What motivates children to study English?
In Thailand in 2016, we read a lot about how schools need to improve their English language programs. We read a lot about how to improve the schools, write better curriculums, train more teachers and improve testing systems.
One thing we don’t read so much about are the motivations of the students themselves.
In Thailand there are a number of different factors that can affect children’s opportunities and interest in learning English.
The age progression of the child is one important factor in a student’s interest in English.
Many students are now exposed to English from an early age. English programs for very young students are much more predominant than they were even 5 years ago.
Of course, at this very young age, the student is unaware of any reason for learning English. Fun is usually their main motivation. If they are enjoying themselves then they are interested. If they’re bored then they are distracted and therefore not interested. It’s a very simple concept. Their motivation is purely fun!
As students become older and enter the early Prathom years, the concept of enjoyment stays in place.
Students should still be enjoying English and therefore will still be interested. If the learning is still fun, the students will still be taking part in lessons and continuing to expand their vocabulary.
Students are still unlikely to question why they are in an English class. Their motivation is still fun.
In the final years of Prathom, students are now at the age where they may start to question what they like and dislike in general.
This will include subjects at school and other interests. Students will start to decide whether they enjoy English as a subject or a social skill or both.
If the student has been enjoying their English lessons up to this point then there is no reason why they will not continue to do so.
Their motivation is still fun but they are also deciding whether they are actually enjoying English.
The early years of Mattyhom are a big stage in the development of English language for children.
Unfortunately, this is also the time when English is often presented to students as a subject to be learned rather than a skill to be used and enjoyed.
English sometimes starts to be perceived (wrongly) by the children as a long list of rules and grammar orientated tasks that are either correct or incorrect and are presented in a test format. Student motivations may change from using English as a tool for communication to getting a tick in a box.
This is unfortunate, as it alienates many students who up until that point were enjoying their English.
The late Mattyahom years and as students become young adults is when students have to decide on their own motivations for learning English.
By this age students have usually realized that by being able to use English socially that they are able to have access to many more opportunities.
They will appreciate that by using English they can use the internet and social media more freely, meet new friends, watch movies, read books, travel and will begin to understand the future job opportunities that may open up for them.
Their motivations are now varied and will become very individual.
Using English is a social skill. It is a tool for progressing through life and having access to better opportunities. If students have progressed through each stage of their English development and have enjoyed it, then they will have little problem in becoming good English speakers.
Problems in the English development of children may arise when we stop focusing on the benefits of English as a social skill and try to quantify it as series of tests and measurements.
Let’s try to focus on allowing children to enjoy and use English for communication.