Moritz Heinemann

My teaching approach

Over the years of foreign language teaching all teachers had to face the same challenge and had to ask the same question. Which is the best way to teach a foreign language? Even today we are trying to find new  ways to teach foreign language to non-native speakers. Pedagogues have developed different methods of teaching foreign languages, and some of these methods are opposed to each other and some have things in common.

One name who greatly influenced modern foreign language teaching is Krashen. He used the idea of second language acquisition or SLA. The difference between learning and acquisition being that learning involves an active effort and acquisition is a spontaneous and subconscious process.  Acquisition is considered by Krashen as an inborn quality which every human being is equipped with from birth and which does not decrease the older one gets.
 Obstacles which are common in adults, are native structure transfer from L1 (learners first language) to L2 (the second language which they are learning), and Interlanguage (the incorrect language the student creates). In children we also find more often personality traits which help proper acquisition, like being less concerned with making mistakes, not monitoring and questioning structures, and a playful imitating attitude towards learning.
Grammar structures are a natural mental process, which the mind recognizes through correct input. To illustrate this, a child creates the plural form without previous input, but makes mistakes with irregular forms. For example it will say the plural of "mouse" as "mouses" instead of "mice".
  Those who defend formal grammar lessons argue that proper accuracy cannot be gained without them, and they also believe that language transfers from L1 to L2 and interlanguage should be corrected through this process. Others are strictly against formal grammar, because they argue this will cause the student to constantly monitor the output by checking the grammar rule. According to them both accuracy and fluency come through proper input.

We should also consider the importance of affective factors. A good teacher student rapport, having a boyfriend or girlfriend from the target language country. These factors have a positive effect on learning. A student who likes the sound or is fascinated by cultural factors of a language will also have better acquisition.
 From observing children it is obvious that the need to communicate for survival, triggers quick acquisition. We can experience the same, when we find ourselves in an foreign country where nobody understands us nor do we understand them. Such a situation will activate our survival instinct which again will awaken our inborn acquisition capacity.

For the purpose of this assignment some methodologies were analyzed to base my personal teaching method on.

The Silent way
There are no verbal corrections from the teacher. He will say as little as possible. The idea behind this is that  we learn better when we discover something. The teacher relies on fellow students in the classroom to help a student to discover the meaning of a word or the pronunciation etc. The teacher will indicate through mime and gestures if the student is correct, otherwise he/she will encourage someone from the group to help. Often props from real life situations are used in this method.

As part of the humanistic teachings this method puts emphasis on the psychological barriers and self- imposed limitations.To help overcome this, a pleasant and cheerful atmosphere is created through music, fine arts and cordial classroom environment. Attention is given also to the decor of the classroom. Learning is often associated with positive childhood memories. At times the students receive a new name. Like most humanistic teaching this method aims to lower the affective barriers of the students. A typical lesson may end with them learning new vocabulary accompanied by delightful music so as to let the new information sink into the subconscious part of the mind.

TPR Total Physical Response
This method was developed by James Asher and the basic idea behind this technique comes from observing how children acquire their mother tongue. He also monitored the relationship between parents and children when learning to speak. He found that children learn through command and physical response and that even though children tend to listen over a long period of time before starting to speak, they can already grasp complex words. Backed by neuroscience, Asher believed that learning is more effective when the right side of the brain is activated through physical movements. A typical class involves the teacher giving and showing the commands to the students which he should follow. These commands are given in a specific order until the student can follow these alone, at this point  the teacher will jumble the order of the commands.The teacher gets constant feedback from the students. Speech should arise spontaneously.

My own method
According to my understanding of language teaching and after analyzing different methods I have come to the conclusion that a good method should include the following chief points. Lowering  affective barriers, stimulating the students interest, giving correct verbal input and creating a fun and pleasant classroom atmosphere. Also it should adapt to age and proficiency levels of students. Understanding as an active function in the students mind, stimulated through curiosity and effort is very positive. Drills and games are also a fun way to learn.

 In the classroom the student are encouraged to speak L2 from the initial stages. The teacher will give instructions in L2 using, body language and props if necessary. Furthermore should he monitor the amount of teacher talking time versus student talking time, the balance between the two should be 50% in the beginning. In more advanced classes the teacher can lower his talking time by encouraging discussion among the group. Interaction must be stimulated at all levels. Seating arrangements should be such that there is proper interaction between students. For example is it useful if students and teacher sit at the same table to allow proper eye contact etc. For the same reason classes should be quite small max 10 to 15 students. The use of reading and writing aids such as Blackboard can be avoided this way too. Furthermore the classroom can be equipped for the use of authentic materials such as cartoons and songs for children etc. There should also be toys and art utensils for child activities.

 In the initial stages we should give priority to the receptive skill listening and understanding,  and the productive skill speaking. In more advanced classes reading and writing may be introduced into the classroom  activities. Although lower levels can benefit from reading and producing simple text which also serves to boost their confidence because they can see that they can really use the language, for example when practicing the present simple they could write about their typical day. This also gives them a reason to start using dictionaries as they write their text something that would be more important at higher levels. Furthermore classes should have a good mixture of structure, vocabulary activities being topic the chief vehicle. Grammar and vocabulary can be presented also through topic. For example future forms via the topic of: “the future of humanity”. This gives context for students to work out rules and meaning for themselves. For this reason I have decided to base my syllabus mainly on topics because it makes class more interesting, bringing it into real life situations, which also stimulates interaction. It is also in line with the indirect style. Topic can also be easily adapted to level, age and interest of the students in order to keep the class fun and interesting. For children each activity should be brief since children have a short attention span. I suggest group activities  including building, drawing, singing and dancing.
 Grammar can be taught indirectly through correct structure in the beginning stages. In higher levels it may be good to explain some formal grammar. External grammar rules and structures are an approximate representation of the inner and inherent system in the human mind. So we should allow students to work out the rules and meanings of language themselves. In this way we encourage them to be autonomous learners, so when they encounter English outside the classroom they can learn for themselves. We need to provide them with context inspired in real life.
 Reading also has a very positive effect on a students acquisition of vocabulary and grammar structures, everyday reading is therefore to be encouraged. Once a student understands most of the text she is reading flow is not be interrupted by looking up words she does not understand. The student should be encouraged to read on in such situation, since most probably the word will be repeated in a different context and thus its meaning may be deducted.
 Previous to the course a face to face interview is arranged between student and teacher to make a needs analysis. During the first class activities the teacher  further monitors the students closely to see what difficulties they have and if they need anything else. For example there may be confusion between "present perfect" and "past simple". This problem is tackled by creating appropriate activities to help students practice these points. Similarly when encountering interlanguage the teacher can prepare specific activities which deal with these interferences. Ideally although time consuming, teachers should prepare their own activities where a data base sharing system is an option.

The teacher is to be seen as a friend who understands the interests, problems and motivations of his students. He should encourage communication among the group. It is useful to engage the students with stimulating activities which involve kinesthetic, audio and visual learning. With children he should be fun engaging and cheerful. By being approachable the teacher will make students free to express their doubts. Often students get frustrated by their mistakes or don't speak because they are afraid of making them. In order to avoid tension the teacher should let them understand that mistakes are part of the learning process. He should praise shy students and try to involve them in classroom activities. He may do this indirectly by telling more extrovert students to ask him some question and by encouraging group activities. Furthermore the teacher must grade his language (teacher talk) according to the level of the class. With lower levels he must be very patient by speaking slowly and using props from real life or including  pictures to convey the meaning of words and concepts.

Finally I believe that any system only gets as good as its teacher. If we are enthusiastic about teaching, interested in our students progress, if we are willing to study and research and are ready to question and improve ourselves everyday we will definitely succeed. Not to mention PPP !

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