Motivational Orientation towards English Language

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Most of the research on second language acquisition has been concerned with the measurement of proficiency in that particular language. The assumption that achievement is largely determined by the linguistic aptitude remained unquestioned until the seminal work of Lambert and Gardner (1959 and 1972) confirmed the impact of attitude and motivation on second language acquisition and achievement.

The study by Lambert and Gardner has been challenged by a number of scholars and expanded and modified by others (e.g. Dorneyei, 1994 by a number of scholars and expanded and modified by others (e.g. Dorneyei, 1994, 1998 and 2000; Gardner, Tremblay, and Masgoret, 1997; Oxford and Shearin, 1994)

Attitudes and motivation of the students towards English have been extensively studied in India. Lukmani (1972) examined the motivational orientation of female college students from Mumbai. The study by Khanna, (1983) (A Study of Some Learner Variables in Learning English as a Second Language) also examines the same area. Many of the reported studies (e.g., Agnihotri and Khanna, 1997; Khanna and Agnihotri, 1982) have reported that it is not the integrative, but rather the instrumental orientation that determines the proficiency of English in the Indian context.

The Present Study

Various studies have been carried out in this regard which has brought out the differences in the attitudinal and the motivational attributes in the native and non-native contexts. The following study attempts to uncover the motivational orientation of the subjects and establish the relation between the motivational orientation and language proficiency.

Relevant theoretical background

The learner’s motivation to learn a language will depend on her attitudes and her willingness to identify with the linguistic and non-linguistic features that characterize the personal advantages. Gardner and Lambert (1959) point out that foreign language learning is likely to be lower if the underlying motivation is instrumental rather than integrative.

The orientation is said to be instrumental if the reasons for studying the language are utilitarian such as getting a better job etc. Most of the children in the Indian schools are instrumentally motivated. The mushrooming of so-called English medium private schools is an apt evidence for it. The sections of population who cannot afford to pay the high fee of these English medium schools are forced to admit their children in the schools run by government. The major reason for their dissatisfaction with the school is that their child does not get the right kind of exposure to learn to speak English because the teachers do not speak English themselves. They aspire to send their children to the private schools so that they can learn to communicate in English which they consider is very important to get any kind of job. Thus the motivation behind learning the language is functional.

The learners with integrative orientation aim to be a part of the target language community. The study by Agnihotri (1979) is an excellent example of integrative motivation where the Sikh children in Britain have picked up the language so well that even a native speaker cannot distinguish between the recorded speech of a migrant Sikh child and a native child. The urge to be a part of the community is so strong that it drives the child to pick up the language with perfection. The language of the streets may not get the immigrant any good job, it may also be possible that the ‘street-language’ may not be considered posh or valued by the elites of the society but that anyways is not the aim of the child. He just wants to be a part of the group.

The Study and the Subjects

The study was conducted at The Heritage School, Rohini with students of class VIII. The sample included learners who had been studying English since the age of 3. Most of the learners had studied English for a minimum of 10 years depending upon their age which ranged from 12 to 14. The school is affiliated to CBSE and is English medium. The sample consisted of 50 students which were evenly divided between males (N=25) and females (N=25)

The mother tongue for a majority of students was Hindi but it was mandatory for all students to communicate in English throughout the day except Hindi period. Even though no fine was levied for speaking in Hindi, but if a teacher caught a student speaking in Hindi she compelled them to converse in English. The reasons offered for speaking English varied depending upon the situation or the mood of the teacher. Most of the times the teachers reminded the students of the rule of the school but if she had the time to explain the reason she talked about how knowing good English could lead to better prospects in the future or may be how people would mock at you if you did not know how to converse in English, sometimes the teachers could also say that even though Hindi is our national language and we should respect it, English is a language of power and therefore one must learn it.


The instrument used for this study is based on Adult ESOL Learners in Britain by  Khanna et al (1998).

The questionnaire was basically divided into three sections. The first on catering to personal details, the proficiency of the parents according to the learners, the language they use while talking to their parents and relatives etc. These questions were designed to elicit the socio-linguistic background of the informants. Second was on their motivational orientation and finally, a cloze test was given to assess their proficiency.

Scoring Procedure

On the basis of the data elicited through these questions the following socio-linguistic and proficiency variables were isolated and quantified on appropriate scale.

  1. Sex: male=1; female=2.
  2. Motivational Orientation:
    The following reasons were identified as indicative of integrative orientation:
  1. To understand better the English-speaking people and their way of life.
  2. To gain friends more easily among the English-speaking people.
  3. To meet and interact with English speaking people.
  4. To think and behave as the English do.
  5. To study English literature.

The learners were asked to indicate how important these reasons for learning English were. Each item was measured on a 3-point scale ranging from 1-3. So the minimum score could be 5 which would be indicative of low integrative motivation and the maximum score could be 15 which would reflect a high degree of integrative motivation.

Five statements were given in the same fashion to assess the instrumental motivation.

  1. To become independent.
  2. To go into business.
  3. To get a good job.
  4. To get quick promotion in the professions.
  5. To acquire educational qualification.

A high score (maximum=15) would imply that the students want to learn English for utilitarian reasons.

3. Cloze test: The learners were given a cloze test with 28 blanks. One mark was awarded for exact retrieval and zero for not exact retrieval. The score was totalled to determine the proficiency of the learners.

Analysis and Interpretation

Most informants watch English programmes on television and watch English movies. They judge their parents as fluent speakers and writers of English. But very few informants speak in English with parents, relatives or friends. The language of conversation is Hindi. However, in formal settings the informants switch to English. Many said that while shopping they use English depending upon the store they are shopping in.

Motivational Orientation



Following Gardner and Lambert’s (1972) distinction between integrative and instrumental motivation, 10 statements were put in the questionnaire and the informants were asked to indicate on a 3-point scale how important each reason was for their learning English as second language.

Figure 1 represents the motivational orientation of the informants.

The informants’ motivation to study English is instrumental. Atleast 86% of the informants think that it is very important to study English to gain higher qualifications, whereas 78% of the informants consider English as a very important language for getting into business. On the other hand, only 26% feel that it is important to understand the English speaking people and their way of life which is integrative motivation.

Since the students were instrumentally motivated, therefore the scores in the cloze test of the students with high instrumental motivation should also be high. Figure 2 indicates the relation between the scores and the instrumental motivation. The graph clearly proves that the higher the instrumental motivation  the higher is the proficiency.

However, a high integrative motivation does not necessarily guarantee a high proficiency in English. Figure 3 proves the point.

Even though the integrative motivation is increasing, the average of the scores goes down. The students may show high integrative motivation but that does not essentially affect their proficiency in the language.


This study has provided empirical support for Gardner and Lambert’s (1972) hypothesis that the role of social psychological variables, e.g. attitudes, motivation, in second language proficiency will vary from setting to setting. In a native setting the high scores of integrative motivation resulted in higher proficiency in the study by Khanna et al 1998. However, despite high scores for integrative motivation the proficiency remains low in a non native setting. This study proves that yet again.

The study has very important pedagogical implications. The teachers of English as a second language not only need to teach the language but also promote positive attitude towards the language. This does not however imply that the mother tongue of the learners is not valued, it only means that certain pedagogical steps must be taken to foster positive attitude towards English.

The degree of motivational intensity the learner has towards learning the language also affects the proficiency in the language. The higher the motivational intensity, the higher is the proficiency of the learner. The teacher has to ensure that certain steps are taken to keep the students geared up for the classes and keep their motivational intensity on the higher side.

The interest level in the class can be increased by engaging students in context relevant meaningful activities. The speaking activities where children get to be in different roles greatly excite them. Certain other techniques like ‘five minute games’ before the class ends can be played to keep the learners glued to the class. One could also enhance the cultural knowledge about the British and the Americans by celebrating various days as special days for specific authors. A day could be decided as the Roald Dahl day, for example, where the learners could dress up as the famous characters of his novels etc. Such methods will engage the learners and they will look forward to the classes.


  • Lukmani, Y.M. 1972. ”Motivation to learn and language proficiency.” Language Learning 22.2:261-73.
  • Khanna, A.L.1983. A Study of Some Learner Variables in Learning English as a Second Language. Ph.D thesis, University of Delhi.
  • Khanna, A.L. and Agnihotri 1982. ”Language achievement and some social psychological variables.” CIEFL Bulletin 18.1&2 41-51
  • Gardner and Lambert 1972. “Attitudes and Motivation in Second-Language Learning”.

* Harpreet Kaur teaches English at The Heritage School, Rohini, New Delhi.

* Article first published in FORTELL newsletter, September 2007.

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