Korea: The goal, not the fall-back (alongside reflection on Motivation).

Korea has been my dream for four very long years. I entered into university back in 2008 as an English major, always intending to teach English. When I transferred to Georgia State University, though, I saw the Applied Linguistics major and after looking into it more, I knew this  would be the best option for becoming an English teacher in Korea. The program itself is Linguistics with an overtone of teaching English as a Foreign Language. I have paid such close attention to the linguistics and how to best teach, but more than that ALL my elective courses were chosen with the question “How can this best help me teach English?” in mind. Now, when I talk to people about language or hear complaints or see something I can explain to you why language is like that, I know how to get it to make sense to you. I just know this stuff inside and out. It has been my life for four years. Even my extracurricular readings consist of books on Korea, teaching in Korea, teaching in general, or aspects of applied linguistics (as it pertains to teaching). I have prepared myself to the best of my ability just short of actually teaching.

I have taken my last final and just graduating. Where I thought Korea would see my qualifications and readily give me a job, this isn’t the case. Unfortunately, many foreigners who have went to Korea in the past have not been completely prepared and/or qualified as well as have done some very dishonest things. People are shocked when I say teaching English in Korea is my dream. I’ve been told, “I thought that is what you do for a year or two vacation and come back to a real job.” I feel this low prestige for the job has attracted the wrong people to Korea in the past, and in response Korea, which was once a very trusting country, has reacted by taking a very strict stance on who it allows into the country by making it more difficult to get a job. I understand and respect this. I wouldn’t want any less for my own country, friends, children, students, etc. But now I am not being looked at because I don’t have experience despite my qualifications I have worked four long years to attain. I think everyone who graduates fresh out of uni looking for a job understands this frustration. But this leads me to the topic I have been personally struggling with and been doing some reading on lately…

The dream of going to Korea to teach has been my motivation for a long time. Even when I was getting only four hours of sleep every night, I was happy and hopeful about Korea. After being told in May that I can’t get a public school job for September1st because of my late diploma (I literally have EVERY other document in hand) and having to wait for October… I tried to remain positive. Now with many budget cuts, the stringent requirements, and the less desire for (incapable) native English speakers (coming from Koreans based on the aforementioned past experiences with some Westerners), there are even less jobs available in October for the area I need to be in (where my fiance HB lives). It’s a fair statement to say that my motivation has been taking a hit. I have been burdened with thoughts like “I’ve done everything right! Why don’t people see that?” and “It’s like whatever I want most in the world I can’t have.” “Maybe I expect too much.” “Maybe I should think of another plan…” Granted these are immature thoughts, be honest with yourself and think back to a time when you were motivated about something but somehow that motivation was curtailed and you felt your passion for whatever that thing was starting to waver. You probably had some ridiculous thoughts, too. Taking a step back, I have been doing some reading lately on motivation and I felt I should reflect on my own struggles and how can I translate this as a learning opportunity for teaching and life in general.

What is Motivation?
It’s not too terribly difficult to define definition, I mean, it’s the thing that drives you do to something. But when someone asks you what motivates you, what would you say? For most people it’s money, cars, fame, or even sweets (<3). But motivation is not quite as simple as working for something. I poured through my books and found this definition that I feel better encompasses what motivation is given by Williams and Burdne (1997), “motivation is a ‘state of cognitive arousal’ which provokes a ‘decision to act’, as a result of which there is ‘sustained intellectual and/or physical effort’ so that the person can achieve some ‘previous set goal’…[T]he strength of motivation will depend on how much value the individual places on the outcome he or she wishes to achieve” (as cited in, Harmer, 2007, p. 98). This last part is particularly important, but I will explain why a little later.

Types of Motivation
The first (and most common) type of motivation is known as extrinsic motivation. This is when we do something for an external reward like a paycheck. It is no surprise that this is very effective. Look at any working adult and asked them why they work. Is it the knowledge they are doing good or the biweekly paycheck. I’d bet you a dime it was the latter. Despite external rewards being highly motivating, they also have a drawback. What if that reward was somehow tampered with? Would you be as wiling to do your job, study for a test (where the reward is a good grade), or file your taxes everywhere (where your motivation isn’t necessarily a reward but avoidance of punishment)? No, of course not. I can’t say that I would be apt to either. What is stronger but less utilized is the other form of motivation called intrinsic motivation. The drive for action comes from within. The reward is in the behavior itself or in the good feeling you get from performing an action. This type of motivation is just as strong as extrinsic motivation, but because it does not come from an outside source, it stands for people to gain so much more from nurturing their internal motivation than chasing external rewards.

Why This Distinction is Important
Having the right motivation is almost as important as having any at all. A good paycheck or new car could be pretty satisfying but it probably isn’t as fulfilling as learning a new skill that could help you out more in the long run. The problem with the current (global) generation is that we place value and focus on the external motivators at such a young age. Parents satiate their children’s tempers with that toy they wanted, pay them for good grades, or give them an allowance just for the sake of pocket money.  Teachers give young children candy for good performance and praise them for good grades. What happened to the time when knowing you were doing the right thing was the reward for a job well done? This was how I was raised, but I definitely see a changing world that has influenced my fellow Americans…or is it just because I am at the age where the important of external rewards has begun to naturally mitigate the effects of internal motivation and rewards? Maybe this is a shift that resulted in the changes in the ways we motivate our younger members of society and the results are finally trickling down? (Feel free to comment below if you have any thoughts on this)

How Teachers (and All Adults Who Deal With Children) Should Consider Motivation
All adults should be aware of motivation. Teachers especially. If we know what is keeping us going we can better manage our momentum. Sometimes a readjustment could be in order if we start to lose passion or sight of our goal. Maybe we had the wrong motivation and now with the right motivation, we work stronger, better, and more effectively-not to mention the feeling of gratification that you get when completing a task. This isn’t a hard concept to wrap your thoughts about, but for children, it might be a little too much for those before their teenage years. Because of this, teachers and parents or anyone who plays a part in a child’s life should learn to foster the idea of learning or learning’s sake in children. I was raised this way and I can honestly tell you, there is no greater high than when I figure out the origins of some cultural tidbit or work through something that had been giving me trouble. I certainly entertain the people around me with my childish enthusiasm.

For teachers, this means to try not to rely on external rewards like candy or prize boxes, especially for children past the first couple of years of elementary school. If activities are made fun, engaging, and rewarding intellectually, students won’t even be thinking about a reward! Also, encourage more group activities rather than competitions in the classroom. Competitions usually have winners and losers. Those students who might often find themselves on the losing team can definitely suffer from a lack of motivation. Always give positive feedback, even when correcting errors. I like to sandwich corrective feedback between highlighting what someone does well (this also works well with adults, I found!). So I typically use comments like this:
“Hey, your pronunciation is really good! I just want to help you make it a little better. Try it this way. Good! You learn so quickly!”
I noticed a difference when people do this to me personally, and it certainly lessens the blow of making a mistake. The student doesn’t feel discouraged from making mistakes and learning. This is a VERY important skill for children and adults alike. Unfortunately, it’s easy to discourage someone and harder to encourage and motivate them, so avoiding any scenario that might demotivate is key!

How This Fits into Language Learning in Particular
I haven’t hidden the fact that I am a big fan of Stephen D. Krashen. He has contributed a lot to the field of second language acquisition, and in my experience of learning Spanish and now Korean, I have identified some truth in what he says about the process. The thing that has been the biggest influence on my success or struggles in the language learning process is what Krashen refers to as the “Affective Filter.”

The “affect” part of ‘affective filter’ refers to our emotions. If students experience good emotions and are highly motivated then it is likely to follow that more language learning happens. However, if they are stressed, not engaged, and don’t see the point of learning another language, it is very doubtful the student is receptive to any learning at all. This may not resonate with everyone, but I have seen this in play and it plays a huge factor in keeping students/learning motivated.

You can see why motivation is a very important factor of language learning. As a language teacher, you do not only have the ability to change someone’s experience with a language but also their experience with learning in general. This is very powerful aspects of the classroom that can be overlooked. So as you go forward, mind the motivations and passions of others. It is an important thing to us all.


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