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This was a draft extract from the MFL Handbook Gianfranco Conti and I wrote. Motivation is a huge topic, but see what you make of this:

See also:

Zoltán Dörnyei and Kata Csizér (1998)* produced, from their studies, these ‘ten commandments for motivating language learners’. They are of a general nature, but make good sense.

1.            Set a personal example with your own behaviour.
2.            Create a pleasant, relaxed atmosphere in the classroom.
3.            Present the tasks properly.
4.            Develop a good relationship with the learners.
5.            Increase the learners’ linguistic self-confidence.
6.            Make the language classes interesting.
7.            Promote learner autonomy.
8.            Personalise the learning process.
9.            Increase the learners’ ‘goal-orientedness’.
10.          Familiarize learners with the target language culture.

Let’s dig down a bit and examine these ten prescriptions.

1. This might suggest, for example, that you will be organised, punctual, fair, consistent, caring, demanding and understanding of students’ needs.

2. Although this may not be achieved instantly, it would be an excellent goal. We know that students are more likely to learn when they are not anxious, when they can take risks without fear and when the classroom atmosphere is supportive. Some of the very best lessons we have observed over the years have not only been methodologically competent, but have taken place in a warm, extremely supportive environment.

3. ‘Presenting tasks properly’ is open to a wide variety of interpretations! At the very least, however, we might suggest a logical order of presentation and practice, clarity, recycling, and a range of presentational approaches. This constitutes much of the content of this book.

4. Many teachers would say this is the number one factor. How you do this cannot be easily prescribed, but is clearly tied up with all the other factors in the list. It is also a question of your own personality, self-belief, and confidence in your pedagogical approach, as well as cognitive and affective awareness of students’ needs at every moment. (We look at this in our chapter on behaviour management.) It can take time to evolve. It can also depend on your reputation preceding you, so that when students arrive in your classroom they are predisposed to behaving with you in a certain way. New and trainee teachers are at a disadvantage in this regard, since a reputation has to be established.

5.  Sound pedagogical practice including clear presentation, the opportunity to do scaffolded, structured and repeated practice, a clear, graded progression in the scheme of work or curriculum plan, and effective formative assessment techniques and feedback should all contribute to increasing the students’ linguistic self-confidence.

6. Stimulating language input and classroom activities are a must. By one hypothesis, all you need to do for students to progress is to provide ‘compelling’, meaningful input and acquisition will naturally occur. We would not say it is as simple as that, but quite clearly, the more interesting you can make your listening and reading resources and tasks, the better. This will mean not doing every task in the text book, performing a mental triage of possible activities to eliminate the ones which are likely to make classes switch off. 

This is not to say that every lesson need be ‘fun’. Far from it, but enjoyment and motivation can come from activities which are inherently interesting rather than fun. But, let’s say you wanted to practise verb conjugations: this might be better achieved by chanting memorable songs with beginners, doing quick mini whiteboard tasks, or playing a game of ‘battleships’ using a grid based on two axes of subject pronouns and infinitives, rather than just doing a traditional grammar worksheet.

7. It is all too easy to ‘spoon feed’ classes with the material they need for the next assessment, leaving them totally dependent on your input. We know that our most successful students are able to work on their own if they are given the opportunity. This requires controlled practice and careful scaffolding in the early stages, but will lead to greater skill and the capacity to work independently as time progresses. Setting pair work tasks, appropriately interesting homework, open-ended tasks which allow the fastest students to do more - all of these contribute to developing the autonomous learner.

8. ‘Personalising the learning process’ could mean a number of things. For us, it would involve effective, subtle differentiation during oral interactions in the classroom, individual feedback both orally and on paper, individual goal setting (either informally or through a school’s established tracking systems) as well as allowing an element of choice of task. Grouping by ability is also relevant in this context, as well as intervening where necessary where students are not meeting their expected goals.

9. Because language learning is a slow, accumulative process, it is useful to provide short term goals and reasons for doing tasks. Task-based activities can play a role, along with transactional tasks, activities involving native speakers and L2 country classes and, let's be frank, the assessment regime. Most students are motivated to work harder by the prospect  of an upcoming test. There is some evidence to suggest, as we discuss in our chapter on differentiation, that boys in particular respond well to goal-oriented tasks.

10. It is likely that students will be more motivated to acquire the second language if they understand its culture better and, ideally, have opportunities to interact with it. In addition, many younger students are inherently excited by learning about different cultures. We consider this in more detail in our chapter about culture.

Dörnyei, Z. and Csizér, K. (1998) Language Teaching Research 2,3,  p. 203–229


  1. Hi Steve. Just thought I'd chip in that I think it would be useful to have the 10 "titles" at the head of each paragraph, so readers don't have to refer back to the list.

  2. Also maybe you need to differentiate between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation which 7-10 are moving towards.

  3. Yes, we deal with that later, along with other models of motivation and their implications for the MFL classroom.


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