My teaching approach
"What is my
preferred teaching methodology? What elements of established theories would I
utilize, were I to synthesize an entirely new approach?
this question as a TEFL student, one must of course bear in mind that Second
Language Acquisition is an incredibly complex process, which, like most
processes of the human mind, is not fully understood even at the highest levels
concerning the way in which the human mind accumulates and activates language
do indeed come and go. A consensus seems to have formed in linguistic circles
concerning the primacy of acquisition
(over formalized learning), but even this may, in the fullness of time, be
contradicted by new evidence that has not yet come to light.
But for now we can
see that most modern approaches to L2 teaching are at least in basic agreement
about the over-arching goal, that being fluent communication (as opposed to the
emphasis on pure structure and literacy which had previously dominated the field).
consideration that we (my fellow TEFLs and I) have touched on in classroom
discussions is that a long experience of teaching, using various methods and
materials and dealing with a wide variety of students, would be necessary to
formulate a truly useful answer to the above question. Actually seeing first
hand why some students progress and some don’t, why some methods or materials
seem to work and others don’t, this is truly necessary to make meaningful judgements about the relative merits of various teaching methods.
Since the Oxbridge
system is the only one in which I have direct experience it makes sense to
discuss it at some length. Given the status of my experience in this field and
the limited amount I have learned about various other established teaching systems, I would not significantly modify the basic Oxbridge
blue-print as a model for how I would prefer to teach the English language.
The emphasis on oral transmission of L2 and the absence of translation
into L1 chime very strongly with both my intuitive ideas about teaching and
also it seems the latest thinking in academic circles. This is a common feature
of the various methods I have come to identify as the ones most in tune with my
own thoughts on the subject, primarily the Berlitz method and the Communicative
There are many elements of the Oxbridge system with which I strongly
agree. The teaching of generic language at low levels to promote versatility
within a limited vocabulary, the emphasis on interaction in L2 and the general
goal of promoting STT over TTT. The basic principal of speaking to learn (as
opposed to learning to speak) is one that I personally believe is an excellent
philosophical model for learning of almost any kind. It is heartening also to
see this tennet carried through into the TEFL course, where actual teaching
experience is used as a primary tool (teaching to learn, rather than just
learning to teach).
One feature of the Oxbridge system that we as Oxbridge TEFL students
take somewhat for granted, but which is remarkable in a number of ways, is the
collective pool of learning activities and the radical effect this has on the
amount of time necessary to prepare a class. This quasi-collectivization of
responsibility for formulating the syllabus strikes me as a masterstroke. By
involving the teachers in shaping the activities which form the basis of each
class, the element of personal creativity is fostered, while simultaneously the
time necessary to prepare for any individual class is drastically reduced.
The Quick Questions are also a feature of the Oxbridge system which
are worth mentioning. In class we have discussed their role in moving a class,
psychologically, into L2 in a very short space of time. Once the students are
accustomed to the format they seem very comfortable responding to even the
strangest and most un-contextualized questions. They seem to appreciate that
the grammatical context of the
question and a correct response to that grammar is what’s important. It seems
to me that the Quick Questions are a kind of Concept Check, a swift and
informal revision of the L2 the students have acquired up to that point.
The “triangular” break-down of language from which the Oxbridge
system derives it’s structure seems entirely rational, and in practice clearly contributes
to the pace and dynamics of the classes.
Having said all this, here are many aspects of other systems and
approaches that, given a greater store of classroom experience, I might be
inclined to explore and adopt.
For instance, the TPR (Total Physical Response) method developed by
James Asher strikes a chord on a number of levels. Non-verbal communication is
certainly something which most language teachers use from time to time to
reinforce meaning and trigger comprehension, and the TPR emphasis on reducing
anxiety and making the classroom a fun environment is hard to dispute.
Having lived in several non-English speaking countries continuously
over the last 10 years I have found that the single greatest barrier to my own
SLA has been anxiety and lack of confidence.
Desuggestopedia’s introduction of cultural material (music, art,
drama ect) is also quite intriguing and suggestive. Since culture and language
are inseparable entities in many ways, it seems to me to be highly appropriate
to use the arts as a way to culturally contextualize the English language and
generate enthusiasm and a sense of exploration in the students.
I am also drawn to the philosophy of the Communicative Approach in
several respects. For instance the CA philosophy pertaining to error
correction, where errors are seen as a natural bi-product of the learning
process and tolerated to some degree. My own instinct in the classroom is to
correct only when the error directly impedes communication (ie: When it results in non-comprehension or loss of meaning). Of course I lack the
experience to anticipate any (many?) problems this might cause as the student
progresses through increasingly complex vocabulary and grammatical
constructions, but I am interested in what might happen if pure communication
(the accurate communication of an idea) was made of prime importance, and
correct pronunciation and grammar were made subordinate to that concern.
The use of authentic materials is also an issue that interests me.
While I agree with the tenant of the Oxbridge system that states literacy
should be subordinated to the goal of fluent speech, I think that authentic
written materials could have an important place, particularly outside the
classroom (as set homework pieces for example). The use of authentic written material
would also assist in illustrating the cultural context in which the English
language exists. This cultural context can often be the deciding factor as to
whether what we are saying in L2 is appropriate or not.
With the exception of the generally discredited Grammar Translation
Method, each of the methodologies we have been introduced to and discussed in
class have elements I can imagine being valuable to a truly integrated and
effective English teaching system.
The guiding principal which seems to drive modern teaching methods
is the idea that the student is primarily learning to communicate in the target language, which seems rather obvious but
has equally obviously been side-lined in the GTM in favor of learning about the
target language. This point has been impressed upon us with great clarity. The
idea that “productive” methods of inducing SLA are the most effective is not
only intuitively appealing but appears to be sustained by a large and ongoing
body of linguistic research, so any sylabus I had a hand in creating would have "production" at it's core.
Much of the literature available about being a language teacher, and
indeed the small store of experience I have myself so far accumulated, seems to
support the idea that it is vital to be adaptable, to have a range of
strategies and materials at your command which can be deployed where and when
they seem appropriate. Language is an incredibly dynamic, living phenomenon
which is constantly being adapted to new situations. It seems to me that as
language teachers we should make ourselves aware of all credible methodologies
and leave no stone unturned in the search for new and more effective ways to
induce Second Language Acquisition.
In summary, if I had responsibility for formulating a methodology
and syllabus for the teaching of the English language I would encapsulate my
- 1. All
lessons and materials to be exclusively in L2. No translation into L1.
- 2. Oral
communication is emphasized, but not exclusively.
- 3. Attention
is paid to the “triangulation” of language used in the Oxbridge system and
lesson plans reflect this.
- 4. Error
correction is subordinated to the flow and energy of the class and the goal of
production. If the students are getting their ideas across, keep moving.
- 5. Authentic
materials are used for both comprehension and cultural context.
- 6. Student
interaction is encouraged. An informal atmosphere is encouraged.
- 7. Active
vocabulary is emphasized over grammatical constructions. The syllabus is
constructed primarily with topics. Grammar is learned in context rather than
- 8. Games
and role-play feature prominently. A playful atmosphere is encouraged to minimize anxiety.
Learning a second language is a truly bold adventure, and in our
role as guides we must surely respect this fact first and foremost. The style
and tone of our lessons may vary wildly from one teacher to another, but at
root there absolutely must be respect for the students desire to achieve this