Paola Lai

My teaching approach


TEFL, a question of method?


Oxbridge TEFL Teaching Skills Essay












Paola Lai







As Francois Gouin wrote in his book “The Art of Learning and Studying Foreign Languages” (1880), “language learning is a matter of transforming perceptions into conceptions and then using language to represent these conceptions”.

Therefore, the learning of a foreign language is about the development of those skills that students need to express their own ideas in that language. Consequently, the aim of the teaching is to enable students to communicate using that second language that is not their native.

Following this idea, the teaching of a second language in modern times has been (and it’s still being) intensively questioned, analysed and modified, in order to fulfill the purpose of communication.

In this essay we will look specifically at the teaching and learning of English as a foreign language (TEFL).


Approach, methods and techniques  

In order to understand better how TEFL evolved to answer the need of improving communication, we should consider the difference between those that Edward Anthony (1963) distinguished as three hierarchical elements: approach, method and techniques.

Obviously, this concepts don’t have to be taken as an unquestionable truth, but I found them to be a valid guide to help in the understanding of some basic concept for teaching and learning English.

The diagram below explains how these concepts work together and relate to each other.







“The How Dimensions of Teaching (Garcia, 1989)


The Approach embraces Method and Technique with its philosophy. It provides them direction, the general ideas and principles on which they are based.

Method and technique are the organizing and functional parts of the approach.

As Renandya and Richards (2002) say, many researchers think of a method as “a set of theoretically unified classroom techniques, that can be generalized across a wide variety of context and audiences”.

A successful method takes in consideration the abilities, needs, motivation and problems of the student. To really be effective, it needs to provide and facilitate students’ learning and development and to achieve the objectives of the teacher.

The same approach can be taught through many different methods, but we will see this in the next section.

Technique has more to do with the personal style of the teacher; which aids he/she considers to be more appropriate to reach the aim of the class.

For example, when teaching to Latin-rooted languages speakers (Spanish and Italian people, for instance) the teacher can opt to use cognate words in order to ease students’ understanding. This won’t be possible with Chinese ESL/EFL students, hence the use of cognates can be substituted by the use of pictures.



Traditional Approach Vs. Communicative Approach

Among all the different English Teaching approaches, I consider opportune to highlight the two main ones: the Grammar Approach and the Communicative Approach, as they represent the change of the meaning of “Teaching and Learning” an L2 in modern times.

We may call the first the “traditional, old way”,  that uses the Grammar Translation Method (GTR) or Classical Method. It considers that students should first learn grammar rules, reading and writing. Classes are taught in the students’ native language, and translation of classical texts is often used as a way to learn English. Communication skills are, therefore, left apart, and most of the times, students who study in this way are not able to speak the second language. As it is stated in Oxbridge’s “Teaching Skill Module”, “students are language analyzers rather than language users”.

The Communicative Approach arose as a reaction,  when researchers proved the Grammar Approach to be a failure (even though, it can still be found in use in some schools).

“To know when and how to say what to whom” is the aim of communication, and the development of both the productive (speaking, writing) and receptive (listening, reading) skills is encouraged. Even so, oral communication should predominate over reading and writing, since it’s thought that L2 should be learnt in a more natural way, like children learn their native language.

This new belief opened the frontiers of second language teaching and learning to many different methods that developed in the last century. Starting from Gouin’s “Series Method” (1880) to the Direct (Berlitz) Method and the Audiolingual Method of early XX century, we can go on citing many more that came after, like: the Callan, the Cognitive Code, the Silent Way, the Suggest-o-pedia, the Total Physical Response and so on.

Many people strongly started to believe that communicative methods were the answers to the inadequacy of grammar-based methods, but in this I have to agree again with Renandya and Richards (2002), when they say methods also came to an end as the milestones of TEFL teaching.

According to them, this is because  “methods are too prescriptive” and tend to generalize the contexts in which they are applied. Again, they fall in a schematic, ruled system, even though being much more communicative than Grammar Approaches’ Methods.

But there are also other reasons for their failure:

  • in early stages, students experiment a real and quick improvement of the TL, but as they get along with their learning, classes can become boring and repetitive, hence losing the attention and participation of the student;
  • many times methods are/were proposed by powerful Language Centers and Academies as an almost political agenda that Renandya and Richards (2002) refer to as “linguistic imperialism”.


So, what are the bases of modern TEFL and what do they want to lead to?


David Nunan, in his “Language teaching methodology: A textbook for teachers” (1991) affirms that in recent years, “the focus has been on the development of classroom tasks and activities which are consonant with what we know about second language acquisition and with the dynamics of the classroom itself”.

Meaning, as “second language acquisition”, the unconscious and spontaneous absorption of L2 as opposed to the conscious and forced learning through study, as Krashen defined it.

Modern communicative approaches, therefore, want to lead to a more natural, dynamic and schemes- free way of EFL teaching-learning. That means teachers can and must adapt their classes to their students to make it as profitable as possible for both parties.

For this reason it’s compulsory to take to attention what’s explained in the next section.



Learners’ needs, motivation and problems.

As previously said, the Grammar Approach doesn’t result effective to give students the ability to use L2 with accuracy and fluency. The greatest problem is that learners aren’t given the opportunity to use L2 in context and for communicative purposes, as it should be.

Generally, when we want to know if a person has the knowledge of English we ask: “do you speak English?” and not “do you write English?” or “do you write English?”

The main and most common need of English learners, then, is that one of communicating orally using this language, made exceptions for those who want to pass a specific written exam or who need it for other special intentions.

Whether their necessity to learn is due to work, business, travel or any other personal issues, we, as teachers, have to foresee students’ motivation and needs. Only in this way will we be able to adapt the classes to be successful and provide students with the right tools to communicate.

Different strategies are used to teach to children, teens or adults; beginners or advanced. Teachers need to make the right choice of activities and topics and grade the language according to the age and level of their students. 

Motivation also plays an important affecting factor in the learning of L2. A person who is forced to, demands a bigger effort from the teacher to grab his/her attention. 

L2 learners might have many different obstacles to face to pick up the language. Some of the common ones are: interferences from their mother tongue’s structures, interlanguage, lack of self-confidence or motivation, anxiety for learning, poor exposure to L2, among others.

All these factors affect students’ learning strategies and need to be taken into account when preparing a lesson. But to be fully understood, they would require a deeper, detailed insight.

Here, I want to concentrate in the analysis of how teachers can make a class more dynamic and communicative.

In order to achieve communication, students must be given space to practice L2. Now, then, comes the time to see what teachers should do and should be, to confer the right rythm and engagement to the class. 



The Teacher’s Role

Past are the times in which teachers were the undisputed authority and main talkers in class. Modern teacher’s role embrace many different facets: they’re guides, assessors, psychologists, advisors. They’re a resource for students, clear doubts, provide a context in which to use the language and organize the lessons in order to make them effective.

But I personally reckon that the most important task for a teacher is to understand that students are the protagonists, the main characters of the play. Only seeing them as such can lead the teacher to give them more talking time and have communicative classes.

Garcia (1989) sees teaching as “involving more of the learner than of the teacher”, shifting the teacher-monopolized old style to student-directed communication targets.

Oxbridge as well suggests teachers are playmakers and students are those who have to “score the goals”. So the teacher directs students in how to participate in the game and then steps back; his/her talking time is reduced and targeted to stimulate class conversation.

Teachers’ effort is focused in creating interaction with and between students, so that the class flows and everybody participates.

Preparation, of course, is the key to anticipate and overcome possible problems, and keep the pace of the class running smoothly.


Of course this is a short essay to analyze modern TEFL methodologies, but my personal aim was to bring up to attention that there’s no perfect teaching-learning method.

It’s rather a matter of recognizing what teachers’-students’ roles in class are nowadays, and fulfill those communication purposes that the learning of L2 implies.

Students’ needs are constantly evolving, according to the time we live in. Teaching skills have to adapt and be shaped around these. 

There are so many different affecting factors in the process of teaching-learning (some of them I’ve mentioned previously) that a teacher has to take into account, but, I get to the conclusion, the most important thing is to understand which, when and how teaching materials and resources have to be adapted to different contexts and situations. The communication goal should always be the final destination, no matter what or how many different paths we have to walk through.


There are only few, general truths about learning a second language, one of these being the starting and ending point of this essay: Gouin’s “language learning is a matter of transforming perceptions into conceptions and then using language to represent these conceptions”.

Most of the rest are personal opinions.





  • Anthony, E. M. (1963) “Approach, method and technique”. ELT Journal (1963) XVII(2): 63-67
  • Buenconsejo Garcia, M. (1989) “Focus on teaching”. Quezon City, Rex Printing Company Inc.
  • Nunan, D. (1991). “Language teaching methodology: A textbook for teachers”. New York: Prentice-Hall.
  • Renandya, W. A. and Richards, J. C. (2002) “Methodology in language teaching. An anthology of current practice”. New York, Oxford University Press.



  • Teaching skills module from Oxbridge.



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