The role of gender in language learning motivation of Polish students

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The role of gender in language learning motivation has not been extensively researched, despite the fact that there seem to exist deeply rooted stereotypes suggesting that languages are considered a feminine domain (Norton & Pavlenko, 2004). The few studies from applied linguistics that examined gender reported that indeed female students are more motivated to learn English than their male peers (Bacon & Finneman, 1992; Bartram, 2006; Dörnyei & Csizér, 2002; Gardner & Lambert, 1972; Ryan, 2009). Sunderland (2004; in Carr & Pauwels, 2005) commented that lack in interest in language learning displayed by boys appears to be widely accepted as 'how it is' and few attempts have been made to critically analyse it (p. 21). Indeed, this appears to be the case in motivational research as the previously quoted studies offered little in the way of explanation of the reported gender differences.In this study, a mixed-methods approach has been employed in order to examine the role of gender in language learning motivation and proficiency. 599 Polish learners of English aged 15-16 completed a motivational questionnaire, which included scales of the ideal L2 self, self-regulation, intrinsic motivation, instrumental orientation, international orientation, self-efficacy beliefs and English self-concept. Out of 599 participants filling in the motivational questionnaire, 398 completed the Quick Oxford Placement Test. Moreover, 20 students participated in semi-structured interviews. The quantitative data was analysed using factor analysis, MANOVA, t-tests, Structural Equation Modelling (SEM), and Wald tests, while the interviews were transcribed and coded.The results of MANOVA confirmed that there was a significant difference between males and females in terms of their overall motivation (Pillai’s trace = .102, F = 7.44, p < .001) and the effect size was moderate (partial eta squared = .102). Furthermore, three significant differences were detected on individual scales, namely ideal L2 self, self-regulation and international orientation. In all cases, female participants scored higher than their male peers. The effect sizes were small. The result of the t-test showed that there was a small significant difference between the scores on the proficiency test according to gender, with female participants scoring higher than their male peers. The SEM models of language learning motivation fitted separately for male and female learners were also found to be significantly different (χ² = 592 on 191 df (p < .001)). In particular, the Wald test revealed that the weight of the link between L2 self and intrinsic motivation was significantly stronger in the case of male than female students. The interviewees provided a number of potential reasons behind the higher motivation of female as compared to male learners. Among them were gender differences in employment, perceived maturity, preferred learning styles and perceived difficulty of language studies.Bacon, S. & Finneman, M. (1992). Sex differences in self-reported beliefs about foreign language learning and authentic oral and written input. Language Learning, 42, 471–495.Bartram, B. (2006). Attitudes to language learning: A comparative study of peer group influences. The Language Learning Journal, 33(1), 47–51.Carr, J., & Pauwels, A. (2005). Boys and foreign language learning. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.Dörnyei, Z. & Csizér, K. (2002). Some dynamics of language attitudes and motivation: Results of a longitudinal nationwide survey. Applied Linguistics, 23(4), 421–462.Gardner, R. C. & Lambert, W. E. (1972). Attitudes and motivation in second-language learning. Rowley, Mass.: Newbury House Publishers.Norton, B. & Pavlenko, A. (2004). Gender and English language learners: Challenges and possibilities. In B. Norton & A. Pavlenko (Eds.), Gender and English language learners (pp. 1–12). Virginia: TESOL.Ryan, S. (2009). Self and identity in L2 motivation in Japan: The ideal L2 self and Japanese learners of English. In Z. Dörnyei & E. Ushioda (Eds.), Motivation, language identity and the L2 self (pp. 120–144). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2015
EventEuroSLA 25: 25th Annual Conference of the European Second Language Association - University of Aix-en-Provence, Aix-en-Provence, France
Duration: 26 Aug 201529 Aug 2015


ConferenceEuroSLA 25: 25th Annual Conference of the European Second Language Association


  • motivation
  • gender
  • Polish context
  • SEM model


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