Can You Really Motivate Someone to Learn a Language?

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By Olessya Akimenko

Motivation is generally considered to be an important factor that can affect a learner’s success in English as an additional language (EAL). On the internet, you can find countless articles about how to motivate your EAL learners. The authors of these articles suggest multiple ways how this could be done, ranging from “triggering students’ interests” (Lesley University, n.d.) to “giving them a little friendly competition” (Pesce, n.d.) However, is it really possible to motivate a learner if they are not really interested?

First of all, let’s define motivation. According to Dörnyei and Skehan (2003), “motivation is responsible for why people decide to do something, how long they are willing to sustain the activity, and how hard they are going to pursue it” (p. 614). Speaking from my personal experience, as an EAL teacher with 10+ years of teaching experience, I don’t think it is possible to motivate someone to learn, unless they are already motivated. I believe that either a learner already comes motivated to learn or they don’t. The only thing that the teacher can do is not to let the learner lose this precious motivation. If they aren’t already motivated, there isn’t much that could be done.  

In this essay, I’d like to talk about how we as EAL teachers can create an environment for the learner, so they wouldn’t lose the motivation that they already have to learn a language. First of all, we do this by letting each and every learner contribute to the classroom practices and activities. It’s easy to lose motivation if you are not given an opportunity to actively participate. For example, Norton (1997) in her article “Language, Identity, and the Ownership of English” describes the experiences of an EAL learner who mentions how frustrating it can be to listen to only one student speak throughout the whole lesson. This student eventually drops the course feeling that she “didn’t learn at all”.

Second, we make sure that that the needs of all learners are addressed. People come to language classrooms with various needs, such as to get a (better) job or pursue post-secondary education, and those needs should be the main priority for the teacher. This, of course, might be harder to do in larger classrooms, but maybe this means that the classrooms do not need to be large.

Norton (2015) also suggests that classroom practices need to draw from and legitimize learners’ cultural capital, i.e., their prior knowledge and experience. Therefore, it is important to choose materials and activities that learners can relate to. Canada is a multicultural and multilingual country. However, do the learning materials for EAL students always reflect this cultural and linguistic diversity?

These are some of the ways that I believe can help teachers retain the motivation of their EAL students. And I am positive many teachers are already applying them. However, if you don’t, it’s probably high time to start.

Now, going back to my original idea that a learner either comes motivated to learn or they don’t, you may ask then why people come to learn a language if they are not really motivated? Can you really motivate them to learn? Well, this is something I’d like to hear your ideas on!

Olessya’s Bio

Olessya Akimenko is a PhD Candidate in the Languages, Cultures and Literacies program at SFU. She is currently conducting research for her thesis related to the professional identity negotiations of teachers of English as an additional language (EAL). Her other research and educational interests include dialogic pedagogy and the pedagogy of multiliteracies. Olessya also teaches at the Faculty of Education at SFU. Prior to starting her PhD program Olessya worked as an EAL teacher in Kazakhstan for more than 10 years.

References

Dörnyei, Z., & Skehan, P. (2003). Individual differences in second language learning. In C. J. Doughty & M. H. Long (Eds.), The handbook of second language acquisition (pp. 589-630). Blackwell.

Lesley University. (n.d.). 3 strategies for motivating ESL students. https://lesley.edu/article/3-strategies-for-motivating-esl-students

Norton, B. (1997). Language, identity, and the ownership of English. TESOL quarterly, 31(3), 409-429.

Norton, B. (2015). Identity, investment, and faces of English internationally. Chinese Journal of Applied Linguistics, 38(4), 375-391. Pesce, C. (n.d.). How to motivate ESL students: The 10 best ways to increase teenage student motivation. Busy Teacher. https://busyteacher.org/3644-how-to-motivate-esl-students.html

The 2×2 Matrix: A Powerful Universal Tool for Students to Acquire/Learn English Content & Grammar

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By Howat A. Labrum

Which strategy do TESOL teachers choose to use?  Do they prefer “top down” or “bottom up” approaches?  Or do they use neither or both?  I suggest choosing both, which means exploiting the synergy of the two strategies.  Underlying my choice of both is the 2×2 matrix which shows the four choices visually.

What is the 2X2 Matrix and Why Use it?

The 2×2 matrix is also the key to my focus here and the basis of my active voice English tense-map (see the graphic at the bottom), allowing for a concise overview while giving some essential details.  The matrix also synergizes the two important areas which involve appealing content and a concise verb tense system. In addition, the 2×2 matrix is a math formula, a universal concept understood by speakers of many languages, thus being a bridge for students wishing to learn English, both grammar and content.

The 2×2 as the Basis for the Tensemap

My starting point is the active voice tensemap.  It is a combination of a 3×4 table shared by Betty Azar in her book called Fundamentals of English Grammar (Prentice-Hall, 1985) and a timeline. By some deep thinking and chance, I realized the 12 tense forms could be shown by a timeline using three 2×2 matrices, one for each of the three tenses: past, present, and future

Adding Colour

The tensemap uses colours to help students see the patterns within and across the tenses.  For example, in the graphic below, it is clear the combination of yellow (perfect) and light blue (progressive) gives dark green (perfect progressive).  Grey is my obvious choice for the simple tense form (aspect). Furthermore, the tensemap allows the use of a quick and easy 3-step algorithm which students can use to identify the tense forms correctly by putting them in the appropriate quadrant.

The Tensemap can be Reduced to Uncoloured Symbols

Once the concept is understood, the tensemap can be visualized as the symbol +++. The ‘plus’ signs represent the four quadrants for past, present, and future. Students can use the +++ to show they understand the tense form in a text by underlining the verb, putting the +++ above the verb, and a dot in the corresponding quadrant. 

To show the past perfect (I had eaten), I place a dot in the upper left quadrant in the + which is the one on the left of the three. 

Use in the Classroom and at Home

A large version of the +++ (windows) can be put on the whiteboard where students can point to the corresponding quadrant when they hear a verb tense form in a sentence. This board exercise can become a Total Physical Response game for the whole class to participate in, a fun and less intimidating way than the usual verb tense exercises.  At home students diagram the tense forms in passages of text that are interesting and appealing to them.

Bio: Howat Labrum holds an M.A. in TESOL from UBC. He worked as an EFL teacher in Thailand, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea from 1976 to 2014. Howat created his tensemap in 1990 and has subsequently added more features to it. He has shared his ideas on Twitter @Howie7951 since 2015. Go to letlearn2008 on YouTube for more.  

Reference

Azar, Betty Schrampfer, (1985). Fundamentals of English Grammar, (1st Ed,), Prentice-Hall

A question for you:

Do you think this dynamic, colourful tool could be used in your classroom?