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
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
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.
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.
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,
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.
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subtitles?. International Journal of Psychology, 46(6),
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Poyatos, F. (1993).
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