Well-motivated students learn better. This fact has been well-established for years and has compelled educators to develop different motivational techniques to improve learning outcomes in classrooms. If this is the case in a typical classroom dynamic, it is the same or even more so in the teaching of English as a second or foreign language. As it is, learner motivation is a crucial component in the success of any given ESL/TFL course–whether basic, intermediate, or advanced–because the learning curve that is needed to be hurdled is usually steeper, especially in basic level classes wherein the teacher has very minimal or no proficiency in students’ primary language. Without the linguistic connection with their teachers, learners with low motivation will have very low success rates in developing acceptable proficiencies in spoken or written English.
In many countries, the objectives for learning English are clear. Following the tacit acceptance of English as the default language in global discourse, governments around the world have already mandated the teaching of English in early-school curricula. But even beyond this mandate, private citizens and organizations are unilaterally employing native English speakers to further develop the English skills of students, artists, scientists, diplomats, professionals and other segments of the population to keep it abreast with global developments. It is the responsibility of ESL/EFL teachers to identify the learning objectives in each of their classes and discern their students’ level of motivation in relation to these objectives. For example, business professionals in Asia and Continental/Eastern Europe would want to learn English because it allows them to collaborate on a global scale, effectively giving them an edge over language-restricted colleagues in the corporate ladder. On the other hand, world travelers need a rich sampling of English conversational phrases in addition to the local language to be able to effectively engage native populations.
Knowing the students’ purpose in studying English as a second or foreign language is the first step in developing the appropriate strategies for motivating them to achieve their goals. Without the proper motivation, language students will just waste money, time, and other resources without really developing the linguistic skills they are aiming at.
If you are an English language teacher or tutor who want to succeed in the field, you need to generate value by engaging both driven and under-motivated students. Self-driven, well-motivated students learn fast and often under their own volition. On the other hand, under-motivated learners intermittently encounter cognitive blocks that prevent them from fully appreciating the lesson concepts, much less apply these concepts in everyday communication. It is therefore, the responsibility of ESL/EFL educators to make their lessons sufficiently interesting in order to draw in as much involvement from all learners as possible.
Here are some commonly given industry advice that helps ESL/TFL educators infuse energy into their lessons.
1. Conduct a self-assessment. As an ESL/EFL educator, are you motivated yourself? Have you responded to the call because you sincerely believe that teaching English is the right and most fulfilling career path to take, or have you decided to teach abroad for other reasons? Have you brought with you the commitment to succeed in the field or are just hitching a ride to do something else? Remember, your own level of motivation affects the attitude of your students and their receptiveness to the linguistic concepts you are expounding in your lessons. Without commitment and motivation, you will likely deliver a mediocre job that leaves your employer, your students, and yourself feeling shortchanged.
Regardless of your reason for becoming an EFL or TFL educator, motivating yourself is crucial to the success of your teaching endeavor. To help motivate yourself, you may want to recall the classes, lessons, or learning encounters you liked best when you were an English student yourself. You may also need to modify your lesson plans so that your lessons and teaching methodologies excite you as well. If you are not personally interested in a particular lesson plan yourself, nothing’s preventing you from replacing it with something that positively enlivens your senses. By doing so, your own excitement will reflect on your students and they will more likely reciprocate the interest. If you clinch it, the overall experience will be favorable to all, with you generating value as an effective educator while your students developing the linguistic proficiencies for which they are taking your lessons in the first place.
2. Assist your learners in appreciating the value of English. This may seem basic to most teachers and students given the real demand for English learning. However, you can still translate its value in relevant, meaningful, creative, or surprising ways. For example, helping students understand the meaning of a compelling song, an advertisement or a short film in English that can strongly be associated with the local context can get them more excited to learn.
As a rule, students–especially more mature ones–would want to know if the course they are taking has a practical, real world benefit. If they are just taking it because it is mandated in their curriculum, you can still enliven your learning sessions by setting clear course expectations and helping your students see the course as a life-enhancing journey. The more they understand the nature and benefits of your course, the more they are likely to be receptive to the lessons.
3. Use Positive Reinforcement. Use this learning technique whenever possible but with reasonable restraint. Shift your students’ focus on successful encounters or achievements by giving honest phrases or rewards. Inform students whenever they are wrong but showcase and buttress any sign of progress along the way. Encouragement is an effective teaching aid, and it will help you steer the class towards your learning objectives. It would help significantly if you also get to know your learners by name and share interests, hobbies and other personal information with them. Discern their own purposes for taking the course and align some lessons to help them attain their own goals. You can also develop mutual empathy by asking them light, personal questions about what they are wearing or bringing to class, for example. This way, they get to communicate about things that are relevant to them.
4. Practice Variety. Doing things the same way every learning session is a sure way of making your classes boring. Bored students will have a harder time learning lesson concepts than students whose body and mind are actively involved in and focused on learning. Playing games, conducting contests, doing vocabulary work, telling stories, watching short films, and listening to music are just some of the activities that you can use to enliven your ESL/TFL classes. There are a lot more and you can design each lesson according to the needs or disposition of your students. Field trips are great for both teachers and students since places and objects of interest are great conversation pieces.
Introducing the element of surprise or changing the lesson pace once in a while will prevent learners from being too accustomed to a teaching routine that they eventually lose their enthusiasm to learn more concepts.
Motivating students should be among the primary goals of English language teachers simply because doing so will make their jobs a lot easier. That is, well-motivated students learn more quickly and with better appreciation of lesson concepts compared with students who are disinterested. In addition, adequate motivation will likely make the learning process itself more enjoyable to both teacher and student, creating an environment that is highly conducive to learning.