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Motivation is fuel for learning. What motivates us to learn what we know? The answer to this question creates a foundation for our subject matter, which in the end will determine the permanence of that knowledge. As TEFL teachers, we should all look at our own experience as students and analyze what motivates us in a classroom. Let?s look to personal experience for evidence of the impact motivation has on the permanence of a foreign language and examine three main motivators for learning a new language: recognition, curiosity, and necessity.
In school, we study for recognition. When I studied French at the university, I memorized many terms simply for the grade I desired; however, I was not able to communicate with French people I met. For many students the motivation to learn a foreign language is to graduate and receive that certificate of recognition. Learning during this time is often force fed, and students may simply digest and regurgitate information for passing grades on an exam. As a result, the foreign language skills fade. When students come into the classroom wanting this recognition, teachers may give it with ?Good Job? certificates or ?Best Student? awards; however, teachers should try to create a deeper curiosity within their students so that the knowledge of the new language remains.
Curiosity is an excellent motivation for learning a new language. It is what dreams are made of! When I lived in Belize, I was fascinated by the Spanish Caribbean culture and began to take Spanish lessons from one of the native ladies. I learned a lot initially and am able to use it; however, I quickly became sidetracked because there was nothing to obligate me to know Spanish. When someone learns based on curiosity the language knowledge remains permanently, however; s/he must stay motivated about the subject for a long enough period of time to master it. TEFL teachers may create personal interest based lesson plans when possible to stimulate a student or group of students? curiosities, but this could be difficult for large or diverse groups. An easier approach lies in a very different type of motivation.
When a language is necessary, it remains. When I first came to Thailand, I was in a city where nearly no English was spoken. I had to learn Thai if I wanted to eat and get around. I quickly bought a textbook and studied. This foreign language with only six months of study has had more permanence than my three years of French! Necessity is the strongest motivator. When we must use a language to accomplish what we want, we remember how and what to say to get it. TEFL teachers can create similar life like situations in which students must function in the foreign language. By using competition or even recognition to engage the students, a TEFL teacher can make the classroom a practice room for the real world.
In conclusion, teachers can tap into all three of these motivators by creating certificates of recognition, by stimulating curiosities with personal interest based classes, and by creating task based games that make knowledge of the language necessary for success. Our motivations play an important part in the permanence of a new language. Therefore, as teachers we must evaluate why students learn and adapt our environment to motivate students for long term knowledge of English.
Author: Bonnie Vidrine
Date of post: 2007-04-18