Guy Rowlands

My teaching approach


Teaching to the New World Linguistic Order.


In order to teach English effectively it is important to understand why it is that it has been adopted in such huge numbers. During the 90s it was estimated that, as second languages, French was the most spoken per capita, with some 180 million or more people using it, and English was second with 150 million, but it was spoken in more countries – 115 in total[1]. Today English is the second language spoken by the most people, 508 million, and at 188, in the most countries[2]. We have to ask why has there been such a rapid increase and how does this affect us, the English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher, in Spain?

It is considered that English has become the lingua franca of business, science and technology – particularly information technologies – to mention just a few[3]. Also, higher-education students use English as the lingua franca[4] during their studies. Therefore, English has become the involuntarily adopted language for most learners, making its study a requirement instead of a choice. This dynamic obliges us, the ESL teacher, to adapt our approach.

We can gather a great deal of information regarding the students’ feelings on first contact at the start of the lesson. James Scrivener writes that the simplest and most perfunctory observation will be class numbers, age and gender.  After that we can make intangible and intuitive observations. Based on our interpretations of these we can deduce the following: do they know each other; how do they relate to one another; what is their mood – positive, withdrawn, tired, energetic etc; do I feel welcome; how are they reacting to me and are they waiting for me to say something, or are they talking amongst themselves?[5] How they receive us, the teacher, is important too – remembering that they have a requirement to learn English, and in Barcelona we are very much the extranjeros whose Anglo-Saxon concepts may be in opposition to our (predominantly) Catalan students. Jenny Johnson states that there are fundamental differences in the way the Spanish are as students, that “concepts like autonomy and learner independence [can be] unfamiliar.” [6]         

The requirement then, changes ‘learner motivation.’[7] This will be an important factor in their behaviour. If there are learners with different motivations then the class dynamic can become skewed as the requirements of learning for professional purposes may well differ to those learning for fun. Fortunately, communicative methods encourage learner interaction, and as well as facilitating input, this interaction provides the teacher with a device to maintain engagement with the class, while allowing the teacher to gauge the balance of learner control and creativity. Consider the following schematic[8]:


Control          |          Performing memorised dialogues

                     |          Contextualised drills

                     |          Cued dialogues

                     |          Role-playing

Creativity      |          Improvisation



In control based activities, such as stimulus and response drilling of vocabulary or verbal tenses in the Callan Method, there exists no room for learner improvisation. However, drilling helps with pronunciation exercises, by developing the muscle-memory needed to recreate sounds, thus pronunciation, in a second language[9]. I will use drilling to help with pronunciation if it is needed. This could be if a student is having difficulty forming the correct sound: commonly Spanish speakers find difficulty in the ‘d?’ sound in Goodge Street station, somewhat akin to rolling an ‘r’ for Germanic language speakers.

But methods based solely on these Audio Lingual techniques have “gone out of fashion after commentators successfully argued that language learning is more than just the formation of habits”[10]  and that realistic language, that is, language that students will use out in the ‘real world’ was not being used.

Roughly defined “ set of principles about the goals of language teaching...[11] Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) is an alternative, contemporary alternative to older, out-moded and traditional methods such as the Grammar Translation Method (GTM). But to underline the paradigm of ESL teaching methods, GTM still could find a place with the student who has obtained a high communicative grasp of English, and now looks to learn how to translate texts.    

William Littlewood outlines the four domains of skill where a person can acquire language through comprehensible input, and thus improve their linguistic ability and communicative competence:

  • Manipulate the linguistic system [...] to the point of spontaneous and flexible usage.
  • Distinguish between the forms learnt in the linguistic system, and understand them in the communicative system.
  • Develop skills and strategies for using language to communicate meaning as effectively [as] possible in concrete situations. Learn to use feedback to establish successes and failures, and then remedy failure by using different language.
  • Understand the social meaning and context of language forms, which are acceptable and which are not, or potentially offensive.”[12]

They are not sequential processes and the learner does not leave the last one behind as they advance. Rather, these stages are meant as a way of progression with the learner engaging with all of them simultaneously when they reach an ‘operationally proficient’[13] (advanced – P4 or 5) level or higher. It is important for the teacher to ensure that these stages are adhered to during a lesson.  

Consider the sentence “By the way, have we got any milk in the fridge?” It is correct both structurally and communicatively, however, generally people do not speak like this; “Oh yeah, do we have any milk?” would be more typical. “Oh yeah,” does not add any meaning to the sentence, but implies a context, one of a casual, spoken, conversation.

But with the sentence “Oh yeah, do we have [any] [milk]?” the words ‘any’ and ‘milk’ could be replaced by ‘some beer’ or any other combination of adjective + noun. The student takes on a mechanical acquisition of the language if teaching with these structural forms alone.

We have to place this language into a context to meet the third phase of learning where linguistic choices correspond to meanings that need conveying in context to a task[14].

We could achieve this by introducing vocabulary to the students by way of a ‘describe and draw’[15] exercise. Student A is given a picture of an object, Student B a paper and pencil. Student A cannot explicitly state what the item is, i.e.: “It’s a ball.” Rather, they follow the rules of the game ‘Charades’: they must describe the item using words or sentences containing examples of its usage. Depending on the learners’ level of English, this activity will either be an Engage, Activate and Study (EAS). If they are able to activate the language without too much difficulty then great; if they are finding the task difficult then vocabulary can be introduced as a study element, and the activity reverts to ESA, or “Straight Arrows Exercise[16] more suitable for lower-intermediate level learners.

Such an activity could be expanded to then take another set of objects (actual physical objects) and apportion them amongst the class. This could be a set of Lego bricks that make up several different more complex objects that the students must build. They will need to trade pieces in order to complete their object and by doing so will need to activate the target-language in a context. Dependent on learner ability contrasted to difficulty of the target-language this type of activity would become a “Patchwork” exercise.[17]  

I, as an ESL teacher look forward to using the CLT method to teach English to those that want to learn, whatever their motivation. I, as a monoglot who attempts to learn Castellano while he extends the gratitude of teaching English to a world that has adopted his language, will do so with the knowledge of how difficult it is to learn a second language as an adult.       





‘What are the most spoken languages in the world?’ accessed 20.09.14.

‘The Benefits of English Language for Individuals and Societies.’ accessed 20.09.14.

‘Tackling the Anglophones’ Free Ride Fair Linguistic Cooperation with a Global Lingua Franca.’ accessed 20.09.14.

‘Carnegie Speech: Software Uses Immediate Feedback to Improve Language Learning.’ accessed 21.04.14.

‘Top Languages.’ Republication of George Weber's research, conducted during the 1990s and printed in now defunt Language Today magazine accessed 19.09.14. 



Scrivener, Jim. Learning Teaching: A Guide Book for English Language Teachers - Second Edition. MacMillan. 2005.

Littlewood, William. Communicative Language Teaching – an introduction. Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Harmer, Jeremy. How to Teach English. Longman Press. 1998.

Harmer, Jeremy. The Practice of Teaching English Language. Longman. 2001.

Johnson, Jenny. Teaching English in Spain. In Print Publishing LTD. 1998.

Richards, Jack C. ‘Communicative Language Teaching Today.’ Cambridge University Press. 2006.




[1] Website: Top Languages.

[2] Website: What are the most spoken languages in the world?

[3] Website: Tackling the Anglophones’ Free Ride.

[4] Website: What are the most spoken languages in the world?

[5] Scrivner, Learning Teaching, p61.

[6] Johnson, p32.

[7] Scrivner, Learning Teaching, p64.

[8] Littlewood, p50.

[9] Website: ‘Carnegie Speech: Software Uses Immediate Feedback to Improve Language Learning.’ Research conducted by Dr. Jaime Carbonell and Dr. Maxine Eskenazi (founders of Carnegie Speech) found that practising pronunciation until it became automatic helped with language learning: “Speaking is a very muscle memory-oriented skill, sort of like a sport,” explains Angela Kennedy, president and CEO of Carnegie Speech.

[10] Harmer, How to Teach English, p31.

[11] Richards, p2.

[12] Littlewood, p6.

[13] Scrivener, p67.

[14] Littlewood, p11.

[15] Harmer, How to Teach English, p88.

[16] Harmer, How to Teach English, p30.

[17] Harmer, p30. A patchwork engagement utilises the ESA components but forms more complicated combinations – EAASASEA is cited in ‘How to Teach English’.

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