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10 Commandments for Motivating Language Learners

Multi-generation Latin American family on the beachTim 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?”.

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