The Teacher’s Experience as a Language Learner: a Powerful Motivation Tool

I am very excited about writing this, as this is my first blog post as a writer. I am also very excited because it’s about what motivates people to keep learning languages.

When I first thought about writing this post, I did some reading and took notes on what factors motivated learners to learn, and thought I’d write about how we can reflect on those factors to maximise them in class. Then I went to Florence and had hands-on experience of motivation in language learning, and that’s where I would like to start from.

My partner organised this trip as a chance to catch up with a friend from Japan he had met years ago on an English summer course in Ireland, and I basically tagged along, and also took the opportunity to catch up with a friend from Florence I hadn’t seen for ages.

Turns out Japanese friend is a teacher of her own language, and is learning Spanish, so we communicate in a rather pleasant mix of Spanish and English, and I take the opportunity to squeeze in the few phrases in Japanese I am learning. I can hear my Spanish and my English combined are far from perfect, but to be honest I intend to establish a contact and enjoy myself, so I choose to keep my teacher self quiet.

We join my Italian friend with other Italians for dinner and we have a great time, talking about local customs in a mix of languages. Not surprisingly, I am called upon when it comes to translating more complex cultural ideas in English, and that’s where language fails me: I am aware of using more complex words which a native speaker would understand, but which receive a blank stare from our friends, so I drop my language – something I have never been particularly skillful at. I also become immediately aware that complex words have the effect of dropping the mood instantly, so I do my best to keep it simple.

After years of language learning, this hasn’t been the first time I have found myself in such a multi-lingual situation. Yet, after years of language teaching, this has been the first time I have become aware of how I let my teacher self prevail outside class.

Fair enough, we probably all do that but my point is: how about bringing our language learner self in class deliberately and consistently?

Easier said than done, I agree. How do we do it?

We can share our language speaking experience with learners in class for example, not being embarassed about telling them about the times when we were confused or felt inadequate about our language abilities. This creates a powerful “we’re all in the same boat” feeling and a sense of mutual trust, which in itself is stable ground for motivation.

We can also set up self assessment activities, such as this one.

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