My Teaching Approach
Over the years various different teaching methods have been developed, each with their own idea of how a language is best presented to a student and what teaching a language should centre around. My aim will be to discuss some of these approaches, leading to the development of my own teaching method.
All teaching methods have been established with the same aim, to find the best way of teaching a language. However, it seems that even with this goal in common the approaches vary widely in technique and ideals. Earlier methods focus heavily on studying the language structures and how it is formed, e.g. the Grammar-Translation Method. Some methods, like the Direct Method, omit teaching linguistic structures altogether and focus on vocabulary and communication. Then there are the more recent approaches, focusing on teaching the student how to use the language and communicate it effectively, e.g. the Communicative Approach or the Oxbridge System.
The first method I would like to discuss is the Direct Method. This method states that using objects and demonstrations improves the students understanding of vocabulary, which is something I fully agree with. Visual aids are crucial when teaching a foreign language as they provide an explanation of a term without requiring the teacher or student to write anything (keeping the activity communicative) or translate into the native language. Translating from the TL to the native language, according to this approach, should not be allowed. However, I think at times translating can help a student's understanding. Not permitting translation can deter a less confident student from participating, whereas allowing translation encourages the student to answer questions and participate in communicative activities. It is at this point the teacher's responsibility to answer the student in the TL, clearly repeating the vocabulary. Allowing translation in class can also be beneficial as the use of cognates can considerably improve a students understanding of a word. The Direct Method states that vocabulary should be prioritised over grammar, which according to this approach should be taught inductively through speaking and listening. Although grammar can be taught to beginners this way, as students develop their knowledge of the TL it becomes more important to start teaching the structure of the language. I agree with the Oxbridge System regarding the teaching of grammar, which states that teaching grammar structures and using activities to practice them brings coherence and meaning to the words.
The Oxbridge System is a relatively new approach and focuses heavily on communicative competence and the idea that the teacher holds responsibility for the students learning of the TL. The method uses the Triangular Projection Model which specifies what aspects should be present during any communicative act. The first is Topic (used for initiating communication), the second is Vocabulary (the words we need to express ideas) and finally Structures (the grammatical structure of the sentence bringing meaning to the words). The Oxbridge System uses these three elements as a base for communicative activities and believes that every activity should be communicative in some way. I fully agree with this concept and believe that in order for students to reach their goal and speak the TL fluently and coherently, they must practice speaking and listening as much as possible. Speaking and listening to the TL is primary to reading and writing, which can only come as a result of the learners communicative abilities. Another positive element of this approach, in my opinion, is the emphasis on teachers preparedness and that the teachers work as a team for the benefit of the students. Common aims between teachers and the sharing of resources provides better teaching material than a single teacher. A team can share experiences and ideas and provide a support network for the individuals involved, all of which improves the learning process for the students. For me, one negative aspect of this system is that no translation is permitted (as in the Direct Method). As mentioned before, I feel this can provoke a negative atmosphere for students lacking in confidence or understanding. This approach also states that students should be encouraged to speak in the TL outside the classroom when they come into contact with the teacher. As much as I agree this encourages the students to think in English, I also believe that the student-teacher relationship should be friendly and relaxed and when a student seeks guidance, it may be necessary for them to do this in their native language.
The final approach I would like to discuss is the Communicative Approach. This teaching method shares some ideals with the Oxbridge System, such as the importance of communicative competence and the use of activities to develop this. The Communicative approach bases its teaching method on the belief that communicative competence is more important than linguistic competence. Therefore, similarly to the Oxbridge System, activities or games revolve around speaking with the aim of being able to receive and convey meaningful messages. This emphasis on meaningful messages comes from the view that the TL should be taught in real context, done so by using authentic materials. I completely agree that without context the teaching of grammar and vocabulary is not effective, as there is no clear meaning for the learner. This approach uses a communicative task as a teaching strategy in the class. This task must involve: a goal (what the students should be able to do after the class), input (either text or listening related to real life, e.g. newspaper) and activities (should be interesting and directly related to the goal and input). This structure of a communicative task is particularly useful for learners to develop knowledge of everyday language, however despite this model's ability to develop communicative competence, it can be said it lacks focus on the foundations of the TL and the structures needed.
After assessing aspects of these three methods I can say that my teaching approach would involve various items from the Oxbridge System and the Communicative Method. I believe the goal of learning a language should ultimately be to develop the ability to speak fluently, followed by listening, reading and writing. In today's society people ask and are asked; do you speak English? It is the skill to speak a language that is wanted by learners, demanded by employers and generally the most useful for everyday life. This is the reason communicative activities are becoming increasingly important in any teaching environment. Based on this, a breakdown of a class according to my teaching method would include:
Activities, (mostly speaking, practical use of TL) 30mins
Although this class structure would work for all ages and levels, I would change the amount of time devoted to each area depending on the students. For example, it may be more productive to lengthen the time spent on grammar by 5 minutes and reduce vocabulary by 5 minutes when teaching higher intermediate learners a more complex grammar structure. Grading the classes in this way follows the Oxbridge System, which changes the specified time spent learning Vocabulary, Structures and Topic, according to the students level.
In my opinion activities should always be fun, interesting and communicative. Even when reading and writing is involved, there should still be speaking and listening practice taking place throughout the activity. As in all the methods outlined above, objects, pictures and demonstrations play a huge part in learning a second language, and should all be used in every class. The material used in class, as far as possible, should be authentic and in context, as in the Communicative Method. This should involve using 'real' English, from sources such as newspapers or radio clips, in order for the students to learn up to date vocabulary and phrases. When vocabulary is taught in context, with a clear semantic field, it becomes more meaningful for the students, resulting in improved understanding. In these classes it is important to reduce Teacher Talk Time (TTT) where possible, in order to increase Student Talk Time (STT). This not only maintains the attention and concentration of the students but allows the learners to actively practice the TL as much as possible. However, during classes with beginners TTT may be increased as the ability of the students is limited. I also think allowing translation is beneficial when learning English, especially when using cognates to provide better understanding.
My teaching approach takes various characteristics from the Communicative Approach and the Oxbridge System. When teaching a foreign language, the teacher should provide activities that range from entertaining for young beginners to thought provoking for higher level students. The constant use of communicative activities improves not only speaking skills and fluency but the confidence of the learner to use the TL. Devoting time to grammar structures and vocabulary provides the knowledge students need to fully comprehend the TL. The days of high TTT and studying a language silently through books have come to an end. Modern day students want to be able to actively use their acquired second language and it has become clear that the best way to learn a language is through communicative means and to actively speak English in order to learn to 'speak English'.