In the plenty of variables affecting the learning of a foreign language, motivation is very likely to be the most important one. Indeed, the learners´ enthusiasm, commitment and persistence are key determinants of success or failure. In fact, we may confidently say that children with enough motivation can develop a working knowledge in a L2, regardless of their language aptitude or cognitive characteristics.
Dörnyei (2001) identifies three indispensable motivational factors: appropriate teacher behaviours and a good relationship with the students; a pleasant and supportive classroom atmosphere; and a cohesive learner group with appropriate group norms. In addition, he refers to a “process-oriented approach” as a dynamic view of motivation.
On the other hand, the levels and intensity of motivation rise and fall over time; therefore, the hard nut to crack is not only arousing children´s willingness to learn a FL, but also maintain a desire to communicate and transform it into goals. In Dörnyei and Ottós framework, three main phases can be identified in a motivational classroom:
- Individuals make choices before embarking on a task (pre-actional stage)
- They act upon these choices (actional stage)
- Finally they assess their performance for future reference (post-actional stage)
In more practical terms, the official curricula acknowledge the relevance of motivation and FLL, establishing frameworks that favour active methodologies challenging learners to solve problems which imply practical use of the FL. In this process, the role of engaging and joyful tasks is decisive to hook children in using English with a meaningful purpose for them. Obvious as it may seem, the FL area can benefit from a massive amount of methodological strategies and resources.
Far beyond the use of stories, songs or games as motivating tools in the FL class, knowledge and learning technologies have brought about new possibilities to actively involve children in using English. In guise of an example, we may mention the project-based approach or innovative techniques like the design of escape rooms and breakout games.
On the whole, it can be stated that motivating children is a science, but also an art, because in the end there is no “magic potion”; the teacher is undoubtedly one of the most important pieces to inspire and encourage little students to feel confident enough as to take the first steps towards a new language.
Dörnyei, Z and Ryan, S. “The Psychology of the Language Learner Revisited”, Routledge, 2015.
Dörnyei, Z. “Motivational Strategies in the Language Classroom”. Cambridge University Press. 2001.
Video by: BYU Center for Teaching & Learning (BYU CTL)