All language teachers’ biggest aspiration is to inspire their students, to pass on the passion for learning a foreign language to their students. That is a long journey to walk your students through. Working your way through understanding how to motivate students to learn English or any other language can be overwhelming. As a well known Chinese motto says: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. I like beginning all I do from small, single steps. This blog post is dedicated to language teachers who want to get clear on what motivation means and to implement laser strategies for boosting their students’ engagement. As you’ll realise for yourself, it’s easier than you think.
How to motivate students to learn English and other languages: my personal experience
In my personal experience, once I got clear on the different types of motivational drivers, I really began to feel I had the key to understand my students’ behaviour, what makes them learn and what works better for them. I began to feel much more confident in my moves for getting them engaged and I felt like I had a concrete plan (yeah!), rather than walking blind looking for “the sacred and mysterious thing” that would take their motivation to the stars!
How to motivate students to learn English and other languages: the basics
In a mini-series of 3 blog posts I wrote time ago (you can find it here) you learned about motivation in language teaching: what motivation means, the types of motivation, how to put what we know about motivation into our day-to-day teaching practice. I won’t lie to you: motivation is a big piece of knowledge to digest. That’s why I decided to get back to that topic again. The goal is to offer to you a different perspective on the same matter and to help you to start with the right, small step.
I refer you to that mini-series because it throws light on the majority of the key-concepts you need to know about motivation in language teaching. In brief there isn’t one, unique answer to how to motivate students to learn English or other languages. In fact, the answer depends on where your students are in their journey as language learners:
- Are they learning the target language because they need to pass an academic test?
- Or maybe they are learning the target language because they want to meet someone else’s expectations?
- Do they have a practical need which involves learning the target language? For example: moving abroad, finding a job, etc.
- Or perhaps they are learning the target language because they identify themselves with something bigger, because they want to fulfil a personal desire?
In the mini-series I mentioned above I explain those situations fall within either extrinsic motivation (when the reason why a student learn a language is down to external circumstances and comes from an outer space) or intrinsic motivation (when the reason why a student learn a language comes from an inner space).
That mini-series comes with a guide in motivation, too, available for you to download. You can find it in the mini-series or grab it directly here:
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Feeding motivation in language learning
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How to motivate students to learn English and other languages: a 3-step approach that saves the day!
That said, the goal of this article is to help you to spotlight how to motivate students to learn English as well as other languages. Later you can have a look at the rest of the approach about motivation and language teaching, but for now I invite you to focus your attention on a 3-step approach.
The 3-step approach
In my view, there are 3 single steps you need to take:
- Identify what is your students problem they are trying to solve
- Help them to solve that specific problem
- Help them to step up to the next level: what is the next problem to solve?
I don’t like to use the word “problem” in my training, but I’m going to use it now just to keep the narrative as agile as possible. Think about “problem” as a way to say: need, necessity, urgency, priority.
- Ali needs to get a good mark in his Proficiency test. That is the problem he needs to solve, what is really urgent to him. Anything that can help him with passing that exam and getting a good mark becomes compelling to him. Ali’s motivation driver is external because it comes from an academic requirement he needs to fulfil.
- As a teacher, your job will be to help me to get a good mark. You’ll be providing him with the support and the resources for achieving the expected result. This is the way you’ll be feeding their motivation. Ali won’t be ready for anything different until he’s got that problem solved.
- Once you take Ali there, your job changes. You will now be working with him to make him realise he can achieve more than that. How? You will need to spot his next need. What is Ali putting on top of his list of priorities? The cycle begins all over again.
Let’s try to see how the 3-step approach works within different circumstances.
Here is another example:
- Betta dreams of becoming a chef and working in France. The problem she needs to solve is to get to the goal she set for herself. Betta’s motivation driver is internal because it comes from a personal decision, an inner and intimate space. Although this driver is powerful, it is far away from not being at risk. If Betta experienced some kind of major failure, she could to give up. We want to avoid this, right?
- As a teacher, your job is to feed her dream and to help her to see the roadmap taking to the final result. Anything related to working and studying in France, cooking, the French kitchen and so on, will be feeding her motivation. Betta has matched her identity with a projected identity (which is also linked to the target language): help her to keep that connection safe and strong.
- The next move with a student such as Betta is to help her to cope with the pitfalls. Because she will come across pitfalls and failure, at some point! As a language teacher, you can’t work on the psychological aspect of coping with anxiety or failure. Unless you are psy, too! ☺ Nevertheless, what you can do is to help Betta to broaden her perspective on the target language, beyond the personal goal she pictured in her head. For instance: try to expose her to different content. You know she’s interested in the French kitchen, but what about consuming content about other aspects of the French culture? After all, the French culture is much bigger than the French kitchen! Is it not? ☺
I conceived the 3-step approach for helping all language teachers to get clear on how to motivate students to learn English as well as any other language. I tested this approach and I truly believe its efficacy lays in its simplicity, too. Hope this will make a difference for you, too!
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