Seven motivational quotes for language learners

Motivation is one of the key challenges for successful language learning, but sometimes instructors don’t sufficiently utilize motivation. Some teachers even think they cannot play a major role in student motivation, but I believe we can motivate our students in many ways. For example, motivational quotes are a great device to inspire our students. While teaching last summer at Niagara College, I shared biweekly motivational quotes to boost my students’ ambition. They truly enjoyed them! Below are the seven motivational quotes that my students voted as their favourites.

1. “Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.” By Margaret Fuller

Whenever my students choose this quote as one of their favourites, I am the happiest teacher in the world. This is because extensive reading is not just important for acquiring knowledge. It also enhances reading comprehension, increases vocabulary knowledge, helps improve overall syntax, and facilitates both grammar and writing development. Researchers have proven that all these benefits come with extensive reading. Learn more about the role of extensive reading in language learning.

2. “It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” By Confucius

This is such a positive way of looking at the language-learning process! Learning  a new language can take a long time. You may notice someone else is learning a lot faster than you, but be patient with yourself and don’t compare yourself with others. Just try to remember these wise words from Confucius. The most important thing is to keep going and never give up.

3. “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” By Benjamin Franklin

Such a great piece of advice by Benjamin Franklin! I always tell my students whatever they have learned in class, the best way to remember it is to practice and make sure to use it outside of class. Let’s say we’ve practised small talk. I’ll say to my students, “Okay, now it’s time for you to get involved. Go, find a person while you’re waiting for your bus or waiting in a Tim Hortons line. Say hi and start a short conversation”.

4. “A new language is a new life.” Persian proverb

This is so true! When students learn a new language, they gain a new vision/life. With language learning, one can understand the culture, food, tradition, and its people better, which helps language learners to create a new soul. For example, when I was living in China, I wanted to live my life to the fullest. Thus, I became more open-minded and immersed myself in the Chinese culture, which allowed me to enjoy myself, made language learning fun, and reduced culture shock.

5. “Language is the infinite use of finite means.” by Wilhelm von Humboldt

Many language learners think its impossible to communicate their ideas with limited language. I kindly remind them not to feel like they need perfect English before they can go out and have interesting conversations with other people. Learners don’t need perfect English to start a good talk with others.

6. “Language is wine upon the lips.”  by Virginia Woolf

At first, my students don’t understand this but, once we explore the quote further, they absolutely love it! I tell my students when they’re learning a language, they should remember to slow down and enjoy the process. The language itself is often as enjoyable as the end goal. They shouldn’t frustrate themselves.

7. “Do you know what a foreign accent is? It’s a sign of bravery.” by Amy Chua

As we all know, many of our international students are very worried about their accents. They try everything and anything to get rid of their accent because they don’t see it as something to be proud of. When I shared this quote, they started to see the real advantage of language learning, and they appreciated their own bravery in accepting that they may speak with an accent. Just communicating is a success!

Do you use any motivational quotes in your classroom? Share your favourites in the comments below!

Gonul has a B.A. in Sociology with a minor in Women Studies, and a Master of Applied Linguistics (TESL), both from Brock University. She has taught ESL in China and Turkey. Since 2013, she has taught a variety of EAP courses at Niagara College in the School of English Language Studies. Gonul currently works in two part-time positions: as a Drop-In Facilitator in the Niagara College Library, and as an interpreter for the Canadian Border Service. Her research interests are Extensive Reading and Second Language Reading.


8 thoughts on “Seven motivational quotes for language learners”

  1. It is very well written and a very helpful article. The quotes are full of wisdom in small sentences. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience with us.

  2. Very good article, Gönül. A lot of teachers throw quotes around but don’t explain the meaning to the students. I like the way you added some personal experiences along the way because you were in their shoes at one time in your life.

    For those learning a new language, I feel Quote #7 is the best. It really does pay respect to the confidence required to use a new language in a real situation. That confidence comes with practice and appreciation. It reminds me of my mom when I was younger.

    Your one entry stuck with me personally: “helps language learners to create a new soul”. To appreciate a language you need to learn about where the language came from, their culture, just like you said. When I communicate in another language I am not “Canadian me” speaking that language, but a version of me in the spirit of that language, Italian me, French me, Spanish me, etc.

    Keep up the good work,

    1. Hi Frank,

      Your valuable insight is greatly appreciated after reading my blog post. You noticed quote number seven, and I am glad you did, many teachers or students do not know about this valuable experience.

      Thank you!

  3. I love these quotations Gonul. I’ve always liked to use motivating quotes in my teaching – especially as prompts for discussion and for journal writing too. Sometimes I used Nike’s very simple “Just do it” for lower level classes and as a way to get myself moving too. My favourite quote from your list is the same as Frank’s – number 7. It has rung true louder than ever as I’ve been volunteering with new immigrants and refugees. I very much admire their drive and courage to start their new lives in Canada – and so often, for the sake of their children. Thanks for getting us thinking about this!

  4. Hello Susan,

    Thanks for taking the time to read my blog post. It is great to hear that you used motivational quotes as well.

    I think you raised a very good point, Susan, immigrants and refugees face many challenges in starting a new life in Canada and are still eager to learn the language.

    Many thanks again for sharing your insightful experience.

  5. These are great, and like you say motivational – they could certainly inspire some deep thought and meaningful discussion/writing.
    I’m going to remember the Ben Franklin one for sure. It seems like he was talking about Task-Based Learning!! Ha!

    1. Hello Alex,

      In reference to Benjamin Franklin’s quote, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I will learn.” He may also be referring to Task-Based Learning (TBL) since TBL involves the learners completing interactive tasks. A very good point, thank you, Alex!

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