When teaching Mandarin in Beijing I found it always crucial to enhance my students’ motivation for learning Mandarin. Even though the adult students normally chose to learn Mandarin without pressures from other people they may still have the problem of lacking intrinsic motivation. Their motivation to learn Mandarin might be extrinsic motivation, rather than intrinsic motivation. For instance, they may want to learn Mandarin because they need to use it in their business or work, so they are not attracted by the language per se. However, external rewards are not enough to maintain students’ motivation for learning Mandarin, since it is such a long journey that normally demands years of continuous learning and practice. Thus, it is important for Mandarin teachers and students to know some strategies of enhancing intrinsic motivation. The following paragraphs will be devoted to discuss four steps in this aspect and they are dependent on Dornyei’s (2001) research of ‘framework for motivational strategies’.
(a) Creating the basic motivational conditions
This involves setting the scene for the effective use of motivational strategies’ (Dornyei, 2001). The most essential conditions are as follows: appropriate teacher behaviours and a good relationship (e.g. mutual trust relationship) with the students; a pleasant and supportive atmosphere.
Teachers need to show their own enthusiasm in Mandarin and their job as a Mandarin teacher to students. It is almost impossible for students to be motivated by a teacher who is not motivated in learning, using and teaching Mandarin. In addition, it is always great for teachers and students to have a mutual trust relationship. A safe and supportive atmosphere is of importance in satisfying students’ needs for safety and belongingness, which are essential according to the hierarchy of needs theory.
(b) Generating student motivation
This includes the following approaches: enhancing the learners’ language-related values and attitudes; increasing the learners’ ‘goal-orientedness’; making the curriculum relevant for the learners; creating realistic learner beliefs (Dornyei, 2001).
Since all the contents that students are learning are designed by others rather than the learners it is understandable that many, if not most, learners are not intrinsically motivated to learn L2 (second language) (Brophy, 1998; Dornyei, 2001). This implies that teachers need to play an active role in generating students’ motivation. In order for an individual to perform a particular behaviour he or she needs to see the value in that behaviour. In doing so teachers are recommended ‘to arouse the students’ curiosity and attention, and to create an attractive image for the course’ (Eccles & Wigfield, 1995). When learners are in a higher level of language skills authentic materials should be considered as well, so that the integrativeness dimension of value could be identified by L2 learners (Eccles & Wigfield, 1995). In terms of increasing the learners’ goal-orientedness, teachers are advised to initiate a discussion with learners so as to set explicit group goals (Dornyei, 2001). It might be beneficial for the learners to have ‘a sense of direction’. When it comes to ‘making the curriculum relevant for the learners’, Dornyei (2001) suggests teachers find out learners’ goals and the topics they want to learn, and build these into the curriculum as much as possible. He points out that ‘students are not motivated to learn unless they regard the material they are taught as worth learning’ (Dornyei, 2001).
(c) Maintaining and protecting motivation
Five approaches are recommended: setting ‘proximal subgoals’; improving the quality of the learning experience; increasing the learner’s self-confidence; creating learner autonomy; promoting self-motivating learner strategies (Dornyei, 2001).
Under the hierarchy of these strategies there are some detailed methods that are of significance in guiding practice. Among them two issues are specially highlighted by Dornyei (2001): increasing the intrinsic enjoyment of participating in learning tasks; and enhancing the learners’ social image. It is important for teachers to know that ‘intrinsic enjoyment’ is not simply equal to ‘interesting activities’. According to previous research many steps could be taken. For instance, Mandarin teachers could try to make tasks different and challenging so as to satisfy the learners’ need for novel elements in tasks. Some teachers argue that it is not proper to make tasks challenging, because they are too worried about disappointing students. However, what really matters is to what extent the tasks should be challenging. As long as tasks are not too challenging or too easy, students would not be disappointed and their motivation would not be undermined. In addition, the social dimension should be considered as a key element in motivating L2 learners. Maintaining face is very crucial not only for school children but also for adult learners. It is suggested that every learner should have opportunities to play a key role in different ways. For example, some tasks could be designed for students to show their specific strengths and expertise. This can be effective because it is helpful in enhancing L2 learners’ self-worth, which is an essential psychological need for human beings.
According to my own experience, a proper extent of autonomy for adult learners is really essential for the enhancement of intrinsic motivation. Students need to be self-determined in their own learning and sometimes teachers need to change their roles and be a ‘tour guide’ in their students’ journey of exploring the beauty of Mandarin. Teachers just have to find out some useful resources for students and it is the students’ own responsibility to utilise them after class. No teacher could possibly learn the language on behalf of students. When students feel that they have more control on their learning they could become more intrinsically motivated.
(d) Encouraging positive self-evaluation
According to research findings, three approaches are of importance here: promoting attributions to effort rather than to ability; providing motivational feedback; increasing learner satisfaction and offering proper rewards in proper times (Dornyei, 2001).
The strategy of promoting attribution to effort rather than ability was put into use in teaching practice by Spaulding (1992) and Covington and Teel (1996). The strategy has been proved to be successful by these researchers and L2 teachers. Covington and Teel (1996) have differentiated two terms—’ability game’ and ‘equity game’. ‘Ability game’ in the education context has a negative impact on students’ self-evaluation and self-worth, because it makes students perceive learning as an approach to demonstrate their inborn abilities (Covington & Teel, 1996). Very few learners could keep winning all the ‘games’ all the time. That means the ‘ability game’ model makes the majority of learners feel bad about their abilities. Whereas the ‘equity game’ makes learners feel they are successful because it creates opportunities for all students to have their own way of approaching progress. This kind of ‘game’ encourages students to focus on their own efforts to their own goals of success rather than competing against each other (Spaulding, 1992).
With regard to ‘motivational feedback’, teachers are encouraged to give learners ‘informational feedback which comments on progress and competence’ instead of ‘controlling feedback which judges performance against external standards’ (Brophy & Good, 1986). It is noteworthy that teachers should be cautious about some feedback that looks positive, such as: communicating pity instead of anger after failure; the offering of praise after success in easy tasks; unsolicited offers of help (particularly ‘gratuitous help’ such as supplying answers outright) (Dornyei, 2001).
When it comes to ‘learner satisfaction and the question of rewards and grades’, the issue is of controversy. The research on extrinsic and intrinsic motivation indicated that extrinsic rewards often undermine intrinsic motivation and therefore should be avoided. However, according to recent research extrinsic motivation could also be effective as long as it is being ‘sufficiently internalised’ (Deci & Ryan, 2000; Dornyei, 2001). This has been discussed in detail in Chapter 2. It is not the question of whether to use extrinsic rewards or not but the question of contents of the rewards and the way they are given to students. Brophy (1998) asserted that effective rewards should have these characteristics: high salience, that is, they are very attractive and are presented in a highly conspicuous manner; non-contingency, that is, the rewards are given for participating in the activity rather than being contingent on achieving specific goals; unnatural/unusual, that is, the rewards are not natural outcomes of the behaviours but are artificial control devices.
In this article we have briefly discussed some approaches to intrinsically motivate learners of Mandarin Chinese. Of course, these approaches are not exhaustive and other teachers and researchers might have their own effective approaches. All suggestions and discussions on this issue are welcome and appreciated!
- Brophy, JE (1998) Motivating students to learn, Boston: McGraw-Hill
- Brophy, JE & Good, TL (1986) Teacher behaviour and student achievement. In Wittrock MC (ed.) Handbook of research on teaching. 3rd edition. Macmillan, New York pp328–75
- Covington, MV & Teel, KM (1996) Overcoming student failure: changing motives and incentives for learning, Washington: American Psychological Association
- Deci, EL & Ryan, RM (2000) Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions, Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25, pp54–67
- Dornyei, Z (2001) Teaching and researching motivation. Harlow: Longman
- Eccles, J. S., & Wigfield, A. (1995) In the mind of the actor: The structure of adolescents’ achievement task values and expectancy-related beliefs. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 21, 215-225.
- Spaulding, CL (1992) Motivation in the classroom. New York: McGraw-Hill
Zeng Bin from ChineseTeachers.com