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Motivating the unmotivated

September 01, 2005

In a recent comment on this blog, somebody raised the problem of motivating adult students to learn. The problem in this case appears to be that, although the students need English for work purposes, they don't like the language and don't really want to come to classes.

I think this is really a hard one to solve because the students clearly feel that they are having this need to learn English imposed upon them. They do not therefore have any personal motivation to spark their enthusiasm. So what can be done?

Well I think the school needs to engage the students in a discussion about what benefits they can gain from learning English. The issues to be raised are increased income, promotion prospects, job security and wider employment choices. Case studies might help here. Somehow the attitudes to learning have to be rechanneled so that that the "horses drink when they are taken to water".

The next thing to try is to find out the best ways of making learning both enjoyable and meaningful. I think humanistic approaches are best here. Search the Internet for humanistic exercises. Forget the overt work agenda and give the students chances to talk about themselves, express their views, relax. The classes should be seen as little oases of pleasure in their lives. This means finding out what they enjoy doing, what they like talking about.

The third suggestion I have is to try to discuss their feelings about language learning with them. Probe to see if they are clinging to negative experiences from the past, if they resent being asked to learn new skills. Having exposed their worries and fears, negotiate with them ways of moving forward that relate to their current hopes, needs and expectations.

It might also be helpful to offer them routes to achieve personal satisfaction: e.g. a certificatae in spoken English at the appropriate level. A sense of achievement might help boost their morale.

I can't offer a quick fix, I'm afraid. But the fact that they actually turn up to class should mean there is a foundation to work upon.

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