Laura Brown

My teaching approach

Oxbridge Essay: How Should Language Be Taught? 


Laura Brown 



Prior to taking the Oxbridge course, I had deduced that from taking 8 years of French classes and forgetting most of what I had learned was the result of never using the language outside of the classroom. Thus, I know that if you do not use the language you are being taught, there is no point in learning it. Additionally, while learning French, I was not thinking about the structure of the class, the impact of my professors attitude, affective factors impacting my learning processes, or evaluating the effectiveness of the activities in my textbook. I now know that the intricacies of effectively teaching a language rest exactly on these factors. During the past month, and dipping into learning Spanish, I have realized that my journey into teaching and learning about languages has only just begun. Thus, I have not developed a complete analysis of how to most effectively teach a language, but I do have a few ideas. 

To begin with, language teaching and learning has to be a meaningful experience taught be knowledgeable, prepared and enthusiastic teachers who understand that language learning should be based on meaningful experiences. An understanding of how the language being taught is grammatically structured is a must, even if the teaching method used does not require the outright recitation of grammar rules. Secondly, if a teacher is not prepared to teach or to anticipate student's questions, then a knowledge of grammar rules is all this teacher will be equipped with, which does not guarantee a successful teacher. Teaching is about more than knowing the rules of a language, it is about explaining them and creating experiences that can engage the learner. Conversely, learning a language is not about memorizing the rules, it is about speaking the target language in as close to real life situations as possible, which have to be facilitated by the teacher. Lastly, a teacher who deeply despises language learning and is teaching solely to get by will not evoke enthusiasm from ANY of their students, no matter how motivated they are to learn. If a teacher projects enthusiasm, it will be felt by the students and will create an atmosphere where learning a language is not drudgery, but fun. In fact, I am almost tempted to say that a prepared and enthusiastic teacher could make-up for a terrible teaching method, but it is best to have both a great teacher and an effective method. 

Secondly, language is so complex. Grammatically speaking, there are rules, and exceptions to the rules. As far as pronunciation is concerned, a word can be written and said entirely differently which can also change depending on the context it is used in. Additionally, the formality of language, when to use certain expressions, and how to piece together meaningful and grammatically correct sentences are all part of the equation we must constantly be aware of when speaking to others. Without some degree of structure when learning a language, all the rules, complexities, and subtle differences used when speaking will overwhelm anyone trying to accurately learn how to communicate. I am not saying that language learning should start with grammar rules and patterns, as this is boring and repetitive. I am saying that language learning should follow a system that is used as the basis of every syllabus and lesson plan. The Oxbridge method of using a structure, vocabulary, and topic activity seems to work well with students as the way the activities are structured allows for the learning of many facets of language in one lesson. Students not only learn some grammar and some vocab; they are able to interact with the words, actively use them, pronounce them correctly with the help of the teacher and use them in context. Therefore, I would use this method when teaching, unless I happen to find another method that works more effectively. If I do, I will be sure to tell you. 

The Oxbridge teaching system is only my second experience witnessing language learning being taught without a textbook. My first experience began about one month ago with myself trying to learn Spanish using the Michel Thomas method. I had no idea what it was, I just found it one day while searching online; luckily it was communicative. Each recording uses two students and a teacher creating conversations that gradually become more complex as more vocabulary is added to simple sentences – which then become more complex and apparently, at the end of disc VIII, it is possible to have entire conversations (I am only on disc III). At the same time, however, I have decided to learn also with a more traditional teaching approach, using, where memorizing vocabulary and the explanation of grammar rules is used. Thus, I have been learning using two completely different methods. The verdict is, Mr. Michel Thomas has taught me a lot more, and most of the Spanish I do use (which is not much at all at this point) comes from learning through his conversational teaching method. The supplementation of some memorization and explicit grammar rule learning, however, has helped to some degree. What I have been saying, without knowing the rules, somehow becomes more concrete in my mind after learning the rules behind what I am saying. So, from this experience, I am sure that it is possible to learn language without a book, without explicitly reciting grammar rules. It is more engaging to use and acquire language using a communicative approach. From observing Oxbridge students, I can also see that the communicative approach with other students in the classroom, not on a recording, is also more affective. 

Sometimes, I do find myself yearning to use a blackboard to explain examples. I know it is not exactly communicative and perhaps it is because I am so used to a board being used in the classroom that I prefer to have one. It just seems so much easier to be able to enlarge explanations and draw pictures in front of everyone. But yes, I agree, the teacher is not directly interacting with the students with their back to them at a chalkboard. I must also remember that just because I happen to be more of a visual learner, where chalkboards are useful, who likes to write everything down does not mean that every student will learn this way. 

Also, sometimes, but only sometimes, I find myself wanting to explain grammar rules before giving examples. There is a level of comfort to giving the students the rules before delving into the language. Granted, Oxbridge students are not thrown blindly into speaking without some rule explanation, and I think that I would find that if I did explain the rules, students would start to yawn and point out that the flower pot on the table in front of them is broken (this did actually happen). 

Most importantly, it is essential to recognize that every student is different, whether it be how they learn, what motivates them to learn, or what obstacles they have in the way of language learning. With this in mind, it is important for teachers to make an effort to understand each of their students in order to create a classroom experience that enables them to learn the most. Thus, the more interaction the teacher has with the students, the more the teacher will be able to understand what does and does not make each student a successful learner. Once again, the communicative method wins, as this method allows for the teacher to become more of a facilitator. The line between student and teacher is less defined with the recognition that the students already have the reasoning power and the ability to take what is in each lesson and allowed the opportunity to activate these innate abilities without being drilled or told exactly how to use the language in a conversation. This allows for the teacher to observe the students more closely, as they are given more time to speak, and as a result, the teacher will better be able to pick-up on what the student is good at and what he/she struggles with. 

Although, so far I have found the communicative approach to be the most effective teaching method for many students, any teaching method can be thought of as most effective, but if it does not work for the student, then it is not the most effective for that student. If a student wants the grammar rules to be explained to them, then by all means, I will explain them regardless of whether I think it is the correct way to teach or not. Of course, with children, they may not be able to articulate or know what method is best for them and it is largely up to the teacher to find a suitable method for the class based on the students within it. I know nothing about teaching language to children, but I know they have shorter attention spans and need brighter colors and more exciting activities to keep them occupied. I also know my own preferences when learning a language and I have seen Oxbridge students learning quite effectively with the largely communicative method used by the program. I know that I have learned better using a conversational method and that I have fallen asleep in French class where the traditional method was used. I also know that I like grammar rules and I like chalkboards...sometimes. 

From this point in time, I would advocate for a communicative approach to teaching because language – in any form, at its essence, is about communication. Thus, direct interaction, conversation, and speaking the language out loud with engaging activities should be the way in which anyone learns language. The traditional classroom learning approaches of the blackboard and textbook, although what I am comfortable with, do need to either be used in combination with a communicative approach or not used at all. But as with all things in this world, language, the way it is taught, and the tools to teach it with are constantly evolving. Maybe tomorrow, there will be an entirely new approach to language learning that makes my entire essay a moot point. I hope this is not the case and regardless of the teaching method used, a well prepared teacher who is interested in the processes of language learning, who wants students to succeed, and can create an engaging class is always necessary. Hopefully, I can become a teacher capable of creating a positive learning environment using the communicative approach. 

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