Paul OBrien

My teaching approach

                        PAUL O’BRIEN                                                     TEFL Course 03/10/11


Title : Compare and contrast several different teaching methods and approaches by considering their effectiveness in creating a communicative lesson.


            “ The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place “

-        George Bernard Shaw


             In the modern world all students of english as a foreign / second language have a limited amount of time to spend on their studies. It is important that the time they spend is focused and goal orientated. In order to achieve this there are many different ( and sometimes conflicting ) teaching methods being used worldwide. The purpose of this essay is to evaluate the most commonly used methods in relation to their success at creating a communicative style of teaching. I shall compare the traditional “ Grammar Translation Method “, the “ Total Physical Response Method “, the “ Callan Method “, the “ Direct Method ( Berlitz )” and finally the “ Communicative Language Approach “ as practised in the Oxbridge System. Through the course of this essay I hope to draw attention to comparisions between the approaches and arrive at some personal conclusions as to what is the best form of teaching.

              Since the 18th and 19th centuries the main form of teaching a second language has been the Grammar Translation Method. The picture most people have of a traditional classroom setting with the teacher perched infront of rows of silent , uninterested students, is directly linked to GTM. Students are expected to translate the target language through the use of their mother tongue and little importance is placed on the spoken language. A large emphasis is spent on grammatical rules , deconstructing sentences and translating passages of text. With this method students lack any active role in the classroom, and the teachers by and large stick rigidly  to the syllabus. A positive of this method is that it leaves very little room for miss-understanding  between teacher and students as the class predominately takes place in their mother tongue. As a way of learning a second language it is completely un-natural, as the normal order of language acquisition is through listening, then speaking and followed by reading and writing : the exact opposite of GTM ! Students find it difficult not to think in their native language before translating into the target language. It is in direct response to this method that many of the new types of language acquisition have been formulated.

               One of those new techniques introduced in the 70’s is the Total Physical Reponse method. This form of teaching uses the physical actions of the teacher to express an action or an idea to the students. The student then responds physically to the words of the teacher. This is a much more organic form of teaching and mirrors the way children absorb languages in the first instance. For the pupils this is a much more enjoyable form of learning as they aren’t desk bound for the entire class , although it does limit the possiblity of expressing their own thoughts in a creative way. It is also a difficult method for shy or timid students ( and teachers ) and it can seem rude to native speakers with its reliance on commands e.g. sit down , stand up , etc. TPR is most useful for beginners and kinesthetic learners who respond well to the physical stymullus. Although around for more than 40 years, it has not received widespread support from mainstream academia, even though in the correct class enviroment it can be a useful tool for the creative teacher.

             The Callan Method takes a completely different approach to language acquisition. This approach is almost exclusively speaking based with the teacher, ideally a native speaker,  although this isn’t always the case around the world where the Callan method is taught . The class lesson usually takes the form of a quick-fire questions and answers session with the teacher quickly correcting pronuncation and grammar errors during the course of the exercise. The teacher by and large works from a script and there is very little teacher preparation time, or thought, put into the classes. One of the claims made by the proponents of the Callan Method is that it teaches basic english “ in a quarter of the time of conventional methods “ ,where as in reality, it basically concentrates on the 2000 most commonly used english words. After the initial benefits of learning new vocabulary for the beginner, the limitations of this approach become clear. For the intermediate student the repetitive nature of the classes means the Callan approach is less effective than other more traditional methods. Students do not necessarily hear the natural ebb and flow of the english language but rather are drilled in the correct pronunciation, word order, etc. As a teaching style it has its advantages as communication is the main focus, but also negatives in the form of drilled, rote responses from the students.

            The Direct Method ( or Berlitz Method ) was one of the answers to the general dissatisfaction amoung the teaching community towards the GTM. The Berlitz method ( created by Maximilian Berlitz more than 130 years ago ) was one of the first to pioneer the Direct Method approach. The direct method advocates teaching only through the target language – the reasoning being that students will eventually be able to work out the grammatical structures from the inputed language. There is not a huge emphasis placed on the students being able to explain the rules of grammar overtly. Students are presented the language in the form of “ real world “ usage, while target language is strategically placed throughout the exercise. Regarded as one of the founding methods of the communicative approach, students benefited from the focus on using language as a tool for communication. Students developed their language skills through listening and speaking rather than reading and writing ,which was a radical change when it was first introduced. All future teaching theories were hugely influenced by the Berlitz method and it spread far and wide around the world, where even by the start of WW1 in 1914 , there were over 200 Berlitz schools worldwide.

              The Communicative Language Approach evolved over the years and has been updated in the form of “ The Oxbridge System “, which places a large emphasis on natural interaction as both the means and the ultimate goal of language acquisition. This approach is always presented to the students using the target language, orally and through the use of authentic texts. It is very important in this form of learning that the students are comfortable and relaxed, as ideally they  should converse more during the course of the lesson than the teacher. Keeping the class activities short, topical and interesting helps to motivate the students and teachers alike. It is the teachers job to encourage the students to first and foremost develop their communicative competence, and confidence in using the vocabulary they do have.

               Many theories have been put forward over the centuries when it comes to language acquisition, but few definitive answers have been forthcoming. In this essay I have outlined some of the most commonly used teaching methods, all of which have their pros and cons. Scientists have shown us that as children we learn our first language instintively, unlike in later life where to learn other languages we use our intellect. This flies in the face of the Direct Method for example, as immersion on its own will not make a completely fluent student. The old fashioned Grammer Translation Method has largely been discredited by most modern teachers even though it is still in widespread use around the world. The Total Physical Response method has its place in introducing the target language to new students but is limiting for the more advanced pupil. The Callan method on the other hand takes a different approach that does encourage discourse in the classroom, but with a distinctly narrow frame of reference. By all consencus the Communitive Approach, as practised in the Oxbridge System, is the most effective and forward thinking language teaching style. Its emphasis on conversation, communication and natural interaction make it the method of choice for the 21st century – until a new theory is proposed !

                What makes a good teacher ? – A question asked down through the ages. Personally I believe the ability to instill enthusiasm in the students, a natural curiosity and intelligence, lots of patience and a strong work ethic are the foundations for any teaching career. If the teacher can capture the students’ imagination and awaken their natural abilities, the battle´s half won. In the end, the best teachers are the ones who approach each class with the biggest toolbox of techniques available, and the confidence and skill base to implement them, depending on the students in front of them. After all,a teacher´s approach in communicating an idea is just as important as the idea itself !.                                                                                                                                                    


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