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Students\' Attitudes and motivation toward English Language - Dongola University

Dr. Elsadig Hussein Fadlalla

Assistant Professor – Department of English

College of Science and Arts (Tanumah) – King Khalid University

1. Introduction

There are many factors that might cause the students’ low proficiency in English. It might be attributed to students’ motivation towards the English language. This is because learners’ motivation has been widely accepted as a key factor which influences the rate and success of second/foreign language learning. Another factor is learners’ attitudes. This is because an ESL/EFL learner\'s motivation in language learning is affected by his/her attitudes towards learning the language. Therefore, in light of the consistent emphasis of former research on the importance of attitudes and motivation in language learning, and driven by the need to understand the local students‟ attitudes and motivation towards learning English, the researcher hopes to contribute to the body of previous research on these vital issues in language learning. The researcher also hopes to fill the gap in present research by studying the attitudes and motivation of students at the Faculty of Arts of Dongola university in Karima, Sudan, as, to my  knowledge,  no similar study targeting this population has been found.

2. Statement of the Research Problem

The students of Faculty of Arts and Human Studies, University of Dongola study four compulsory English language courses as part of the foreign language policy of Sudanese Ministry of High Education. Besides,  some of them study reading text and terminology as a part of their departmental required courses. Their interest, aptitude and motivation for learning English and the chances of success in foreign language depend to a large extent on their motivation and the favorable attitudes towards English language. And because the motivation and attitude towards English of the students of Faculty of Arts of  Dongola University has not been studied before it is of relevance to discover the motivation and attitudes of the target population towards English language.

This paper is an analysis of an extensive survey of the language motivation and attitudes of university students in Faculty of Arts (Karima), Dongola University , Sudan. Specifically, the paper examines students\' motivation and attitudes towards English which is a foreign language for the study population.

The justification of this research can be found in the general perception of educators that attitudes are largely responsible for the intensity of students\' responses in the classroom and are both predictors of, and contributors towards, students\' achievement in language learning. While improved instructional materials, syllabus design, and teaching approaches all play a role in improving learner achievement, such achievement is not maximized if the students do not exhibit a positive orientation towards their subject.

Besides, studies have shown that there is a direct correlation between motivation and attitude; that is, motivation constitutes a positive attitude combined with effort and desire. In the language learning context, motivation (to learn the language) refers to the combination of effort /plus/ desire to achieve the goal of learning the language plus favorable attitudes towards learning the language (Gardner, 1985, p. 10).

The study addresses the following questions:

1. Do students like English and think it is important.

2. Does student attitude differ according to gender; department; years he/ she spent in learning English Language;  parents’ education; knowing second foreign language; whether or not being abroad?

3. Do students feel that a knowledge of English enables them to have access to a greater range of forms of entertainment or types of media?

4. How great is English a factor in students\' self-esteem?

3. Objective of the Study

This study aims at investigating the motivation and attitudes of the undergraduate students of Faculty of Arts of Dongola University towards English and hence, the specific objective of this study is to discover the motivation and attitudes of the undergraduate students Faculty of Arts of Dongola University towards English.

The main purpose of this research was to survey a significant sample of Dongola university students in Sudan, with the aim of obtaining information regarding their motivation and attitudes towards English.

4. Assumption

1. It is expected that most students like English and think it is important.

2. It is also expected that students find English language difficult.

3. It is likely that students attempt to improve their English, but their efforts are affected by some factors.

4. It is likely that they rarely have a chance, if any, to practice their English.

5. Knowledge of English enables students to access to different types of entertainment.

6. Students’ background affect greatly on their attitudes.

5. Literature review

This section provides a review of the literature deemed relevant to the research objectives. This includes a brief overview of the concepts of motivation and attitudes and a review of the related studies.

Motivation is very hard to define. As Gardner (2006, p.242) states “motivation is a very complex phenomenon with many facets...Thus, it is not possible to give a simple definition”. This is because the term motivation has been viewed differently by different schools of thought.

Despite the differences, in all the definitions of motivation given by the three schools of thought the concept of \"needs\" is emphasized, that is, \"the fulfillment of needs is rewarding, requires choices, and in many cases must be interpreted in a social context\" ((Brown, 2000, p.161).

The importance of motivation in enhancing second/foreign language learning is undeniable. Lifrieri (2005, p. 4) points out that “when asked about the factors which influence individual levels of success in any activity – such as language learning –, most people would certainly mention motivation among them”

Brown (2000) asserts that studies of motivation of second/foreign language learners often refer to a distinction between two types of motivation namely, instrumental versus integrative motivation. Gardner (1983, p. 203) defines instrumental motivation as \"learning a language because of someone or less clearly perceived utility it might have for the learner\". More specifically, a learner is instrumentally motivated when he/she wants to learn a language \"to pass an examination, to use it in one\'s job, to use it in holiday in the country, as a change from watching television, because the educational system requires it\" (Wilkins, 1972, p.184).

On the other hand, integrative motivation was defined as \"learning a language because the learner wishes to identify himself with or become integrated into the society” of the target language (Gardner, 1983, p.203). Therefore, a learner is integratively motivated when he/she learns a language because he/she wants to \"know more of the culture and values of the foreign language group... to make contact with the speakers of the languages... to live in the country concerned\" (Wilkins, 1972, p.184).

Besides Gardner’s integrative and instrumental constructs, Cooper and Fishman (1977) mentioned a third type of motivation which they termed \"developmental\". Developmental or personal motivation, according to them, refers to motivation relating to “personal development or personal satisfaction” (Cooper & Fishman, 1977, p.243). This includes such activities as watching movies and reading books in English (ibid).

It may be useful at this point to look at some of the definitions of language attitudes.


Likert (1932, p.9), cited in Gardner (1980, p.267), defines the term attitude as \"an inference which is made on the basis of a complex of beliefs about the attitude object\". Gardner (1980, p.267) elaborates on Likert\'s definition by defining attitude as \"the sum total of a man\'s instinctions and feelings, prejudice or bias, preconceived notions, fears, threats, and convictions about any specified topic\". Ajzan (1988, p.4) considers attitudes as “a disposition to respond favourably or unfavourably to an object, person, institution, or event”. Baker (1992, p.10) defines attitudes as “a hypothetical construct used to explain the direction and persistence of human behaviour”. Gardner (1985) considers attitudes as components of motivation in language learning. According to him, “motivation ... refers to the combination of effort plus desire to achieve the goal of learning the language plus favourable attitudes toward learning the language” (p. 10). However, Wenden (1991) proposed a broader definition of the concept “attitudes”. He states that the term attitudes includes three components namely, cognitive, affective and behavioural. A cognitive component is made up of the beliefs and ideas or opinions about the object of the attitude. The affective one refers to the feeling and emotions that one has towards an object, \'likes\' or \'dislikes\', \'with\' or \'against\'. Finally, the behavioural component refers to one\'s consisting actions or behavioural intentions towards the object (ibid).

Ferguson (1972) defines language attitudes as \"elicit-able  shoulds on who speaks what, when and how\". This definition, however, was criticised by Cooper and Fishman (1973) for being too narrow since it excludes \"attitudes of interest to sociolinguistics ...\" Fishman and Cooper (1974) argue that language attitudes would have to include among others attitude towards language and towards language as a symbol or a marker.

According to Penalosa (1981), language attitudes cover a wide spectrum of attitudes, values, beliefs and emotions regarding language?

They are likely to be regarded as some sort of self evident truth or natural feeling by the person who holds them. Sarnoff (1970) defines it simply as a \"disposition to react favourably or unfavourably to a class of objects\". Asmah (1990) likewise describes the concept as \"the way an individual feels and thinks about something  or someone\". She adds that \"this particular trait of the individual is influenced by what is or is happening around him\".

Because of the many different interpretations of language attitudes, for the purpose of this study the definitions advocated by Sarnoff (1970) and Asmah (1990) are adopted.

In discussing attitudes, one has to include another crucial element which is that of motivation. Although not causally related, there is definitely a close connection between the two. Generally those with high motivation have a positive attitude towards language learning. Gardner (1985) makes the connection clear when he says \"Motivation .... refers to the combination of effort plus desire to achieve the goal of learning the language plus favourable attitudes towards learning the language\".

Again Gardner and Lambert\'s study (1972) supported the evidence of a close relationship between motivation and attitude.

6. Previous Studies


There is a plethora of research that has been carried out internationally to investigate learners’ motivation and attitudes towards the English language.

In Papua New Guinea (PNG), a related study was undertaken  by Buschenhofen (1998). He sought to assess the attitudes towards English among year 12 and final-year university students. To collect the data, he administered a questionnaire on approximately 50 % of year 12 and first-year university students in PNG. Both groups were contrasted in terms of their tolerance towards the use of English in a variety of contexts. The results indicated (1) a generally positive attitude by both groups towards English and (2) some significant attitudinal differences in relation to specific English language contexts. Buschenhofen attributed such differences to the changing social, educational, and linguistic conditions which characterize the transition from year 12 to university education.

In Malaya a study was carried by Abd Aziz (1994) in which Over 137 UKM undergraduates were surveyed to gauge their attitudes towards English. Specifically, the study aimed at assessing the students\' attitudes towards English, the University\'s English language policy, their attitudes towards English vis-h-vis their national language, how they view speakers of English and their attitudes towards the compulsory English language courses offered at UKM.

The findings showed that the students had positive attitudes in all the issues mentioned above except for the university English language courses. The findings seem to shatter the myth that UKM students\' attitudes are negative with regard to the learning of the language. The stigma that UKM is a stronghold for bahasa Melayu was also proven to be unfounded.

In Saudi Arabia a study was conducted by Alkaff (2013) which investigated the attitudes and perceptions of Foundation Year (FY) students towards learning English, at the English Language Institute (ELI) of King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia. The study attempts to find out the students‟ opinions regarding the importance of English, whether they think it is difficult or not, and where the difficulty lies. She also attempt to examine the ways by which they try to improve their English and the frequency and areas of their use of the language. After the selection of a random sample of 47 female students of levels 3 and 4 (pre intermediate and intermediate levels), a questionnaire was developed and students‟ responses were tabulated and analyzed. The study shows that most students have a positive attitude towards learning English and that they try to improve their English and to use the language even though there are a lot of demands on their time and few opportunities to practice their English.

In Yemen a study was conducted by Al-Tamimi and Shuib (2009) outlined the results of a survey which was carried out, to identify Petroleum Engineering students’ motivation and attitudes towards learning the English language. The study investigated students’ motivation in terms of three motivational constructs: instrumental motivation, integrative motivation and personal motivation based on Gardner’s (1985) and Cooper and Fishman’s (1977) works. Learners’ attitudes, on the other hand, 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 were identified. The study sample consisted of 81 petroleum engineering students at Hadhramout University of Sciences and Technology (HUST). A questionnaire and interviews were used for data collection. For the students’ motivation, the findings showed the subjects’ greater support of instrumental reasons for learning the English language including utilitarian and academic reasons. Personal reasons were also regarded as important motives by the students. However, regarding the integrative reasons, the results provided evidence that learning English as a part of the culture of its people had the least impact in students’ English language motivation. On the other hand, data for the students’ attitudes revealed that most of students had positive attitudes towards the social value and educational status of English. In addition, the findings showed the students’ positive orientation toward the English language. Interestingly enough, 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. Finally, some pedagogical implications that would help tap the students’ motivation and attitudes were presented.

6.1 Methodology

The Study

English, in addition to other subjects, is compulsory for Faculty of Arts students at University of Dongola. The students must pass four levels of general English courses in four years. These courses are taught in four years, which translate into 2 hours a week. The study included 65 arts students. The sample was randomly selected from levels 1, 2, 3 and 4. The participants answered a questionnaire which was carefully developed to address the research questions. Some of the statements/questions were adapted from previous literature and the rest were devised by the researcher to suit the present study.

The questionnaire consisted of two parts. The first part had 10 questions about the students information. The second and the third parts which had 15 and 9 statements successively, utilized the Likert scale, asking the students to choose one of the following responses as appropriate for them: Strongly Agree, Agree, Neutral, Disagree, and Strongly Disagree.

The questionnaire was translated into Arabic to ensure optimal understanding among all students and to eliminate any potential language barrier that could prevent them from expressing their full opinions.

The data collected were of two types, i.e. quantitative and qualitative. For the quantitative part of the data, the responses were analyzed, tabulated and the percentages were calculated.

There were several parts to the questionnaire. The data collected for the investigation were analyzed using descriptive statistics. Frequency counts were done on each item in the questionnaire. The frequency of responses for each of the items was determined by the number of ticks an item had received. The number of ticks the items received were totaled. The total frequency of responses for a particular item was then converted to percentages.

6.2 Results and discussion

The following sections discuss the result of the study. It includes a description of the demographic profile of the respondents followed by a discussion on the motivation and attitudes towards English language of the undergraduate students at Faculty of Arts - Dongola University.

6.3 Demographic Profile of the Respondents

The total number of respondents of this study was 65. All of them were undergraduate students of Faculty of Arts of  Dongola University. They belonged to the following departments:

 Folklore, Archaeology, Geography, History, Arabic Language, English Language, Islamic Studies, Information and Libraries, and Sociology beside the first year students.

The distribution of the respondents as per Discipline is given in table 1 below followed by the distribution according to level and sex in table 2:

Table (1): Distribution of Respondents as per Discipline

Discipline Total Respondent Percentage

Folklore 7 10.8

Archaeology 9 13.8

Geography 9 13.8

History 5 7.8

Arabic Language 5 7.8

English Language 4 6.1

Islamic Studies 2 3.0

Information and Libraries 7 10.8

Sociology 9 13.8

First year 8 12.3

Total 65 100%

Table (2): Distribution of respondents according to level and sex:

Level Male Female Total %

First 3 5 8 12.3

Second 8 14 22 33.9

Third 6 8 14 21.5

Fourth 12 9 21 32.3

Total 29 36 65 100

Table (3) shows the participants’ background

Item no. statement Yes No Total

7 Native speaker teacher (s) 13 51 64

20.3% 79.7% 100%

8 Parents know English 27 38 65

41.54% 58.46% 100%

9 Native speaker friend(s) 25 40 65

38.46% 61.54 100%

10 Spent Time in English speaking country 6 59 65

9.23% 90.76% 100%

6.4 Attitudes Towards English Language

Respondents’ attitudes towards English language were obtained through the use of a five-point Likert scale questionnaire with 5= strongly agree (SA), 4= agree (A), 3= neutral (N), 2=disagree (DA), and 1= strongly disagree (SDA). The respondents were asked to provide their opinion on 24 statements regarding their attitudes towards English language.

Among the statements, the first four statements elicited respondents’ perception and impression about English and their responses about liking and disliking of English language which is shown in table 2 below. 69.62% respondents strongly agreed and 27.85% of them agreed that they like speaking English. The majority of the respondents (30.38% strongly agreed and 36.71% agreed) stated that someone seems to be educated when one speaks English. In the same line the majority of them (29.11% strongly agreed and 40.51% agreed) stated that when someone speaks English it creates a good impression for him. Respondents liking of English language as well as the speakers of English language were counter checked through the statement no. 4. A majority number of the respondents (31.65% disagreed and 50.63% strongly disagreed) stated with disagreement that they dislike people who speak to them in English. It indicates that respondents like English language and they like those who speak English. Thus, it can apparently be said that the respondents have positive attitudes towards English language.


Table (4) Students’ results regarding their attitudes

No Statement SA A N DA SDA

1. English is an international language. 49 12 2 1 1

75.4% 18.5% 3.1% 1.5% 1.5%

2. English is the language used most widely in the world.

38 10 8 8 1

58.5% 15.4% 12.3% 12.3% 1.5%

3. Knowing English is important in understanding people from other countries 49 10 2 2 1

75.4% 15.4% 3.1% 3.1% 1.5%

4. Knowing English is important in understanding the cultures of English-speaking countries, like U.S.A. or U.K. 46 14 2 2 1

70.8% 21.5% 3.1% 3.1% 1.5%

5. If I have a chance, I would like to travel to English-speaking countries, like U.S.A. or U.K. 40 13 6 5 1

61.6% 20% 9.2% 7.7% 1.5%

When asked about English language the majority think that it is an international language and have positive attitudes towards English ( 93.9% ), spoken worldwide ( 73.9% ), it is important in understanding the people of the English speaking countries ( 90.8%  ) and their culture (92.3%  )and would like having a chance to travel to these countries (81.6%  ). Table (4) above.

Table ( 5 ) Students’ results regarding their attitudes

No Statement SA A N DA SDA

6. The use of English in government

and business offices helps in getting

things done easily. 26 21 5 9 3

40% 32.3% 7.7% 13.9% 4.6%

7. When I hear someone speaks

English well, I wish I could speak

like him. 52 8 3 - 2

80% 12.3% 4.6% 00.0% 3.1%

8. The non-native English speakers can also speak Standard English. (Here, Standard English refers to English spoken in the English-speaking countries.) 26 19 12 5 1

40% 29.2% 18.5% 7.7% 1.5%

It is clear from table (5) above  that the students have cognitive attitudes towards English Language because they think that using English in government and business office will help in getting things done easily ( 72.3%  ), when they hear someone speaks English well they wish they speak like him (92.3%),  and that non-native speakers can also speak standard English (  69.2%)  

Table ( 6 ) Students’ results regarding their attitudes

No Statement SA A N DA SDA

9. English should not be a compulsory subject in secondary schools in Sudan. 15

7 13 11 18

23.1% 10.8% 20% 16.9% 27.7%

10. English should be the medium of  instruction in the secondary schools in Sudan. 25 14 15 7 3

38.5% 21.5% 23.1% 10.8% 4.6%

11. The development of our country is possible mainly by educated people who know English well. 32 12 7 9 3

49.2% 18.5% 10.8% 13.8% 4.6%

In table (6) above, concerning their view about teaching English as a compulsory subject in secondary school the percentage was not high ( 33.9%  ), while those who support using English as a medium of instruction in secondary school are a little bit higher ( 59% ) but a noticeable number are neutral to this statement ( 23.1% ), regarding their agreement to the idea that educated people who speak English are tools of development was high ( 67.7% )

Table ( 7 ) Students’ results regarding their attitudes

No Statement SA A N DA SDA

12. English films are more enjoyable

than films in any other language.

31 12 7 10 4

47.7% 18.5% 10.8% 15.3% 6.2%

Concerning the subjects view about English films; it is found that the majority of them enjoy these films ( 66.2%  ) which is an affective attitude (Table 7).

Table ( 8 ) Students’ results regarding their attitudes

No Statement SA A N DA SDA

13. I am not confident in speaking English because of my Sudanese accent. 18 16 7 15 9

27.7% 24.6% 10.8% 23.1% 13.8%

14. When I speak English, I want to sound like a native speaker. 43 12 6 1 2

66.2% 18.5% 9.2% 1.5% 3.1%

15. I do not like learning English. 4 1 7 13 40

6.2% 1.5% 10.8% 20% 61.5%

From the subject responses in table (8) above, it is clear that remarkable number of them are not confident enough about their Sudanese accent (  52.3% ),  this go with the idea that they want to sound like native speakers which is very high ( 84.7%) which are cognitive attitudes (items 13 and 14). It is found also that (81.5%) disagree with the statement that they do not like learning English (item 15) which shows that the majority of them has a positive affective attitudes towards learning English language.

Students’ results regarding their motivation (Instrumental – integrative – developmental (personal))

Table ( 9 ) Instrumental motivation

No Statement SA A N DA SDA

16. In Sudan, knowing English is more useful than knowing any other foreign language 38 12 8 5 2

58.5% 18.5% 12.3% 7.7% 3.1%

17. Learning English is important for me, because English is a very useful tool in contemporary society.

44 16 3 2 -

67.7% 24.6% 4.6% 3.1% 0%

In table (9) above 77% of the students think that learning English is more useful than knowing any other foreign language, while 92.3% of them consider English is a very useful tool in contemporary society; which are instrumental motivations.

Table (10) Developmental motivation

18. An important purpose for my English learning is to get a decent job. 20 10 18 9 7

30.8% 15.3% 27.7% 13.8% 10.8%

From table (10 ) above it is clear that the developmental motivation is low in which we find that 46.1% of the subjects said that an important purpose for their English learning is to get a decent job, while 27.7% are neutral towards this statement.

Table (11) Instrumental motivation

19. Before entering university, an important purpose for my English learning was to obtain high scores in the National Secondary School Examination. 21 14 8 16 6

32.3% 21.5% 12.3% 24.6% 9.2%

20. An important purpose for my English learning is to obtain a university degree. 16 12 10 16 10

24.6% 18.5% 15.3% 24.6% 15.3%

21. I learn English to catch up with economic and technological developments in the world. 34 21 6 2 1

52.3% 32.3% 9.2% 3.1% 1.5%

22. I learn English in order to obtain better education and job opportunities abroad. 27 13 11 12 2

41.5% 20% 16.9% 18.5% 3.1%

From table (11 ) above it is clear that the students’ instrumental motivation is low. The purpose of 53.8% of them for learning was to obtain high scores in the National Secondary School Examination (item 19), 43.1% is to obtain a university degree (item 20), and 61.5%  is to obtain better education and job opportunities abroad (item 22); while 84.6% of them learn English to catch up with economic and technological developments in the world (item 21).

Table (12) Integrative motivation

23. I learn English so that I can go abroad to experience English speaking cultures. 27 17 12 6 1

41.5% 26.2% 18.5% 9.2% 1.5%

From table (12  ) above 67.7% of the students said that they learn English because it helps them go abroad and experience English speaking cultures; which is an integrative motivation.

Table (13) Developmental motivation

24. My parents believe that learning English is important.

33 18 10 1 1

50.8% 27.7% 15.3% 1.5% 1.5%

From table ( 13 ) above it is clear that part of the source of students’ motivation is from their parents.  78.5% of the students said that their parents believe that learning English is important.

7. Conclusion

The current study aimed at investigating the two most important social psychological variables: The motivation orientations (instrumental, developmental & integrative) of the Sudanese EFL undergraduates and their attitudes towards learning the target language and its community. The results of the study provide a sufficient answer to the research questions addressed, and showed that the Sudanese undergraduates were both instrumentally and integratively motivated, but their instrumental motivation outdid their integrative one with a discrepancy exceeds in value or influence in favour of the instrumental motivations.

From the three motivational constructs, namely, instrumental motivation, integrative motivation, and personal motivation that have been the focus of the present study, instrumental Motivation (items 17 &21 received the highest percentage of all the subjects results, for example the students highly favour learning English because it is a very useful tool in contemporary society and that English helps them to catch up with economic and technological development in the world.

Next to instrumental motivation, developmental motivation (item 24 ) comes the second source of motivation.  The subjects admitted learning English because their parents believe that learning English is important for them.

For the personal (integrative) type of motivation, the results in table (13) indicates that it had the least impact on students’ English language learning.

8. References

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- Alkaff, Amal Ali (2013) ‘Students’ Attitudes and Perceptions towards Learning English’ Arab World English Journal  4(2):106-121

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- Gardner, R. (1983). Learning another language: A true social psychological experiment. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 2, 219-240.

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