Alexandria Kyle-Hammer

My teaching approach

Lexi Kyle-Hammer


My Teaching Method


In second language learning and acquisition there are several well-known and commonly used approaches to teaching a second language. Each approach has its own unique style and supporters. However, no approach is perfect and each has its varying pros and cons. As an English teacher it is important to understand these different methods so that you can combine them in a way that makes sense for your personal teaching style and for your students. It is also important to understand them because many students will have been exposed to a variety of these methods during their time studying a second language and these methods will affect how they learn (or think they should learn) a second language. For me each approach has something unique to offer, whether it shows what not to do, or offers an insight into how to best teach students. It is important to understand that each approach has its pros and cons and it is when these different approaches can be combined that they can become an affective basis for teaching the way I would like to teach.

The Grammar Translation Method is known as the traditional method of teaching a language. It has been used in the past to teach "dead" languages, like Greek and Latin, which focused more on reading and interpreting and little on communicating and listening skills. However for many years, it was used to teach all second languages and it is still used today, especially where native speakers of the target language are not prevalent. It focuses on memorizing lists of isolated vocabulary words, and translating texts from the native language to the target language and visa versa. The rules and structures of the target language are explained in the native language, and little to no emphasis is placed on listening comprehension or speaking of the target language. From a practical perspective there are few advantages to this method, most notably it allows a thorough understanding of grammar and written usage of the target language. Students who learn a target language using this method can rarely communicate in that language, and so have no practical knowledge of the language.

    The Direct Method, also known as the Berlitz method, began in the 19th century as an alternative to the Grammar Translation method. In this method students are spoken to only in the target language. The theory behind this method is that students can learn a second language by imitating the way children learn their first language; that is, directly and without explanations of grammatical points, utilizing using only the target language. This method uses pictures, visual aids and dictations to teach practical everyday language to students. In this method absolutely no translation is allowed. New information is drilled repeatedly to enforce students’ memorization. It emphasizes oral communication and pronunciation. One of the advantages of this method is that students are exposed only to the target language, and get lots of practice listening and speaking in the target language. Also, because grammar is taught inductively students are not bored or confused my grammar explanations. However, many people feel this approach can be too structured and does not allow teachers to be creative with their students learning. Also because no explanation of grammar structure is given it can be frustrating for students and teachers alike when a student does not understand a grammar point through the given examples and visual aids alone. Another criticism is that due to the structure it does not teach students how to improvise conversations in real life situations. Finally because such attention is paid to correct pronunciation and correcting mistakes it can be discouraging to students when they are stopped every time they make mistakes.

Another similar approach is the Communicative Approach. This method shares some similarities with the Direct Method however it has distinctive differences as well. Classes are taught in the target language but the teaching style is student based rather than teacher centered. It gives importance to students’ motivation for learning a foreign language rather than teaching language for the sake of passing exams and being able to memorize set interactions. It also embraces errors as a natural part of learning a language and does not penalize students for making mistakes. And while it is focused on oral communication it also believed that teaching reading and writing is important for students as well. Unlike the Direct Method there is the belief that grammar should still be taught, although less systematically than more traditional methods, it should combine parts of the traditional methods alongside more innovative approaches. This method also believes that a disregard of grammatical form will virtually guarantee breakdown in communication. The use of authentic materials is very important, and textbooks are only recommended as guide. This approach has the advantage of stressing communication through speaking as well as using relevant material to keep students engaged. However like the direct approach it can be more difficult with big groups. It also requires the teacher to commit a lot of time to finding appropriate and interesting material for students. Another criticism is that it stresses fluency rather than accuracy.   

While I have only looked at three methods, there are many more that have information to offer on how to teach, as well as how not to teach a second language. In presenting my teaching method I plan on using parts of these three approaches as well as others combined with my personal experience learning a second language.

           I think one of the most important things to know when you are teaching is how your students learn. Whether they are visual learners, auditory learners or kinesthetic learners can have a huge impact on how they acquire language. Which in turn can help the teacher be more effective in their teaching methods. For my syllabus and my classes I am going to focus on speaking and listening comprehension. I think speaking in the target language and eliciting the target language is very important. However, I feel that if the teacher is familiar with or understands the second language it can be very useful for students to be able to ask the teacher how to say something using their primary language. For example, “how do you say (word in native language). This way students don’t feel like they can’t express themselves or say what they want say if they don’t know the word. I think teachers should ask the student to explain the word or phrase first in the target language, but if it is not clear I think it is useful for the students to get the direct translation. I also think that depending on the level it is useful for grammar points to be explained in the native language, if students consistently struggle with learning them in the target language. I think this can help students make connections more quickly and keeps them from feeling frustrated if they are consistently using the target language incorrectly. As I said, I think learning to speak the target language is the most important part of learning a second language but I also think it is necessary for students to learn how to read in the target language as well as write in it. Depending on what the student needs to use the target language for the need for reading and writing in the target language differs. But because words in English appear so differently on paper from the way they are spoken I think it is important for students to make the connection between how they look and how they should sound. That being said I do think it is most important to focus on speaking, and only introduce other things when students have an intermediate level of the target language already. Since speaking is the main objective I also think the incorporation of visual aids, body language, games and mimicry are important in the classroom. They keep the lessons interesting and make it easier for students to make meaningful connections. Teaching students in a context that is relatable to their lives also keeps learning interesting and students engaged in the class. It’s important to keep in mind a student’s age, why they are learning the language, what they find interesting and what they will be learning the language for. These factors not only influence how a student studies a target language but also how the target language should be taught. With this knowledge the teacher can teach the target language in a way that is engaging and relevant for the student. I like the Oxbridge approach of a topic, a structure, and vocab in each lesson, and teaching each of these in a relevant context. I plan to use a similar structure in my classes in combination with a book and additional materials. Many books for learning foreign language do not teach students the information in a form that is engaging but I think books are a great resource and guide for teachers, such as myself, who work somewhere that does not provide them with a syllabus or alternate method. However following a book page for page and exercise for exercise bores students and doesn’t necessarily teach them the most useful way to use a language. For this reason I will do my best to introduce authentic and relevant materials to my students that supplement the lessons in the textbooks. Another very important aspect for me is creating an environment where the student feels safe, relaxed and able to make mistakes without feeling ashamed. I think it’s important to encourage students when they are doing well, and when they make mistakes correct them gently while still being encouraging.

I want to focus my teaching on oral communication rather than extensive bookwork and grammar explanations. However, I do think there is a place for reading and writing in the course of acquiring a second language. I want my classroom to be a place where the target language is used constantly and without fear of mistakes. However I am not completely against a small amount of use of the primary language when it comes to translating some words or brief explanations. These guidelines come from various different teaching methods but also from my own experience learning Spanish. I think that experience, more than anything has helped me to decide how I would want to teach my students. For me, the teachers job is to be a resource, encouraging and guiding the students while at the same time helping them to improve through corrections and by introducing new, challenging and interesting material in whatever way is most effective for the student.




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