My teaching approach
Our ultimate aim as English teachers is to better enable our students to speak English. It is essential that analysis of methodologies is carried out with this focussed aim in mind. In the first part, existing methodologies will be examined against set criteria which are commonly held as affective factors, both positive and negative, in determining whether a methodology will be successful in better enabling students to speak the language. The second part will present a teaching approach which successfully amalgamates preferred parts of existing methodologies against the same criteria. There are methods that we may prefer to teach and ones that we would not, but it is important to remain neutral in analysis.
The Grammar Translation Method emphasises the teaching of grammar and vocabulary. This manifests itself in the teacher directing students to translate texts, testing students primarily through written tests on correctness of grammar use. Oral expression and pronunciation are not tested. The student is benefitting from translation in their written and comprehension skills, but this allows for no interaction and immersion in the second language, which encourages interlanguage i.e falling back on the mother tongue to translate. This does not allow for natural comprehension and progress. The student may be prone to negative affective factors as the teacher is in a position of authority, not a playmaker. A positive class atmosphere may be difficult to create meaning that students are afraid to make mistakes. The most fundamental drawback remains that there is no emphasis on speaking the language.
Teacher authority and action is greatly emphasised in the Callan Method. The teacher asks students a series of questions which the student must answer in a constant dialogue using the rhythm "question, answer, answer, question, answer" at a very high speed. The student has little time for interlanguage as they have no time to translate and simply acquire the ability to speak by assimilation through repetition of key words and rigid sentences. . For beginner children particularly, this method has some advantages as repetition is an effective way to learn basic structure and vocabulary, not allowing any thinking time for student translation. However, for adults and intermediates this method could be regarded as too rigid and repetitive, not allowing for topics to be taught inhibiting the ability to speak in context. In order to progress onto the next level, a less rigid system allows for greater progress.
The Silent Way and Suggestopedia aim to liberate the student from negative external factors that inhibit their ability to learn a language in very different ways. The Silent Way allows free, uninhibited speech enabling students to develop their speaking independently from the silent teacher, only interjecting using non verbal gestures. The students freedom allows for self reliance, removing inhibition but not allowing for teacher affirmation which can give students confidence. Students may be overpowered by more advanced students without teacher authority. For Suggestopedia, class atmosphere is the important factor in learning consciously and subconsciously. The teacher introduces grammar and lexis playfully, reading pre-created texts against a backdrop of classical arts. This atmosphere enables students to spontaneously immerse themselves in the language encouraging communication. Undeniably, the warmth of atmosphere created is a vital factor in allowing the lesson to flow. A relaxed atmosphere can be conducive to learning. However, both methods neglect the productive skills, as the ability to use the language is impaired. In Suggestopedia, students may find classic arts distracting when attempting to speak the language.
The Total Physical Response (TPR) method utilises teacher actions, gestures and words to convey meaning and encourage enjoyment, leading to a natural point in which students will learn to speak the second language. Teacher talking is prominent in modelling meaning as well as using physical gestures. The students mirror the teachers actions and as they become more advanced, reading and writing is incorporated, and students will begin to issue commands to class. Making activities and learning in general enjoyable and physical leads to less inhibition amongst students, creating a warm atmosphere. The problem remains that student talking time is limited until further development is made, which doesn't allow for the teacher to test pronunciation and indeed for the student to learn from mistakes. The aim should be for the student to speak from the beginning alongside listening and comprehension.
The Communicative Approach (CA) asserts that communication is key and all subsequent learning materials should be "real", relating to real events. This is excellent for prompting speakers to overcome the first hurdle of speaking even if errors are made. Errors are seen as natural allowing for flowing communication between students. A life like atmosphere is created. Commendably, student communication takes precedence but issue should be taken with the fact that mistakes are allowed, especially with beginners. Bad language habits can be acquired and habits are difficult to remedy. However this method is preferable to many others mentioned before. Its primary aim is to get students speaking the language, whilst attending to the productive and receptive skills through the discussion of relevant topics. Grammar and vocabulary will most naturally be acquired in this manner.
The Direct Method (DM) puts emphasis on vocabulary over grammar using realia and demonstration to help students understand the meaning because translation is forbidden. Grammar isn't specifically taught but is assumed by the student in discussing topics. The Audio Lingual Method (AL) prioritises grammatical structure. The teacher drills sentences containing the grammatical structure, students repeating whilst the teacher monitors pronunciation. Vocabulary is introduced surreptiously, the student memorising through repetition, learning new vocabulary through application within the grammatical structure. Both methods focus on the students ability to speak, which is our primary aim. The emphasis on vocabulary and verbs is preferred to emphasis on grammar (as in the AL method) as without word knowledge, it is difficult to achieve the breakthrough of speaking the language. The AL method's emphasis on grammar is not totally without merit, but without word and verb knowledge initially it is difficult for the student to relate to the language. The process of drilling displayed in the AL method is preferable for beginners needing to learn the basics quickly, but for intermediates and those wishing to fully immerse themselves in the context of topics rather than linguistic structures, the DM method would be preferable.
The methodology suggested should initially analyse the learning requirements of their student group. For intermediate students, this should not be done by reading pre-written questions but by asking simple questions in the context of their day. If its raining, a simple "The weather is bad today. What do you think of the weather today?" will not only allow for gauging students ability levels and attitude, but will enable students to overcome inhibition as they can relate to the subject matter and have an emotional link to it. For beginners, such questions will probably be too advanced so it would be important to have a list of 10 scripted questions, asking one or two questions per student whilst guiding on pronunciation, similar to the Oxbridge method. For beginners and intermediates, it is essential to guide on pronunciation and errors positively i.e errors should be corrected by students aided by gestures and positive reinforcement. The student will receive positive affirmation for getting things right but not overpraised when failing to grasp a particular word or sentence. The teacher would instead allow free flowing communication but should correct any errors once the student has finished speaking.
There would be a requirement to speak in the second language at all times as in the Oxbridge method with no translation and no writing (particularly in the case of beginners). This will be made easier by the use of authentic materials such as realia, props and the teachers own gestures. Immersion is a key factor and as in the DM above, interlanguage is avoided as students reason and think in English. The use of materials at the expense of the written word creates a fun class atmosphere where the teacher isn't dictating what the student learns. Instead through gestures the teacher is prompting the student to think for themselves and creates an atmosphere whereby the student actually wants to speak.
The syllabus would change depending on whether a beginner or intermediate class was being taken but would be based on the Oxbridge triangle of Structure, Vocab and Topic depending on level. For absolute beginners, drilling would be used as in the Callan Method, beginning with the 10 pre-planned scripted questions. Each lesson would begin with a grammar exercise based on the "question, answer" structure. This would help to embed basic structure. This would be followed by vocabulary exercises using authentic materials where target language is introduced visually (hand outs, props), with gestures but no translation. Every exercise will begin with an element of drilling but this will ease into conversation as skill levels increase. Other skills such as writing and reading will be introduced gradually as the student becomes accustomed to the spoken language in the form of homework outside class. For intermediate classes, drilling will not be utilised as it will be assumed that the student has a grasp of basic language and is able to communicate. Instead, the teacher will lead with topics, sometimes general and sometimes relevant to that day. The aim is to connect with the students by allowing them to talk about topics they would talk about in their first language. The teacher should act merely as a facilitator, listening carefully for correct word use and pronunciation but allowing the conversation to flow between students. The teacher should surreptitiously introduce grammar but there should be a target: to introduce relevant vocabulary which allows students to express themselves in a wider context thus enabling them, as our main aim has been throughout, to speak English better.