My teaching approach
You’re Worth One Person More for Every Language that You Speak!
And why is that? Because one can COMMUNICATE! This would be my motivational approach towards all of my students (except for the very young ones) whether their motivations, needs and goals to learn the Target Language were intrinsic (e.g. the student wants to learn) or extrinsic (e.g. the student needs to pass an exam). I would also stress the fact that it is a big world out there but if you can speak two or more languages, you will be able to relate to different cultures and business worlds in an active way. I would also emphasize that English has become the universal language for business, diplomacy, medicine and many more disciplines.
The needs and goals of the TEFL teacher should be to impart all the knowledge that he/she knows in a consistent manner; assessing the students’ needs as they progress as well as distinguishing between the different types of students she might have in her class: some may have affective disorders such as shyness or introversion where they still need to be made to feel included; one subtle way to solve this would be to ask them a question that you are certain they will be able to answer. In the opposite spectrum, if the student is a complete extrovert who wants to take over the class, then a teacher still needs to control her class and one trick would be to pass an object which represents a microphone to the person allowed to speak. To be a successful teacher, you need to build rapport and cater to your students’ needs.
There are many language learning models that have appeared since the 1900’s, some of which we pleasantly acted out in class: the direct method, the audio-lingual method (army), the Grammar-translation method (which I was privy to using while learning Latin for 4 years in high school; it provided a good basis for learning other latin-based words in other languages but never gave us any speaking skills), the Callan method, the Silent Way, among others.
The VAK model, was developed by Neil Fleming and he claimed that there were three different learning styles: visual, auditory and kinesthetic. It has been found that 90% of students are visual learners whereby they best learn through seeing pictures, visual aids, etc.
Oxbridge’s teaching style is the Triangular Projection Model, which incorporates the visual, especially during the activities in which the students are learning new vocabulary. It also incorporates the topic which is necessary to begin the basis of the communication and the structures which bring coherence and meaning to the words (as per Oxbridge notes). Oxbridge stresses the principle of no mother tongue language in the classroom whereby everything is expressed in the target language inside and outside the classroom to give the student the impression that he is immersed in the target language and he therefore has no choice but to use the TL if he wishes to communicate.
While I agree with the notion of complete immersion in an Oxbridge class, there are times that I personally think that using interlanguage (a little bit of Spanish) to explain certain concepts that are difficult to grasp or sounds that supposedly do not exist in the mother tongue would be warranted. One example of the first is a personal one where I was substituting for a teacher in Madrid and attempting to teach the Present Continuous; a whole class had been spent on it and still the SS could not get it so I said, “Estoy caminando” and everyone went AHHHHH! Then we kept on in English the whole evening.
I still do not understand why Spaniards cannot say “yellow” for example – it is a sound that they use, as in “Ya esta”. I personally would use such an example in class to eliminate the “g” sound that they use.
When dealing with beginners, it is very important to use cognates (words that are similar in the mother tongue and easily understood in the target language). This would be especially important in teaching Spanish students since there are more than 40,000 cognates between English and Spanish. A teacher also needs to be attentive to the reactions of her students: if they seem under-stimulated, then a new activity might be in order such as concentrating on things of interest to those students, playing a game in class or getting them stimulated physically. The teacher must however grade her language instruction in order not to overwhelm the students whose level is not on par with the activities in the lesson. She might speak more slowly, make the SS repeat a bit more and review some grammatical structures that have proven difficult to grasp.
Language skills do not only refer to speaking a language. They refer to the four macro skills which are learned in the following order: listening, speaking, reading and writing. The productive skills of speaking and writing are those first skills which allow the SS to communicate in a verbal or written form. The receptive skills of listening and reading allow the SS to receive and decode messages however the SS will only read easily once he has learned how to pronounce and write the words and while Oxbridge stresses the use of proper pronunciation and correction of a poor one, I feel that there could be more writing to describe the pictures or objects that we are trying to explain to the SS. Writing, especially in this day and age of instant messaging, should be taught as vigorously as speaking. In our millennium, teenagers especially have replaced speaking to a great extent with texting and I feel that it would be nice for them to write properly and not reinvent the English language.
Within those macro skills, we will find the micro skills which include grammar, spelling, accuracy and fluency and will provide the SS with the total amount of skills to really master a language. Within those macro skills, we will find the micro skills which include grammar, spelling, accuracy and fluency and will provide the SS with the total amount of skills to really master a language.
The notion of never giving homework is not one that I am that comfortable with. Perhaps, being an older student brings me to that conclusion. But as a child myself, learning a language demanded that the student “share in the learning process”. That means learning new vocabulary on your own, whether by watching television episodes, reading car magazines, listening to music in English, studying auxiliary and irregular verb forms by heart. A little bit of an effort on the student’s part should be expected!
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A syllabus is part of the organizational structure of a course. It needs to be well thought-out and have a fluidity in the lessons for each and every class. It needs to take into consideration as per Oxbridge notes: “the content distribution per session; the learning outcomes per session; and the distribution of classes within a period of time”. There are a variety of syllabi but I have chosen here those that I think would be the most important for myself as a TEFL teacher: structure-based – where students learn grammatical structures in sequence of difficulty; function-based – where students learn to express their own ideas, notions and purposes; situations-based – where students learn to relate in the TL in a real context; and finally, the content-based syllabus which focuses on specific subject matter of interest to the SS. My personal feeling is that the content-based syllabus would probably be the one that I would use the most in order to keep my audience captive.
My syllabus, then would include (as much as possible) a variety of themes related to the SS’s interests, with activities that would be linked by topics and that would incorporate grammar, punctuation, spelling, pronunciation, vocabulary, sentence structures, every aspect of learning in order for the students to acquire a second language and become as fluent and proficient in it as their cognitive capabilities allow.
And this brings me to my final point. While at Oxbridge, I mentioned a few times that older students might have greater difficulties in retaining vocabulary and sentence structures during a class. This was met with quite a lot of resistance on the part of the administration and TEFL teachers. Examples were given of a gentleman who was so enthused that after learning all there was to learn in English about seashells, he went off to open up a seashell shop; and then came the example of the grandmother whose objective was to learn English so she could speak with her grand-daughter living in England. Obviously, these two students showed a very focused and intense interest in learning the TL.
Most older people would probably not be as “gung-ho” as these two. Nevertheless, I do agree that older people are capable of learning but their memory is definitely not as good as it used to be. This is why I would incorporate various neuro-gymnastic exercises within the context of the regular activities presented in the lessons. Many of these exercises can be found online through websites such as Lumosity or through books on neuroplasticity which suggest that a brain can be retrained and rejuvenated.
Let’s hope that these theories on brain revitalization are true as I’m planning on starting to learn a new language next month!
Barcelona, November 16, 2015