What is the best way to learn a language? What is the best way to teach a language?
That all depends on the teacher and the student. Learning a language takes a lot of time, effort and can be very difficult for students. Each student is different, as is every teacher, so it is important that we respect that some students may pick it up easier than others. As a teacher, we have to adapt to the students way of learning to make sure we make learning a language fun, easy and effortless. I want you to understand my style of teaching so I am going to take you through the journey of my teaching and explain how I apply theories to my lessons.
I want students to feel comfortable and have a natural exchange with me throughout my lessons. I like to create the idea where students are enjoying the lessons, they almost forget they are learning a language. To create this feeling, I go by the direct method and apply it to my teaching.
The direct method focuses on vocabulary over grammar where oral teaching comes before any kind of reading and writing activities. Translation is forbidden from any classroom activity which means all activities are carried out only in the target language. I use this method when teaching as it pushes students to think in the language they are learning as soon as the lesson starts. When learning a language, it is easy for the student to go back to their comfort zone and speak or translate in their native language. The direct method avoids students doing this and trains their minds to think in the target language for the duration of the lesson. This gives students more practice on real life scenarios on what speaking in that target language would be like on a day-to-day basis.
As languages are developing, the majority of students’ goals is to be fluent in speaking in the target language for when they are travelling, socialiising or working. The direct method allows students to use the target language in context. As the direct method is based primarily on speech, it gives students the ability to practice this.
When the lesson begins is when I go by the direct method of speaking only in the target language. I observe to see which students feel comfortable learning in this method and may have to tailor my teaching method to suit others more. The direct method is more of an open way of teaching as it was be adapted to each different. For example, if I asked a student ´ how are you? ´ and they didn´t understand, I could then say ´are you ok? ´ which effectively is the same question but I would change the question to make it easier for students to understand and answer.
Another reason why the direct method works for me is because it clearly promises the students to learn the language and not about the language. A typical lesson using the direct method would consist of reading aloud, question and answer exercises and conversation practice. Even though each lesson is structured with a lesson plan, the lessons still have a relaxed feel to make the target language feel natural.
The direct method works especially well for me when it comes to pronunciation. Pronunciation is a huge factor when learning a language and especially the English language as many words are spelt differently to how they are pronounced. Let’s take an example of two words ´Pair´, a pair of gloves, and ´pear´, the fruit. The direct method put emphasis on correct pronunciation so students would learn even though they are spelt differently they are pronounced the same. If a student was learning English by a different method they may not come across different pronunciations or understand how important pronunciation is.
Even though I like follow the direct method, I do understand speaking only in the target language can be difficult for beginners and students with a low level of target language. Beginners who have a little understanding of a language need a more visual approach which is where my classes intertwine with the Total Physical Response Method. The Total Physical Response allows you to teach using all senses.
I believe the Total Physical Response is a great method for students who adapt well to sensory learning. By using this method, I am able to talk in the target language but also do many actions and gestures to emphasise what I am saying. For example. If I said ´My house is warmer when I close the door´ I would go to close the door, or Í am tired I am going to sit down on the chair´ I would take a chair and sit. By using both the direct and the total physical response methods, it allows me to interact with them verbally as well as demonstrating actions so help them gain a better understanding on the words in context.
Understanding how we actually learn a language can be more confusing than learning the language itself. There have been many ideas and theories of how we manage to learn a second language which is why I like the investigations of the second language acquisition approach. Second language acquisition studies how a human can acquire and learn a second language. It could be argued that each person learns a language in a different way, but for me, I believe we learn a language first orally and then the more grammatical ways come later.
Take a minute and go back to when you were a child. Think of the time when you first started talking. How did you manage to start speaking your first language? Was it because someone gave you a book full of grammar? Or was it because you listened and spoke back? I believe that second language acquisition is closely linked to first language acquisition in the sense that we manage to learn a second language exactly the same way as a first language. The more we hear someone saying something in the correct context, we understand how and where it should be used whereas when we study grammar we focus mostly on why something should be used. Of course, learning a second language can be more difficult as words are often wrongly translated or used in a different context to your first language but the approach we take should be exactly the same as both acquisitions. Start learning a language as if you were a child again. Start repeating, start speaking back with simple words and sentences and then slowly grown your vocabulary and knowledge.
If we all thought of learning a second language in the same way we learnt our first language, easy and effortless, it would make learning a new language more fun and less stressful. This is what teaching and learning a language should be all about to make it a more natural way for students to learn. If all students thought that learning a language could be so easy, who knows how many languages they would want to learn!
We can all appreciate that learning a language has changed over the years and as teachers, we have to prepare ourselves for more changes and adapt to different methods of teaching. Personally, I think that in the future, the direct method will continue to dominate other methods of teaching. Online lessons are becoming more popular when learning a language as a teacher can be at one side of the world and the student can be at the other with the evolution of technology making this possible. The majority of online lessons will be based on speech and talking in natural conversation which is where the direct method comes in place. The direct method is equally as good for online classes however, it could perhaps lack the intimacy between the student and teacher that you would get in a face-to-face lesson which is why as teachers, we have to be aware to adapt different methods of teaching to different teaching scenarios.
Alongside technology playing a factor in the future of teaching, the English language is the 2nd most spoken language in the world. Many people want to learn English for work and travelling purposes. More and more people are wanting to learn English to use in real context which is where the direct method has a huge advantage. The direct method allows students and teachers to communicate in the target language where students will gain a better understanding of what it is like to speak in real life context in the second language.
The present and future of teaching is constantly changing, as are the goals and objectives of students who are learning a language. So, to conclude, even though I have preferred methods of teaching, my teaching method often varies depending on the students and the teaching situation. For me, the first step is understanding the students goals and objectives, the second, understanding how the student learns the best, the third, making the lessons as interactive, enjoyable and effortless as possible to allow the students to have as much fun with languages as I do.