This study presents a quantitative analysis of the motivational sources and levels of plateau stage adult learners defined by Friedman who are taking English as a foreign language courses. Plateau stage spans the ages between 35-55 in which the motivational drive to learn has become intrinsic We decided to conduct this study firstly as a part of our curriculum requirement to improve students’ writing research skills and secondly, because of lack of research on the topic of adult language learning motivation. In our study, we aimed to combine three fields namely adult learning, foreign language learning and learning motivation, all of which are closely related to the field of ELT. The research was conducted on 54 plateau stage adult learners taking English courses in Çankaya community centers located at different parts of Ankara/Turkey by implementing questionnaires which consist of two different parts that include both demographic and likert-scale statements. The results were compatible with previous research done on the topic which show that adults are highly driven by intrinsic motivation in learning. The results illustrated that adult learners who speak at least one foreign language are more motivated to learn another one. Also, contrary to popular belief, adults don’t view their age as a barrier to learn a new language. The scope of our study is specific to the context of adult English learners over the age of 35 in Çankaya community centers. In the light of previous studies, we hope that the results of this study will pave the way for researchers who are interested in adult language learning motivation.
The aim of this study is to investigate the language learning motivations of adults aged over 35 who are currently taking English as a foreign language courses that are provided by Ankara / Çankaya community centers for free and the relationships between these motivations and the educational levels of the participants and factors such as gender and language learning background. There are several reasons behind our study. First of all, we decided to conduct this study as most of the research done on language learning motivation and language acquisition is about young learners while adult language learners and their motivational levels are usually kept in the background. Secondly, we found that there is not enough research involving all three of the topics namely foreign language learning, adult learning and motivation. Thirdly, we found that there isn’t any quantitative research conducted specifically on adult English language learners in Turkey. One of our aims is to provide Çankaya Municipality with the necessary information about English language learning adults’ motivational drives in order to initiate necessary changes in the education provided by Çankaya community centers. Another aim of this study is to take a step in the field of adult English language learning in Turkey in order to start a discussion about this topic. This study aims to answer these research questions:
1. Is the motivation level of the adult English language learners driven more by professional, personal or social factors?
2. Does being able to speak different foreign languages have an impact on the overall motivation of the adult language learners?
3. What is the effect of the public opinion on the motivation levels of adult language learners?
4. Do plateau stage adults think that their age is a major problem in learning a foreign language?
5. What are the demotivational factors in learning English as a foreign language for an adult learner in the plateau stage?
- Literature Review
To get by in today's world adults must have the capacity to change. The home, amusement and the working environment are all features of life that technology has multiplied into (Granott, 1998). Knowledge and competence of the English language is crucial in order for an adult to keep up with these changes. Reddy (2016, p.181) says that “ To communicate across national borders and maintain correspondence with overseas business parties or professionals, English is essential.” Many adults who think this way feel the need to engage in English language learning programs.
What do we actually mean by the word ‘adult’? There are several different definitions of the concept of being an adult. According to Rogers (2002) the word ‘adult’ can apply to four different concepts. First, as a stage that comes after youth. Secondly, a status in the society that refers to the realization of one’s self in society. Thirdly, as a social subset, people who are not children. Lastly, an array of ideas and values, namely adulthood. In our research, however, we based our definition of ‘adult’ on Friedman’s (1972, as cited in Rogers, 2002, p.67) detailed interpretation of the ‘plateau’ theory of life span changes that does not necessarily associate successive stages with ages. According to Friedman (1972, as cited in Rogers, 2002, p.67), there are three main stages which are:
- The entry stage: spans roughly the ages between 18-25. To the young adult the future is remote and perceived as something positive as is change.
- Career development: spans roughly the ages between 20-50. Present is in the foreground rather than the future. The motivational drive in professional and non-professional areas is becoming intrinsic.
- Plateau: spans roughly the ages between 35-55. There is an increasing feeling that the time is coming to an end. The individual experiences growing feelings of anxiety and impatience, specifically prevailing in those who belong to lower socioeconomic classes.
An additional minor stage of decline begins after 55.
Simply defining the word ‘adult’ is insufficient in understanding what it means. We also need to know what it is not and we can do this by pointing out the differences between a child and an adult and the ways they learn (Merriam & Bierema, 2002). McDonough (2013) says that the child learners do not actively decide on what they will learn next during the course of learning, whereas adults tend to actively self direct and make cognizant choices about their learning objectives. Also, according to Merriam and Bierema (2002), since the perception of time evolves from implementing the knowledge in future to present as one matures, an adult becomes more problem-centered while the child remains subject-centered. “Relative to children and adolescents, adults learn using different methods (Brookfield, 1991 ; Deshler & Hagan, 1989; Knowles, 1980) whereby motivational, affective and self developmental factors are even more crucial than in younger learners. (Pascual-Leone, Irwin, Smith, & Pourchot, 1998, pp. 35-36)”
What does motivation mean in the language learning context? The word motivation derives from the Latin verb movere meaning ‘to move’. What moves a person to make certain choices, to engage in action, to expend effort and persist in action – such basic questions lie at the heart of motivation theory and research. (Dörnyei & Ushioda, 2011, p.3)
According to Ekiz and Kulmetov (2016), motivation is a determinant in degree and success of foreign language learning. As reported by Knowles & Associates (1984, as cited in Merriam & Bierema, 2002) instead of extrinsic motivation, it is usually the case that adults are directed by intrinsic motivation. As stated by Stegmann (2013), Kormos and Csizér (2008) conducted a questionnaire about their motivation levels and stances towards learning English on three different sample groups categorized by their age. These categories were primary and secondary school students and adult learners. The findings of the study revealed that young learners rely on not only their instructors but also their learning environments. Adult learners’ motivation, on the other hand, relied considerably less on these factors.
Up to this point, we only talked about the positive side of motivation. Yet, in terms of motivation, the learners can be affected negatively. This is called ‘demotivation’. As Dörnyei and Ushioda (2011, as cited in Ekiz & Kurmetov, 2016) demotivation can occur as a result of distinct events related to learning such as feeling humiliated and insufficient test results or social aspects of the learning environment and the instructor. Dörnyei and Ushioda (2011, p.139) describe demotivation as “ specific external forces that reduce or diminish the motivational basis of a behavioral intention or an ongoing action.” When we look at language learning demotivation from the adult learners’ perspective, the biggest concern is the so called ‘Critical Period Hypothesis’. Lightbown and Spada (2013) state that according to Critical Period Hypothesis, which is as a part of the innatist perspective on language learning, people genetically can not fully obtain some sorts of knowledge and skills unless they were obtained before the so called critical period. This also includes language learning and leads adult learners to believe that they can not be proficient in foreign languages because they missed the critical period. However, a recent research conducted by MIT scientists namely Hartshorne, Tenenbaum and Pinker (2018), shows that adults can also master a foreign language to a native-like degree nearly as fast as children. In their research, they shared data that show many foreign language learners who started learning English after the age of 20 performed much better than native speakers of English. Also, becoming a fluent English speaker doesn’t necessarily require close language family ties. The researchers stated that ““In fact, the differences across language groups were small and generally not reliable. (Hartshorne, Tenenbaum, & Pinker, 2018, p. 274)”.
Milner (2011, p.7) states that:
People are inclined to put forth more effort over the long term if they have positive views of the target language. If language learning becomes drudgery, or there is a negative view of those who speak the second language, then people will lose motivation and cease to work on developing those language skills.
It has been believed that one of the main reasons why adults can’t learn language as successful as children is that because they have missed the Critical Period. Also, it has generally been assumed that children are superior to adults when it comes to learning a language (Scovel, 2000, as cited in Abello-Contesse, 2009). There is another study which shows some remarkable points about the difference in proficiency between adults and younger learners. According to Bialystok (1997), the differences between the proficiency levels of adults and young learners can be a result of the fact that adults spend less time for learning a language.
With the help of the research above, the aim of this research is to investigate the motivational drives, demotivating effects, the degree of motivation according to ages and education levels, the effect of knowing another foreign language on English learning motivation of the adult English language learners who are in ‘plateau’ stage attending the English as a foreign language courses offered by Ministry of Çankaya/Ankara.
3. Method of Data Collection
The participants of our study are adults over 35 who are taking English as a foreign language courses that are provided by Çankaya municipality in Çankaya community centers that are located in different parts of the municipality in Ankara, Turkey. Among 54 participants, 8 of them were male (14,8) and 46 ( 85,2%) of them were female. Also, they came from different educational backgrounds. Graduate level participants make up the majority of the participants with 31 out of 54. The rest of the participants consist of middle school (1/54), high school (14/54), undergraduate (6/54) and post-graduate (2/54) levels. Our sampling technique is convenience or accidental sampling, that is, members or units are selected based on availability. We have chosen the community centers according to their accessibility by means of transportation. Also, there have been several community centers that didn’t want to take part in our research. In addition, as we based our research on a particular group of adults, those who were older than 35, our sampling was also a purposive one.
The data collection process of our study consists of two steps. The first step is a demographic questionnaire that seeks answers for background information of the participants, namely gender, age, educational background and language learning background. The second step we used in our research comprises likert-scale which consists of 20 statements that were evaluated on a scale ranging from 1 to 5 ( 1- strongly disagree, 2- disagree, 3- neutral, 4- agree, 5- strongly agree). The questionnaires were provided in Turkish language due to the English language proficiency of some of the participants. One of the main reasons why we employed this instrument is that it’s highly compatible with quantitative research methods because it helps researchers to reach large number of people relatively easily and economically. Also, it’s a time efficient instrument for it takes a couple of minutes to gather data from a classroom environment. In addition, collecting reliable and valid data plays a key role in research and one of the most common techniques of data collection in language research has been questionnaires.
- Data collection and analysis
We have been granted by the approval of Çankaya Municipality from the Directorate of Cultural and Social Affairs and also from each Çankaya community center before moving forward with our research. The participants were informed that their privacy would be respected and their personal information wouldn’t be needed in the research before distributing our questionnaires with a consent form. In addition, it was stated that taking part in our research was not compulsory and those who didn’t want to participate, were free not to take part in the research. Also, participants were free to withdraw from the study at any point in the papers.
The collected data was analyzed by using SPSS software. The reliability coefficient of the scale was computed using Cronbach’s Alpha and the result indicates the level of reliability as 0,62. Besides, the total variance (54,8) analysis of the data demonstrated that the scale was valid for measuring levels of participants’ interactions. Also, t-test was implemented to see the effect of educational and gender differences for dependent variable.
- Data Triangulation
Data triangulation involves using different sources of information in order to increase the validity of a study. We implemented this by not relying only to one Çankaya community center. We gathered our data from 6 different community centers located in different parts of Ankara. Also, for investigator triangulation, which involves using several different investigators in the analysis process, the instruments and the data of the research were evaluated by two different researchers. Additionally, the instruments were revised by the research course instructor.
To start with the first statement of our study’s second instrument, as shown in Table 1, adults who are attending English language courses that are provided by the Municipality of Çankaya/Ankara don’t believe that the course by itself will be sufficient for their success in their English language learning (x=2.0, deviation= 0,97). The second statement showed that most of the participants don’t see their age as an obstacle for language learning (x=2,55, deviation=1,12). The third statement also showed similar results in that most participants don’t shy away from learning a new language (x=2,42, deviation=1,23). Most of the participants agree that they listen to the lectures attentively in our fourth statement (x=4,16, deviation=1,05). Additionally, in the fifth statement, the majority agrees that consult with the instructor whenever they don’t understand a subject in the class (x=4,05, deviation=1,10). Furthermore, the sixth statement showed great agreement among the participants about the increase in their motivational levels when they successfully comprehend a new subject in class (x=4,33, deviation=1-02). The seventh statement showed varying opinions about their understanding of the subjects that are covered in the class, while some of the participants stated that they have difficulty in understanding the subjects, nearly half of the participants stated the opposite (x=2,79, deviation=1,21). The vast majority of the participants showed agreement to the eight statement which says that the knowledge of another foreign language makes learning a new language easier (x=3,94, deviation=0,87). However, the answers to the ninth statement which is about being able to spare enough time for foreign language learning varies greatly (x=3,01, deviation=1,03). The tenth statement exhibited similar variance in the answers about the participants’ opinion on the difficulty of learning a new language (x=3,14, deviation=1,25). The eleventh statement about professional life and English revealed substantial agreement (x=4,05, deviation=0,87). Similarly, twelfth (x=4,16, deviation=0,94) and thirteenth (x=4,57, deviation=0,68) statements which respectively stated “ Knowing at least one foreign language is necessary for an active social life.” and “ Knowing English makes it easier to communicate with the rest of the world.” expressed significant agreement. The participants agreed that a foreign language can be learned just as easily at any age and that it is necessary to know English in order to keep up with the changing world in the fourteenth (x=3,46, deviation=1,17) and fifteenth (x=3,85, deviation=1,18) statements. Many participants are of the same opinion that learning a foreign language is important for personal development in statement sixteen (x=4,07, deviation=0,94). Statements seventeen (x=3,94, deviation=1,03), eighteen (x=3,57, deviation=1,15) and nineteen (x=3,53, deviation=1,05) showed results that are alike one another. The participants are shown to believe that knowing English is necessary to have a good job and to have an open mind. Lastly, the twentieth statement shows an agreement as to the opinion that knowing English increases academical success (x=4,22, deviation=0,90).
We see in Table 2 that the answers given to certain statements in our second instrument differ substantially with reference to the participants’ gender. While male participants feel more confident about learning a new language, females are more likely to shy away from language learning. In a similar way, male participants’ outlook on the difficulty level of learning a new language is more positive when compared to that of female participants. Also, male participants find English to be a more significant tool to keep up with the world than female participants do.
According to the values in Table 3, there is a major difference in answers given to statement 7 in regard to the number of foreign languages that our participants speak. Those who claim that they speak no foreign languages, have significantly more difficulty in understanding the subjects covered in class, whereas ones who claim to speak one foreign language other than English have relatively less difficulty.
As demonstrated in the pie chart in Table 4, the reasons for joining Çankaya community centers’ English courses are divided into three main categories, namely personal development, travel and professional factors. The category of personal development comprises several subcategories all of which are closely related with personal development. These subcategories were gathered under one main category in order to conform to quantitative research’s implications. According to the values given in the table, more than half of the participants joined English language courses for personal development reasons (55,3%). The second main category is travel (34,3%). This category is also made up of several other subcategories. These include, those who want to visit their children who are currently living in English speaking countries and those who want to travel the world recreationally. The last main category is professional factors (10,4%). Several of the participants who belong to this category expressed that they join to these courses in order to apply for post-graduate programs. Also, some stated that they joined the courses to get higher ranks in their current carrier.
What does this study tell us? The results of our study relate to the statements made in the literature review. The main reason why we chose this age group of learners (35+ plateau stage) was that due to Critical Period Hypothesis, there’s a stigma around adults’ learning foreign languages. We wanted to see whether if such hypotheses have a demotivational impact on the learners themselves. The results of our study showed that this was not the case for our sample group. The majority of the adult group clearly stated that they think their age is not a major problem in learning a new language. The results of our study confirmed that adults are driven more by intrinsic motivation in language learning as it was stated by Knowles & Associates (1984, as cited in Merriam & Bierema, 2002). While only 10% of our participants were driven more by professional factors that arise from outside the individual, which are extrinsic sources of motivation. On the contrary, personal development and travel which are the sources of intrinsic motivation, which is the motivation to participate in a behavior emerging from inside the individual since it’s naturally fulfilling to him/her, were in the majority. Our study also showed that our participants predominantly agree with Reddy (2016) that English is crucial in communicating and keeping up with the rest of the world. When it comes to the influence of knowing a number of foreign languages on the overall motivation of the individual, it’s obvious that speaking another foreign language has a positive effect on the motivational levels of the learner. This might be for the reason that once an individual goes through the stages of learning a new language, they hesitate less the second time.
5.1 Implications for Education/Foreign Language Teaching
As we are doing our study in collaboration with Çankaya Municipality, we will be presenting our findings to relevant authorities in order for the municipality to make necessary changes in adult English language courses. First of all, since the learners believe that the course will not suffice for their English competency by itself, a more student-centered attitude could be adopted by the instructors and speaking lessons could be utilized in order to fulfill the gaps that English courses cannot fill at the moment and to make English a part of their daily lives. Also, as a result of the fact that most of the undergraduate programs of foreign language education don’t have andragogy classes in their curriculum, the teachers who graduate from these institutes often have difficulties with dealing with adult learners whose motivational drives are very different from those of young learners. Therefore, andragogy classes should be offered to the students of such programs as a must course so that a better approach to those learners would be provided. In today’s field of ELT, adult learners are in the books of language acquisition only to make comparisons with young learners and are often neglected. However, many research, including ours showed that they are unique.
5.2 Further Research
Further research on the topic could be done in a larger scale in a larger time scope and a much greater number of participants from different regions of Turkey to reflect the English language learning motivations of plateau stage adult citizens of Turkey. Additionally, the English language learning motivations of young adults who are citizens of Turkey could be researched in order to have a comparison point so as to understand what 35+ years old adult learners seek for in their language learning distinctively from younger adults.
Our study had several limitations. The first limitation which affected our study the most was the time limitation. The time we had to carry out and complete the study which was one semester was remarkably short, thus research could not be done in some Çankaya community centers which may have left us with relatively limited information. A further limitation our study had was that a substantial majority of our participants are female. Moreover, our sample group was restricted concerning educational background as the study had hardly any participants from some educational backgrounds such as middle school or post graduate. Had we had a more balanced sample group, the results could have been different. In addition, the number of adults who are in the plateau stage in Çankaya community centers wasn’t as high as expected. Thus, the number of the participants is not ideal for a quantitative study in those centers.
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