ESL Teaching: A Discussion Of Values

Discover A Deeper Reason To Learn

Let’s talk about values in the classroom. The very foundations of teaching that prop up style, experience, and the will to succeed. How do we engage? How do we motivate? Are we instilling a desire to learn for the right reasons? Our passion, both professionally and personally, is the learning and teaching of languages. And just as there is more than one way to cook an egg (or relieve a cat of its dermis) there are many approaches to teaching a language. There are far fewer reasons to learn, however. This is where positive values enter the equation.

ESL students come from all walks of life. While their situations may differ, their goal to integrate is a common thread. People need  to belong and they want to be understood. And so for any language student thrust into an unfamiliar environment and asked to adapt, the pressure is on from day one. Integration is a fine motivator for any student, but it shouldn’t be the only motivational value we use to teach language in the classroom


A Question Of Motivation

What are the issues that face the average ESL teacher today? The pressure of a results-driven system. The constant desire to be better, for the school and for the students. The need to assist in integration. Now, what about the average ESL student? What are their struggles? Well, the pressures of a results-driven system. A desire to be better. A need to integrate. Sounds familiar. And that’s a lot of stress to bring to any classroom.  As we’re about to identify, stress is not a good motivator for language learning.


“Without sufficient motivation, even the brightest learners are unlikely to persist long enough to attain any really useful language”.


That’s a quote from world-renowned psycholinguist and very smart man, Zoltan Dörnyei. Detailed in his excellent book Motivational Strategies in the Language Classroom, he examines  the values that we develop during our upbringing and as an outcome of our experiences. Subsequently, he determines there are three core values that correspond to our level of desire to learn a second language:


The Three Values

  1. Integrative Value – This is the facilitator of belonging. We learn so we can communicate and express ourselves. This is also the primary motivator of most ESL classrooms. Getting children prepared to join mainstream schooling as quickly as possible. A necessity, but also a huge stressor for both teacher and student.
  2. Intrinsic Value – This involves the reward of learning a language because you enjoy the process. A student who revels in accomplishments and has a desire to learn for learning’s sake. This is what schools need but so often classes can lack (due to interference from value #1).
  3. Instrumental Value – Putting language learning into practice. Engaging with a culture and using a new language to open doors and opportunities that can enrich a life personally. Essentially, learning by doing.


Most teachers will agree that they have value 1 covered. It is the value of results, measured and graded. And while values 2 and 3 are a welcome addition to any class, they aren’t the primary motivator. Many ESL students don’t even know how to engage with these two values. But can flipping the emphasis on to intrinsic and instrumental values actually speed up integrative learning?



How Does EdTech Enter The Conversation?

So, how do we bring cultures together in a positive, engaging way? Well, first we have to think of all students as cultural beings. They absorb media, engage with stories, and very often have rich online lives, all in their native language. Creating a bridge means engaging with students through a shared cultural shorthand. And what is the fastest way to mainline culture in 2018? Technology.

EdTech is having a ‘moment’. We’re at a tipping point where teachers are demanding fresh, modern tools to engage a generation of language learners that were born post-internet. We’re dealing with a generation of learners that is connected to information in ways that are unprecedented. When every answer is just a click away, we have to start re-evaluating how education is packaged and directed.

Through technology we can snare students’ interest on their own terms. Videos, music, stories and gaming. Wibbu is committed to developing game-based teaching resources that can bridge the cultural divide. We create learning adventures that contextualises languages in new and exciting ways. We use the positive reinforcement of exploring environments and unravelling mysteries to distract children from their core integrative goals. In short, we make resources that imbue a love of learning languages via loving the process of learning languages.


We love talking to teachers and hearing about their experiences moving beyond the integrative value to intrinsic and instrumental. How are teachers creating a desire to learn? How they are quashing fear-based motivators? Let’s keep the conversation going!


Truan Flynn –  Educational Game Writer