Our Director of Studies in Chicago, Dustin Riedel wrote this blog for our students. We hope it helps you stay motivated with your studies!
Learning a language is like climbing a mountain: it gets harder the higher up you get. You know that achieving near-native English language skills takes time, effort, and persistence. So how do you maintain the energy and engagement you need to keep going all the way to the top? What motivates you to work hard, try your best, and improve your English skills every day?
There are two basic types of motivation for English or any foreign language learners:
Instrumental Motivation: Learners who are motivated by instrumental reasons are those who see their language skills as tools to get other things they want, for example: a better job with more money, an MA from an American university, or a passing grade on a proficiency test.
Integrative Motivation: Those with integrative motivation want to learn so they can better understand, relate to, and communicate with others. They may have friends or loved ones who speak the language, or they may want to immigrate and live in a country where the language is spoken.
Research has shown that integrative motivation is the stronger of the two types, but studies also indicate that integrative motivation tends to increase as learners become more proficient, no matter what their original goals were. So, while most learners start out wanting to speak English for an outside reason – a job, the chance to travel, etc. – it appears that they often end up continuing on just for themselves.
No matter which type you are, there are a few things you can do to help increase and maintain your motivation to learn over the time it takes to become proficient.1. Specify your goals
Can you say exactly why you want to be fluent in English? Having a clear and specific goal will help you focus your efforts and stay motivated. Once you know what your goal is, write it down. After you have been studying for a while, it can be easy to lose sight of your original aim and become too focused on the details of a specific class, homework assignment, test, etc. It will help if you can go back and remind yourself of the reason you started in the first place.
2. Assess yourself (and then re-assess later)
Motivated learners take control of their own learning. Being better able to self-assess and to identify your own weaknesses will make your learning more effective. Ask yourself some questions: What do you think are your strengths and weaknesses as a student? How do you see yourself now in your “English-speaking personality” and how does that compare to what you want it to be? What do you find easy about learning a language and what is difficult for you? Once you have your answers, ask a teacher you trust and see how their assessment compares with yours. Do this every few months or so.
3. Celebrate small successes
Success is a great motivator. When you start to learn a language, you might make pretty fast initial progress. But then, as you get to intermediate levels, the progress slows down. This is natural and inevitable as the language becomes more complex and the skills are harder to master. When you reach this level, take the time to congratulate yourself on the small things – that new phrasal verb you picked up, a difficult to pronounce word you have mastered or a book or magazine article you just read – like this one!