the students of public schools can be investigated in the future research. Besides, researchers may triangulate the data to gain a better picture. Interviews and classroom observations can provide more precise and valid data. Finally, other well-established questionnaires can be used to measure the level of motivation and the level of perfectionism in participants. Also, the effect of perfectionism on other variables and factors which are important in language learning can be explored in future, namely emotional intelligence, socioeconomic backgrounds, learning style, aptitude, etc.

References

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Contact

Mohammad Taghi Farvardin, PhD

Department of ELT, Ahvaz Branch, Islamic Azad University Golestan Highway, Farhang Shahr, Ahvaz, Iran. Email: farvardin@iauahvaz.ac.ir

Appendix A

Shortened Version of Gardner's Attitude/Motivation Test Battery for Iranian EFL

learners

(Adopted from Dordi-nezhad, 2015)

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Appendix B

The Persian Edition of Almost Perfect Scale-Revised (APS-R) (Adopted from GhorbanDordinejad & Farjadnasab, 2013)

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