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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.

Metacognitive awareness

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. 

Need, importance

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:

Instrumental 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.

For travel. 

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?

Integrative reasons 

For myself. 

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: 

  1. The society in the Emirates is quite segregated. Emiratis rarely integrate with the large ex-pat community and have a tight-knit society of their own. 
  2. Should Emiratis travel, it is unlikely that they will meet people from the country as they traditionally travel in large family groups. This is highlighted by the two interviewees referring to visits to Emirati friends living abroad.
  3. Women especially would not be encouraged to interact with, and be influenced by a foreign, non-Muslim culture. Although they may feel that they would like to meet people from the English speaking world, it is unlikely that they will form any friendships. Often, international teachers are the only native English speakers they will ever have any prolonged interaction with even if they travel abroad. 
  4. On the one hand, they may have positive opinions of native speakers – they are often very fond of their Western teachers – but on the other hand, culturally they cannot help feeling a little disapproval as a result of the very different upbringing they have received. Certainly, their husbands and other male relatives disapprove of Emirati females imitating Western women. 
  5. Also, even though one of the motives of the students for learning English may be a genuine interest in identifying or meeting English speaking people, it is unlikely to happen and the women appear to accept that. For this reason, it is unlikely that students are going to attempt to become “indistinguishable members of the TL community” (Graham 1984), or fully fit into Gardner’s (1985) Socio-educational model in that they are not encouraged to learn the behavior type of another culture. 
  6. The main problem with learning a behavior type would be the fact that it is likely to go against the Islamic conventions imposed on young females. The learners could be said to fit into Schumman’s (1978) Acculturation Model in this respect as a Gulf Islamic society is likely to one of the furthest away from a Western English speaking society.
  7. The attitudes toward expatriates apart from those from the West is also worth mentioning. Large numbers of manual workers and service industry staff are employed from countries such as The Philippines, the Indian subcontinent and Pakistan. English as a second language is used by these people, and, to many of the learners in this study, these people represent the target language community. Attitudes towards these groups does not tend to be particularly positive.

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:

  1. Around the time of the study, students were making choices about whether or not they were ready for the final exam. Many were failing mastery checks and getting low grades on projects. Mastery experiences, claims Bandura (1995) contributes to a person’s sense of self-efficacy unless a sense of self efficacy was firmly established. In this case, it seems it was not. Students were experiencing failure and this was effecting their sense of self-efficacy. The students were promoted to level they were not adequately prepared for. Bandura (1995) claims that a sense of self-efficacy is promoted by “avoiding placing people in situations prematurely where they are likely to fail often”. The learners involved in this study and their peers were placed precisely in this situation.
  2. Vicarious experience may also have contributed to the students’ sense of self-efficacy. Bandura (1995) claims that seeing peers succeed by “perseverant effort” raises the observer’s beliefs. The opposite could be true in this case as around half the subjects were failing and around 60% of total students in that level were failing.
  3. The students were relatively new to the concept of student centered learning. Many of them still lack confidence with the work that they produce at it is considerably different from the work they did at high school only a year earlier.
  4. The learners’ emotional reactions to the new policy could be described as a “high state(s) of perturbing emotional arousal” (Oettingen 1995). Many of the learners were distraught when it occurred to them that the university policy change directly affected them. A reaction such as this, could have contributed to their self-inefficacy (Oettingen 1995, Bandura 1995).

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:


Intrinsic motivation

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. 

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