My teaching approach
Oxbridge TEFL Course
May 28, 2012
and contrast several different teaching methods and approaches by considering
their effectiveness in creating a communicative lesson
For someone who had to learn four languages other than
the mother tongue, I can say that I experienced several different teaching
methodologies first handed. Although neither of my individual language learning
experiences followed one particular methodology by the book, I can now identify
five different approaches I was exposed to, which I will compare and, in some
cases contrast, to the communicative approach.
To keep a chronological order, I
will start with Hungarian: not a common language to learn; in fact probably one
of the most difficult of languages spoken in Europe. I could say I learned
Hungarian in the Direct Method, or the natural method, as it was the only
language spoken in my grandparents’ house. This method did not involve any
reading or writing until after I was able to speak it, and the only grammar I
know was gained from meaningful conversations. Since my grandparents did not
speak my mother language (Romanian) there was no translation involved, nothing
but total immersion.
In a normal class setting the
teacher using this method will not speak in the students’ mother language at
all, but will instead use a lot of visuals, realia, mimics and body language.
The syllabus of a course taught in the direct method is based on relevant
topics and real-life situations, with a focus on vocabulary and pronunciation,
and away from grammar. In this regard,
the Direct Method is perfect for acquiring communicative competence; however,
if the student’s goal is to pass a standardized exam, this method might fall
short of being a successful one.
The Direct Method is still widely
used nowadays, and it emerged as a direct response to the Grammar Translation
Method, which focuses on writing and grammar competence. I learned French
roughly through this method, and although it helped me a lot in understanding
the structure of Latin languages, I cannot enunciate a response to the simplest
of questions. By the end of my six years of studying French in school, I was supposed
to have a good control over the grammar, spelling and vocabulary of the
language. Every day we translated texts: short sentences at first, later moving
on to complex literature, that was in most cases much above my level of
understanding. The exams were all written, and the only time we would hear
French being spoken in class is when we read out the translations.
Pronunciation was completely neglected during these exercises, which is why to
this day I do not dare to speak in French in front of a native speaker because
I sound like a villain.
Through gradual studying of grammar and vocabulary the
student is supposed to understand and retain the rules of the target language
and later apply them in various contexts. The teacher’s role is to dominate
grammar and grammatical terminology in order to correct students’ mistakes, so
they can later learn from these corrections. As mentioned above, the grammar
translation method goes against everything the communicative approach stands
for, developing close to no communication skills. I personally agree with what
most language instructors acknowledge, namely that the grammar translation
method cannot be effective on its own. However, I do believe that in order to
achieve complete language dominance a balance of grammar translation and a
communicative method is needed.
Fortunately, my French teacher did
not use solely the grammar translation method. Unfortunately, she combined it
with yet another non-communicative method, namely the Audio-Lingual Method. In
some instances we had to memorize entire paragraphs or dialogs as homework, to
later reproduce them word by word in class. Everyone would take a go at it,
which meant we heard the same text over and over again, and were expected to
memorize it correctly by the end of class. It was dull, mechanical, and the
text would soon be forgotten. Even though some notion of structure and
pronunciation would be remembered, it did not help in improving our
communication skills in French at all.
The Audio-Lingual Method is still used today, mostly
in distance learning courses or learning by tape. Emphasis is put on drilling
and memorization, with very little creativity when it comes to student output.
The students are not given the opportunity to discover and develop their own target
language processing, which is a quintessential part of learning a new language.
The classes are very teacher centered, with a high teacher talking time, but
with very little time for the student to stop and think. Similar to the Direct
Method in the way that it is entirely taught in the target language, the
Audio-Lingual Method relies on drilling grammar rather than discovering
vocabulary, which is in direct conflict with the communicative approach.
While learning French was a
disaster, learning Spanish came easily mostly due to what one would call the
Dogme approach. During my four months in Costa Rica I was placed in a host
family where they spoke nothing but Spanish, thus forcing me to use the little
vocabulary I had in order to communicate the basic needs. In four months, we
went from naming basic vegetables to having a proper conversation on the
sustainability of the Costa Rican government. Of course, I did not have a
proper teacher other than my host parents, but the basics of the Dogme method
still applied: dialog based, no textbook, interactive among the family members,
engaging by content of the conversations which were relevant to my interests
and without the use of any technology. I was able to utter full sentences in
Spanish before I was aware that I knew the vocabulary to do so, which is
another characteristic of this method, namely the emergence of language.
The Dogme approach could be considered the purest of the
communicative approaches, with a clear focus on real life conversation, student
interaction, students’ ability to produce language and construct their own
learning. The teacher is forbidden from using educational technology, textbooks
or any published materials, as they are seen too grammar-based, and often
culturally biased. Emphasis is thus set on the material that the student
produces during class. The teacher must ensure that the newly produced language
is retained, and they can do this by repeating and reviewing it. The syllabus
does not have a set content, but is rather uncovered during the learning
process. As with the Direct Method mentioned above, the Dogme method seems to
be a valid method in gaining communicative competency but is probably
inappropriate for students who are preparing for a standardized exam.
Luckily I did not have to be tested in Spanish, which
is not something I can say about English. I started learning English in 2nd
grade, going through more methods and teachers than I could count. I had to
take the SAT and TOEFL exams, none of which would I have passed had I been
taught using just one of the methods described above. But probably the single
method that helped the most in acquiring fluency in English was the Language
Immersion. In high school we took UK history and geography in English, as well
a daily conversation class with an American teacher. The goal was to become
proficient in listening, speaking, reading and writing in the target language,
as well as gaining understanding of UK and American cultures. The teachers were
native speaker, so we were exposed to different accents, thus creating a broad
flexibility in our understanding skills. Being immersed in subject matters
taught only English, where emphasis was put on listening and speaking, helped
develop my communicative competence as well as fluency in the language. Combine
the Language Immersion with a graded version of the Grammar Translation Method,
and you might just have the successful recipe for both fluency and accuracy in
the target language.
In conclusion, although the communicative approach is
more engaging and likely more effective in acquiring a second language, one
must consider the particular and individual needs and level of motivation of
the students when deciding which method to employ for best results. However, in
my personal opinion, a communicative lesson will never scare a student away
from learning the target language, while other methods might.