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National and Collective Interests Motivating English Language Learners in a Pakistani Context.

Byline: Muhammad Islam


English plays a vital role in 'understanding the complex interaction between class, worldview, medium of instruction, and globalization in Pakistan and, by extension, the rest of the world'.1 This argument reveals a unique and highly influential status of English language in Pakistani society. English carries enormous socio-economic and symbolic capital in Pakistan where its domestic and international roles are expanding rapidly.2Pakistani students, especially from urban settings, consider English a gateway to academic excellence and professional career success.3Interestingly, they also find it richer than their local languages as it may enable them to express themselves freely to a wider world community and to seek access to various fields of human knowledge available across the world.

Therefore, Pakistani urban youth believes that English can enhance their opportunities for social mobility and economic uplift within and outside the country.4 Pakistani learners/users of English also think that English may be used to spread liberalism, moderation and enlightenment, which may potentially challenge religious and political extremism in Pakistani society.5In addition, it is believed that English may be used to revive the image of Pakistan as a peaceful society in the world.6

The role of English as the major official language of the country, despite repeated promises of successive governments about its replacement with Urdu, is a constant source of its ever-increasing vitality in Pakistani society. English is a part of socio-political power struggle/divide in Pakistan as the powerful elite class exploits its potential not only to control masses but also to protect their socio-economic advantages.7This strengthens Kachru's view that English enjoys even more importance in the independent states of South Asia after the end of British rule8.The recent Education Policies (2009, 2018) of Pakistan have also underscored the importance of knowledge and communication skills in English as a pre-requisite for meeting the 'challenges and opportunities' posed by the globalized world scenario in which we can see a strong interplay of individual and collective goals of the citizens of various nation states.9

Similarly, the studies have shown that Pakistani learners consider English not only an important tool for personal success but also a vehicle for the achievement of collective national aspirations.10 These views may have an effect on the identities of Pakistani EFL learners.

Language, Identity and Globalization

Norton11highlights that a learner's commitment to learn an L2 is closely interrelated with the social identification processes she/he is going through. Similarly, the issue of the maintenance of local linguistic and cultural identity of the learners in the wake of an ever-increasing influence of globalization and English language under its auspices has generated much debate in the field of English language learning and teaching.12 It is feared that a few powerful nations, especially USA and UK, are controlling the forces of globalization by imposing their own economic, political and cultural (including linguistic) norms on the rest of the world.13 In this scenario, the dominance of English over other languages may be viewed as a kind of linguistic imperialism,14 which has systematically worked to maintain the ascendancy of English over local languages, especially in post-colonial states of Asia and Africa.

Phillipson 15 and Skutnabb-Kangas16also view the global spread of English in recent times as a extension of linguistic supremacy which facilitates the Anglo-American design of socio-political control over the resources of the world. In addition, the discriminating spread of English within certain EFL contexts has exacerbated socio-economic and urban-rural divide in these societies.17

In contrast, some researchers argue that the beliefs about a nexus of English and Anglo-American imperialistic designs are an over-generalization of the dynamics involved in the growth of English across the contemporary globalized world.18Similarly, it has also been argued that the notion of linguistic imperialism is too deterministic to consider the role of agency among English language learners worldwide; their ability to resist cultural imposition and appropriate English according to their desires.19 In addition, studies have shown that English language learners in various L2 contexts do not see English as a means for external control or even a threat to their identity; rather they find an opportunity in its learning to explore options for the improvement of their personality and social relations in both local and global spheres.20

National Interest and L2 Motivation

A series of recent studies in various contexts maintain that many young EFL learners may easily forget the colonial past of English in their society owing to its perceived vital role in their individual and collective lives.21Therefore, it seems reasonable to assume that learners' beliefs' towards their own country and fellow citizens may also be a significant component of their motivation to learn English'.22Rivers also believed that national sentiments/aspirations of learners may have a bearing on contemporary EFL contexts. He said:

[O]n an individual and group level, one of the most potentially relevant variables in foreign language learning is the respective strength of certain dimensions of national attachment or identification, especially when learning a language as ideologically symbolic and globally prominent as English.23

Similarly, Pan and Block revealed that university teachers and students in Beijing consider English a key to China's socio-economic development and expansion in the contemporary globalized world.24 Based on a similar idea, Islam et al.'s construct of 'National Interest' includes' respondents' perceptions of the benefits of English for the progress of their own country'.25 Since then, various studies have discussed the collective and national aspects of L2 motivation so far.26However, there is still a need for more studies which may enrich this debate. Therefore, this study aims to seek an in-depth view of the collective aspects of L2 motivation in a Pakistani context. Simultaneously, it may also provide a detailed qualitative explanation of the construct 'National Interest'.27

Research Question

What aspects of national and collective interests of Pakistani EFL learners are important to understand and explain their motivation for learning English?


The study used qualitative method to seek a detailed view of participants' L2 attitudes, experiences and collective aspects of their English language learning. Keeping in mind the complex nature of socio-contextual, personal and political issues involved in the development of L2 motivation and identities in the contemporary world, I assumed that collective aspects of L2 motivation would require qualitative interpretation and explanation.

As I intended to select a sample of Pakistani university students with diverse social and academic backgrounds, public universities of central Punjab were selected as a site for this study. The interviews of twenty participants were conducted after seeking their consent in written form. The interviewees volunteered to share their experiences of learning English and future plans after I explained them the purpose and details of this study. The interviewees included both male and female students that belonged to different universities, academic fields and the year of study. The interview data was first transcribed and then analyzed following the procedures of thematic analysis - codes, categories and themes.

Findings of the Study

The data revealed some interesting collective aspects of Participants' L2 motivation, which also highlight their broader social and national affiliations. Here, I will report their views about the importance and role of English in various areas of national interest in the form of following themes:

English not an alien language - No Threat to National and Religious Identity

Eighteen out of 20 interviewees did not consider apparently that English is still a colonial or imperialistic language. Similarly, none of the interviewees stated that English is against their religious ideology/identity. Rather, they viewed English as an important international language, which can be used as a vital force for their own national and religious purposes:

Gone are the days when we used to say that English is the language of non-Muslims .... English does not hamper your growth or does not hamper your affiliation with your religion. We should put our emotions aside. English is an international language. We should recognize this fact. (Interviewee G)

The interviewee added that 'My love for Pakistan is totally a different thing from my love for English and for my learning English. We should keep it aside from learning English'.

Overall, it appeared that these young Pakistanis did not consider learning English a challenge to their religious or national identity. Even if any threat of this kind exists, the utilitarian worth of this language within and outside the country has overshadowed it. For example, the participant (R) expressed strong views about the negative effects of English on Pakistani culture -'It is totally killing our history, totally changing our culture' -but he still believes that Pakistanis should learn English because of its increasing roles in the contemporary national and international spheres of life: 'You can say in every discipline of life we can't move because it is an international language. We must learn this language'. English does not seem to be an alien or hostile language to these students as interviewee (N) said; 'It doesn't seem to me as an outsider's language'.

International Image of the country

The interviewees were found to be extremely concerned about the international image of their country as a peace loving, progressive and liberal country. Since Pakistani society has recently suffered enormous human and economic loss in the war against terrorism, the participants were unhappy with its negative projection in rest of the world, especially in the West and its media. This seems to have created a feeling among young Pakistanis that they can communicate the true image and situation of their country to the world after becoming proficient in English as it is an international language. As interviewee (G) commented:

They are getting us wrong. .... That's because of the sole reason that we don't have effective English speakers who can convey our ideas or ideology to the world. Just look at the India..... They portray themselves to the West and the Western media catches them.

The participants seem to argue that Muslims, especially Pakistanis, do not have a proper communication link working with the West. They also believe that the lack of English language communication skills among Muslims and Pakistanis is widening this communication gap. All interviewees, when asked, agreed that the knowledge of English is essential for young Pakistanis to present a healthy image of Pakistan to the world. An interviewee (J) reinforced this position in this way; 'I need good [English] communication skills along with sharp senses of reason and rationality to prove that Pakistan is like any other state a peace loving state'. This reflects the desperation among Pakistani youth to present a peaceful image of Pakistan and their religion to the world. To achieve this purpose, they think, good communication skills of English language are imperative. As another interview (B) said:

The negative impression they have created about Pakistani people, we can only shun this impression only when we have command over English language.

In addition, the participants argued that Pakistanis, as a nation, lack necessary communication skills to protect their interests and image on international forums. Interviewee (G) shared these views: 'what we should realize is that of if we want to represent yourself [ourselves], if you want to represent our ideas to the West, we should know their language'.

National Development and English

These Pakistani students strongly believed that learning English language can help them play an important role in the progress of their country because this language is a key to rich resources of scientific knowledge, technology and information in the contemporary world. When I inquired further about this point, one interviewee responded:

Firstly, English has a huge storehouse of knowledge. Secondly, it will bring them [Pakistanis] in competition with the world. If they will insist on using Urdu, it means that they are already one-step behind the world. With the knowledge of English, they can compete with the world in a better way. And they can also present their image in a better way. (Interviewee I)

The students, overall, believed that the knowledge of English is essential in the contemporary competitive world to progress and survive among other nations. They think that there should be a sense of urgency among Pakistanis to adapt to the changing world situation in order to bring Pakistan on the road of progress. Otherwise, the state of affairs in Pakistan would worsen further as Interviewee (A) further said; 'The world has become a global village. If you are not knowing what your neighbour is doing, then you will certainly lag behind... we have to get some ideas from other nations'. Another participant, who spoke favorably about following the developed English speaking countries, said; 'They are the most powerful people globally. You cannot deny that all the new technologies are coming from there. If you don't know English, how can you interpret their technology'(Interviewee C).

Intercultural / interfaith Dialogue for National Purposes

The findings above have indicated that the participants of this study realize that isolation from other nations for any reason is not a durable option for any country in the contemporary world as it can seriously affect the progress of a country. Therefore, they suggest that Pakistanis should learn English as it would help them to understand important world affairs and build crucial intercultural relations with other societies of the world:

English builds the connection between other societies and us.... There is [a] positive point of English that we [can] have closer connection with foreign nations and foreign developments. (Interviewee N)

Some students even expressed the view that English can be used for both intercultural and interfaith communication. The idea of using English to promote one's cultural and religious views was quite interesting but came as no surprise keeping in mind the increasing roles of English as an international language. Interviewee (B) said; 'Even we can promote our religion through this language. We can talk to them. It is not only confined to culture, we can also have a promotion of our religion through this language'. Interviewee (D) also told me that an important 'role of English in Pakistani society is to communicate with foreign or other countries or neighbor countries. I think it's a global language'. In short, I found that these students fully understand the importance of positive interaction between Pakistani and other societies of the world.


The study revealed that Pakistani EFL learners associate English with their national and collective aspirations. They believe that the competence in English can help them, and their fellow citizens, participate more actively in the collective betterment of their society. In a similar vein, recentL2 motivation studies in Pakistani context have also revealed that Pakistani students think that English can be a powerful tool to promote a better image of Pakistani society as well to encourage an intellectual sharing with the developed nations of the contemporary world.28This sense of urgency among Pakistani urban youth to build the image of the country and revive its connections with rest of the world may be understood in the backdrop of war on terrorism which has seriously affected the reputation, as a peaceful country, and financial health of the country in last two decades.29

Similar collective views were also found in another Asian context - China - where L2 learners believed that English provides them with the opportunities to interact with the world in various possible ways.30

The findings confirm the view that national goals may have a motivational impact on L2 learners in addition to their individual or self-related goals.31 In this way, the study provides a detailed and in-depth qualitative explanation of the construct 'National Interest' proposed to include collective aspects of Pakistani learners' motivation for English language learning.32This also leads us to argue that a powerful second or foreign language can be an effective tool to share collective social harmony and interests.33 It also supports Rivers' argument that some kind of national attachment can be a highly valuable component of English language learning in today's world.34Here, it may be argued that a desire to use English in the future for the benefit of society is a characteristic of L2 motivation in more collectivist societies where there is a tendency for individuals to stress group rather than personal goals.

Interestingly, the study has shown that the strong realization of roles of English in their lives has compelled Pakistani learners to overlook its colonial legacy. This apparent liberal attitude and openness towards English may have a strong impact on their socio-cultural identities and, therefore, needs an explanation. First, it may be argued that, because of strong institutional and agential support of English, most of these Pakistani students might have internalized the domination of English and, therefore, do not consider it as a foreign imposition or colonial legacy. Since these participants are the potential beneficiaries of the dominance of English, they may also possibly be assumed to work, as argued by Phillipson, unknowingly as agents to further the imperialism of English.35

Secondly, the apparent disassociation of English from colonial legacies and its perceived relationship with diverse personal and collective purposes of Pakistani learners may also support the view that the spread of English in recent times is more liberal and democratic than it was in the past. This may also align with Canagarajah's argument that L2 learners of English may appropriate it to serve their own socio-cultural needs, values, interests and ideological orientations and therefore they can resist imperialistic associations of this language.36In addition, it is also possible that the participants are still too young to fully understand the apparently invisible implications of the imperial past. These findings are in line with Shamim's view that the perception of English as a tool for personal and national development in Pakistan has overtaken the concerns for social identity and cultural domination 'from an erstwhile colonial language'.37

These Pakistani students' desire to use English for their religious purposes is also not simplistic since English as a powerful international language may be an effective medium to voice their true religious identity and teachings, which they think are being misunderstood by the world. In a similar vein, English is also considered as a tool for meaningful cultural exchange with the West and for a positive portrayal and consolidation of Chinese identity.38Overall, there seems to be enough evidence to believe that English may serve important national purposes in today's globalized world.

Conclusions and Implications

The study strongly supports the view that Pakistani learners have collective national aspirations related to English language learning. Therefore, it endorses the construct of L2 'national interest' proposed by Islam et al.39 Pakistani learners believe that they may serve their community (e.g. by promoting the image of the country, seeking knowledge from the West and initiating inter-cultural dialogue, etc.) in a better way, if they have strong communication skills in English language as this would engage them with the outside world in a constructive manner.

Though the data provided me an insight into various aspects of National Interest and their enormous importance in a Pakistani setting, more qualitative studies are needed in other global contexts to get a more in-depth understanding of diverse context-specific collective and national aspirations for learning English. Because of its focus on shared common goals, National Interest may be assumed to have a more prominent motivational impact in collectivist societies rather than individualistic ones, though this hypothesis should be empirically tested. In this regard, teachers and policy makers may also work on understanding the practical implications of the role of English in furthering local and global identities of contemporary EFL learners.40

Notes and References

1. Rahman, Tariq. "The Role of English in Pakistan with Special Reference to Tolerance and Militancy." In Language Policy, Culture, and Identity in Asian Contexts, edited by Eds. Amy B. M. Tsui and James W. Tollefson, 219-239. New York: Routledge, 2007.

2. Islam, Muhammad. "The Symbolic Capital and Expanding Roles of English: A Study of L2 Attitudes in a Pakistani Efl Context." Bulletin of Education and Research 40, (2018): 39-56.

3. Ali, Mansoor, Mark Wyatt and Darren Van Laar. "Pakistani Postgraduate Students' Orientations for Learning English as a Second Language: A Factor Analytic Study." System, (2015): 77-87. (See also Islam, Muhammad, Martin Lamb and Gary Chambers. "The L2 Motivational Self System and National Interest: A Pakistani Perspective." System 41, (2013): 231-244).

4. Islam (n 2) 50.

5. Mansoor, Sabiha. "The Status and Role of Regional Languages in Higher Education in Pakistan." Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 25, no. 4 (2004): 333 - 353.

6. Islam, Muhammad, Martin Lamb and Gary Chambers. "The L2 Motivational Self System and National Interest: A Pakistani Perspective." System 41, (2013): 231-244.

7. Rahman, Tariq. "The Development of English in Pakistan." In Communicating with Asia: The Future of English as a Global Language, edited by Gerhard Leitner and Azirah Hashim, 13-27. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016.

8. Kachru, Braj B. Asian Englishes: Beyond the Canon Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2005.

9. Ministry of Education. National Education Policy. Islamabad: Government of Pakistan, 2009. (See also National Education Policy 2018)

10. Islam, Lamb and Gary (n 6) 231 (See also Ali, Wyatt and Van Laar, n 3)

11. Norton, B. Identity and Language Learning: Gender, Ethnicity and Educational Change. Harlow: Longman/Pearson Education., 2000.

12. East, Martin. "Moving Towards 'Us-Others' Reciprocity: Implications of Glocalisation for Language Learning and Intercultural Communication." Language and Intercultural Communication 8, no. 3 (2008): 156 - 171. (see also McKay, Sandra Lee. Teaching English as an International Language Rethinking Goals and Approaches Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002)

13. Tonkin, H. "Why Learn Foreign Languages? Thoughts for a New Millennium." In Language in the Twenty-First Century: Selected Papers of the Millennial Conferences of the Center for Research and Documentation on World Language, edited by H. TONKIN, 145-155. Philadelphia, : PA, John Benjamins, 2003.

14. Canagarajah, Suresh and Selim Ben Said. "Linguistic Imperialism." In The Routledge Handbook of Applied Linguistics, edited by James Simpson. Abingdon: Routledge, 2011. (See also Phillipson, Robert. Linguistic Imperialism Continued. London: Routledge, 2009 and Pennycook, Alastair. Critical Applied Linguistics: A Critical Introduction. Mahwah: Routledge, 2001)

15. Phillipson, Robert. Linguistic Imperialism Continued. London: Routledge, 2009.

16. Skutnabb-Kangas, Tove. "Do Not Cut My Tongue: Let Me Live and Die with My Language: A Comment on English and Other Language in Relation to Linguistic Human Rights." Journal of Language, Identity, and Education 3, no. 2 (2004): 127-34. (See also Skutnabb-Kangas, T. Linguistic Genocide in Education--or Worldwide Diversity and Human Rights? Mahwah: Taylor and Francis, 2000)

17. Coleman, Hywel and Tony Capstick. Language in Education in Pakistan: Recommendations for Policy and Practice. London: The British Council, 2012.

18. Waters, Alan. "Linguistic Imperialism Continued (Review)." In ELT Journal, 67, 126 - 130, 2013.

19. Canagarajah, Suresh and Selim Ben Said. (n13). (See also Waters (n 17) and McKay, Sandra Lee. Teaching English as an International Language Rethinking Goals and Approaches Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002)

20. Shamim, Fauzia. "English as the Language for Development in Pakistan: Issues, Challenges and Possible Solutions." In Dreams and Realities:Developing Countries and the English Language, edited by Hywel Coleman, 291-309. London: British Council, 2011. (See also Graddol, David. English Next India: The Future of English in India. New Delhi: The British Council, 2010)

21. Seargeant, Philip and Elizabeth J. Erling. "The Discourse of 'English as a Language for International Development': Policy Assumptions and Practical Challenges." In Dreams and Realities:Developing Countries and the English Language, edited by Hywel Coleman, 248-267. London: British Council, 2011. (See also Shamim (n 19), Islam et al., (n 6), Islam (n 2) and Ali, et al. (n 3))

22. Islam (n 6) 233.

23. Rivers, D.J. "National Identification and Intercultural Relations in Foreign Language Learning." Language and Intercultural Communication 10, no. 4 (2010): 318-336.

24. Pan, Lin and David Block. "English as a "Global Language" in China: An Investigation into Learners' and Teachers' Language Beliefs." System 39, (2011): 391 - 402.

25. Islam (n 6) 231 - 244.

26. Lamb, Martin. "Motivation " In The Routledge Handbook of English Language Teaching, edited by Graham Hall, 324-338. London: Routledge, 2016. (See also Islam (n 2) and Ali, et al. (n 3)

27. Islam (n 6) 231 - 244.

28. Ali, et al. (n 3) 77-87 (See also Islam (n 6) 231 - 244)

29. Ali, Arshad. "Economic Cost of Terrorism: A Case Study of Pakistan." The Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad available at Accessed on April 16, 2012, (2010). (See alsoShah, Mukhtar Paras. "Impacts of War on Terror on Socio-Economic Conditions of Pakistan." National Graduate Institute of Policy Studies, Tokyo Accessed on April 16, 2012, (2011).

30. Pan, Lin and David Block (n 24) 391-402

31. Lamb, Martin. "Motivation " In The Routledge Handbook of English Language Teaching, edited by Graham Hall, 324-338. London: Routledge, 2016.

32. Islam (n 6) 231 - 244.

33. Tobin, J.J., D.Y.H. Wu and D.H. Davidson. "Preschool in Three Cultures." New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, (1989). (See also Rivers, D.J. "Japanese National Identification and English Language Learning Processes." International Journal of Intercultural Relations 35, no. 1 (2011): 111-123)

34. Rivers, D.J. "National Identification and Intercultural Relations in Foreign Language Learning." Language and Intercultural Communication 10, no. 4 (2010): 318-336.

35. Phillipson, Robert. Linguistic Imperialism Continued. London: Routledge, 2009.

36. Canagarajah, A. Suresh. "The Place of World Englishes in Composition: Pluralization Continued." National Council of Teachers of English 57, no. 4 (2006): 586 - 619. (See also Canagarajah, A. Suresh. Resisting Linguistic Imperialism in English Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999)

37. Shamim, Fauzia (n 20) 293

38. Orton, Jane. "East Goes West." In China and English: Globalisation and the Dilemmas of Identity, edited by Joseph Lo-Bianco, Jane Orton and Gao Yihong. Bristol: Multilingual Matters, 2009.

39. Islam (n 6) 231 - 244.

40. Erling, Elizabeth J. "Local Identities, Global Connections: Affinities to English among Students at the Freie UniversitA"at Berlin." World Englishes 26, no. 2 (2007): 111-130.
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Publication:Journal of Pakistan Vision
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Jun 20, 2019
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