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The Impact of School on EFL Learning

Motivation: An Indonesian Case Study

University of Leeds
Leeds, England

There is much evidence that, in general, learners’ motivation to study

declines as they move through school and that the causes are both
developmental and environmental. By contrast, the attitudinal basis of
language learning motivation has been regarded as relatively stable,
though recent empirical studies in various countries have also pointed
toward a fall-off in interest and enthusiasm for foreign languages
among pupils. This article reports on research into the motivation of
Indonesian adolescents toward learning English over the first 20
months of junior high school. Using a mixed-method design, the study
aimed to track changes in their reported motivation and learning ac-
tivity and to identify internal and external factors which might be asso-
ciated with the changes. It was found that the learners’ initially very
positive attitudes toward the language and expectations of success were
maintained over the period, whereas their attitudes toward the experi-
ence of formal learning tended to deteriorate. Explanations for these
outcomes are sought in the social context and, in particular, in how
individuals view English as pertaining to their futures.

ost teachers recognise that motivation ebbs and flows, in classes as

M well as in individuals. Normally studious students may not apply
themselves so well when they have just had physical education. A low-
achieving learner may be inspired by a new subject area or a new method
of study. Yet at the same time teachers also refer to classes and individu-
als as motivated or unmotivated, as if these were relatively fixed qualities
which outlast the temporary effects of good or bad teaching.
This bipolar view of motivation has been recognised in general edu-
cational psychology for some time. The main thrust of research efforts
has been to identify psychological traits of individuals, such as their
valuing and expectation of success and their orientation to their goals,
and to try to quantify the relationship of these identified traits to aca-
demic achievement. But there is also growing empirical evidence from
the United States and western Europe about changes in motivation and
especially about developmental trends as pupils move through school. As

TESOL QUARTERLY Vol. 41, No. 4, December 2007 757

Pintrich (2003) makes clear, the overall direction is downward: “Over the
course of the school years, student motivation on the average declines or
becomes less adaptive, with a large drop as students enter the junior high
school or middle school years” (p. 680). Wigfield, Eccles, and Rodriguez
(1998) summarize these identified changes, including a tendency for
learners to become less intrinsically motivated to study, to view intelli-
gence and ability as immutable, and to have lower expectations of suc-
cess. There is also increasing consensus that these changes result from
the interaction between developmental processes and institutional con-
texts, for example, the way that larger classes and fewer individual task-
based lessons in junior high school conflict with young adolescents’ felt
need for more control over their lives, with negative consequences for
their postelementary academic motivation (Anderman & Maehr, 1994;
Eccles, Wigfield, & Schiefele, 1998; McCallum, 2001).
Second language acquisition theory has been slower to recognise the
temporal dimension of motivation. Although Gardner (1985) stressed
that his socioeducational model of second language acquisition was a
dynamic one, with a reciprocal relationship between motivation and
achievement, the proposal that attitudes—toward the L2, toward the
speakers and culture of the L2, and toward the learning situation—are
the main determinants of motivation was very influential and, along with
other social-psychological theories (e.g., Giles & Byrne, 1982; Schumann,
1978), contributed to a belief that motivation to learn L2 was a stable
variable, relatively impervious to instructional practices. Consequently,
Dörnyei (2001) wrote, “hardly any research has been done on analysing
the dynamics of L2 motivational change and identifying typical sequen-
tial patterns and developmental aspects” (p. 82).
This is now beginning to change. Recent theoretical models of L2
motivation have proposed that different motivational constructs may be
relevant at different stages of the long language learning process
(Dörnyei & Ottó, 1998; Williams & Burden, 1997). For example, atti-
tudes toward the L2 community may arguably be important in deciding
which language to study but less important once the study has been
initiated; by contrast, intrinsic motivation may be more important in
sustaining effort over the long term. As in general education, new ap-
proaches to researching motivation have also emphasised its fluctuating,
highly context-sensitive nature. Ushioda (1996), for instance, showed
how an introspective approach to the motivation of Irish undergraduates
learning French uncovered a range of subtle transformations, such as the
fact that “goal-orientation may be more appropriately conceived as a
potential evolving aspect of language learning motivation, rather than a
basic defining attribute as conceptualized in the social-psychological re-
search tradition” (p. 243), whereas Norton’s (2000) longitudinal case
study of immigrant women in Canada also demonstrates well the inher-


ent variability of motivation (or investment, as she prefers to call it), as her
subjects’ desire to learn English waxes and wanes in response to the
demands and opportunities of their new environment.
The general trends reported in L2 motivational change during the
school years tend to mirror those in the education field as a whole. In a
study involving over one thousand 13–15 year olds in the United King-
dom and Germany, Chambers (1999) found significant decreases in
enthusiasm to learn languages particularly among the English learners of
German, whereas Williams, Burden, and Lanvers (2002), investigating
the learning of French among over two hundred 11–13 year olds, un-
covered “a clear negative trend with age in terms of the students’ inte-
grative orientation, their feelings about the competence of their teach-
ers, as well as the perceived importance of learning a foreign language”
(p. 522). In Canada, Gardner and colleagues have recently begun to
examine the potential for change in the variables emphasised in the
socioeducational model of second language acquisition (Gardner, Mas-
goret, Tennant, & Mihic, 2004). In a study of a 1-year intermediate-level
university French course, they also found “a general tendency for the
scores on the measures of language attitudes, motivation, and anxiety to
decrease” (p. 29), concluding that although “the possibility of change is
not great . . . . it is far larger for variables directly associated with the
classroom environment than for more general variables,” such as inte-
grative or instrumental orientations (p. 28).
Recent studies of motivation among learners of English in Asia have
emphasised structural differences with the motivation of European and
North American language learners. Chen, Warden, and Chang (2005),
for example, working with Taiwanese university students proposed a new
motivational construct called the Chinese imperative to learn English.
Other studies in East Asia have foregrounded the role of instrumental
orientations and downplayed the possible importance of integrativeness
(e.g., Lai, 1999; Warden & Lin, 2000). Despite these apparent differ-
ences, however, studies of change in motivation in the high school years
indicate a fall in enthusiasm for language learning as in western studies
(e.g., Koizumi & Matsuo, 1993; Tachibana, Matsukawa, & Zhong, 1996).
In the particular context studied here—junior high school students in
provincial Indonesia—a previous report by the writer characterized the
predominant motivational disposition among school entrants as a potent
combination of integrative and instrumental orientations (Lamb,
2004a). This gained its strength and character from identification pro-
cesses not with native speakers of the language but with a future self
whose competence in English provided access to academic and profes-
sional opportunities as well as to diverse forms of entertainment, to
state-of-the-art technology and high-status international social networks,
for example. Other researchers have also posited a similar construct in


other contexts—Yashima’s (2002) international posture among Japanese
university students, Norton and Kamal’s (2003) imagined communities
of Pakistani school children, Csizér and Dörnyei’s (2005) latent factor
integrativeness in Hungarian school learners—and Dörnyei (2005) has
recently elaborated a model of L2 motivation in which the learners’
conceptions of their future selves, both the ideal L2 self and the ought-to
L2 self, play an important role in structuring their motivation toward the
language, alongside a third element, the L2 learning experience.
For theoretical purposes, there is a need to investigate further the
subtle ways in which motivation evolves, the aspects which are permeable
and those which are not, and its complex interrelationship with contex-
tual factors. For practical purposes, though, it is imperative that more
research is carried out into the apparent general decline in foreign
language learners’ motivation during the school years, to find out how
universal it is, to seek out its causes, and to explore ways of preventing it.


From August 2002 to March 2004 I conducted a longitudinal study track-

ing the motivation to learn English of a single cohort of students begin-
ning formal study of the language at junior high school in a provincial
Indonesian city. The main purposes of the research were to characterize
learners’ motivation to learn English on entry to the school; to describe
how this changes over the first 20 months of formal study in school; and
to identify psychological, social, or institutional factors which may be
associated with such changes. As a case study, the research hoped to link
existing theory with a quasi-ethnographic methodology to build a de-
tailed picture of motivational change during the initial experience of
formal learning, in a specific context hitherto little researched. Likewise
it was hoped that the results would both illuminate theory and provide
insights which might be relevant to researchers and practitioners in
contexts similar to the one described.
The research site was a school which the researcher had originally
visited while living and working in the city, and to which he had access
through local colleagues with the agreement of the local government
education office. It was considered locally to be one of the three best
junior high schools and was situated in a relatively prosperous emergent-
middle-class area, though by western standards the learning facilities
were rudimentary (e.g., fixed desks and chairs, no supporting technol-
ogy, no air conditioning). English was studied twice a week for a total of
3 hours in traditional teacher-fronted classes of approximately 40 pupils


As noted earlier, entrants to the school in August 2002 were found to
have high levels of motivation to learn English (Lamb, 2004a), and the
most strongly motivated displayed high levels of autonomous language
learning (Lamb, 2004b). This article presents data from the later phases
of the research and compares them to the initial data, in order to ex-
amine how far this optimistic scenario was sustained over the first 20
months of formal school study. In particular, the article attempts to
assess the impact of formal school learning on their motivation and to
suggest factors which may moderate that impact.


An equal-status mixed-method strategy was adopted (Tashakkori &

Teddlie, 1998). The whole cohort was surveyed by questionnaire shortly
after the beginning of their first semester, and then again after 20
months of study in March 2004. A group of 121 focal learners was se-
lected on the basis of the first survey, and interviews were conducted at
three points in time—at the beginning, after 8 months of study, and then
1 year later at the endpoint of the study. I also observed each of these
learners in English classes at least twice, on the first and second field
visits. The survey and initial learner interviews were all conducted in
Indonesian; later, some of the learners chose to speak in English or to
mix the codes. Once potential focal group learners were identified, a
letter was sent to their parents explaining the purpose of the research
and asking permission for their son or daughter to participate over the
20-month period. Signed consent forms were received from all 12 fami-
The rationale for employing mixed methods was that “a combination
of qualitative and quantitative designs might bring out the best of both
approaches while neutralizing the shortcomings and biases inherent in
each paradigm” (Dörnyei, 2001, p. 242). Using questionnaires with the
year cohort allowed testing for specific motivational constructs which I
could predict to be relevant on the basis of existing theory and my own
prior experience of the context. Open questionnaire items and semi-
structured interviews with the focal learners enabled me to identify and
follow up issues and concepts which I had not anticipated in the survey,
but which were clearly salient in this particular context. Meanwhile,
meeting learners regularly (including once outside of school) and ob-
serving them in class would allow me not only to develop a more trusting

One learner moved to the capital with her family between the second and third field visit,
and her data have been excluded from this report.


relationship with the learners but also ultimately to develop richer and
more complex portraits of individuals (Bempechat & Boulay, 2001).
Beyond these strategic advantages, collecting different types of data con-
currently meant they could be integrated at different stages in the re-
search process (Creswell, 2003). Learners, for example, could be asked
to explain puzzling events in my classroom observation data; data from
the first- and second-phase interviews could be used to inform the design
of the final survey instrument.
In view of the young age of my respondents and their lack of any
experience of survey instruments, I decided the questionnaire should be
short enough to complete in 20–25 minutes of class time, with easily
processed single items representing each construct (cf. Masgoret, Ber-
naus, & Gardner, 2001). A number of items elicited background infor-
mation, including gender, father’s job, English proficiency of other fam-
ily members, and prior experience of learning English. The rest of the
instrument was a mix of closed and open items eliciting students’ atti-
tudes toward school English lessons, satisfaction with progress, expecta-
tions of success, degree of importance, reasons for studying it, level and
type of English learning and use outside of school, and future ambitions.
In most cases the same single items were used twice, at the beginning and
end of the research period, allowing for direct comparison of means
between the two administrations.
The focal learners were selected on the basis of questionnaire re-
sponses (both closed and open items) and teachers’ informal comments.
The group were not intended to be representative of the whole popu-
lation; instead I chose a majority (7) of apparently highly motivated
learners—that is, they expressed a strong desire to learn the language
and reported high levels of activity outside of class in their survey re-
sponses, whereas their class teacher stated that they had a positive atti-
tude inside the class—because I hoped over the course of the research to
gain a much more nuanced picture of their motives and compare the
way each responded to the school experience. Two learners (G & J) were
selected because they were apparently examples of less motivated learn-
ers. One learner (H) seemed to be highly motivated but received nega-
tive comments from teachers about his classroom behaviour, whereas a
further learner (M) was selected because he came from a rural back-
ground and was unique in the cohort for never having studied English at
all. Appendix A presents a breakdown of participants’ backgrounds and
basic motivational profiles at the beginning of the research period, along
with a general assessment of their progress in English, based on their
speech during interviews and later teacher reports.
Interviews were conducted in private and with assurances of confiden-
tiality, using a topic guide to structure the discussion at each of the three
points (see Appendix B). On three occasions, girls opted to be inter-


viewed in pairs rather than singly. I also had the opportunity to meet
eight of these learners outside the school—four at home and four at
their private language school—and took notes on these meetings.


In this section I compare the questionnaire data at the beginning and

end of the 20-month research period and report on qualitative changes
evident in the focal learner interview data over the three field visits.

Closed Questionnaire Items

Table 1 presents responses to the closed questionnaire items at the

beginning and end of the research period on a Likert scale of 1–3, along
with a comparison of means. Paired sample t-tests were carried out to
check for significance, and Cohen’s d calculated to measure effect size.
Only those respondents who completed both questionnaires are in-
cluded (one class of approximately 40 pupils was omitted from the first
administration, whereas a few pupils left or joined the school in the
intervening period).
As the table shows, there were a number of significant differences in
the attitudes of the year cohort between the start of their studies and
after 20 months. Most remain satisfied with their current level of achieve-
ment in English, but the highly significant drop (difference in means =
−0.27) may be an indication that frustration is growing about the pace of
progress. Their expectations of ultimate success in English remained
constant over these 20 months, with almost all pupils reasonably confident
or confident that their goals will be achieved.
Almost all pupils had had some experience of learning English at
primary school before they entered the junior high school, though usu-
ally this was no more than an hour per week. About half had also taken
a private course in English at some point. The table shows that on entry
(August 2002) they had very positive attitudes toward their learning
experience (2.83 on a scale of 1–3). After 20 months of study in the
junior high school, however, there was a significant deterioration in their
attitudes (-0.36). At the same time, there was a slight rise (+0.10) in the
general importance attached to English. All of the five possible reasons
for its importance offered in the questionnaire were ranked highly, but
some changes in their orientation are evident: Most significantly, its
status as an important assessed school subject is more widely recognised
(+0.28), but English is also perceived as having more instrumental value


Changes in Reported Levels of Motivation From August 2002 to March 2004

Mean standard
deviation Cohen’s d
Difference for effect
N Aug 02 Mar 04 t-value in means Significance size
Satisfaction with progress in English so far 192 2.58 2.31 −4.734 −0.27 .000* −0.46
(1 = not satisfied; 2 = satisfied; 3 = very satisfied) 0.56 0.62
Expectation of ultimate success in English 190 2.39 2.37 −0.346 −0.02 .730 −0.04
(1 = not confident; 2 = reasonably confident; 3 = confident) 0.52 0.56
Attitude toward experience of learning English 195 2.83 2.47 −7.766 −0.36 .000* −0.74
(1 = not happy; 2 = OK; 3 = happy) 0.38 0.59
Perceived importance of English (1 = not important; 188 2.61 2.71 2.248 +0.10 .026 0.20
2 = important; 3 = very important) 0.52 0.47
Reasons for importance (1 = not important; 2 = important; 3 = very important)
Because I need English for my career in the future 189 2.69 2.84 3.610 +0.15 .000* 0.33
(instrumental) 0.52 0.39
Because I enjoy learning English (intrinsic) 186 2.27 2.12 −3.307 −0.16 .001* −0.32
0.50 0.50
Because I want to meet foreigners & learn about 190 2.49 2.35 −2.270 −0.14 .024 −0.21
other countries (integrative) 0.62 0.69
Because my parents encourage me to learn English 186 2.46 2.54 1.735 +0.09 .084 0.15
(extrinsic—parental) 0.60 0.58
Because English is an assessed school subject 186 2.25 2.53 4.745 +0.28 .000* 0.43
(extrinsic—academic) 0.69 0.62
Perceived importance of English compared with 188 2.26 2.29 0.842 +0.04 .401 0.09
other school subjects (1, less important; 2, same; 0.44 0.47
3, more important)

Note. * Significant after Bonferroni correction.

(+0.15), whereas its intrinsic interest and value for getting to know for-
eigners and other countries are less prioritized now (−0.16 and −0.14,
A finding from the first phase of data collection and analysis in August
2002 (reported in Lamb, 2004b) was that pupils’ learning and use of
English were not confined to formal school. At the end of the research
period, pupils were again asked to report how often they used English in
out-of-school activities. Results indicated that all forms of this activity had
increased over this period, with the largest increases appearing in com-
puter usage involving English (+0.41 on a scale of 0–3) and watching
English language TV programmes or videos (+0.38), though listening to
English language songs remained the single most popular activity, en-
gaged in daily by over a third of all pupils. Speaking English was still
quite a rare event, with few doing it more than once a month, and
according to interview comments, their conversants were almost always
other Indonesians (e.g., older siblings or parents) rather than native
speakers or other foreigners, of whom there are very few in the city. In
addition to these informal activities, 54% of pupils had taken a private
English course over the last 20 months, usually at a local language school
(25 different institutions were mentioned) but sometimes at home with
a tutor.

Open Questionnaire Items

The responses to open items in the questionnaire were categorized

and then counted as a proportion of all the pupils’ comments. Table 2
shows the responses of pupils when asked to explain their attitude to-
ward the experience of learning English at the beginning and end of the
research period.
After 20 months of school study, their comments were more con-
cerned now with the experience of classroom learning than with the
value or importance of English. For pupils who were ambivalent about
English (i.e., who think that it is just OK) or who disliked it, the majority
of complaints about English lessons concerned either the lack of intrin-
sically motivating activities (e.g., “the lessons just follow the curriculum
and don’t fulfil the desires or interests of the pupils”; “Because it is not
fun. Nothing that can make me interested about English lesson in [this]
junior high school. I learn English only for my career”—original in
English2) or teachers failing to make the lessons comprehensible (e.g.,
“In school we just get given exercises, whereas at home it’s explained

Quotations are translated except where stated.


Reasons Given for Attitude Toward Experience of Learning English

August 2002 March 2004

Happy pupils
54% English is valuable or important 43% Satisfaction with lessons
21% Satisfaction with lessons 14% English is valuable or important
16% I’m making progress in English 12% English is easy
2% Effective teaching 12% I’m making progress in English
7% Other 12% I like the teacher
(226 comments) 7% Other
OK pupils
25% English is no different from other subjects 43% Complaints about lessons
19% English is just OK 18% English is difficult
12% English is not important in Indonesia 12% English lessons similar to others
10% English is not enjoyable 12% English is just OK
9% Other 6% I don’t like the teacher
(36 comments) 9% Other
Unhappy pupils
None 40% Complaints about lessons
30% I don’t like the teacher
30% English is difficult

clearly”). Among those who said they were happy, the most frequent
comments also related to the teacher’s style or methods and praised
different aspects of lessons (e.g., “Here the teacher explains carefully,
not just using English but with Indonesian too”; “the lessons are enjoy-
able and not too tense”; “The teachers here don’t just stick to the ma-
terial but also give practice, like speaking, listening and the rest”). A
similar shift in learners’ thinking is evident in responses to the final item
on both questionnaires, which invited pupils to make any further com-
ments or put questions to the researcher. At the beginning of the re-
search period, the most frequent comments (34%) were statements
about the importance of English; at the end, the most frequent com-
ments (30%) were questions about how to learn it well (e.g., “I want to
ask, is there an easier way to learn to become fluent in English besides
learning by heart and looking words up in the dictionary?”).
During their second year of study, pupils were placed in eight differ-
ent classes, with three different teachers. An analysis of variance (Tukey
post hoc test) was carried out to find out if there were significant differ-
ences in the responses of classes taught by different teachers. The only
item where a clear difference was found (significant at the 0.05 level) was
on attitudes toward the experience of learning English, where one
teacher was found to generate much higher ratings than the other two.


Interview Data

The interviews were recorded, transcribed in note form, and then

analysed through multiple listenings, coding, and the construction of a
matrix to facilitate direct comparison of learners’ comments to each
other and to themselves at the three different points in time. In this way,
I was able to build individual portraits of some depth and colour, to
complement the broad picture deriving from the survey data. In
this section I focus on some specific trends observable in the interview
data over the three field visits. The first identified trend is common to all
learners; in the other trends, a contrast is apparent between the seven
learners initially identified as being motivated and active and the other
four learners.

Increasing Complaints About English in Junior High School

At each phase, focal learners made more strident complaints against

aspects of English teaching in their school. In line with survey data,
criticisms increasingly targeted the teacher and his/her classroom pro-
cedures. For example, Learner A compared her current teacher unfa-
vourably with her former teacher: “Mr X always gave us lots of practice in
English, with songs, games and with . . . speeches, but with Ms Y only
study with book and practice is very little . . . . and we are in the class very
. . . . bored” (original English). More often teachers were criticized not
for their methodology, however, but for aspects of personality or teach-
ing style. Learner E complained that her teacher is “an irritable person”
and added, “If you don’t like your teacher you can’t understand En-
glish”; whereas Learner D tried hard to avoid direct criticism but could
not help complaining about the teacher’s English and her intimidating
I: How do you feel about studying English in this junior high school,
now you’re in your fourth semester?
D: I feel senang apa? [happy or what?] but now I don’t like er cara
mengajar guru saya [the teacher’s way of teaching] because maybe I
can’t understand what does he say . . . .
I: . . . . . . . . . . Have you talked to the teacher about this?
D: Never, because I am afraid (original English)
All three learners admitted that their motivation to participate in class
had declined during their second year because of their feelings toward
their teacher, yet their desire to learn the language had not wavered.
As in the complaints about school English lessons in the open ques-
tionnaire responses, focal learners’ complaints seemed to express a sense
of exclusion, of not being part of a harmonious social group, either


because they could not understand what was going on in class or because
the teacher’s behaviour was alienating. Learner G, for instance, com-
plained in his final interview that he no longer enjoyed English lessons
because “in year 1 I could understand but in this class I can’t.” Learner
F explained that her classmates “don’t like English because they don’t
like the teacher, because Mrs. V never explain about the lesson” (original
English). Conversely, Learner H was more positive in his third interview
than his second, explaining that he preferred his current teacher be-
cause she always came to the class, did not get angry, and enjoyed a joke
or two.

Increasing Use of English

At the beginning of each interview, I offered the focal learners the

choice of speaking in Indonesian or English. In the first research phase,
all used mainly Indonesian, though Learners A, C, D, E, F, and K showed
a willingness to try using some English words and phrases. The same
pattern repeated itself at the second interviews, though learner C was
now able to speak mainly in English, and learner L also now opted to use
English where he could. By the final interviews, all seven of the learners
who I had originally selected as examples of motivated and active pupils
were using English for most of the interviews, reverting back to Indone-
sian when communicatively challenged or when the conversation be-
came very animated. One of the pair of girls actually chose to speak to
each other in English during the interview.
By contrast, Learners G, J, and M did not use any English in any of
their interviews. Perhaps more significant than their lack of perfor-
mance, though, was their reaction to the suggestion—each of them
smiled in amusement at the thought of speaking English with me as if it
were inconceivable and clearly much preferred to hold the conversation
in Indonesian. In short, there appeared to be a striking divergence in the
oral performances of these learners over the 20 months, as some began
to feel comfortable using the language (even if they were unable to
continue for long periods) and others remained estranged from the

Goals Become More Focussed

Mirroring the survey results, all the focal learners, whether apparently
active learners or not, appeared to recognise the potential importance of
English for their futures. As one less motivated learner (J) put it in his
first interview, when asked what his ambitions were: “To be good at
English, because in the future, according to my parents, globalization is
going to happen . . . . Western people are going to come to Indonesia,


and will get involved in every country.” In his final interview (and in his
second questionnaire response), this learner still did not state any spe-
cific ambitions; asked where he will be in 10 years time, he replied, “I
don’t know.” The other less motivated learner was similarly vague
throughout, whereas the learner from a rural background was unde-
cided between becoming a businessman or a professional soccer player.
By contrast, all the motivated learners appeared to develop more
specific goals over these 20 months and knew how English may relate to
them. For example, one learner (F) said in her first interview that she
wanted to become a doctor, but her comments about English referred to
globalization and were similarly general to J’s above. In her second in-
terview, she responded to the same question about her ambitions thus:
“I want to become a doctor. What’s more, my father says if I want to
become a doctor English is really important because all the learning
materials and books are in English. So I have to study English really hard
and mustn’t stop going to the private courses.” By the time of her third
interview, when asked where she will be in 10 years time, she apparently
had quite a clear vision of her future: “I hope by then I’ll already be a
graduate, hopefully in medicine . . . . I’ll be living in Yogya, that’s where
I’ll study, they say that’s where there’s the best high education.”

Increasing Awareness and Self-Regulation of Motivation

In the last two interview phases there was evidence of learners becom-
ing more aware of their own motivation and trying to regulate it. Learner
D had portrayed herself in the first two interviews as a highly motivated
learner who believed she was making progress in her English. In her last
interview, however, she made the critical comments above about the
teacher and when asked whether English was more or less important to
her, she replied “sure, more important, but now I feel so-so . . .” (original
English). She seemed able to make a distinction between the objective
importance of English to her future and her feelings, which she knew
were temporary and related to her class teacher. One of the more mo-
tivated boys (K) acknowledged that, whereas his motivation had not
changed, he hadn’t been making the necessary efforts to learn outside of
class: “I think I’m becoming lazy . . . . because my friends always calling
me to bermain [play]” (original English), and he went on to say he must
study harder for a state exam in 2 months time. Another learner (F)
explained at the start of her last interview that she did not like her
current teacher because she got angry quickly. Asked whether her peers
thought the same, she said “Maybe just me, because they don’t like
English . . . . they think English is very difficult.” In other words, it was
because she cared about English so much that she felt so negatively about
the teacher. For now, she put her energies into her private English


course, because “I don’t want to leave English, if I leave it for a while,
then I’ll start to forget it, after all I don’t get any practice at home.”
Whereas these motivated learners seemed able to suffer the inevitable
frustrations of school language learning, the other four showed signs of
succumbing to various difficulties. Learner H, beset by family problems
and apparently unable to concentrate in class, had been forced to repeat
the first year; his phrase books were lost, and he admitted to a fall in
enthusiasm for English. Learner G was similarly disaffected, because he
could not understand the teacher in class, though teachers and peers
told me he also had problems at home. Learners J and M by contrast
presented a relaxed and contented demeanour throughout and retained
good intentions toward the language—Learner J said he needed to im-
prove his class scores in English, whereas Learner M knew that “every-
where you go nowadays, including school, English is assessed, it’s impor-
tant.” But neither was able to put these good intentions into effect; both
admitted to being distracted by friends in and out of class.


Over this 20-month period of junior high school, aspects of the learn-
ers’ motivation to learn English seem to have been relatively constant,
whereas others changed. Throughout the interviews with the focal learn-
ers and the comments in the questionnaires, there was a consistent
strong recognition of the long-term value of English for their own and
indeed for their country’s future. There was a small rise, in fact, in their
instrumental orientation, whereas their integrative orientation fell
slightly. However, as the learners spent more time in classrooms, the
process of learning assumed greater weight in their motivational think-
ing. There was a significant increase in the number who felt that they
were not making enough progress and a significant drop in the numbers
of learners who were happy with their school English lessons. At the same
time, though, the general expectation of ultimate success in English
remained constant, perhaps reflecting a sense that school was only one
of many possible venues for learning the language.
Although caution must be shown in interpreting results from single-
item instruments, it appears that general variables such as instrumental
and integrative orientations are less susceptible to change than class-
room-related variables, a finding in line with results obtained by Gardner
et al. (2004). These results were confirmed by interview data, in which
the more motivated learners could be surprisingly forthright in their
criticism of English lessons while continuing to assert their belief in the
importance of the language and their personal desire to learn it.


There is evidence that this fall in enthusiasm for school English is
related to the class teacher. My own observations of over 30 lessons
showed the majority of classes to consist of a series of teacher-directed
oral or written exercises closely based on the textbook, with little variety
of format and virtually no communicative use of language. However,
certain teachers used different techniques, encouraged the use of oral
English inside and outside the classroom, and generated a warm and
enthusiastic atmosphere. These differences are reflected in both survey
and interview data, for example, in the different satisfaction levels re-
ported by classes with different teachers, and in the comments by focal
learners praising or criticising specific teachers.
Turning to their actual learning behaviour, all the focal learners who
I originally identified as having a positive motivational profile showed
signs of making genuine progress in English and an increasing willing-
ness to use it in conversation with me. Whereas they reported fluctua-
tions in their feelings and attitudes, they appeared to maintain a level of
independent learning activity, including attendance at private language
courses, which complemented their school lessons and contributed to
gains in proficiency. Indeed the survey showed the whole cohort to have
a higher frequency of English-learning or -using activity at the end of the
research period compared with the beginning, and the general expec-
tation of success remained high.
The data reveal, therefore, two contrasting patterns: on the one hand,
a general fall in enthusiasm for the process of formal learning in school,
and on the other hand, a sustaining of very positive attitudes toward the
language and of actual learning activity in informal contexts. As indi-
cated earlier, one factor which may help to explain such a dichotomy is
experience with particular teachers—some learners were lucky enough
only to have positive experiences in school. The remainder of this dis-
cussion draws on recent L2 motivation literature, further interview data,
and the writer’s own knowledge of the context to consider other possible
factors which may help explain why learners who did suffer negative
experiences in school nevertheless remained motivated to learn English.


The study provides tentative support for the distinction proposed in

Dörnyei’s (2005) L2 motivational self-system between the motivation
generated by self-identification processes—that generated by aspiring
toward an imagined L2-using future self, and that generated by the L2
learning experience. Further, following Higgins’s (1987) self-
discrepancy theory, Dörnyei (2005) suggests that “aspirations will only be


effective in motivating behaviour if they have been elaborated into a
specific possible self in the working self-concept” (p. 101, original italics).
There is some evidence of this elaboration process in the tendency for
more successful learners’ personal goals to become more focussed, as if
their future L2 self is becoming more sharply defined and vivid. This is
in line with Ushioda’s (2001) observation that goals evolve in interaction
with learning experience and also connects with the findings of research-
ers working within the framework of future time perspective that even
long-term goals, if personally valued enough, can promote a learner’s
engagement in what might otherwise be considered very dull classroom
tasks (Miller & Brickman, 2004). As this study has shown, this sharpening
vision of a future English-speaking self coincided with a tendency for
learners to self-regulate their motivation, enabling them to overcome
some of the challenges thrown up by the formal L2 learning experience
(such as an unfriendly teacher or a low mark in a class quiz), and sustain
their efforts to learn in the long run.
Social background factors and, in particular, the cultural, social, and
economic capital (Bourdieu, 1991) they bring to school, may help ex-
plain why individuals come to identify (or not) with a future-English-
speaking self and act to realize their vision. As children of the emerging
middle class in a provincial capital, many of the learners studied here
have been exposed throughout their short lives to powerful discourses
promoting the English language. Authority figures like teachers and
parents make it clear to them that they ought to learn English and have
helped scaffold the essential literacy skills through early educational
experiences; exposure to English language cartoons on TV and western
songs on cassette sensitize them to the sounds and significance of the
language from an early age. Later on, magazines, films, and other popu-
lar media present them with images of cosmopolitan English-speaking
Asians enjoying the material benefits and social prestige of fluency, help-
ing to conjure ideal future scenarios for themselves which appear au-
thentic and possible. By contrast, to the majority of Indonesian young-
sters in poorer urban or rural areas, such scenarios may seem vague and
One specific way in which this cultural capital is acquired is through
interactions with significant others in their lives. Every one of the initially
motivated focal learners refers to people who helped shape and sustain
their motivation to learn: For example, the father of Learner L who (as
he told me when I visited his house) has sorely felt the lack of English
himself in his career as a civil servant and is determined that his son
should gain the benefits; the English-speaking aunt who first inspired
Learner H when he was 6 years old; the older brother who studies at an
elite school in central Java and urges Learner C to study hard to join him;


and the academic parents of Learner D and the stories they tell of
Fayatteville, her American birthplace.
If they were completely reliant on what the state is able to offer in the
way of learning resources, it is doubtful whether even these motivated
learners would make progress. But many of the students attending this
school have economic capital too, giving access to key resources. All the
motivated learners in the focal groups have parents able and willing to
pay for private tuition, which in turn, provides new learning materials to
supplement the state textbook, and new relatively English-proficient
friends to practise with. Some parents provide other types of resources:
Learner E was regularly bought EFL tapes by her mother; Learner A
demonstrated the language practice she regularly gained from a Play
Station unit when I visited her home; Learner L was able to show me a
desk full of English language textbooks, donated by his father and an
older sister now at the University of Indonesia. These extra resources and
opportunities for practice are not just useful learning tools in them-
selves; they also reinforce the individual’s sense of being a legitimate
English user, in their own eyes and those of their peers and teachers.
The plight of Learner M, who had just arrived in the city from a rural
area, and who was included in the focal group because he had not
studied English anywhere before, presents a vivid example of someone
who lacks such economic and cultural capital. In his first interview he
expressed genuine affection for his new school because it was safe and
well-ordered compared with his previous one, and claimed that he never
got bored in the lessons because “I’m happy, I need to learn, need to
understand what the teacher says” to catch up with his peers who had
studied English before. There is no mention of English use at home in
any of his interviews. In his second and third interviews, he admits he has
not made the hoped-for progress in English. He says he “feels the dif-
ference” from most of his classmates and confesses that his classroom
behaviour has deteriorated too, something which I observed myself in
several lessons.
M: Sometimes I get a bit bored, but only occasionally, not all the time.
You know in B____ [his place of origin], over there we didn’t have
any English lessons but in J____ [site of school] we need English, if
you don’t have English, it’s difficult. Wherever we go here we need
I: When do you need English?
M: What I mean is, if we’ve already progressed, got success, started work-
ing, we’re tested in English, everywhere we need English.
Blaming classmates for his disruptive behaviour, he still insists that En-
glish is important to his future, but he has not apparently taken any
action to learn it outside of attending school lessons. At the time of my
final visit, he was attending a private exam-tutoring course on the insis-


tence of his parents, but not one that specialized in English. His vision
appears to be motivated more by fear of what might happen if he does
not learn English, than by aspiring toward a positive goal. In terms of
Dörnyei’s (2005) L2 motivational self-system, M is motivated by his
ought-to L2 self but not his ideal L2 self, and this has less power to
positively influence his learning behaviour.
Further evidence of a lack of any clearly imagined ideal L2 self comes
when M is asked what advice he would give a new pupil at the school to
learn English. Unlike all the other focal learners, who gave suggestions
of various learning strategies, M said he could not give any advice be-
cause they would think him arrogant, as if he was a “know-all.” The
remark echoes that of a teacher at a rural school in the same province
who told me that the learners readily mocked anyone who tried to speak
English in public, and that her pupils’ main problem was that they were
afraid of using the language. Learner M, it seems, lacks the cultural
capital necessary to envision an ideal English-speaking self, though he
has been sufficiently exposed to discourses telling him that he ought to
become English speaking and fears the consequences if he does not.
It should not come as a surprise, perhaps, to find that socioeconomic
context plays an important role in shaping individual motivation. As
Mathews (2000) wrote in his study of individual identity in a global
culture, “one’s social world . . . . acts as a censor and gatekeeper, select-
ing from the range of possible cultural ideas one might appropriate only
those that seem plausible and acceptable within it” (p. 22). Ushioda
(2006) has argued persuasively that motivation has a political dimension,
with individual agency always subject to complex social pressures in the
environment. Researchers working within a poststructuralist perspective
(e.g., Norton, 2000; Toohey, 2000) have shown how learners’ investment
in a school or community language, and their opportunities to engage
with it, are promoted or constrained by myriad social and economic
factors. This study suggests that there can be a similar sociopolitical
dimension to language learning in an EFL setting too; that is, young
Indonesians invest in English as a form of symbolic capital in the hope of
acquiring cultural and economic capital in the future, yet they need to
already have a certain level of social, cultural, and economic capital to
have a good chance of success.


The study has found that during their first 20 months in junior high
school, pupils’ attitudes toward English, particularly their view of its
personal and societal relevance, were relatively stable, whereas attitudes


toward the learning situation fluctuated, with an overall downward tra-
jectory. Despite this growing disenchantment with school English les-
sons, some learners with positive attitudes appeared to sustain their ef-
forts to learn and developed an ability to regulate their motivation in the
face of threats and challenges. It is suggested that the stability of their
motivation may be partly the product of self-identification processes en-
couraged by their relatively advantaged sociocultural background and
economic circumstances, and that these processes appear to correspond
to the ideal L2 self posited by Dörnyei (2005) in his recent L2 motivation
self-system model. Those who lack this background still have a strong
ought-to L2 self but appear to be more easily discouraged by negative L2
learning experiences and reluctant to take advantage of opportunities
to use the language, for example, in conversation with me.
It is important to recognize the limitations of this research in terms of
scale and context. Whereas the mixed method strategy allowed for pat-
terns emerging in the survey data to be confirmed by, and explored
further through, individual learner portraits emerging through interview
and observation data, it also restricted the size of both the quantitative
and qualitative data sets. Moreover, the school researched was serving a
relatively advantaged urban population; in the majority rural areas, less
exposed to forces of globalization, one would expect to find weaker
identification processes with English and negative L2 learning experi-
ences in school having a more profound impact on L2 learning motiva-
tion, but this needs to be investigated empirically. In particular, more
focussed research is needed to investigate the validity of the distinction
between ideal L2 self and ought-to L2 self, how it may be constructed
socially, and how it may influence learner behaviour and activity.
For schools in similar socioeconomic settings to the research site,
there are practical implications to consider. Pavlenko (2002) suggests
that “seeing L2 learning as a problem is a uniquely western phenom-
enon” whereas in many multilingual situations the continuous acquisi-
tion of new languages (to whatever degree of competence is required for
communicative purposes) is seen as “completely unproblematic” (p.
298). Unfortunately, even in relatively privileged multilingual nonwest-
ern contexts such as this one, there is one arena where language learning
is considered highly problematic—school. No one should underestimate
the challenges facing teachers working in this context, not least their
own struggle to master English, but they are implicated in the main
problems reported by learners, namely, monotonous classroom proce-
dures, incomprehensible lessons, and the fear of reprimand. Such ex-
periences lead to a sense of exclusion, when inclusion—in that elite
community of cosmopolitan English speakers—is precisely what moti-
vated learners are aspiring to.
Although they are using English themselves as much as possible,


teachers need to protect the fragile self-confidence of weaker pupils by
providing simple explanations and supportive feedback and advising on
independent ways to learn, for instance, by exploiting the ever-increasing
number of oral and written texts in English available in the local envi-
ronment. It would also help to have textbook characters with whom the
learners can truly identify, rather than the native speakers which pre-
dominate. Further ideas may be gleaned from Lin (1999), who observed
Hong Kong English teachers successfully supporting “students from
backgrounds that do not give them the right kind of cultural capital” (p.
410), for example, through strategic use of the L1 and creative responses
to otherwise dull textbook reading passages. By these means, English
teachers can help learners form vivid images of themselves as authentic
users of the language and so ensure their motivation survives the rocky
passage of school.


I would like to thank Lynne Cameron, Gary Chambers, Mike Baynham, and four
anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments on earlier versions of this article,
and Hywel Coleman for many stimulating discussions of the context.


Martin Lamb is a lecturer in TESOL in the School of Education, University of Leeds,

England. Before joining the University of Leeds, he spent 17 years teaching English
and working on various TESOL projects in Indonesia, Bulgaria, and Sweden. His
research interests include learner motivation and language education and assess-
ment in social context.


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Previous Initial Initial Initial Progress in

study, owned motivation activity teacher English over
Code M/F Father’s job Class dictionary Family English level level comments 20 months
A F Senior civil servant Regular/Elite II Yes Father, sibling high high positive moderate
C F Senior civil servant Elite 1 Yes Cousin high high positive good
D F University lecturer Regular/ Elite II Yes Parents high high positive good
E F Private business Regular Yes Whole family high high positive moderate
F F Civil servant Regular Yes Aunt high high positive moderate
K M Private business Elite I Yes Whole family high high positive moderate
L M Civil servant Elite I Yes Sibling high high positive moderate
H M Civil servant Regular Yes Aunt & uncle, siblings high high negative poor
G M Army Regular Yes Sibling low low negative poor
J M University lecturer Regular Yes Sibling low low negative poor


M M Private business Regular No Father high low negative poor

Note: In this context, father’s job is still a better index of socioeconomic status than mother’s job, though this is beginning to change. The Elite II class
was formed midway through the first academic year; Learners A and D were originally in regular classes. Family English is as reported in the initial
questionnaire—the degree of competence was not specified.

Interview Guide
• Choice of language to use in interview

• Explanation of research purpose, assurance of confidentiality and anonym-


• Feelings about the school in general

• Perceptions of competence and/or progress in English

• Impressions of English classes/teacher in the school

• Peers’ motivation to study English

• Attitudes toward English and English-speaking countries, own and family
• Learning and use of English outside of school, including at private course,
at home, with friends, in city
• Plans for the future (Interviews #2 & 3 only)

• My future research plans