Sayana Sanzhieva

My teaching approach

For the hundreds of years the process of teaching English as foreign language had greatly evolved. There have been studies, experiments, different methods that aim to improve particular skills, such as speaking, writing or listening. However, as it was told, it is a question of “do you speak English”, and not “do you write English”. (I find it very useful for students who think talking is not serious). It means that first of all, we need to develop speaking skills of our students. It is a platform that will hold the language construction later on.  And that’s where some of the “old” approaches wouldn’t work at all, such as grammar-translation method. This is something a student can do by himself, when, for example, he wants to master grammar or learn to translate really fast.

In my opinion communicative approach is the most efficient in order to get students to actually speak, and be able to use the language. Oxbridge system shows that the task as hard as to teach a foreign language can be easier than we expect. When I was observing the classes I noticed that most of the students genuinely enjoyed the lesson.  They expected to spend a good time and learn English at the same time. I also find very it useful that activities are built smoothly, so students feel less tension or none at all while learning new structure or vocabulary. 

I believe that a teacher is a bridge between a student and a language.  At some point we need to help students believe they will succeed, encourage them no matter what progress they show. Explain that it’s okay to make mistakes, so they feel disappointed being corrected a lot. A positive attitude should always be present, though you had a bad day in the class you change and it feels good when you get the same attitude back. Sometimes, it is the teacher who slows the student, because the approach is wrong or a teacher is not quite qualified. Our aim is to “break the walls”, so when our students finish the course they may continue mastering English by themselves.   

I believe that syllabus planning always depends on the reason the student wants to study English. Some want to be able to pass an English graduating examination, and some want to be able to speak, when they go abroad, others wish to pass a job interview. The amount of time given is important as well. If a student has an interview a week later, we meet every day and make an emphasis on speaking skills.  On the other hand, if there is a whole year till the final examination, we have time to focus on grammar, and writing, and speaking. However, no matter how much time we have, there should be a goal, objective put for each lesson. Only in that way there we’ll be able to see the progress. In this case I really like Oxbridge materials - it has clear instructions and wrap-up section. A lesson should be carefully planned, which means preparation is vital. If you are unprepared and lost in your own materials, how should your student feel? The rule of lowering TTT might sound illogical at the beginning, but at the same time, the student needs guidance, not a lecture.

When I teach my students I try to use my own materials, and I agree that preparation takes a lot of time, but then, there is more student-teacher relationship, than student-textbook. You put a part of yourself into it, and you can create an activity that is connected with the purpose of learning.  At the same time, I always give homework to my students; I think the practice is essential apart from lessons with the teacher. It is usually some Raymond Murphy’s grammar drilling, which helps to memorize the use of some particular structure, like conditionals I don’t usually use a whiteboard, only if there’s a word they would like to know and I want them to know how it spells. Sometimes, for homework, I ask my students to read or watch a piece of news in English, and retell what happened. It might be hard for beginners, but it brings them closer to the authentic language, and they can notice the progress later when they would be able to understand the most part of it.

My lesson usually consists of different parts that are related to each other and more or less help to practice grammar, vocabulary and speaking.  I agree that writing should be the last skill needed to be practiced. It takes a lot of time and depends on how well a person can produce a piece of writing; some people struggle to do it even in their native language. For beginners ability to absorb the information is more important than producing the language, so the materials need to be very easy and interesting. For the higher levels it is a student who mostly talks, creating new sentences and telling about some experience from his/her life.

At some point students meet a problem when they don’t understand why it is pronounced that way, or why a structure works that way and not the other. This happens mostly with adults, who find it difficult to combine two or more languages in their mind. First, they try to make a sentence in their native language and translate it. It takes a lot of time and effort, and lessens the motivation. Second, the phonetics are usually very different, and it is hard to learn some new sounds, so some students want to just focus on structure and speaking, but not pronunciation. Third, there are students who have a lot of work, and their mind is filled with a lot of information, which makes it difficult to learn vocabulary and memorize how to use certain structures. Learning a new language is different from learning something else, e.g. mathematics. In order to speak we use a particular part of our brain, and the process is really fast. But, when we learn another language our brain needs to switch something so we get used to the “new words” for the same things. A teacher needs to understand these things and consider the difficulties a student might have. Our job as teachers is to make it as much easier for them as we can, for example I found the suggestopedia method very curious, and I would like to try it someday.  We have all the materials we need and we should do our best to transmit the language to our students. We actually are more than just teachers, we need to consider the psychological aspects of acquiring new language, and we need to introduce the language to a student in a way, when he gets extremely interested and highly motivated.

It is impossible to cover all the different aspects of acquiring a second language, because it touches so many different fields like, psychology, linguistics, even neuroscience! And because the humanity is evolving, the methods will develop as well. We are still far from knowing how our brain works, and we try to use our ears, eyes and tongue as much as we can to learn new languages. I believe that with time, the methods will become more and more effective, and designed for all kinds of learners, of any age and any occupation.

For example, I’m planning to write an English language training that will be designed for people who know some grammar from school, but can’t use it, for people who desperately want to speak, but find it hard to do on their own. It will last for seven to ten days, and the goal is to break the language barrier and make students learn how to use a language even if your vocabulary is very small. In this intensive training I would like to use communicative approach mostly. Include role plays, competitions; Not everybody can afford visiting an English speaking country, so I want to create an atmosphere when you need to learn language because this is the only thing that will help you survive. Of course, a short training has a lot of disadvantages, like if students do not practice and revise the knowledge they have received they will forget it eventually. However, it is something that a lot of people need in order to actually begin to study English. The beginning is always the hardest part. I hope that it will help a lot of people who are stuck at some point and procrastinate.

We have to always think about how we can make our classes more effective. There is no limit to perfection! Teachers need to learn too. I’m very glad that my idea of how language should be given to students is widely shared and I’m happy I could take this course to make myself a better tutor. I wish that all teachers in the world would work on themselves harder and provide a better service.

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