My teaching approach
Question: Compare and contrast several different teaching
methods and approaches by considering their effectiveness in creating a
Throughout the history of
foreign language teaching different methods have been developed and favoured.
As people, students and
teachers alike, learnt more about the way in which we learn, teachers have been
striving to improve and adapt theories already existing as well as radical new
ideas being thrust into the learning arena.
I would like to discuss
just three methods in this essay, exploring how they were developed, and how
they contribute to the communicative approach to learning languages that is
favoured today by students and teachers worldwide.
Through a communicative
approach to learning and teaching (CLT) we focus on the student. The word
approach implying that it is a family of related methods, not a singular, stand-alone
method. The student is given input, vocabulary or grammar structures, in context.
Students are also shown
the social and communicative purpose of what is being taught and this provides
students with language skills and vocabulary that they can transfer and use in
real life situations. There is little or no translation as immersion in the
chosen language is favoured.
This method has come to be
considered the most effective approach to learning languages, “In practical terms, whether assisting
mixed-ability classes, aiding motivation, leading from a focus on form to one
of fluency, or supporting learning, it (CLT) has a lot to offer the EFL
teacher.” Rebecca Belchamber.
Previously it was perhaps
assumed that a student’s goal when learning a foreign language was in depth
mastery of the language itself.
During the 1960’s and
1970’s teachers began to focus on the fact that students had different needs
and goals for learning a language and teaching methods began to reflect the
But how have its predecessors
contributed to its success?
Around the 1890’s and turn
of the 21st century the method we now know as the Grammar
Translation Method (GTM) was widely used for students wishing to learn a
It consisted of
translating large amounts of grammar structures from the desired language into
the mother tongue. This resulted in students having a large amount of knowledge
of the grammatical rules of their desired language but no way of transferring
them into a useful form.
The teacher’s role was
that of a dictator, their purpose was not to recognise the students as
individuals, but to ensure that students memorised input. However this input
was not authentic language but grammatical formulas and extensive vocabulary.
Depending on what is
considered successful learning by the individual, this method could be considered
positive. For example if your goal or aim is to pass a specific exam which
requires extensive knowledge of structures then this method could help to
However by the 1940’s-50’s
it became recognised that for the vast majority of foreign language students
this was not the aim. Their goal was to be able to communicate in their second
language. It was apparent that students wanted to be able to use skills and
vocabulary in authentic situations.
Methods such as the Audio
– Lingual method began to appear in the foreign language teaching forum. Using
audio tapes and having students repeat and “drill” on scripts of authentic
language became a popular way to learn a new language.
Although it is similar to
the Grammar Translation Method (GTM) in that memorising a task is required by
students. The teacher’s role within the Audio – Lingual method is to become a role
model to be mimicked or copied by the students.
However students using the Audio – Lingual method simply
memorise phonemes and still are unable to transfer the structure to be used in
different but similar situations.
Simply put, students are
left with an internal script which they can use only if a specific situation
arises in which it fits. “It
soon became clear to teachers that audio-visual approach could only assist in
presentation of new materials. More subtle classroom skills were needed for
pupils to assimilate material and use it creatively. This final vital phase was
often omitted by teachers.” Being an argument used and backed by many favouring
the communicative approach.
More development of this
method led to people using it communicatively, by drilling on words and
sentences that have a relative function in a student’s life, and focusing on
these in context, the student then has a point of reference from which to
transfer the structure into a different meaning or form.
Again, coherent to the GTM
grammar would be reinforced through repetition and in some cases the individual’s
needs would be ignored. For example, a whole class could be listening to the
same recorded sequence despite having different goals. The teacher ensuring
that the sequence is memorised effectively.
In contrast to these
methods, many other alternative and controversial styles theories and
approaches to foreign language teaching were touched upon during the 1960’s
Barriers to learning that
previous styles had created were also being challenged by methods such as the Total
Physical Response method (TPR).
It was widely recognised
by this time that it was necessary to consider the function and relevance of a
structure if it is to be used communicatively and not solely phonetically.
Using TPR students are
given orders which they are to follow kinetically. The idea being that by using physical movement to react to verbal input, students reduce
inhibitions and have a physical link to the relevance of the structure in
relation their existence.
to TPR method practises; when language is taught by lecturing or explaining,
the cynical left brain is targeted and the information is kept in short term
memory (if at all).
is soon forgotten as it never becomes “real” to the student.
TPR allows students to react to language
without thinking too much and combats students own fears of learning, much like
method which I will touch on later.
TPR facilitates long term input retention, and
reduces student anxiety and stress.
Teachers using TPR methods often refer to
themselves as “implementers of learning.” They encourage learners to make links
between the grammatical structure of the item they are hearing and its
function. Emphasizing that when language is taught actively through movement,
the right brain “believes” the information and retains it, in the same way that
skills such as swimming or riding a bicycle are remembered long term.
Learning through movement, referred to as
kinetic learning. It is commonly assumed that there are three types of
learners, visual, audio and kinetic. Most people need a mixture of all their
learning needs catered for in different percentages – there are very few people
who can solely learn through visual techniques – which is perhaps where
traditional methods targeted in the past.
Howard Gardner of Harvard, however has
identified seven distinct intelligences. His theory stems from recent cognitive
research and "documents the extent to which students possess different
kinds of minds and therefore learn, remember, perform, and understand in
The communicative approach is adaptable enough
to respond to this whereas the more traditional tend not to focus on this,
instead respond to students needs in a more uniform manner.
TPR; like GTM, still suggests it is necessary
to plan regular sessions that progress in a logical order and follow a
progressive syllabus. It also uses
repeated “drilling” techniques in order to improve information retention. This
can be helpful when using the communicative approach, solely for the purpose of
practising the pronunciation of a repeatedly problematic word.
However this is perhaps
where the similarities between these two methods stop as one of the main
principles of TPR, in contrast to both Audio – Lingual techniques and
Grammatical Translation methods is that no translation is used. This use of
immersion in the desired subject language is a technique considered effective
and transferred widely across many of the foreign language teaching methods and
communicative approached to foreign language teaching.
TPR also recognises the
divide between students goals and abilities and begins to explore why learners
encounter problems with traditional teaching methods such as GTM.
TPR and Suggestopaedia
both explore the benefits of attempting to activate both sides of the brain and
consequences of teaching methods which have solely focused on activating one
side of the brain.
left brain can be described as logical, one-track, and cynical. It is used when
analysing, talking and discussing.
right brain is used when moving, acting, using metaphor, drawing. It is
considered by people practising the Suggestopaedia method that
learning is not an active state, and that information is adsorbed,
When asked for a description of her field a professor of
Suggestopaedia named Lori Ristevski stated that “this method of teaching is
based on the idea that effective learning is suggestive in nature, not direct.
In other words, learning takes place through a combination of different types
of right and left brain functions.”
It is thought that long-term memory is semi-conscious and
that we must distract the student with other activities in order to allow them
to receive information through peripheral perception.
I believe there to be a parallel in TPR methods, where
students are “distracted” by the physical, body movement that correlates to
their target language and thus it is added to their long term memory.
To “distract” students and to activate both sides of the
brain during the lessons using the Suggestopaedia method, classical music is
played and the content of the lesson is relayed using stories, songs and
Again, in parallel to TPR, students stress levels and the
effect this has on learning is considered and combatted. This is something that
is echoed in a communicative approach where the teacher plays a less
authoritative role than with the GTM.
to Suggestopaedia students learn more when they are relaxed. This is because of
an “affective filter”, a mental barrier between the students and the
information, is raised when students are nervous or uncomfortable. When the
affective filter is high, learners find it harder to understand, process, and
and Suggestopaedia help to reduce the affective filter because they strive to
create a less threatening learning environment than traditional methods such as
the GTM, mistakes are unimportant and easily and calmly corrected by the
facilitator. This means that the emphasis in lessons is on communication, not
primarily on grammatical correctness.
In most methods post GTM it is widely acknowledged that
giving students large amounts of information to memorise not only contradicts
our natural method of absorbing input as we do as an infant but also puts
unnecessary pressure on students which is not conducive to successful language
acquisition if the students goal is to communicate with others using the language
skills they learn.
In creating a communicative lesson I would hope to be
able to combine techniques from many of the tried and tested methods of ELT used
I agree with Howard Gardner and his theory regarding
different learners and how they successfully (and unsuccessfully!) take-in and
retain input. For this reason I think the communicative approach will continue
to evolve, as it has already from GTM to now, as we learn how to adapt our
knowledge and experience of teaching to our student’s needs.
When considering the communicative approach, I try to
remember the reason we use the word approach. We can draw techniques from
different methods and apply them communicatively. Teaching methods are constantly evolving,
quicker than the people using and benefitting from them is another topic for
· Rebecca Belchamber - The Advantages of Communicative Language
Internet TESL Journal, Vol. XIII, No. 2, February 2007
Scribd Inc. 2012