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10 Commandments for motivating language learners: #1 Set a personal example with your own behaviour




Smartly dressed young woman smilingFollowing on from his first post, 10 Commandments for motivating language learners, Tim Ward, a freelance teacher trainer in Bulgaria, takes a closer look at the first of the 10 Commandments: Set a personal example with your own behaviour.

There were lots of responses to the last blog on motivating language learners. Thanks for all that – establishing a dialogue is such an important part of our professional lives.

It was really interesting to hear from learners like Bethanyx – more from the learners’ perspective is always welcome!  Many of the posts anticipate things I’ll come back to in later weeks (Paul Bishop saying that learners need to know the benefits of what they’re studying, Bindu writing about helping students think ‘out of the box’ and many more).

An interesting comment from Marluce in Rio to the effect that teacher efforts are all very well, ‘but (there is always a “but”) course books need to be used completely in my school, and we feel sometimes overloaded’. Agreed! Two thoughts.  One is that course books should always be the servant not the master; the other is that some course books are better than others, and it’s important to look for ones which are right for the students.

Generally the response goes some way to confirming what I’m thinking, that there’s a widespread perception – internationally, even intercontinentally – that our job is getting harder, or at least we have to find more ways of getting through to students. It’s a perception that may even be true…

Which leads me on to the theme of this post. I finished last time by outlining the 10 commandments of motivation as described by the Hungarian researchers Zoltan Dornyei and Kata Czizer. These were what they called ‘macrostrategies’, meaning I suppose that they are kind of general rules. The task I want to move on to now is to try to put some flesh on the bones, to see how we can actually put these macrostrategies into practice (which I suppose means coming up with some microstrategies, though a large part of me prefers the term ‘specific ideas’).

Take the first commandment of motivation which says ‘Set a personal example with your own behaviour’.

What does this mean? It might actually be easier to start with what it isn’t: this one isn’t, I think, about how we get on with students or how we explain the material we teach, as much as who and what we are in the classroom.

I don’t really like slogans disguising themselves as truths but one I have found really useful recently goes ‘Be the behaviour you want’. An interesting thought: what do you want your students to be like in your classroom?

Thinking off the top of my head, I want my students to be: prepared, prompt, respectful, interested, good at listening, smiley (when possible), committed to the subject, and enthusiastic. If the logic is right, that’s given me a (rather daunting, admittedly) description of how I need to behave myself when I teach. A question: what would your list of desired characteristics from your students look like?

A couple of random thoughts, leading on from this.

One, I suspect the most important of these qualities from the students’ point of view is the last, as there is nothing less likely to inspire you than somebody who looks a bit bored with what they’re doing. So even if we aren’t feeling particularly enthusiastic (and I’m sure there are moments for all of us…) we have to look as if we are – but then it seems to me that wearing a mask is often a big part of the job.

My second set of thoughts springs from the wish to be good at listening and revolves round the idea that we need to be good at listening to all students equally. So that means our personal example should include being fair and consistent to all the people in our classes equally and without discrimination.

Remind yourself of the 10 Commandments for motivating language learners and look out for future posts by Tim exploring the remaining Commandments.

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  1. I would think it means, specifically for language teachers, that if we expect them to learn and speak our language, we should also make an effort to learn and speak their language.

    • I’d tend to agree with this. It’s also useful when a teacher has inside knowledge of what it’s like to learn a language — in my experience such teachers often tend to be less dogmatic about the ‘best’ methods.

      • probably because we (non native teachers) know how it feels to be a language learner…………I think that EMPATHY is a quality that any teacher (not only language ones) should have….. Thanks for the constant inspiration! I love these blogs and websites

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