Teacher: A Key to Motivating Language Learners
Islamic Azad University-Semnan Branch
Seyyed Mosa Tabatabaee
Investigating the motivational basis of language learning has been the
concern of much research for many years (Kormos, & Dornyei, 2004).
However, the change of learning approaches throughout years has led to a
shift of focus to more specific motivational themes such as teacher motivation
(Dornyei, 2001) where the motivating character of the learning context can be
enhanced through conscious intervention by the language teacher (Dornyei,
2007). To evaluate the potential relevance of situation-specific factors to L2
motivation and course achievement in a foreign language classroom-context,
evaluation of the L2 teacher as a key motivational component of L2
instruction took place. To this end, 55 English students filled out Clement,
Dornyei, and Noels’ (1994) motivation questionnaire, and then at the end of
the academic term, the students’ conversational ability was evaluated to
investigate the relationship between how students evaluated their teacher
concerning competence, rapport, motivation, and style and their own self-
evaluation, satisfaction, and course achievement, as well as their attitude
toward learning English, motivational intensity and anxiety. Moreover, the
correlation of the overall evaluation of the teacher and all the preceding
factors were investigated. The results of the study revealed some significant
correlations among individual factors and a diverse correlational pattern
concerning the overall evaluation of the teacher. This diversity of findings
and some guidelines for creating a motivating learning environment, as well
as some applicable motivational strategies are discussed.
Keywords: motivation, language learning framework, teacher perception, educational
Motivation, a familiar term and a multifaceted construct, has been defined in various
forms in literature; however, everyone agrees that “motivation is responsible for
determining human behavior by energizing it and giving it direction” (Dornyei, 1998,
p.117). Gardner (2005) states that: “Motivation implies many things. The motivated
individual displays many attributes, and the goal is only one of them” (p. 9), such as
striving for the goal, making attributions concerning successes and failures, or using
strategies to aid in achieving the goal. Motivation is a complex construct and according to
Gardner, motivational intensity, desire to learn the language, and attitudes toward the act
of learning and language are the three central components for motivation to learn a
second language (Gardner, & Tremblay, 1994). Though not explicitly mentioned, these
motivational components have direct relevance to classroom language learning and actual
In 1990s, ‘motivational renaissance’, a shift in second language motivational research
mainly influenced by educational psychological research led to new models and
approaches expanding the L2 motivation paradigm. Within this shift of focus, moving
towards a more situated approach, examining the influences of the immediate learning
context and concrete learning processes within a classroom context took place. In
addition, more specific motivational themes such as teacher motivation were introduced,
so the motivating character of the learning context could be enhanced through conscious
intervention by the language teacher and by applying motivational strategies and
techniques (Dornyei, 2007).
Motivational strategies, “instructional interventions applied by the teacher to elicit
and stimulate student motivation” (Guilloteaux, & Dornyei, 2008, p. 5) also refer to
strategies used by individual students on purpose for self-regulation and management of
one’s own level of motivation. Since teacher’s motivational practice is directly related to
how the students approach classroom learning, applying strategies to motivate language
learners creates a more motivating classroom environment. In the long-term process of
L2 learning, inspiration and enjoyment besides other factors help build up continuing
motivation in the learners. Dornyei (2007) mentions a number of influential concepts to
create a motivating classroom environment: “group cohesiveness and interpersonal
relations, group norms and student roles, the teacher’s leadership styles, and the process
of facilitation, as well as the main phases of a proactive, motivational teaching practice
within a process-oriented framework” (p. 719). Moreover, based on an empirical
investigation, Dornyei and Csizer (1998) proposed ten commandments to create a
motivating classroom environment and to motivate language learners: 1.Set a personal
example with your own behavior, 2. Create a pleasant, relaxed atmosphere in the
classroom, 3. Present the tasks properly, 4. Develop a good relationship with the learners,
5. Increase the learners’ linguistic self-confidence, 6. Make the language classes
interesting, 7. Promote learner autonomy, 8. Personalize the learning process, 9. Increase
the learners’ goal-orientedness, and 10. Familiarize learners with the target language
A practical framework to motivate L2 learning has also been presented by Oxford and
Shearin (1994) based on psychological principles. They suggest: finding out students’
reasons for studying the language, shaping students’ beliefs about success and failure in
L2 learning, emphasizing on the role of effort, increasing students’ motivation and
heightening their attitude by various means, creating a live, positive, and welcoming L2
classroom, providing extrinsic rewards, and helping students to build their own intrinsic
reward system. Similarly, Dornyei (1994) suggested 30 strategies for the three levels of
motivation: language, learner, and learning situation. Concerning teacher-specific
motivational components, he argues that teachers must try to be emphatic, congruent, and
accepting, that means being sensitive to students’ needs, feelings, behaving according to
their true selves, and accepting students nonjudgmentally with positive regard. Instead of
adopting an authoritative role, they should try to be a facilitator. Moreover, promoting
learner autonomy, modeling student interest in L2 learning, using motivating feedback
and introducing tasks in a way to stimulate intrinsic motivation and help internalize
extrinsic motivation are all various strategies to be undertaken when appropriate.
In his book Motivational Strategies in the Language Classroom, Dornyei (2001) has
provided a comprehensive framework of motivational teaching practice consisting of four
main dimensions: 1.Creating the basic motivational conditions 2.Generating initial
student motivation 3. Maintaining and protecting motivation and 4. Encouraging positive
retrospective self-evaluation. These dimensions which are the extension of a process-
oriented model of motivation (Dornyei, & Otto, 1998) are further broken down into 35
concrete motivational strategies and more than 100 techniques.
The teacher’s use of motivational strategies is linked to increased levels of
learners’ motivated learning behavior and their motivational state (Guilloteaux, &
Dornyei, 2008). However, concerning the applicability of motivational strategies and
techniques in various educational settings, Dornyei (2001) states that motivational
strategies “are not rock-solid golden rules, but rather suggestions that may work with one
teacher or group better than another, and which may work better today than tomorrow”
(p.30). Since this is true because we encounter varied language learning situations, as
well as learners who differ in culture, age, proficiency and needs, choosing the
appropriate and applicable strategies need to be the main concern of language teachers.
In a learning situation, concerning situation-specific motives, the teacher is one of the
motivational components (Dornyei, 1996) which has a vital impact and bearings on
students’ learning achievement as well as motivational disposition which can be assessed
in terms of variables such as grades, attitudes toward learning English, need for
achievement, motivational intensity, anxiety in class, self-evaluation of English
competence, and satisfaction (referred to as educational variables in this study). Despite
many studies which have presented lists of motivational strategies and techniques (e.g.
Brown, 2001; Jalongo, 2007; Williams, & Burden, 1997), and some other studies (e.g.
Cheng, & Dornyei, 2007; Dornyei, & Csizer, 1998; Guilloteaux, & Dornyei, 2008) which
have empirically investigated the effects of teachers’ motivational practice and strategy
application, there is little empirical work with regard to the relationship between teachers’
attributes and educational variables regardless of the type of motivational strategies being
practiced. Among teachers’ characteristics, there is more focus on the association of
teachers’ teaching style, being autonomy supportive or controlling, and students’
performance or autonomy (e.g. Assor, Kaplan, Kanat-Maymon, & Roth, 2005; Noels,
2001; Reeve, & Jang, 2006; Vansteenkiste, Simons, Lens, Sheldon, & Deci,
the relationship between other characteristics of teachers such as rapport, motivation,
competence and personality and educational variables have been less fully researched.
It seems significant to identify the type of existing association, so that teachers and
practitioners would take more care when teaching because it is not only the motivational
practices but also the teachers’ characteristics that lend themselves to improving students’
learning and motivation. Teachers need to pay more attention to their attributes that
would unwittingly influence students’ motivational disposition in one way or another.
This can lead to more emphasis on teachers’ prior experience in learning to teach as well
as allocating more time in advance to decide about the appropriate strategies to set the
stage for learning.
Based on the above considerations, the current study attempted to empirically
examine how much a teacher’s attributes and general experienced-based motivational
practices associate with students’ motivated behavior, and whether these factors make a
real difference in students’ motivational disposition. In this study there was no focus on
the impact of specific motivational strategies performed by the teacher but the teacher’s
general practice to motivate the students to converse throughout the conversation course.
Thus, the following research question was posed:
What is the relationship between Iranian EFL learners’ appraisal of teacher’s attributes
(i.e. rapport, motivation, competence, and style/personality) and their educational
variables (i.e. grades, attitudes toward learning English, need for achievement,
motivational intensity, anxiety in class, self-evaluation of English competence, and
It was anticipated that all teacher’s attributes, individually or as a whole, would
positively correlate with all variables except anxiety in class, that is students would a)
earn higher grades, b) display more positive attitudes toward learning English, c) feel
greater need for achievement, d) reveal greater motivational intensity, e) be less anxious
in class, f) evaluate their English competence higher, and g) be more satisfied with
The participants of this study were 55 English literature students studying at Semnan
University. Out of the 55 participants, 5 were males and 50 were females who ranged in
age from 19 to 24 years. At the time of research, the subjects were in their second term
and were concurrently taking part in conversation II, grammar II, and reading II courses
as part of their official university curriculum. The research was conducted during
students’ conversation classes because although they had registered in three different
conversation classes concerning the time it was held, the same teacher who followed the
same procedure and covered the same materials in all three classes instructed them. They
met in the language lab twice a week for 16 sessions, and at the end of the term their
language ability was assessed by the course teacher and a colleague and grades were
considered as an indication of their course achievement.
The study aimed at exploring the relationship between various factors in a foreign
language learning context that is educational variables and students’ perception of the
teacher’s competence, rapport, motivation, and style/personality, individually and as a
whole. Therefore, course achievement was assessed in terms of students’ grades, and
Clement, Dornyei, and Noels’ (1994) motivation questionnaire addressed to the students
was used to investigate the other variables. This questionnaire included five sections and
students indicated the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with some statements
using a Likert-type scale and assessed some others by using bipolar scales. The measures
and the number of items included in each scale along with the Cronbach alpha (a) index
of internal consistency is provided in appendix A. In this study a number of educational
variables from the questionnaire were chosen to be focused on. The following list
summarizes the variables, their definitions, and the items they were made up of (The
items with asterisk indicate reversion prior to the calculation of the scale scores.):
Attitudes Toward Learning English: The students’ affective reaction toward learning
the second language.
1. I really like learning English.
2. I would rather spend my time on subjects other than English. *
3. Sometimes English is a burden for me. *
4. English is an important subject in the school program.
5. I do not particularly like the process of learning English and I do it only because I
may need the language. *
Need for Achievement: The extent to which the students desired to achieve or perfect
their skills in the second language.
1. I hate to do a job with less than my best effort.
2. I easily give up goals which prove hard to reach. *
3. I enjoy hard work.
4. In my work, I seldom do more than is necessary. *
Motivational Intensity: The degree of effort the student exerted when learning English.
1. I frequently think over what we have learned in my English class.
2. To be honest, I very often skimp on my English homework. *
3. If my teacher wanted someone to do an extra English assignment, I would
4. Considering how I study English, I can honestly say that I do very little work. *
Anxiety in Class: The extent to which students felt anxious during English class.
1. It embarrasses me to volunteer answers in our English class.
2. I never feel quite sure of myself when I am speaking English in our English class.
3. I always feel that the other students speak English better than I do.
4. I get nervous and confused when I am speaking in my English class.
5. I am afraid that other students will laugh at me when I speak English.
Self-Evaluation of English Competence: Students self-evaluation of their English
language ability indicating how well they could use English, in terms of reading, writing,
speaking, and comprehension.
1. I can write in English.
2. I can understand English.
3. I can read English.
4. I can speak English.
Satisfaction: The students’ satisfaction with their work in English class and their level of
proficiency in English.
1. Are you satisfied with your work in the English course?
2. Are you satisfied with your English proficiency?
English Teacher Evaluation
a. Competence: competent - incompetent*, suited - unsuited*
b. Rapport: helpful - unhelpful*, unfair - fair, sympathetic - unsympathetic*
c. Motivation: enthusiastic - unenthusiastic*, lazy - hardworking
d. Style/Personality: consistent - inconsistent*, unimaginative - imaginative
slapdash - conscientious , boring - interesting , strict - lenient
The administration of the questionnaire in each of the classes took place during one of
the students’ regular conversation sessions. At the beginning, the students were assured
that the information would be kept confidential, and since the final grades were one of the
variables, writing their names on the questionnaires was a requirement. There was no
time limitation to fill out the questionnaires, and any questions regarding the meaning of
the items were answered. At the end of the academic term, the class teacher and a
colleague evaluated each student’s speaking ability according to Ur’s (1996) scale of oral
testing criteria (p.135). Afterwards, Pearson’s index of correlation was used to calculate
the inter-rater reliability for the assigned grades, and a reliability measure of .78 was
obtained. The final grade for each individual included the average of three scores: one
score assigned by the class teacher as students’ midterm score, and the other two scores
were the ones assigned at the end of the course by the class teacher and his colleague. To
fulfill the aims of the study having collected the questionnaires and receiving students’
grades, correlational method for data analyses was applied
Results and discussion
The dataset in this study produced findings that will be analyzed first by considering
the relationship between educational variables with individual characteristics of the
teacher, then as a whole. The results and discussion of data analysis follows.
Correlations between teacher’s competence and the educational variables
Table 1 presents the correlation between the seven educational variables and teacher’s
competence. Of these seven correlations with educational variables four are significant,
indicating that the appraisal of the teacher’s competence was related to students’ grades,
attitudes toward learning English, motivational intensity, and their self-evaluation. The
positive correlation with the aforementioned variables indicates that those learners who
consider the teacher more competent have more positive attitudes toward learning
English, display more effort and enthusiasm in their attempt to learn English, evaluate
themselves as being more competent, and receive higher grades. The high association
between the teacher’s and students’ competences can be due to the fact that teachers,
especially in conversation classes, by promoting interaction between learners as they
participate in communicative events aim at developing the learners’ communicative
competence. The results also indicate a negative association, even though non-significant,
between teacher’s competence and students’ anxiety; in the eyes of students, the more
competent the teacher is, the lower anxiety they experience. The other non-significant
correlations in the table indicate that there is no evidence of relationship between
students’ need for achievement and satisfaction in the conversation class with their
Table1. Correlations between ‘teacher’s competence’ and educational variables
Need for Achievement .229
Motivational Intensity .301*
Anxiety in Class -.160
N=55 **p<0.01, *p<0.05
Correlations between teacher’s rapport and educational variables
In this study teacher’s rapport was evaluated by considering three factors:
helpfulness, fairness, and being sympathetic. The results in table 2 indicate a positive and
significant association between these factors and students’ attitudes, self-evaluation, and
need for achievement. Similar to Clement et al.’s (1994) study in which students’
evaluation of teacher’s rapport was associated with students’ anxiety and linguistic self-
confidence, in this study students’ anxiety is negatively and significantly correlated with
teacher’s rapport; when the teacher is more helpful and sympathetic and avoids being
unfair toward students during classroom conversations and activities, students are less
embarrassed and experience lower levels of anxiety. However, the results did not reveal
any significant correlation with respect to students’ grades, satisfaction and specially their
motivational intensity. A possible explanation for the latter case might be that when
students find the teacher too helpful, they reduce the amount of effort they have to put
into the task.
Table2. Correlations between ‘teacher’s rapport’ and educational variables
Need for Achievement .291*
Motivational Intensity .260
Anxiety in Class - .338*
N=55 **p<0.01, *p<0.0
Correlations between teacher’s motivation and educational variables
According to Clement et al.’s (1994) questionnaire teacher’s enthusiasm and
hardworking character are signs of teacher’s motivation toward what goes on in the
classroom. As it is evident in table 3, teacher’s motivation is significantly associated
with students’ grades, attitudes, motivational intensity, and self-evaluation, and
Table3. Correlations between ‘teacher’s motivation’ and educational variables
Need for Achievement .071
Motivational Intensity .392**
Anxiety in Class - .273*
N=55 **p<0.01, *p<0.05
negatively correlated with anxiety in class. However, students’ need for achievement
that is the desire to achieve or perfect their skills, and satisfaction with their English
competence is not associated with teacher’s motivation. It is interesting to discover that
among the teacher’s characteristics, the highest number of significant associations is
found between teacher’s motivation and educational variables. The roots of this matter
maybe found in the influential power of a motivated teacher since the teacher’s own level
of motivation can have a significant impact on the students learning and motivational
Correlations between teacher’s style/personality and educational variables
In table 4 teacher’s style/personality shows positive relationships with all factors
except anxiety which has negative relations. However, only in one case, significant
positive correlation is found and that is between the amount of effort and enthusiasm the
students display in their attempt to learn English, namely, motivational intensity, and how
they assess their teacher’s teaching style and personality concerning its consistency,
imaginativeness, conscientiousness, being interesting and lenient. This is the strongest
correlation found among all the significant associations between individual characteristics
of the teacher and the educational variables. This strong correlation indicates that the
students, who seriously care for their teacher’s personality and teaching style when
finding it in accordance with their expectations from a teacher, are fueled to the extent
that they demonstrate more enthusiasm and are more motivated to learn. As Dornyei
(1994) claims, teacher’s affiliative drive, authority style, and the way of presenting tasks
and providing feedback are associated with students’ motivation.
Table4. Correlations between ‘teacher’s style/personality’ and educational variables
Need for Achievement .045
Motivational Intensity .412**
Anxiety in Class - .062
N=55 **p<0.01, *p<0.05
With regard to other factors, the non-significant correlation indicates that there is no
evidence of a relationship between teacher’s style/personality and students’ grades,
attitudes, need for achievement, anxiety in class, self-evaluation, and satisfaction. These
findings match Noels, Clement, and Pelletier’s (1999) findings which show that when
students perceived their teachers as more informative, they reported greater motivational
intensity and intention to continue their studies. This type of teacher communication style
was not significantly related to anxiety or students’ perceived competence. While those
who perceived their teacher’s style as more controlling reported greater anxiety, less
motivational intensity, and assessed their competence as lower although not associated
with final grades.
Correlations between teacher’s overall characteristics and educational variables
The association between the combination of teacher’s characteristics as a whole and
educational variables are presented in table 5. As expected, though not significant,
students’ anxiety is the only factor that shows negative relation with teacher’s
characteristics. Among the positive associations, students’ attitudes toward learning
English, motivational intensity, self-evaluation, and course achievement are significantly
correlated with teacher’s characteristics. In this table, the highest correlation observed
belongs to motivational intensity which can be an indication of the key role of the teacher
in motivating students to learn. Moreover, the high correlation found for attitudes toward
learning English can reveal the fact that whatever the teacher does affects students’
attitudes. In turn such students evaluate themselves as being more competent and obtain
Table5. Correlations between ‘teacher’s overall characteristics’ and educational variables
Need for Achievement .185
Motivational Intensity .499**
Anxiety in Class - .247
N=55 **p<0.01, *p<0.05
The present study had the purpose of examining the relationship between students’
evaluation of their teacher and a number of educational variables of a group of Iranian
EFL students who studied English literature as their major. Even though this study has
several limitations, such as its small sample size and the fact that correlations do not
indicate causations, it still indicates the existence of some relationships which can be
explained in the light of social psychological approaches toward learning.
According to the findings, the anticipation concerning a negative correlation in case
of anxiety and positive association for other cases turned out to be correct although the
correlations were not significant in all cases. Attitudes toward learning English and
motivational intensity are the top most correlated variables followed by grade, anxiety,
and self evaluation. Gardner, and Masgoret (2004) state that there are relationships
between second language achievement, attitudes toward learning, anxiety and motivation.
Since foreign language acquisition is a complex social process, the emerged pattern of
association in this study can be explained according to the socioeducational model of
language learning which states that differences in motivation can be accounted for by
integrativeness and attitudes toward learning situation. Moreover, based on social
psychological theories of action, “attitudes exert a directive influence on people’s
behavior since one’s attitude toward a target influences the overall pattern of one’s
responses to the target” (Dornyei, 1999, p.3). Oxford (1990) declares that attitudes affect
motivation, and both attitudes and motivation work together to influence language
learning performance; this includes global language proficiency and proficiency in
specific language skills.
Classroom environment, which encompasses reactions to the teacher, can influence
attitudes toward learning leading to changes in the level of motivation, and promoting
achievement in language learning. Since “motivational intensity, classroom anxiety, and
evaluation of the learning situation do not exist in isolation” (Gardner, & Masgoret, 2004,
p. 31), general attitudes toward the learning situation which includes evaluation of the
teacher and the course as part of the integrative motive (Gardner, 1983, cited in Clement
et al., 1994) account for any alterations in these factors. Therefore, experiences in the
classroom including attempts to motivate students and to reduce classroom anxiety by
introducing specific teaching strategies can affect students’ attitudes toward language
learning in general.
Since perception of teacher’s communicative style is related to students’ intrinsic
motivation, it is suggested that teachers encourage learners’ autonomous learning and
competence which in turn encourage intrinsic motivation. Thus stronger feelings of
intrinsic motivation lead to positive language learning outcomes, including greater
motivational intensity, greater self-evaluations of competence, and a reduction in anxiety
(Noels et al., 1999). Moreover, the classroom context may affect language self
confidence. Good classroom atmosphere promotes students involvement and activity
while moderating anxiety and promoting self-confidence.
At the end, once more it needs to be emphasized that motivation is not static but
constantly changing depending on various influential factors in the classroom
environment; moreover, “no motivational strategy has absolute and general value”
(Dörnyei, & Csizér, 1998, p.224) because the personality of the learner, the teacher’
competence, rapport, motivation, personality, teaching style and the teacher’s key role in
motivating students, as well as other situational factors always interplay with the
effectiveness of the implemented motivational strategies. So, while having a vast
repertoire of motivational techniques at their disposal, teachers are in charge of choosing
the most appropriate and applicable ones to motivate students, bearing in mind that
“classroom motivational life is complex” (Grahams, 1994, cited in Dornyei, & Otto,
1998, p. 65).
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Cronbach alpha coefficients pertaining to the scales used by Clément, Dornyei, & Noels’
Measure Cronbach’s Alpha Number of Items
Instrumental Orientation .50
Knowledge Orientation .63
Travel Orientation .65
Friendship Orientation .80
Sociocultural Orientation .72
Integrative Orientation .67
Attitudes toward learning English .74 5
Attitudes toward the British .74 5
Attitudes toward the Americans .85 5
Need for Achievement .63 4
Motivational Intensity .68 4
Anxiety in Class .86 5
English Use Anxiety .83 4
Self-Evaluation of English Competence .79 4
Satisfaction .62 2
Perceived Group Cohesion in the Student .77 8
Frequency of Inter-Ethnic Contact .61 9
Quality of Inter-Ethnic Contact .67 9
Teacher and Course
Teacher’s Competence .77 2
Teacher’s Rapport .84 3
Teacher’s Motivation .71 2
Teacher’s Style/Personality .78 5
English Course Attractiveness .82 3
English Course Usefulness .83 2