How to Motivate Students to Learn a Foreign Language
The study of a foreign language is not an easy road, it is determined by a set of factors, such as previous knowledge in this field, skills, ways of learning, exposure to the target language, etc. However, in my opinion, the most important role in this process is played by people’s MOTIVATION to learn a new language, because it is the key element that makes students persevere through tough moments and it keeps alive the desire to discover and know new things. Every student who steps for the first time into an EFL classroom comes already with a certain degree of motivation, either because they need it for their jobs or because they want to study or work abroad, the reasons are various; nevertheless, it is up to the teacher to keep and increase this desire to progress.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Rodica C. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
A teacher can motivate the students through a variety of techniques and simple changes that can make a big difference. First of all, learners like to see that what they study can be applied to practice in real life, that’s why it is advisable to use different kinds of speaking activities, such as role-plays, debates, discussions based on daily life topics, questionnaires, etc. These kinds of tasks reveal the functionality of the studied vocabulary items or grammar constructions. For instance, while speaking about the future, there are used various constructions such as: will, be going to, might, etc. To help the learners understand when to apply them daily, the teacher can create a real context in which they have to use the topic in question; thus showing the importance of learning these grammar topics, even if they might seem boring at first.
Apart from this, an important role in increasing learners’ motivation is error correction. This is a very sensitive topic since some teachers try to overdo it, believing that in this way they help students avoid these mistakes. However, sometimes it is counterproductive, demotivating them to participate in speaking activities. Error correction should be done carefully, by applying different techniques. For example, while discussing something students should be encouraged to express themselves, without interrupting every time they make a mistake. Instead of it, a teacher can take notes of their errors and at the end of the activity, work with the ones that were most frequently used; it can be even a separate activity. This way the learners will be more aware of them and will remember them much better next time they speak, but without fear of doing it. They should know that errors are part of the language learning process but it shouldn’t stop them from trying to express their thoughts.
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The enthusiasm for language learning also derives from teacher’s ability to make engaging and dynamic lessons through games, songs, videos, group work, competitions, and by using a variety of materials such as flashcards and realia. Such techniques make the students realize that learning can be fun and interesting even if sometimes it is not very easy. This way, each time they step into the classroom they will do it with certain enjoyment. Moreover, such sources as realia, videos, songs, and articles are authentic materials that enhance students’ awareness of the necessity to learn a language. Last but not the least important aspect of motivation is the teacher’s attitude, behavior, and feedback.
In a classroom, the teacher is the conductor; he/she is the one to dictate the pace and the atmosphere of the lesson. By having a positive and “you can do it” attitude, the teacher inspires the students to believe that they can achieve something. A teacher can show that he/she appreciates their efforts and the progress they’ve made just by praising and saying: “Good job”, “Well done”; “You see, you could do it”; “I’m impressed”, etc. These words can make a great difference and motivate the students to persevere. Feedback after an activity is also paramount, it should be efficient and reveal students’ strong and weak points but without being too harsh. A whole-class discussion about what went well and what they should work on can help detect certain shortcomings in a less stressful atmosphere. Finally, I believe that a teacher is more productive if she/he has an open-minded and friendly attitude. It helps learners open up and share their opinions, doubts, and difficulties they come across in the learning process.
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Overall, motivating students can seem a bit difficult at times, especially when they have different needs. Despite it, one can achieve a higher motivation level by establishing students’ needs and adapting the activities accordingly, but also by creating a lively and dynamic atmosphere in the classroom through the techniques mentioned above. After all, one should remember that as long as you teach from the heart the students will always be eager to learn something new.
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