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This one in on motivation

“Motivation is complex and invisible which makes it hard to understand.”

                                                                                        Peps Mccrea: Motivated Teaching

Human beings have always been concerned with motivation – a notion of how to get themselves or others to act or behave in a certain way.

We – teachers are no different. Throughout our professional career and day-to-day life, we struggle with how to motivate ourselves but also our learners in our subjects. Our students often find it challenging to generate the effort and persist at the tasks they are given to them – to motivate themselves.

In many instances, they are motivated by external (extrinsic) determinants such as reward systems or grades, however, frequently some of our learners are motivated by their interests, long-lasting values, or curiosity from within – by so called intrinsic motivations which are not necessarily recognized by external rewards.

The interplay between the extrinsic forces acting on persons and the intrinsic motives and needs inherent in human nature is the territory of Self-Determination Theory.’ (, 2022)

The evidence behind the SDT informs us that to facilitate intrinsic motivation in our learners we need to fulfil their three psychological needs: autonomy, competence, and relatedness.

For the development of intrinsic motivation, it is essential that our learners feel that they have a choice in what they are doing, they feel they can do it – self-efficacy and that they feel connected.

Having taught in secondary education in England for the past 18 years, over the years I have often heard colleagues complaining about their students’ lack of motivation in language learning.

Talking from my personal experience and pupil voice I have conducted on this issue, the most common responses from my learners have been the following ones:

  1. Most people around the world speak English anyway so they feel there is no need to learn another language which requires a lot of effort and takes up a lot of time to learn to a ‘decent’ level, so why ‘waste’ the energy…

  2. They don’t see how languages could be relevant to their careers, they don’t want to work or live abroad.

  3. They don’t have the cultural awareness or ‘closeness’ to other communities or cultures.

  4. They don’t believe they can learn another language as languages are perceived as difficult and only people who are academic can learn them successfully. They lack the self-belief – self – efficacy in their ability to learn them. 

So, the questions that pose themselves are: 

How can we – teachers (who are so passionate about languages and who can list an x number of reasons why to learn a language) convince our students not to give up on such a useful skill – superpower? How can we support and motivate them?

Getting it right at KS3

Each student that arrives in our classroom brings with them varying degrees of knowledge, cultural experiences, aspirations, backgrounds, and preconceptions.

At many schools, students are assigned a language based on, a tutor group or half/half split which can often result in students being assigned a language they might not been so keen on or the school might teach only one language…

Therefore, the aim of many language teachers is to turn that ‘frown upside down’ from the very first lesson and to continue inspiring and motivating them. This might be easier said than done!

1. The Teacher

To address the issue of languages being perceived as difficult, it can be highly effective to share our own language learning journey including our own struggles, showing our photographs, sharing our stories and experiences living in another country as for many of us, our teachers are the ones who inspired us to learn a language.

Many of us will remember fondly a teacher who inspired us. As M(F)L teachers there is a strong chance, the teacher taught languages.

They inspired us because of their passion for language, expert knowledge of the subject, enthusiasm & encouragement. How they guided us on our journey from complete novice to advanced linguist, the cultural anecdotes they shared with us, how they made the language meaningful & relevant within the walls of the classroom. This is what we want to relate to our students to foster their intrinsic motivation. The teacher really can make a difference!

2. The Curriculum

During the pandemic and the first lockdown, I had the time to review our curriculum and engage with the most recent educational research, including SLA more deeply and decided to re-design our curriculum completely in a way that would enable our students to develop their self-efficacy and consequently improve their motivation and attitudes towards language learning. 

So, what did we do?

First and foremost, we ditched the textbook and the purely didactic approach!

I, the Subject Leader, studied the most recently discussed approaches on language teaching:

  • Teaching languages via academic – grammar-based approach (NCELP)

  • Teaching languages via parallel texts à la Michaela style

  • Teaching languages via E.P.I (Conti)

  • Teaching languages via TPRS

As I reviewed these four approaches, I felt that the E.P.I approach would be possibly the best fit for our context at KS3. 

We have researched, read upon, attended CPD and talked to colleagues/community about the E.P.I approach. Based upon what we found out, we decided to modify our KS3 SOW/curriculum to follow its principles.

We agreed on a format we wanted, used the textbook as a guide in terms of identifying the essential knowledge (vocabulary, structures) we needed to teach our students as this would lead to our GCSE course (5-year learning journey). We wanted these to be aligned to ensure coherent sequencing.

As a team we have divided and shared the workload to create new resources and worked on lesson sequences. 

This is the path we follow in year 7-8, in year 9, 10 and 11 we use more blended approach and combine more varied pedagogical approaches based on the needs of each individual class.

To read in more detail about the E.P.I approach including the different tasks that we use or development of each modality, search the blog archive, please.

3. The cultural aspect

‘Teachers in many schools report that languages remain confined to the languages classroom, and this leads to pupils not seeing the real world benefit.’ (Language Trends 2020, British Council).

Learning about the culture of another country is equally important. Children are naturally curious and when young they are more open to something ‘unusual’, to particularities of different cultures and ways of life. This ‘story telling’ that I have mentioned above, will bring the culture to ‘life’. 

Cultural events, trips, exploring traditions and festivals, playing with maps and creating activities which are relevant, will bring the purposefulness.

There have been many webinars organised by Linguascope on incorporating culture into the languages curricula presented by various mfltwitterati for secondary teachers, such as Suzi Bewell, Isabelle Jones, Claire Wilson and many others available in the Linguascope staffroom as well as by Association for Languages Learning – ALL, presented by Judith Rifeser, Crista Hazel, Esmeralda Salgado etc.


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