The Value of Encouragement in EFL Teaching
A student learning English as a foreign language will likely find it difficult, slow, but ultimately rewarding. The key to success is experiencing these rewarding moments regularly throughout their English-learning journey. It can be hard to recognize your progress when learning a new language, and this can be demotivating. To overcome low motivation, regular 'rewards', or encouragement, can make it easier to notice milestones and remain motivated.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Alisha D. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
A good learner is defined as being:
- Willing to listen to the language
- Willing and eager to experiment with the language
- Willing to ask questions
- Able to think about their process of learning
- Open to and accepting of error correction
- Willing to learn
While some students may naturally possess these attitudes and skills, a lot of these traits can be fostered by an encouraging teacher. A willing student is a motivated student, and while there are factors outside of a teacher's control that may impact a student's attitude, nothing is more important in fostering a motivating classroom culture than the behavior and attitude of the teacher.
Steps to High Level of Encouragement
The first step in fostering a positive, encouraging environment is to always be on the lookout for positive points to comment on, even if errors have been made. Acknowledging and correcting errors is an important part of the learning process, but praise for good work and progress is as important, if not more so.
We can look to parenting as an example of the success of praise in learning a new language. When a child is learning their mother tongue, a parent will be extremely positive about any progress, employ a lot of repetition and drilling (often in high squeaky voices), speak clearly to model pronunciation, and find mistakes endearing and entertaining. This results in the child learning their first language, which becomes their mother-tongue.
While this exact approach would not build rapport with adult students, the basic principle remains; that an emphasis on positive progress is important in encouraging a student to learn a new language.
Working with various groups of students
Encouragement is especially important in young learners. As well as positive comments, rewards for good behavior such as smiley stickers or similar can be highly motivating for them. With young learners, teachers have a responsibility to act "in loco parentis" or, in the place of a parent. And with this comes a greater responsibility to be encouraging and positive, as a parent would be.
Low self-confidence is the antithesis of motivation and may hinder a student during the language learning process. It may even hinder other students, like low self-esteem and a fear of making mistakes can result in disruptive behavior or a reluctance to participate. To increase confidence, it is important to make sure students are not afraid to make mistakes. Avoid correction during the Engage and Activate phases of the ESA lesson model wherever possible, and give students a chance to correct their own mistakes first during the Study phase. This will help to create a comfortable atmosphere where students enjoy communicating with the teacher and each other. Inspiring confidence in a class will increase motivation and ultimately make the class easier to manage.
Lastly, while focusing on encouragement, it is important to remain consistent and fair. If a teacher has favorites or there is a large class with many students, some students may not feel noticed or encouraged. To make all students feel included, a teacher can use eye-contact to encourage contributions and involve everyone, use choral repetition that involves the full classroom, set pair work, hand our worksheets and monitor all groups during group work.
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In summary, encouragement plays a role in increasing student motivation, minimizing class disruption, increasing confidence, and fosters a comfortable culture where students will enjoy participating in activities. All of this works towards a positive learning environment that will speed up the learning process and help students reach their ultimate goal of learning English.
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- Teaching ESL & Knowing Your Audience: Young Learners vs. Adults
- Top 4 Tips For Teaching Classes Containing a Wide Variety of Ages
- The Advantages and Disadvantages of Teaching English to Young Children
- Motivation in the Classroom - What Works and What Doesn’t
- Differences between Young Learners and Adult Learners in the TEFL Environment
- The How-To Guide to Prepare for Your Teaching Job Abroad