What drives you?

As a teacher I often hear the question, “What makes a good language learner?” Generally, there are quite a few professional papers on this topic, listing numerous items. In my opinion, however, the most important factor is MOTIVATION.

Usually, the first question I ask a new student is, “Why do you want to learn English?” There is a multitude of answers that people have given me, such as “ I need it for my job”, “I want to be able to communicate when I am on holiday”, “I want to read English books/newspapers or websites”, “ I want to watch English films”, “I want to understand all the English words floating around in Austria these days”, “English is just so important these days”, “I haven’t learned it at school”.

From the replies above you can see that for most people English is like a tool. Just like it’s useful to have a hammer when hanging a picture, English is quite useful in various situations. So, is this a good enough reason to learn English?

That’s a trick question and it, of course, depends on the personality of the learner and how important it is for them to reach that goal. In my opinion, this goal-oriented motivation can go two ways. Quite a few students have come up to me saying, “I have a big trip next year and I want to speak decent English until then.” Having a fixed time by which the goal should be achieved can be very motivating and helpful for some. However, learning is not always an easy and straightforward process. There are times when you have a lot of other things going on and you simply don’t have the time or energy to study. At times your mind may be occupied with other things and that can make it difficult to focus. A lot of students don’t factor this in when setting a time goal and then fail to reach it or get stressed while trying to reach it. Then they no longer see the progress they make but focus on the negative. So be careful with when setting goals. Generally, pressure is not known for being beneficial to the learning process.

It sometimes helps to break your big goal down into smaller goals to keep you motivated and not lose sight of the big long-term goal. For example, you can say, “In April I want to master restaurant dialogs” or “This week I want to work on everyday conversation and phrases” or “In the next three weeks I will start incorporating English more in my everyday life by listening to the news in English, going to the English theater and finding a language tandem”.

So, we have established that goal-oriented learning is fine when you follow the guidelines above. However, it is even better when you can combine it with intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is when you learn something because you want to know it or enjoy doing it. Some people enjoy their work because they simply like it, that would be intrinsic motivation. On the other hand, some people are motivated to do a job because of the salary or a promotion they might get. So, intrinsic motivation in language learning would be that you learn the language because you like it and enjoy learning it. Learning a language that you do not like will not work. I tried to learn French because I thought it might be useful someday. I struggled, and in the end, gave up. Why? Because I personally never really liked the language and didn’t have a pressing need to learn it. If you absolutely hate English, then either change the way you think about it by finding our why you don’t like it or choose another language.

So, if you are still reading this, I assume that you have decided for yourself that you like the language you intend to learn. Now let’s move to enjoying what you do. The way may be long but who says that it cannot be enjoyable? Find a class, teacher and group you like. There is a language class for everyone and a teacher for everyone. So, if you don’t like the style of a teacher then switch.  I have had great friendships develop between students and it can be really motivating to study and progress together.

So, of course, your goal can be to improve your English for your next holiday as long as you are patient with yourself, break your big goal down into smaller, more manageable bits and enjoy yourself along the way.

be able to=in der Lage sein (etwas zu tun), fähig sein (etwas zu tun)
it depends on...=es kommt...auf an
set a goal=sich ein Ziel setzten
achieve a goal=ein Ziel erreichen
however= aber
straightforward=geradlinig, unkompliziert
be occupied with=beschäftigt sein mit
focus on=konzentrieren auf
factor in=berücksichtigen
be benificial= vorteilhaft sein
lose sight of=aus den Augen verlieren
be even better=sogar noch besser sein
struggle=sich abmühen
a pressing need= etwas das man dringend benötigt
as long as=solange
along the way=auf dem Weg