As a Mandarin Chinese language teacher, I always strive to help my students reach their goals and succeed in their studies. There are countless variables that contribute to their success, or sometimes failure, in learning the language. According to research, and my personal observation as a teacher for the past 8 years, motivation is an essential key in unlocking mastery of a foreign language.
When a student stops learning Chinese, and I’m talking about adult learners outside of the university context, they often can find a list of reasons for doing so: not having enough time, the language being too difficult, lessons being expensive or hard to find a suitable teacher to name just a few. But why do we find time and resources for doing other things in our lives? Could it be, that it’s just a matter of learning Chinese not being one of your top priorities at the moment? Or that for various reasons you have lost the motivation to learn?
If one decided learning this language isn’t their priority right now, it’s probably best to concentrate on their priorities. Not everyone has to learn Chinese, not even if they happen to live in China. But if in their minds they think about learning or actually have compelling reasons to study, but for some reason can’t put thoughts into action, that is an opportunity for us teachers to help them.
Most of us are excited when starting something new. The first class of Beginner Chinese is full of hope and excitement! But as time goes by, students realize that they have to put real effort into studying while balancing other parts of their lives like work and family, and it’s easy to lose that initial motivation. Some people drop out, some people hang on until the end of the course never to be heard from again the next semester.
As I teach adults who are studying Mandarin Chinese voluntarily, I don’t have requirements on what kind of grades my students get. Many of them don’t do scored tests or standardized exams at all. If they set their own goal of a certain goal or level, my job is to help them reach that. My goal as a teacher is to help students sustain their motivation and persevere in their studies long enough that they see progress, reach their own goals, and can enjoy the journey as well. When possible, I try to transfer my passion for the Chinese language to the students.
I think it’s indeed the motivation, not small tricks or tips in language learning, that is the biggest reason for reaching success in a foreign language. I acknowledge that I can only try to influence some aspects of my students’ motivation, for example, their private lives are out of my reach, but through my research into long-term study motivation, I hope to find out in which way we educators can motivate our students to motivate themselves.