The first thing to note was that the groups scored higher on part one of the questionnaire – the part relating to attitude to language learning, and lower on the second part of the questionnaire – the part relating to sense of agency. Understanding the background of the subjects involved in the study is crucial to beginning to understand why there was such a marked difference between the two sets of results collected. All the students involved were first year university students only ten months out of the UAE state school system. From discussions with students, it is clear that the system does not encourage learners to evaluate their learning in any way. Emphasis is on memorization, rote learning and grammar exercises. Any sense of agency the subjects may have developed, is likely to have happened during their time at university. Many of the concepts expressed in the questions on part two of the questionnaire are relatively new to the students and thus, predictably produced lower means. The questions on part 1 of the questionnaire were mostly concerned with the reasons for learning a language and the students are accustomed to discussing this topic. Their success at Zayed University lies principally on their success at English.
The second important thing to note is that the means are high in most of the subscales suggesting that the students enjoy and are motivated by English.
Research question 1: What are the key motivating factors for learners in this context?
The results of the questionnaires aimed to identify the main motivating factors. The following subscales produced high means: desire, need, importance, internal locus: responsibility, effort, and metacognitive awareness. However, not all of these subscales can be said to be main motivating factors. The interviews conducted with the volunteer students and the analysis of the context lead me to rule out the following factors:
One of the principle goals of Zayed University is to graduate students who are proficient in English. In order to study a major course at the university, a high level of English is required. Speeches delivered by Sheikh Nahyan, director of the university and Minister for Education and Scientific Research emphasize the importance of English. This is again reinforced by teachers, administrators and parents. It is unlikely that a student responding to the question about the desire to learn English is going to commit to paper an opinion contrary to that of her parents, teachers, sheikh and country.
Students are told that it is desirable for them to acquire English and they seem to have accepted this. This is reinforced by the lack of information volunteered by the interviewees when asked for reasons.
Initially, the questionnaire identified effort as one of the key elements. The interview responses seem to be more honest and quite the opposite to the responses received on the questionnaire. Students may be unwilling to commit to paper something which their parents, university philosophy and rulers would not approve of – the fact that they do not always try their hardest.
The subjects interviewed had apparently not given this question any great thought until that moment. There was a lot of hesitation before they were able to name some reasons for doing badly.
Based on observations, the high results of this subscale of the questionnaire are a little confusing. One explanation could be that the questions were not given enough thought by the respondents. The participants could have come up with a surface level reason for success or failure – if I study I am successful, if I don’t study I fail – without examining the specific metacognitive reasons.
Other high scoring areas of the questionnaire could be said to indicate the main motivating factors. These are need, importance and internal locus: responsibilty.
This subscale was identified as the principal motivating factor for the students involved in the study. The responses to the interview questions produced a range of reasons. These responses can be categorized somewhat into instrumental and integrative reasons:
In order to get a job.
One of the missions of Zayed University is to prepare students for the workforce. The students are constantly reminded of this and are advised that English will be the key to a successful career of their choice. A month before the study was conducted, the university held a major one day event entitled “Major Day” where students were encouraged to think about their careers and start to choose their majors. Four out of the five students listed “to get a job” as a reason to learn English but could not expand on what kind of job. Again, this could simply be an echo of what they have been told time and time again by teachers, administration, parents and leaders of the country.
This was mentioned by just one student and then in the context of being of use in emergencies. Emirati women are not permitted to travel unaccompanied by a close male relative. Many women do not travel outside the UAE so it was of no surprise to discover that travel was not a major “need” for learning English.
I will discuss this further when I address research question 2: What are the learners’ attitudes to the target language community? Is there a strong integrative orientation?
This response was obtained by just one interviewee who could be identified as learned helpless from the answers given to other questions. They were
Even if I work hard I will not learn
(about doing well on a test) It’s luck
If I had a different teacher I would get better marks
The fact that she stated that she needed English for “myself” possibly indicates that she has low self-worth.
To read newspapers.
This response was given by just one respondent. From the responses given to the other questions and her general conduct in class, this student was identified as being the most motivated and hardworking of those interviewed. She reported that her parents really encouraged her to learn English and she seemed to show a genuine interest in the language. This interest does not seem to be shared by her classmates.
To meet foreign people.
This response was given by two respondents. I will come back to this in my discussion of attitudes to the target language community.
English is an important language.
This could be a genuine belief on the part of the respondent or it could be simply an automatic acceptance of one of the main goals for Zayed University students.
The second area of the questionnaire which seems to pinpoint a key motive for the students involved in the study is Internal locus: responsibility
One of the main weaknesses the new students at Zayed University have is the fact that they are not accustomed to taking responsibility for their learning. Students studying English in the UAE state school system are unlikely to fail any exams provided they follow the precise instructions from the teacher and memorize the designated texts. The fact that the students rated responsibility relatively highly is likely to be a direct result of the habits teachers are trying to encourage at Zayed University. The students respond well to being given responsibility and are beginning to realize that the emphasis is on themselves to perform well or badly.
Research question 2: What are the attitudes to the target language community? Is there a strong integrative orientation?
The interviews lead me to believe that even though the learners’ attitudes to the target language community (native English speakers from the West) are positive, there was no desire to assimilate or adopt western behavior. Furthermore, the learners were not motivated by making friends among native speakers of English. All five interviewees mentioned that they would like to meet foreign people when asked the question directly. All interviewees, however, admitted that they had no English speaking friends. The five students interviewed were asked specifically if they would like to van English speaking country. They all stated that they would, and the following reasons were given:
To see historical places (2 respondents)
To go shopping (2 respondents)
To meet people (1 respondent)
To practice speaking English (1 respondent)
To learn about customs (1 respondent)
To see friends and relatives living abroad (2 respondents)
The only responses which can be assumed to indicate an integrative orientation could be “to meet people” and “to learn about customs”
Oxford and Shearin (1994) claim that the learner motivation is going to be affected by whether the learner is studying in a foreign language environment or a second language environment. Dörnyei (1990) claims that language acquisition is more meaningful to learners in a second language context. As the learners in this study do live in a second language environment, it could be argued that the acquisition should be more meaningful, however, there are few actual native English speakers. The context thus differs from a typical second language environment such as parts of Canada as English is used as a common language between ex-pats of many nations.
The results of the interviews are not surprising given the context of the United Arab Emirates. There many be many reasons why integrative orientation may not be particularly high:
Research question 3: What is the perceived self-efficacy of the learners and what are the possible reasons for this?
Under 50 percent of the subjects completing the questionnaire failed or withdrew from the course they were studying. This supports the low means collected for the items pertaining to perceived ability, self-efficacy.
Four out of the five interviewees went on to pass the course but most of the comments received during the interviews do not show a particularly high level of perceived self-efficacy. Possible reasons for this could be:
Research question 4: Are there any significant differences between the two groups?
The results show a significant difference in 7 out of the 18 subscales. Section 3 scored significantly higher on six subscales. One possible explanation for such a significant difference could be due to the fact that section 3 were weaker, failing students. In order to preserve their self-worth, they were answering more positively on the questionnaire. Alternatively, they could have answered the questions without great thought. Section 4 were stronger students and quite probably understood the concepts in greater detail and answered more carefully.
Section 4 scored higher on the following subscale:
Section 4 appeared to be more intrinsically motivated than their colleagues in section 3. This could be due to the reciprocal effect of experiencing success. Alternatively, the fact that they are intrinsically motivated could be a significant reason for their success. It could be argued that these results support Gardner’s assumption that learners with a higher intrinsic motivation are more likely to succeed.
Overall, the results of the questionnaire and the interview data show that the students in this context appear to be motivated to learn English even though it is compulsory and many of the students were failing the course they were taking at the time. Higher means were received in part one of the questionnaire than part two showing that students appeared to have clear opinions on the reasons for studying English but were less certain of a sense of agency. The highest motivating factor appeared to be that the students needed English in order to get a job.
The attitudes to the target language community are complicated in this context where the community communicates in English but only a small percentage of them are actually native speakers. There is no one group to indentify with. Integrative orientation is less significant in this context than others due to the cultural restrictions imposed on Emirati women. The onative speakers most of the students get to meet are their teachers.
The self-efficacy levels of the students, according to the questionnaire data, is relatively low. This is probably due to the fact that many of the students are struggling to cope with a course far too difficult for them. Many of them were failing tests and assignments regularly and had started to come to terms with the fact that they were unlikely to achieve the grade C required to progress to the next level.
There were significant differences between the two different ability groups studied. The less able students produced significantly higher means than the more able group in eleven subscales. The more able group had higher intrinsic motivation and a higher internal locus of control.
Firstly, the study was small, so clearly no real conclusions can be drawn. The instrument could have been translated into Arabic to ensure the students were absolutely clear of the meanings. One of the points I raised in the discussion section was that it is possible that the questions pertaining to some of the more complex ideas may only have been answered on a surface level. If the respondents were to attempt the same questionnaire in Arabic, it would be interesting to see if the same results would be collected?
The main limitation in this study, however, was the university climate at the time of the data collection. The grade policy change effected many of the subjects and the fact that they were both failing and misplaced seriously effected the results. The results, then, do not accurately reflect the average student at Zayed University, but a failing, misplaced student at Zayed University. The study should be repeated at a more stable time.
The interviews appeared to be far more useful an instrument than the questionnaire in this particular context. The subjects were a lot more honest and it was possible to seek clarification. A future study investigating motivation should take place during a more stable period and conducted using mainly interviews. Interviewees would best be selected randomly rather than volunteers who are likely to be motivated individuals. A final point to note is that the two classes studied were too similar to expect any real differences in results between them.
From this piece of research I have learnt
many things that will help me next time. In terms of research methods,
I learnt that I needed to have read more of the literature before administering
the questionnaires or conducting interviews. Time constraints did not really
allow for this however. A more suitable theoretical framework could have
been available. Many of the items I did include in my questions could have
been omitted which would have allowed greater focus on the areas of real
interest. In terms of what I have learnt about my learners, I have a greater
understanding of the reasons for their apparent lack of motivation and
a clearer picture of the effects of misplacing students.