Andrew Hoptroff





My teaching approach

This study is going to compare, contrast and evaluate different styles of teaching English as a foreign language. Methods of teaching have evolved over time and I am going to look at the effectiveness of three of these approaches.

 

Suggestopedia is a method of teaching English as a foreign language and it was developed by Bulgarian doctor Georgi Lozanov. Lozanov described learning as "a matter of attitude, not aptitude" and approach was based on the power of suggestion in learning, the idea being that positive suggestion would make students more confident and, in turn, stimulate learning. There is no apparent theory of language in suggestopedia, but students are said to memorise language and words a lot faster than in other methods of learning.

 

Students are read to in suggestopedia, whilst seated in a relaxing, comfortable environment; bright decorations and comfortable chairs should be used. Music is central to the approach and accompanies the reading, which would be read in a dramatic style to go with the piece of music. The classes are normally intensive and long and words can be translated from the students' native languages into English. Students sing songs, play games and speak spontaneously, but they are not corrected on their mistakes.

 

The teacher's role in suggestopedia is to create a positive, encouraging and relaxing environment and it is important to establish a good student-teacher relationship. The attitude of the teacher is important in creating the good relationships so that it encourages students to praise each other. When a dialogue is read to the students, the teacher will be the actor meaning that they must be dynamic and interesting, especially as the readings are usually very long.

 

There are clear benefits of learning using the suggestopedia method: the positive atmosphere creates motivated students and motivated teachers, the self esteem amongst learners is high, creativity is encouraged and material retention is high.

 

There are also, however, negative points to suggestopedia as a method of learning. The music could be seen as a distraction to the students - some students may find it difficult to study in a loud classroom with music playing, some may find it difficult to concentrate on the language being taught whilst music is being played and some may just find the notion of dramatic readings over pieces of music to be ridiculous in a classroom. The set up of the classroom - with the decoration and comfortable seating -could also end up being expensive. The lack of corrections in the classroom means that students will develop bad habits in the target language and will not know they are saying, or pronouncing, something incorrectly; this could lead to the student picking up bad habits for life.

 

The Direct Method, of teaching has the idea that teaching a second language should be similar to the way a first language is taught, in that the class is all taught in the targeted language and there are no translations permitted. There is lots of interaction in the class, spontaneous use of simple, day to day, language and little focus on grammatical rules and structure.

 

The role of the teacher is to be the demonstrator and facilitator and direct the class and the activities, but the students are a lot more active in the Direct Method than in the suggestopedia method; students and teachers act as partners and it is also encouraged for students to talk to each other. The teacher should use objects, pictures and demonstrations rather than explaining or translating, thus encouraging the students to think in the target language and make direct associations between words and meanings. The Direct Method follows the idea that the students should self-correct - it is the teacher's role to prompt this, for example by offering an alternative word, or by repeating the sentence and stopping before the word that needs correcting.

 

Students practice the language by being presented with topics to discuss, situations to act out and learning vocabulary by using new words in complete sentences - grammar, however, is not normally explained to the students. There is a high focus on learning vocabulary and correct pronunciation. Writing is important in the Direct Method and this is emphasised from the start, though the writing is normally set as homework based on what has been learnt, orally, in the class.

 

There are advantages to using the Direct Method. The students are taught the language, rather than about the language, making it a lot more natural to learn; as it is taught conversationally, students are soon able to converse and communicate fluently in a new language. Due to the high emphasis on pronunciation of words, students are prevented from picking up bad habits right from the start which helps the fluent progression of their studies.

 

One of the limitations of the Direct Method is that the circumstances when learning a new language are usually very different to learning a first, native language, but the Method treats them as the same. Learning a second language will normally be only for a few hours a week, with limited opportunity outside the classroom to study the language. Studying a first language is likely to be in a country native to the target language and the student will constantly be surrounded by the language.

 

The rejection of the printed word can hinder students' progression in the Direct Method. If students can see the word printed, it can help them to remember the word and to assist them in associating the words with their meanings. They will first be introduced to the written language whilst studying alone, as homework - the intensity and high amount of work required means that students have to dedicate a lot of time to their studies.

 

The Communicative Approach aims to integrate all four skills - speaking, listening, writing and reading - and develop them equally. The focus is on using authentic language to communicate and learn. The Communicative Approach makes use of real life, day to day situations - the teacher prepares activities, but the students' responses form the direction of the activity, rather than relying on repetition and drills.

 

It is not the teacher's role to be dominating and authoritative in the Communicative Approach. The teacher should facilitate the learning process, offer guidance to the students' communication and even participate within the group. The teacher can use a textbook as reference, but should not be restricted to this - they should use their own command of the language and professional expertise. It is also encouraged by the teacher to let students work in groups and pairs, which is an activity often avoided by teachers and teaching methods due to the fear of students making too much noise in the classroom.

 

The Communicative Approach uses target language and this can be personalised to meet the needs and/ or abilities of a student; the target language can be meaningful and, not only does this make the studies more relevant for the student, this makes learning more interesting and easier to remember.

 

It is not the most formal language that the students learn, but the most relevant - classes are designed for students to practice in real life situations and prepare them for occurrences with natives of the target language. For this reason, the Communicative Approach uses slang words and idioms: general communicational speech used by natives of a language.

 

In the Communicative Approach, Grammar is taught using function first over structure so that students are able to use grammatical communication. They are also encouraged to discuss real articles and situations, which provides endless possibilities for topics and keeps the discussions relevant and up to date. Errors are seen as part of language learning, so to allow the flow of conversation to continue, corrections should be discreet; constant correction is seen as unnecessary and could hinder progress.

 

Whilst there are positive aspects to the Communicative Approach, such as the increased fluency in which students can grasp the target language, there are also negative elements. It is difficult to apply this approach to learning to all levels of learners - beginners would struggle to communicate together and make conversation flow as they have no, or limited, knowledge of the target language. The Communicative Approach can be difficult to evaluate students levels and progress and it would be difficult to be adopted when students need to take a grammar exam. It could also be argued that this method is unsuitable for non native teachers, as there is no textbook to rely on meaning there are high demands and expectations of the teacher.

 

Through studying the three different methods - Suggestopedia, The Direct Method and The Communicative Approach - it is clear that there are pros and cons of each. However, none of them provide the perfect model for teaching. There is very little room for flexibility towards a students individual purposes for studying. Suggestopedia offers virtually no room for adaptability and, whilst the Direct Method and Communivative Approach can alter the topics of the activities, the structure remains the same - for example if a student's purpose for learning was for report writing, it would be very difficult for this to be incorporated into these methods.

 

All of these methods have aspects that could be used in a perfect method of teaching. The positive atmosphere in Suggestopedia, the way students are encouraged to think in the target language, and focus on pronunciation, in the Direct Method and the speed in which students are prepared for real life native culture in the Communicative Method: these points could all be incorporated into a teaching method. This could be combined by using the set up and decoration of the Suggestopedia classroom, ensure students use correct pronunciation from the very start and teach students to speak like a native, as opposed to the most formal and "correct" use of the language.

 

I do not believe that there is one perfect, overall way of teaching a second language. Different students have different needs, but it is mainly due to the level a student is at. Especially for beginners and low level learners, the Direct Method and Communicative Approach are difficult for teachers and students as they do not allow for translations. This makes conversation and learning more difficult; sometimes there is a simple translation required, but instead the teacher could spend a long time trying to explain or demonstrate. Not only does this leave students and teachers frustrated, but it takes up valuable learning time. In the higher levels, it is good to speak only in the target language and encourage the students to think in the target language. For higher levels, students should be encouraged to recognise their own mistakes, pronunciation should be corrected, up to date topics should be used to keep the lessons fresh and interesting (both for the teacher and student) and - at all levels - the teacher must be prepared, enthusiastic and build a good relationship with their students. 



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