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Learning English Among Suburban Secondary School Students



2.1 Introduction

This chapter reviews the literature on attitudes towards learning English language deemed relevant to the research objectives. This includes an overview of the attitude definitions, related studies on this research, the determinant of language attitudes, motivation concepts and the respondents’ exposure to English.

2.2 Definition of Attitudes

There are many definitions of attitudes developed by previous researchers. According to Secord and Backman (1964), attitudes refer to “certain regularities of an individual; feelings, thoughts, and predisposition to act towards some aspects of the environment”. Gardner (1980, p.267) defined attitudes as “ the sum total of a man’s instinctions and feelings, prejudice or bias, preconceived notions, fears, threats, and convictions about any specified topics”.

Vaidya (1989) explained attitudes as “a condition of readiness for a certain type of activity” (p.37). In doing activities, ones will not be consistence to the way they act in order to accomplish their goal. Attitudes held by the individuals may be simple or complex, stable or unstable and temporary or permanent. But attitudes will not stand on its own because it always interrelated with beliefs and values affect. Initially, most attitudes are probably learned through direct life experience or an event that arouses from positive and negative feelings. So, someone comes to anticipate these positive or negative experiences and then acts in ways to approach or avoid them.

Baker (1998) discusses the main characteristic of attitudes as follows:

Attitudes are cognitive (capable of being thought about) and affective (have feelings and emotions attached to them)

Attitudes are dimensional rather than bipolar

Attitudes predispose a person to act in a certain way, but the relationship between attitudes and actions is not a strong one

Attitudes are learnt, not inherited or genetically endowed

Attitudes tend to persist, they can be modified by experience

Attitudes are the components of motivation in language learning. Motivation is the combination between effort and desire of learners in achieving their goal of learning the language together with favourable attitudes towards learning the language (Gardner, 1985, p.10). For example, motivated second language students with a positive attitudes towards the target language and culture are more likely to be successful than those whose feelings towards the same things are negative or fearful.

There are three types of attitudes’ components. The components are cognitive, affective and readiness for action. The cognitive components concern about the learner’s thought and belief. This component is really important for the continuity of some indigenous language. A learner may has favourable attitudes in language learning and the will find the encouragement to use and learn the language deeply. Affective component concerns the feeling of the learner towards the language. The feeling may concern love or hate towards the language, a poet passion towards Shakespeare’s poems and language style or the anxiety in learning minority language. Readiness for action is a behavioural actions or a plan of action under certain context and situation. Learners that fall in love with certain language such as English, they will go to English class to sharpen their skills in acquiring the language.

Generally, an attitude towards language learning is closely related to language learning. As opposed by Karahan (2007), “positive language attitudes let learner have positive orientation towards learning English”. from all of that, attitudes play a very important role in shaping learners desire in language learning and in long term it can influence the learners’ success or failure in learning.

2.3 Related Studies on Attitudes towards English Language

Internationally and in local to investigate the attitudes towards language learning. In Malaysia, Chandrasegaran (1981) reported on a study that investigated the why learners of English in Malaysia fail to achieve an acceptable level of capability in the language even though they have been studied it from the very first year of school. Based on Gardner and Lambert (1972), research, the researcher calculated the correlation between the students’ attitudes and competence. The questionnaire was administered with a sample of 705 students from different types of schools. The result shows that there is a strong link between attitudes and students’ ability and these point shows that attitude does influence the amount of time and effort a student spends on second language learning.

Another research was done in Malaysia by Rahman (2008) on Malaysian undergraduates attitudes towards English. The main objective of this study is to investigate the attitudes among Malaysian undergraduates since this group of people is considered as the main source of the nation development. The sample of three hundreds Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) undergraduates was selected through “multistage cluster sampling”. The data collected through a questionnaire survey and it was analysed quantitatively. The finding revealed that the respondents have positive attitudes towards English. Majority of the respondents realized in today’s era of globalization there is the necessity to be able to use English in different ways. For them, those who can speak English fluently and confidently will create a good impression and get the advantages in getting better job with good salary.

A study had been carried out by Karahan (2007) regarding English as a second language in Turkish. The main purpose of this study is to react to the complaints from learners, teachers, administrators and parents regarding the difficulties in attaining high level in English proficiency among the second language learner in Turkish. Karahan tried to identify the relationship between language attitudes, the starting age of language learning and the context where the learning process occurs. The method used was a distribution of questionnaire adapted from previous research on language attitudes. The sample included 190 eight grade students of private primary school in Adana, Turkey where English was intensively taught. The result shows that the level of positive attitude among the respondents was just in the mid level. Even though there are exposed to English in good environment of English used, interestingly it did not reveal high orientation toward learning the language.

In Papua New Guinea, Buschenhofen (1998) had conducted a study to investigate the attitudes towards English among year twelve students and university students. In collecting the research data, he administered a questionnaire on approximately 50 percent of year twelve students in Papua New Guinea together with final year university students. The study was conducted to see the students’ tolerance towards the use of English language in different context. It showed that both groups indicated positive attitudes towards English and there are slightly differences in the use of English language contexts.

Arani (2004) investigated the language learning needs among medical students at Kashan University of Medical Science in Iran. The main purpose of this research is to identify the students’ towards learning English as one of the subjects in the university. The respondents were consisted of 45 first and second year medical students. In collecting the data, different types of questionnaires were administered throughout at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of course that was known as English for Medical Purposes (EMP). The result showed that almost all of the respondents have positive attitudes towards learning English.

Determinants of Language Attitudes

2.4.1 Age

Younger age is the optimal stage for a learner to start learning a foreign language. Early starts in language learning can help the learners to receive more input on second language learning. As opposed by Hall (2008), earlier starter tend to have more positive attitude towards learning English in general and English itself in particular. Starting to learn a language at a younger age is the way to ensure larger amounts of language input. The learning process will be more effective if it starts early. Even though it has been said that younger starter is better that older starter, it doesn’t mean that age can be the determination to learn second language quickly if the learners is in the minimal input situation. However, age does seem to play an important role in improving second language acquisition given that the learner starts the learning process earlier.


In general, female are known to be more hardworking compare to male. In school, female students work harder to achieve good result. They are more organized and they will spend more time in doing homework. Female students are less distracted in class and they tend not to break so much school’s laws than do males. There is a theory that support the reason of male students has negative attitudes in learning language. “Culture of Laddishness” or a macho culture is a culture where it is not cool for the male students to attend school, doing homework or be too interested in the process of learning. If the male students get higher achievement without any effort, it can be tolerated, but studying is for girls and it considered as “sissies” (Gaer et al., 2007).

Language Background

In the year of 2003, Malaysia government had change a policy as an effort to make the Malaysian education system a world class education. The implementation of English in science and mathematics is the one way to make English as an international language. The ability in English is important for students to make sure they can access various kinds of fields that keep expanding nowadays. The new policies define the change in school, teaching system and student achievement. It is very important for students’ achievement and development as well as for the maintenance of effective schools (Sulaiman, Hassan & Baki, 2009).


Depending on the location, schools in Malaysia are classified as rural school or urban school by ministry of education (MOE). The school location is important because it can determine the students’ exposure to English language. According to Massa (2004), students in urban school may have superseded their teacher’s language proficiency because they live in high socio economy background. In contrast, students in rural school may have poor standard in English proficiency and the teaching process will be harder.


There is a lot of other research that proved beliefs as one of the determinants in shaping ones attitudes. As defined by Richardson (1996), a belief is ‘psychologically held under­standings, premises, or propositions about the world that are felt to be true’. According to Horwitz (1987), learners’ beliefs about language learning can influence their experience and actions as language learners. Learners that have higher belief in their ability to learn a new language are likely to expend their effort at learning and they will try their hardest to keep themselves away from failure. As an example, for a learner that believes that one shouldn’t use English as a medium of interaction if they do not know the way to pronounce each word correctly. They will not have the encouragement to use the language other than their own native language. Besides that, for a learner who believes the importance of learning English as a second language, she/he will repeat and practice a lot because it will benefit them in a long run.

Instrumental and Integrative Motivation

Motivation is important in order to perceive positive attitude or negative attitude in language learning. As proposed by the theory from Gardner and Lambert (1972), there are two different types of attitude motivation: Instrumental attitude and integrative attitude.

Instrumental Motivation

Based on the study investigated underlying attitude towards teaching kanji among Japanese language educator, the dimension of attitude was constructed by instrumental motivation (Shimizu and Green, 2002). It refers to the learner desire in accessing the instrumental goal. For example, the learner main intention in learning second language like English are to pursue for better career or gaining the ability to read English materials fluently. In other words, if the learner learns the language in order to get a job and fulfilling academic requirement, they are affected by instrumental motivation.

Integrative Motivation

Integrative motivation is when a learner has the need of wanting to be accepted by another community. As defined by Chalak and Kassaian (2010), the learner that being drawn to integrative motivation is the one that has the desire to learn the second language because they want the capability in communicating with the members of the second language society together with getting to know the culture. The learner has the desire to make friends and socialize with the second language society. Even though they are really absorbed with the society, it is not necessarily refer to the direct contact with the second language group. They might learn it from books or other sources such as the media, internet or by doing research on their own.

In some cases, both motivations may be overlap because the learner might be motivated from both at the same time. Generally speaking, some learners will learn better if they are instrumentally motivated while others are more successful when they are integratively motivated and some learn better if they are motivated from both kind of motivation. In other words, both motivations play important roles in learning the second language and lack of motivation can cause the learners problem in acquiring the language. Motivation is the driving force that makes people act seriously in doing something.

Exposure to English

There is a definite link between the exposures to English language with the success in the learning of the language. This matter can be explained with the model of second language learning created by Tang and Nesi in their study of schoolchildren’s exposure to English words in Hong Kong and Guangzhou. They identified two types of exposure in language learning: explicit and implicit. Explicit way of learning refers to vocabulary that is consciously learnt. The vocabularies learnt are limited and usually learners are not provided with sufficient information about the words phonology. Implicit refers to the rules and other features of the language that are felt to be right and it requires a lot of opportunities for less formal exposure to the language (Tang and Nesi, 2003). Learning language explicitly means that the learners will want to continue the learning process because they are enjoying it and the learners learn the language implicitly because of the requirement in order to get a better result in any subjects that are related to English language.

Better exposure to English will affect the learner’s competence. According to Chandrasegaran (1981), learners that achieved the level of competency have the desire to seek further information that is related to the language. For example they are tended to find further contact with the language such as interacting with friends or family members using English and reading more English materials like books, newspapers and magazines. Furthermore, the data from Chandrasegaran’s study showed that urban learners tend to be better in English compared to rural learners because urban learners came from higher socio-economic status and they are more motivated with the environment where the opportunity to use English as their medium of interaction are better.

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