Tips on How to Motivate Your English Language Learners to Study ESL

Rod Ellis defines motivation as referring to “the efforts which learners put into learning an L2 as a result of their need or desire to learn” (1995).

The two main types of motivation, intrinsic and extrinsic, can affect the learning process. Intrinsic motivation is task motivation that derives from an inherent interest in the learning tasks while extrinsic motivation refers to the external influences that affect the strength of learner’s motivation such as that which comes from teachers and parents.

While some students have their own intrinsic motivation or external motivation, other students need to be motivated to learn. There are many things that you can do as a teacher in order to motivate students to learn. These strategies are based on various articles I have read below.

Students are more likely to want to learn when they appreciate the value of the classroom activities, and when they believe that they will succeed if they apply reasonable effort. Hence, “student motivation to learn is an acquired competence developed through general experiences but stimulated most directly through modeling, communication of expectations, and direct instruction or socialization by significant others – especially teachers and parents” (Brophy, p.40) When it comes to lower performing learners, teachers realize that such learners are accustomed to experiencing failure, hence, the teacher’s task is to help them experience success.

Here are some strategies and tips that may motivate students and stimulate them to learn.

  • Provide a supportive environment and establish a trusting bond. “Motivation is the feeling nurtured primarily by the teacher in the learning situation” (Ellis, 1994). Greet your students, interact with them, indicate a personal concern about them as individuals.
  • Cater levels of activity to students’ level – try and make sure that the learning tasks pose a reasonable challenge to the students – neither too difficult nor too easy.
  • Help students recognize links between effort outcome – learning is a long term plan of effort and investment.
  • Break down learning steps into digestable pieces.
  • Minimize student’s performance anxiety during learning activities.

Articles on Motivating Students

Brophy, J. Synthesis of Research for Motivating Students to Learn. Educational Leadership, Oct. 1987. p.40-48. (article summary)

Ellis, R. (1994) The Study of Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Primary English Education Policy 2001 in China

China’s Ministry of Education created a foreign language policy in 2001 The policy is entitled, “The Ministry of Education Guidelines for Vigorously Promoting the Teaching of English in Primary Schools.”

This policy has so many positive and negative effects on the society of china. An analysis of policy is given below please read.

The policy states that primary school students are required to start learning English in the third grade. This marked the implementation of a new foreign language policy in the country. The policy included a plan implementation schedule, curriculum design guidelines, textbook selections, training teachers and governing structures. There have been several concerns about the implementation of this policy and for a country with the largest primary school population, the practicality of the policy’s implementation raised several eyebrows. One of the concerns were whether the policy was only geared towards gaining the favor of hosting the 2008 Summer Olympic games or whether the policy promoted education equality in the country. Learning English has become high importance for internal and external examinations within the school systems.

n China, there is an exam for students to take to enter into college, called the National University Entrance Qualifying Exam. This exam requires students to test in three subjects: Chinese, English, and Math. Some parents in China find learning English so necessary, they hire tutors to start teaching their children English before they are taught in school

The English language has evidently shown linguistic impacts to all parts of the world. The effects do not only transpire in the micro socio-political lens, but it already holds a significant role that fuelled both the political and social development of societies. These developments then result to the involvement and transpiration of policy efforts and the discussions of language planning as part of the pedagogical component of national educational systems. One interesting case is that of the English Language Teaching (ELT) policy in the People’s Republic of China.

It is noted that China’s educational system has suffered from its unstable policies in foreign language education during the 1950s to 1990s – after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. In other words, the English Language Teaching in China was influenced by differing political, economic, social, and educational needs at different times.

Also, the massive drive in the expansion of English proficiency in formal education has in Hertling’s words “the most ambitious language-learning campaign in history”

English As a Second Language Education Requirement For Amnesty Seekers

Both candidates running for president, McCain and Obama, have their own amnesty plan for the twelve million or so illegal aliens in the county. Historically, one of the requirements for amnesty was certification of the applicants' level of English proficiency or a minimum number of hours of classes in English as a Second Language. This was the case, a language requirement, in the early 90's when amnesty was given by President Bush Sr. But, eighteen years later, who is going to test let alone provide all of these people with these educational services?

Of course the tradition education system has the facilities to accommodate these people but it would take a few years of committee meetings to agree what, when and how to teach or test these new immigrants. The public education system barely handles the work load that it has before it now. Its decision making system is also very bureaucratic and therefore makes decisions very slowly with the end result leaving the decision makers not fully satisfied. It also leaves the actual needs of the students not very well met. There are also private education services that provide tutoring for students after school.

They are market driven so adjust what they teach and where they provide their services according to the needs of the market. But the teaching and testing of the new immigrants would only be a temporary niche market. Also, would it be financially viable enough for them in order to set up a bricks and mortar facility for these temporary students. The next possible option to provide theses ESL educational services for the new immigrants are the Non-governmental Organizations, NGOs, or Not-For-Profit, 501C3 organizations.

These groups range from religious groups like churches and synagogues to The Boys and Girls Clubs of America. They have facilities in place and volunteer staff that could step up to the whiteboard and teach English as a Second Language. Currently, some churches have experience providing English as a Second Language lessons to foreign students studying here in the US. Fairview Missionary Church – Angola, Indiana provides such an ESL program to the foreign Engineering students at the local University. While most of their current students' language proficiency level is much higher than the average illegal aliens; it would be a relatively easy transition to focus on this new group. Another possible option for these new immigrants to learn English as a Foreign Language and meet the amnesty requirements would be to take an internet based ESL course. The cost of the course would depend on who was providing it. However, online education in other subject areas has proved to be very effective and popular.

It provides universal access to education. One website providing the opportunity for students to learn English online for free is They provide regular lessons, video lessons as well as a chat room for the student to practice their conversation skills in. English4All's chat room is hosted by an avatar that is programmed with Artificial Intelligence. This makes the chat room open twenty four seven for as many students that want to improve their English. In the end, all of the above opportunities will more than likely be provided by various communities. While amnesty is not popular with segments of the population, it is not feasible to deport twelve million people. Whoever wins presidency will not undoubtedly provide some kind of a pathway to citizenship for these new immigrants.