My teaching approach
While the study of second-language acquisition as a scientific discipline is still relatively new, the need for broadening our abilities to communicate and attaining a second, third or fourth language continues to grow, as the world gets smaller. Through our opportunity to navigate in multicultural societies, with more or less obliterated boarders, comes the need for communication beyond what our mother tongue allows us.
When researching methods for second-language acquisition, we need to look at how we learn in order to provide a fitting approach that considers the individuality of each student, and to bear in mind, that while we might learn through actively studying, we are able to acquire a language subconsciously and spontaneously simply by being exposed to it in a natural context, and not necessarily with our nose constantly in a book. This means that the scientific discipline of second-language acquisition is not just about how language is taught, since learning involves other aspects than just the teaching practice.
Despite the variety of teaching methods, they all have the same aim: to develop the most efficient way of language teaching. Having said that, the end goal of the process may differ since the approach to the language is not always focused on a verbal usage. There are of course different opinions on when we have learned a language properly, and this is obvious when we look at some of the most dominant teaching methods, we have been presented with over the last 50 years.
In my opinion, learning a language is done through an active, verbal use of it. We will not achieve anything solo, since trying to develop speaking skills without anyone to practice with, will leave us in an unnatural and passive state, where only artificial use of the language is produced. In this state we prevent the language from developing naturally. This is why I quickly can cross The Grammar Translation Method (GTM) off of my list of approaches I would use in second language teaching. While the old Latin enthusiasts found this method sufficient, an all-grammar approach is inadequate today. Learning a language is done for the purpose of actually being able to use it, not just to know it. Where some of the main characteristics of the GTM include superiority of literary language over spoken language, and therefore primary focus on reading and writing, communication is not the main priority. The practice of speaking and listening is compromised in favor of written exercises and tests, and the teacher assumes a role as the authoritarian, which leaves no room for productive interaction in the classroom. Without underestimating the importance of learning grammar, I see no point in including any aspect of the GTM in my teaching method.
As an answer to the outdated Grammar Translation Method, The Direct Method (DM) turns the before mentioned principles upside down, and focuses primarily on speech: communication is the goal of language learning. Vocabulary is emphasized over grammar and the teacher uses objects and visuals to demonstrate rather than explain. While I agree that the purpose of learning a language is communication, and therefore also believe that native language has no place in the classroom, I would not undermine the importance of learning grammar in a conscious way. I agree that teaching grammar inductively is a good approach, but in my opinion it should be valued equally as the learning of vocabulary. In order to make sure the correct use of the grammar is understood, explanations should be incorporated when needed.
The Audio-Lingual Method attempts to address the weaknesses of the DM by prioritizing grammatical structure through drilling and repetition, but even with a strong theoretical base, the method fails in its attempt to achieve as a communicative approach with its neglect of vocabulary. The teacher’s role as the model for the target language is a good starting point, but vocabulary learned through repetition is not acquired in a natural context, and I would not use this method with intermediate or advanced students. Without proper vocabulary knowledge, the learner will form an artificial relation to the language, and will experience difficulty in expressing it naturally. I do see the advantages in using this approach on beginners, needing to know the basics of a language; here repetition is crucial, especially when not using native language as a helper.
Both The Silent Way and Suggestopedia seek to free the learner from the psychological barriers some of us tend to build out of fear of failing to perform successfully. In the first mentioned method, the teacher’s silence inspires cooperation among the students. Without neither praise nor criticism, the students rely on themselves and each other when using the language independently and The Silent Way suggests that this is the best way to ensure the students obtain knowledge. For Suggestopedia, the environment and atmosphere are of vital importance: by providing a relaxing atmosphere the student will remain confident. This is done through music, art and drama, with the purpose of enhancing the learning ability through a union between consciousness and sub-consciousness. Both methods are in my opinion, too weak to stand alone. While The Silent Way could be an interesting activity, it is incomplete and would not be efficient to fill a class, let alone an entire syllabus. I would suggest using Suggestopedia in the same way, as an isolated activity, which could be storytelling for the younger learners, but I would not use it exclusively, due to the fact that it leaves the learners completely passive. The students receive input, without making use of their productive skills.
In terms of providing a safe space for the learner to evolve in, like it is attempted with Suggestopedia, the same is asserted with the Total Physical Response (TPR) method. A characteristic of this method is that learning should be fun. The aim of the teacher, therefore, is to make sure the students enjoys themselves, while executing the directions given by the teacher. As much as I would like to be able to learn a language this way, through body language and physical actions, I find the TPR method insufficient in various areas. The output the learner produces is equivalent to the input he receives from the teacher’s demonstration (provided that the learner understands the message), which would be sufficient if I agreed with the method: that a language is learned through listening. This is partly true, but only as long as listening is followed by practicing freely. I can understand why this method is popular with children and I would definitely not reject it as part of a basic children’s class; having fun and being active would help to relax and let go of possible anxiety, but my concern is the limited output that does not allow the learner space to try on his own and to learn from mistakes.
While most of the above-mentioned teaching methods each provide useful strategies on how to approach teaching (and learning) a second language, I do not find any of them suitable and sufficient to stand alone. I have not examined them in detail here, but simply mentioned the main features that I agree or disagree with. In the attempt of generating my own teaching method, I drawn my main inspiration from the Communicative Approach: it is not enough to know the form of a language, you need to know how it functions, how to use it, in order to communicate successfully. The Communicative Approach stresses the use of the target language in a realistic context and uses it to engage the learners in interactive communication. This way the students use the target language in a liberated and natural way. Games are used to broaden the communicative practice and errors are accepted as a natural outcome of this practice. Both the productive and receptive skills are attended to through this communicative practice and it is through this, that grammar and vocabulary are most naturally absorbed.
With the purpose of learning a second language being the ability to communicate, in my classroom the teacher should assume a role as a guide and playmaker, guiding especially the lower levels and acting more as a playmaker on the higher. Focus should be equally divided on the learner’s receptive and productive skills, working with listening and speaking mainly. Writing and reading will follow naturally, as the student advances. I don’t believe in the necessity of translating, and use of native language should be avoided at all times in order to work around language transfer and inter-language confusion. In my experience, you risk making mistakes when translating, and without translating you force the learner to think in the new language. As this of course challenges the learner a lot more than giving him the answer in his own language, I would make sure to use everything useable besides my voice in a teaching situation. Every lesson should be taught with the use of visuals, objects, body language and whatever imaginable that would help to enhance the learners understanding and ensure variety. As an example, I would use music and singing to work on vocabulary, making drilling and repetition fun, and I would provide the learner with the target language in writing, as I believe seeing the word helps to remember it. In a perfect world, a language class would consist of two to six students. Even though one-to-one classes can be effective, the lack of interaction compromises the student’s opportunity of producing successful output. The more students, the more difficult it is for the teacher to monitor the class. The risk of native language use grows with the amount of students and it becomes more difficult to engage properly in an all-including activity. Furthermore, less students means better opportunity of getting to know each one, in an attempt to analyze individual difficulties and reasons for learning.
My communicative strategy would present a syllabus matching the Oxbridge triangle: Structure, vocabulary and topic activities would constitute the content of the class, dividing the activities according to level. All of these would be accessed through oral use of the language and the students would be encouraged to try on their own from the beginning, assured that mistakes are made in the attempt to tame the language, and if you do not make mistakes, you are not trying hard enough. In correcting these mistakes, it is important to applaud the student for trying. I believe that a good teacher, is above all, a teacher who enjoys teaching. When this is the case, other qualities follow naturally. The teacher should be seated among the students and guiding them in reaching their goals. A natural and relaxed atmosphere is important, but I would still advocate a professional distance between teacher and learner, especially among the younger students. As for material used in the classroom, I would choose the Oxbridge way over a classic textbook every day, but if I had to use a textbook, I would make sure to choose one that allows me to change and adapt wherever I see fit. A textbook should only be used as a base for the teaching to evolve from. Whatever we as teachers might be presented with, we should always strive to: Engage, study, activate!