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Updated on July 6, 2014

Motivation in Teaching English as a Foreign Language

Also published in a national magazine, "Info Didactica", SITECH, Craiova, Romania, ISSN 2066-2149, First year, no 5, 2009

Romanian title of the magazine : " Info Didactica, Revista cadrelor didactice din invatamantul preuniversitar, SITECH, Craiova, Romania, ISSN 2066-2149 (Anul I, Nr 5, 2009) "

Ideas on the same topics were included in larger articles on foreign language methodology and pedagogy concepts, theories and approaches which have been published in the Humanizing Language Teaching Magazine, Pilgrims, UK

The question of how an English teacher can really incorporate a high level of challenge for his/her pupils could be answered in pages and pages, of course, for this issue deserves a special treating and it could constitute the subject for a book on English methodology and on reflections upon the practice, experience and psychology of English language teaching.

But in brief, I could say that for myself, up until this time, I have noticed that pupils and students in general, being in the process of shaping up their personalities, are really influenced by me as an educator and as a model , they are pushed forward by me as an educator, their system of values gets transformed as they judge and classify a teacher`s proficiency and mine in particular, not from only one side, but from two sides or even more: the teacher must be a professional first , that is, they must always have in front of their eyes the image of a teacher who is a master in what he or she teaches, the teacher must be very confident and bold about their scientific background, being able to respond at any time to any question (or to really guide them and make them reflect when questions have no answers but rather more secrets), the teacher must always be a model in terms of enthusiasm for the subject matter being taught, in terms of passion for the subject being taught and in terms of perfectionism, and at the same time the teacher must possess the pedagogical skills and methodology training in order not to miss out the very meaning of a teacher, which is that no matter how hard or complex things might be, if she is a good teacher, then the genius consists precisely in making all these difficult and complex things seem approachable or easy and captivating, worthy of being discovered and in presenting them in a clear, concrete, structured and straightforward manner.

This clear, concrete and straightforward manner of transmitting knowledge and values and of shaping up students/trainees is what makes a good teacher and often, this level is really reached after years of experience but it does not exempt the teacher from coming closer to its accomplishment even at quite early stages of his or her teaching experience.

So having noticed these aspects, I know that there is more to a teacher`s job than just the fact that I succeeded in my teacher`s complicated exams trajectory for this job. I know that the “magic” of this job works for me because, first, I am thankful for and pleased about what I am doing, I know that teaching and living day to day in an English based cultural atmosphere is precisely what I am made for, I keep my motivational drive always activated and this is a very powerful incentive for my students as well, because their motivational engines are also pushed on and on. I try to make them realize constantly that learning languages means being a multi-faceted rich personality, that the universe is incomparably larger! If our students see teachers who are true to their choice of job, the language being taught becomes a way of life being exposed as a model to them. When students have in front of them a teacher about whom they know she is always enthusiastic, they can really go beyond their own expectations and challenge themselves to reach the perfectionist level of learning a language, of “living” that language and culture, juts as their teacher does.

At the same time, I always try to assure myself that psychologically speaking, I do not “overshadow” them as a teacher, by being exaggerated in my task demands or by not giving them always maximum optimism , unconditional support and positive feed-back even when they do try in their own way, but do not always succeed at their best. I try to teach them values regarding English, my subject, rather than demotivating them with specific demands, I always encourage them not to “just know about the English language or words”, but to be bold and speak it, to express themselves and their life through it, because communication is the most important aspect.

Also, I rise their expectations level by participating with them in this magical process, by letting them know that for me as a teacher, the biggest satisfaction is when I also have them as the best “partners” in communication through English, I try to make them understand that there is no other joy for me than turning them really not only into just some disciples, but into great partners of communication regarding my subject matter, that it is my goal and utmost desire to look into the mirror of my activity with them and see perfect interlocutors, see perfect synchronization, in a truly reciprocal respectful manner. In order to challenge themselves students must not compare themselves one with another, (though many times wanting to be better than your mates helps a lot), but engage in fair competition with their own-self, wanting to go beyond themselves, to surpass their own limits, to compete with their own personalities and workstyle rather than against someone else in class. This competition with their self drives away the idea of dangerous “race” within a class, within a collectivity.

I know that languages teachers have often reflected, just like I did, about how much cooperation and collaborative work have been so vital in fostering fluency, creativity, accuracy in language learning and that unfair competition, that one which comes from envy, acts like a knife from within the system of a class or group, thus geopardizing the very purpose of a healthy and uncompromising learning/pedagogical atmosphere.

The teaching approach should not be selfishly teacher-centered, but it should allow the modern group-work and pair work strategies more and more space, of course, within the well-balanced classical and modern display of techniques, without any of the methods becoming increasingly dominant, though (these methods of working being known as such, whole-class work, group-work, pair-work).

The teacher-student individual interaction in class should bear the characteristics of a genuine communication, not an over-formalized one, not either an over-liberal one, because in either of these two choices of interaction there is the huge risk of generating frustration by discriminating one student against another, by keeping them into a state of unwanted inhibition through a too strict approach or through a non-flexible and unclear set of criteria coming from the teacher(in grading students, in organizing the lesson, etc). Also in becoming extremely liberal and tolerant with one student creates the idea of inequality over the others, or ends up by giving a plateau effect of “too much tolerance” for the whole class or group, since the rest of the group will want (and tend) to be treated in the same way as the other exponent of their class.

This exaggerated “equality” can cause harm as well, because, even though there might be groups with fairly the same level, in others , the level difference between the pupils/students can vary a lot and if the results are the same (mostly good or mostly bad), then, invariably, the revolt will rise among students who know, in an objective “popular voice in class” way or good sense, that there are some who are really “good with English”, whereas others are still a long way from managing their situation in the English class. Also there should be no such thing as “the only one who deserves an “A” is the English teacher”, even if there might be the case for an extremely perfectionist and well-prepared , professional teacher and even if the student in case does not really deserve the highest mark, I think that if we notice that his motivation and ambition have been at highest quota, if his work has been passionate, the highest mark coming from the teacher at least from time to time pushes them forward in a wonderful way, through the –effort-reward strategy, and builds down at least partially the “unclimbable wall” that sometimes knowledge seems to be for some of them.

Motivation is an important tool which we have as teachers, provided we know how to create this in class for our students. Motivation is a “product” of the teacher, directed towards the students, as well as an intrinsic(already existent) asset of pupils. The intrinsic motivation of the pupils (or more precisely the “raw material” upon which we build our teaching ), is a part of their personality, of their self-esteem, of their image of themselves and their ideals in life. If as teachers we know how to use and join together the two sides of motivation , we should then have a wonderful vehicle towards the precious goals of language acquisition/instruction, towards professional knowledge and foreign cultures and languages as “another magnificent world” which opens its gates for all learners.


[1] Harmer, J., The Practice of English Language Teaching, Pearson Longman, fourth edition.

[2] Mario, Rinvolucri, Paul, Davis, Building Trust in the Language Classroom , Longman Publishing Group, October 1990.


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