Laura Marchesini

My teaching approach

A method is a way of teaching.  It's a system of practices and procedures that a teacher uses to teach. It's based on our approach, on what we believe about: what language is, how people learn, and how teaching helps people learn.

Many teachers base their lessons on a mixture of methods, to meet the different needs of learners and the different aims of lesson or courses, depending as well on the age and the experiences of the students, on course objectives and expectations.

The purpose of learning a language usually is to enable to take part in exchanges of information: talink with friends, reading instructions on a packet of food, understanding directions, writing a cv, a letter etc.

Nowadays, the language teaching works on two fronts: one is the language system, or what we 'know' (phonology, lexis, grammar, function and discourse) and, second, what we 'do' with language, that it can be called language skills. There are four important macro language skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing.  Speaking and writing are called 'productive', while listening and reading are considered 'receptive'. Contemporary teachers today put more emphasis on listening and speaking, this because in everyday life we do use much more these skills rather than reading and writing).

But it has not always been like that: traditional teaching methods had emphasised the learning of language system as a goal in its own right not giving to the learners the chances to do realistic experiences with the knowledge gained.

In the twentieth century, the approaches were based mainly around oral language practice through repetition and drills.

Until the 1960s, lots of course were mainly based on grammatical syllabuses, but only in the late 1970s and 1980s they started to use a functional syllabus, grouping languages by the purpose for which it could be used: e.g. language of greeting or requesting or apologizing.

The study of modern languages did not become part of the curriculum of European schools until the 18th century. Based on the purely academic study of Latin, students of modern languages did much of the same exercises, studying grammatical rules and translating abstract sentences. Oral work was minimal, and students were instead required to memorize grammatical rules and apply these to decode written texts in the target language. This method became known as the 'Grammar – Translation method'.

Classes were conducted in the native language. A chapter in a distinctive textbook of this method would begin with a massive bilingual vocabulary. Grammar points would come directly from the texts and be presented contextually in the textbook, to be explained elaborately by the instructor. Tedious translation and grammar drills would be used to exercise without much attention to content. Sentences would be deconstructed and translated. Eventually, entire texts would be translated from the target language into the native language. Very little attention was placed on pronunciation or any communicative aspects of the language. The skill exercised was reading, and then only in the context of translation. 

The advantages of this method are 2:

1.  The phraseology of the target language is quickly explained. Further, learners acquire some sort of accuracy in understanding synonyms in the source language and the target language.

2.  Teacher’s work is saved. Since the textbooks are taught through the medium of the mother tongue, the teacher may ask comprehension questions on the text taught in the mother tongue. Even teachers who are not fluent in English can teach English through this method. That is perhaps the reason why this method has been practiced so widely and has survived so long.

Along with its advantages, the grammar translation method comes with many disadvantages.

1.  It is an unnatural method. 

2.  Speech is neglected. The Grammar Translation Method lays emphasis on reading and writing. It neglects speech. Thus, the students who are taught English through this method fail to express themselves adequately in spoken English.

3.  Exact translation is not possible.

4.  It does not give practice. A person can learn a language only when he internalizes its patterns to the extent that they form his habit. But the Grammar Translation Method does not provide any such practice to the learner of a language. It rather attempts to teach language through rules and not by use. Researchers in linguistics have proved that to speak any language, whether native or foreign, entirely by rule is quite impossible. Language learning means acquiring certain skills, which can be learned through practice and not by just memorizing rules. The persons who have learned a foreign or second language through this method find it difficult to give up the habit of first thinking in their mother tongue and then translating their ideas into the second language. They, therefore, fail to get proficiency in the second language approximating that in the first language.

If the Grammar – Translation Method is an early method based on the assumptions that language is primarily graphic, and that the process of second language learning must be deductive, requires effort, and must be carried out with constant reference to the learner's native language, the' Audiolingual Approach', which was very popular from the 1940s through the 1960s, is based in structural linguistics (structuralism) and behavioristic psychology (Skinner's behaviorism). It places heavy emphasis on spoken rather than written language, and on the grammar of particular languages. Rote memorization, role playing and structure drilling are the predominant activities.

By the middle of the 20th century cognitive psychologists like Vygotsky and Piaget bring up theories that help to explain the limited effectiveness of the traditional prescriptive and mechanistic approaches to language teaching. These theories serve as a basis for the new Natural - Communicative Approaches.

Beginning in the 1950s, Noam Chomsky and his followers challenged previous assumptions about language structure and language learning, taking the position that language is creative (not memorized), This "Chomskian revolution" initially gave rise to eclecticism in teaching, but it has more recently led to two main branches of teaching approaches: the humanistic approaches based on the charismatic teaching of one person, and content-based communicative approaches, which try to incorporate what has been learned in recent years about the need for active learner participation, about appropriate language input, and about communication as a human activity. Most recently, there has been also a significant shift toward greater attention to reading and writing as a complement of listening and speaking, based on a new awareness of significant differences between spoken and written languages, and on the notion that dealing with language involves an interaction between the text on the one hand, and the culturally-based world knowledge and experientially-based learning of the receiver on the other.

One of the interactive method is called Communicative Language Teaching (CLT): an approach that emphasizes interaction as both the means and the ultimate goal of learning a language. It is also referred to as “communicative approach to the teaching of foreign languages” or simply the “communicative approach”. 

CLT is usually characterized as a broad approach to teaching, rather than as a teaching method with a clearly defined set of classroom practices. As such, it is most often defined as a list of general principles or features.

One of the most recognized of these lists is David Nunan’s (1991) five features of CLT:

1.  An emphasis on learning to communicate through interaction in the target language.

2.  The introduction of authentic texts into the learning situation.

3.  The provision of opportunities for learners to focus, not only on language but also on the Learning Management process.

4.  The learner’s own personal experiences is an important contributing elements to classroom learning.

5.  An attempt to link classroom language learning with language activities outside the classroom.

These five features are claimed by practitioners of CLT to show that they are very interested in the needs and desires of their learners as well as the connection between the language as it is taught in their class and as it used outside the classroom. Under these definitions, any teaching practice that helps students develop their communicative competence in an authentic context is deemed an acceptable and beneficial form of instruction. Thus, in the classroom CLT often takes the form of pair and group work requiring negotiation and cooperation between learners, fluency-based activities that encourage learners to develop their confidence, role-plays in which students practise and develop language functions, as well as the use of grammar and pronunciation focused activities.

Often, the communicative approach is deemed a success if the teacher understands the student. But, if the teacher is from the same region as the student, the teacher will understand errors resulting from an influence from their first language. Native speakers of the target language may still have difficulty understanding them.

Task-based language learning (TBLL), focuses on the use of authentic language and on asking students to do meaningful tasks using the target language. Such tasks can include visiting a doctor, conducting an interview, or calling customer service for help.

In the pre-task, the teacher will present what will be expected of the students in the task phase. Additionally, the teacher may prime the students with key vocabulary or grammatical constructs, although, in "pure" task-based learning lessons, these will be presented as suggestions and the students would be encouraged to use what they are comfortable with in order to complete the task. The instructor may also present a model of the task by either doing it themselves or by presenting picture, audio, or video demonstrating the task.

During the task phase, the students perform the task, typically in small groups, although this is dependent on the type of activity. And unless the teacher plays a particular role in the task, then the teacher's role is typically limited to one of an observer or counselor—thus the reason for it being a more student-centered methodology.

Task-based learning is advantageous to the student because it is more student-centered, allows for more meaningful communication, and often provides for practical extra-linguistic skill building. Although the teacher may present language in the pre-task, the students are ultimately free to use what grammar constructs and vocabulary they want. This allows them to use all the language they know and are learning, rather than just the 'target language' of the lesson. Furthermore, as the tasks are likely to be familiar to the students (eg: visiting the doctor), students are more likely to be engaged, which may further motivate them in their language learning.

While task-based language learning is increasingly promoted world-wide and has the advantages described above, there is the risk that students will stay within the narrow confines of familiar words and forms, just "getting by", so as to avoid the extra effort that accompany stretching to use new words and forms. As with all group work, in group tasks, some students can "hide" and rely on others to do the bulk of the work and learning. A second challenge is that the new learning elicited by the task-based lesson--one of its benefits--may yet be lost if the lesson did not include sufficient planning for, or runs out of time for, that new learning to be captured and reinforced while it is still fresh. A third challenge, one applying to many otherwise valuable language teaching methods, is the difficulty of implementing task-based teaching where classes are large and space limited and/or inflexible.

Other methods I didn't analyse but I want to mention are: 'Total Phisycal Response', the 'Silent Way', the 'Person – Centred Approaches', the 'Lexical Approaches' and the 'Dogme', and, of course, the 'Oxbridge' method, that it seems to be the most complete ones: meanings are more important than forms and grammar is about 'analysing', teachers change every 3 weeks and the target language is an essential part of the learning.

Vocabulary, structures and topic are the 3 main activities in the lesson plan where the student is stimulated to communicate, without books, blackboard. The teacher is more a 'guide', a coach of a team. Here the emphasis it's not teaching, but language acquisition. There is a Low teaching talk time (TTT) and high STT – student talk time. Here making mistakes are just a natural process of a language aquisition.



'Learning Teaching – The essential Guide to English Language Teaching', Jim Scrivener



  • About:
  • Message:
  • From: