Eleanor Simpson

My teaching approach

There are many different ideas about the best way to approach teaching English as a second language, and each individual will decide on the method they believe most effective. Every teacher will bring their own personality, opinions and attitudes into a class, however, it is fundamental to make sure that there is some kind of structure to the syllabus, and that it takes into account the needs of the students. After analysing the pros and cons of a few approaches, I will conclude with what I believe to be the most effective teaching method


The Grammar-translation method is a natural place to start given its traditional place in the way languages have been taught: not only was it a method employed for many years in Europe, but it was also used for the languages that were traditionally taught e.g. Latin and Greek. Its aim was that students be able to read, understand and write texts in various contexts. And this is the telling factor: students were never expected to be able to speak or understand spoken Latin or Greek, there would never be the occasion, and therefore there was never an effort to teach it. Just as people these days have moved away from the belief that these are the languages to be taught in schools, so have people moved away from the teaching method. It is actually understandable that this method was used for these languages, given that they were not spoken languages (at the time in question). However, as people learn living languages, and are required to speak and communicate to people, the method is no longer appropriate.

Just as the Grammar-translation method came about to hone certain skills, so did the Audio-lingual method. As a response to the necessity for interpreters and translators during World War II, there was a realisation that something needed to change in the way languages were taught if the spoken language was to improve. Therefore, there needed to be a shift in focus, and emphasis was put on conversations with native speakers. This is an important step in the right direction, encouraging “real” communication and independent thought in the target language. However, this method also maintained a focus on grammar, an important factor, but one that can easily overshadow the learning of natural language. Materials are often delivered as drill sessions, and while this may help students to memorise certain structures or words, it doesn’t leave any space for the creativity of the students: they learn to say what they are taught, invented scenarios and conversations.

The direct method refrains from using the learners' native language and only uses the target language. It never relies on the mother tongue just as a child never relies on another language to learn its first language. This is a useful approach for teaching languages where the teacher has no knowledge of the native language, but within Europe, there are a lot of similarities between languages. There is potential for teachers to use this knowledge during the teaching process as long as it does not dominate it. It states that printed language and text must be kept away from second language learners for as long as possible, just as a first language learners do not use printed words until he has good grasp of speech.


My own method is influenced by the above methods, whether they have convinced me to include certain aspects or exclude them. Both the Grammar-translation method and the audio-lingual method were based on teaching students to read and write, and translate texts, respectively. These days, it is generally understood that when people want to learn a language like English, they will want to eventually be able to converse with real people, do business, and make friends. I studied Spanish at university, and the main focus was on grammar and how best to write an essay. The only listening activities were to watch the news, and speaking was generally only for giving presentations. As a result, when it came to having a conversation, the education I had received left a lot to be desired: I had the knowledge, but not the ability to apply it in everyday situations. With this in mind, it is necessary to make sure that communication is not only encouraged, but essential, and that speaking and understanding must be given priority over reading and writing.

The audio-lingual method also used contrastive analysis to find differences between the students’ native language and the target language in order to prepare specific materials to address potential problems, while the direct method, in contrast, teaches as if it were a first language. There are both positive and negative points as far as I’m concerned. As mentioned earlier, in Asia or Africa, native English teachers will often have to teach without prior knowledge of the native language. But in Europe, teachers may very often find that they have knowledge of the native language at hand. This can be both a blessing and a curse as teachers may find themselves tempted to speak in the native language, and this temptation has to be resisted. However, this also means that they may be able to direct the teaching so they can make it easier (using cognates), and be aware beforehand what troublesome areas may occur. This is not to say that they should necessarily explain the differences, but be aware of them, and create material that clearly shows how these structures or words are used in English.

As with my own experience, and with the audio-lingual method, watching the news and memorising invented scenarios are not the best way to employ materials for learning. If every day, natural language is the goal, then that needs to make up the material. They cannot only be articles from the news, but from magazines and films. This not only enforces the authentic nature of the language used, but also brings in much more varied subjects to the class – a fundamental factor to ensure the class stays lively, and a good forum to encourage debate.

From the direct method, it is very compelling that focus is put on speaking and listening only. One of the results is that students begin to be able to use the target language very early on, possibly eliminating frustration and demotivation early on in the learning process. This may also help students get over the fear of speaking and making mistakes very early on. However, writing should not be omitted from learning completely. It is true to an extent that showing written materials too early on could hinder correct pronunciation and get students fixated on spelling instead of speaking, but if you are teaching people who do already have the ability to read in their own language, denying them this valuable could be demoralising. Once they have the correct pronunciation of a word, they should be able to see how it is spelt, not to test them on the spelling, but so they can recognise it if they see it on Facebook, or their children’s homework.

The fact that there are so many different methods stands to prove that there is no “one right way” to teach a second language. Many factors affect how someone learns, not only the teacher, but the students themselves. What are their motivations and goals? Every person is different, and no single method can encompass all students, however, these are the points that I believe most effective for most people. Humans have a will to learn language, and they will. However the relationship they have with that language is in the hands of the teacher.

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