Bea Laszlo





My teaching approach

How to approach language teaching

 

 

Introduction

 

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 there?

 

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 The classical Grammar-Translation method counts as completely outdated nowadays; the focus is no longer on analysis of the stucture, grammar rules and translating foreign literature, but rather using language as means of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 the globe.

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 method.

 

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 language.

 

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 cognitive pattern.

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.

 

How should students approach language learning?

 

There are 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 routine.

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.

 

Conclusion

 

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 authoritive one.

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 method.

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.

 

References

 

Cook, Vivian J.(2002) Portraits of a L2 user. Multilingual Matters

De Jong, Nivja H. (2011) Linguistic skills and speaking fluency in a second language. Utrecht Institute of Linguistics

Eaton, S.E. (2010) Global Trends in Language Learning in the Twenty-first Century. Onate Press.

Prabhu, N.S. (1990) There is no best method – Why? Tesol International Association

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_language_acquisition

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multilingualism

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multi-competence

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_language

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_period_hypothesis

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Task-based_language_learning

 

 

 



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