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The factors that contribute to successful learning a foreign language
Czynniki które wpływają na powodzenie w nauce języka obcego

There are as many sources of motivation as there are many definitions of it. The Britannica Encyclopedia tells that motivation forces acting either on or within a person to initiate behavior. The word is derived from the Latin term "motives" which means "a moving cause". It suggests the activating properties of the processes involved in psychological motivation.

In dictionaries we can find two definitions of motivation. The first one is enthusiasm for doing something and the second definition tells us that motivation is the need or reason for doing something. (Janet Phillips 1997)

Motivation is some kind of internal drive which pushes someone to do things in order to achieve something. (Harmer 2003)

Marion Williams and Richard Burder have got their own definition of motivation that it is a state of cognitive arousal which provokes a decision to act. (J.Harmer 2003)

In a teaching and learning a foreign language process the motivation is very important. It is an inevitable outcome of any occupation that one becomes bored and uninterested from time to time. (T.Wright 1987))


1. Types of motivation.

Jeremy Harmer says that there are two kinds of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, which come from outside and from inside.

Extrinsic motivation is caused by any number of outside factors, for example, the need to pass the exam, the hope of financial reward, or the possibility of future travel.

Intrinsic motivation, by contrast, comes from within individual. Thus a person might be motivated by the enjoyment of the learning process itself or by a desire to make feel better them.

Most researches and methodologists have come to the view that intrinsic motivation is especially important for encouraging success. Even where the original reason for taking up a language course, for example, is extrinsic, the chances of success will be greatly enhanced if the students come to love the learning process. (J.Harmer 2003)

The third type of motivation is cognitive motivation. Cognitive theories of motivation assume that behavior is directed as a result of the active processing and interpretation of information. Motivation is not seen as a mechanical or innate set of processes but as a purposive and persistent set of behaviors based on the information available. Expectations, based on past experiences, serve to direct behavior toward particular goals. (Encyclopedia Britannica 2000)

2. Factors that contribute to successful learning.

There are many factors that have an effect on the teaching and learning process. These are: motivation, atmosphere during the lesson, the teacher and methods of work.

Most teachers consider motivation essential for successful language learning. (Palim and Pearse 2000)

Student learn best when they are motivated by being interested in the activity, by seeing an end result which gives them a feeling of achievement by being involved in activities which are relevant to them. (Palim and Power 1990), (achievement was initially recognized as an important source of human motivation).

Without motivation any method prepared by the teacher will not have any effects and any lessons will not be as effective as it is supposed to be. For teachers the best situation is when all of the students want to learn English and they are able to do any exercise and activity the teacher has prepared for them. But this scenario happens very rarely. In fact when learners come to the classroom they want to spend their time doing nothing. They think that English lessons they are wasting their time.

Teachers want students to be happy and satisfied. Teachers should be aware that learners do other things during the lesson because they are not interested in, maybe the reason of that is lack of knowledge about learning subject and they want to do something different as usuall. Maybe they would like to play some games. It is good for learners when the teacher gives them what they want or what they are interested in.

Even the most carefully planned activities will normally motivate learners only if they are related to their interests, needs, and aspirations. (Davies and Pearse 2000)

Teachers try to find out what these hobbies, needs and aspirations are and plan lessons accordingly. For example, teenage learners may want some work on communicating in English via the Internet, or activities using popular songs.

Sometimes the teacher prepares some games because they are important at each stage of language teaching. Why are the games so important?

The answer is very simple.

  • Students enjoy games, or at least they enjoy them far more than they can enjoy grammar exercises and learning words or structures by heart.
  • Games have a great therapeutic effect and allow students to rest and relax after an intensive study period.
  • Games activities help students by reinforcing their motivation for learning and working in class, and build up their confidence in using simple language.
  • Games allow students to revise and practice taught material in an easy and non-stressful way.
  • Games can be used both by students and the teacher to find out the areas of vocabulary that needs revision or practice.

    It is a good idea when a teacher consults with his/her learners about the topics and activities and gets them to bring to class materials they are interested in. Topics can be rich source of motivation in the English language classroom. There are topics of personal interests, for example, music, films, computers, the Internet, pets and sports. The teachers should select topics to work on it with relate to his/her students’ outside interests. This is not only motivating in a general way; the teachers will be surprised by the broad vocabulary that some individuals have in their own areas of interests, even those students who might be generally weak. Also, working in an area of interest leads people to want to express their thoughts, which generate a need to learn. (Julian Edge 1993)

    Vocabulary comprehension and vocabulary production involve distinguishing between comprehension and lingual reproduction, which demands different skills and other tactics in teaching. The aim of the teachers is to help the students to understand lexical material and to keep it in mind. The master should create them the situation in which they will have chances to use collected material actively. (Laskowska 1999)

    It is important to get students involved in work not as the individuals but as a group to allow the better students to encourage and motivate those who are poorer. Group work can be a good factor that contributes to students learning a foreign language. Working in groups may help the poorer students because cooperation with the group can motivate them to work on some activities that demand more individual work. A good example can be games which demand group work and promote student communication and cooperation.

    Involving learners more actively in the classroom in activities that demand student inter-communication and co-operative efforts on their past. Group work and simulations are two examples of such activities that are designed to achieve this effect [motivation]. (Wright 1987)

    For certain kinds of activities, e.g. role-plays, simulation, discussions, task-based activities, and projects, students can work in groups. Many students derive great benefit from simulation and role-play. Students "simulate" a real life encounter such as a business meeting, an encounter in an aeroplane cabin, or a interview as if they were doing so in their real word, either as themselves in that meeting, or taking on the role of a character different from themselves or with thoughts an feeling they do not necessarily share. Simulation and role-play can be used to encourage general oral fluency, or to train students for specific situations. Simulation and role-play they can be good fun and thus motivating and by broadening the world of the classroom to include the world outside, they allow students to use a wider range of language. (Harmer 2003)

    Groups can provide an opportunity for shy students to talk more informally and are valuable educationally as a way of encouraging cooperation. (Linley, Abbs, Freebairn, Barker 2003).

    Group work actuates all of the learners and especially those poor lingual and timid students. This kind of activity gives them chances to become more active and full of positive emotions which are related with rivalry. (Laskowska 1999)

    Teachers should use these activities which demand group work, to encourage students’ motivation to work. During the teaching practice we can observe that using group work activities there appear some situations when the poorer students achieved better results than their friends and their success motivated them to the future work.

    The atmosphere in which the lesson takes place can be another factor that contributes to the success of teaching and learning process.

    It is a good idea when teachers try to change the atmosphere that is different from the one the students encounter at school yesterday. The teachers should create the atmosphere of fun, not work; the atmosphere of freedom, not obligation. Jeremy Harmer (1991) says that we can say, them, that atmosphere in which a language is learnt is vitally important; the cold greyness of much institutionalized education must be compensated for in some way if it is not to have a negative effect on motivation.

    Most of the teachers try to make their lessons attractive for their learners. It does not appear in choosing the activities but by the creating the atmosphere that makes students forget about previous and next lesson they will have or they have had. The teacher should allow the students to feel free to some extent and he/she (a teacher) reinforces the pleasant atmosphere to relax while learning. But the atmosphere of freedom should be carefully restricted.

    The next factor can be the teachers approach to his/her students, the way the teacher treats the people who come to his/her classes to learn English language. Now the students need a good teacher who is well educated, has got professional competences, and who uses new methods of teaching which bring profit during learning process.

    Teaching English successfully is not just a question of method. Haycraft (1987) observed classes where the teacher’s techniques were superb, but where the students were reluctant to learn because the teacher was not interested in them as people. When learners feel that the teacher respects their needs and allows them to do what they like, from time to time of course, and when the teacher tries to meet their interests and hobbies they are more likely to work and participate more actively in the lessons. As we see the teacher has many roles to play.

    Broadly speaking, the function of teachers is to help students learn by imparting knowledge to them and by setting up a situation in which students can and will learn effectively. But teachers fill a complex set of roles, which vary from one society to another and from one educational level to another. Some of these roles are performed in the school, some in the community. It dependences on situation, sometimes the teacher has to be a

  • Mediator of learning.
  • Disciplinarian or controller of student behavior.
  • Parent substitute.
  • Confidant to students.
  • Judge of achievement.
  • Organizer of curriculum.
  • Bureaucrat.
  • Scholar and research specialist.
  • Member of teachers' organization.
  • Roles in the community.
  • Public servant.
  • Expert in some area of knowledge or skills.
  • Community leader (Encyclopedia Britannica 2000)

    Motivation can be strengthened by the task itself. Ellis (1993) points out the potential of the task- based motivation that means students will do better if the task itself motivates them to do it. The games can be seen as such type of task which are something that students naturally want to do.

    Teaching a foreign language can put down to one place, for example, desk to a one of book. The classroom is the most important place at school because students pass there a great deal of their learning time. That is why the classroom should compose favorable atmosphere of learning. The good sample is school’s bulletin on the wall. While doing this bulletin, the learners have an opportunity to exemplify their cleverness, creative abilities and competences independently on level of command of foreign languages. Collective work helps also in integration of the whole class. In general, principle says that the bulletins should be made for the students not for a teacher. (Lipska Anna 1997)

    Each of the given factors goes back to the motivation and the motivation is the factor that drives students to learn. For teachers it is much easier to motivate the learners to play a game, rather than to motivate them to do some exercises from the book. The game that involves group work will make more possibilities for the poorer students to learn from those better ones.

    At this time when people want or must learn a foreign language we as teachers should make our lessons more interesting for our students.

    Izabela Kaczyńska

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