Language Learning: Breaking Down the Walls of Silence from Within

Learning a second language is not an easy task. It takes dedication, a lot of time, and self-discipline. Linguists have spent many years writing and discussing what are some of the affective factors that are crucial to successful language learning. Motivation has been recognized as a necessary component for successful language learning. More specific than motivation are the differences between external and internal motivation, better known as extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation is the external factor that motivates us. Whereas, internal or intrinsic motivation is the personal factors that make us strive to be better. Intrinsic motivation is the type of motivation that develops confidence, self-worth and life long language learners. As an English as a Foreign Language fellow with the STEP II program at Tomorrow’s Youth Organization (TYO), I have been humbled by my students’ motivation and dedication during this session. When I asked my students in my intermediate/advanced EFL class what motives them to continue learning English at TYO, my students gave many reflective answers. Asmaa Mousa said she is motivated by a desire “to be confident, a better person, and to work in a society that works and to speak with foreigners when they come to Palestine.” Safa'a Masoud Abu-Safat said, “I love English so much and I want to learn it and improve it for my future. I also want to communicate with others.” Ala Adawi said, “I am motivated because I am a teacher for kids.” And Mohammad Alawneh said, “I want to learn about a new culture and to achieve my goals.” Students described classes as interesting and fun. They discussed the dynamic between the teacher and the student as equal and respectful. Their energy is focused in a community that hones their English skills and enriches their lives.

Lyndsey and her students pause for a photo on TYO's terrace.

Here in the West Bank, students in primary through high school are taught English through rote memorization of vocabulary, memorization of grammar rules and paragraph reading. Ultimately, a very stressful intimidating test known as the Tawjihi test is administered to all high school students in their final year. This test decides the scholastic fate for each student. Teaching to the test not only creates a lot of anxiety for students around English but it also restricts and limits their learning to what is on the test. None of this leads to the feeling of ownership in a second language or empowering learners through communication.

At TYO the teaching method is different. And I can see it in my own students’ motivation and passion for English language learning. They want to connect. The community helps learners express their interests, concerns and thoughts about the world and their situation in it. Students are listened to and their needs are addressed. TYO cultivates an environment that works diligently to provide opportunity to its students. It is a positive experience to work and learn in an environment where those participating in this community are motivated internally and the outcomes are measurable in personal growth.

Lyndsey, EFL Fellow