Sara Rodrí­guez Guiral

My teaching approach

English teacher: authoritative figure or guide?

Is there a correct teaching method for foreign languages? Throughout the last few decades there have been different ways of approaching the methods of teaching foreign languages, we will be studying some of them and their characteristics in the following pages.

What is a Method? According to W.F Mackey , “A method determines what and how much is taught (Selection), the order in which it is taught (Gradation), how the meaning and form are conveyed (Presentation) and what is done to make the use of the language unconscious.”1

The Grammar Translation Method was and is still one of the most commonly practiced methods around the world, in which written language is thought to be superior to spoken language and the learning process is focused on reading and writing skills, whilst the communicative aspects of the language receive little attention. Usually teachers give classes in the native language of the pupils and grammar structures are explained as theory first and then applied into context. One of the main advantages of this methodology is that specific vocabulary and also grammar structures can be explained faster as the teacher translates it directly to the student's native language. However, in doing this, the students tend to forget the structures and the vocabulary learnt as they don't acquire it in a natural way. Also, they will be able to write correctly but as the speaking skill is not developed they will not be able to express themselves naturally in English.

The teacher in this Method is obviously the leader/director of the class, as he is usually standing in front of the students as an authoritative figure. The conversations are in the native language so the teacher doesn't guide them through the language but tells them what to say, how to say it and when to say it.

However some other ways of approaching the learning process have been created as a response to this classical system. The three different methods we will be explaining have a common characteristic and that is the teacher as a leader instead of a guide for the students. We will see how the students are following an authoritative figure and “repeating” what he/she wants the students to say. As such, these methods are not so different to the classic Grammar Translation Approach.

The first teaching methodology we are going to talk about is The Silent Way which was created by Caleb Cattegno in the 1960s. It is based in the idea that the teacher should be silent in class and the students should be the ones guessing what the teacher wants them to say, doing so the teacher concentrates on the students while they concentrate on the language. It is also thought to encourage students to work together and help each other to understand and use the language being taught.The lower levels require some Teacher Talking Time but as the students improve the teacher's silence increases and all the students speak at once following the gestures of the teacher.

This method doesn't follow a structured syllabus, the teacher starts with a grammar structure and follows what he/she thinks is the best for the students. A syllabus is a necessary tool for an organized teaching method and also helps to establish some goals not only for the teacher but also for the students as they feel they are improving their language skills when achieving these goals.

Sara Rodríguez Guiral


1 Methods of Teaching English. M.E.S Elizabeth p.51

One of the most important critics to this system is that the teacher doesn't talk in class so the listening and understanding skills of the students are absolutely neglected. It is necessary to correct the pronunciation of the students and as they are all talking at once it is practically impossible for the teacher to be able to isolate each student's mistakes.

In this case the teacher is also an authoritative figure as he is standing in front of the class gesturing what he/she wants the students to say so there is no place the student's natural speech. Even if this method was thought to be the solution for the grammar translation method, the teacher still doesn't guide the students in a natural way on the self-discovery of the language being taught.

Secondly, the Total Physical Response is a method developed by Dr. James J. Asher. It is based in the idea that the process that humans do when learning a new language is similar to the process done when as babies we learn our mother tongue. The students decode the new language by responding physically to the teacher's verbal orders.

How is this applied to the classrooms? The students have to physically respond to the teacher's words, there are different games and activities that can be used with this method as “Simon says”. One of the main advantages is that students approach the language orally, as they first listen and then repeat what the teacher has said. This means that the grammar is already taught without needing to go through the classic Grammar Method so the students acquire it in a natural way. It is also a very interesting method for children as they can move around the class and this makes the process of learning less boring than the traditional methods.

However even if the language is acquired in a natural way there is still no room in this approach for the communicative skill, all the talking done in this lessons is based in the repetition of the teacher's words or the signs related to this words. Again, the student's talking skills are being neglected because they are not using the language as they would use it in a natural environment.

So, as we can see, the teacher in this approach is, again, an authoritative figure standing in front of the students and telling them what to say, how to say it and when to say it. He relates some words with some gestures which is a good method for kids in the lower levels but as soon as the level improves the student should be able to talk with freedom allowing the mistakes as this is a natural way of learning. So again, here we can see how a method, also created as a response to the grammar translation method is still missing the main point to acquire a language in a natural way: The development of the communicative skills.

Suggestopaedia is the third teaching method we will be studying, it was created by Georgi Lozanov in the 1970s and it is based in six principle components: “Authority of the teacher so that he/she becomes a reliable source for the students, infantilization of the student relation towards the teacher, the importance of the environment in the learning process, the variation in the intonation helps to avoid boredom, the materials presented with a varying rhythm are more interesting and, finally, the activities should be accompanied by music.”2

This is quite a controversial method as there are many studies that prove that students have acquired a good level of english by using it but, on the other hand, it is sometimes compared to a placebo as it will only work if the students believe in its effect. Also, is mainly based in listening and reading skills while other communicative parts of the language are not being developed.

As the previous methods, in this case the teacher is an authoritative figure not only because he/she stands in front of the students but mainly due to their infantilization. The relation between teacher and student and the other characteristics explained previously are not the appropriate ones to create


2 Methods and Approaches in Language Teaching. Gültekin Boran. Gazi University. p.8

a natural learning environment. The intonation and the music used in the classes might help while being in the class, but once the students have to face the “real use of the language” they won't be able to do it as they have never experienced it before. Again we see how, probably the most experimental technique is still based in the figure of the teacher not as a guide but as someone who says what to say, how to say it and when to say it.

After going through some of the different teaching methods we can see how they all lack the development of the most important skill of a language: Talking. As a response to this the Communicative Approach was created.

The Communicative approach creates real life situations in which the students will have to speak as they would in a natural environment, they will be learning an authentic language and will be using the target language as vehicle for the class communication. In this method, unlike the grammar translation method, errors are tolerated as they are a part of the learning process.

Teachers that use this approach will find that their Teacher Talking Time will be reduced as their STT increases. This doesn't mean that the teacher stops paying attention to his/her students but that he steps back and observes while the students talk between them and corrects them when necessary. Knowing this we have students that learn how to communicate since they start studying the language, and they acquire the grammar and the vocabulary in a natural way by the context in which they use it.

So, as we can see, the figure of the teacher in this case has nothing to do with the approaches explained before as he is no longer the person that tells the students what to say, how to say and when to say it but a guide that will help them find their own way in the self-discovery of the language. 

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