My teaching approach
In the long history of language teaching
several teaching methods were defined as “the best method of all.” Each time
had the specific approach as the world has changed; people’s need towards
English teaching has changed as well. The “old” teaching system where the
teacher played the role of a dictator in the 20th century became
old-fashioned; still it gives the basis of the methods used today. Among
several teaching methods the Grammar Translation method, the audio-lingual
method and the communicative method are the most examined approaches of all
The Grammar Translation method’s basic approach
is to analyze and study the grammatical rules of the language, usually in an
order roughly matching the traditional order of the grammar of Latin, and then
to practise manipulating grammatical structures through the means of
translation both into and from the mother tongue.
The method is very much based on the written
word and texts are widely in evidence. A typical approach would be to present
the rules of a particular item of grammar, illustrate its use by including the
item several times in a text, and practise using the item through writing
sentences and translating it into the mother tongue. The text is often
accompanied by a vocabulary list consisting of new lexical items used in the
text together with the mother tongue translation. Accurate use of language
items is central to this approach.
Generally speaking, the medium of instruction
is the mother tongue, which is used to explain conceptual problems and to
discuss the use of a particular grammatical structure. It all sounds rather
dull but it can be argued that the Grammar Translation method has over the
years had a remarkable success. Millions of people have successfully learnt
foreign languages to a high degree of proficiency and, in numerous cases,
without any contact whatsoever with native speakers of the language.
There are certain types of learner who respond
very positively to a grammatical syllabus as it can give them both a set of
clear objectives and a clear sense of achievement. Other learners need the
security of the mother tongue and the opportunity to relate grammatical
structures to mother tongue equivalents. Above all, this type of approach can
give learners a basic foundation upon which they can then build their
Applied wholesale of course, it can also be
boring for many learners and a quick look at foreign language course books, for
example, will soon reveal the non-communicative nature of the language used. On
the one hand they have motivating communicative activities that help to promote
their fluency and, on the other, they gradually acquire a sound and accurate
basis in the grammar of the language. This combined approach is reflected in
many of the EFL course books currently being published and, amongst other
things, suggests that the Grammar Translation method, far from being dead, is
very much alive and kicking as we enter the 21st century.
Audiolingualism was in vogue in the 1960s when
there was a pressing need to train key personnel quickly and effectively in
foreign language skills. The results are generally regarded to have been very
successful, with the caveat that the learners were in small groups and were
highly motivated, which undoubtedly contributed to the success of the approach.
The approach was theoretically underpinned by
structural linguistics, a movement in linguistics that focused on the phonemic,
morphological and syntactic systems underlying the grammar of a given language,
rather than according to traditional categories of Latin grammar. As such, it
was held that learning a language involved mastering the building blocks of the
language and learning the rules by which these basic elements are combined from
the level of sound to the level of sentence. The audio-lingual approach was
also based on the behaviourist theory of learning, which held that language,
like other aspects of human activity, is a form of behaviour.
In the behaviourist view, language is elicited
by a stimulus and that stimulus then triggers a response. The response in turn
then produces some kind of reinforcement, which, if positive, encourages the
repetition of the response in the future or, if negative, its suppression. When
transposed to the classroom, this gives us the classic pattern drill- Model:
She went to the cinema yesterday. Stimulus; Theatre. Response: She went to the
theatre yesterday. Reinforcement: Good! In its purest form audiolingualism aims
to promote mechanical habit-formation through repetition of basic patterns.
Accurate manipulation of structure leads to eventual fluency. Spoken language
comes before written language. Dialogues and drill are central to the approach.
Accurate pronunciation and control of structure are paramount.
Although the audio-lingual approach in its
purest form has many weaknesses (notably the difficulty of transferring learnt
patterns to real communication), to dismiss the audio-lingual approach as an
outmoded method of the 1960s is to ignore the reality of current classroom practice
which is based on more than 2000 years of collective wisdom.
The approach to language teaching that can be
broadly labelled as communicative language teaching emerged in the 1970s and
1980s as the emphasis switched from the mechanical practice of language
patterns associated with the audio-lingual method to activities that engaged
the learner in more meaningful and authentic language use.
Most present-day practitioners would probably
like to think that their classes are "communicative" in the widest
sense of the word. Their lessons probably contain activities where learners
communicate and where tasks are completed by means of interaction with other
learners. To this end there will probably be considerable if not extensive use
of pair, group and mingling activities, with the emphasis on completing the
task successfully through communication with others rather than on the accurate
use of form. During these activities the teacher’s role will be to facilitate
and then to monitor, usually without interruption, and then to provide feedback
on the success or otherwise of the communication and, possibly, on the
linguistic performance of the learners in the form of post-activity error
correction. In terms of the organization of the lesson, the classic present,
practice and perform model, where careful input of a particular structure is
typically followed by controlled, less controlled and freer practice is likely
to have been replaced by a more task-based approach, possibly on the lines of
test, teach, test, where the learners are given a communicative task which is
monitored by the teacher and then their language use while performing the task
is fine-tuned by the teacher in a lesson stage which focuses on error
correction or a particular form that is causing difficulties. This is typically
followed by a further task-based stage, where the initial task is repeated or a
similar task is performed, ideally with a greater degree of linguistic accuracy
than during the first attempt.
Another feature will probably be that the
traditional grammatical approach of starting the beginner’s syllabus by
presenting the present tense of the verb ‘to be’ will have been replaced by a
more communicative focus, with basic introductions, requests and questions
enabling learners to begin communicating in English from the very first lesson.
Perhaps the most enduring legacy of the
communicative approach will be that it has allowed teachers to incorporate
motivating and purposeful communicative activities and principles into their
teaching while simultaneously retaining the best elements of other methods and
approaches rather than rejecting them wholesale.
In my opinion all the three methods are good
and useful depending on several factors. Teachers need to recognize that not
every student learns the same way. Some students learn material quicker and
easier than others. If only one type of teaching method is used, not every
student's learning needs will be accounted for. Various teaching methods need
to be combined so that students have the opportunity to learn in multiple ways.
The more opportunities that are available for a student to learn, the more
valuable the education becomes. Therefore, the most successful teaching
technique is one that involves a variety of different methods in order to
accommodate every student's unique learning style. I think using the more
enlightened principles of the Communicative Approach and combining these with
the systematic approach of Grammar Translation, including some parts of the
audio-lingual method may well be the perfect combination for many learners.