My teaching approach
Why is this essay necessary?
(Aside from the assumption that I
have nothing better to do with my weekend) the exploration of this question is
as good a place as any to start……
For as long as students have been
learning English, theories and methodologies about the “right way” to teach
English as a Second Language have existed. Perhaps life would be simpler if all
of humanity would stay put in the land in which they were born and be content
with their respective mother tounges but realities cannot be ignored. Due to
industrialization, the latest technologies and global interdependence the
world, as large as it is, has become smaller. A hundred years ago nobody could
have imagined that in the future their descendants would be able to set out on
a journey to a foreign country and arrive at their destination within hours, or
to communicate in verbal or written form with somebody on the other side of the
world at the push of a button.
The need for a “universal” language
Human beings have a natural ability
and need to communicate with each other. My cat peed on the beanbag in the
spare room on Saturday! A bit of a tangent I know but nonetheless an important
point. Tempting as it was to ring her neck I restrained my first impulse and
asked myself, “What is she trying to COMMUNICATE?” Half an hour’s worth of
online research later and we were on the same wavelength. Now I understand that
she is having some issues with feelings of insecurity, territorial boundaries
and having to share her litter box with her adoptive brother, I am confident
that there will be no further incidents.
Blue may well not have felt the need
for such drastic action but for want of a common language. As the second most
commonly spoken language in the world after Chinese, English has been the most
commonly learnt second language for decades. Communication is not all verbal.
Indeed, when Charlie Chaplin famously met Pablo Picasso it was by all accounts
a successful encounter even though they did not have a spoken language in
common. Still, we do not all possess their charisma or talent and had they met
regularly rather than as a one-off, there is no doubt that they would have
begun to experience the frustrations which go along with the limitations of
such a form of communication. In the same way that grams and kilograms and
metres and centimetres are universally understood, English has become the
“universal” language. In today’s world, effective teaching and learning is
therefore more important than ever.
Language Teaching Methodologies
The Grammer-Translation Method focuses on reading and writing and is based on studying and translating
texts. The teacher is the fountain of all knowledge, accuracy is of the upmost
importance, and activity types are gap-fill style drill exercises, reading
comprehensions and written tests. These may be useful skills to have if you
aspire to re-write the long-lost, ancient scrolls of the Alexandria library or
if you wish to contest the fact that there is a hobby on earth more anal than
train-spotting. Is there any point in learning a language if you are unable to
Almost as bad, (but not quite), is
the Audio-Lingual Method. Heavily reliant on grammar, drills
and repetition how can such monotonous and contrived content prepare students
to converse in English outside the classroom? I’ve yet to meet a native speaker
who would go to a shoe shop and chant at the sales assistant in such a banal
The Direct, (or Berlitz) Method, by contrast places emphasis on
the students learning vocabulary for the purpose of communicating orally;
grammar is taught inductively, if at all. The syllabus is based on topics and students
are given opportunities to use the target language in real contexts. Translation
from first language to target language is not allowed! Alternatively, the
teacher facilitates the learning of vocabulary using pictures and realia,
paying close attention to pronunciation. Reading and writing skills are
developed based on what the students have practiced orally. Fundamentally, this
is a much more desirable approach as the main objective is to teach students to
speak English. However, I have some doubts as to the authenticity of the real
contexts and to the haphazard acquisition of grammar. The examples which I have
seen seem rather limited, leaving little scope for imagination. How are
students to develop the lateral thinking skills which are so fundamental to
communicating successfully in a second language if they do not have the
opportunity to use their new vocabulary with more freedom? How is the teacher
to be confident that their students are acquiring correct grammatical
structures? Fewer drills and lower teaching talking time would give a much
clearer picture. The poor teacher is probably popping caffeine pills anyhow if
he’s that hyper in every class he teaches! May well appreciate the rest…..
The Silent Way is based on the
teacher being passive, a facilitator and an observer. Theoretically, this
approach fosters autonomy, group cooperation and an “inner criteria” for
correctness in the students. Any interference from the teacher, such as
correction or praise, potentially interferes with students developing their own
criteria but I would beg to differ. A good teacher knows when to step in, knows
a slip from an error, does give students the space and opportunity to
self-correct and understands how to use praise positively. How can students
assimilate the correct pronunciation, intonation, stress patterns and rhythm of
English if they do not receive the good example from their teacher? How does
this method work with complete beginners? I am unable to imagine. Indeed, how
do students develop an “inner criteria for correctness” with no reference
Despite the fact that it sounds like
something that university students get up to at the weekend, Suggest-o-pedia may not be as
far-fetched as it may initially seem. Studies have shown that a positive,
relaxed environment significantly reduces stress levels in any potentially
stressful situation. Consider sitting in a dentist’s waiting room which looks
more like someone’s living room. Though on a conscious level you may be anxious
about what’s coming, subconsciously the home-like environment will have a
calming effect. A suggest-o-pedia learning environment works on the same
principal, and though this approach may facilitate the reversal of negative
effective factors in second language acquisition it could never completely
eradicate them. Furthermore, I strongly disagree with the use of native
language translation for clarity because though this practice may accelerate
and ease second language acquisition initially, in the long-term I believe that
interface causes more difficulties for students.
Total Physical Response is effective
because it is interactive, fun and employs more than one learning style simultaneously.
It is commonly associated with young children, though I would argue that it is
potentially suitable for learners of all ages depending on the objectives of
any particular lesson. It is vitally important, however, to check that all
students are actually using the target language. Remember: I hear, I
forget, I see, I remember, I do, I understand!
The reading and writing phase can be omitted if preferred.
Content Based Instruction is
typically found in international schools. Outwardly, it’s incredible to think
that not only are these children reading and writing, speaking and listening to
English at a native or near-native level at five and six years old but also
using their second language as a vehicle to learn other subjects, (and for some
children English is a third or fourth language)! However, if we consider that
the under-sevens are at the most language sensitive time in their lives and
that the majority of these children have been listening to spoken English since
they were three……they would have acquired spoken English with the same ease as
their first language.
However, when you then receive a new
pupil who speaks very little or no English it is always a challenge to give
that student the support which they need without it being detrimental to the
progress of the rest of the group.
The Communicative Approach is based upon the integration of the four
skills for language proficiency: productive (speaking and writing) and
receptive (listening and reading). It is characterized by the use of authentic
materials, real scenarios, target language and discrete grammar teaching from a
functional perspective. Errors are a natural part of the communicative approach
but at what point do we correct them? The issue of authentic materials for use
with beginners must be carefully considered too.
My Way or the Claire Ricaud Approach
Receptive Skills V’s Productive Skills
I believe that the purpose of
language is communication. I also believe that second language learning is more
effective and enjoyable when the language is acquired rather than learnt
because the acquisition of language is nature’s way. Consider a new baby. (S)he
spent several months in the womb listening to his/her mother’s voice and not
only the words of the language, but the rhythm and intonation. People talk
directly to babies from the moment they are born, until at around six weeks old
the baby begins to “talk” back. Several months later the baby speaks his/her
first “recognizable” words. The process of listening and speaking continues for
a number of years more and though many children are introduced to books as
babies nobody expects a child to begin reading until they reach the age of
around four and writing is taught even later. When the time comes to learn to
read and write most children acquire these new skills with enjoyment and
relative ease, a natural readiness seems to occur.
I would therefore advocate a
speaking and listening approach, especially in the early stages of second
language learning, reading and writing can be learnt later, with much more
ease, once the student has mastered at least the basics of English orally.
In planning a syllabus my
over-riding considerations would have to be;
What do my students want or need to communicate? How can I give my students the means to
Common sense tells me that my
students are going to need words, (or vocabulary), and that those words will be
more meaningful if related words, (or word families), are taught together. They
will also need to put those words together into coherent units of meaning in
order to communicate effectively, (functions). Logically, the most basic
functions and vocabulary would be taught earlier, with functions involving more
complex grammatical structures and more obscure vocabulary being reserved for
A place for grammar?
There is no escaping the issue and
it cannot be ignored……….grammar does matter! Consider the following statements;
Rob, do you have a class?
Rob, do you have class?
What a difference just one little
word can make!
I believe that I would be doing my
students a dis-service if I did not include discrete grammar teaching in the
syllabus but as the subheading suggests – in its place – and always from the
function, to the form and finally the STUDENTS will “discover” the rule
The Classroom Environment
I envisage that my classroom would
be welcoming and I do believe that there is a place for nice pictures/paintings
and at times music in a positive learning environment. I see a round table in
the middle of the room where the teacher and the students all sit together so
everyone has eye-contact and everyone is equal.
Each class would have a minimum of
two students and a maximum of eight. Individual learners can miss out on
important interaction and in groups that are too big students can be overlooked
or overshadowed and it is important in a language learning classroom that everyone
gets a chance to speak. Ideally I would like a mix of ages and genders in each
class, though it is more important that the learners have roughly the same
level of English. I would keep adult learners separate from teen and young
learners but again I would aim, if possible, to have mixed-aged teen and
children’s classes as this promotes greater cooperation between the students. Not
only do different types of activities appeal to children and again to teens,
also children and teens tend to acquire a second language with more ease and at
a quicker pace due to the physiological differences in their brains compared to
adults so it makes sense to teach them separately.
I would only have one real rule in
my classroom – English only. It may be more difficult for the students initially, but I strongly believe that there
are more issues with inter-language and interface later on in the learning
process if students are not made to “sever” the two languages as much as
possible from the beginning.
I would aim to keep my materials and
make the activities as authentic as possible so the students get a real
exposure to the English language. In the early stages of language learning I
believe that graded materials are more helpful for the students, but if I
needed to adapt an authentic material I would try to retain as much of the
authenticity as possible. Activities
would be based on speaking and listening with an emphasis on effective
communication. If I was their only teacher I would use CD’s and DVD’s of other
people speaking English as it is important that the students both experience
and can understand different voices. For beginners, and lower-level learners
where more drill is inevitably required at times, I would aim for a 50/50
teacher-talk/student-talk ratio. The more advanced my students became, the less
talking I would aim to do. With lower-level learners I would error-correct
selectively, so as not to discourage them in the early stages of learning when
motivation is so important, but I would be far less permissive of errors as
students became more proficient. At all levels I would praise, praise and
encourage. Whatever you are learning, it needs to be a positive experience and
students need to know when they are doing well.
I would ensure that activities accommodated
a range of learning styles, (i.e. audial, visual, kinesthetic). If my language
school was outside the UK I would endeavor to organize to take my students on visits
to English-speaking countries for the ultimate authentic experience. If my
language school was in the UK or another English speaking country then I would
take my foreign students on carefully selected fieldtrips in order for them to
practice their newly acquired language skills in a real setting, e.g. if we had
just learnt about food and drink I would take them to a café or restaurant.
Motivation Age of student
Preferred learning style
Effective factors are, I believe,
the single most important pre-determiner as to the level of success that any
student will have in learning a second language. I have set them out as above
to remind myself that as a teacher there are some effective factors which I
cannot change, some I could definitely aid and others which I may possibly be
able to influence. Teaching is rewarding but an awesome responsibility. To all
of my students, past and present, I would like to end with this;
S I will support you.
U I will understand you.
C I will challenge you.
C I will correct you.
E Engage, Study, Activate!
S You will surprise yourself!
S You will succeed!