Motivation in ELT

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Offline Rafiz Uddin

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Motivation in ELT
« on: September 24, 2018, 01:16:39 PM »
Motivation is what moves us to act, in this context to learn English, to learn to teach English, or to teach it. This deceptively simple statement reveals, however, the four elements it involves:

    ▪ the reasons why we want to learn,

    ▪ the strength of our desire to learn,

    ▪ the kind of person we are, and

    ▪ the task, and our estimation of what it requires of us.

Motivation is a property of the learner, but it is also a transitive concept: coaches can motivate their clients, teachers can motivate their students. Furthermore, it is dynamic and changes over time, especially in the usually long-drawn out process of language learning. Motivation is thus remarkably complex.

For many years, studies of motivation for language learning concentrated on reasons for learning. Empirical evidence showed that for some people a wish to integrate, in some sense, with the speech community of the language being learnt seemed to be more strongly associated with success, while for others a wish to capitalize on the usefulness of knowing a language within the learners’ own culture was more effective. This was the distinction made famous by Gardner and his colleagues (Gardner 1985) between ‘integrative’ and ‘instrumental’ orientations. Although this work had the advantage of direct relevance to language learning, its almost universal acceptance masked equally important but more general distinctions, such as:

    ▪ extrinsic and intrinsic motivation (Deci and Ryan 1985), which referred to the source of the influence, whether within oneself or perceived as being from the outside; and

    ▪ striving for success versus avoidance of failure (Heckhausen 1991).

In Gardner's approach, strength of motivation was typically estimated only from attitude questionnaires and thought of as a hidden psychometric trait. However, other educational traditions had used indices from observed on-task behaviour: choice of task according to perceived difficulty, the learner's persistence in tackling a problem, level of participation in class or group activities, attention focus and span; or qualitative data such as verbal reports of self-monitoring and self-regulation.

Crookes and Schmidt's (1991) ‘new research agenda’ incorporated developments in general educational studies into the narrower field of language learning motivation. This focused on individuals, the contexts of learning, the strategies learners might adopt, and the observable learning behaviour of class members.

Following the new agenda, attention then shifted to ideas about the individuality of the learner. For example, Covington's (1998) self-worth theory emphasizes the importance of the beliefs learners hold about themselves, and therefore their level of aspiration and the kinds of strategies they operate or can be taught to adopt, to achieve what they want for themselves. A very important related concept is Bandura's (1997) notion of self-efficacy, looking at how learners estimate their capabilities and manage themselves. Learners who can develop effective motivational thinking, capitalize on success, and minimize the effect of failure will depend less on externally imposed structures and strategies than on their own resources. This connection between intrinsic motivation and the development of learner autonomy in language learning has been investigated by Ushioda (1996).

Learners’ beliefs about the task or sub-tasks, their perceptions of the level and nature of the difficulties, and of what is expected of them, represent another very important motivational influence. Attribution theory (Weiner 1972) has long been a means of capturing how learners evaluate tasks differently, by considering the reasons why the learners believe learning outcomes occurred. If success is attributed to having a good teacher, that learner will not believe it will occur in the absence of that teacher; if failure is seen as the result of lack of effort rather than talent, the learner may believe working harder will result in success.

A comprehensive source-book for all these approaches is Pintrich and Schunk (1996) which succinctly describes the range of motivational theories in education and associated research and applications.

Dörnyei (2001: 21) argues that motivation changes over time in three phases: choice, execution, and retrospection. The initial choice to actually learn the language or start the task rather than just think about it requires different springs to the maintenance of effort, perseverance, or tolerance of frustration in the second phase. Finally the learner needs to come to terms with the whole experience and evaluate the outcomes. Dörnyei (ibid.: 136) offers a checklist of 35 motivational strategies covering the three phases for teachers to try out—warning that the aim is to become a ‘good enough’ motivator, not a perfect one.

The teacher's role in all of this is central, and difficult. It goes far beyond the provision of reward (itself dependent on the learner's self-efficacy). It involves providing a supportive and challenging learning environment, but also facilitating the development of the learners’ own motivational thinking, beyond simply identifying their original orientation. Perhaps the most difficult aspect is not doing anything to de-motivate them.
Md. Rafiz Uddin
Department of English
Daffodil International University

Offline Afroza Akhter Tina

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Re: Motivation in ELT
« Reply #1 on: October 21, 2018, 03:04:02 PM »
Learner Motivation in Language Teaching

Learners' motivation is a key variable that frequently concerns and challenges practitioners in language classrooms (Cheng & Dörnyei, 2007; Scheidecker & Freeman, 1999). It is an abstract construct (Dörnyei, 2001) that has been defined in a number of ways. Dörnyei and Ottó (1998) define motivation in second language (L2) learning as "the dynamically changing cumulative arousal in a person that initiates, directs, coordinates, amplifies, terminates, and evaluates the cognitive and motor processes whereby initial wishes and desires are selected, prioritised, operationalised and (successfully or unsuccessfully) acted out" (p. 65). This definition captures various influential factors that drive learners' desire or arousal to acquire an L2.

Learners' motivation varies because of numerous endogenous (i.e., internal or inner inspiration) and exogenous (i.e., external to human personality) factors, such as sociocultural circumstances, professional needs, and language requirements for international education. Endogenous factors bring pleasure and satisfaction to a student, and exogenous factors relate to the tangible benefits attached to an activity (Noels, Clement, & Pelletier, 1999). A number of studies over the past couple of decades have analyzed patterns of motivation in language classrooms in a variety of situations (e.g., Cheng & Dörnyei, 2007; Dörnyei, 2001; Gliksman, Gardner, & Smythe, 1982). These studies have established a consistently strong relationship between motivation and L2 success. As a language professional, I have faced two main challenges in teaching—motivating learners and sustaining their motivation—and I have come to recognize learners' motivation as a vital element in language teaching.

To deal with the motivational variable (i.e., "cumulative arousal"), I employ several microstrategies, or "techniques that promote the individual's goal-related behaviour" (Dörnyei, 2001, p. 28). These are clustered under the following three macrostrategies, which are general guiding principles to enhance and sustain learner motivation and will need context-specific adjustments if considered for any other ESL or EFL instructional site.

Promote Learners' Involvement in the Program

I involve learners in some decisions about the ESL program. For instance, setting assignment and project deadlines is one of the important decisions that interests learners. In one of my ESL courses, an independent research project is a semester-long component of the program. The project has a number of steps (e.g., deciding research focus, searching sources, developing an outline), and during the second week of the semester, the students and I discuss and set deadlines for all of the project stages. This collaborative decision making allows learners to feel that they set their targets themselves rather than someone else ordering them to do so. Furthermore, I give learners a clear understanding of my expectations, leaving no room for ambiguity or missing information. This objective can be achieved by providing a detailed course outline, using a clear assessment rubric, and, most important, making adjustments to teaching plans according to learners' reflective feedback (e.g., I use a self-assessment narrative with prompts such as "I learned from this project . . . " and "The major problem areas in this course were . . . "). These strategies are just a couple that are likely to help learners realize that their opinion matters in various course decisions and that the teacher cares about the learners. Thus, I strive to make my ESL teaching a bidirectional process through teacher–learner involvement.

Create a Safe Atmosphere for Learners in the Class

I make all efforts to provide learners with a low-anxiety, if not anxiety-free, classroom atmosphere (Brown, 2001; Cheng & Dörnyei, 2007). This motivational strategy also ties into my learner-centered approach in language teaching. I try to create a safe as well as supportive environment in which learners can learn and practice the language comfortably. I maintain this positive environment through good teacher–student working relationships. For example, I make regular contributions to a bulletin board in the classroom with welcome, happy birthday, and congratulations messages and encourage students to use the board to exhibit their projects. Additionally, I make use of Web-based chat rooms for virtual interaction and mutual support.

Other similar strategies can also strengthen good working relationships. Teachers can take simple yet highly effective steps, such as joining learners on field trips, hikes, and lunches. These confidence-building efforts over time help to develop a classroom community. Learners experience and appreciate the supportive teaching environment in which they are encouraged to take risks in using language structures creatively and accept that the mistakes made in this effort probably will not impede their initiatives (Cheng & Dörnyei, 2007; Reid, 1999).

Make Language Learning Enjoyable and Interesting

I believe making learning an enjoyable experience is crucial to maintaining learners' motivation (Dörnyei, 2001). This belief leads me to consider the application of various principles related to motivation when preparing a teaching plan for a semester or similar period. First, texts, audiovisual materials, tasks, and class activities should be related to students' interests. Second, the teacher should always give learners choices in assigning a task, and learners' preferences should get priority. Third, an extracurricular component in the course is a very desirable feature so that elements such as music and humor can be incorporated in teaching, thus increasing learning opportunities beyond regular lessons (Kumaravadivelu, 2003). These extracurricular activities can be simple speaking and writing acts such as sharing a cultural object from one's country/region, giving a musical or dramatic performance, and having poster competitions. I have tried these activities and found them quite successful in enhancing and maintaining learners' motivation.

Furthermore, it is important to appreciate learners' efforts and progress. To promote learner autonomy, I incorporate activities that involve peer support and feedback in addition to teacher commentary. The use of interesting icebreakers can help in overcoming classroom drudgery. For this purpose, I use cartoons and brief video clips related to the lesson. Moreover, sometimes changing the class venue to an open space or a corner in the school café can help break monotony, especially when a lesson does not require use of classroom equipment.


Though a magic formula for motivating language learners may not exist, motivational strategies that are suitable to a specific population can positively impact the "cumulative arousal" of language learners. The abstract nature of motivation makes it difficult for classroom practitioners to gauge or quantify learner motivation using a measuring instrument, so to cope with this abstractness, practitioners can rely on their critical observations about learners' motivational patterns during the course of an academic program. It's a plain fact about language teaching that motivation of language learners fluctuates (is "dynamically changing"), and practitioners need to factor awareness of this reality into all curricular stages.


Brown, H. D. (2001). Teaching by principles: An integrative approach to language pedagogy (2nd ed.). White Plains, NY: Longman.

Cheng, H., & Dörnyei, Z. (2007). The use of motivational strategies in language instruction: The case of EFL teaching in Taiwan. Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching, 1,153–173.

Dörnyei, Z. (2001). Motivational strategies in the language classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dörnyei, Z., & Ottó, I. (1998). Motivation in action: A process model of L2 motivation. Working Papers in Applied Linguistics, 4, 43–69.

Gliksman, L., Gardner, R. C., & Smythe, P. C. (1982). The role of the integrative motive on students' participation in the French classroom. Canadian Modern Language Review, 38, 625–647.

Kumaravadivelu, B. (2003). Beyond methods: Macrostrategies for language teaching. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Noels, K. A., Clement, R., & Pelletier, L. G. (1999). Perceptions of teachers' communicative style and students' intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Modern Language Journal, 83, 23–34.

Reid, J. (1999). Affect in the classroom: Problems, politics, and pragmatics. In J. Arnold (Ed.), Affect in language learning (pp. 297–306). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Shahid Abrar-ul-Hassan ( is a faculty member at the Language Center of Sultan Qaboos University, in Muscat, Sultanate of Oman.

Afroza Akhter Tina
Senior Lecturer
Department of English, DIU

Offline Md. Al-Amin

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Re: Motivation in ELT
« Reply #2 on: October 22, 2018, 10:39:49 AM »
Very helpful information for ELT method acquisition seekers.

Offline zafrin.eng

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Re: Motivation in ELT
« Reply #3 on: February 26, 2020, 05:59:01 PM »
Very essential information!