Daniel Perez Ferrero





My teaching approach

Teaching Skills: Success in L2 Teaching

 

Reasons for learning a new language vary from student to student.  Depending on the learner’s particular motivation or goals, some teaching methodologies might be more effective than others.  This indicates that there is no stand-alone best methodology for all learners and purposes.  Indeed, catering a teaching method to each individual student will yield the most effective results; however, this would be highly inefficient as it would consume too much time and other resources.  The best teaching methodology then consists in balancing the learner’s particular needs with the teacher’s resource restraints.  This essay will expose what I believe to be the generally most effective teaching methods and practices.

There are some aspects of teaching that I find fundamental regardless of goals.  I believe the student’s native language should never be used in class or with the instructor.  The instructor should have ample resources at his or her disposal to explain things without translating, e.g., realia, images, modeling, gestures and body language.  These resources provide certain structure for the learners, and can make them feel more comfortable when speaking in class. The idea behind teaching in L2 is that it helps students rely less on their native language. As they think more in L2, their fluency improves.  Translating every word to their native language is not the same as providing a definition.

Teaching students in L2 comes with a cost, especially at lower levels.  Defining target language without direct translation takes more time.  This means higher Teacher Talking Time and lower Student Talking Time.  The cost of not translating then becomes a decrease in STT.  I think this cost is acceptable because of the long-term benefits of teaching in L2.  Increased fluency means less mistakes and even less TTT in the form of corrections in the long run.  This combines well with a teacher skill I consider extremely important: being the playmaker.

Knowing how to direct students to the right answer in lieu of telling it to them has two main benefits.  Firstly, by not telling the student the answer directly, he or she arrives at it through a cognitive or deductive process.  This process is more didactic and improves the student’s retention rate.  Secondly, arriving at the answer helps the student’s motivation. By feeling that they came up with the answer on their own, the student’s self confidence is also increased. This translates into more classroom participation and feeling exponentially more comfortable with the material. These two benefits highlight the importance of asking the right questions to have the students come up wit the right answer.  The playmaker is essentially required to apply a simplified form of the Socratic method for language teaching.

Self-confidence is an attribute every teacher should try to bring out in his or her learners.  The aforementioned playmaker role is one way for teachers to achieve this, but there are more.  The teacher should encourage all students to engage in conversation as soon as possible.  As they become more exposed to conversation, they will feel more comfortable speaking L2.  This can be a very powerful force if combined with an environment that is receptive and tolerant of mistakes.  In the long-term, students will be less embarrassed of making mistakes and will be more confident, using the language in more situations with greater fluency.  Used sparingly, indirect positive suggestions can also increase student self-confidence.  Conversely, excessive positive suggestions can lead to less effort from the students because it can make them think everything they do is great, so the teacher must find a balance.  Making students feel comfortable and engage in more conversation will help the teacher gain the students’ trust.

I believe that the teacher must also earn his students’ respect.  If there is trust and respect from the students, the entire teaching process becomes more efficient.   To earn this respect, the teacher must show his or her worth.  Many factors come into play here.  If the teacher cannot properly adapt to the students and the teaching goals, or if he/she simply is not fit for teaching, the students will lose respect. Ample preparation before lessons is crucial for teachers.  Not only does it prevent making mistakes in class but it makes recovering from them easier.   Preparation includes familiarizing oneself with the lesson material, considering useful resources, and predicting difficulties students may have with the material.  The improvement in the lesson flow will be noticeable, and the students will appreciate the lack of awkward silences.  

Having a structured syllabus that lies out the goals of each lesson is an important part of preparation. The teacher should know what he/she has to focus on for a particular lesson, i.e., what is most relevant for future individual lessons and for the underlying goals in general.  Of course these goals can vary from company to company or school to school, but preparation never loses relevance.  For example, in teaching younger age groups, preparation is vital because any second of inactivity in the classroom means losing your students’ attention.  On the other hand, not preparing for a class with adults can result in losing respect and, if recurrent, even your job.

In terms of structuring a syllabus for my students, I would focus on hearing and speaking as the primary receptive and productive skills; writing and reading would receive more emphasis at more advanced levels. I would make beginners focus more on grammar rules and vocabulary. These can empower beginners to speak a little bit early on, forming basic sentences and conjugating simple verbs. At this point, only the worst pronunciation errors should be corrected, focusing more on actual grammatical mistakes. Once the beginner has built a considerable base, more attention can be placed on fluency. 

Ideally, classes would be carried out with activities that make use of ample resources and not just a textbook.  Variety in activities will make it easier for students to remain interested and engaged.  Dialogues, identity cards, memory games, and role-playing are all valid activities.  Non-communicative activities like fill in the blank should be avoided; they are neither as engaging nor do they focus on the primary productive and receptive skills.  I find the Triangular Projection Model to be a great way of dividing communication.  This is why I also agree with the Oxbridge method of separating classes into Structures, Topics and Vocabulary activities.  I have seen it in practice and think it is effective at engaging students and teaching the basics.

All the methods, practices and resources described in this essay constitute my personal take on language teaching.  They have been collected from a wide array of theories and established approaches.  Teaching in L2 is one of the most important things for students to build fluency passively throughout the lesson.  I also described the importance of being the playmaker to deal with certain affective factors that influence the learning process, namely self-confidence and trust from the students.  Earning the students’ respect was also discussed, highlighting lesson preparation and adaptation to students and their goals.  If a teacher is able to bring these skills and qualities to the classroom, the entire learning experience will be improved, regardless of the goals or syllabus structure.

 



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