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Growth mindset improves engagement in EFL learners

EFL students engage more with classes and achieve better grades when they can clearly see how learning English is relevant to their goals and when they believe their language learning ability can improve, a new Turkish study confirms.

Turkish students, like those of many other countries, often take a year of intensive English classes before starting their undergraduate degrees. Many begin with low language levels and struggle to maintain the motivation needed for such intensive study.

Clearly, it would help teachers if they knew how best to improve motivation and engagement.

Turkish researchers assessed 526 students on three particular factors known to influence academic achievement in general, but focussed in this study on a language learning context.

The first factor was ‘language mindset’. Did students believe that language learning ability in general and, second language learning ability in particular, were fixed traits? Or did they think that their language learning was something that could be improved?

The second factor was ‘engagement’: how connected and involved they were.

The third factor was ‘perceived instrumentality’: how useful did they believe their English would be in achieving their goals?

The researchers used structural equation modelling to analyse how these different factors and their subtypes influenced each other. They found that students who believed language learning abilities were fixed rather than malleable were less engaged in learning and got lower grades. The authors suggest that since these students are less likely to persist in the face of failure, they may be less inclined to take part in class activities. Consequently, the may not see engagement as an important part of the learning process.

Students who believed that language learning was malleable were more engaged generally – and were more pro-actively, intentionally engaged. More specifically, believing that second language learning could be improved also improved grades – but the important mediating factor here was believing that their English proficiency would directly support achieving their goals.

This means that in order to fully activate a growth mindset, where students believe their abilities are not set in stone and can be improved, students need a clear idea of how improving their English will help them achieve their goals. If they cannot clearly link English proficiency to their goals then even students who potentially have the right mindset may not be motivated to use it.


Eren A, Rakıcıoğlu-Söylemez A. (2020) Language mindsets, perceived instrumentality, engagement and graded performance in English as a foreign language students. Language Teaching Research. doi: 10.1177/1362168820958400

Image courtesy of GGUY / SHUTTERSTOCK
Gill Ragsdale
Gill Ragsdale
Gill has a PhD in Evolutionary Psychology from Cambridge, and teaches Psychology with the Open University, but also holds an RSA-Cert TEFL. Gill has taught EFL in the UK, Turkey, Egypt and to the refugees in the Calais 'Jungle' in France. She currently teaches English to refugees in the UK.
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