Tim Ward, a freelance teacher trainer based in Bulgaria, introduces us to 10 simple steps to help increase motivation among language learners.
Motivation’s one of those ideas like justice or world peace: we all know it’s a good thing but it’s not quite so clear how to get there.
For adult learners and younger kids it’s probably a bit clearer – the former know where their interests lie, whether it’s university or emigration or working abroad or finding a partner on the internet, and are much more able to relate that goal to the language learning process (there are words for these things – instrumental motivation, mostly, if it’s about achieving something).
And younger learners – I guess I’m talking about children – are happy when things are fun. I see this every day from my own two young learners, age 4 and 6 (though if you ask them it’s 4 ½ and 6 ½) who will enjoy most things – even tidying up toys and clothes – when it becomes a game.
A big part of my professional life, however, involves going into state schools and talking with teachers of teenagers and younger adults. Students of these ages present a set of challenges very different from the older and younger learners, and those two messages, of fun and relevance, don’t always apply so obviously.
And the message that often comes over loud and clear from all quarters is that the job of teaching languages is getting harder – students often appear to be interested in many things of which too few are to do with learning a language. So one of the questions that we most often hear as teacher trainers (along with what can we do about big classes, and what can we do about mixed ability classes) is “what can we do to motivate students?”.
It would be dishonest to pretend there are any magic bullets; that there’s a wand we can wave which will make the problems disappear. For one thing, the big world outside is always going to have an enormous effect on the job we can do. I’m not just talking here about the attitudes of the students we teach but also about the state of the places we teach in – in many countries, state schools are underfunded and teachers live peripatetic professional lives where they teach in lots of different rooms, and this makes it really hard to produce an attractive teaching environment.
So, given the real world constraints, what can teachers do about motivation?
I’ve found one way into this area to be really useful. It’s really useful because it’s practically grounded in research conducted with practising teachers.
Without going into too much detail, here’s some context. Two experts in motivation studies, Zoltan Dornyei and Kata Czizer, surveyed over two hundred Hungarian teachers to find out their views. They were asked how important they found, and how often they used, a selection of 51 strategies. Based on their answers the two researchers came up with a list of 10 ‘motivational macrostrategies’, which they called the ‘Ten commandments for motivating language learners’:
- Set a personal example with your own behaviour
- Develop a good relationship with the learners
- Increase the learners’ linguistic self-confidence
- Make the language classes interesting
- Promote learner autonomy
- Personalise the learning process
- Increase the learners’ goal-orientedness
- Familiarize learners with the target culture
- Create a pleasant relaxed atmosphere in the classroom
- Present the tasks properly
When we talk about this, the reaction from teachers is often one of smiles of recognition – a kind of ‘yes, that makes sense’ look. But another thought normally follows quite quickly, and that’s the ‘yes, but’ one.
In this case, it’s ‘yes, but what can we actually do to make these things happen on a day to day basis when we’re using our text books?’. This is the challenge that, I fervently hope, this blog is going to address over the course of the next few months, as we explore these Commandments in more detail.
Do you have any Commandments for learner motivation that you teach by? Leave your comments below, I’d love to hear them.