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(If your company does not have bond issuances, then report the long term liabilities/debt over the past 10 quarters. Also report the ratio of long term liabilities/debt to total asset ratio) English Language Teaching; Vol. 11, No. 9; 2018
ISSN 1916-4742
E-ISSN 1916-4750
Published by Canadian Center of Science and Education
English in an EFL Context: Teachers’ and Learners’ Motivations for
English Language Learning
Fatemeh Zarrabi1
School of Education, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia
Correspondence: Fatemeh Zarrabi, School of Education, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia. Tel:
61-399-052-831. E-mail:
Received: June 19, 2018
Accepted: August 4, 2018
doi: 10.5539/elt.v11n9p17
Online Published: August 6, 2018
The present study explores the ways in which English is used in public discourse in Tehran-Iran and the
motivations of Iranian – English as a Foreign Language (EFL) learners and teachers towards English language
learning. The paper begins with an overview of different places in which English is used in Iran, such as media,
public signs, traffic signs, advertisements, products, people’s ordinary lives, and education. A cohort of 327
participants, including 168 Iranian EFL learners (male and female) and 159 experienced Iranian EFL teachers
(male and female) responded to an English language motivation questionnaire. The results revealed that there is
an active presence of English in Iran. In addition, the majority of Iranian EFL learners and teachers involved in
the study regard English as an important part of their lives for many and various reasons such as being up-to-date,
love, education, learning a new skill, being promoted, having a better and more highly qualified job and
increased life chances.
Keywords: English language learning, motivation, EFL learners, EFL teachers
1. Introduction
First-time visitors to Iran report that Iranian people are kind, hospitable, and eager to communicate in English
(Cortazzi et al., 2015). There is a growing interest in English language learning in almost every part of Iran even
though English is not spoken as a second language there. There are many reasons why Iranians are interested in
learning English (Sadeghi & Richards, 2015). The purpose of this paper is to explore those reasons with a
number of learners and teachers in Iran. In addition, the paper provides a context for this exploration by
considering the ways in which English is used in Iran such as in public and private education, academia, media,
business, and people’s ordinary lives. Thus, we seek to clarify the following research questions:
1) How is English used in Iran?
2) What is the motivation for learning English in Iran?
3) What purposes does English serve for Iranians?
To do this, we have examined the role of English in Tehran, the capital and the largest city of Iran. With a
population of around 8.8 million in the city and 15 million in its larger metropolitan area, Tehran is the most
populous city in Iran and in Western Asia. Tehran has diversity of people from different cities of Iran, such as
Mashhadi, Azeri-Turkish, Kurdish and Gilaki. People from other cities travel to Tehran for better universities and
job opportunities. The metropolis of Tehran is divided into 22 municipal districts, each with its own
administrative centre. Tehran is located in North West of Iran. The official language of Tehran is Persian but as
many people have moved to Tehran from various cities, some might, for example, speak in Turkish, Kurdish,
Gilaki or Mashhadi.
The literature has shown that there are many factors affecting English language learning and teaching process
(Cheng & Lee, 2018; Richards & Sadeghi, 2015; Soureshjani & Naseri, 2011). Motivation in learning a foreign
or second language (FL/L2), among affective factors, plays an important role in education. Dornyei and Ushioda
(2011) define motivation as “[w]hat moves a person to make certain choices, to engage in action, to expend
effort and persist in action” (p. 3). Motivation has been an area of investigation, particularly in the context of
TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) since it can determine a language learner’s success
and failure in language learning. Research studies have demonstrated that those students who have higher
English Language Teaching
Vol. 11, No. 9; 2018
motivation are more successful and efficient in their learning (Ely, 1986; Gardner, 2000). There has been limited
research studies in the area of Iranian EFL learners and teachers’ motivation for English language learning (ELL)
(Richards & Sadeghi, 2015; Soureshjani & Naseri, 2011). Therefore, this research study has been conducted to
investigate Iranian EFL learners’ and teachers’ (n = 327) motivation for ELL in larger scale as well as showing
how the presence of English is in Iran.
2. Method
This is a quantitative research study investigating the idea of English in Iran as well as the motivation of EFL
learners and teachers for English language learning. The study was conducted in English language institutes in
Iran where any Iranian English language learners learn English due to various purposes and motivations.
2.1 Participants
In order to explore the motivation of Iranians for learning English, we surveyed two groups of participants:
current Iranian English language learners (48.81% male and 51.19% female) and Iranian EFL teachers who were
themselves previous English language learners (45.57% male and 54.43% female). It is noteworthy to mention
that the participants were chosen through convenient sampling method.
The learners’ age ranged from 18 to 63 with the majority being in their twenties and thirties. Several teachers had
tertiary qualifications at either undergraduate or post graduate level in English majors such as English language
teaching, English translation, or English literature. All the learners and some teachers in this study had majored
in other fields than English such as Arts or Engineering. Participants self-assessed as being from all levels of
English language proficiency; 10.2 percent of them at Basic level, 5.4 percent Elementary, 15 percent
Pre-intermediate level, more than 31 percent at Intermediate level, 19 percent at Upper-intermediate, and 20
percent were Advanced learners. The teachers’ age ranged from 22 to 63, with most in their twenties and thirties.
The majority of teachers had between 8 to 12 years of English language teaching experience. This shows that we
had variety of participants in terms of age, English language learning, and the status of English language
2.2 Data Collection Procedure
Questionnaire was chosen to get a general idea on the Iranian EFL learners’ and teachers’ motivation for English
language learning in large scale, however, as motivation is something personal and for each individual might be
different, we chose open-ended item questions to give the participants room to talk. Both groups – Iranian EFL
teachers and learners – were given a short open-ended survey questionnaire developed after consideration of
similar questionnaires (Al-Tamimi & Shuib, 2009; Kim, 2006; Sadeghi & Richards, 2015; Tsuda, 2003). The
questionnaire included three sections on Background Information, Reasons (Motivation), and Further
Information. Before the main administration of the questionnaire, it was piloted on a small group of learners and
teachers similar to the target group, and was revised based on pilot findings and expert advice. The Cronbach
alpha reliability of the questionnaire was estimated to be 0.71. The participants had free choice of language for
the questionnaire, English or Persian. The questionnaire was administered to EFL teachers and learners in private
English language institutes. Half of the questionnaires were filled online via Qualtrics and the rest were
administered in person by the researcher. The participants were given as much time as they needed to complete
the questionnaires with most learners completing the survey forms in fewer than 20 minutes.
3. Results and Discussion
In order to conduct this research study and respond to the above-mentioned research questions, we first looked at
the presence of English in different areas of Iran such as in the public domain, the media and education. Then,
we explored the motivation of a number of Iranian English language learners and teachers via a short open-ended
survey with three hundred and twenty-seven participants.
3.1 The Status of English in Iran in the Public Domain
Strong presence of English (along with Persian) is clearly obvious in public life as is reflected in street names,
traffic signals, and public signs and messages (Figure 1). Iranian English newspapers such as the Tehran Times
and Iran Daily, monthly English periodicals (e.g. VIVA magazine), as well as channel 4 which broadcasts
English news programs and documentaries (on wildlife, lives of famous people, landmarks, etc.) are also
available in Iran (Figure 2). The audience and readers would typically be foreigners living in Iran and students
who enjoy learning English or who are majoring in English and want to boost up their English knowledge or
develop their English language skills.
English Language Teaching
Vol. 11, No. 9; 2018
Figure 1. Traffic signals and highways, Tehran, Iran
Figure 2. Iran News, an English language newspaper
Figure 3. Fruit juice advertisement on TV in Iran
English is not a second language in Iran and is not used as a means of communication – orally or written – in
many Iranian organizations. However, English language knowledge together with computer literacy, is
considered as an advantage over other employees in almost all private and public workplaces in Iran. Thus,
English is seen as a worthwhile asset, one that enables people to interact with a wider world, to be educated
abroad, to experience living abroad, to earn credits and prestige, to be up-to-date through use techno-gadgets,
and to advance themselves in their jobs (Sadeghi & Richards, 2015).
English is viewed as a necessary tool for communication with the world beyond Iran’s borders and as a means of
providing access to information required for Academic technical and scientific texts in this globalized digital era
(Dao & McDonough, 2018; Kiany et al., 2011; Zarrabi, 2017). Furthermore, English is viewed as cool and
modern (prestigious) in Iran as well as a means of providing information for tourists and visitors who do not
understand Persian (Sadeghi & Richards, 2015). This perspective is reflected in advertisements (Figure 3),
trading billboards, clothing items, domestic products (e.g. chocolates, snacks and dairy products, Figure 4),
hotels (Figure 5), shops (Figure 6), and restaurants (Figure 7) through the use of English words/phrases or the
use of letters from the English alphabet to express Persian words (Figure 4). This use of English can result in
funny mistakes which appear in social media as jokes. Some English words have become an integrated part of
Persian language such as bank (Figure 8), park, hotel (Figure 5), sandwich, jean[s], as well as some
techno-words such as laptop, mobile, telephone, tablet and so on. In addition, many in the younger generation
use English ‘orthography’ for their Persian text message communications and emails (Figure 9). English graffiti,
especially romantic messages, are also found on many walls in Iran.
English Language Teaching
Vol. 11, No. 9; 2018
Figure 4. Majoon Ice cream, Iran Figure
Figure 5. Darvishi Royal Hotel in Mashhad, Iran
Figure 6. Shirin Asal shop in Tehran, Iran
Figure 7. Super Star restaurant in Tehran, Iran
Figure 8. Melli bank in Tehran, Iran
Figure 9. Farsi text message or email in English
Doctors’ prescriptions are all in English. So those who do not know English cannot understand what the doctor
has prescribed for them. From the examples mentioned earlier, it is obvious how widely English is used in Iran
although it is not as a second language. What follows is a clear explanation of English in Educational system of
Iran, both in schools and higher education.
3.2 English in the Educational System of Iran
In the official curriculum of public education, English is a compulsory course for junior high and high school
students (based on the official website of Organization for Curriculum Development (TALIF),,
18/04/2018). The starting age of formal literacy education for Iranian children is seven (Palls, 2010) and starting
age for learning English is twelve – Grade 6 – and is continued at tertiary level in either General English or
English for specific/academic purposes [ESP/EAP] courses.
Unlike English in school education, there is no specific course book material and syllabus for teaching English at
university. The lecturers can develop their own syllabus and select the most relevant teaching material. Some
English Language Teaching
Vol. 11, No. 9; 2018
university lecturers choose the SAMT (the organization in charge of producing educational materials for
universities in Iran) publication for English at tertiary level while others choose books published outside Iran
(Hosseini et al., 2009). Typically, English courses at universities in Iran focus mainly on reading comprehension
and emphasize learning grammar and vocabulary with virtually no attention paid to speaking skills and
communicative competence. Most classes are conducted in Persian (except those for TESOL, TEFL, and English
literature majors) and take up between twenty to thirty hours, and might not be taught by staff from an English
department (Eslami et al., 2007; Mazdayasna & Tahririan, 2008). Majors like TESOL/TEFL, English literature,
and Translation exist in many universities in Iran and are taught by academics who are specialized in these areas.
English has been viewed from three different perspectives in the educational system of Iran: pre-revolution
(before 1978), during the revolution (1979-1981), and post-revolution (1982 to present). In the first period, the
view towards English language learning was positive with the focus on vocabulary learning; in the second period,
which goes back to the Islamic Revolution in 1978, English was described as a “foreign” or “alien” language
(Borjian, 2013; Davari & Aghagolzadeh, 2015); in the last period, in contrast to the previous view, English is
regarded as an essential tool for progress and communication (Riazi, 2005; Sadeghi & Richards, 2015). This
shift in perspective was caused, at least in part, by a famous sermon by Iran’s late leader (Imam Khomeini,
PBUH). He believed that foreign languages, especially English which is the universal language and the language
of world media, should be included in the Iranian school syllabi (information based on the official website of
Organization for Curriculum Development, TALIF;, 18/04/2018). School English course books
have been changed four times in response to the changed attitudes towards English, two modifications in the
pre-revolution series and two in the post-revolution series (, 18/04/2018). Despite these changes,
all textbooks are based on a single approach to English language teaching, the Grammar-Translation Method
(GTM, Figure 10). One of the disadvantages of the approach to teaching English in schools in Iran is the use of
purely GTM as it only teaches students grammar without context, translation, and lists of vocabulary
(Dahmardah, 2009). Another problematic feature of school English classrooms in Iran is the seating
arrangements which are in orderly rows (Figure 11) with the teacher always at the front. More effective seating
arrangements for English classes are a horseshoe, circle and separate tables (Figure 12) which increase the ease
of communication between students. Poorly prepared school English teachers, physical limitations of the classes
such as seating arrangements and lack of audio system in each class, as well as inappropriate school textbooks
and teaching methodologies are all pivotal factors which result in the poor English language proficiency of
Iranian students (Borijan, 2013). Therefore, the students learn merely translation, grammar, and vocabulary. In
fact, all four skills, reading, writing, speaking, and listening, are weak after graduation unless students go to
private English language institutes.
Figure 10. GTM adapted from Richards & Rodgers,
2001, LL = Language Learning, L1 = Mother tongue,
TL = Target Language
Figure 11. Iran seating configuration of the classes at
English Language Teaching
Vol. 11, No. 9; 2018
Figure 12. English classroom seating arrangements, Harmer (2007)
Iranian EFL students have revealed that they consider English language learning as either “important” or
“somewhat important” to their lives (Meshkat & Saeb, 2013; Ardavani & Durrant, 2015). Given this, combined
with the lack of communicative competence among many language learners as a result of the dominant pedagogy,
there is a high demand for private English institutions in Iran (Sadeghi & Richards, 2015). Although English is
considered as a foreign language in Iran, countless numbers of people want to learn it. There are more than seven
thousand and eight hundred registered English language institutes in Iran (including 4350 for females and 3450
for males) in addition to numerous unregistered ones where the Iranians learn English – either ESP or General
English – in order to be able to communicate in English, to pursue education abroad, to live abroad, to travel to
foreign countries, and to take international examinations such as IELTS/TOEFL/GRE (Iran Ministry of
Education, personal communication, 18/04/2018). The number of students in various institutes differs in size,
ranging from those with 50 students to those with more than 2000 students. Registrations usually double during
the summer period which is school holiday. In addition to studying at English language institutes, some parents
employ private tutors to teach their children at home (based on the author’s personal experience). All English
classes at private institutes are conducted in English. The teachers in English institutes – either majors in English
or not – are fluent speakers of English and teach popular textbooks such as Interchange, True to Life, Headway,
and English Result. These books are accompanied by teachers’ guide, workbook, and audio-visual aids, as well
as other pedagogical tools which are provided by the institutions. In the more famous institutes, teachers
participate in career development workshops and apply the newest ELT methodologies in their classrooms.
Following a comprehensive research on the status of using English in both public domain and educational
system of Iran, investigating the motivation of English language learners in Iran, was set as the agenda for the
current research.
3.3 Motivation for English Language Learning
In the ‘general information’ section, we asked about “Where they have learned English?” to get a general idea of
what is a common way for the Iranians to learn English. The results (Figure 13 & Figure 14) show that the
majority of both groups (EFL learners 67% and EFL teachers 44%) identify private language institutes as the
main context for their language learning.
Figure 13. Where student participants learn English
Figure 14. Where teacher participants learnt English
English Language Teaching
Figure 15. Why student participants learn English
Vol. 11, No. 9; 2018
Figure 16. Why teacher participants learnt English
As demonstrated in Figure 15 and 16, more than 37% of EFL learners and approximately 51% of EFL teachers
said they learn English due to their “love” of the English language. When they were further asked what they
mean by “love”, they said that they love English because it sounds beautiful to them, that knowing a language
which others in the community …
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