My teaching approach
Essay -A modern approach to ESL
By Julian Caio Silenzi 25/03/2013
The need to understand other people has driven humans to search for a more precise and accurate way of communicating, relying not only on our ability to translate the literal meaning of words, but also to contextualize them in the local nuances.
Languages have always encountered major lexical and cultural barriers historically. It is attributed to our poor communication, many wars and misunderstandings among people and countries throughout history. It is not enough to know the literal meaning of a certain language; its local context must also be understood. When we realize that languages have been constantly evolving within themselves, adapting, mutating and absorbing terms and meanings from other languages, in a steady developing organism of communication, then we start understanding that there isn’t a specific formula for learning them and that its knowledge is not lineal.
There is no such a thing as a “difficult language”, despite our preconceived ideas, and setting aside the degree of complexity each language has when examined comparatively. The fact is that all children learn their native language at the same age. This obvious fact leads to recognize one elemental factor: Our learning mechanisms are connected to our environment which respond to a huge series of factors and are not always similar to everyone.
There are many forms of learning stimuli. Among them are experimenting, hearing, seeing, repeating, memorizing, deducing, associating and practicing. In whatever context, there are innumerous components that put together the linguistic construction as a whole, and every element can be practiced more than the other, or experienced in a different way by each individual.
Nonetheless, any particular learning process doesn’t necessarily have to be developed to the detriment of another. That is, in our cognitive connections all fundamentals sooner or later eventually converge with one another.
There is a new school of thought for English teaching that advocates the natural process. In this trend, the student is exposed to the TG in the same way is baby would be exposed to his first language, with little or no grammar theory, many practical examples and freedom to develop with minimum interference.
However, this seems to be an incomplete approach altogether, due to its impossibility for someone who already has an empirical background from their L1 to simply reason and structure the learning process just like a child would. That is, nobody can intentionally “blank out their brain” in order to avoid any interference from their native language.
As we well know, the more languages we speak, the easier it becomes to learn the next language. This clearly means that our intellect deliberately creates unconscious mechanisms to associate meanings and constructions with another by using whatever unconscious resource is available, such as images, grammatical concordance, cognates, language-transfer, inter-language, just to name a few.
In my opinion, it is advantageous to utilize our knowledge of previous languages in the learning process of L2. This means making explicit use of previously acquired vocabulary and understanding of language structure as a conscious tool so that we have a head-start in our next language construction process. Of course, from that point on, the SS should learn and practice how to divide and classify the differences between the Root Language and the Target Language.
The truth is, we truly live in the era of information, and with time, the gap between different cultures and ways of communicating becomes narrows. Today we count on powerful translation tools that count with AI to create grammatical concordances between languages and contextualize meaning with fairly good precision. And this is just the beginning.
Learning a second language is an important decision and as such, it must be assessed properly in terms of age, grade of interest, usefulness, etc. Like any long term learning process, there are several stages involved, and the range of methods is indeed large.
Modern learning techniques try to adapt to the new demands of the present to respond to the growing demands and the necessity for learning ESL as quickly as possible. However, just like any other complex acquisition of knowledge, no miracles can be promised. An extremely fast technique would be as pretentious and deceiving as to expect an engineering degree in just one year.
In the following lines, I will briefly describe the points I find most effective from all the methods reviewed so far and suggest my own approach:
*The Grammar Translation Method:
Although this method may seem to be outdated, it still gives the best approach when we want to use our TL for a more academic and advanced purposes. It is the prime method for supporting an in-depth learning approach. The direct translating method can be fused with modern resources such as powerful digital translators, especially if we take into account the new generation of algorithms that utilize Artificial Intelligence to reproduce specific contextual meaning as well as grammatical coherence, something that would have been impossible five years ago. Furthermore, if we consider Moore’s Law, which states that computing performance can double every two years, we will certainly witness an unprecedented outstanding quality of electronic translation in our lifetime. I would put my money into relying on electronic translators as a strong complement in the study of a L2, but not solely.
*The Audio-Lingual Method:
The Audio-Lingual Method can be considered as an updated version of the Direct Method. This approach also has a few interesting points that could be used effectively, such as learning vocabulary in context, extensive usage of audio materials, visual aids, MIMICRY and focus on pronunciation (although the latest can be relative, due to the different accents that can be found in any given language).
*The Communicative Language teaching:
The good points of CLT are the usage of real-life situations and authentic materials in the learning process. The social contexts addressed create a more realistic and practical approach.
Despite its current popularity and supporters, it is still an incomplete method if used exclusively.
*The Lexical Approach
This methodology is of great interest because it also focuses on the contextualized use of vocabulary, rather than depending solely on the literal meaning. It is extremely practical and emphasizes the use of pre-fabricated combinations of words (chunks) to help the SS observe and hypothesize similar terms.
In addition to the above mentioned, I would highlight some aspects of the Situational Language Teaching which is influenced by the students’ behavior and habit-formation. Experience shows that individual capacity of language processing and motivation to learn determines the learning success more than the technique itself, and the focus of the approach should suit specific student profiles.
In other words, it is essential to classify the age level and factors such as motivation, cultural context, and language usage expectations. A perfect Method, if any, should address each case specifically:
Situational Language Teaching
- Aims Context
- Language Modeler
- Focus on Oral Comm.
- Too many drills/ repetition
- Low vocabulary
Communicative Language Teaching
- More Interactive
- Based on “real life needs”
- Little emphasis on Structure
Total Physical Response
- Great Listening Skills/ accurate comprehension TG
- Very Visual/
- Late Oral Communication
- Grammar is too subjective
Grammar Translation Method
- Use of modern tech. tools
- High Academic Level
- Low oral skills
- Poor contextualization
*Leveling & Grading
Leveling is one of the Key elements when starting the learning process. Today, we are so exposed to foreign words and expressions that it is highly improbable for a student to truly be at ‘level zero’ in a language. Furthermore, if we take into consideration the cognates and similar words, one can be certain that most SS can be quickly brought up to level P2.
- Divide the age ranges and the level of previous knowledge;
- Assess the degree interest and exposure of the SS to the TL;
- Evaluate the amount of time and availability to learn;
- Evaluate other factors such as personality (a visual, oral or kinesthetic learner);
- Tastes and interests, social context and environment;
- Knowledge of other languages.
Once the SS has been successfully leveled, the TS must grade the language to a specific level of complexity so as not to be too difficult and not to be unrealistically easy.
*Visuals (images, show written words)
Needless to say, a very important point is to appeal to different visual resources and audio materials. These tools are especially easy to obtain currently. Making use of Internet and multimedia resources has become part of our daily routine.
There is nothing wrong with letting students create mental connections with their native tongue, as long as they maintain focus on the L2. It has been proven that memory comes from different brain locations, which merge into a complex mesh of associations and deductive constructions. Even if the Inter-Language interferes with the purity of the TL, it is still beneficial in the early stage. At a later stage, the teaching technique requires separation and refinement of mixed up terms from L1.
*Use of cognates
If the native language is Latin based, the SS technically already has 30% of the TG figured out. This should most definitely be used in their favor. Not only should it be used in S1 level but also in P2 and P3. In addition to inter-language, cognates can be used consciously, but it is important to insist on correction of False Friends.
*Teacher’s Role in Class
Despite what modern techniques advocate, I still believe the teacher’s figure in the classroom should be more than just that of a guide or facilitator. The class should clearly be divided into Receptive and Productive parts, and both should be given the same importance. This doesn’t mean that this division should be stiff and artificial. . On the contrary, the transition of each section of the class should be seamlessly interconnected.
*Teacher’s knowledge of SS Mother Tongue
When teaching a second language, TS should know the native language of the SS in order to help them achieve a deeper level of understanding in meanings, vocabulary, and awareness of false-friends.
*Homework & Exercises
If a SS intends to reach a higher level of learning and experience a consistent improvement in the long run, then all resources should be used. The class with the teacher should be just one more important element in the learning process, and must be complemented with outside practice and exercises at home. Assigning exercises at home means that in-class teaching time is maximized.
Learning a second language necessarily involves four stages and none of them should be ignored. As well as productive inputs such as speaking and writing, listening and reading should be equally important in the learning process.
When the student writes down his own vocabulary, he creates an important reference for the future. This is an important element in retaining what was learnt during the class, especially the words and terms that require memorization. This practice provides future reference, and more importantly, it assists in image fixation and spelling practice.
As being said, there is no perfect technique and all of the above have some valuable attributes. In this essay I tried to highlight the best one in each and propose a Modern Approach to ESL.