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Module One | Background to language learning

Motivation: why does it matter?

Motivation is the reason or reasons we have for acting or behaving in a certain way. It effects why someone makes a decision to do something, for how long the person wants to do it and how hard they are ready to work in order to get what they want. Motivation is essential in language learning as it aids in successful learning.

What are your reasons for being motivated to study English?

There are many reasons that impact a person’s motivation to learn a new language. Some of these are given below:

  1. How useful the language is for us to learn. For example, people learn languages to find jobs, follow courses of study, obtain impressive marks from their teachers etc…
  2. We are normally interested in the target language culture which is the culture of the language that we study.
  3. Having good feelings about learning the language. For example, having the feeling that one can do anything with success (self-confidence), having the feeling of being responsible for taking control of one’s own learning (learner autonomy/independence).
  4. Receiving parents and friends good support
  5. Your own interest in the content of the course, activities done in the classroom, the teacher’s teaching methods.




Given below in the box are influences on motivation and some teaching recommendations (questions 1-7). Match them together. There is an extra one that is not necessary.

Influences on motivation

A.     Self-confidence

B.     Support from others

C.     Personalisation

D.     Goal-setting

E.      The usefulness of learning the language

F.      Interest in the target culture

G.     Interest in the lesson

H.     Learner autonomy


Teaching recommendations

  1. Allow the learners to select the activities which they would enjoy doing. Do this whenever possible.
  2. Encourage the students’ parents to influence their children to learn English and motivate them.
  3. Make sure the students remember the essentiality of English when it comes to finding jobs.
  4. Select activities and study materials that motivate the students.
  5. If you have travelled to any English speaking countries and gathered any study materials, e.g. brochures, souvenirs, photos, magazines), use them in the classroom.
  6. Make sure you give your students honest praise as often as possible.
  7. Make sure you give your students as many chances as possible to use English to speak about their lives.


Motivation: the factors


Some students are strongly motivated in only one or more of these areas. Some find that different ways and methods can motivate them. Motivation is susceptible to change. For example, a student may at first be bored to learn a certain language. Then suddenly, he/she may come across a teacher with good teaching methods and personality which attracts the attention of the student. The student therefore, because he/she likes the teacher so much, will start to enjoy learning the language a great deal.

Age is also a cause for change of motivation. Some things can become more important or less important as the student grows in age. Motivation is something that needs to be made and then continued. It is something which must be done during the lifetime.


Nerd baby says ...​

Two motivation experts have made some suggestions as to how motivation can be greatly encouraged in students by their teachers. Have a look at the suggestions.

1. Set a personal example with your own behaviour (i.e. be motivated as a teacher yourself).
2. Create a relaxed atmosphere in the classroom (i.e. try to prevent anxiety in yourself or the learners).
3. Present tasks in an interesting way which makes the tasks seem achievable to the learners.
4. Develop a good relationship with the learners.
5. Increase the learners’ self-confidence about language learning (i.e. help learners feel they can be good at learning the language).
6. Make the language classes interesting.
7. Promote learner autonomy.
8. Personalise the learning process (i.e. make the course feel relevant to the learners’ lives).
9. Increase the learners’ awareness of their goals (i.e. what they want to achieve).
10. Familiarise learners with the target language culture.

(adapted from “Ten commandments for motivating language learners: results of an empirical study: by Z. Dornyei and K. Csizer. Language Teaching Research, Hodder Arnold 1998)

Test Your Knowledge

Listed from 1-11 are classroom activities. Read them carefully and note which of the ten suggestions given under ‘Nerd baby says..’ that you think they aim at. Some activities may aim at more than one suggestion).

  1. Giving the students a story about camping because the teacher knows that the majority of them like camping
  2. Pushing the students to meet with a few native speakers of English
  3. Giving the students an exam which is not difficult for the majority of them
  4. Allowing the students to choose one out of four tapes that they would like to listen to
  5. Asking the students to read texts about working in a country where English is the main language
  6. Teaching the students with eagerness and passion
  7. Finding crossword puzzles for the students to do because the teacher knows that the students love doing them
  8. Making lessons with variety and making them well-paced
  9. Motivating students and praising all of them, even the ones who are weaker than the others
  10. Talking to a student after class is over, asking them about problems they have with their work and helping them to do better
  11. Presenting the language to students in small sections in an easy way for them to understand

What is it like to learn the English language? Given below are some answers given by teenage students. What do you think about these answers? Do you think that the students are motivated enough?

Learning the English language is like:

  1. Learning to play the violin – Although I have been learning to play the violin for so many years now, I still have not mastered it.
  2. Rice – it is something that is needed every day in life. However, since it is always with you, you become bored of it.
  3. Bread – there are so many resources and chances. However, not all of them are very good.
  4. A fish obtaining water – essential, easy, helpful

In your opinion, are the ten suggestions given above good enough for motivating students?

  1. Discuss with another teacher about how you can enhance the motivation of your students.
  2. Ask permission from another teacher to watch them conducting a lesson so that you can see in what way they encourage motivation.

Have you taught a lesson to your students which that they really enjoyed? If so, think about why they were interested in the lesson. Are there any ways that you could incorporate that into your future lessons?

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