Tia Muller

My teaching approach

The Karaoke Method

‘It is extremely difficult to come to conclusions
about which approaches and methods
are best and/or most appropriate
for our own teaching situations.’
(Harmer, 2005, p. 96)


Second Language Acquisition (SLA) has been a subject of study since the 1970s. Not a teaching method, the goal of this field is to understand what learners do to acquire a second language. In other words, the research is aimed at discovering the process by which people learn any number of new languages other than their mother-tongue. SLA uses the terms ‘learn’ and ‘acquire’ in a synonymous manner. Originally an interdisciplinary field, its research draws upon other academic disciplines such as linguistics, education, psychology and cognitive psychology.

Although SLA research is habitually carried out in a natural setting, empirical investigation has also been performed in classroom settings. Conclusions from these studies have demonstrated that traditional language teaching methods are largely inefficient where students fail to attain some of SLA’s stages, such as advanced fluency or intermediate fluency. In other words, learners with traditional methods are unable to use the new language in an accurate and fluent manner. Of these methods, one can look at the Grammar-translation method (GTM).

Created in the late 19th century, it originates from the concept that literary language is superior to spoken language. With GTM the memorization of grammar rules and vocabulary is primordial and students are required to provide word for word translations of entire texts. Learners never become independent users of the language, a fundamental skill in our multicultural modern civilisations. Although most adults’ second language learners rarely reach the fluency of a native-speaker, teaching methods aimed at developing productive (speaking and writing) and receptive (listening and reading) skills stand a better chance.

Based on previous studies, other methods and our own personal teaching experience, this essay presents our personal approach to teaching English as a second language acquisition. This paper uses a number of criteria as defining elements.

1. The Communicative approach

A teaching approach refers to the manner by which people acquire their knowledge of languages. It therefore makes theories on the best conditions necessary for language learning. There are two main approaches: the comprehension and the communicative one.

The former emphasizes language learning through its comprehension as meaning is primordial, whereas the latter engages language production through its speaking and writing. An example of the former is the Total Physical Response (TPR) teaching method whereby students are given commands and respond with whole-body actions. In contrast, the communicative approach aims to develop communicative skills and functional competence in addition to mastering language structures, thus, enhancing language independency in different social situations.

Conclusions from classroom empirical studies have shown that approaches restricted to comprehension, to teaching grammar rules or learning vocabulary lists do not give students the ability to use the second language (L2) with accuracy and fluency. Thus, to become proficient in the L2, the learner must be given opportunities to use it for communicative purposes.

2. The fundamental receptive and productive skills

Four fundamental skills are required to have the ability to use a language with accuracy and fluency. Divided into two groups, the receptive skills are passive—reading and listening, and the productive skills are active—speaking and writing.

A communicative approach will use a methodology—the practical realisation of an approach—whereby these two skills are equally developed albeit at different learning stages. Indeed, at the lowest level, when the student does not possess any knowledge of the L2, listening and speaking are the preferred skills to enhance while reading and writing come later.

In order to activate the students’ language knowledge the use of communicative exercises is recommended. These vary and can be an introduction of authentic texts and material to the learning situation, the learner’s own personal experiences, role-plays or simulations. The importance being that there should be fluency-based activities that encourage the learners to develop their confidence. Finally, in order to further develop the receptive and productive skills, classes are generally taught through sole L2 interaction.

3. Interlanguage

Interlanguage is the type of language used by learners who are not yet proficient in their L2. Each learner goes through three stages: language transfer whereby they fall back onto L1 structures; overgeneralization whereby learners use rules from the second language in a way that native would not; and simplification whereby a highly simplified form of language is used. As every new SLA learner will go through these various stages, knowing the culture and the language of the students will help foresee such developmental patterns which will in turn help class management for the teacher. Thus, the syllabus and material of our methodology have been designed for Spanish learners of English.

4. The Affective factors

When dealing with the attitude towards learning that can experience the student, variables such as anxiety, personality and learning motivation, affect the overall progress. Following the humanist classroom to diminish such detrimental factors, our method aims to relax the learners by emotionally involving them; by encouraging them to reflect on how learning takes place; and by fostering their creativity.

5. Teacher’ roles

With modern teaching methodologies and the communicative and humanistic approaches, the classroom is oriented towards ‘teaching which makes the learners’ needs and experience central to the educational process’ (Harmer, 2005, p. 56). Under such premises, the teacher takes on several roles to successfully lead the students. Some of the most notable ones are of a guide, an assessor, a controller, a coach, a playmaker, a psychologist, an agony aunt and a conversationalist. Our method goes one step further. While endorsing all of the above roles, the teacher is also a director: he/she supervises the students much like a filmmaker with actors, giving advice and channelizing while letting loose the creative side.

6. Syllabus

The syllabus, the outline of the course of study, reflects the targeted productive and receptive skills for each lesson. The most common type of syllabus has traditionally been grammar oriented (Harmer, 2005). The list of organised activities for each session or class are organized so that students progressively learn grammatical structures. Other syllabuses comprise lexical-based ones—organized by vocabulary related topics or issue of word formation—; functional ones—such as requesting, offering, inviting, etc.—; or topic-based ones—organised around different topics, such as the weather, sport, music, etc.

However for our purpose and methodology, the use of a multi-syllabus syllabus is preferred. Instead of a programme based exclusively on one aspect or vocabulary activities, our syllabus includes a combination of items and includes in each session: a grammar structure, vocabulary, real-life situation, pronunciation issues, and acquired language skills.

7. Use of material

Up until this point our methodology has not differed a great extent from other recent and popular ones. However, it is with the use of material that the distinction is finally seen. Off-air programmes and real-world videos—films extracts or entire films, documentaries or series—are to be the major material around which the classes revolve, each exhibiting a real-life scenario. In the videos, subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing (SDH) should be displayed as this would allow student to read a near verbatim transcript of the audiovisual material. Moreover, such subtitles present extralinguistic elements, such as the location and identification of characters—usually a distinct colour for each character—, sound effects, music and paralinguistic elements—timbre, resonance, loudness, tempo, pitch, intonation range, syllabic duration and rhythm (Poyatos, 1993).

Using film and sequences database, the teacher selects video extracts corresponding to the syllabus for each of class. These extracts could generally last anywhere between four to six minutes, so as not to bore the students (Harmer, 2005, p. 283). However, the use of full-length films could be envisaged at more advanced levels. The Target Language or Structure for each class would be highlighted in bold in order to stand out for the students. Several viewings would be possible, with subtitles on or off depending on the level and focus of the class. Discussions, debates, questions, role-plays and video making would fill the rest of the class using the theme and Target Language seen in the video. Active participation of the students would be sought after for each of these exercises.

8. The Karaoke Methodology

To resume, our method includes a communicative approach which aims at attaining accuracy and fluency in L2 everyday situations. In order to achieve this there is a focus on the productive and receptive language skills from the first lesson. Another aspect is the handling of students’ interlanguage by the teacher’s knowledge of the student’s culture and first language. The affective factor is dealt with by relaxing students, encouraging them and fostering their creativity. The teacher endorses several roles including some of the most traditional ones, but is also a director much like that of films directors. The syllabus is multi as it includes grammar structures, vocabulary, real-life situations, pronunciation issues and acquired language skills. Finally, the use of material is majorly composed of off-air programmes and real-world videos both with subtitles. The use and creation of videos in class provides several advantages such as hearing and seeing language-in-use, cross-cultural awareness, the power of creation and motivation (Harmer, 2005, p. 282).

The Karaoke Method bears its name from the fact that colours would be used on the subtitles to highlight the focalising points, much like it is used in Karaoke singing. The distinction would be that teachers would have the possibility of turning off the subtitles and these would not be highlighted as the person is talking. Instead, they would bear the colour of the speaking character and bold writing on the Target Language or Structure. Indeed, recent studies (Bairstow and Lavaur, 2012; Lavaur and Bairstow, 2011) have shown that the use of subtitles in videos and off-air programmes enhance the students’ learning of a L2. Thus, by exploiting the results of recent research while using video material we believe that our method is contemporary and should be welcomed by students of all ages and levels.


Bairstow, D., & Lavaur, J. M. (2012). Effets des sous-titres et des consignes de visionnage sur la restitution des dialogues d'un film. Actes du 54ème congrès de la Société Française de Psychologie, 105.

Harmer, J. (2005). The Practice of English Language Teaching (7th edition ed.). Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.

Lavaur, J. M., & Bairstow, D. (2011). Languages on the screen: Is film comprehension related to the viewers’ fluency level and to the language in the subtitles?. International Journal of Psychology46(6), 455-462.

Mitchell, R. (1994). The communicative approach to language teaching. In A. Swarbick, Teaching Modern Languages (pp. 33-42). New York: Routledge.

Poyatos, F. (1993). Paralanguage: A Linguistic and Interdisciplinary Approach to Interactive Speech and Sound. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Richards, J., & Rodgers, T. (1986). Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.



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