Why is it important to learn English?”

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" Why is it important to learn English?"

A study of attitudes and motivation towards English and English language learning in Swedish upper secondary school

Karin Pethman Estliden

2017

Examensarbete, Avancerad niv? (yrkesexamen), 30 hp Engelska med ?mnesdidaktisk inriktning LP90

Handledare: Marko Modiano Examinator: Pia Vis?n

Abstract

The study of motivation in language learning and language teaching has a long history. The present study investigates what attitudes students in upper secondary school have towards the English language and what motivates them to learn it. The study is based on a questionnaire regarding motivation and sixty students have participated. The study shows that the students have acknowledged the status of the English language in the world and its function as an international language as well as its function as a tool for communicative purposes. A conclusion is that they have positive attitudes in general towards the English language as well as learning English.

Keywords: Motivation, attitudes and motivational factors, learning English as a second language.

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Table of contents

1. Introduction ............................................................................................................................ 5 1.1. Hypothesis ........................................................................................................................... 5 1.2 Defining motivation ............................................................................................................. 6 2. Background ............................................................................................................................ 7 2.1 Defining motivation theory .................................................................................................. 7

2.2 Self-Efficacy Theory ........................................................................................................ 8 2.3 Attribution Theory .......................................................................................................... 10 2.4 Goals and goal setting theory ......................................................................................... 12 2.5 Aptitude and intelligence in second language learning .................................................. 13 2.6 Age and second language acquisition............................................................................. 14 2.7 Attitudes, integrative motivation and instrumental motivation ...................................... 15 2.8 English as an International Language............................................................................. 17 2.9 Gender differences in motivation and second language learning achievement.............. 19 3. Method ................................................................................................................................. 20 3.1 Survey participant........................................................................................................... 20 3.2 Method of research ......................................................................................................... 20 3.3 The questionnaire ........................................................................................................... 21 3.4 The diagnostic test .......................................................................................................... 21 3.5 The statistical data .......................................................................................................... 22 4. Results .................................................................................................................................. 23 5. Discussion ............................................................................................................................ 27 6. Conclusion............................................................................................................................ 32 7. References ............................................................................................................................ 32

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1. Introduction

The ongoing globalization of Sweden has had great impact on our society and on the people who live in it. Sweden is a rather small country with approximately 10 million inhabitants. Individuals need to be able to communicate with people from all around the world and our tool of communication has become the English language. The English language has grown strong in Sweden. Many people come in contact with it daily when listening to pop music, watching TV or from using social media. In Sweden children begin to study English at the age of nine and they continue to do so until they graduate from high school. The English language has high status in Sweden compared to other languages that are spoken in our society today as for example Finnish or Arabic. The English language is seen as a high-status language not only in Sweden but also internationally. English has become a big part of education especially at universities. Some corporate groups have English as an official language although they may be based in Sweden. English is formally the official language for one third of the world?s countries which is about 1, 5 billion people and at least 375 million people have English as their native language. The majority of international communication is done in English within important areas such as politics, marketing and the financial world (H?glin 2002, p.7). English is at the present our leading language in communicating across borders but also when it comes to communicating with other people who do not speak the same native language within our own country.

Motivation is a key factor when it comes to learning a second language or in any learning for that matter. A lot of research has been carried out regarding the subject and there are several theories from which the subject can be analyzed. Nevertheless, it is person bound and therefore it differs from individual to individual, which from a classroom perspective as well as from a teacher perspective makes motivation a complex phenomenon. This study aims to investigate what attitudes students attending Swedish upper secondary have towards the English language and what motivates them to learn English.

1.1. Hypothesis

The hypothesis in this study is that one of the major reasons for students' motivation to learn English is because of its status of being an international language. Furthermore, since the students are all attending theoretical programs in Swedish Upper Secondary School, future studies as well as future jobs are also predicted as main reasons for their interest in learning

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the language. The hypothesis regarding the diagnostic test is that the majority of the students will score rather high on the test based on how English is being taught in Swedish schools as well as the presence of English in Swedish society in general.

1.2 Defining motivation

Pintrich and Schunk (2002) discuss how there are many definitions of the term motivation and that there are many different opinions regarding its exact meaning. The term "motivation" comes from the Latin verb "movere" which means "to move". The idea of movement is reflected in common ideas about motivation as being something that gets us going, keeps us going and makes us finish tasks that we have been assigned. Motivation has been connected to inner forces, enduring traits, sets of beliefs and effects and to behavioral responses to stimuli. Pintrich and Schunk (2002) offer a wide-ranging definition of motivation based on learners' thoughts and beliefs, which is considered by many researchers to be essential to motivation: "Motivation is the process whereby goal-directed activity is instigated and sustained" (Pintrich and Schunk 2002, p 5).

Pintrich and Schunk (2002) further discuss motivation as being a process more than being a product. In the process, motivation is not seen directly but we infer it in choice of tasks, effort and persistence. Motivation also includes goals that encourage action. Cognitive views regarding motivation are bound together in their emphasis in the importance of having goals. Goals are not always formed in a good way and chances are that they will change as an individual gains more experience but the main point is that people have something in mind that they either try to avoid or to achieve. Motivation also requires physical or mental activity. Physical activity includes for example effort and persistence while mental activity includes cognitive actions such as planning, rehearsing, solving problems and assessing improvement. Many activities that students take part in are targeted toward reaching their goals. As a final point, motivated activity is instigated and sustained. Starting toward a goal is important but it can also be difficult because it forces us to make a commitment to change and take a step forward towards something new. A crucial part of motivational processes is to sustain action since many of our goals are long-term such as earning a college degree and getting a good job. Much of what is known about motivation comes from outlining how people act in response to the challenges, difficulties, problems, failures and setbacks they are faced with while they try to achieve their long-term goals (Pintrich and Schunk 2002, p 5).

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Hollyforde and Whidett (2002) discuss how motivation can be seen as internal processes that can activate, guide, and maintain behavior and especially goal-directed behaviour. Furthermore, they state that "motivation is a psychological concept related to the strength and direction of human behavior" (Hollyforde and Whidett 2002, p 2). These definitions presuppose that all behavior is an effect of motivation. Kanfer on the other hand refers to motivation as being only about the `free will' element of behavior and explains it as:

"The psychological mechanisms governing the direction, intensity, and persistence of actions not due solely to individual differences in ability or to overwhelming environmental demands that coerce or force action" (as cited in Hollyforde and Whidett 2002, p 3).

Hollyforde and Whidett also discuss how motivation that is a result of a `kick in the pants' is not motivation but `movement'. Movement is `a function of fear of punishment or failure to get extrinsic rewards' and motivation as `a function of growth from getting intrinsic rewards out of interesting and challenging work' (Hollyforde and Whidett 2002:2, 3). Hollyforde and Whidett outline that according to their investigations many researchers claim that motivation is the drive behind human behavior (Hollyforde and Whidett 2002, p 3).

2. Background 2.1 Defining motivation theory

Campbell states that a theory is: "a collection of assertions, both verbal and symbolic, that identifies what variables that are important for what reasons, specifies how they are interrelated and why, and identifies the conditions under which they should be related or not related" (as cited in Hollyforde and Whidett 2002, p 5).

Due to this statement, motivation theory can be defined as something that outlines a researcher's answers to questions like `What makes someone persist at one activity and yet quickly give up another?' or `Why do people make the choices they make?' (Hollyforde and Whidett 2002, p 5). Pintrich and Schunk (2002) define a theory as a "scientifically acceptable set of principles advanced to explain a phenomenon". They outline that theory serves as a

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framework for understanding environmental observations and therefore helps to connect research and education (Pintrich and Schunk 2002, p 7).

The study of motivation when it comes to learning a second language has a long history. As a consequence of the cognitive revolution that took place in the last decades, many influential cognitive motivation theories were proposed in mainstream psychology. Soon after that, researchers within the field of second language learning started to use those theories to get a better understanding regarding motivation in the field (D?rnyei 2003, p 7). In the following, three of those cognitive approaches will be briefly discussed.

2.2 Self-Efficacy Theory

Pintrich and Schunk (2002) explains that self-efficacy refers to perceived capabilities for learning or performing actions at designated levels. People who hold low self-efficacy for accomplishing a task may try to avoid it while someone who believes that they are capable are likely to take part. Especially when difficulties arise, efficacious students will work harder and persist longer than those students who doubt themselves (Pintrich and Schunk 2002, p 161). Schunk and Pajares (2009) discuss how students who feel more effective when it comes to learning should be more prone to engage in self-regulation including setting goals, creating an effective environment for learning, monitoring their comprehension and assessing their progress when it comes to reaching goals. Self-efficacy can also be influenced by the outcomes of behaviors such as achievement and goal-progress and by input from the environment, for example, by feedback from teachers. Performances that can be seen as successful should increase self-efficacy while those seen as a failure should lower it. Occasional failure or success after many successes or failures should not have much impact (Schunk and Pajares 2009, p 36). Schunk and Pajares state that by observing others succeed, self-efficacy can be raised and therefore help motivate them to take on the task because they are apt to believe that if others can do it-they can as well. However, an increased self-efficacy can be negatively affected if it is followed by performance failure. People who observe other people fail may then believe that they do not possess the competence to succeed and therefore keep them from taking on the task. They discuss that individuals can also create and develop self-efficacy beliefs as a result of social encouragements such as "I know you can do it". Persuaders are an important factor when it comes to the development of an individual's selfefficacy and an effective persuader must be able to nurture people's beliefs in their capabilities while at the same time assuring them that success is within reach. They further on

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state that positive feedback can raise an individuals' self-efficacy but the increase will not maintain if they later perform sub standardly. Positive persuasion may work to empower and inspire, negative persuasions can work to decline and remove self-efficacy (Schunk and Pajares 2009, p 36, 37).

Alderman (2008) claims that one of the main assumptions underlying self-efficacy is that there is a difference between having the skills to perform a task and using the skills in different situations, which will affect motivation. He discusses that there are two types of expectancies regarding possible outcomes, outcome expectancy and self-efficacy expectancy. An outcome expectancy can be explained as an individual's anticipation that a specific action can lead to a certain positive or negative outcome, for example: "If I use effective learning strategies I will make at least a B in this course". A self-efficacy expectancy is an individual's preconception of his or her capability to perform the skills, actions or persistence required for the given outcome. For example: will I actually be able to use the learning strategies needed to make a B in this course? The most influential factor is the efficacy expectancy which indicates how effective one will be? The beliefs of personal efficacy are the fundamental element of agency which refers to actions carried out with intent. They regulate our choices, our behavior and effort, as well as how one persist. These self-efficacy indicators are important factors affecting motivation in academic tasks (Alderman 2008, p 69, 70). Alderman outlines that it is different from self-esteem and self-concept which are more task, domain and context specific rather than general (Alderman 2008, p 70). Collins carried out a study of research which demonstrates how the belief one holds about ability influences strategies. Collins selected children at low, medium as well as at high levels of math ability and then gave them difficult problems to work out. In each group there were children who were confident about their math ability and there were also children who were insecure regarding their ability. The children's beliefs about their capability and not their actual ability turned out to be the factor that distinguished the problem-solving strategies used by children in each group. The confident children chose to revise more problems and they were quicker to abandon ineffective strategies than those children who had doubts about their ability. Perceived self-efficacy turned out to be a better predictor of positive attitudes toward mathematics than what actual ability was. This established that self-efficacy is not just a reflection of someone's ability but the actual beliefs one holds about that ability (as cited in Alderman, 2008, p. 70, 71) Moreover, Alderman points out that people may perform poorly

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