The Role of Motivation in Improving Cross-cultural Communication

By Stephanie Knutson

August 31, 2001

In teaching English as a Second Language, my goal is to help students acquire and advance their abilities to communicate in English. I want my lessons to be as effective and beneficial to the students as possible. In order to empower my students, I need my own communication strategies to be effective. Factors that contribute to or challenge the students' success, such as individual will to learn and cultural background, may be beyond my control. But, with understanding and work, I can help my students overcome things that can otherwise stand as obstacles in their ways of learning.


I am particularly interested in cross-cultural communication and motivation. I understand that teaching is a skill that requires practice and experience. No amount of research and study can take the place of actual experience with students. But I hope that getting insight from teachers who have gone before me will help me and give me some backing as I begin my own teaching career.


David F. McCargar conducted a study to examine students of various cultures and their role expectations for teachers and students (McCargar, 1993). The conclusions of his study showed that a teacher who "does not help students adjust risks having students withdraw or be unhappy when their expectations are violated. One way to address this problem is for teachers to become familiar with their students' expectations and use methods consonant with those expectations." ESL classes are usually "culturally heterogeneous," which makes it difficult to find and use methods consistent with students' expectations, according to McCargar, who recommends helping students change or adjust their expectations but stresses that "teachers should realize that expectations may change slowly or very little" (McCargar, 1993).


The conclusion McCargar reached from his study is that "cultural differences in role expectations are central to many second-language teaching contexts" (McCargar, 1993). This factor provides educators with better understanding and a new way of seeing second or foreign language education. "It may also provide insights that will allow language teaching professionals to help students learn languages more efficiently" (McCargar, 1993). McCargar's study indicates the importance of cross-cultural understanding in teaching English as a Second Language.


Cross-cultural understanding is an ongoing process and not something one can ever expect to complete. I hope that as I develop as a teacher through classroom and out-of-classroom experience and inquiry, my cross-cultural understanding will develop as well.


In her book, A Course in Language Learning (1991), Penny Ur states that "motivation is very strongly related to achievement in language learning." When students are motivated to learn, their chances of success will be much higher. Although I may be unable to control the level of motivation the students bring to the classroom, I can in part control the level that develops and, therefore, the chances of success. In an article entitled "Motivation: The Responsibility of The Teacher" (1977), Girard explains (not surprisingly) that an important part of a teacher's job is to motivate students.


In the conversation classes I taught, my goal was to get the students to participate and converse as much as possible. After each class, I thought of things I might have done better or differently. Although I wanted to have freedom to take their conversations where they desired, I found that having planned topics for discussion and activities secured a successful rhythm to the lessons.


As part of the research for my paper, I observed a conversation class taught by Ilona Vinklerova, who explained to me that in her classes she does not like to be in situations where she has to improvise and do things on the spot. To prevent that type of situation, she plans and organizes her lessons thoroughly. When I observed her class, it clearly reflected her organization and planning.


Good teachers develop and become good teachers with practice, exposure and experience. That is the only way to really get better. Still, as a new teacher, I can be successful and help my students be successful if I seek to understand the learning process. Working to increase their motivation and to reach them through the barriers of cross-cultural communication will help my students reach their goals; thus, it will help me, too, reach my goals as a teacher.



Girard, D. (1977) "Motivation: The Responsibility of the Teacher," ELT Journal, v. 31, pages 97-102.

McCargar, D.F. (1993) "Teacher and Student Role Expectations: Cross-Cultural Differences and Implications," The Modern Language Journal, v. 77, pages 192-207.

Ur, Penny (1991) A Course in Language Teaching.


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