Last week I was having a conversation with a close friend of mine, we were talking about me trying to become an English teacher and how I had to write this blog about the approach I would use when teaching, so he, knowing that I never took classes, said that it would be difficult for me to find a teaching approach since I’ve never had an English teacher. That got me thinking. In a way, he was wrong.
Throughout my journey, I’ve faced a lot of teachers that weren’t actually academic, but, were in deed teachers nonetheless. Music, films, my sisters’ textbooks, my high-school friend Nicholas and myself. Maybe this doesn’t make a lot of sense right now, but I’m hoping that once I’m done writing this text, you’ll see my point.
I strongly believe that one major key point in my learning experience was my motivation. It came through my love for music and gave me the will to not give up because my stimulus of communicating myself and being able to perceive what others were trying to communicate, was so much bigger than the fear of failing itself. Thus, came my persistence.
That being said, the first thing I’d like to talk about is our necessity of communicating something. I think it is not language specific, it’s a skill that is to the culture to which the individual belongs. We have families, friends, neighborhood, schools, workplace, society itself, the list of cultural spheres to which an individual belongs it’s endless. So as a language teacher, one of my duties would be to find out what drove my student to learn this new language. What is her or his need on doing so? If I have that information, I can try to transform it in a way that it becomes a motivation. If my student is a businessman who’s taking English classes because the cultural sphere to which it belongs it’s demanding on doing so, I would give my argument that by learning English he can become better at what he does, he can aim for a raise, a new job position, new business opportunities with clients he didn’t have access before because he didn’t have the skill that was related to their culture. By doing that, I’m shaping my students’ needs to become a catalyst. No matter where this need is born, either from work, self-growing desire, falling in love with an English speaker, wanting to belong in a new cultural sphere, it can be transformed into a cause.
Motivation is a key factor. We thrive on it.
This leads me to my second point. How well we’re able to communicate something in a language has little to do with our language level, and has a lot to do with our attitude. Now, our attitude can be the result of many factors put together in a single equation. One of them being our motivation. For example, when I started playing the guitar I had little to no clue on what I was doing, I had no music theory and no practical knowledge, being left only with my desire to express my feelings through that six-stringed wooden instrument. My attitude towards it was vital. I allowed myself to make mistakes, thus, gained the confidence to play musical pieces without knowing how they were structured. The same thing happened when I was doing this language transfer method with my American friend in high school. I didn’t have the need for my speech to be perfect, I just wanted to express something. Having an environment that allows students to make mistakes and not feel bad about them is essential. Students are judged in their exams on their ability to master the language, which is not correct. They need to learn the language to communicate well; to understand the people in front of them or the received email, and then do the action required, that's all. English is not an art to be mastered, it is a tool to communicate.
Confidence is what allows us to deliver our clarity to the people in front of us, if we miss it, we won't deliver the message clearly even if we master the language. Studies have shown that people with high self-confidence acquire a 2nd language faster.
Hence, one of the things I’d tell my students is that when they talk to people, they should try and focus on the person in front of them and not on themselves or trying to correct their mistakes. To try and put themselves in a low-anxiety position by making the situation more pleasant for them. Through this, I’d be employing the natural approach.
When students find their motivation and are set in an environment where they feel comfortable, the next step is communication itself and the subject on which they’re talking about is of utter importance. The emphasis on this is on breaking down the global concept of language into units of analysis in terms of communicative situations in which they are used. The functional or notional approach comes into play here. Notions are merely meaning elements that may be expressed through nouns, pronouns, verbs, prepositions, conjunctions, adjectives or adverbs. These notions depend on three major factors, one of them is the topic being discussed. As a teacher I need to find a topic on which my students are thrilled on discussing. By doing that, I take the students into a comfort zone because it’s something they know of. So, even if they don’t possess the most advanced tools that allows them to communicate in a foreign language, they will want to express their thoughts on that subject either way.
In addition to this, there’s one more factor that should not be left out. Immersion. Nowadays, English is all around, from the television shows we watch, to the music we hear, the technology that surrounds us. So, my question is, why don’t we put it to use? It was one of the things that helped me the most throughout my learning experience. Being able to have easy access to the target language is crucial, it’s where we hear it, where we read it and where we can also practice it. I remember countless hours of listening to music and trying to duplicate the sounds I was hearing on the lyrics. If an individual finds itself immersed in a foreign language, it will slowly start to normalize it. It’s how our brain works, when we introduce some new content, we shouldn’t expect to have everything memorized and categorized within the first day. But, if we take up little by little every day, and get our brain acquainted to that content, results are going to be fantastic. I’d suggest my students to start watching their television shows in English with native language subtitles, then change them to English subtitles and when they’re comfortable enough, let go of the subtitles at all. Read about things they like, the newspaper, magazines, blogs. Everything can be translated with the click of a button these days, so I’d suggest them to take applications they know and love such as Instagram, Facebook or Whatsapp and set the language to English; this way they’re picking on a vocabulary of subjects they’re already familiar with.
If I knew these things when I was learning English as a second language, I think it would have been easier for me.
To conclude, I’d like to point out that as a teacher, my learning part is far from being over. Music taught me that communication has little to do with knowing the language, films showed me how native speakers were communicating, my sisters’ textbooks were giving me the structure for the language, my friend provided a stress-free environment where I could practice and I, I taught myself how to not give up on what it drives my motivation.
I also think that every student I encounter will teach me new ways to become a better English teacher, new ways to communicate and understand their culture. Learning never stops.