What is learning? Most definitions will tell you that learning is ‘the acquisition of knowledge or skills through study, experience or being taught’. We can therefore identify that are three main parts of learning anything, including learning a new language: studying, experiences and finally being taught. As teachers we can control all three of these aspects and control how a student acquires a new language. Our role is extremely important and can aid students to learn a language quickly or have an adverse effect on their language acquisition journey.
Through personal experiences and through observing others, I’ve perceived that most people associate learning a new language as being unimportant or too hard. Various researches done in the past, including that by Dr. James Asher the creator of the teaching method Total Physical Response concluded that most students dropped out of learning a foreign language because it was too stressful. In my teaching approach I would like to change that way of thinking and make being fluent in more than one language seem normal. I would like to make learning a new language fun, interesting and exciting rather than a daunting task.
My teaching method will be to make the classroom feel like a safe environment, somewhere students are free to express their ideas and be creative. They should feel that it’s ok to make mistakes, as we all know you can never learn without a few mistakes first. In the words of Albert Einstein ‘anyone who has never made a mistake, has never tried anything new’. Mistakes are encouraged in the classroom; they are the way forward for students. The role of the teacher would be to correct mistakes in moderation and make students understand their mistakes. For lower level learners corrections will be kept minimal. Only with higher-level learners will corrections be made more often in order to keep learning challenging.
In addition to this, learning has to be fun! The role of the teacher in the classroom is to act more like a guide and a friend rather than the formal form of a “teacher”. The energy a teacher brings into the classroom is extremely important. Students feed off the energy of the teacher. If the teacher is positive, then students are likely to be more interested in learning. Having grown up learning French in school, I can safely say I don’t speak any French. When I look back I believe it was: one because I didn’t take it too seriously and two: the teacher wasn’t very engaging and didn’t make learning French interesting or fun.
Motivation is key. As a teacher I think it’s very important to find out what motivates your student and what works for them. We need to realize that everyone is different and thus so their way of learning something new, including learning a new language. I would first discuss what interests the student, what makes them want to learn a new language and then how we can work together to achieve their goals. The same way I think it’s important to know the personality of your student. Is he shy? Is he very forward? Does he enjoy challenges? Based on the personality of the student I would adapt my approach to teaching them.
With young children I would encourage the use of games and more physical methods of learning and use of relia. Total physical response, is a great way to make younger students and lower level students remember and retain new vocabulary in a short period of time. I would also use games and props with children to engage them and ensure they have an enjoyable experience learning a new language. Children have short attention spans so it is important to keep them engaged.
With older students it’s usually much simpler. Older students can distinguish what the benefits of learning a new language would be. Thus setting these objectives clearly at the beginning of the course will help teach students relevant material and keep them motivated throughout. I would encourage older students to be more active than passive. The role of the teacher is to act more like a monitor and to encourage students to speak even whilst making mistakes.
I would only use English in the classroom, I believe the use of the student´s native language will only adversely affect their language acquisition process. It discourages students from thinking in English and encourages them to constantly translate from their native language, which would deter fluency. Imagine you moved to a new country and you didn’t speak a word of the local language; imagine no one there spoke any of the languages you speak. What would happen then? You would probably start off by speaking to each other in sign language and then finally learning how to communicate in the local language! The same way I would only use English in my classroom so students have no choice but to communicate their thoughts in English. I’ve witnessed how immergence is the best way to learn a new language, whilst living in Israel I’ve seen people from all around the world with Jewish ancestry move to Israel and picking up Hebrew quickly, even learning a completely new alphabet.
If you think about it, language is just a method of communication. I want to encourage all forms of communication in English in the classroom, including between peers. I would like to bring up interesting and relative topics that students are interested in and encourage them to express their ideas. Students will play an active role in the class and will be encouraged to read, do role-plays and debates. Lesson planning will be key in my teaching method and will be done before every lesson.
I would encourage a much higher student talk time. For lower level students this is a little harder, as they won’t be at a level where they can express ideas fully in English, only in this case will there be higher teacher talk time. Students should be able to communicate in English, that’s the idea from the every beginning. I would like students to go home from their very first class thinking; “wow I can already communicate some ideas in English”. Positive reinforcement is very important. Students need to feel that they are doing a good job.
I would develop my syllabus in the same way: changing it depending on the outcome each student would like to achieve. I believe vocabulary is important in all stages of learning and it will important to grade my language based on the level of the student. Grammar will be taught inductively, unless a student should request some grammar rules to be taught to them deductively. Writing in the class will be encouraged; I believe visual reinforcement of words helps to retain information. Sketch noting is a great way to retain information and to remember spelling; it will be encouraged but not enforced if the student doesn’t like it. Students will also be encouraged to read. They will be given interesting articles to read and then discussing their thoughts on the topics to check if they have understood the material and to encourage thinking in English.
Recycling is a key part of my teaching method. It is important to check if students have understood what they learnt in the past and if they have retained information and using it in their speech. Growing up I had forgotten many of the foreign languages I learnt only because I never used them. It’s important to keep knowledge fresh in a student’s mind and help them use what they already know to create more fluency and also to help them feel that they are progressing.
Overall, I want my classrooms to be a fun place where students are excited about learning a new language. I want students to be able to see progression and to feel that they have achieved new levels in their language acquisition journey. I want to motivate students, by first finding out what motivates them. I would make sure the classroom is a safe place for students to feel that it’s ok to make mistakes and rest assured that it’s an essential part of learning. Positive attitude in the classroom and positive reassurance is essential. Communication between teachers and students, and peer-to-peer communication will be encouraged because after all they are learning to communicate.