Keeping College Students Motivated in ESL Learning
In my classroom, I often hear many of my students saying, "I want to be good at English." At the same time, I am aware that most of them almost lose their motivation for learning English. After studying English hard to pass the entrance examination, they are free from the "obligational" study of English. Now in college, no one in the classroom speaks out that English is unnecessary. On the contrary, they answered that they need to study English because it is a global language. More importantly, the ability to command the language strongly influences the success of their job hunting.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Milos O. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
Their hope to be a good English speaker confuses me for several reasons. Firstly, what does this mean to be "good at English"? Such a comment sounds unclear. Is it the same as being good at cooking? Secondly, despite their wish, I can see that they lose their enthusiasm for studying English. Many of the students have learned English since they are 6 or 7 years old, and using English is no longer a unique, new experience for them. Few of them devote themselves to be a scholar of English language history; only one or two may dream of being a translator. Yet none of my students is courageous enough to speak out, "I don't want to study English anymore; it is unnecessary". The students seem to face their dilemma and find it difficult to enhance their motivation.
To solve this problem, I ask them to be more specific in making their targets. I ask them whether they want to raise their TOEIC score, or if they want to learn phrasal verbs to understand everyday English. Some of them may instead want to improve their English for presentation. Others may enjoy their hobbies and travel around the world. For those who wish to "watch movies without subscripts", I ask them which genre (SF, Love Comedy, Fantasy, etc.) they particularly like. I believe that being specific is a crucial step to keep motivation in learning English and also to achieve their ambition.
Reasons for the issue
One point is clear. The students are already tired of studying English after their hard work to pass the entrance examination. Besides, they may have been impassive and dependent during their high school time. So the students now need to know that having a good command of English eventually takes them to a new world. It is also vital for the students to realize that learning a foreign language should not be the final object but a "measure" to achieve their goals in life. As their wish "to be good at English" sounds vague and unclear, their plans for college life and future life are obscure.
To keep their motivation, I try to let them experience small successes as much as possible, giving regular and constant training. For example, reading a short newspaper article every week, doing easy exercises for TOEIC listening tests. To analyze the skills and techniques in novels help us to discover new potential meanings of the works. Besides, we can come across many phrasal verbs in stories. Watching a movie helps us to elicit some technical words in the fields of politics and science, which then encourages us to read magazine articles and debates. Watching several TED talks on the same theme and comparing them may be an excellent exercise to be sensitive to the choice of vocabulary and expression. Reading several letters written by native speakers can be an effective way of learning how to express one's emotions openly.
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The students are expected to realize that learning English itself is not their final goal. We are not learning English because this is the global language; we are not improving English to get a better job. We are learning English to know how this language helps us to widen our horizons. A good job comes after raising our confidence and self-esteem. The students are expected not to keep their motivation to study English, but to be sure that English follows our motivation to live.
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