My teaching approach
How to approach
Learning a foreign language is most of the time
an important challenge. Students who take this challenge would like to know the
answer to the question: How long does it take to learn a language? At this point
they tend to refer to fluency, related to the aspects of productive and
receptive skills characterized by smoothness of performance.
Students should always bear in mind that
language learning (or acquisition) is a complex process that involves communication,
grammar, structure, comprehension and language production along with reading,
writing, speaking and listening.
Consequently, there is no exact answer to this
question. The length of the process depends on numerous factors, such as the
students’ attitude towards the language, their devotion, commitment and
perseverance, the exposure to the language and immersion in the foreign
culture, the teaching methodology, just to name a few.
What is a teaching method?
A teaching method contains the principles and
formulas used for instruction: it means basically the way a teacher acts,
explains, demonstrates and involves students. In the case of language teaching
the term refers more specifically to the manners of teaching grammar and
vocabulary, focusing on one or more of the productive and receptive skills, as
well as the teacher’s role, the planning of the syllabus, the learning
objectives and techniques for achieving those objectives.
What kind of different teaching methods are
The field of language education is changing at
an ever-increasing rate. Traditional notions of teaching are giving way to
newer, more innovative ways of thinking about how we learn, teach and acquire
knowledge. The methods used today are completely different from those valid in
the mid- to late twentieth century. The classical Grammar-Translation method
counts as completely outdated nowadays; the focus is no longer on analysis of
the stucture, grammar rules and translating foreign literature, but rather
using language as means of communication in order to connect to others around
Presently, various different mehtods coexist
and are being used at the same time, such as the Berlitz Method, the Silent
Way, the TPR (Total Physical Response), Suggestopedia, Task-based and
Content-based language learning, the Callan Method, etc. Each method has got
some unique features, however, along with the Communicative Approach, they all
aim the improvement of communicative competence.
Most schools these days use one of the above
mentioned methods, a combination of a few of them, or sometimes in more
traditional schools, one of them is combined with the Grammar-Translation
How do people learn languages?
There has been much debate about exactly how
language is learned and various theories of second-language acquisition (SLA)
have been discussed in the last centuries. Many issues concerning language
acquisition are still unresolved and none of the theories is accepted as a
complete explanation by all researchers.
As infants we spend the first year or two
absorbing our first language through hearing. Only after these years we
practice sounds, develop vocabulary and begin forming complete sentences. The
way we learn a foreign language much depends on the age we start to be exposed
to it. According to Eric Lenneberg’s „Critical period hypothesis”, language
acquisition is biologically linked to age: the first few years of life are
crucial, as an individual can acquire a first language if presented with
adequate stimuli. If language input doesn't occur until after this time, the
individual will never achieve a full command of language. In the same way, if a
child is exposed to a second language from an early age, reaching fluency or
even proficiency will be a rather effortless mechanism. This theory is much
debated amongst linguists, however, it is a fact that adults learning a second
language rarely achieve the native-like fluency that younger learners display,
even though initially they often progress faster than children. Bilingual or
multilingual people who master the language completely are in most cases those,
who started learning a foreign language at a considerably young age.
For those who don’t have the privilege of
acquiring more than one language from a young age, foreign language learning
will naturally remain a challange. Learning English as an adult follows a
different process due to the fact that the adult brain is more developed and
complex. Therefore, the learning process is more conscious and analytical. Due
to the developed first language patterns, interlanguage is a common feature of
the process in the case of adult learners. They are extremely likely to make
use of the well-known models and standards of their first language. This
behaviour is inevitable, at least in the first stages of learning a new
How to approach language teaching as a teacher?
As mentioned in the previous pharagraphs, there
is an important difference in the degree of flexibility between adult and young
learners. Additionally, affective factors such as anxiety, the urge and
desperateness to learn a language are mainly present in adults’ cases. It does
not mean though, that adult learners can’t succeed in reaching fluency or even
native-like levels. Language learning simply follows a different mental and
To my mind, the approach of teaching adults and
children therefore should be clearly distinguished. Even though the internal
process is very similar and a predictable order can be established in the
language learning process of children and adults likewise, distinctions in
basic teaching methods should be set.
should students approach language learning?
numerous ways to make learning languages fun or more enjoyable, and a teacher
should undoubtedly make use of them. However, learning in an amusing way does
not mean that there is no need for continous and dedicated practise. Those
students who achieve real fluency do so because they put in committed,
consistent effort for a longer period of time. A teacher should always make it
clear to students that the success of the process depends mainly on their
willingness to invest time in their language studies and the effort they devote
to them. In my opinion, apart from the mentioned dedication and effort, immersion
is an other key factor in case a student strives for fluency or proficiency of
a language. Spending time in the country of the target language and intensively
practising it can be of enormous help for building up a strong base as well as
for continous improvement.
Which is the best method?
According to N. S. Prabhu, one of the
developers of the task-based language teaching „different methods are best for
different teaching contexts; all methods are partially true or valid; and the
notion of good and bad methods is itself misguided.” He argues that what is
best depends on whom the method is for, in what circumstances and for which
purposes. Moreover, there are various organizational factors, social situations
and teacher and learner related factors. Thus, the answer is rather complex.
For example, the TPR method is an undoubtedly good choice if a teacher wants to
convey new target language to children, as they learn it in an amusing and
relatively effortless way. However, TPR may not work with adults in the same
way, as they are much more likely to feel embarassed or stressed in a similar
situation. On the other hand, developing writing skills might be of great
importance to some adult students who need to use and practise correspondence,
presentations, notes or summaries in a foreign language in their daily work
To sum up, before deciding on which is the best
method in each situation, it is always necessary to analyze in depth the
students’ needs, age, competences and motivation.
To my way of thinking, teachers these days find
themselves in a highly advantegous situation, as there is an immense volume of
methods, studies, researches and teaching material available. It is possible to
find a suitable method for any kind of student, for any need, for any age, and
a teacher can make use of all existing information, combine methods, select
their equipment or even invent a unique teaching manner.
To be able to speak a foreign language, students
need to have knowledge of linguistic forms, meanings and most importantly,
functions. Among numerous forms, they have to know how to choose the most
appropriate one, depending on the social context in which the language is used.
It is therefore extremely important to improve students’ communicative competence
along with the grammatical and linguistic competences.
I personally would use a syllabus based on
topics and common situations, graded by vocabulary and grammar, starting with
the basics and building up a solid base step by step. This way students learn
how to express themselves in authentic conversations and to communicate in a
broad variety of situations.
According to my opinion, the interaction
between teacher and student would ideally be one, where the teacher assists
students and collaborates with them in order to reach the goal; to learn. If
students create a bond with their teacher, it unqestionably has a positive effect
on them and their motivation. The teacher’s role therefore should bever be an
In this sense, I would rely on the Berlitz
method, where the teacher is a partner to the students in their learning
process. Additionally, trying to get students to self correct themselves is an
essential way of raising their awareness of the importance of making mistakes
and learning from them. I consider this another positive factor of the Berlitz
Furthermore, I would certainly make use of some
elements of the Silent Way, the Audio-Lingual Method, the Task-based
Instruction, Suggestopedia and the TPR method, depending on the age, level,
learning style and preferences of the students. I would use drills at lower
levels and authentic audio material for listening tasks at higher levels
(starting from pre-intermediate), and I would give homework to students so that
they practise the knowledge obtained in the classroom.
Finally, I am convinced of the fact that
continously praising students for their merits, even for the less significant
ones has an extremely positive effect on their performance.
Vivian J.(2002) Portraits of a L2 user. Multilingual Matters
Nivja H. (2011) Linguistic skills and speaking fluency in a second language.
Utrecht Institute of Linguistics
(2010) Global Trends in Language Learning in the Twenty-first Century. Onate Press.
N.S. (1990) There is no best method – Why? Tesol International Association