Joseph Alexander

My teaching approach

The object of this essay is to compare a few of the most common methods of teaching English as a foreign language with a description of their perceived benefits and shortcomings. Finally, I shall suggest my own method based on my personal experience and what I have seen and learnt during the course.


The Grammar Translation method focuses on learning the rules of English grammar and the translation of passages of text between the native language and English. It is the method I remember from language learning at school which involved memorising lists of vocabulary and the declination of regular and irregular verbs. Speaking, that is to say oral skills were considered of little, if any, importance and were given a very low priority. This method was useful for learning large amounts of vocabulary and would be almost ideal for someone who wishes to become a translator. The method is very rigorous and I owe my knowledge of Latin, French and Spanish grammar to it. However, there was very little teaching in the target language and it relied heavily on memorization. The focus was always on the teacher who did most of the talking, almost always in the native language. This, I recall, made the classes very boring and tedious since I was always yearning to be allowed to participate. So the development of oral skills definitely took a back seat and consequently our pronunciation suffered. There was no concentration on context. Also, the vocabulary we learnt did not include colloquial language or slang which severely hampered my performance in conversations with native speakers, understanding news bulletins and comprehending written articles and films or television. This I had to painfully learn by myself outside of the classroom. Of course colloquial language is essential especially in verbal communication. In conclusion I would class grammar translation as a literary method of learning where the spoken language is of minor importance and actively discouraged. Therefore, anybody learning English this way would expect to have few, if any, oral skills. It is all about reading and writing.


In the Direct or Berlitz method of teaching the meaning is connected directly to the Target Language without translation. The aim is to impart a knowledge of the language useful enough to enable the students to speak it. It argues that a foreign language can be taught without translation. Meaning is learnt by demonstration and grammar rules are taught by a kind of “Osmosis,” that is to say not directly. The syllabus is topic based and the techniques may include reading aloud, question and answer exercises, self correction, conversation practice, gap-fill exercises and dictation.


This is a good method in that instructions are always given in the Target Language and the teacher demonstrates instead of explaining or translating. Also, there is a much higher priority given to developing the students’ oral skills than in the Grammar Translation method. Informal use of the Target Language is actively encouraged and the students learn how to ask aswell as answer questions. However, there is a downside to teaching only everyday vocabulary and sentences. It means that the formal language is ignored. Infact the Direct Method rejects the use of the printed word altogether which is illogical since one can assume that the person learning has already developed his or her reading skills. On the positive side, vocabulary is taught through visual stimuli and learning is always in context.


In conclusion, students are encouraged to actively participate in the learning process and thereby might be more motivated which can only be a good thing. Also, the interaction between student and teacher is two way, so mimicking the way that a mother tongue is acquired, making it a more natural method than Grammar Translation. Nevertheless, I think that for this method to be successful the teacher would have to be a native speaker.


The Total Physical Response method of language learning is based on the mother – child relationship. In this way it is probably the least stressful of the methods. The students respond to commands from the teacher that require physical movement just like a toddler responds to his mother. The enjoyment factor is high since the students get to stand up and move around and they are not required to speak until they are ready. This is usually about ten hours into the course. The method works well with mixed ability classes and is beneficial for kinesthetic learners. Additionally, class size is relatively unimportant and the method is equally effective for adults and children alike.


In studies, it outperforms other methods when applied to beginners. Therefore, it would be most appropriate for this type of student. Nevertheless, an observer watching the class could be forgiven for thinking that he is observing a group of trained chimpanzees because of the direct way in that the students mimick or obey the teacher. This could be a problem in that in emphasizing imperative commands it could lead to the students appearing rude when attempting to use the new language. Other objections are that there appears to be no room for creative expression because they are acting like automatons and the whole system might be a challenge for shy students. There is also an inherent fault in assuming that children and adults are able to learn the way an infant does. Developmentally, their brains are very different. However, I can see this method being useful in a limited way.


If I could invent my own method of teaching English to foreigners, it would be based on humour, physical interaction and games. These are all elements that I am attracted to and that I feel I would enjoy personally. If it’s no fun for the teacher, why should we expect the students to enjoy it? I am drawn to the Oxbridge method which is as close as one can get to the Communicative Approach. However, it is not perfect as it expects students to “sink or swim.” And if you are sinking, what do you do? I have observed in a few of the classes how there are wildly varying gaps in the ability levels of students who are supposed to be at the same level. Therefore, I would introduce some kind of discreet extra help for those learners who fall behind so that they could extract some benefit from their regular classes. This might involve going over previous lessons with them or actively asking them what they are having difficulty with. The general success rate would rise dramatically.


I like to play games and I think that they are very useful as an aid to language learning. Of course the language used during play would be uniquely english and the teacher would have to supervise. The games would also have to be chosen for their high demand of the use of spoken language and their value in mental stimulation according to the age group. It opens up a world of endless possibilities. Added to that it is usually fun and I find that when people are having fun their brains are more receptive. I agree that getting students to communicate orally as much as possible is the way to get them understanding and using English. However, my method would differ in that I would try as much as possible to link the spoken language with physical interaction. “Would you pass me that book” has a much greater meaning if there is a book to pass. In this way I would limit the use of abstract ideas to advanced students. Obviously we cannot bring every physical object into the classroom either but this would encourage the students to use their imagination which is a good thing. I would also introduce the English alphabet at an early stage because I believe that the alphabet is the key to learning any language, especially when it comes to pronunciation. I would also emphasise the high degree of irregularity contained in the English language so that the learners appreciate from the beginning that it is not a language like any other and that their approach must therefore be adaptable. I would call this the “fine tuned communicative approach.”


Joseph Alexander





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