My teaching approach
Language is an intricate and primordial part of the human race. We have been building language through the years using pictures, drawings, and signs. If we consider the evidence we have today in cave paintings and the like, it could easily be speculated that we have clear proof of these early peoples’ receptive and productive skills at work. By listening and making sounds, by repeating them and by drawing, painting, activating and producing this new language, it was able to develop and evolve along with humanity. Now, as advanced as we like to think we have become, it is still evolving due to the needs of our society today. More and more people travel around the world and have different needs than societies in the past. So, how do we learn or acquire a new or second language (SLA) today? What is the method that is most effective in our times? How do we arrive at this selection? What factors must be taken into consideration?
I studied some existing methods that I have recently encountered such as: the Direct Method, the Total Physical Response Method, and the Audio Lingual Method. In order to create my own, I took from each approach the factors that I found to be the most connected to connatural behavior and represents a communicative approach to teaching. By connatural behavior, I mean how humans have successfully and naturally acquired language from day one to my own personal experience as a child learning a second language. I believe that we can learn so much by simply analyzing natural human behavioral patterns and applying this knowledge to our needs as a society today.
The Direct (Berlitz) Method began in France in the 1900’s and it is based on teaching a language by emphasizing interaction between teacher and student. Grammar is introduced inductively. This method emerged from the dissatisfaction with the more traditional Grammar Translation Method. We learned that having students memorize grammar rules and translating L1 into L2 was not working. Many language schools have adopted this method including the Berlitz School in the 1970’s. There is no usage of L1 in the Direct Method and vocabulary and pronunciation are focal points. Language is introduced through speech, mimicking and realia objects or pictures yet it still uses writing which is important to reinforce the lesson. From what I have gathered, I think the Direct Method is very successful. I would make very minor but important adjustments that I will discuss later in this essay.
Another language teaching method is Total Physical Response Method created by James Asher. Asher made three major observations: language is learned primarily by listening, language learning must engage the right hemisphere of the brain and that learning a language should not involve any stress. Why is this important? As a former art student, I was made aware of the differences of the right and left side of the brain and the importance of using both to our maximum capacity. Generally, the left side of the brain is perceived as the side that dominates language and speech, and is mainly used to solve logical and mathematical computations. The right side is associated with language (particularly interpreting context and tone) as well but with a higher concentration on spatial abilities, face recognition, processing music and visual imagery. Many specialists today believe that by activating both sides of the brain, one can increase its processing capacity and avoid conflict when each side of the brain tries to take charge- leading to lack of comprehension and stress. The TPR Method teaches grammar through language input or commands. The teacher teaches by example so students follow the modelling and produce the language being taught. This system seems to me like a very natural and effective approach to teaching. It aleviates the stress of being introduced into something completely new and foreign and uses imagery to stimulate all aspects of brain function. I believe that relaxation and stimulated brain activity are key elements in the learning process.
The Audio Lingual Approach, sometimes called the Army Method, started in WWII when the United States had to send troops to different parts of the world with a basic understanding of a foreign language. At the same time, behaviorist psychologists were forming the belief that all behavior (including language) was learned through repetition and positive or negative reinforcement (B.F.Skinner). This system was intended to teach masses of people due to the influence of the military in those days and it became known as the Army method. I don’t feel this is effective because we have learned that any kind of negative reinforcement is counterproductive. Repetition and memorization alone have proven to not be very effective when teaching a new language. In my opinion, negative reinforcement such as over-correcting, preventing students from making errors is not productive and can lead to discouraging the student to learn the language. For example, I still have nightmares about a math class I had in the 7th grade. The teacher’s approach was very similar and drilled the students constantly. This made me extremely nervous and I would automatically go blank. I started having anxiety dreams about this class in college when I was about to take an exam or do an oral presentation. Although repetition and memorization are instrumental when learning a language, this method ignored the important roles that context and relaxation play in language acquisition.
The Connatural Approach
Much like the Oxbridge method, my Connatural Approach is a mix of the most used and successful teaching methods plus the knowledge we have acquired in this field to this day. I chose the Direct Method as a base to work from. I feel that immersion in the language is important but not using any of the student’s L1 may be a bit daunting at first especially for someone that is at a very elementary level. Therefore, in the Connatural approach, controlled and minimal use of the L1 (their first language) is allowed in the very basic entry level. In this way, the student is still at ease and relaxed within a foreign dynamic. I do see the effects of language interference and how it can lead to problems in the future such as interlanguage. Having been taught English as a second language in the early 80’s in a classroom where everyone spoke both languages, I can attest to the repercussions such things bring. To this day I translate when I speak both English and Spanish and I can tell that some of my grammar issues are complete fossilized mistakes from not learning the language properly. This approach allows MINIMAL and CONTROLLED use of the L1 because it alleviates the stress of facing a foreign language for the first time. For example, usage of cognates and collocation terms in the first and second level of the course program will be encouraged in this method.
The aim for the Connatural method is to teach the student to listen, understand, think, speak and write in the desired language. To accomplish this, I would put a higher emphasis in writing and movement. I have appropriated the Direct Method’s effective use of realia, authentic material, mimicking, modelling the language, repetition and teaching structure by use of examples and scenarios but it leaves out the learning style of the student. Students may have different, innate ways or styles of learning. I consider myself to have both a Kineasthetic and Visual style of learning. Now that I am learning Catalan, I realize that it is important for me to write things down(visual), write or move around (kineasthetic) when I want to understand something.
Aside from the importance of movement but in connection to it, I have added “movement breaks” in the class. When dealing with children of all ages, adults that just finished a day’s work, it is the teacher’s job to charm them back into the class. Both instances are a challenge for any teacher. The Connatural Method adds music to each class. Students must stand up and move around to a popular tune everyone knows and “sing” the lyrics to the song. How much fun would it be to finally know what Madonna said in that song about the priest? These breaks are positive and productive affective factors in a student’s learning experience. James Asher’s Total Physical Response Method reinforced my thoughts on this matter.
Teacher-student relationship is imperative. Positive reinforcement is key. Errors are encouraged. Errors are great. Errors inform the teacher that the student is making a connection. What you are teaching is coming across perhaps not perfectly, but it is. If it weren’t, the teacher will recognize that by the student’s blank stare. Creating a good, respectful rapport with the student is vital so some areas need to be addressed. For example, if a student is not answering a question give them 3-4 seconds and move on to ask for another student’s help or give the answer by means of an example. Drilling methods and embarrassing the students are practices that have been proven vehemently inneffective. A good teacher under any method must take into account the students’ language processing capacity and gauge the amount of information taught per class. For example, it has been advised that a person learns 5-8 vocabulary words per class. If, as a teacher, you surpass that amount, the student will filter out some aspects of what you are teaching.
Like the Direct Method and the Total Physical Response Method , the Connatural Method reflects a communicative approach. Therefore, the main concern in the class will be on how to engage, study and activate the material for the lesson in a creative and interactive way without intricate explanations. My lesson plan will be based on the level of the student, their reason for learning a foreign language, and variety of activities that lead to the student’s understanding and production of the language.
The syllabus will reflect: a 5 minute introduction/greeting (i.e. How are you today? etc. as a warm up) followed by activities. The activities vary depending on topic and level. Most of them are pictures with a text, images, situation games, role plays, questions and answers, poems, physical response games, etc. Anything that will activate the target language and engage the student in a creative and interesting way so in a relaxed and fun atmosphere they could in turn study/practice the TL and produce it on their own. The format will be: a structure activity, a vocabulary activity, a reading, topic activity, dance/music break, last a pronunciation activity, ending with a wrap up. Much like Oxbridge, I would tweak this depending on the level of the student and their learning style, size of class amongst other factors. If this is a basic level student, then the syllabus would reflect a lesson plan based on a higher amount of structure activities, for example.
There are many language learning methods but at the moment it seems that the ones that are more efficient focus on a communicative approach where the student is in a relaxed atmosphere, learning through games, music, movement and interaction just like we always have since birth and since the beginning of man.