So, I have to write about how I would approach teaching English?
I honestly don’t know yet. The more I learn the more I realize how little I know. I do have some general ideas, but every student is different, every teacher is different, and I believe there is no right general approach, but just strategies that work better for certain individuals. I can use my personal experience to illustrate that. While I totally understand that most students would get put off by grammar structures laid out in an academic way, in my particular case, writing all the structures down as if they were mathematical formulas was what worked for me when I was learning the English tenses. That happened because at that time I was studying an engineering with plenty of mathematics and physics in it and my brain was used to learn that way.
Having said that, here come an outline and some general ideas about how I would do it.
Students and teacher’s personalities and synergies between both should be taken into account. If you don’t like your teacher you won’t like your lesson. The teacher needs to leave the rigid academic mindset and try to become a guide for the student. Rather than teaching, the teacher should be helping the student to learn. When the student grasps a new meaning or function by himself he is very unlikely to forget it.
The teacher should also make sure that the learner overcomes prejudices and understands that motivation and will to learn are what matters. For example, age should not be a factor. Quite often it ends up being a factor because the learner thinks that it is. So, when the student thinks “I am just not good at foreign languages”, the teacher should make the learner understand that “you just have not found the right teacher and system yet, the ones that work for you”.
Finally, the teacher needs to make sure the learners are having fun. If the learners are having fun they will be showing up for next lesson and they will learn in an effortless way, that is, they will acquire the new language items without studying. So the teacher needs to be a bit of a game moderator. The teacher needs to balance out the personalities in the learning group, so that strong personalities do not overwhelm shier ones, needs to balance the timing, so that the tasks don’t become stressing or boring and needs to be willing to drop certain activities if the students are not too willing to do them for whatever reason (they may think it’s just boring, or the activity may deal with some sensitive subject).
The focus during the lessons should stay on listening and understanding, and on speaking. Writing and reading should come later. There are several reasons for that. Most of our communication is oral, so it makes sense that we focus on it, since the goal of learning a second language is precisely that, communication. Also, oral communication is more dynamic and provides less time for thinking than written communication, which enables the generation of language automatisms. The goal should be that the student no longer has to think the structures while using the second language; these just happen naturally and effortlessly, they have become instinct and the learner can focus on other tasks while communicating, which leads to fluency.
Hence, ideally, all our activities in our classroom should be oral. The student has plenty of opportunities to read and write in English outside the classroom, but often the classroom is the only environment where he speaks and listens to English. Also, if you can use your second language accurately when speaking you will certainly be able to do so when writing. Writing properly is more than just spelling correctly.
If some discussion starts in a spontaneous way, the teacher should capitalize on it. The main goal of any English class should be improving the learner’s communicative skills. If such situation shows up, the teacher could limit himself to error correction and let the students talk freely and use their second language as much as they want.
Second language acquisition should just happen. Ideally, the student shouldn’t need any effort to learn the new stuff. In order to achieve this, we need to take the following into consideration:
Graded language. New language items should be introduced taking into account the learner’s command of the second language. New items should be introduced using the items that the student already knows in a very easy way, so that the student can focus on the new ones because the old ones mean no extra effort. Instructions for the lesson tasks should be very clear and simple. Understanding the task should not be an issue, the focus should be on the task itself.
Needs. Taking the student’s needs into account should be a must. We want to provide our students tools that they could use from day one if immersed in an English speaking country. When it comes to vocabulary, very generic words like “thing”, “animal” or “this” should be introduced first, since they can cover many meanings and can be used to convey many different messages. Same for structures. It’s a good idea to introduce them in an order according to how needed they are.
This is closely related to how the syllabus should be organized, particularly on the early stages of the learning process. First items to be covered should enable the learner with the basic needs, like introducing oneself and greeting people, expressing needs, likes and desires, and similar.
Amount of new items. Do not overwhelm the learner with lots of new language items on each session. More than 10 new items per session is a bad idea, since a learner will only remember so much new information. Instead, try to make the learners use the new items in context. Concept checking at the end of the session also helps the learner retaining the new item.
Context. Try to use elements that are related to the learner when introducing new language items. Proximity and familiarity are engaging. Cognits help guessing new meanings. Examples and comparisons are easier to understand than academic dictionary descriptions. If you are teaching a new structure, focus on the function, on “when do we use it and what does it mean” instead of focusing on the formal academic structure. Provide examples and use such structure in context. Finally, get the students to use the new structure in context themselves. If you are teaching new vocabulary, aim for semantic fields. Make sure the new words are related, so you can create a context in which you and your students will be using this new vocabulary.
Don’t use translations: Translations can lead to misinterpretations. Rather than knowing the translation, the student should know the actual meaning and function of the new items in the context in which they are used. This can be challenging for pure beginners. Body language, items, pictures and such should be your help then. Showing a picture and saying “this is a X” is almost always the easiest way to describe something.
Exposure. This is a key factor. This is also the main reason for not using translations. Constant exposure activates the automatisms we mentioned earlier. Whenever possible, the learner should be exposed to authentic material. However, this may be difficult at the lower levels, since authentic material often includes idioms, slang, noise and similar difficulties. Again, the learning material should be graded just like our language is while teaching. Such material should introduce the new content in context, and such context should be engaging content that’s relevant for the learner.
Drills can help the lower levels, but they can get boring at higher levels, particularly if the learner has already obtained the mentioned automatisms. They no longer mean a challenge for such learner, who then gets bored and stops paying attention.
Summarizing, I would base my way of teaching on these four main concepts:
- Oral activities whenever possible. Encourage spontaneous conversation.
- Fun. Such a short and common, yet important word.
- Exposure. Use only English in the classroom, from day 1. Try to use authentic material whenever possible, keeping language grading in mind.
- Needs. Think about what the learner needs to know for your next lesson, not only about what he knows already.