Eva Cristina Bolaños





My teaching approach

Learning a language, English in this case, can be very challenging and we as teachers have to know what the best ways to teach it are. After examining different methodologies I have come to the conclusion that the communicative approach is the one that resembles more the way we naturally learn our first language, and that's the main reason why I prefer this method over the others. Every method has it's pros and cons and can be improved, so in this essay I will explain my ideal way to teach English.

 

If I were to create my own method, it would be based on the communicative approach. The function of languages is communication, so when we learn a new language the aim should be to be able to communicate. Other methods, like the grammar-translation one, use the student's L1 which is not natural: translations never transfer the exact meaning, and there isn't always a possible translation (especially when it comes to expressions, idioms, proverbs, etc.). The focus of my method would therefore be on speaking and listening, but reading and writing would also be taken care of especially after the elementary level.

 

To me, the best way to learn English will always be full immersion: living in an English speaking country where you can learn by hearing. This is for many different reasons not possible for most people, so my method would aim to imitate this context as much as possible by using realia and day-to-day examples. When I was a kid I started learning English at school, but it wasn't until I was a teenager and started spending my summers abroad that I started speaking the language. Based on my own experience, you start learning and wanting to learn more when you need to express yourself. For this reason the lessons would focus on the use of language, for instance “how to order food”, “how to express regret”, “how to thank”, etc. Learning these functions is a lot more engaging than learning just forms, as the students see straight away how and when they could use what they are learning. They are able to picture themselves in an English speaking country and applying their new knowledge, and this is sure more likely to make them want to learn more.

 

Classes would follow the ESA model (engage, study, activate). By doing this we first get the student's attention by showing them what they will be able to say (E.g “I have lived in Madrid for a month”), then we would show them more examples and they make their own (“I have played basketball for 10 years”, “He has had that phone for a month”) and then students would practice what they have learned throughout debates, discussions, etc.

 

In order to create an English speaking atmosphere there would be no Spanish spoken in class. If the students were speaking to a native they couldn't rely on their Spanish to communicate, so they shouldn't do so at class either. However, this is very hard when teaching beginners. At this level students learn the way a baby does: the first thing they do is listen, then repeat and then produce their own simple sentences. This though can take a very long time, and explaining something new when the students don't know any words at all is very difficult and time consuming. For this reason, and as an exception, beginners would receive written explanations prior to the lessons where Spanish would be used to support the teacher's explanation at class. Even though ideally I would prefer not to use any Spanish at all, I believe that this way students wouldn't be as easily frustrated and the process would be quicker at the beginning (and this way the teacher would still only speak in English). This gives students the chance to prepare beforehand and can make them feel a bit more secure during their first steps. But again, this is an exception for very beginners, and they would know from the start that that's the only time when they would see Spanish.

 

As for the types of activities,there would be three main types: vocabulary, structure and topic. I think it's the best way to structure a class and everything fits into these three sections. Vocabulary would be more important for both beginners and elementary students as well as structure, and topics would be more relevant forhigher levels. In general terms, classes would be structured so there is at least one of the three activities. Ideally vocabulary and structure would go first (students tend to apply what they've learned in this sections during conversations afterwards), and topics would last as long as the students spoke for. While it's important to keep a structure during the class I think conversations should flow naturally, the way they would outside of class and for this reason as long as the students are practicing and we are helping them learn, we shouldn't stop the class. The more they speak, the more confident they will be.

 

Vocabulary will be learned following natural steps, meaning the most common vocabulary will be taught first and then students will learn less common words (this is obviously something most methods usually do). Once they have acquired enough vocabulary the focus will be on structures -while they are of course still learning vocab. This way by the time they learn a new structure E.g. “I want …......”, they can use it with different words. If we teach structures too early students will only memorize it but won't know how to apply it to other contexts.

 

The aim during the lessons would always be for the students to speak as much as possible. The teacher would have to be selective in the way they correct, as we don't want students to stop after every word. However, during vocabulary and structure activities correcting will be very important. Something I have observed several times is that mistakes are a lot harder to correct after they have been made a lot of times. The teacher should give the student the opportunity to correct themselves (this is something “taken” from the silent method although not as exaggerated), but if this doesn't happen the teacher would have to make sure to correct them. Here my opinion slightly differs from what the communicative approach suggests, as there would be more correcting in my method. However I agree that when it comes to speaking activities, we should let students speak and shouldn't interrupt with every mistake but only when the teacher considers it important to. Once they have finished we can take the chance to let them know what they have done wrong, and especially during vocab and structure activities we would make sure that they are giving us a correct full sentence rather than just correcting the one mistake.

 

There would be a special emphasis on pronunciation mistakes. English is a hard language to pronounce for Spanish speakers, and the sooner we stop students from transferring sounds from their native language the better. When teaching English teachers normally focus on what is said first, and once the student reaches a certain level they insist on correct pronunciation and other issues. This is in my opinion counter-productive: as I have said before mistakes are more difficult to correct after making them a lot of times. In the beginner syllabus there would be a pronunciation section, where students would for instance learn how to pronounce words starting by s+consonant (Spain, stop, scape), the difference between J and Y (Jess and yes, joke and yolk), words with an “h” (house, ham, hat), etc.

 

While the students would hardly ever write during lessons, there would be some writing activities. They would however happen outside of class so we are not taking SST away. Apart from the normal syllabus there would be a parallel “Writing syllabus”, and they would run in conjunction with each other. At each level there would be a certain amount of writing activities (10-15 approximately) that the students would have to complete at home and bring back to class. These would not be long tasks but short practices, and whenever students finished one they would be given the next one. This way they are not forced to do “homework” and they can choose the pace themselves, they would be activities that they are recommended to do in order to improve an area that is not worked on at class. This is also a bonus tool to encourage students to study and revise, without forgetting that the method is based on the communicative approach. A student that has studied usually feels more confident than one that hasn't and that is extremely positive -so we should encourage them to do it, but we have to understand that not everyone has the time to study outside of class.

 

An important aspect of this new method would be the teacher's attitude. Nowadays the teacher's role has changed and is no longer a distant, imposing figure. Taking into account that we are trying to emulate real life, the teacher would seat with the students and be “one more of the group”. This makes the teacher feel approachable and that is what we want for students feel that they can relax, ask questions or make mistakes. Teacher's attitude and presence is very important, most people nowadays study by choice and have personal or professional motivations to improve so our job is to help them feel good at class and improve. Laughing at ourselves and making some little jokes are some ways to show students that we are approachable. In order to encourage students to keep trying it is important to genuinely praise them when they do well, but never force it. Students should trust their teacher and sounding fake would be something very negative. And lastly, being patient is definitely a skill teachers should have: if teaching them takes a long time or a lot of explaining we must remember that teachers are not there to judge students for their ability to learn or any other aspects but to help them as much as possible.

 

In conclusion my new method would be based on the communicative approach, but would add some changes that would in my opinion improve the way of teaching. Every activity would aim to help students communicate meaningful ideas and the way they learn English should resemble the way we learn our L1, but with some extra tasks to support the learning process.



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