My teaching approach
Over the years, many language teaching methods have been developed and trialled in the aim of teaching English as a second language. Many aspects of the language-learning environment affect the successfulness of the outcome for the learner. In this essay I will focus on the elements of the teaching method, and the way it is approached, to explain how I believe these contribute to learning English. Drawing on already established methodologies, I will describe the way in which I would personally approach teaching English and the reasons for my chosen approach.
Firstly, I would suggest that no English teaching method will ever be perfect, and this is why as a teacher, it is important to think about our personal approach to teaching. Teaching methods are important guides, but ultimately, we should be able to draw on personal traits and skills, as well as placing importance on being well-prepared, to be able to create the optimum learning environment for our students. As a teacher, I may favour one methodology over another, but it is important that my approach remains flexible, and that I focus on the needs of the students.
For this reason, the first element of my methodology would be a needs assessment. Before the teaching process begins, I would want to find out a number of things about my student(s), including: current level of English, previous learning experience, motivation, use of language (work, social, communication, writing, up skilling, etc). I don’t believe the teaching experience can be successful unless you have a good idea of what the student wants you to help them achieve. Paying close attention to the students and their needs is also likely to facilitate the identification of affective factors, making it easier for the teacher to anticipate difficulties or use specific areas of motivation or personality to increase learning potentials.
In my approach, the teacher-student interaction would be highly important, with the teacher and student(s) playing similar roles as in the Direct Method, where the learning process is a partnership, guided but not dominated by the teacher. I would place high importance on all input and output being in English during the class, so as to avoid students’ tendencies to translate and hopefully minimise interference from their native language. I would also favour aspects of teaching methods where corrections are guided by the teacher, but ultimately would strive for self-correction on behalf of the students. In methods such as Grammar Translation (GTM), or the Callan Method, students are not given the opportunity to think and correct themselves; they are either given the correct answers or made to repeat the correct sentence given to them by the teacher. I don’t believe that such methods adequately promote learners’ opportunities to assimilate the language and think about how to use it themselves in ways that are relevant to them.
Finally, I would place high importance on appropriate feedback and praise on behalf of the teacher. I believe that it is just as important to know when to talk and when to be quiet. My approach to teaching would include encouraging students to interact in English among themselves; if this is occurring successfully in the class, I believe it is a good idea to let the conversation flow, and make any necessary comments or corrections afterwards. I believe that appropriate praise is extremely important to increase confidence and motivation, and should be used as much as possible, when appropriate.
The diverse methodologies have different takes on the emphasis that should be applied on areas of receptive and productive skills. For example, the GTM places a lot of importance on reading and writing as a learning process. This differs in other systems such as the Communicative approaches that place importance on all four, but emphasise the need to develop listening and speaking skills before working on reading and writing. I would acknowledge that these four areas are equally important to be proficient in a language, but agree with methods that put an initial emphasis on listening and speaking. As language is primarily concerned with the ability to communicate and interact (regardless of the purpose-social or professional), it makes sense to focus on the ability to understand and engage in spoken communication before being able to write. I also believe that gaining comfort in speaking in a foreign language increases confidence and thus acts as a reinforcer for the rest of the learning process, making the development of reading and writing skills in the same language easier to follow with.
Further, as exposure to input can more easily be achieved outside the class (in the form of listening to the radio, watching movies, reading in English), I would place importance on output in the class, making sure that the student gets the maximum amount of time to practice speaking, as this may be less achievable outside of the classroom (for example, it may be difficult to find an English speaker to converse with). As this may be the students’ only chance to practice speaking English, I would want to maximise their opportunity to do so, by minimizing the teacher talking time and maximizing the opportunity for interesting conversation. At lower levels, I would consider small reading exercises to monitor pronunciation and ensure that no incorrect pronunciations were being learnt if reading is being attempted outside of the class. My approach to productive skills in the form of writing would depend on the needs of the student. I agree with the Oxbridge method that says that such exercises can slow classes down and make them more boring, thus decreasing the student’s focus and learning, however, if the need of a particular student is to develop a high level of written English (for example, to study abroad), such exercises may be necessary for the student to achieve their goals.
Regardless of the type of skill being acquired (receptive or productive), my approach to the actual teaching process would resemble approaches from Communicative, Direct, and Audio-lingual Methods, where the emphasis is on acquiring the language through practical examples rather than deductively learning grammar rules and vocabulary lists. From personal experience, I believe that the latter methods of teaching are boring and thus discouraging for second language learners. Learning grammar and new target language through interesting discussions about current affairs, or by stating personal opinions, or role-playing with fellow students is a more practical and enjoyable way of learning, and thus likely to be more successful. Especially at higher levels, I would use as many authentic materials as possible and create authentic activities. My approach with lower level learners would be similar, however adapting the authentic materials and activities to the appropriate level.
Methods such as the Silent Way or Content based approaches overlook the need for a structured syllabus to guide English teaching. Although I don’t agree with the complete absence of a syllabus, I believe that a strict syllabus might not be necessary either. I would favour a syllabus based on structure or grammar rather than vocabulary or function. Based on what has been previously discussed in this essay, structure should always be learned within a meaningful function and with appropriate (according to level and student need) vocabulary. Whereas function and vocabulary will likely evolve naturally to include increasingly difficult language, structure should follow a planned progression to ensure that the student is learning structures that can be used at the current level and that can be built on every lesson. It is necessary to learn some structures before others for their use to make sense, or be applied more easily.
English teaching methods and approaches to teaching differ in many ways, including: emphasis on productive and receptive skill practice, input and output levels, syllabus structure, deductive or inductive learning styles. Arguments could be made for and against all the methods of teaching present in second language learning today, and there is no perfect method for teaching English. Most importantly, teachers must be aware of the varying teaching approaches and allow themselves to adapt these methods to best suit the needs and difficulties of their students. In a world that relies heavily on our ability to communicate, teachers should prioritise a student’s development of communicative English, and work towards building the students’ confidence and ability to use the spoken language in a practical way as early as possible.