Maria Venegas

My teaching approach

Learning a Second Language Written by Maria Alfonsina Venegas.

In our History, there has been a constant need to express ourselves as human beings, and the main way in which we normally do it is through speech. As we learn, we internalize our primary language, becoming aware of its sounds, intonation, pronunciation, grammatical use, as well as  the more complex meanings of words and subtle comprehension of gestures and  messages. When an individual is faced with the necessity of acquiring a second language, he may find several challenges along the road, difficulties arising from a range of issues that the learner has to overcome to be able to succeed in his purpose.  In an attempt to make this learning process more effective, many different methods have been created by researchers or teachers, in which we can find different approaches and points of view regarding the subject.

             Teaching Methods

One of the most traditional methods was created in Germany in the 1900, and is called The Grammar Translation Method. This method was originally used for teaching old languages like Greek and Latin. It is more focused on learning through written texts, and it gives little attention to pronunciation and speaking. Literary language is superior to spoken language, so writing is an important skill to be exercised, in which orthography and the correct use of grammar rules are emphasized. This method can be useful for a student that needs to improve his academic level at university, but it wouldn't be as useful when a student requires to learn to speak a language as a need for communication on a daily basis. The teacher is the authority in the classroom, and there is a low tolerance for errors. Students are taught to translate from one language to another, and memorize native language equivalents for vocabulary. Grammar is taught deductively.

As a reaction to the Grammar Translation Method , a new teaching system was elaborated. It was called the Direct Method (or Berlitz). It was established in Germany and France around the 1900. It is a method that uses the target language, discarding any use of mother tongue in the classroom. These two methods are the oldest ones for teaching a foreign language, and they almost represent opposite methodologies. The Direct Method focuses on vocabulary over grammar, and one basic rule is that no translation is allowed. The purpose of language is communication, the teacher is there to demonstrate rather than explain or translate. Pronunciation receives attention from the beginning. Reading and writing are important skills, but oral communication is seen as basic, the students practice speaking first. The syllabus is based on situations or topics, not usually on linguistic structures. Objects are used to help the student understand meaning. Grammar is taught inductively. 

The Audio Lingual Method had its origins in World War II, when it became known as the “army method”.  It is based on a structural view of a language and the behaviorist theory of language learning.

The Audio Lingual approach has many similarities with the Direct Method. Both are considered as a reaction to the shortcomings of the GTM. They reject the use of the mother tongue and both stress that speaking and listening competences preceded reading and writing competences. One main difference between them, is that the direct method gives priority to teaching vocabulary, while the audio lingual method focuses more on grammar drills. This method relies on the assumption that learning is a result of habit formation through conditioning, so it can be repetitive, and may be considered boring by students. The drilling exercises are not put in context, the language used is not the one we would use in everyday life. However, it could be an effective method to be used sparingly for beginners to learn vocabulary. Positive reinforcement helps students to develop correct habits.

The Silent Way is another  English teaching method, created in 1972 by a mathematician from Egypt  called Caleb Gattegno. In this method, the teacher's attitude is a key factor. Students must develop their own criteria for correctness. If they simply are given answers rather than being allowed to self-correct, they will not retain the information. The teacher is silent. A teacher's silence frees him to closely observe the student's behavior. Silence is used as a tool to foster autonomy, and the practice of initiative. It also  encourages  group cooperation. There is no praise, or criticism. If the teacher praises, or criticizes, the students will be less self-reliant. The teacher's actions can interfere with student's developing their own criteria. There is no fixed, linear, or structural syllabus. 

This is an interesting method, that can be challenging for teachers, since the teacher's role in the classroom has been traditionally, the one of a leader that does most of the talking. An advantage of this method, is that it promotes creativity and a sense of independence in the students, who can't just be given an answer by the teacher, and thus, is forced to think and come up with his own conclusions, which can be quite motivating. A  few disadvantages are that the teacher does not correct the students, and the language used is separated from its social content, and is taught though artificial situations.

Suggestopedia is a  language learning method designed by the bulgarian psychotherapist Georgi Lozanov. It is used in different fields, but mostly in the field of foreign language leaning. Lozanov has claimed  that suggestopedia is a system for liberation from the preliminary negative concepts regarding the difficulties  in the process of learning that is established throughout History in society. Dessugetopedia focuses more on libaration as Lozanov describes dessuggestive learning as free, without a mildest pressure, liberation of previously suggested programs to restrict intelligence and spontaneous acquisition of knowledge, skills and habits. The method implements this idea by working not only on the conscious level  of the human mind but also on the subconscious level, the mind's reserves. Lozanov asserts that the reason for our inefficiency in language learning is that we set up barriers to learning. We fear that we will fail.

In this method, learning is facilitated in a cheerful environment. Fine arts, music, drama and classic painting enable positive suggestions to reach the subconscious of the student. Native language translation is used to make the meaning of the dialog clear. Communication takes place on two levels: the conscious level, in which the learner attends to the language, and the subconscious level, where the music suggests that learning is easy and pleasant. When there is a unity between conscious and subconscious, learning is enhanced.

   Some experts claim that Suggestopedia lacks in scientific backing and is criticized by psychologists as being based on  pseudoscience.

 Total Physical Response is a method developed by doctor James Asher, a professor emeritus of psychology at San Jose State University, to aid learning second languages. This method relies on the assumption that when learning  a second or third language, language is internalized through a process of codebreaking similar to first language development ,and that the process allows for a long period of listening and developing comprehension prior to production. Students respond to commands that require physical movement. In this method, the teachers gives commands very quickly, and the students follow. The meaning of the target language can be conveyed  through actions, and language learning is more effective when it is fun. The phases of Total Physical Response are: modeling, students demonstrating, recombining commands, reading and writing, student issuing commands, skits and games. 

The goal of the TPR is to have students enjoy their experience in learning to communicate in a foreign language. This method became popular in the 1970's and attracted the attention or allegiance of some teachers, but it has not received generalized support from mainstream educators. TPR can be used to practice and teach various things. It can be used to teach imperatives and various tenses and actions. It is also useful for story-telling. However, it is recognized that TPR is most useful for beginners. It does not give students the opportunity to express their own thoughts in a creative way. Also, the nature of TPR places an unnaturally heavy emphasis on the use of the imperative mood (stand up!, sit down!). These features are of limited utility to the learner, and can lead to the learner appearing rude when attempting to use his new language.

After a revision of these six different teaching methods, I'm going to outline my own approach to teaching a second language. My method is called The Experience Method.

The Experience Method is based on the presumption that people learn in a more effective manner when they can identify their own life's experiences with the subjects that are to be assimilated. If a topic to study is related to our own lives in a meaningful way, the student  can bring his or her experiences to the classroom, and use them in a context that is authentic, based on real facts that make sense in their understanding of the world. In this method, reading and writing skills are emphasized, and the teacher is a guide for them to follow. However, the teacher has to make an effort to transfer the attention and the talking time to the student, not to himself . His presence in the classroom must be notorious so the student will know there is a guidance, but he must not interfere with the students talking time, he can interrupt only if necessary, (like when correcting a mistake)   so he can pay full attention to what students have to say. 

 The materials used in the classroom are chosen with the purpose of  catching the students attention from the beginning, aiming at awakening the students interests, and their most important dreams and projections. Literary texts are used, for the students to read and then analyze and comment with the rest of the class. The texts are picked according to the their age group, so the students can develop curiosity in the story, the different characters and the unfolding of the events that will resume in the climax of the story. With examples given by the teacher, the students are encouraged to create their own short stories, always related to a subject being introduced. For example, if the teacher is introducing a theme, “Going on a trip”, the teacher will chose a short story from a specific author, and read it to the class. The stories have to be previously edited so the text won't be too long,  and the story must be intriguing and engaging.  As a wrap up, the teacher can ask questions related to the text, and then ask the students if they have been involved in a similar situation. This will allow the students to relate the story to their own experiences, and will more than likely, cause him to speak freely about it, for instance, what happened to him when he went on a road trip.

Some other techniques used in this method are the following:

Role play: the teacher brings a story to the class, and students chose a character. They have to create the development of the story, and find an end, improvising and acting. For example, the teacher can bring an article form the news, and the students have to role play it, and resolve the issue with a coherent end. 

Situation flash cards: the teacher brings pictures of different set ups, the students link the pictures and create a specific situation. The new vocabulary is introduced according to the subject, and the student put it in context, using the words in a practical way, for the purpose of telling a good story.

Mimic: if the student does not know a word, they have to mimic the meaning for the others to guess. They are not allowed at no times, to translate the word, or to speak in their native tongue.  

Giving and following instructions: the teacher encourages students to give him commands, that the teacher has to follow. Ex. Get up and come to the table, get your bag, write on the board, sing a song, etc. Then the students give commands to each other.

The Experience method aims at the individual as a whole (his inventive capacities, his past experiences, his emotions, his goals, opinions, frustrations, likes and dislikes) and is devoted to provoke reactions in the student that may trigger a necessity for communicating with others in a more significant way, expressing his deeper concerns , but keeping in mind his creative abilities though the use of artistic expressions, like creative writing, acting, drawing, painting, or playing games. The emotional reassurance, from the teacher to the student is very important, since learning a new language is a challenge that becomes much easier to do if there is an emotional support and genuine interest from the teacher towards his or her students.

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