Adela Gavozdea





My teaching approach

Adela Gavozdea

Oxbridge TEFL Course

May 28, 2012

Methodology Essay

Compare 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. 



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