How Native-speaking Teachers Can Positively Affect Adult EFL Student Motivation

How Native-speaking Teachers Can Positively Affect Adult Student Motivation


The issue of how to motivate adult students in EFL classrooms in Korea is one that is rarely addressed in any systematic way, based on my 11 years of teaching adult classes in Korea. This essay will attempt to examine why this is a problematic situation, and then as a suggested solution, review motivation models and Korean-specific issues before constructing a Korean adult English L2 motivation model. For the purposes of this essay, “adult students” are defined as university age or above. EFL is an acronym for English as a Foreign Language, and in the field of language learning, a foreign language can be defined as:

one that is learned in a place where that language is not typically used as the medium of ordinary communication (Oxford, 1996: 1).

The types of classes considered are institute classes connected to a university (any adult from the general public, including students who attend or don’t attend that specific university can attend) and the levels (the degree of ability required for a student to attend a class) of the students are intermediate, upper intermediate and advanced (as determined by the teaching coordinator). Generally, the class sizes range from 8-15 students.


Is motivation important in an EFL classroom? Most theorists agree that motivation, or the “tendency to expend effort to achieve goals” (Johnson, 1979: 283), is one of the biggest factors in determining how well an L2 is learned (Gardner, 1985; Scarcella and Oxford, 1992). However, in my experience, the topic of motivation is not given enough consideration with regard to what motivates Korean adult students to study English and why, and how this lack of knowledge has implications for the classroom. Certainly, it is seldom ever addressed in any systematic way in language institutes and it is usually left to the individual English teachers, whether experienced or not, to make their own decisions about how to motivate students. It is my contention that this is problematic for two reasons. Firstly, many teachers that I have seen and heard about put little thought into classroom motivational strategies. This is not surprising, given that a lot of teachers hired in institutes have no formal training in language teaching. Secondly, the only motivational techniques that most teachers do know and use are based on reinforcement theories (giving rewards like praise and prizes to students), even though other motivation theories are more useful (Oxford and Shearin, 1996).

Clearly then, this is an untenable situation. But what can be done about it? When looking at the Korean language learning landscape in an overall sense, any changes to the status quo will inevitably be slow due to the fact that the lack of consideration given to the topic of motivation in Korean adult EFL classes is wide-spread and deep-rooted. However, in the case of individual institutes and teachers, the pathway to change is not nearly so daunting. They can do what some language professionals have already done in isolated instances – construct an Korean adult English L2 motivation model that is applicable to the needs of their students and incorporate it in the syllabi they are using. To construct a relevant and effective model, one would need to go through the following process: explore the history of language learning motivation research; find and review motivation models; analyse how each is constructed, ascertaining whether or not it is relevant to Korean conditions, and if so, how; take into account any specific Korean issues that are not addressed in the models; and then use the accumulated knowledge to construct a model.

Probably the best known motivation model in second language teaching is Robert Gardner’s social psychological construct (Schmidt et al., 1996). His model focuses on two classes of reasons why L2 learners have the goal of studying another language. An integrative orientation refers to language learners who are attracted to the target culture, to the people in that culture or the language itself. An instrumental orientation is identified when learners learn a language for economic, professional or academic advancement (Gardner, 1985). In Korea, there is no doubt that the vast majority of adult learners have the latter orientation and the reasons why are very evident to anyone who has taught in Korea for any length of time. The main target culture by far when it comes to English in Korea is American. Yet, Koreans generally don’t have a positive view of America and have little interest in the target culture, except when they think knowing about it helps them in some way. Also, most Korean adult students who I have taught are tired of studying English, as they have done so since they were young. On the other hand, academic achievement in Korea is one of the culture’s paramount virtues and English is one of the most popular subjects to study, mainly because almost all Koreans see a “mastery” of English as the key to a high-paying job. Dornyei gives credence to my observations when he suggests that instrumental motivation has more importance for foreign language learners than integrative motivation (Dornyei, 1990a, 1990b).

This information is clearly important for any language teacher in Korea to know. The comparison between the two orientations gives some clear insight into why Korean adults study English. However, there a weaknesses in Gardner’s construct which precludes it from being used as a platform for building a Korean motivation model. It is over-simplistic in nature and has a very narrow scope. It does explain why learners might enter a classroom, and this is part of what motivates a learner, but it doesn’t consider the factors that influence motivation once they are in the classroom. The next step then is to try to find a prominent motivational model that has a more pedagogical and comprehensive slant that might be used as a basis for construction.

One of the most well known models that has been constructed for the classroom setting is Zoltan Dornyei’s (2001) Framework for motivational strategies (Appendix A). I feel the best way to critique his model is to look at each of the four units in turn, discuss the conditions, strategies or areas pertaining to them (the conditions, strategies and areas are listed under the unit headings in Appendix A) and see how much other theorists and researchers support his ideas. I will be purposefully relatively brief in doing so. The reason for this is because the focus of the essay is to create a new model, not merely analyse an existing one. Looking at this model is only one link in a process chain.

With regard to first stage, Creating the basic motivational conditions, which involves setting the scene for the effective use of motivational, it is clearly essential to have a classroom that is seen by the students to be a welcoming and positive place (Sano, Takahashi and Yoneyama, 1984; Oxford and Shearin, 1996). Having a good relationship with students by carefully listening to them works because they often, in their own minds, need to be heard (Underhill, 1989). Having this kind of relationship builds trust (Legutke and Thomas, 1991), the foundation necessary for a cohesive learner group. Teacher behaviour can be made more “appropriate” after self-reflection, a task necessary to find aspects of behaviour that might erode trust (Finch 2001). I have found from personal experience that the more I try to be enthusiastic and cheerful in the classroom, the more I make it a point to come to class on time, the more I to talk to students after class one-on-one or as a group when I go out with them on social occasions, the more I try to listen to their opinions and incorporate their suggestions, the more my students and I work together as a cohesive group and the motivation level of my students invariably improves.

The second stage, Generating student motivation, or the preactional phase, has “enhancing the learners’ language-related values and attitudes” as its first strategy. In Korea, I have found the need for doing this is largely unnecessary, as students almost always have a highly developed sense of language-related values and attitudes. In fact, it can be argued that for many students, they are too highly developed (caused by society and family expectations) which makes me believe it is better not to venture into using this strategy in Korea. For the strategy “increasing the learners’ ‘goal-orientedness’”, Dornyei was focusing on class goals, rather than individual goals. Locke and Latham (1990) argue that setting difficult but achievable class goals is highly motivating. I agree, and on the first day of every class, I went through the class objectives for the course (Appendix B is for advanced students and is given as an example). Class materials need to be relevant to learners with regard to topic and skill level. The Need Achievement theory argues L2 teachers need to find what is personally valuable to students and design tasks based on that (Oxford and Shearin, 1996). I would conduct a needs-analysis every semester after about a week to find out what students expected, particularly with regards to topics (Appendix C) and students always responded well to it. The Csikszentmihalyi Theory (Csikszentmihalyi and Nakamura, 1989) says that teachers need to design activities where the challenge of an activity and skill level needed to complete it are equal and high. For both theories, motivating students is the primary objective. When dealing with my students, some of them certainly had unrealistic beliefs. So every term, in one of my classes, I gave my students a “Matching Your English Speaking Goals with Your Priorities in Life” handout (Appendix D). Students who completed this handout had a much clearer picture of what they wanted to achieve and were more motivated as a result.

Setting proximal subgoals, the first area of the third stage Maintaining and protecting motivation (the actional phase), is connected to the previous stage in that once students in my class had completed the “Matching Your English Speaking Goals with Your Priorities in Life” handout, they could set personal goals, based on their specific life situations. They were then in a position to improve the quality of their learning experience. This is because they were no longer weighed down with the stress that comes from being in a situation where you are not quite sure where you are going. So, in fact, the first two areas in this phase are complementary. Likewise, the next two on the list, “increasing the learner’s self-confidence” and “creating learner autonomy” can be seen as linked. Vygotsky’s concept of ‘scaffolding” (Vygotsky, 1978) is a good way to increase a learner’s self confidence. As he or she goes through the 3 stages (assistance from the teacher, self-assistance, no need for assistance), he or she needs less and less help from the teacher, gaining in the confidence necessary for learner autonomy. The learner will then be in a position to have a higher degree of self-efficacy, which results in a higher effort towards the goal of learning English (Bandura, 1982; Bandura and Cervone, 1986). Once a learner has a clear concept of his own individual goals and is becoming more autonomous, he is in the position to choose motivating strategies on his own. But this is only possible if the teacher displays a variety of motivating strategies that students can model.

The areas in the final Encouraging positive self-evaluation (postactional phase) stage can all be linked by reinforcement theory. In the introductory paragraph, it was mentioned that this is the only theory which many L2 teachers know, so it tends to get over-emphasized and sometimes used in situations where other techniques would be more effective. For example, some teachers believe more rewards equals more motivated students, an idea rejected by Landy (1985) and others. However, when used judiciously, reinforcement theory is productive and produces positive effects. A teacher can ensure, for example, that students are rewarded for effort rather than just ability. He can, at the same time, give motivational feedback to students, praising them for doing their best. Then an increase in learner satisfaction will be ensured, a feeling that will continue to motivate students even after the class is finished.

Dornyei’s model certainly has a lot of strengths that would allow it to be used as a base for constructing a Korean adult English L2 motivation model. Most importantly, it is pedagogical in nature and it has well formulated and linked chronological strategies. It is appealing because it has aspects that other theorists and researchers support. Other positive things about the model are that it looks at motivation from both the teacher’s and learner’s point of view and it has very achievable goals. The only major “problem” with the model is that, because it is a global model, it only addresses Korean issues indirectly. Looking at specific Korean motivation issues is a necessary step before a Korean model can be finalized.

Of course, there are many Korean motivation issues that could be analysed. But what are the most important? In my opinion, there are three Korean-centric questions that must be asked and discussed before it is possible to start constructing a Korean motivation model that will be successful. Some of the individual issues that will be brought up when discussing these questions are not unique to Korea; nevertheless, the issues raised are unique in an overall sense. The questions are:

1. Are there any student expectation factors that are Korean specific?
2. What external factors are likely to prevent an adult student being motivated?
3. What kinds of local or cultural knowledge do foreign English language teachers in Korea need to know about Korean society?

With regard to the first question, language learners often have some very fixed views about what it is to be a learner and study a language (Brindley, 1989), and in Korea, this is certainly the case. Students generally expect a lecture style of class where the teacher has all the power. These views are formed in elementary, middle and high school classes where teachers tend to dominate control of the classroom dynamic. In this environment, teachers are never publicly criticized or contradicted (Finch, 2001) and there is little room for student self-expression. Traditionally, the teacher tells the students what they are expected to know and students are expected to dutifully write down everything and then memorize those notes for exams. Classrooms are becoming more interactive these days, but the “teacher as unquestioned leader” mentality still pervades Korean classrooms. Naturally, students are not used to methodologies like Communicative Language Teaching when they join English language classes. So teachers need to address this issue quickly in class, otherwise misunderstandings can quickly occur and motivation becomes difficult.

There are many external factors in Korea that hinder adult student motivation. Students are under a great deal of pressure to perform well in the English classroom from their parents. Because education is such an important issue in Korea, parents continuously push their children to study and they often spend a lot of money sending their children to English language institutes and they expect results There is an old saying in Korea about the final year of high school: “Sleep four hours a night and pass; sleep five hours a night and fail.” Young adult students are constantly barraged with people telling them that they need a good TOEIC or TOEFL or TEPS score (these three acronyms are important English tests in Korea). As a result of the pressure they feel under, students often experience burnout and stress, and so dealing with anxiety is a constant issue. It is so potentially dangerous that teachers need to consider putting together a list like the following to reduce anxiety: notice signs of anxiety; develop a non-threatening classroom climate; music and laughter work well; encourage student self-awareness; promote self-encouragement; avoid sarcasm and criticism; use praise; encourage peer support networks (Horwitz, 1990).

What kinds of local knowledge do foreign teachers need to know when teaching English in Korea? Teachers tend to judge students they see as intrinsically motivated as more successful (Ehrman, 1996). This can be problematic for language teachers in Korea where Korean extrinsic factors like getting a job, parental expectations and society norms (which are all connected to studying English) play a big part in any student’s life. Teachers need to be careful about making unfair assumptions and judgments about students. Another issue is the concept of “losing face” and “shyness.” One of the first things I learnt as a teacher in Korea was that Asians tend to be very shy in comparison to western students. This is because they are taught to listen to teachers, not discuss things with them. Also, in all Asian countries, students are very embarrassed when they “lose face” (appear foolish in public) and it can often take them much longer to get over being embarrassed than western students. Teachers must remember these issues. I have seen examples in my own institute in Korea where students lost motivation for studying when a teacher didn’t know how to handle problems that arose in these areas.

Using all the knowledge gained from the analysis of the models and relevant factors, I constructed “Barnett’s Korean Adult English L2 Motivation Model” (Appendix E). I have used Dornyei’s model as a base (teachers can adopt his conditions, strategies and areas, or devise their own as they see fit – I want to avoid being too prescriptive) and incorporated ideas from Gardner and from my own views on Korean-centric issues. I have divided the model into three parts: pre-class, in the classroom and post-class. Pre-class refers to issues that need to be taken into account before a class semester starts. The student imput is Gardner’s integrative and instrumental orientation, the reason why the student is taking the class. The teacher imput is the teacher’s consideration of how answers to the three Korean-centric questions influences his class decisions. In the classroom refers to what takes place when the students are taking the class. I used Dornyei’s first three units here, except I joined units one and two together and used the name of his second unit. I think units one and two essentially are the same thing – the starting point of motivation in the classroom. Post-class refers to how students can continue to be motivated outside the classroom or after they finish the class (if a teacher uses techniques in the model successfully). I used Dornyei’s last unit as a base because, to me, the concept of “post-” (postactional or post-class) should refer to the student being able to continue to use what he has learned to motivate himself without the help of the teacher or other students. Dornyei doesn’t specifically refer to anything beyond the classroom, but his ideas can be applied to that. I do not pretend that my model covers every aspect of motivation research and every factor that influences Korean adult learners. Still, it is my attempt to construct a comprehensive, relevant and understandable model that is of practical use for foreign instructors who teach adults English in Korea.


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Appendix A   A Summary of Dornyei’s Framework for motivational strategies (Dornyei, 2001)

1. Creating the basic motivational conditions, which involves setting the
scene for the effective use of motivational strategies.

• Appropriate teacher behaviours and a good relationship with the
• A pleasant and supportive classroom atmosphere
• A cohesive learner group with appropriate group norms

2. Generating student motivation (preactional phase)

• Enhancing the learners’ language-related values and attitudes
• Increasing the learners’ ‘goal-orientedness’
• Making the curriculum relevant for the learners
• Creating realistic learner beliefs

3. Maintaining and protecting motivation (actional phase)

• Setting ‘proximal subgoals’
• Improving the quality of the learning experience
• Increasing the learner’s self-confidence
• Creating learner autonomy
• Promoting self-motivating learner strategies

4. Encouraging positive self-evaluation (postactional phase)

• Promoting attributions to effort rather than to ability
• Providing motivational feedback
• Increasing learner satisfaction and the question of rewards and grades

Appendix B

Advanced Student Course Objectives
1. to be able to effectively explain opinions or ideas
2. to be able to assertively defend an opinion
3. to be able to analyze data by comparing a variety of factors and coming to logical conclusions (including hypothetical situations)
4. to be able to be aware of certain restraints in communication and take them into account (eg. time deadlines, being polite, effective turn taking – not monopolizing a conversation)
5. to be able to avoid feeling sorry about a perceived ‘lack of ability’ – to develop self-confidence in order to effectively handle any communication scenario
6. to be able to understand the importance of the relationship between communication and culture and to develop strategies to deal with problems that arise from cross-cultural communication

Appendix C

Student Questionnaire Name: __________________ (optional)

I would like to know how you feel about our class so far this semester. Getting feedback from you is important to me because I think that it will help us achieve our goal. Please feel free to be candid in your assessment.

What I like best about our class (You can write about anything, but make sure you mention the topics we have done):

Suggested improvements:

Additional comments:

Appendix D

Matching Your English Speaking Goals with Your Priorities in Life

A) Make a list of the TEN most important things in your life, in order of importance.

The Most Important Things in Your Life

1. ____________________________ 6. ____________________________

2. ____________________________ 7. ____________________________

3. ____________________________ 8. ____________________________

4. ____________________________ 9. ____________________________

5. ____________________________ 10. ___________________________

B) Circle the letter which best describes the level of English that you want to attain.

A to speak like a native speaker

B to be in the top 1-2% of English speakers in Korea

C to be in the top 10% of English speakers in Korea

D to gradually improve over time

E you are happy with your current level

C) Write a list of FIVE jobs that you are most interested in, in order of priority

1. ____________________________ 4. ____________________________

2. ____________________________ 5. ____________________________

3. ____________________________

Do you think your answers to these three sections match? Why or why not? First discuss your opinion in small groups and then be ready to talk about it to the class near the end of the period.