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Iranian Junior High School Students Towards English English Language Essay

In the 20th and 21st centuries English has become an indispensable part of educational curriculum in Iranian schools. Despite all the efforts and investments devoted to cultivate and popularize English among Iranian language learners, the resultant outcome could not live up to the authorities’ expectations. A great body of research has proved that learners’ attitude towards foreign language learning and success in learning a foreign language are highly related. This study is to investigate Iranian junior high school students’ overall attitude towards learning English as a foreign language. As well as, the possible difference that exists between boys’ and girls’ attitude towards learning English as a foreign language. The findings indicate that Iranian junior high school students generally have a positive view of using and learning English. It was also observed that there is no significant difference between female and male learners’ attitudes, although girls were slightly more positive.

Key words: Language attitudes, learner’s factors in language learning, Iranian learners

Introduction

Currently English has dominated the context of foreign language learning and teaching in Iran. Teaching English starts at the age of 11, first grade in junior high schools and it continues up to university levels. In spite of studying English for a long period of time in schools (almost 7 years), the outcome is not satisfactory and students are not able to communicate in English in the real context. As a result, the authorities and researchers have tried to investigate the reasons why, despite all the money, time, and efforts spent, Iranian students are not as successful in learning English as they are expected. There is a general consensus that there are a number of interrelated factors playing important roles in students’ success in learning English, namely: text-books, teachers, learning environment, and learners. Learners’ attitude towards English as a foreign language is among the factors which contribute to their success.

Language Attitude

Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics (2002) defines “language attitude” as:

the attitudes which speakers of different languages or language varieties have towards each other’s languages or to their own language. Expressions of positive or negative feelings towards a language may reflect impressions of linguistic difficulty or simplicity, ease or difficulty of learning, degree of importance, elegance, social status, etc. Attitudes towards a language may also show what people feel about the speakers of that language. Language attitudes may have an effect on second language or foreign language learning. The measurement of language attitudes provides information which is useful in language teaching, and language planning.

According to Gardner (1985) attitudes are components of motivation in language learning. He believes that, “motivation ... refers to the combination of effort plus desire to achieve the goal of learning the language plus favorable attitudes toward learning the language”. Furthermore, he holds that the motivation to learn a foreign language is determined by basic predispositions and personality characteristics such as the learner’s attitudes towards foreign people in general, and the target group and language in particular, motives for learning, and generalized attitudes (Gardner 1985).

Buschenhofen (1998) in his study assessed the attitudes towards English language existing among year 12 and final-year university students in Papua New Guinea. The results of the study indicated: (1) a generally positive attitude by both groups towards English and (2) some significant attitudinal differences in relation to specific English language contexts.

Yang et al. (2003) in their study discussed the attitudes students in Hong Kong have towards English before and after their tertiary studies. The findings suggested that students were generally comfortable with the language environments and courses offered in secondary and tertiary settings; they agreed that learning English is important in the post-1997 era.

Ngidi (2007) in his study examined the attitudes of learners, educators, and parents on the use of English as a language of learning and teaching and an additional language in selected schools to the north of Kwazulu Natal (Mthunzini Circuit) in South Africa.

The findings revealed that learners have a positive attitude towards the use of English as a language of learning and teaching and an additional language in schools. The findings also indicated that educators have a negative attitude towards English as a language of learning and teaching and as an additional language in schools. The findings further showed that parents had a positive attitude towards the use of English as a language of learning and teaching and an additional language in schools.

Al-Tamimi et al. (2009) conducted research on Petroleum Engineering students’ motivation and attitudes towards learning the English language regarding 1) the use of English in the Yemeni social context, 2) the use of English in the Yemeni educational context, 3) the English language and 4) the culture of the English speaking world.

Their findings showed the students’ positive orientation toward the English language. The results indicated that a high number of the students showed their interest in the culture of the English speaking world as represented by English-language films.

Chalak et al. (2010) in their study investigated the various socio-psychological orientations of Iranian undergraduates towards learning English. It focused on the motivation orientations of the students and their attitudes towards the target language and its community.

The results revealed that these Iranian Nonnative speakers of English learn the language for both ‘instrumental’ and 'integrative' reasons and their attitudes towards the target language community and its members were generally found to be highly positive.

As it surveyed above, most of the works done on this area has tapped the effect of attitude on university students. In addition to that, little research has been conducted on the attitude of Iranian school students.

Research questions

This study intends to investigate:

1. Do Iranian junior high school students have a positive overall attitude towards learning English as a foreign language?

2. Does any difference exist between boys’ and girls’ attitudes towards learning English as a foreign language in Iranian junior high schools?

Method

Participants

The sample includes 116 third grade junior high school students of two Iranian public schools in Tehran. 60 of them are female students and 56 of them are male students. In order to make the subjects comparable, it was tried to select both schools from among middle-class districts of the city.

Procedure

An attitude questionnaire of twenty items adapted from Pennington and Yue (1994), who had obtained theirs from Pierson et al. (1980), was administered. It attempted to measure the students' ethnolinguistic attitudes by asking them to rate twenty statements about language and ethnicity on a Likert scale of three alternatives (1 = agree, 2 = uncertain, 3 = disagree). The questionnaire was modified from the original, firstly to correspond to the Iranian context and, secondly, to correspond either to junior high school education setting.

To ensure the reliability and validity of the questionnaire a pilot was run among ten selected students. After answering the questionnaire, the students were interviewed and asked about their ideas regarding the questionnaire items. Based on the interview the items were classified into six separate categories. These categories are included in table 1 regarding the following points:

Educational and social status of English

It is a good thing to have English as the frequently used foreign language in Iran (1).

My social science and mathematics textbooks should be written in Iranian (2).

English should be a medium of instruction in the schools in Iran (3).

Social and Instrumental value of English

English is the mark of an educated person (4)

If I use English, I will be praised and approved of by my family, relatives and friends

(5).

If I use English, my status is raised (6).

The spread of the use of English is one of the most crucial factors in Iran’s development today (7).

The use of English with detract from cultural identity

When using English, I do not feel that I am Iranian any more (8).

At times I fear that by using English I will become like a foreigner (9).

If I use English, it means that I am not patriotic (10).

Orientation toward English

I am forced to learn English by the people around me (11).

I like reading English magazines, books, etc (12).

I love talking with foreigners in English (14).

I wish that I could speak fluent and accurate English (15).

I feel uneasy and lack confidence when speaking English (16).

I would take English even if it were not a compulsory subject at school (17).

The intrinsic value of the English language and English based culture

I like to see English speaking films (18).

The command of English is very helpful in understanding foreigners and their cultures (19).

Discomfort about Iranian people speaking English

I feel uncomfortable when hearing one Iranian speaking to another in English (20).

I feel uneasy when hearing an Iranian speaking English (13).

Table 1. Categories of classified questionnaire items

The questionnaire was presented to students in Persian since the language of presentation may affect the students’ responses. In this case, the effect would probably be to elicit slightly less favorable attitudes to English because the possibility of misunderstanding the questionnaire in English is thought to be reduced by allowing students to answer the questionnaire in their mother tongue.

Data Analysis

After collecting the distributed questionnaires, the data were tabulated and illustrated in the following tables. Table 2 contains the frequencies, percentages, and means of Male students’ responses to the items of the questionnaire.

Questions

F Agree

P Agree

F Uncertain

P Uncertain

F Disagree

P Disagree

Mean

1

42

75.00

10

17.86

4

7.14

2.68

2

4

7.14

14

25.00

38

67.86

1.39

3

10

17.86

12

21.43

34

60.71

1.57

4

38

67.86

10

17.86

8

14.29

2.54

5

40

71.43

14

25.00

2

3.57

2.68

6

34

60.71

14

25.00

8

14.29

2.46

7

40

71.43

12

21.43

4

7.14

1.36

8

0

0.00

12

21.43

44

78.57

1.21

9

14

25.00

20

35.71

22

39.29

1.86

10

10

17.86

20

17.86

36

64.29

1.36

11

20

35.71

4

7.14

32

57.14

1.79

12

42

75.00

4

7.14

10

17.86

1.36

13

18

32.14

2

3.57

36

64.29

1.68

14

44

78.57

6

10.71

6

10.71

2.68

15

42

75.00

8

14.29

6

10.71

1.36

16

18

32.14

20

35.71

18

32.14

2.00

17

34

60.71

12

21.43

10

17.86

2.43

18

34

60.71

12

21.43

10

17.86

2.43

19

36

64.29

18

32.14

2

3.57

2.61

20

10

17.86

16

28.57

30

53.57

1.36

Table 2. Male students’ attitudes towards the use of English in Iran

Table 3 contains the frequencies, percentages, and means of Female students’ responses to the items of the questionnaire.

Questions

F Agree

P Agree

F Uncertain

P Uncertain

F Disagree

P disagree

mean

1

54

90.00

4

6.67

2

3.33

2.87

2

12

20.00

18

30.00

30

50.00

1.70

3

10

16.67

22

36.67

28

46.67

1.70

4

54

90.00

6

10.00

0

0.00

2.90

5

58

96.67

2

3.33

0

0.00

2.97

6

50

83.33

10

16.67

0

0.00

2.83

7

50

83.33

6

10.00

4

6.67

1.23

8

16

26.67

16

26.67

28

46.67

1.80

9

26

43.33

18

30.00

16

26.67

1.23

10

4

6.67

10

16.67

46

76.67

1.30

11

20

33.33

10

16.67

30

50.00

1.83

12

44

73.33

10

16.67

6

10.00

1.23

13

6

10.00

6

10.00

48

80.00

1.30

14

58

96.67

2

3.33

0

0.00

2.97

15

60

100.00

0

0.00

0

0.00

1.23

16

6

10.00

12

20.00

42

70.00

1.40

17

56

93.33

4

6.67

0

0.00

2.93

18

54

90.00

0

0.00

6

10.00

2.80

19

50

83.33

10

16.67

0

0.00

2.83

20

8

13.33

12

20.00

40

66.67

1.23

Table 3. Female students’ attitudes towards the use of English in Iran

For the ease of interpretation, the 20 items were categorized into 6 separate categories: Educational and social status of English, Social and Instrumental value of English, The use of English with detract from cultural identity, Orientation toward English, The intrinsic value of the English language and English based culture, and Discomfort about Iranian people speaking English.

Attitude toward the use of English

Gender

Mean

F

M

Educational and social status of English

It is a good thing to have English as the frequently

used foreign language in Iran (1).

My social science and mathematics textbooks

should be written in Iranian (2).

English should be a medium of instruction in the schools in Iran (3).

2.78

1.55

1.64

2.87

1.70

1.70

2.68

1.39

1.57

Social and Instrumental value of English

English is the mark of an educated person (4)

If I use English, I will be praised and approved of by

my family, relatives and friends (5).

If I use English, my status is raised (6).

The spread of the use of English is one of the most crucial factors

in Iran’s development today (7).

2.72

2.83

2.65

1.30

2.90

2.97

2.83

1.23

2.54

2.68

2.46

1.36

The use of English with detract from cultural identity

When using English, I do not feel that I am Iranian any more (8).

At times I fear that by using English I will become like a foreigner (9).

If I use English, it means that I am not patriotic (10).

1.51

1.55

1.33

1.80

1.23

1.30

1.21

1.86

1.36

Orientation toward English

I am forced to learn English by the people around me (11).

I like reading English magazines, books, etc (12).

I love talking with foreigners in English (14).

I wish that I could speak fluent and accurate English (15).

I feel uneasy and lack confidence when speaking English (16).

I would take English even if it were not a compulsory

subject at school (17).

1.81

1.30

2.83

1.30

1.70

2.68

1.83

1.23

2.97

1.23

1.40

2.93

1.79

1.36

2.68

1.36

2.00

2.43

The intrinsic value of the English language and English based culture

I like to see English speaking films (18).

The command of English is very helpful in understanding

foreigners and their cultures (19).

2.62

2.72

2.80

2.83

2.43

2.61

Discomfort about Iranian people speaking English

I feel uncomfortable when hearing one Iranian

speaking to another in English (20).

I feel uneasy when hearing an Iranian speaking English (13).

1.30

1.49

1.23

1.30

1.36

1.68

Table 4. Attitudes towards the use of English in Iran and distribution of rates according to gender

As the table indicates, in the case of Educational and social status of English, almost two third of the participants showed a positive attitude. It was also observed that female students have a higher positive attitude than their male counterparts.

Regarding the social and instrumental value of English, most of the students considered using English as a highly prestigious and valuable asset. It can be induced that girls have a better attitude towards this aspect of using English.

In the next item, the use of English and detraction from cultural identity, nearly half of the students think that speaking in English goes against their national and cultural identity. Female students harbored a less positive attitude and thought that it can be anti-patriotic to speak in English.

Nearly two third of the students stated that they have started learning English of their own volition and have an intrinsic motivation towards it. The results show that there is no significant difference between females’ and males’ rates.

A high percentage of the students recognized knowing English as a valuable tool to understand English based culture. In this category, females demonstrated a slightly more positive attitude.

And finally, it can be understood from the above table that around one third of the students felt uncomfortable hearing Iranians speaking English. In this item girls showed less negative attitude towards hearing Iranians speaking English than boys.

Design

In this study a descriptive design has been utilized. First a 20-item attitude questionnaire was distributed among the participants and based on the collected data the findings were interpreted.

Results and Discussion

The results show that the students have mildly positive attitudes. According to the findings, students’ overall attitudes towards the English language and the use of English in Iran, Iranian junior high school students welcome English as the frequently used foreign language in Iran, appreciate the social and instrumental value of English, and tend to take English even if it were not compulsory at school. Surprisingly, a high percentage of Iranian students start learning English of their own will and have intrinsic motivation for learning English.

The overall rates of male and female students are not significantly different. However, female participants demonstrated a slightly more positive attitude towards using and learning English. According to the results, Male students are more self-confident while speaking in English in public, but females feel more uncomfortable and self-conscious when they speak English. Moreover, generally speaking, female students believe that using and learning English raises their social status and they consider English as a prestigious language, whereas the male students have this belief to a lower account. Another difference that exists between males’ and females’ attitudes is that female students, while speaking English, feel that they are not Iranian anymore or they feel that they are in an English speaking country. On the other hand, male students did not have such extreme attitude towards speaking English.

Conclusion

The present study indicates that the positive language attitudes let learners have positive orientation towards learning English.

Another important result of this study is that although the students have positive attitudes towards the English language, they do not have positive attitudes towards an Iranian speaking English to another Iranian. Here the role of the teacher can be said to be an important factor to establish the cool environment to encourage students to practice speaking English with other Iranian students.

As observed and mentioned throughout the research, Iranian junior high school students have relatively highly positive attitudes towards learning and using English. It can be construed that mere positive attitudes towards a language will not definitely guarantee one’s success in learning a language. Therefore, some other factors such as teacher, learning environment, and textbooks should be taken into account to enhance students’ learning.

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