How can we motivate students through our non

Agnes Patko
Meisei University
How can we motivate students through our
non-native speaker teacher identities?
Back in Europe, I never thought about my non-native speaker teacher identity. There, it was
evident that people from various countries teach English. I never faced criticism, not even
outside Hungary, just because I was not a native speaker. However, in Japan, many people are
surprised when they get to know that I am an English teacher in spite of the fact that I am not a
There are three types of English teachers in Japan regarding their native language: Japanese
English teachers, English native speaker (NS) teachers, and non-Japanese non-natives (NNS).
Although, they are widely recognised and employed outside their home countries in Europe,
NNS teachers are still facing criticism and non-acceptance in Japan. EFL teaching positions are
divided into positions for Japanese English teachers and NSs, which leaves no space and validity
for the NNS EFL teachers. A reason why NNSs are not considered equal to their NS colleagues
is the unrealistic objective that students set for themselves. That is, they wish to achieve the
native speakers’ abilities for the fulfilment of which a NNS teacher is not good enough, as far as
they are concerned.
Higgins’(1987) self-discrepancy theory helps us understand what language learners feel when
they cannot achieve the objectives they set for themselves. According to Higgins, ideal self is
one’s hopes, dreams and aspirations; ought-to self is a person’s duties and obligations, the self
one feels compelled to be; and actual self is the way a person sees him/herself. To him,
motivation is the desire to reduce the discrepancy between one’s actual and ideal or ought to self.
On the one hand, if there is discrepancy between ideal and actual self it results in dejection and
depression. This often arises when students have unrealistic objectives. On the other hand, if
there is discrepancy between ideal and ought-to self it causes agitation and anxiety.
In addition to this theory, Dörnyei & Ushioda (2010) in their L2 motivational self-system theory
define ideal L2 self as a person who desires to become a competent L2 speaker. This is what
language teachers should help students to establish.
Motivation in the language classroom
According to Dörnyei and Ushioda’s defenition, motivation is ‘what moves a person to make
certain choices, to engage in action, to expend effort and persist in action’ (2010, p. 3.). It is a
key point in language learning. There is great difference between the improvement of a
motivated and an unmotivated learner. Therefore, teachers need to make efforts to create an
environment which helps students develop and maintain motivation.
Dörnyei’s (2001) motivational teaching practice model has four main pillars:
Creating the basic motivational conditions
Generating initial motivation
Maintaining and protecting motivation
Encouraging a positive retrospective self-evaluation
His framework gives a guideline to teachers how to foster students’ motivation.
Motivating as a NNS
Research has revealed that both NS and NNS teachers have their advantages and disadvantages
(e.g. Árva & Medgyes (2000), Madris & Canado (2004), Meadows & Marumatsu (2007),
Medgyes (1992), Merino (1997)). It is true that a NNS cannot compete with the native speakers’
range of vocabulary and communicative competence; however, a native speaker will never
understand completely what difficulties the learners are facing. It is because, even if they have
learnt foreign languages themselves, they cannot fully understand the difficulties connected to
English language learning. NNS teachers are able to share experiences of anxiety and ways to
overcome it, help with introducing learning strategies that worked for them, and serve as an
example of a successful language learner. They can emphasise world Englishes and prove the
usefulness of speaking a foreign language. The above characteristics also make NNS capable of
helping students define their own realistic and achievable goals.
As a NNS, I attempt to raise my students’ awareness of the points above and motivate them to
find their own, achievable objectives and approach it step by step as I did. I also introduce my
own culture to them and emphasise how English has been a means of self-actualisation to me. I
try to motivate them to see the joy and the challenge in learning and speaking English and strive
to see them progress and learn to love the language as I did.
Meisei University actively promotes world Englishes. On the one hand, besides NS English
teachers, International Studies Centre employs NNS EFL teachers from various countries. On the
other hand, Meisei Summer School Project (MSSP) provides another great opportunity for
students to meet, talk to and work with several nationalities. During the summer school, Meisei
students teach English to local children. They have to work in teams and each teaching team is
assigned one or two international volunteers. This project also helps them realise that English is
not only spoken by NS, in addition, international volunteers serve as role models of successful
language learners.
In the classroom
What happens in the NNS teacher’s classroom is probably not significantly different from that of
a NS’s. Activities, games and projects that I introduce briefly in the following part are the ones
that I and my students have found motivating and useful.
Projects, and presentations enhance cooperation and collaboration. Students need to do some
research, create a tangible final product, such as a poster or a story book and give presentations
as a group or individually.
Drama creation, that is, story telling in groups. It is a good chance to make students use certain
vocabulary items. As a follow up activity, students may make story boards or pictures books.
I often take to the class or make students create their own flashcards. They can be utilized in
several activities, such as memory games, domino, or card games.
As many of my students commute from far-away places, they are usually tired or sleepy when
they get into the classroom. Activities involving movement are not only enjoyable but also wake
them up. Running dictation, running reading comprehension, treasure hunt or gesture games are
effective when students are about to fall asleep.
Motivation is a key factor in language learning. Although, it depends on various factors, teachers
– regardless of being NSs or not - are able to create an environment in the classroom where
students can more easily find and maintain motivation and set achievable L2 related objectives.
As a NNS I am attempting to make use of my own prior learning experiences and raise my
students’ awareness of world Englishes. In my classes many of the activities are not only
enjoyable for the students but they also foster collaboration and make students use English for
various purposes in a number of situations.
Árva, V., Medgyes, P. (2000) ‘Native and non-native teachers in the language
classroom.’ System 28. 355-372
Dörnyei, Z. (2001). Teaching and researching motivation. London: Longman.
Dörnyei, Z., & Ushioda, E. (2010). Teaching and researching motivation (2nd ed.).
London: Longman.
Higgins, E. T. (1987). Self-discrepancy: A theory of relating self and affect.
Psychological Review, 94, 319-340.
Llurda, E. (Ed.), Non-Native Language Teachers. Perceptions, Challenges and
Contributions to the Profession,13-23.
Madris, D., Canado, L. (2004) ‘Teacher and student preferences of native and non-native
foreign language teachers.’ Porta Linguarum.
Meadows, B., Marumatsu, Y. (2007) ‘Native speaker or non-native speaker teacher?; a
report of student preferences in four different foreign language classrooms.’ Arizona
Working Papers in SLA & Testing, 14, 95- 109
Medgyes, P. (1992) ‘Native or non-native: Who’s worth more?’ ELT Journal, Volume
46/4 October Oxford University Press
Merino, I. (1997) Native-English speaking teachers versus non-native English speaking
teachers.’ Revista Alicantina de Estudios Ingleses 10, 69-79