Importance of learning English language

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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.
1. ” 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
Examensarbete, Avancerad nivå (yrkesexamen), 30 hp
Engelska med ämnesdidaktisk inriktning
Handledare: Marko Modiano
Examinator: Pia Visén
2. 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.
3. 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
4. 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 (Höglin 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
5. 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).
6. 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
7. 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 (Dörnyei 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 self-
efficacy 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
8. 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
9. because (a) they lack the skills or, (b) they have the skills but they do not have the confidence
that will allow them to use them in a constructive way. The level of self-efficacy is a key
factor in self-regulatory strategies used by students and some of the research findings are
brought up in Alderman (2008):
 “Students with higher self-efficacy undertook more difficult math
 “Students with higher self-efficacy set higher goals and expend
more effort toward the achievement of these goals”.
 “The level of self-efficacy that students reported during their first
year of college was a powerful predictor of their expectations,
overall satisfaction and of their performance”.
One can ask if there is an optimal level of efficacy beliefs and Alderman discusses how the
most useful efficacy judgments are those that are slightly above what a person can achieve on
a certain assignment (Alderman 2008 p, 70 & 71).
2.3 Attribution Theory
Attribution theory became the dominant model in research regarding student motivation in the
1980s. It is exceptional because it can link people’s past experiences to their future
achievement efforts by introducing causal attributions as the connecting link (Dörnyei 2003,
p 8). When it comes to the main component in the theory, Dörnyei discusses that the
subjective reasons to which we attribute our past successes and failures shape our
motivational disposition to a large extent. If we for example blame failure in the past on a
particular task to our own low capability, chances are that we will not try that particular
activity again. However, if we believe that the problem was caused by inadequate effort or
unsuitable learning strategies that we used, we will probably try the activity again. Due to the
high frequency of language learning failure all around the world, Dörnyei outlines how
attributional processes are assumed to play an important role regarding motivation in
language learning (Dörnyei 2003, p 8 & 9). Alderman (2008) discusses what reasons for
failure and success teachers can expect to find in a classroom and he brings up four reasons
that are most commonly given as the cause of success and failure in settings where
achievement is required: a person’s ability, effort, the difficulty of the task as well as luck.
The reasons are defined as:
10. 1. Ability- how we rate our aptitude, skill or knowledge.
2. Effort-how hard we tried, including mental and physical work,
and time spent to accomplish a goal.
3. Task difficulty- how difficult or easy we believe the task to be
4. Luck- to the extent we believe luck was a factor (Alderman
2008, p 29, 30).
These reasons for success or failure have been organized into three dimensions or ways of
looking at the causes and Alderman outlines them as:
1. Attributions are classified according to an internal-external
continuum or where the responsibility lies. This refers to whether
the cause is a factor within the person such as (ability or aptitude,
effort) or a factor outside of the person (luck, task difficulty).
2. The second dimension is a stable-unstable continuum. The
stability classification refers to whether the perceived cause is seen
as something consistent or variable over time. Unstable causes for
success or failure are those attributed to temporary factors that can
be modified.
3. The third dimension, a controllable-uncontrollable continuum,
refers to the extent we believe we have influence or control over
the cause of an outcome. An uncontrollable factor is luck, whereas
effort is generally believed to be controllable (Alderman 2008, p
Alderman discusses how important it is for teachers to especially understand the significance
of the stable-unstable perspective since research has found that students view task difficulty
and ability as something stable. When a student fails and says “I will never be able to learn
English”, he or she is probably seeing his or her ability to learn English as something that is
stable. This is an internal-stable factor to the student and the reason for failure seems to be
fixed -a self-defeating factor to the student. Alderman argues that teachers want students to
see ability as a skill or knowledge of something that can be learnt- an unstable ability. In
Alderman (2008; p.31&32) another source of attributional information is also discussed
which has to do with comparing one’s own performance with others. The idea presented is
11. that if the majority of a class fails a test, students are likely to blame the failure to the
difficulty of the task and not to their own ability. Nevertheless, if one student failed and the
rest of the classmates got an A or a B, that student is likely to believe that the failure was due
to his or her own low ability.
2.4 Goals and goal setting theory
When it comes to goal and goal setting theory, Alderman discusses how goals are “something
that the person wants to achieve” and “goal setting theory assumes that human action is
directed by conscious goals and intentions’ (Alderman 2008, p 106). Alderman outlines goals
as cognitive representations of a future event and therefore motivation can be influenced
through five processes:
1. Direct attention and action toward an intended target. This helps
individuals focus on a task at hand and organize their knowledge
and strategies toward the accomplishment of the goal.
2. Mobilize effort in proportion to the difficulty of the task to be
3. Promote persistence and effort over time for complex tasks. This
provides a reason to continue to work hard even if the assignment
is not going well.
4. Promote the development of creative plans and strategies to
reach them.
5. Provide a reference point that provides information about one’s
performance (Alderman 2008, p 106).
In Hollyforde &Whidett (2002; p 84 & 85) research regarding how goal-setting theory can be
presented in three main conclusions is outlined. Firstly, more difficult goals lead to higher
levels of performance than easy goals. This conclusion was based on the outcomes of a series
of experiments; setting tasks such as brainstorming, addition, complex computation.
Secondly, specific goals resulted in higher levels of performance than general goals (eg ‘do
the best you can’). Various studies showed that the ‘Do the best you can’ approach constantly
produced lower performance levels than specific goals, even when the specific goals were
12. hard. Thirdly, behavioral intentions influence the choices people make. The level of difficulty
of someone’s chosen goal actually depended on what the person who undertook the task was
aiming to accomplish.
2.5 Aptitude and intelligence in second language learning
Despite factors such as motivation and age, it seems as if some people are better at learning a
second language than others. In literature regarding second language learning, an individual’s
inherent ability to learn a second language is called language learning aptitude. Aptitude can
characteristically be looked upon as something comparable to intelligence which cannot
change through training. Since different skills are tangled in the process of learning a
language, aptitude needs to include several factors. (De Bot, Lowie and Verspoor 2005, p 69).
Carroll states that aptitude is generally described as a combination of four different factors
which are as follows:
1. The ability to identify and remember sounds of the foreign
2. The ability to recognize how words function grammatically in
3. The ability to induce grammatical rules from language examples;
4. The ability to recognize and remember words and phrases (as
cited in De Bot, Lowie and Verspoor, 2005, p 69).
Further on, De Bot, Lowie and Verspoor (2005) discuss how several tests have been
developed and carried out in attempts to evaluate language aptitude, and the tests that are
most often mentioned are the Modern Language Aptitude Test (MLAT) and The Pimsleur
Language Aptitude Battery (PLAB). De Bot, Lowie and Verspoor (2005) declare how these
tests contain a wide range of tasks including for example phonemic coding ability tested by
sound-symbol association where the learner must correlate a sound and a symbol. Grammar
was tested by making the learner recognize the function that a specific word fulfils in a
sentence. On the whole, the tests overlap but one difference is that Pimsleur includes
intelligence as being one aspect of aptitude while Carroll claims that intelligence must be seen
as something distinct from aptitude. Both of the tests have proved high correlations with
13. proficiency scores in school. Nevertheless, the tests were shaped towards formal second
language learning and when teaching practice changed and started to include practice in
communication, the tests became old-fashioned. Different studies have shown that both the
MLAT and PLAB indicate a high level of correlation between intelligence and controlled
language production but low correlation when it comes to free oral production as well to
communicative skills in general. (De Bot, Lowie and Verspoor 2005, p 70). Genesee carried
out an investigation among students in French Immersion Programmes in Canada, who found
that intelligence was related to the development of French second language learning when it
came to reading, vocabulary and grammar while it was unrelated to the students’ oral
production skills (as cited Lightbown and Spada 2006, p 57).
2.6 Age and second language acquisition
Age and its importance when it comes to learning a second language is something that has
been extensively investigated. Lenneberg’s critical period hypothesis has been strongly
connected to the age factor. The hypothesis states that it is not possible to learn a second
language in a native-like way if the learning process begins after a critical period-puberty. This
standpoint is mostly linked to learning the phonological system of the second language. The
critical period hypothesis claims that as the human brain gradually matures it loses its plasticity.
The maturation process is called cerebral lateralization which is a process of specialization
concerning the hemisphere. Lenneberg claimed that once this process is completed, the human
brain would not be able to pick up a new language system (as cited in De Bot, Lowie and
Verspoor 2005, p 65 & 67). Lightbown and Spada (2006) discuss how it has been frequently
observed that most children from immigrant families eventually will speak the language of their
new community with a native-like fluency while their parents mostly do not. Adult learners of
a second language may have the capability to communicate successfully but differences in
word-choice, accent and grammar often distinguish them from native speakers and second
language speakers who started to learn the language at a young age (Lightbown and Spada
2006, p 68). Further on, they declare how the conditions for language learning can vary. For
example, young learners may have more opportunities to hear as well as speak the language in
an environment where they feel secure and do not feel the pressure of communicating
grammatically correct. Older learners are more often in situations where they must use a more
complex language (Lightbown and Spada 2006, p 68).
14. 2.7 Attitudes, integrative motivation and instrumental motivation
Ellis (1994) states that language teachers have already acknowledged the importance of
learners’ motivation and occasionally explaining their own sense of failure to the students’
lack of motivation. Second language acquisition studies consider motivation a key factor
when it comes to learning a second language. There have been differences though in the way
that teachers and researchers have conceptualized ‘motivation’. Skehan outlines four different
hypotheses in an attempt to explain motivation from a non-theoretical view:
1. The Intrinsic Hypothesis: motivation derives from an inherent interest in the learning tasks
the learner is asked to perform.
2. The Resultative Hypothesis: learners who do well will persevere; those who do not do well
will be discouraged and try less hard.
3. The Internal Cause Hypothesis: the learner brings to the learning situation a certain quantity
of motivation as given.
4. The Carrot and Stick Hypothesis: external influences and incentives will affect the strength
of the learner’s motivation (as cited in Ellis 1994, p 509).
In Lightbown and Spada (2006; p. 63) research is presented regarding how the relationship
between a learner’s attitude toward the second or the foreign language and its community and
success in learning a second language is correlated. Considering the fact that it is rather
complicated to know whether positive attitudes produce successful learning or if it is
successful learning that triggers positive attitudes, or if both are affected by other aspects, the
research indicates that positive motivation is associated with a will to keep on learning.
Further on, Lightbown and Spada (2006) discuss how motivation in second language learning
is a problematic phenomenon. They state that it has been defined in two ways: the learner’s
communicative needs as well as their attitudes toward the second language community. If a
learner needs to speak the language in many different social situations or to accomplish
professional ambitions they will understand the value of the second language and therefore
they will be motivated to learn it. Also, if learners have good and favorable attitudes and
beliefs about the speakers of the target language, learners will wish for more contact with
them. Robert Gardner and Wallace Lambert coined the terms Instrumental Motivation and
Integrative Motivation. Instrumental Motivation refers to language learning for immediate or
practical goals while as Integrative Motivation stands for language learning for cultural
15. enrichment and personal growth. Studies have shown that these types of motivation are
connected to success in second language learning (as cited in Lightbown and Spada 2006, p
63 & 64). In Ellis (1994; p. 510&511) research showing that measures of instrumental and
integrative motivation of 337 students of Spanish in High Schools in the United States of
America, suggested that it was impossible for these learners to separate the two different
kinds of motivation. Ely investigated these two types of motivation in first- year university
students of Spanish in America and also found evidence of strong integrative motivation as
well as instrumental motivation (as cited in Ellis 1994, p 510&511). In Ellis (1994; p 512)
research regarding factors which caused high school students of French and Spanish in the
United States to drop out is discussed and the most noteworthy finding was that those students
who continued their studies beyond the second year, claimed low importance to fulfilling
what the curriculum required of them - instead they reported an interest in the target language
cultures and a wish to attain proficiency in all language skills. This suggests an integrative
motivation. Other factors that she found were playing a part were grades that the students had
achieved in previous foreign language courses and when the students had begun to study. The
students who started early were more likely to continue. Further on, Ellis (1994) discusses
how the Carrot and Stick Hypothesis see external stimulation and influences as factors which
determine a learner’s motivational strength. This has been studied in Second Language
Acquisition research through investigations of instrumental motivation. Ellis (1994) outlines
how instrumental motivation was found a week predictor of foreign language achievement in
several Canadian Studies. It appeared that instrumental motivation was much more powerful
in other contexts where the learners had no or little interest in the target- language culture as
well as no or few opportunities to interact with members of the target-language community. In
Ellis (1994; p 513&514) an investigation showing how 46 university psychology students
would be rewarded with 10 dollars if they were to succeed in a paired-associate English-
French vocabulary test is discussed. The same amounts of students in another group were
instructed to do “their best”. Not only did the former group do significantly better, they also
spent more time viewing the pairs of the words with the exception of the sixth and last trial in
the assignment when the chance of receiving a reward was no longer offered. This indicates
that once the opportunity to receive a reward is removed, learners may decrease their effort.
Therefore, this can be seen as a vast disadvantage of instrumental motivation.
16. 2.8 English as an International Language
McKay (2002) argues that some people are defining an international language as being equal
to a language that has a large number of native speakers. If that is the case, Arabic, Hindi,
Mandarin, Spanish which together with English are the five most spoken mother tongues in
the world, could be international languages as well. However, McKay states that unless those
languages are spoken by a great number of native speakers of other languages, the language
cannot function as a language of international communication. Looked upon from that
perspective, English is the international language used for wider communication to an extent
that no other language can be compared. In many areas, English is the tool of communication
between people from different countries as well as between individuals from the same
country. McKay states that from this standpoint, English can be seen as an international
language not only from a global sense but also from a local (McKay 2002, p 5).
Crystal (1997) states that: ‘a language achieves a genuinely global status when it develops a
special role that is recognized in every country’ (Crystal 1997, p 2). He discusses how a
language, to be able to achieve such status, must be used by people in countries that do not
have English as their mother tongue and they must give it a place in their societies. This can
according to Crystal be done in two ways. Firstly, a language can be made as the official
language of a country where it will be used as a tool of communication in areas such as the
educational system, the media, the law courts and in government. In the second way, a
language can be made a priority in a country’s foreign-language teaching although the
language itself has no official status. Crystal argues that one of the main reasons for the
spread of English is that it has repeatedly been in the right place at the same time.
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries English was the
language of the leading colonial nation-Britain. In the eighteenth
and nineteenth centuries it was the language of the leader of the
industrial revolution- also Britain. In the late nineteenth century and
the early twentieth it was the language of the leading economic
power-the USA. As a result, when new technologies brought new
linguistic opportunities, English emerged as a first-rank language in
industries which affected all aspects of the society-the press,
advertising, broadcasting, motion pictures, sound recording,
transport and communications. (Crystal 1997, p 110-111)
17. Further on, Crystal claims how at the same time the world was formatting networks of
international alliances that were in need of a lingua franca and English was the clear first
choice. English became during the first part of the twentieth century the leading language of
international political, academic as well as of community meetings.
McKay (2002) discusses what factors that presently can be related to the demand of English
learning and its role as an international language and she points to different domains. For
example, she refers to how English is in a global way making different countries negotiate
and discuss educational, social, political and economic issues. English dominates the motion
picture industry as well as popular music which are the two main mechanisms in the
development of global culture, especially amongst young people. Travel and tourism are other
factors that McKay claims to contribute to the spread of English she points out that
international travelling has a globalizing effect that stresses the need for an international
language. Book publishing is another area to which McKay refers to, while stating that more
books are published in English than in any other language as well as 84 percent of the Internet
servers are English medium. Finally, McKay establishes how to be able to access higher
education in many countries, you are reliant on your knowledge of English (McKay 2002, p
Marko Modiano (2009) emphasizes the importance of recognizing the fact that learners of
English today are not learning the language so that they may be able to communicate with
native speakers. They are learning it because it will be essential to them in the future in
relation to work, education as well as in social activities. In many of these activities, native
speakers are not included. Further on, he discusses how many different languages that are
spoken and pursued in education within the EU, but there is one language, English, that is the
most useful language when speakers with different languages interact (Modiano 2009, p
58&59). Modiano claims that the spread of English across the EU is linguistically unique and
states that;
Never before has one language been so widespread among the general
population, taken such a prevalent place in education at all levels, had such
presence in information services such as printed media, film, radio and
television, been so prominent in music and entertainment, as well as the Internet,
and also serve as a contact language with people from throughout the
world. (Modiano 2009 p 72-73)
18. 2.9 Gender differences in motivation and second language learning
Meece, Bower Glienke and Askew (2009) discuss how the role of gender in relation to
motivation has a long history in both educational and psychological studies. Before 1970, men
were more likely than women not only to get a college degree but also to participate in
advanced studies and get a high paid job. In the last three decades, vast changes in women’s
level of education as well as their occupational status have been noticed. Nevertheless, gender
differences regarding motivation still exist. Meece, Bower Glienke and Askew outline how
early theories of motivation described women as underachievers while current studies show
that gender differences are domain specific. Boys seem to have positive achievement-related
beliefs when it comes to mathematics, science and sports while women seem to have more
positive motivation patters regarding language, arts and reading. It seems as if the gender gap
in connection to mathematics and science decreases with age while the differences in
motivation in connection to language and arts persist throughout the school years (Meece,
Bower Glienke and Askew 2009, p. 411,424).
Ellis (1994) states that many predictions regarding gender differences in connection to second
language learning are based on sociolinguistic theory. Several studies have been made and he
discusses a study including 490 Chinese university students in Hong Kong (257 male and 233
female) which showed that the female students performed higher overall on ten tests of
general L2 English proficiency and in many cases, the differences were significant. Ellis
argues that several studies indicate that females have a more positive attitude to learning a
second language. He discusses a study showing that low-achieving boys dropped out learning
French as an L2 language to a much greater extent than low-achieving girls from the age of
thirteen and on. The study also showed that girls had more positive attitudes to learning
French than boys (Ellis 1994, p 202&203). Further on, Ellis claims that ‘one obvious
explanation for females’ greater success in L2 learning in classroom settings is that they
generally have more positive attitudes’ (Ellis 1994, p 203).
19. 3. Method
In this section, the participants of this study will be presented as well as the research method
that was used in the attempt to reach the purpose of this study.
3.1 Survey participants
Three classes from an upper secondary school have participated in this research. They are all
first graders and are currently taking English 5 and they are all attending a theoretical
program. Since this study is based on a quantitative method of research, three classes would
generate a sufficient number of participants. All three classes were given information about
the intended and anyone who did not feel comfortable about participating, was given the
opportunity to decline. All students present agreed to take part. All students who answered the
questionnaire also completed a diagnostic test. They gave their approval to a study of their
results regarding the diagnostic test they had done. They were also informed that they would
be anonymous in the study.
3.2 Method of research
This study is based on a quantitative method which includes a questionnaire. Trost (2001)
claims that if you are trying to find a pattern or if you are trying to understand something, a
quantitative investigation is preferable (Trost Jan 2001, p 23). Ejvegård (2004) also states that
when you are trying to bring out attitudes, different types of tastes and opinions, a
questionnaire is the most suitable approach. Further on, he discusses how the questionnaire
needs to be well formed and not too extensive, because the more questions you ask, the risk of
getting less answers increases (Ejvegård 2004, p 55). When it comes to research based on
questionnaires, Trost (2001) talks about open or closed answering alternatives. An open
answering alternative means that the person who answers has the possibility to write his or
her answer with their own words. A closed answering alternative has already given answering
alternatives from which the participant can choose from. A disadvantage with open answering
alternatives can be that some people find it hard to express themselves in writing and
therefore they do not answer the question (Trost 2001, p 71&72).
20. 3.3 The questionnaire
The questionnaire consists of six questions:
1. How difficult do you think it is to learn English in school on a scale of 1-5? (5 indicates the
highest level of difficulty).
2. Do you find it important to learn English?
3. Motivate why or why not you find it important to learn English!
4. When do you use your English skills outside of school? For example, when you play video
games, watch a movie or when reading a book?
5. In the future, how and when do you think that your English skills will be useful?
6. How motivated are you to learn English on a scale of 1-5? (5 indicates the highest level of
They were given the opportunity to choose whether they wanted to answer the questionnaire
in Swedish or in English. The reason for doing so was to make sure that the students felt
comfortable enough to express themselves and therefore decrease the possibility that they
would not answer the questions in the way they wanted to –or for that matter, not answering
the questions at all. The majority answered in Swedish.
3.4 The diagnostic test
The diagnostic test is a test that each student has to take when they start studying English at
this school. The reason for this is that the teachers want to find out what level the students are
at when it comes to their English skills and if there are students who need extra support to be
able to pass the course. Initially when the school started to use this diagnostic test
approximately 14 years ago, it was also meant to help the teachers divide the students into
different studying groups, depending on how they scored on the test. The highest score is 243.
Students who scored between 120-140 points were the lower group, students who scored
between 140-180 became the intermediate group and those who scored 180 and higher
became the advanced group. Students who scored 120 points and lower, were given extra
support. The test includes reading comprehension, grammar and vocabulary. The vocabulary
part consists of 61 different sentences where the students are asked to fill in a missing word.
They have three different options to choose from. The grammar part is structured in the same
21. way, except that there are 90 sentences instead of 60. The reading comprehension section
consists of two parts. The first part is based on 11 different short parts of texts. Each text is
followed by 4 different statements regarding the text. The students are to choose the statement
that is correct. The second part is based on a longer text which is followed by 11 questions
and three statements from which the students are asked to pick out the statement that is true
for the text. The diagnostic was included in the study to contribute with some knowledge
regarding these students English skills and if any correlation between their motivation and
their English skills could be drawn.
3.5 The statistical data
The total number of participants is 60, 38 girls and 22 boys. However, one person has not
answered question number 1 and 2 persons have not answered question number 6. On
question number 1 and 6, the students have been asked to answer on a scale of 1-5. Some
students have answered with two digits, for example 2-3 or 3-4. In those cases the lowest digit
has been accounted for. Question number 3, 4 and 5 are so called ‘open questions’ where the
students have expressed themselves with their own words. Their answers have been divided
into different categories. Note that the students in most cases have given several answers. The
diagnostic test is accounted for in two different ways. Firstly, the students score on the
diagnostic test is outlined based on the three groups in which the teachers used to divide them
into (see section 3.4). Secondly, the average score for boys and girls is outlined.
22. 4. Results
In the following part, the result of the questionnaire will be presented. Each question will be
accounted for.
4.1 How difficult do you think it is to learn English on a scale of 1-5? (5 indicates the
highest level of difficulty).
Figure 1
36 % of the students answered 1 on the scale, 47 % answered 2 on the scale and 17 %
answered 3 on the scale. No one answered 4 or 5 on the scale.
4.2 Do you find it important to learn English?
Figure 2
Yes No
Each of the 60 students found it important to learn English.
23. 4.3 Motivate why or why not you find it important to learn English?
Table 1
Why or why not do you find it important to learn of
English? answers
You can live everywhere if you know English 1
English is an international language 31
If you want to study abroad 1
If you want to move abroad 1
Because many songs are in English 1
Because many movies are in English 3
To communicate with people from other countries 26
It can be useful in a future job 2
It is an important language within media 3
To be able to travel all over the world 3
English is a beautiful language 1
If you travel to USA, England or Australia, it easier to do 2
stuff and make yourself understood
To communicate with others in our society 2
It will be useful in the future/ It is good to know 6
We live an international society 2
If you want to work abroad 4
It is an important language in politics 1
You use English everywhere 2
To be able to use the internet 1
When you read books, it is good to know 1
4.4 When do you use your English skills outside of school?
Table 2
When do you use your English skills outside of Number of
school? answers
When I watch a movie 45
When I read 28
When I chat 6
When I play video/computer games 25
When I am abroad/ When I travel 19
When I speak to friends/relatives from other countries 6
24. When I watch TV 20
When I use the internet/computer 19
When I use my cell phone 1
I speak English to my little brother so he can practice 1
When I speak to people from other countries 5
When I read/are given instructions in English 5
When I listen to music 10
In media 1
In work 1
When I sing/ practice music 3
Sometimes I speak English in my spare time for fun 5
4.5 In the future, how or when do you think that your English skills
will be useful?
Table 3
In the future, how and when do you think that your Number of
English skills will be useful? answers
In a future job 14
When/ If I move/work abroad 9
To communicate with people from other countries 4
If I go to live/work/study in USA or England
(An English speaking country) 9
When I travel/ go abroad 29
When/If I go to college 3
When I watch TV 3
When I use the internet 2
In media 2
When I watch movies 4
When I apply for a job 3
If I want to study abroad 1
When I speak to English people in the future 2
When I speak to friends/people from another country 7
When I read books 2
When I speak to relatives from America 1
Future communication in general 6
In my spare time 1
To be cool 1
While listening to soccer interviews 1
25. 4.6 How motivated are you to learn English on a scale of 1-5? (5 indicates the highest level
of motivation).
Figure 3
43% 17%
43 % stated 5 , 31 % stated 4, 17% stated 3, 7 % stated 2 and 2 % stated 1 on the scale. This
shows most students are highly motivated to learn English.
4.7 The students results on the diagnostic test
Figure 4
120-140 p
140-180 p
180-243 p
77% scored between 180-243 points, 22 % scored between 140-180 points and only 1 %
scored between 120-140 points.
26. 4.8 Differences between boys and girls on the diagnostic test
Figure 5
Girls Boys
The girls average score on the test is 203 points and the boys average score is 189 points.
5. Discussion
The aim of this essay is to explore what attitudes students in upper secondary school have
towards the English language and what it is that motivates them to learn it. In this section, the
results regarding the questionnaire and the students attitudes and motivation regarding the
English language will be discussed.
Figure 1 shows that these students find it easy to learn English. Many Swedish students may
have an advantage when it comes to learning the English language because of the general
exposure of English in our society as well as because English is a related Germanic language.
As mentioned in the introduction, most of us come in contact with English on a daily basis
while watching TV or listening to the radio. The enormous expansion of the Internet and the
use of social networks as well as for example gaming online are factors that have contributed
even more to these students exposure of English. De Bot, Lowie and Verspoor (2005) refer to
the critical period hypothesis when outlining that it is not possible to learn a second language
in a native like way if the process begins after a critical period, a period which refers to
puberty. Due to that statement, Swedish students are in a beneficial environment since they
begin to learn English in school at the age of nine. Therefore, their opinion of English being
easy to learn can be supported. The fact that the majority seem to find English easy to learn,
may also reflect that their previous experiences of English have been successful and therefore
increased their self-efficacy, gradually making them believe that English is a subject they can
manage although they most certainly have experienced failure as well along the way. French
27. and German are examples of other languages that Swedish students study but they begin at the
age of thirteen and the period of their studies vary from three to five years. The schools do not
offer the same amount of time to learn these languages nor are the students exposed to those
languages outside of school to the same extent as they are to the English language. Therefore
they do not have the same possibility to learn, for example, French and German the same way
as they learn English. Swedish children bathe in English, it is almost as natural to them as
their mother tongue, as opposed to e.g. German, French or Spanish. The motivation for
learning this specific second language is much closer to learning the mother tongue, where the
motivation is implicit, something that you never really consider, you just do.
The diagnostic test outlined in figure 3 shows that the majority of these students managed to
get high scores on the test and that may also support their opinion and attitude of English
being easy to learn. So, can one draw the conclusion that all of these students are good
language learners, well equipped with a great deal of language learning aptitude? The MLAT
and the PLAB showed high co-relation between intelligence and controlled language learning
but low correlation between free oral production and communicative skills in general. This
does not show any correlation to spoken English and how they manage communicative
strategies either, which is an important part when it comes to language learning. Getting the
students to speak English in the classroom is something that many teachers struggle with.
Nevertheless, the diagnostic test serves a purpose because it gives the teacher an indication
what the students seem to manage as well as what they may need to practise more. It also
shows that even if the students score high on this test, it does not necessarily mean that they
have high proficiency when it comes to using the language in other various settings.
The students were unanimous when it came to the question whether it was important or not to
learn English. No one answered that it was not important to learn English (See figure 2). One
reason for that is that they have acknowledged the English language as being an international
language and an important tool when it comes to communicating in various situaitions. As
table 1 shows, 31 students answered that it is important to learn English because it is an
international language and 26 students claimed that it is important for being able to
communicate with people from other countries. Modiano (2009) states that learners of English
today are not learning it to be able to communicate with native speakers of English but
because it will be required of them in other areas such as social activities. This is supported by
this investigation since only 2 students expressed that it was important in case you wanted to
28. visit USA, England or Australia. Crystal (1997) discussed the world’s need of a Lingua
Franca and that seems to be one of the major reasons why these students feel that it is
important to learn the language. It was stated in the hypothesis that future jobs and studies
would be major reasons for the students to learn English, but that statement was proved wrong
by this study. Only 8 students answered in ways that somehow were connected to future
studies and work (See table 1).
Section 5.4 outlines when the students use their English skills outside of school and the vast
majority of their answers are connected to information services such as movies, TV, Internet,
books and music. Other areas in which the students use their English are when they travel and
communicate with the people they meet. These are the same reasons that Modiano (2009)
discusses while explaining the spread of English across the EU. McKay (2002) emphasizes
how English dominates the motion picture industry along with popular music which she states
are the main mechanisms in the development of global culture among the youth of today. She
also mentions travel and tourism as other reasons for the huge demand of English.
Lightbown and Spada (2006) discuss Instrumental Motivation and Integrative motivation,
which are two variables that have been connected to success in language learning. This study
shows that those two variables are both involved in these student’s motivational process.
Instrumental motivation has to do with someone’s need to learn a language for immediate and
practical goals. When the students in table 1 claim to find it important to learn English for
reasons such as “to be able to communicate with people from other countries”, “English is an
international language” and “it will be useful in the future” it can be linked to Instrumental
Motivation. Integrative motivation has to do with the favorable attitudes the learners have
towards the target language speakers and their culture. Table 2 shows when the students use
their English skills outside of school and 45 answered that they use English when they “watch
a movie”, 28 students answered “when I read” and 10 students answered “when I listen to
music”. This correlates to Integrative motivation since the students obviously are interested in
some parts of the English culture.
Pintrich and Schunk (2002) claim that ’motivation is the process whereby goal-directed
activity is instigated and sustained’ and a crucial part of that is to sustain action since many of
our goals are long term such as earning a college degree and getting a good job. As table 3
reveals, 29 students answered that when it comes to the future and how their English skills
29. will be used, it would be when they are going to travel abroad and 14 students answered in
their future job. Only 3 students answered that it would be useful if they went to college. This
study shows that the majority of the students see the English language as a tool useful while
using the Internet, watching TV and movies, in printed medias, when they travel and when
they need to communicate with people from other countries. It may also indicate that
regardless of the fact that most of them probably have to go to college in the future, their
focus is elsewhere. They are only seventeen years old and at the present, their focus lie in for
example their social life and what they think about the future has to do more with fun
activities such as travelling. The schools, on the other hand, are focused on preparing the
students for academic studies and future jobs. We teach general cultural skills, literature and
reading proficiency. Although it appears as if students and teachers seem to have a conflict of
interest, the majority of the students claim to be highly motivated to learn the English
language according to figure 3, but will that last throughout upper secondary school? Making
the students sustain motivation is one of the most difficult tasks for the teachers but also for
the students themselves.This conflict may affect their ability to sustain their motivation
negatively. Motivation is a process, but how aware are the students regarding that process?
There are many different factors that affect a person’s motivation in either a positive or a
negative direction. In a classroom there may be 30 students who all differ when it comes to
motivation, ambition and interest. It is the teacher’s job to meet all these students on their
level and give them the support they need to develop their skills. Motivation is a crucial part
when it comes to learning a language, but the questions are to what extent are teachers and
students aware of that process in the classroom? We use motivational theories to explain
environmental observations and given outcomes, but how do teachers manage to use that
information to actually change a student’s language learning pattern? From a pedagogic point
of view, how does one work actively in the classroom with motivation? Lightbown and Spada
(2006) state that littele research has been done when it comes to how pedagogy interacts with
motivation in second language classrooms. They refer to the field of educational pshycology
and discuss research which indicates increased level of motivation for students in co-relation
to pedagogical practises. For exampel:
 Motivating the students into the lesson At the opening stages of
Lessons (and within transistions) it has been observed that remarks
teachers make about forthcoming activities can lead to higher levels
of interest on the part of the students.
30.  Varying the activities, tasks, and materials Students are reassured by
the existence of classroutines they can depend on. However, lessons
that always consist of the same routines, patterns, and formats have been
shown to lead to a decrease in attention and increase in boredom. Varying
the activities, tasks, and materials can help to avoid this and increase
students’ interset levels.
 Using co-operative rather than competitive goals Co-operative learning
activities are those in which students must work together in order to
complete a task or solve a problem. These techniques have been found to
increase the self-confidence of students, including weaker ones, because
every participant in a co-operative task has an important role to play.
Knowing that their team-mates are counting on them can increase students’
motivation ( Lightbown and Spada 2006, p 65).
These methods are useful in the classroom and help create good learning conditions but in the
long run, schools have to modernize our teaching materials as well as content. The students in
this study have claimed that their interest in learning the English language, lie in using the
Internet, watching TV and movies, in printed medias, when they travel and when they need to
communicate with people from other countries. The curriculum regarding English says that the
core content should include:
 Themes, ideas, form and content in film and literature; authors and literary
 Contemporary and older literature, poetry, drama and songs.
 Living conditions, attitudes, values, traditions, social issues as well as
cultural, historical, political and cultural conditions in different contexts and
parts of the world where English is used.
(Skolverket 2011)
Maybe the National Agency of Education needs to re-think the content of our English
teaching and meet our students where they are when it comes to interest and motivation in
order to sustain their long-term motivation. English teaching tends to focus on England and
31. America when it comes to the above content which seems natural since the majority of the
people in those countries are native speakers of English, but these students are obviously not
particularly interested in the people who live there, but rather of their culture when it comes to
music, literature and movies. The students are not interested in old literature, poetry and
drama, they want a modern approach to those subjects. Their interests lie in using English as a
tool of communication when they meet people from all over the world and while using the
Ellis (1994) discusses several different studies showing how female students performed
higher overall compared to males on tests of general L2 proficiency . He also argues how
different studies indicate females having a more positive attitude towards learning a second
language than males. As figure 5 shows, the girls average score is higher than the boys,
therefore this study confirms Ellis theory to a certain extent. To be able to draw any further
conclusions a more extensive research should have been carried out regarding these
participants motivation from a gender perspective.
6. Conclusion
The aim of this study was to examine what attitudes students in upper secondary school have
towards the English language and what motivates them to learn it. This study is based on a
questionnaire and the students were found to be highly motivated to learn English. In the
hypothesis it is stated that their main reasons for learning English were for future studies and
future jobs and because of the English laguage status as an international language. It was also
stated in the hypothesis that diagostic test scores would be rather high. The study shows that
these students find it important because they have acknowledged English as an international
language which they can use to communicate with people from all over the world, during for
example travels. The main areas in which they use their Englih skills are when they watch
TV, use the Internet, listen to music and while playing videogames. Future studies and jobs as
main reasons for learning English could not be verfied. The students performed well on the
diagnostic test and that may correlate to their positive attitudes towards the English language.
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