Academic journal article International Journal of English Studies

'In New Zealand I Feel More Confidence': The Role of Context in the Willingness to Communicate (WTC) of Migrant Iranian English Language Learners

Academic journal article International Journal of English Studies

'In New Zealand I Feel More Confidence': The Role of Context in the Willingness to Communicate (WTC) of Migrant Iranian English Language Learners

Article excerpt


Dörnyei (2010: 252) has dismissed as an "idealized myth" the idea that individual differences (IDs) in learners are stable and monolithic traits. Instead they display "a considerable amount of variation from time to time and from situation to situation" (ibid: 252). Willingness to communicate (WTC) in the L2 has been regarded as one of these variables since its initial conception more than a decade ago.

Willingness to communicate was originally conceived in the L1 as "an individual's predisposition to initiate communication with others" (McCroskey, 1997: 77). Extending this to the second language situation, MacIntyre et al. (1998: 547) defined WTC "as a readiness to enter into discourse at a particular time with a specific person or persons, using a L2."

Kang (2005), however, as a result of her study of Korean Study Abroad (SA) students proposed another definition of WTC as a situational variable: "Willingness to communicate is an individual's volitional inclination toward actively engaging in the act of communication in a specific situation, which can vary according to interlocutor(s), topic, and conversational context, among other potential situational variables" (p. 291).

Whether Willingness to Communicate is a permanent trait or is modified by situational context has previously been investigated in various studies (e.g., Cao & Philp, 2006; Kang, 2005). More recently the importance of Dynamic Systems Theory to WTC has been revealed (MacIntyre & Legatto, 2011), as well as Action Control Theory (MacIntyre & Doucette, 2010). However, most of this research has been quantitative and conducted in the English as a Foreign Language or Study Abroad situation in countries such as Canada, Japan, Korea and China. Middle Eastern students have only recently begun to be the focus of WTC studies published in English (e.g., Çetinkaya, 2005; Ghonsooly et al., 2012; Zarrinabadi, 2014).

The nature of the WTC of permanent migrants to an English-speaking country also remains an under-reported area of research (except for Zhong, 2013). If the context of the migrants' English learning is radically changed, then perhaps their motivation and other personal factors which contribute to their WTC could be affected either positively or negatively.

Therefore, this study was designed to investigate how the particular variable of "change of language learning context" affected the WTC of Iranian migrants to New Zealand (NZ). The study was conducted over two semesters (one year) with four pre-university ESL (English as a Second Language) students who were interviewed by the researcher after completing a written questionnaire. Building on the results of a previous exploratory study (Cameron, 2013), an observation tool was used as well as the longitudinal dimension, in order to enhance the validity of the findings of this qualitative study. Before discussing these findings, the literature which forms the background to this study will be presented in the following section.


SLA researchers in the last decade have emphasized the importance of WTC in the L2 as a vital component of modern language instruction (e.g., de St Léger & Storch, 2009; MacIntyre & Legatto, 2011; MacIntyre et al., 1998). Communicative competence alone may not result in actual L2 communication in or outside the classroom. However, "L2 learners with a high level of WTC are more likely to use L2 in authentic communication and facilitate language learning" (Kang, 2005: 278). In fact, there is a great variety of communicative competence levels among L2 users. This has been attributed to social factors associated with L2 use (MacIntyre et al., 1998); as well as differences in types of classroom (Baker & MacIntyre, 2000); or interactional context in which the L2 WTC is exhibited, i.e. whole class, small group, or pair interaction (Cao & Philp, 2006).

2.1. Dynamic systems theory and WTC

More recently, a variety of psychological and behavioural theories have been applied to describe or explain WTC more comprehensively. …

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