is one of the key triggers in every learner when it comes to a second language learning and, as pointed out by Rost, M. (2006), English
is no exception. Extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation seem to be the
two main types of motivation.According to Deci (1975), each learner’s
motivation may differ when learning a language is concerned, but what is unquestionable
is that motivation is fundamental to secondlanguage learningand that each
learner’s motivation is more flexible than fixed. As we understand, however, cultural
and ethnicbackgrounds can play a crucial role in learners’ motivation and as Byram
(2000) has stated, “The need to assess cultural learning in some way has
becomeever more important”.
Ochs(1986) contend that language and culture co-contextualize each other and
linguistic competence and socio-culturalcompetenceshould be learned
simultaneously in order for language learning to occur. But how can religious
and cultural backgrounds of learners affect their motivation and thus influence
their comprehension? Such questions can befundamentalto helping understand the
exact impact of such characteristics in language acquisition and boost language
1.2. Significance of the Study
In spite of the abundant research on the bases of cultural
dimensions of language teaching and learning, what seems to have been
overlooked is the relationship between the Degree of intercultural sensitivity
and the ethnic and religious groups the learners belong to, especially in a country
with a diverse ethnic and cultural fabric such as Iran. Moreover, few studies
have been conducted examining the differences between the perceptions of EFL
university students and their ethnic and religious backgrounds and how individual
motivations vary from one another. Despite the fact that studies have been
conducted in the field, it remains important to reinvestigatefactors that may
affect language acquisition as well as these differences which may lead to
unequal learning opportunities and thus to higher or lower levels of language
acquisition (Allwright, 1984; Long, 1985).
Purpose of the Study
main purpose of the study is to explore the differences between both the ethnic
and cultural minorities of Iran and the majority of the population when
learning EFL at university levels and also to understand whether ethnicity and
culture can serve as a key distinction in English comprehension. The study will attempt to examine how
selected individualcharacteristics (ethnicity, gender, ageand educational
background) impact the university students.
1.4. Research Questions
What are the Iranian majority’s perceptions of learning EFL at university
What are Iranian religious and ethnic minorities’ perceptions of learning EFL at university levels?
Is there any significant difference between the way Iran’s religious and ethnic
minoritiesand average Iranians (majority) perceive learning EFL at university
1.5. Research Hypothesis
is no significant difference between the way IranianSunni Kurds(minority) and average
Iranian Shias perceive learning EFL at university levels.
1.6. Limitations and
Delimitations of the Study
For the purpose of this
study, participants will be limited to 350 Iranian EFL university studentsacross
three different provinces, even though gender, ethnicity, cultural backgrounds and
religion have all been considered. Features such as sexual orientation, height,
weight, etc. were not
taken into account, as the study was limited to four characteristics in order
to manage the data more efficiently and to avoid overstepping student
sensitivity regarding their feelings and emotions. To limit the
generalizability of the study, the participants were asked to voluntarily take
part in the interviews.
1.7. Theoretical and
Operational Definition of Key Terms
particularly difficult to define the term culture with high certainty surely due to its complexity
in its interrelationship factors that construct it.Ovandoand Collier (1985) state that
“Such vagueness, however, can be useful. Culture is a deep, multi-layered, somewhat
cohesivehodgepodge of language, values, beliefs, and behaviors that
pervadesevery aspect of every person’s life, and it is continually
undergoingminor-and occasionally major-alterations. When it is studied,
itbecomes an abstraction-albeit a useful one-for giving meaning tohuman
activity. What it is not is an isolated, mechanical aspect of lifewhich can be
used to directly explain phenomenon in a multiethnicclassroom, or which can be
learned as a series of facts” (p.101).
Ethnicity refers to the fact
or state of belonging to a social group that has a common national or cultural
tradition. The difference in meaning of ethnicity and culture is subject to
being ignored, as ethnicity and culture are ever so often used synonymously and
motivation is a reason or reasons for acting or behaving in a particular way.
It plays an important role in language learning.Moreover,the relationship
between motivation and its effect on acquisition must be fully understood by language
teachers for the purpose of an effective performance.
In the chapter on
literature review, relevant and similar studies on the impact of ethnicity and
culture on Iranian EFL students, Intercultural Language Learning, Learner
Differences and Characteristics and also Ethnic Background will be placed under
metaphorical reference to the relationship between culture and language as
vehicles and traffic lights (2000) suggests that communication would become
vastly restricted without language (Transportation), and it would stay beyond
the bounds of possibilitywithout culture (Vehicle), thus in conclusion “Communication
is like transportation: language is the vehicle and culture is traffic
light.Language makes communication easier and faster; culture regulates,
sometimes promotes and sometimes hinderscommunication. “(p. 329).
yet other linguists holding different views of the relationship between
language and culture. “Language and culture are two symbolic systems.
Everything we say in language has meanings, designative or sociative,
denotative or connotative. Every language form we use has meanings, carries
meanings that are not in the same sense because it is associated with culture
and culture is more extensive than language,”Nida (1998: 29).
Differences and Characteristics
of the preferred goals in second language learning is attributed to three key general
teacher, the course, the learner and his characteristics (Cohen &Dornyei,
2002). Learner differences needto be considered alongside linguistic factors in
order to help researchers shed light on the primary reasons why some learners
are likely to be more successful than others. Learner characteristics are,
therefore, divided into two categories: characteristics controllable by the
teacher, and uncontrollable ones. The
latter refers to characteristics, which are too individualistic to be even
controlled by teachers, one of them notably being ethnicity.
significant deal of research has been conducted to examine Iranian
undergraduate students’ motivation. One such study, Vaezi (2009),focuses on 79 university
students majoring in different non-English fields, who are given a
questionnaire to reflect their motivation behind learning English. The results
indicated that Iranian students exhibited high levels of motivation towards
learning English.Worth mentioning is the fact that the main drawback with
Vaezi’s study is that even though the cross-cultural perspective is a valuable
line of inquiry, it does nottake into account the variation at local and
individual levels as it only includes generalizable patterns about one particular
cultural group compared to another. Learnerswere compared as groups as if all participants
shared similar characteristics. Such an approach will lead to negligence of both
individual and local variations.
will examine students from both majority and minority ethnic and religious backgrounds,
aiming to understandif ethnic or religious roots will affect motivation and
ultimately language acquisition.
of this study will be divided into 3 groups:
3.1.1. Iranian Shia Muslims from a majority ethnic group
will consist of 150 Iranian Shia Muslims from a majority ethnic group such as
Fars or Turk communities that are enrolled foran EFL university degree
3.1.2. Iranian Sunni Muslims from the Kurdish minority
Sunni Kurds,who make up the second group, are also 150students enrolled at an
EFL course at a university level.
3.1.3. Iranian non-Muslims
composition of the last group is 50 non-Muslim Iranians from such communities as
Iranian-Armenians (Gregorian) and Iranian Zoroastrians.
will be used in this study.
In order to
understand the student’s level of motivation, a semi-structured interview with twenty
open-ended questions will be conducted orally. The questions will be based on:
3.2.2. Intercultural Sensitivity Scale
Starosta (2000) instrument will be given to students to measure the dimensions
of intercultural communication competence. The scale includes 24-itemswith a
five-point rating scale: strongly agree, agree,uncertain,disagree, and strongly
disagree.ISS was employed to measure the participants’ intercultural
sensitivity level. The scale is typically applied to test the individuals’reaction
and feeling when communicating with different people from different culturalbackgrounds
other than their own.
a combined type of qualitative-quantitative researchmethod will be applied. The
researcher is keen to compare the motivation level of students from minority
and majority ethnic and religion backgroundsin an effort to examine the effect
of such characteristics on Language acquisition at a university level.
will be carried out in two stages. First, the interview will be conducted
orally with the purpose of eliciting the students’ motivation behind learning
English as a foreign language. The interviews will be recorded and transcribed to
leave room for analysis. Second, the students will be provided with ISS, which
is meant to measure their intercultural sensitivity level.
and transcription of the responses will help extract the students’ motivation
levels and their attitude towards language learning. In EFL, particularly, a qualitative
technique will be adopted to analyze the data.
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Schieffelin, B. B. & Ochs, E. (1986).Language
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students. Iranian Journal of Language Studies, 3(1), 79-104.