Motivate Yourself!

Ken Beatty
By Dr. Ken Beatty

Motivate Yourself!

In 2018, 12 teenage Thai soccer players and their coach were exploring a cave. Unexpectedly, rainfall flooded the entrance. The group was forced deeper and deeper into the cave. After one week, the team was located by two English-speaking scuba divers. But there was a problem: the divers didn’t speak Thai, and they weren’t sure if the boys or their coach spoke English. How could the divers explain how to survive? How could the team understand the steps of a complex underwater rescue?  

Think about that while you answer three questions:

  • What are you always motivated to do?
  • How do you motivate yourself to do things you’d rather avoid?
  • How do you motivate yourself to learn English?

The first question, listing things you’re motivated to do, is easy because everyone is motivated to do at least one thing. You might be motivated to play a sport, or plan a trip. This is important because it means you already know the feeling, and you know how motivation helps you organize your mind to do your best.

The second question is about motivating yourself when you don’t want to do something. Your answer shows that you can overcome fears and other feelings that get in the way of success. What strategies do you use to push yourself for the last mile of a long hike, or to help a friend solve a difficult problem?

The third question, how you motivate yourself to learn English, is harder to answer. Partly this is because learning a new language is built on a mountain of failures. It might seem you’re corrected every time to speak or write. Here are four tips to help motivate yourself:

1. Say thank you. You don’t have to say it out loud, but when you are corrected, just thinking about thank you changes how your brain processes feedback. Your brain reminds you that corrections from a teacher or friend are meant to help you. A positive attitude helps!

2. Check your progress. Record your speaking and keep examples of your writing. Review both as weeks of classes go by to remind yourself how you are improving. Try recording and writing the same thing at the beginning of a semester and at the end of a semester and compare the versions. Getting better and better will make you feel motivated.

3. Share how you feel. “No one else shares or understands my problems!” It’s not true. When you share how you feel about learning English–your challenges and your successes–others can help motivate you to keep going. You will also make friends along the way.

4. Imagine the future. Think of yourself in five or ten years. You are a perfect English speaker! What will you do with that new skill? Travel? Get a great job? Find romance?

But what happened to the soccer team? One student paid extra attention during English classes. He understood and translated for the divers. After 18 days, and with the help of hundreds of people, everyone escaped alive. The young hero was motivated to study English because he thought it might come in useful someday. His positive attitude made it easier and more enjoyable to learn. His English skills also helped save 13 lives. Find your own motivations to study English. One day, English might save you! 

Ken teaches teachers and writes textbooks. His most recent books are in the LEAP series and he is Series Consultant for StartUp. He’s given hundreds of teacher-training sessions and conference presentations in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, England, Guatemala, Honduras Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Poland, Russia, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, the USA, and Vietnam.