Published 23rd November 2015
TEFL teachers are expected to play a number of different roles in the EFL classroom: dictionary, parent, therapist and traffic officer, just to name a few. But one of the most important roles we play is that of cheerleader. Motivating our EFL students is something all TEFL teachers need to do. Learning English as a Foreign Language can be hard, boring or sometimes even seemingly impossible, so it is our job to make sure our students want to be in the classroom and are open to the learning experience. A happy, interested student is a student who is able to learn more easily.
You probably remember from your TEFL course that there are two types of motivation: intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation. If you are intrinsically motivated, then you motivation is internally situated. In other words, you provide your own motivation; you are learning English for your own reasons. If you are extrinsically motivated, then your motivation to learn English stems from a reason not within your control. So an intrinsically motivated EFL student wants to learn English because they enjoy learning languages or are doing it for their own pleasure, while an extrinsically motivated student probably needs to learn English to study or for a job.
Of course, it seems like it shouldn’t matter why our EFL students are motivated, just that they are. However, being familiar with the reasons your students are learning English as a Foreign Language can help us understand their motivation and allow us to use those reasons to our advantage. Finding this out is usually done with a needs analysis of some sort, which can be done by questionnaire, writing exercise or discussion. If you find out your students need to learn English because they are planning to study in the UK, you can use content relating to that to keep them excited about their goals and interested in the learning process. If they are learning English for themselves, find out what interests them in general and use this to keep their interest levels high.
One thing is for sure, though: in order to keep motivation levels up, students need positive reinforcement. For children this can be something as simple as a sticker chart, and for adults it can be words of encouragement. Positive reinforcement can go a long way in helping students realise how they are progressing and this will reinforce their positive attitude towards learning English. If our students have a good attitude towards the learning process and a positive experience of being in the classroom, they will find learning much easier. It is therefore necessary to make sure that the environment in the EFL classroom remains one of lightheartedness and enjoyment, so that your students want to return each time because they know they will not only learn new language but also have fun.