Innovation in Language Learning

Edition 16

Accepted Abstracts

Leveraging Student Motivation for Language Learning through Constructing Self Images and Simulation

Barbara L. Ciccarelli, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (The Netherlands)


What are the reasons that some adults learn a language with ease and others struggle? Is it a matter of effort, opportunity, motivation or do you believe that some of us are just hard-wired for the task and others not? In a 2014 Guardian article, Allison Mackey states, “Dörnyei and his colleagues have recently carried out classroom research, finding that learners who can construct ideal self-images as successful second language speakers are better able to reach their goals.” In our Business English program at Amsterdam University (Netherlands), we strive to give our adult learners the opportunity to construct a self-image through collaborative online international learning projects (COIL). During these projects, students simulate actual problems in the international business world and work towards a viable solution all the while practicing English with their fellow classmates as well as with students from Miami University of Ohio. Mackey argues that the students “need to have a clear roadmap of tasks and strategies to follow in order to do this, and Dörnyei makes the analogy between teaching a language and creating a training plan for an Olympic athlete. Like sports coaches, he explains, ‘instructors should take the perspective of trainers and cheerleaders, helping learners to imagine themselves in their ideal L2 personae and thus leverage their motivation to better their learning outcomes.’” The Amsterdam/Miami project was set up with a clear roadmap for students to follow and implement with a program description accompanied by a kick off class, student introduction video, assignments/deliverables including a team charter, and a final peer review and survey for the best final submission. The students had the task to improve their second language, in this case English, and apply it in an international business situation. According to the end of project reflection reports, the majority claimed that they met these goals. The reflections showed that the learning was online and intercultural and interdisciplinary. The learning was global and applied, honing 21st Century skills, intercultural awareness, interdisciplinary application, diversity and inclusion. Crawford argues that COIL projects are Global Network Learning (GNL) ventures that involve experiential learning and heterogeneous groups and problem solving. We can add to that that “Intercultural communication occurs when the people creating shared meanings have different cultural perspectives and values. Typically, it is the differing world views of members of different cultures that make intercultural communication challenging” (Sadri 10). So participating in the COIL project asks each student to arrive with an open mind and sensitivity to difference. On top of that, there is the navigation of the online situation, which includes mastering the technology, recognizing the netiquette, and, of course, finally executing a plan of action to produce a deliverable with real world value.

Keywords: COIL project, Motivation, Virtual, Collaboration


  • Mackey, Alison. (26 June, 2014) “Wanting It Enough: Why Motivation is the Key to Language Learning.”
  • Faculty Guide for COIL Course Development (nd.)
  • Crawford, I. (2019) Creating and evaluating collaborative online international learning (COIL) projects. Presented at the 2019 Department for the Enhancement of Learning, Teaching and Access (DELTA) Learning and teaching conference (LTC 2019): learning without borders, 2 May 2019, Aberdeen, UK
  • Sadri, H. A., and M. Flammia. (25 Mar. 2016). The significance of intercultural communication in a global society." Intercultural Communication: A New Approach to International Relations and Global Challenges. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2011. 5–30. Bloomsbury Collections. Web. <>;

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