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Vol 34 No 1, January - March 1996 Page 31 PREVIOUS ... CONTENTS ... SEARCH ... NEXT


How to Motivate Learners of English
by Felicien Baloto

Motivation has been defined in different ways: It is what makes us act; it is a desire to work towards a goal or to reach an objective. If motivation is present, learning can be facilitated; but without it, effective learning becomes difficult. Lado (1957) maintains that interest must be present if learning is to be successful. In other words, when interest is absent, one can hear things said over and over without paying too much attention to them.

In this short article, my objective is to present some important principles that can help teachers of English to have lively classes. In the Congo, English is a foreign language. It is learned only in the classroom context, and the national environment is far from supportive. Most teachers are not knowledgeable of methods that will arouse interest or increase their students' commitment to learn English. How then should they proceed to get the maximum participation?

Make use of the learners' environment

Foreign language teaching should always be linked to the environment of the learners. A teacher who teaches English without alluding to the immediate environment of the school makes the English lesson detached from the learners' experiences. In order to remedy the situation, teachers can link the environment of the school (and implicitly of the child) to any activity or exercise that they want to carry out in the classroom.

A child has a natural context in which he organises the various activities that make up his life. If these activities are "reproduced" in the language classroom, it is possible to motivate him/her to do the task at hand. Therefore games and other daily activities should constitute the heart of the English class. The only new factor will be the language itself. Used in this way, English will no longer be feared and students will be more inclined to study it.

Present the language in natural chunks

In a foreign language situation, the teacher remains the main source or model for the pupils. S/he should strive hard to use the language as naturally as possible. If the teacher should use the target language unnaturally, i.e. break a sentence into smaller units to help the students get the correct pronunciation of a word or the intonation of a phrase, etc., s/he must not forget to return to the whole sentence.

Use appropriate visual aids

Visual aids are important tools for the teacher. Used appropriately in the classroom, they enable the teacher to avoid long and confusing explanations. At the same time they help the teacher to have a lively class as students associate real objects with their English equivalents. In this way, they can exchange information with each other since they will be familiar with the topic and/or object under discussion.

Include cultural components

Language and culture are interrelated. One cannot study a language without noting the cultural aspects of the people who use the language natively. However, cultural aspects can be a real hindrance because they may set up barriers to comprehension. This is more evident to teachers who are not native speakers of the target language themselves. For this reason, teachers should provide sufficient background information to enable the learners to understand the cultural content that is naturally present in the target language.

Become an efficient manager

A company's success is usually attributed to the way in which it is managed. Likewise, the success of a language course reflects the teacher's dexterity or expertise. In other words, the teacher should know how to talk to his students if they are to fully participate in the lesson. In this respect, their interests, needs, and experiences must be taken into consideration. The student factor, as it is often called, should be carefully examined. Just as it takes a good factory manager to obtain positive results in the factory, it takes a good teacher to instill in his/her student a positive attitude towards the new language. The deciding factor here is the way in which the teacher talks to his pupils. When the teacher is humane and sensitive, seeing his students as capable of contributing something to the lessons, a warm and enjoyable classroom atmosphere can be created and maintained.

Adapt materials to local realities

It is desirable that materials presented in a foreign language class be varied and stimulating. Ideally, they should be adapted to the needs of learners but most importantly they should be interesting.

The teacher should know how to adapt existing materials to local realities. Commercially produced materials usually aim at a wider audience. Consequently, they cannot coincide with the needs and aspirations of a specific group of pupils. Textbooks should be considered as tools, and teachers should know how to exploit them. The teacher should avoid slavishly following the textbook writer's instructions. S/he should contribute something personal to the materials used in the classroom.

If the above principles are taken into account and implemented with care, teachers will be able to have lively English lessons.

Felicien Baloto is a teacher trainer at the Ecole Normale Sup‚rieure of the University of Brazzaville.



  • Baloto, F. 1991. The impact of the socio-cultural environment in the teaching and learning of English in secondary schools in Brazzaville. Unpublished PhD thesis, Cardiff University of Wales.
  • Gardner, R. C. 1985. Social psychology and second language learning: The role of attitudes and motivation. London: Edward Arnold.
  • Lado, R. 1957. Linguistics across cultures. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
  • Wright, T. 1987. The roles of teacher and learner. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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