Why Encouragement and Positive Reinforcement are the Keys to Language Learning Success

Have you ever wondered why your teachers always made a point to congratulate good work? We sit down with two of our learning experts to dive into the psychology behind positive reinforcement and how they recreate it in an e-learning environment.

If you think back to your school days, you can probably remember many teachers scribbling “Great job!” on the top of assignments and giving words of praise to hard-working students. Especially in a language learning classroom, an enthusiastic ¡Muy bien! or Gut gemacht! can be the difference between feeling like you’re improving and feeling like you’ve completely butchered your pronunciation or grammar. 

To find out why positive reinforcement is such an integral part of the learning process, I sat down with two of Babbel’s learning experts: Héctor Hernández from the Didactics editorial team, and Tara Musich from the Instructional Design team. Let’s see what they had to say about the psychology of encouragement and how we’re incorporating these principles into our app. 

The Psychology Of Encouragement

With over two decades of teaching experience between the two of them, Héctor and Tara had a lot of insight to offer in terms of encouragement in the classroom. 

Both of them pointed to one crucial benefit of positive reinforcement: motivation. “Positive reinforcement is a form of encouragement for students to continue their efforts, let them know that they’re making progress, and by doing so, it becomes a very powerful motivation tool,” Héctor said.

There are many reasons and motivations behind why people start learning a new language. Perhaps you’re moving abroad and want to speak some of the local language, or you have a language requirement for a degree you’re seeking. These types of incentives to learn fall under the category of extrinsic motivation because they come from factors outside of yourself. Meanwhile, intrinsic motivations are motivations driven by your own interests, like learning a language to be closer to your heritage. According to our experts (and numerous studies), praise actually fosters intrinsic motivation in students. So why is this important for the learning process? 

Tara explained, “Research tells us that intrinsically motivated learners are less likely to need refresher courses and intense reviews because they retain information and concepts longer. They’re also more likely to fully engage in activities and continue on until they accomplish a task successfully. It’s also been shown that they’re likely to be lifelong learners, learning outside a formal school setting long after external motivators such as grades and graduation are no longer goals.” 

These are real advantages when trying to tackle any subject and in any learning environment, but they’re particularly advantageous for language learners. One of the best (and most challenging) parts of learning a new language is that the experience basically rewires your brain — and this restructuring can take a long time. As Héctor said, “Language learning, depending on how ambitious your goals are, can be a lengthy process. This process is one that spreads across different aspects of your life and transcends the classroom. It’s not linear and flat but rather steep and bumpy. But with the right tools to motivate yourself and reignite that motivation, you can drive through it more smoothly.” 

How Babbel Uses These Principles

So now we know why positive reinforcement and motivation are so important for a language learner’s journey. But how does Babbel incorporate this knowledge into our product? Luckily, Tara and Héctor work in two different teams in Babbel’s Product department, so they can speak to the different ways our teaching experts act on these academic principles. 

Tara works in our Instructional Design team, which consults other teams on how to enact best practices for teaching and learning across the entire product. Her team has been working with other Product teams on rolling out more ways to encourage and motivate learners as they progress through the Babbel app. 

In-app encouragement came about because learners wanted to know when they are on the right track and they wanted to stay motivated to keep going,” Tara explained. She noted that this feature followed the development process used for the launch of other product features: “We first focus on specific user problems and the various issues that are associated with them. Then we have a lot of fun coming up with the best  — and worst — ideas that could be potential solutions, and from there we decide what is best for Babbel. Once  we create a prototype, we test it with users, and then optimize the feature before making it available to all Babbel learners.” 

Meanwhile, Héctor works in the Didactics editorial team, which is the team responsible for crafting all of our lessons and ensuring that they’re perfectly tailored to a learner’s native language. They have a slightly different role in implementing these principles, as Héctor clarified: “All language experts at Babbel are not only professionals in their respective fields, but they are also passionate language learners themselves. I think that is crucial because you have to know the struggles that learners have. So when we develop our content, we aim to provide our learners with positive feedback, and we do this by incorporating an encouraging tone of voice throughout all our lessons.” 

These new ways of motivating learners are just another example of how we’re drawing upon the expertise of our team — and our dedicated community of learners — to make the learning experience even more fun, effective, meaningful, and rewarding.

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