Rachel Mills

My teaching approach


Second Language Acquisition Theories


Italian cardinal Joseph Caspar Mezzofanti was said to have spoken more than 38 languages fluently at the time of his death in 1849. Today methods of teaching an additional language are wide and varied. Many methods and theories have evolved over time. It is now widely acknowledged that memorizing grammar rules and vocabulary lists will not make a student fluent in a foreign language. Most of the methods used today focus upon learning phrases and sentences as oppose to lists of single words. Many methods place a greater emphasis on the acquisition of spoken language and encourage learners to communicate only in the language they are learning as oppose to using translations. To aid learning additional language teachers often use a variety of different stimuli to encourage their students to communicate such as videos, audiotapes, newspaper articles and role-play. Robert DeKeyser, a professor of second language acquisition at the University of Maryland states  "The only way to learn a language is to make quite a bit of effort on a daily basis."

In the 1970’s Georgi Lozanov developed a humanistic approach to teaching a foreign language. Suggestopedia is based upon the principle that the older a learner becomes the more inhibited they are to learning. Lozanov’s method seeks to reactivate the capabilities the learner had as a child to make them more receptive to learning a new language. Suggestopeida aims to stimulate creativity by using the arts. Art, music, visual and stage art are all vital components of the lessons. The teacher is seen as the key to the learners’ success it is their job to create the correct environment and build positive human relationships with students to ensure they enter into a relaxed yet focused state, which allows them to achieve success.

Lozanov suggests that learners need a relaxed yet focused state of mind. Once this state is created learners will be receptive to new information and therefore achieve success in learning a new language. To achieve this state learners should be placed in comfortable, relaxing environment, the teacher should foster a relationship with their students similar to that between a parent and a child. Suggestopeidia places students feelings as an integral part of learning Lozanov suggests that a students psychological barriers must be ‘desuggested’ before they will be able to become masters of a foreign language.

Suggestopedia makes use of use of soothing relaxing music to enable students to learn. According to the theory music is vital. After conducting research Lozanov produced a list of recommended composers and pieces of music. Ideally music should be 60 beats a minute with no one voice or instrument being dominant in the piece. Ideally the same instrument should be played throughout which is why many string orchestra pieces are often used. In these conditions students are receptive to learning and have been shown to have high memory recall when compared with learners given the same information without the music.

Lazanov doesn’t put forward a theory of language or specific syllabus stating the order in which items of language would be presented to a learner. However Suggestopeidiea does provide a prescriptive method of how information should be delivered to the learner. For example a lesson involving learning vocabulary would be presented in three parts:

- First, an introductory Largo baroque music piece (60 beats/min) helps the learner to relax (approx. 3 min).

- Next, you listen to the recorded flashcards, on a background of soothing baroque music.

- Finally, a faster Allegretto baroque movement (120 beats/min) awakes the student from their half-sleep (3 min).

The speech for each flashcard is recorded following this pattern:?Breathe in (2 seconds) - Front/Back (4 s) - Breathe out (2 s)?(Typically, Front/Back contain an English word and its counterpart in a foreign language, etc.). The speaker should use different intonations and rhythms, to make each flashcard more impressive. The final recording must be about 20 minutes long (which makes 150 flashcards). It will later be played back along with soothing baroque music

Following this structure along with the use of the music is thought to allow the students to enter into a relaxed yet focused stated where they are able to effectively learn and retain the new vocabulary.

Whilst this method is not often used now there are some advantages of employing some of the techniques proposed by the Suggestopiedia method. There are countless studies to suggest that music can be a motivating and relaxing source. Lazanov’s attention to the learning environment will make learning a more pleasant experience for students. Creating conditions where learners are alert and receptive has been shown to have a positive effect on motivation. It is possible with this method that sessions can be delivered via the computer allowing students to learn in the comfort of their own home.

However due to the emphasis on small class sizes and comfortable learning environments many teachers are unable to use this method as it is simply impractical. Many additional language teachers will be constrained by time, finance and schedule. For example many teachers provide classes in a number of different sessions such as a students work places. In such a setting it would be unrealistic and inappropriate for a teacher to arrive and attempt to set up armchairs and play classical music whilst others would be working. Using music could also make learning difficult for some students as some people can find classical music irritating as oppose to stimulating in this respect using music could actually prevent learning rather than enhance it. To some students having the teacher read dialogue with exaggerated rhythm and intonation would be uncomfortable and could create a barrier to learning rather than remove one. Due to a lack of assessment it is difficult to find evidence to track students progress using this method. As the emphasis is on speaking and listening rather than reading and writing it is unlikely that students will achieve the required level in reading and writing to pass formal examinations. The Suggestopeidia method also allows learners to use their native language and make translations in recent years many approaches to teaching a foreign language have rejected this method as it is believed to hinder a student achieving fluency in the second language.

A popular method of teaching a foreign language currently is The Direct Method. This method of teaching rejects the idea of placing emphasis on the teaching of grammar and the use of translation in the classroom. Instead this method places emphasis on getting the students to think directly in the target language. The student is taught the target language through conversation, discussion and reading in the target language. To avoid the use of translation in the classroom initially students will be taught to use the target language by the teacher performing actions, pointing at objects or the use of images. According to H.G. Palmer, The Direct Method has the following:

1. Translation in every shape or form is banished from the classroom including the use of the mother tongue and that of the bilingual dictionary.

2. Grammar, when it is taught, is taught inductively.

3. Oral teaching precedes any form of reading and writing.

4. The use of disconnected sentences is replaced by the use of connected texts.

5. Pronunciation is taught systematically in accordance with the principles of phonetics and phonology of the target language.

6. The meanings of words and forms are taught by means of object or natural context.

7. The vocabulary and structure of the language are inculcated to a large extent by the teacher and answered by students.





The Direct Method centers around four main principles. Firstly the method places emphasis on oral training. Students are given lots of practice in the language they are encouraged to listen and then speak in the foreign language. As a result the method also places emphasis on phonetics to ensure students achieve correct pronunciation. The Direct Method also seeks to inhibit use of the mother tongue whilst the student is learning the foreign language. Direct translation is replaced with the teacher teaching new words by showing the students what the word stands for, with the aim of encouraging and enabling the students to think and respond in English. Teachers using The Direct Method will focus their teaching on the use of sentences as oppose to individual words. It is hoped that this will encourage the students to internalize and then be able to employ correct sentence patterns. The Direct Method seeks to teach grammar in context rather than a set of rules. The ultimate aim of teaching grammar in this way is that the students will eventually be able to correct their own grammar errors in both speech and the written word.


The Direct Method is based upon sound educational principles’ used across a number of different curriculums. Both Piaget and Vygotskyts theories of learning are in evidence in The Direct Method. Language is often modelled by the teacher first; as the learner becomes more fluent they require less and less scaffolding to progress further. The Direct Method aims to teacher the particular before the general, the concrete before the abstract and the practice before the theory. Such methods are now commonplace in classrooms worldwide and are applied to a number of different subjects. The Direct Method aims to teach the second language in the same way the student learnt their first language. It places emphasis on speech and results in students being quick at understanding spoken English whilst at the same time being able to converse fluently in English.


Critics of The Direct method argue that it does not take into account all aspects of language learning. It has been suggested that due to the overemphasis on listening and speaking reading and writing skills are often neglected. Due to this it is essential that a teacher has a clear understanding of their students aims and motivations for attending the class. As if a student was aiming to pass a formal exam in the foreign language it is highly unlikely that using The Direct Method alone would provide them with the level of fluency and accuracy required in all four skill areas.


Ultimately there is no one guaranteed method of teaching or learning a foreign language what may work for one student or class may not be as successful with another. It is perhaps a holistic approach to teaching a language which may be the key to success taking ideas from a number of methods and adapting them accordingly to suit the needs of your students. It is therefore vital that the teacher is aware of the students needs and motivation in learning a second language, as learning should be suited to best fit the students needs if it is to be successful.


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