My teaching approach
In my opinion language learning and teaching are about communication and acquiring the skill to express oneself in another language. Certainly the needs of every student are different and the teacher has to adapt the learning objectives to the student’s goals. However, speech is the basic linguistic skill every student has to apply if he/she wants to obtain a certain level of proficiency.
Former teaching methodologies defined the teacher as authority in the classroom. The students were more of a passive audience than participating members in class. The focus lay on the structural parts of the language and students were supposed to learn as much vocabulary as possible by heart which led to a very narrow-minded way of language teaching. Other linguistic methodologies suggest that the teacher should e.g. just silently observe the students or that teaching is either concentrated on grammar or vocabulary.
My idea of language teaching is a completely different one. Students have to participate in class as active as possible, to get an idea about how to express themselves in the foreign language. Learning a new language should be something exciting and every class should offer new perspectives on the made progresses, and the different way in which these skills can be applied. The following paragraphs are going to highlight my opinion on the most important aspects of language teaching.
As mentioned above I suggest that students do not only participate but also help creating as much of their class as possible. The teaching environment has to be open, friendly and equally directed to all students. Only a good rapport in class will allow all students to engage in the learning process. Apart from trusting in the abilities and experience of the teacher, the class environment has to allow questions and criticism towards the teacher if something is not understood.
There exists a broad range of ideas about how to foster the student participation. The Silent Way of observing, a strong focus on writing or input driven lectures don’t coincide with my image of an engaged classroom. I rather suggest as much action as possible! This does not necessary call for physical activities but for exercises that attract the students’ interest. A high amount of topic activities as well as a focus on topics that relate to the students’ lives are important. Moreover elements from the Suggestopedia Method and the Total Physical Response can help to reinforce students’ class involvement.
From the perspective of the teacher it is central that he/she identifies and concentrates on the students’ needs. Following these demands an appropriate syllabus, corresponding learning outcomes and a coherent set of activities have to be prepared. Furthermore the teacher is responsible for emphasizing the student engagement, anticipating possible problems and mistakes, the error correction and positive reinforcement. I agree with the Audio-lingual Method that certain mistakes have to be made so that they can be eliminated in the future. The Communicative Approach offers some interesting ideas (e.g. the usage of games) on how to attract and maintain students’ attention during class. I as a teacher want to give my students the feeling that having class is not work, but rather a form of entertainment. Learning should not be feel like an unwanted obligation but like something that is actually enjoyable and productive. By creating this atmosphere the student will not only be focused in class but also learn by him/herself at home.
Moreover it is the teacher’s task to be aware of students’ problems and difficulties. A good and experienced teacher will be able to anticipate a lot of problems students might have. For this reason it is important to keep the students’ native language in mind, as the usage of interlanguage and false friends are typical problems. Besides the awareness of problems, a teacher is constantly checking the students’ understanding and progress. This can be done by letting them come up with own examples or the description of a situation. Specific questions can also be an important tool in controlling students’ understanding.
Addressing of productive and receptive skills
Obviously language learning involves all communicational skills (speaking, listening, reading and writing) but the overall focus has to be on speaking and listening as these are the basic skills for maintaining a conversation. Depending on the language knowledge the student talking time will differ, however the teacher has to activate the student as much as possible so that he/she learns how to express him/herself orally in the foreign language. From an intermediary level on the students should definitely talk more than the teacher. Besides speaking, listening is address through the instructions by the teacher as well as the reading out loud of texts and articles. Moreover e.g. recorded conversations expose the student to a broader range of different accents. Certainly “live” conversations and discussions are always more interesting and engaging than recorded material. Both reading and writing will be addressed on a higher level of language knowledge. Beginners should concentrate their efforts on understanding and speaking. Furthermore, reading is something students will always have to practice through vocabulary and grammar exercises. Also it is an important addition to the language class that the student reads (authentic) material at home.
The preparation of an appropriate syllabus is a quite sensitive and very important task of every teacher. In my opinion it is central for students to have a strong grammatical base. Without the knowledge of the basic structural elements of any language, no communication is possible. In combination the students have to know a certain range of vocabulary. A missing knowledge of the most important words and expressions easily leads to frustration and won’t allow any communication either. From an intermediary level on the student has to worry less about these structural elements and is able to express him/herself in a freer and more open way. Additionally, every syllabus has to include creative parts that allow the students to use the learned structural knowledge in a less defined context. I believe that adding functional elements as well as specific content is an additional surplus for the students. Putting language in a meaningful and useful context shows the advantages of speaking another language. Furthermore the students learn the language in a more indirect and natural way because they concentrate more on the transmitted content than on the linguistic element.
Knowledge transfer & material
I agree with the Direct and the Audio-lingual Method when it comes to the use of grammatical structures. They should never be explained directly but rather be transported in an inductive way. Like this the student will apply the structure in a more natural way, learning from concrete examples. In general the usage of example is extremely important. They help the students to put a word or structure in context and let them come up with own example sentences. My opinion of language teaching does also coincide with the concept of the Berlitz Method that no translation should be used. Especially when it comes to the English language, students do usually have a quite broad vocabulary base as they are confronted with a lot of English words in their daily lives. Instead of translations, explanations and concrete examples should be given to remember the discussed content. Moreover, the usage of cognates is an important asset while teaching total beginners. Besides an open, friendly and fun classroom environment helps the students to fully engage in every class.
When it comes to teaching material an adaption depending on the student’s level of competence is necessary. For beginners a lot of pictures, gestures and mimic will be used. Later on authentic texts and articles are a more appropriate tool to transfer certain content. However, images as well as gestures are always an important medium to transport new information. Moreover the usage of games, role plays and the fostering of an open debate are central features of every class. Using a specific course book which covers all the above mentioned elements of importance to the knowledge transfer is one possibility. Most books though are just focused on one or maybe two central aspects of the learning process. This is why I think it is more appropriate to use course books as a starting point for the activity creation. Exercises should be adapted, so that they suit the students’ needs and interests. Besides course books can be a good addition to a language course, for studying at home.