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...

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