Why is this essay necessary?
(Aside from the assumption that I have nothing better to do with my weekend) the exploration of this question is as good a place as any to start……
For as long as students have been learning English, theories and methodologies about the “right way” to teach English as a Second Language have existed. Perhaps life would be simpler if all of humanity would stay put in the land in which they were born and be content with their respective mother tounges but realities cannot be ignored. Due to industrialization, the latest technologies and global interdependence the world, as large as it is, has become smaller. A hundred years ago nobody could have imagined that in the future their descendants would be able to set out on a journey to a foreign country and arrive at their destination within hours, or to communicate in verbal or written form with somebody on the other side of the world at the push of a button.
The need for a “universal” language
Human beings have a natural ability and need to communicate with each other. My cat peed on the beanbag in the spare room on Saturday! A bit of a tangent I know but nonetheless an important point. Tempting as it was to ring her neck I restrained my first impulse and asked myself, “What is she trying to COMMUNICATE?” Half an hour’s worth of online research later and we were on the same wavelength. Now I understand that she is having some issues with feelings of insecurity, territorial boundaries and having to share her litter box with her adoptive brother, I am confident that there will be no further incidents.
Blue may well not have felt the need for such drastic action but for want of a common language. As the second most commonly spoken language in the world after Chinese, English has been the most commonly learnt second language for decades. Communication is not all verbal. Indeed, when Charlie Chaplin famously met Pablo Picasso it was by all accounts a successful encounter even though they did not have a spoken language in common. Still, we do not all possess their charisma or talent and had they met regularly rather than as a one-off, there is no doubt that they would have begun to experience the frustrations which go along with the limitations of such a form of communication. In the same way that grams and kilograms and metres and centimetres are universally understood, English has become the “universal” language. In today’s world, effective teaching and learning is therefore more important than ever.
Language Teaching Methodologies
The Grammer-Translation Method focuses on reading and writing and is based on studying and translating texts. The teacher is the fountain of all knowledge, accuracy is of the upmost importance, and activity types are gap-fill style drill exercises, reading comprehensions and written tests. These may be useful skills to have if you aspire to re-write the long-lost, ancient scrolls of the Alexandria library or if you wish to contest the fact that there is a hobby on earth more anal than train-spotting. Is there any point in learning a language if you are unable to speak it?
Almost as bad, (but not quite), is the Audio-Lingual Method. Heavily reliant on grammar, drills and repetition how can such monotonous and contrived content prepare students to converse in English outside the classroom? I’ve yet to meet a native speaker who would go to a shoe shop and chant at the sales assistant in such a banal fashion……
The Direct, (or Berlitz) Method, by contrast places emphasis on the students learning vocabulary for the purpose of communicating orally; grammar is taught inductively, if at all. The syllabus is based on topics and students are given opportunities to use the target language in real contexts. Translation from first language to target language is not allowed! Alternatively, the teacher facilitates the learning of vocabulary using pictures and realia, paying close attention to pronunciation. Reading and writing skills are developed based on what the students have practiced orally. Fundamentally, this is a much more desirable approach as the main objective is to teach students to speak English. However, I have some doubts as to the authenticity of the real contexts and to the haphazard acquisition of grammar. The examples which I have seen seem rather limited, leaving little scope for imagination. How are students to develop the lateral thinking skills which are so fundamental to communicating successfully in a second language if they do not have the opportunity to use their new vocabulary with more freedom? How is the teacher to be confident that their students are acquiring correct grammatical structures? Fewer drills and lower teaching talking time would give a much clearer picture. The poor teacher is probably popping caffeine pills anyhow if he’s that hyper in every class he teaches! May well appreciate the rest…..
The Silent Way is based on the teacher being passive, a facilitator and an observer. Theoretically, this approach fosters autonomy, group cooperation and an “inner criteria” for correctness in the students. Any interference from the teacher, such as correction or praise, potentially interferes with students developing their own criteria but I would beg to differ. A good teacher knows when to step in, knows a slip from an error, does give students the space and opportunity to self-correct and understands how to use praise positively. How can students assimilate the correct pronunciation, intonation, stress patterns and rhythm of English if they do not receive the good example from their teacher? How does this method work with complete beginners? I am unable to imagine. Indeed, how do students develop an “inner criteria for correctness” with no reference point?
Despite the fact that it sounds like something that university students get up to at the weekend, Suggest-o-pedia may not be as far-fetched as it may initially seem. Studies have shown that a positive, relaxed environment significantly reduces stress levels in any potentially stressful situation. Consider sitting in a dentist’s waiting room which looks more like someone’s living room. Though on a conscious level you may be anxious about what’s coming, subconsciously the home-like environment will have a calming effect. A suggest-o-pedia learning environment works on the same principal, and though this approach may facilitate the reversal of negative effective factors in second language acquisition it could never completely eradicate them. Furthermore, I strongly disagree with the use of native language translation for clarity because though this practice may accelerate and ease second language acquisition initially, in the long-term I believe that interface causes more difficulties for students.
Total Physical Response is effective because it is interactive, fun and employs more than one learning style simultaneously. It is commonly associated with young children, though I would argue that it is potentially suitable for learners of all ages depending on the objectives of any particular lesson. It is vitally important, however, to check that all students are actually using the target language. Remember: I hear, I forget, I see, I remember, I do, I understand! The reading and writing phase can be omitted if preferred.
Content Based Instruction is typically found in international schools. Outwardly, it’s incredible to think that not only are these children reading and writing, speaking and listening to English at a native or near-native level at five and six years old but also using their second language as a vehicle to learn other subjects, (and for some children English is a third or fourth language)! However, if we consider that the under-sevens are at the most language sensitive time in their lives and that the majority of these children have been listening to spoken English since they were three……they would have acquired spoken English with the same ease as their first language.
However, when you then receive a new pupil who speaks very little or no English it is always a challenge to give that student the support which they need without it being detrimental to the progress of the rest of the group.
The Communicative Approach is based upon the integration of the four skills for language proficiency: productive (speaking and writing) and receptive (listening and reading). It is characterized by the use of authentic materials, real scenarios, target language and discrete grammar teaching from a functional perspective. Errors are a natural part of the communicative approach but at what point do we correct them? The issue of authentic materials for use with beginners must be carefully considered too.
My Way or the Claire Ricaud Approach
Receptive Skills V’s Productive Skills
I believe that the purpose of language is communication. I also believe that second language learning is more effective and enjoyable when the language is acquired rather than learnt because the acquisition of language is nature’s way. Consider a new baby. (S)he spent several months in the womb listening to his/her mother’s voice and not only the words of the language, but the rhythm and intonation. People talk directly to babies from the moment they are born, until at around six weeks old the baby begins to “talk” back. Several months later the baby speaks his/her first “recognizable” words. The process of listening and speaking continues for a number of years more and though many children are introduced to books as babies nobody expects a child to begin reading until they reach the age of around four and writing is taught even later. When the time comes to learn to read and write most children acquire these new skills with enjoyment and relative ease, a natural readiness seems to occur.
I would therefore advocate a speaking and listening approach, especially in the early stages of second language learning, reading and writing can be learnt later, with much more ease, once the student has mastered at least the basics of English orally.
In planning a syllabus my over-riding considerations would have to be; What do my students want or need to communicate? How can I give my students the means to communicate?
Common sense tells me that my students are going to need words, (or vocabulary), and that those words will be more meaningful if related words, (or word families), are taught together. They will also need to put those words together into coherent units of meaning in order to communicate effectively, (functions). Logically, the most basic functions and vocabulary would be taught earlier, with functions involving more complex grammatical structures and more obscure vocabulary being reserved for higher levels.
A place for grammar?
There is no escaping the issue and it cannot be ignored……….grammar does matter! Consider the following statements;
Rob, do you have a class?
Rob, do you have class?
What a difference just one little word can make!
I believe that I would be doing my students a dis-service if I did not include discrete grammar teaching in the syllabus but as the subheading suggests – in its place – and always from the function, to the form and finally the STUDENTS will “discover” the rule themselves.
The Classroom Environment
I envisage that my classroom would be welcoming and I do believe that there is a place for nice pictures/paintings and at times music in a positive learning environment. I see a round table in the middle of the room where the teacher and the students all sit together so everyone has eye-contact and everyone is equal.
Each class would have a minimum of two students and a maximum of eight. Individual learners can miss out on important interaction and in groups that are too big students can be overlooked or overshadowed and it is important in a language learning classroom that everyone gets a chance to speak. Ideally I would like a mix of ages and genders in each class, though it is more important that the learners have roughly the same level of English. I would keep adult learners separate from teen and young learners but again I would aim, if possible, to have mixed-aged teen and children’s classes as this promotes greater cooperation between the students. Not only do different types of activities appeal to children and again to teens, also children and teens tend to acquire a second language with more ease and at a quicker pace due to the physiological differences in their brains compared to adults so it makes sense to teach them separately.
I would only have one real rule in my classroom – English only. It may be more difficult for the students initially, but I strongly believe that there are more issues with inter-language and interface later on in the learning process if students are not made to “sever” the two languages as much as possible from the beginning.
I would aim to keep my materials and make the activities as authentic as possible so the students get a real exposure to the English language. In the early stages of language learning I believe that graded materials are more helpful for the students, but if I needed to adapt an authentic material I would try to retain as much of the authenticity as possible. Activities would be based on speaking and listening with an emphasis on effective communication. If I was their only teacher I would use CD’s and DVD’s of other people speaking English as it is important that the students both experience and can understand different voices. For beginners, and lower-level learners where more drill is inevitably required at times, I would aim for a 50/50 teacher-talk/student-talk ratio. The more advanced my students became, the less talking I would aim to do. With lower-level learners I would error-correct selectively, so as not to discourage them in the early stages of learning when motivation is so important, but I would be far less permissive of errors as students became more proficient. At all levels I would praise, praise and encourage. Whatever you are learning, it needs to be a positive experience and students need to know when they are doing well.
I would ensure that activities accommodated a range of learning styles, (i.e. audial, visual, kinesthetic). If my language school was outside the UK I would endeavor to organize to take my students on visits to English-speaking countries for the ultimate authentic experience. If my language school was in the UK or another English speaking country then I would take my foreign students on carefully selected fieldtrips in order for them to practice their newly acquired language skills in a real setting, e.g. if we had just learnt about food and drink I would take them to a café or restaurant.
Motivation Age of student
Preferred learning style
Effective factors are, I believe, the single most important pre-determiner as to the level of success that any student will have in learning a second language. I have set them out as above to remind myself that as a teacher there are some effective factors which I cannot change, some I could definitely aid and others which I may possibly be able to influence. Teaching is rewarding but an awesome responsibility. To all of my students, past and present, I would like to end with this;
S I will support you.
U I will understand you.
C I will challenge you.
C I will correct you.
E Engage, Study, Activate!
S You will surprise yourself!
S You will succeed!