Kevin Chow

My teaching approach

            Learning a second language at any age in your life can be many things all at once: easy, difficult, simple, complex, challenging and frustrating.  I experienced all of these feelings at both the elementary and high school levels when I was in the midst of my French language studies and in retrospect looking back I asked myself, what were the best teaching methods to help the language stick with me?  Was it the memorization of verb conjugations, writing those long written essays or simply speaking in class?   What made this learning experience the easiest for me?  I was then asked to me to compare different methodologies of learning English as a second language and determine what was the best way to promote learning, the approach to errors and their correction and the teachers attitude and behaviour towards their students.  Some advantages and disadvantages of each learning process will be discussed for the Grammar Translation Method, the Audio Lingual method, the direct method and the Communicative Language Teaching method.


            When students are faced with a new thought or idea while learning English as a second language, their first impression is extremely important in building the foundation for future learning.    The “Communicative Language Teaching” method is a very stark contrast to  one of the very first methodologies to come to existence in teaching English was known as “the Grammar Translation method”.  This was first developed in the 18th and 19th century as a way to teach classical literature to students from original Greek and Latin text (mathematics was also studied alongside the grammar translation).   Up until recently this take on teaching English to new students was widely taught with the main focus for students to learn through the use of text books and long bilingual vocabulary lists where learners were lectured by the teachers.  Little emphasis was placed on the students speaking aloud or correct pronunciation and the main goal was centred around reading and memorization.  Some of the criticism of the Grammar Translation method is that mere memorizing of grammar rules and studying literary texts are considered somewhat an “old school” train of thought as successful use of English is now heavily based on communication.  The transition from this style of teaching has shifted towards the “Communicative Language Teaching” or CLT method because the lessons are less lecture-oriented and more action-oriented.  Authentic texts/interactions are introduced to students into the learning situation making them more real and tangible based on world news and events surround them.  There is a strong correlation with linking these real life situation words or use of target language to reinforce the communicative nature of English speech.  Often times students work together in groups to complete tasks or activities and can engage in role play scenarios, interviews or by posing questions to each other and playing games which in turn helps students effectively learn from each other.  For new students the practical method of learning to speak English as a second language through is more beneficial through the CTL method versus the archaic Grammar Translation method. 


            When learning any secondary language there is undoubtedly a large learning curve and mistakes will happen time and time again unless they are corrected by the teacher.  In different teaching methods the approach to errors and their corrections vary greatly and this can be another pivotal factor in how fast a student can develop their fluency in English.  The Audio-lingual method or otherwise known as the ARMY method is a style of teaching based on a system of reinforcement where the teacher presents the correct model of a sentences to the students and they repeat them.  The outbreak of World War II created a new need to help US soldiers have basic verbal communication skills while they were posted all over the globe.  This style of teaching was very suitable for large groups of people and because of the connection between this and the military, the tag “ARMY method” was attached.  This type of lesson is very teacher centred and it was a popular methodology for both teachers and students because the input and output is restricted to the learning material being covered.  Although correct grammar is expected in usage, no explicit grammatical instruction is given to the students the sentences are simply dictated.  Typically the target language is the only language to be used in the classroom and would only make sense in that class context.  Students would be corrected by their teachers based on the dictation and if the response given by the student was incorrect, students would get negative feedback as they would have little or no control over the output language.  This is a direct opposite to the CLT method where there is not a direct focus on error correction however but instead creates

a situation where learners are left using their own devices to solve their communication problems.    This can be challenging at times as students are forced to practice with classmates who are not fluent in English and some can find it frustrating to ‘chat’ with them because of their accent or pronunciation.  Learners who come from cultures where they have been taught with grammar-translation methods want to learn to say things correctly and be corrected by the teacher whenever they make an error.  However, teachers are there to act in support of these students and correct in the specific context and situation of the activity which is beneficial in terms of conversational English.


            The role of the teacher shifts positions in every different English teaching methodology and the reason for this change is based around the teachers attitude and behaviour towards their students and how information is passed on.  With the turn of the 20th century came a new development in teaching language, moving away from the teacher centric style of learning in the Grammar-Translation shifting to the direct method which was developed to immerse the learner in the same way as when a first language is learnt. All teaching was done in the target language with a focus on speaking and listening, and only useful ‘everyday' language being taught. The Direct Method assumes that a second language can be learnt in exactly the same way as a first, when in fact the conditions under which a second language is learnt can be very different.  Teachers have learners find out rules of grammar through the presentation of question-answer patterns in early learning vocabulary and sentence teaching.   Specific grammar, reading and writing skills are then taught to the students at a later date.  The classes are very teacher centric with the teacher and students constantly interacting verbally.  This method has been very successful with young students who are still forming language skills as children as they are taught from inception to ask questions as well as answer them.  New teaching points are taught verbally and concrete vocabulary is taught through demonstration, objects, and pictures; abstract vocabulary is taught by association of ideas.  Aspects of the Direct Method are still evident in many English language teaching classrooms, such as the emphasis on listening and speaking, the use of the target language for all class instructions, and the use of visuals to illustrate meanings.  The teachers role differs a bit in the CLT method, with the TTT (Teacher Talk Time) brought down to a minimum with students speaking ideally 80% of the time.  The attitude of the teacher shifts only slightly between these two methodologies with both still putting major emphasis of speaking and fluency in English. 


            Students of all ages and backgrounds are all very different and depending on the teaching environment that they are placed in, different methodologies will help in the success of their comprehension of the English language.  Traditional ways of learning like the Grammar-Translation method have become questioned, modified and adapted in various forms to challenge the way that we manage input and output language.  Promotion of positive, fun learning for students through the CMT method is an extreme contrast that some critics believe is a more effective way of teaching English.  Language correction was another very integral part of the way that English is taught and seeing the contrast between the regimented ARMY style versus the more relaxed, free form CMT method.  Lastly, the role of the teacher and their attitude towards how they approach the students will change based on the teaching syllabus and their respective positioning.  So many different approaches to teaching English as a secondary language focus on teaching through repetition and learners copying, whereas the Communicative Learning Method provides a very strong overall scope that is practical, focused on speaking and integration with native speakers. 


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