Steven Peter





My teaching approach

Memoirs of a new TEFL Teacher

 

 

There are numerous different ways and ideas of teaching a language, some of the traditional methods have been around for hundreds of years. The system of teaching has changed somewhat over this period, not only because of modernisation of styles but also as the necessity of needing to learn languages has changed, as the world has become more interwoven. Some of the more modern methods are considered to be an improvement on certain aspects of the traditional methods, in terms of structure and how the language is being presented, and also complete overhauls of the entire exercises.

Most language schools nowadays have their own methods of which their teachers are expected to adhere to.

 

In my personal experience as an English teacher (a very modest 3 weeks) I have been teaching the 'communicative approach', as it is the training method of Oxbridge. The focus of this method is to enable the learners to communicate appropriately and effectively in any real world scenarios that they might find themselves in. The lessons are taught entirely in the target language, and although grammar is quintessential, the function and the meaning of the language are taught before the form.

This is different to the way that I was taught foreign languages at school; the lessons where drilling exercises and only sentences that we were expected to say were spoken in the target language. Learning was largely by translation to and from the target language. Grammar rules were memorised and long lists of vocabulary were learnt by heart. There was little or no emphasis on developing oral ability. This was taking certain aspects of the 'Grammar-translation method', as also most of the examinations were on grammar rules and translation with little or no oral assessment. This method has a very limited scope. Because speaking or any kind of spontaneous creative output is missing, students translate the language in their head to their own language without using the target language in the thinking process. We can learn a lot about a foreign language by comparing it to our own, but too much concentration on grammar translation might stop the student from thinking in a natural way, therefore hindering the input that would help them acquire a language. Basically this method teaches about the language and doesn't really help students to learn the language itself.

 

I realised over these last few weeks, that even though the main method I used was the communicative approach, aspects of other methods were implemented in the lessons. For instance,  the Silent Way crept into my teachings before I even knew of it. This method emphasises the self-direction of the learner; the students are encouraged to have an active role in learning the language, including correcting their own errors and helping each other when they have trouble with a particular feature of the language. It seems as though it lacks meaningful communication as the language taught is structural, and therefore difficult to go beyond the simplest early stages of language. But on the other hand, learning language through problem solving can be very valuable in these early stages as it switches the thinking process into the target language. I think that, in any method taught, it is possible and even recommended to use a bit of the silent way to avoid giving away answers too easily and try to get the students to guess and remember. Even if teachers are silent, it doesn't mean they're not active; they can use techniques such as mouthing words and  hand gestures to help the students with their pronunciation.

 

It's difficult to pick out and centralise a whole method of teaching on such a broad and varied subject. There is probably no wrong or right answer when it comes to teaching a foreign language. Many aspects of the teaching can change depending on the target language, the native language (and the similarities and more often the differences with the target language) and very importantly on the students learning the language. For sure different age groups would benefit differently from the different methods – very young learners might struggle and loose interest when using more communicative approaches whilst it would probably be an adventure for them to actively and physically enact the language through movement, such as in the Total Physical Response (TPR)., which is based on the assumption that the coordination of speech and action will boost language learning. This theory is that the memory is enhanced through association with physical movement. TPR is based, first and foremost on listening, and  is linked to physical actions which are designed to reinforce comprehension of particular basic items. It seems as though the teacher needs to be highly motivated in using his own imagination to keep the class and the students involved beyond the limited activities that can be done in a classroom. It's difficult to see how this method could be used for more advanced students trying to use the language in a real world scenario. However, I have no doubt that these activities can be both motivating and fun, and therefore ideal to start young students with this approach, teaching the basic elements of a foreign language.

 

For the older students however, I can't imagine that a 40+ year old mother would want to get moving around the classroom enacting commands given by the teacher. Although I'm not fully convinced with the Suggestopedia method of teaching, there are certain elements that I think could greatly benefit learners' concentration. This system is based on yoga techniques of physical and mental relaxation. Physical surroundings and atmosphere in classroom are the vital factors to make sure that the students feel comfortable and confident, and various techniques, including art and music, are used by the teacher.

Although this is an innovative method that promises great effective language learning results, it seems as though the students only receive input by listening, reading and musical-emotional backing, while other important factors of language acquisition are being neglected.

Also the organisation and planning that has to go into each lesson makes this method seem too time consuming for the average teacher. Availability of comfortable chairs and the correct music choice makes this too complicated. Not everybody has the same music preferences and one could argue that being too comfortable is not always going to keep your mind on the task, although deliberately induced states of relaxation can be valuable at times.

 

I personally prefer a communicative approach to teaching as it sets the mind into the target language at an early stage. Even though I mentioned before that kids would benefit from more of a directional style with a higher teacher talk time, I don't see any reason why this cannot be implemented in this approach. I find this method very open and experimental and all the other methods can have their ideas implemented from time to time.

 

As a teacher, it is important to be focused on the students and their reasons for wanting to learn a foreign language. Someone wanting to learn translation would have a completely different approach to someone just wanting to be able to communicate with others. Even in the case of pure communication, social and business languages have their differences, especially when it comes to formality.

 

Besides the mentioned teaching methods, there are other ideas that can be beneficial to the classroom, such as props, movies, newspaper articles and visual aids. Not only do these engage the students, but they also captivate their attention and create an interest in the material. These methods stimulate mental activity and make it more effective for learning. When all techniques are combined, students have a better chance of understanding the material.

 

Everybody is different, at least in how their brain has the ability to take information in and make use of it. Depending on what side of the brain is dominant, causing each person to be stronger in either a logical way or a creative way - some learn better by listening, some by watching, and others by doing. This contributes to the reason why each person has a specific type of learning style that works best for them. Some students learn material quicker and easier than others.

Teachers, faced with the challenges of accommodating different types of student learning styles and academic levels, and should implement various teaching methods in order to captivate each student's attention.

Students need to be challenged, engaged, and eager to learn. The more opportunities that are available, the more valuable the education becomes. Therefore, the most successful teaching technique is one that involves a variety of different methods in order to accommodate every student's unique learning style.



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