Autonomy in Learning

“Men are born ignorant, not stupid; they are made stupid by education.”

— Bertrand Russell (Mathematician/ Philosopher)
“Education is not filling a bucket but lighting a fire.”

— William B. Yeats (Poet)\
“A liberal education… frees a man from the prison-house of his class, race, time, place, background, family and even his nation.”

— Robert M. Hutchins (Educator)
“The aim of education is to enable individuals to continue their education. The object and reward of learning is continued capacity for growth.”

— John Dewey (Philosopher/ Educator)

The purpose of this article is to provide the foreign language (FL) instructors with various effective methods on how to motivate their students, engage them in learning and create an enjoyable classroom environment in which every student can succeed and achieve higher proficiency. The paper is framed with the Self Determination Theory (SDT) and its implementation in the FL classroom (Deci& Ryan 2002). Recommendations will be provided to the FL teachers on how to support the students’ three psychological needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness (Connell& Wellborn 1991), in order to create enjoyable and relaxed classroom environment that can support the students’ learning and promote the highest level of academic achievement in FL instruction.

The importance of teaching culture and using authentic materials in teaching Arabic as a foreign language (AFL) will be discussed thoroughly within this paper. The” Ten Commandments for motivating language learners” (Dornyei & Csizer, 1998, p. 215), and the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation (Fisher 1978) will be discussed. I will give a specific example of how implementing SDT motivated the students of class# 108 and helped them to succeed and achieve higher proficiency levels in AFL instruction at ME II at the Defense Language Institute (DLI).

The word motivation is derived from the Latin verb “movere” which suggests the idea of movement. Motivation is something that keeps us moving and helps us to complete tasks according to Pintrich and Schunk (2002). According to Ryan and Deci (2000), to be motivated means to be moved to do something. Motivation plays a crucial role in the students’ learning. It can lead students to increase their effort and energy to learn and to improve their performance. It also leads students to be persistent and take initiatives. Many educators agree that motivating the foreign language (FL) learners is extremely necessary and essential in the learning process. Many studies found that there is a strong direct correlation between motivation and academic achievement. From my experience as a FL instructor, I’ve found that a great deal of the students’ success in learning the language is due the motivational strategies adopted by the instructors not the teaching strategies. I believe that all FL instructors should take motivation in their consideration when they instruct and when they plan for instruction. Throughout this paper, I will discuss different methods to motivate FL learners and engage them in learning. The main focus of this article will be on teaching Arabic as a foreign language (AFL) as it is one of the most needed languages nowadays although it is one of the less commonly taught languages (LCTL) in the United States.

Significance of This Article
In January 2006, President Bush introduced the “National Security Language Initiative” aimed at increasing the number of American students learning foreign languages, particularly “critical need languages” such as Arabic (Taha, 2007). Molloy (2007) indicated that there is a huge shortage and deficiency of Arabic linguists within the US federal agencies. The federal government invests thousands of dollars in every student who is learning Arabic language within 63 weeks of instruction at the Defense Language Institute (DLI); in return to meet the big demand of proficient Arabic linguists who can protect U.S. from terrorism. The AFL program is equipped with the latest technologies in the world, such as a tablet PC and an I-pod provided to each student and each instructor in addition to providing each classroom with a smart board, as technology is considered an effective mean of motivating FL learners. The DLI adopts the most recent educational trends. The DLI are trained on the heist levels and encouraged to pursue their higher educational degrees.

In spite of all the efforts of the allocated to the AFL program, there are still a considerable number of the students who fail to complete the course and are placed to earlier units, drop out or are removed from the program. A considerable number of the students, who complete the program successfully, still can’t achieve the DLI target of 2+, 2+, and 2, ILR proficiency levels, on Listening, Reading, and Speaking skills. The average attrition rate at AFL is considerably high compared to other FL programs. Many findings in the literature attributed the high attrition rate in FL programs, in general, to the lack of the students’ motivation. Motivation has been reported to be an influential factor in the rates of attrition that are experienced within language departments (Joynt, 2008). Academic amotivation, the inverse of academic motivation, is a noteworthy and widespread problem that can contribute to adverse educational results such as dropping out (Frederick, 2009, p. 2). Creating a classroom environment that is enjoyable to students and supports their learning can be challenging for instructors (Jones, Llacer& Newbill, 2009). I think that writing a paper to address variety of ways to motivate the AFL students would give insights to AFL and other FL teachers on how to motivate their students and engage them in learning.

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation
Motivation was identified by many educators and psychologists as extrinsic motivation (EM) and intrinsic motivation (IM). EM occurs when students are compelled to learn because of external factors such as money or grades; Gardner (1985) named it as instrumental orientation in which language learners emphasize job or educational opportunity. IM occurs when students are internally motivated to learn because learning brings them pleasure or because they feel that learning is important for them; Gardner named it integrative orientation in which language learners emphasize either meeting or conversing with a more diverse group of people, or as a means of better understanding other people and their way of life.

In order to explain the difference between the EM and IM, the following examples will be provided on each of them in the field of language learning. The immigrants who flow and start to live in a new community such as the United States are intrinsically motivated to learn English as a second language (ESL) because they feel it is important for them and it will make them feel competence when communicating with members of the new community. They would like also to feel part of this new community. In this case, English is considered a second language, not foreign language, to immigrants. Some people in the US are intrinsically motivated to learn a FL because they are planning to travel for vacation or business trips to the country of their target language or because they are interested in learning more about the people of that language and their culture. The DLI students are extrinsically motivated to learn foreign languages for incentives, rank or career advancement, or because it is a part of their duty. Learners, in general, are extrinsically motivated to receive good grades in the monthly or final exams, or to avoid failure; especially if failure can cause them any harm such as being removed from the course. I would like to take the chance to explain very briefly, the difference between teaching a foreign language and teaching a second language. A good example of teaching a second language is teaching ESL to the immigrants in the US and a good example of teaching a foreign language would be teaching AFL to American students at the DLI. The difference between the two cases is that the second language students are more motivated to learn the target language because they have the privilege of using the language they learn at school in the real world outside of school. The FL learners don’t have that opportunity of utilizing what they learn with native speakers outside of school in real life.

Extrinsic motivational factors are, in fact, not motivating because they cause anxiety which, in turn, can cause lower proficiency or failure. Al-Aeraini (2004) conducted a descriptive study on 266 students to examine the relationship between motivational factors and language proficiency of learners of Arabic in selected American universities across the USA. Al-Aeraini found that the IM factors are more motivating than the EM factors and there are relationships between language proficiency and both the IM and EM factors. Intrinsically motivated students participate in activities because they enjoy or become interested in these activities. They also seek out challenges and novelty in learning and expanding their knowledge (Ryan and Deci 2000). In contrast, extrinsically motivated students participate in activities to receive grades or because they are afraid of failure.

After pointing out the difference between EM and IM, the question merged on the surface was which of the two theories of motivation need to be implemented in the classroom to engage the students in learning and to help them achieve higher proficiency, IM or EM. Threatening the students of failure or low grades can’t bring good results. In the contrary, it causes anxiety. Interesting activities have to be designed to engage students in learning. Teaching in a welcoming, not threatening, attitude that can create enjoyable and relaxed class environment can achieve the goal of motivation and, in turn, higher proficiency. The idea of creating a relaxed and enjoyable classroom environment led me to shed the light on the Self Determination Theory (SDT).

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