A few weeks ago, while searching for and editing some new English content for students to present in the next classes, I came across a very simple story that left me a big impression.
The story goes about a Mexican boy Reynel who moved to the United States of America. It was a great yet scary challenge for him to change familiar surroundings into something so different, and what’s worse, where he had no friends and didn’t speak at all the local language – English. Before a cheerful boy who loved to laugh, had many friends, and was admired for his artistic talent, in the new school became someone miserable and very alienated. Seemingly, he was going through a cultural shock.
To put the long story short, one day after abandoning the football match with the new classmates (the boy loved art but was terrible at sports) he sat in a corner leaning to the wall and started sketching kids engaged in a game. That attracted attention of other kids who weren’t playing and Reynel started a conversation with them in his broken English about their favorite hobbies and talents. By the end of the story, he joins an art competition and wins, thanks to the encouragement of his new friends.
The beautiful yet vulnerable story ends by reminding us that learning a foreign language is a straight open gate into opportunities, friendships, and a much more colorful existence in our world.
The young Mexican boy came to the land of the American Dream to start a new school and do well there, to nourish his personality and talents, to belong. In his case, without the English language that wouldn’t have been truly possible.
To read the full story Nothing Will Stop Me by Kathryn Corbett you can here..
The illustrations by Renate Lohmann are lovely too.
It’s good to be reminded from time to time about the importance of student’s motivation. Both, learning and teaching a foreign language, usually come with bigger or smaller obstacles. By skipping this part or not giving it enough attention, it’s usually very difficult to truly get the student to commit to the language learning process. But by exploring it, it will most likely work out to an advantage of both parts.
As educators, in TEFL courses we learn beforehand, how intrinsic and extrinsic motivation functions and how understanding both types eventually lead to great results.
Although intrinsic motivation cannot be really taught, it’s always somewhere there inside of us, maybe a little lost, but it can be brought back to the surface. For example, when I teach my teenage students, I always ask in the beginning why they want to learn English and I ask again and again during the learning process to help that inner spark glow. I also love sharing my experiences with them: how I felt when I started traveling, also about my life chapters in England and the US, what motivated me in my cultural journey. I know sooner or later they’d like to make those job opportunities where the world can connect in a matter of seconds reachable to them. I know they’d like to try to live and work in a foreign country they admire or feel curious about. I know they want to travel this beautiful world. I know they want to socialize with fewer barriers and expand their circle of like-minded people. Obviously, learning English is very useful in all those cases, it would practically make life so much more easer. However, as we peel the onion layers, we see there’s more to that: behind practicality there’s also the need to feel confident, cool, smart, one who belongs, connects, has fun, is free.
I strongly believe we have to nourish this intrinsic motivation of each one of our students with a lot of priority, patience, and respect, because, as mentioned, it’s something that cannot be taught, or forced upon. It rather has to be awakened, while communicating with the student gently and attentively, to be able to access it and therefore, continuously get the results.
Extrinsic motivation is a little easier to control and access by the teacher because it’s seen in a very practical form (such as student grades). It is usually a less effective playing factor in student’s success, but it also has to be taken into account with care. If the student wants to get into a dream university program where a foreign language is needed, extrinsic motivation will play a quite important role in the whole process until the goal is achieved.
It’s best to always keep them both in mind and combine during the learning process. If my student is a corporate professional who comes to my classes to boost his English language skills, therefore his salary (extrinsic motivation), eventually, it will affect positively many of his inner qualities, such as confidence level (intrinsic motivation). Examples are endless.
I hope other teachers will be reminded of the big role motivation plays when they search for that spark in the eyes of their busy students. And I hope our students will embrace the challenge to overcome all those language barriers. I'm a big believer that to be only motivated is certainly not enough (you have to make those small imperfect steps forward too), but it must be strictly maintained. The Mexican boy Reynel is a proof, one exemplary story in the ocean of millions of other success stories.