Ethnic Identity and Culture in Foreign Language Motivation: EFL for Kurdish and Arabic Students in Iraqi Higher Education

Research output: Book/ReportPh.D. thesisResearch


  • Taha Hammad Ameen Khudgir Agha
This thesis presents a study of Iraqi (Kurdish and Arabic) undergraduate students’ motivation to learn English, using Dörnyei’s (2009a) L2 Motivational Self-System and Gardner's (1985a) Socio-educational model as the main theoretical frameworks, while also including some social contextual factors (e.g. ethnic identity and culture plus the present political situation in Iraq). Different groups of students will be compared. Thus, this study has three primary aims: firstly to analyze the influence of a set of demographic factors (year of study, field of study and gender) of the Kurdish students in Sulaymaniyah university (Kurdistan Region-Northern Iraq) and Arabic students in AL-Mustansiriya university (Baghdad city) on their motivation to learn English as a foreign language in Iraq; secondly to determine their motivational orientation (instrumental and/or integrative orientation); and finally to get insight into how the concepts of ethnic identity and culture have influenced their motivation to learn English. The study applies a mixed method approach. A structured questionnaire survey was designed and administered to 576 undergraduates in twelve scientific departments divided into two major fields (Humanity and pure science) of two public sector universities in Central and Northern Iraq. Both descriptive and inferential statistics were used to analyze the questionnaire data. In addition, a pilot project of fifteen semi-structured interviews with students from three groups (Kurd, Arab and Kurd who grew up in an Arabic area e.g. Baghdad) were also conducted before making the main survey, and their data was analyzed using thematic analysis.
The study provides considerable support for the effect of ethnic identity and culture in determining the students’ orientation (instrumental or integrative) to learn English in the Iraqi context. Participants´ attitudes towards learning English as a foreign language and the way they conceive of themselves and their obligations as learners of English emerged as the strongest contributors to their reported learning efforts. Both quantitative and qualitative data reveal that the actual context strongly influences participants’ future selves and their L2/FL motivation. Furthermore, based on the qualitative data we see that English-related social values and pressures on the students are also mediated by their significant others (family, peers, friends etc.). As a consequence, a new model is proposed to capture the in-depth view of the L2/FL motivational orientation of the participants, highlighting the need to understand the association of English with their ethnic identities and culture. Generally speaking, it can be concluded that both concepts (ethnic identity and culture) play a significant role in determining and changing the students’ perception and beliefs towards learning a foreign language. As a consequence, in further studies it is recommended that local contextual factors are being taken into consideration already at the outset of the study.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherDet Humanistiske Fakultet, Københavns Universitet
Number of pages357
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2015

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