Motivation and English Language Learning: Steps to Increase Motivation to Learn English in the Classroom
Motivation is inextricably bound to second language acquisition, and there are a wide range of forces that can drive learner motivation. Clearly, a relationship exists between students’ attitudes toward learning another language and their level of motivation to learn, and strategies exist that support both positive attitudes and student motivation. Second language learning is relevant to all students in the twenty-first century, as the landscape of modern business is increasingly global. The English language is particularly integral to a contemporary education due to its widespread usage and thorough entrenchment in the global market, but learner motivation to acquire English is unfortunately and often low. This inquiry argues that student motivation to learn English as a second language is low due to poor attitudes toward English and the cultural affiliations the language embodies. Furthermore, the steps that educators need to take in order to boost learner motivation focus on reframing attitudes toward English language learning.
The English language is second only to Mandarin Chinese in terms of the percentage of the global population that speak it. English the primary language used on the internet and within the business world, and the viral spread of Western culture has linked English to pop culture worldwide. Why, then, is motivation to learn English so low? In an empirical survey of forty-five college students in Jordan who were learning English, over half of the students clearly exhibited negative attitudes toward the English language. Some of these attitudes reflected poor perceptions of the language itself, while others demonstrated clearly cultural animosities.
English Language Learner Motivation
Empirical studies suggest that when attitudes toward a second language are poor, motivation will also be low. The promotion of language learning is tightly linked to several, learning strategies such as integrating the second language with the native culture, purposefully constructing favourable attitudes toward the cultures perceived as linked to the second language, and actively dismissing potential stereotypes regarding the second language and its cultures.
Motivation is also deeply affected by attitudes toward the learning context itself, with negative reactions to the materials, academic environment, instructor, classmates, and other such variables significantly able to support or counter motivation. The perceived goals linked with language acquisition, such as garnering a quality career, are also significant motivators that can successfully raise motivation, though they do not significantly support positive attitudes toward the second language. Significantly decreasing motivation is language anxiety and the negative attitudes toward the language that emerge from that stress.
Steps to Support English Learner Motivation
Learner motivation is most optimally supported by the purposeful cultivation of positive attitudes toward the second language. In articulating concrete steps educators can take to enhance motivation, the constant promotion of positive attitudes and the converse countering of negative attitudes is, by extension, paramount. Key steps that support motivation are all grounded in the assumption that motivation is decreased by poor attitudes toward the English language, the English-speaking community, and the language learning environment.
Step I: Promoting Positive Attitudes toward the English Language Community
The promotion of positive attitudes toward the English language community is essential in boosting the motivation of students aiming to acquire the English language; in the absence of such attitudes, motivation and achievement will undoubtedly remain low. Creating opportunities for students to use English outside of the classroom, through exchanges with other schools and visits to restaurants or other English-speaking institutions, students can begin to frame the English speaking community as personally relevant and geographically close. Within the classroom, genuine opportunities for communication are critical in maintaining motivation; these can include e-mail exchanges and reading popular culture texts. Conveying to students that the English-speaking community is open-ended and global is important in breaking down potential stereotypes that exists regarding the language, thereby countering any potential barriers to motivation.
The use of learner diaries in promoting constant reflection of cultural perceptions has shown considerable success in eradicating stereotypes (Porto); these diaries are supported by the educator’s constant reference to them, charging students to articulate their engagement with the English language community, feelings regarding their language learning, and any emerging attitudes towards English that may be culturally defined. Employing learner diaries can also complement the use of mandated texts that may not be culturally sensitive. Overall, learner motivation is supported by opportunities to reflect on and work through cultural barriers.
Step II: Promoting Learner Autonomy in Goal Development
Learners need to feel autonomous in their language learning, lest they feel personal motivation is not necessary. In charging students to become aware of and generate their own learning goals, learners are sensitised to the personal meaning of the outcomes of language acquisition. Students should ask themselves the following during goal generation: What will I gain from learning English? How will successful completion of this semester benefit me as a future professional or in my later academic career?
Learner autonomy is, in short, the ability of the student to take charge of his/her own learning (Lisbett, Tindall, and Arroyo). The teacher needs to allow for opportunities to promote learner autonomy through which the student can accept responsibility for his/her own performance. At the technical level, autonomy is supported by concrete instructional strategies and materials. At the psychological level, autonomy is supported by an inner capacity for self-regulation. Finally, at the political level, autonomy is linked to control over social contexts for learning. At all of these levels, motivation and autonomy are tightly bound to one another, as the student internalises his/her own goals as fuel for academic performance and language acquisition.
In this writer’s personal experience, the broad goal of becoming an English teacher maintained constant and fervent motivation throughout the academic levels. The role of the teacher is to facilitate continual understanding of goal evolution and the students’ roles in achieving their goals. The teacher should remain abreast of the learners’ goals and adjust the curriculum accordingly. For instance, if the student population demonstrates a unified desire to use English in their future careers, the teacher could link vocabulary words to professional contexts as much as possible. Overall, student motivation is supported by the autonomous generation of goals and perception of learning as genuinely supportive of those goals.
Step III: Promoting a Positive and Accessible Learning Environment
Critical to learner motivation is the strategic cultivation of a positive learning environment in which all learning styles are accommodated. In this writer’s experience as an educator, it is not unfailingly evident which learning styles a student embodies. By extension, the provision of multiple learning opportunities that support a range of learners’ preferences is paramount.
The use of interesting text books that frame English as exciting and accessible is important, as is those that authentically employ English in real-world contexts. Materials that promote a positive learning experience are particularly critical for both visual and auditory learners, but can cater to a variety of learning styles as well. Educators should promote English language as not only necessary but also fun, affording students with a wide range of creative opportunities for engaging with the language.
English Language Learning - Conclusions
English is not the only important language on the planet, but it is integral to the professional community and becoming more so every year. The importance of students’ native languages should never be discounted, as they are linked to and derived from local and cultural values. The motivation to learn English, by extension, stems from recognition of the integration between English and the global community. In his empirical investigation of how students are affected by their attitudes toward English in the language learning classroom, Abu-Melheim asks “why is English a difficult subject to some? The reason being, there is no specific cause for these people to learn it. This is due to the existence of a barrier drawn (whatever the reason might be) between the learner and the language even before he or she gets engaged in learning it.” Breaking down this barrier is the charge of the English language teacher, and it is a complex one.
Driving student motivation is essential to the language learning classroom, and motivation is bound to the cultivation of positive attitudes. The steps suggested herein to promote motivation and to break down any perceived barrier between the English language community and the language learners all are grounded in the notion that students cannot learn English without embodying positive attitudes toward the language. Moreover, motivation toward learning English purely for career purposes is not sufficient, particularly if negative attitudes coexist with those career goals. Promoting positive experiences with the English language community, supporting learner autonomy, and creating an accessible and positive learning environment all are salient drivers of motivation, fueling positive attitudes and enhancing learner commitment to English language acquisition.
Research on Learning English Writing as a Foreign Language: http://essayscam.org/forum/fe/learning-english-foreign-language-challenges-strategies-5018/