Matthew K. Gichohi
The Bonga Method.
As interactions between people from various parts of the world increase, so has the need to speak more than one’s own mother tongue. The learning of second or third or fourth languages, however, carries considerable financial and psychological costs. The financial costs that one incurs in second language acquisition can be prohibitive; the Rosetta Stone system, for instance, charges approximately 400 euros for the five level Spanish language set – cost that may be out of many people’s reach. If one were able to successfully meet these financial obligations, then they would still have to face the psychological demands that second language acquisition imposes: the time and energy associated with learning new words, grammar structures, socio-cultural norms and, in some cases, entirely new scripts. Despite these costs many people still invest in second language acquisition and attest to its benefits: the ability to communicate with family and friends from abroad, the ability to advance professionally, and even satisfy their own intellectual and personal love for languages. These investments and desires individuals have make clear the need for proper instruction and processes where second language instruction acquisition is concerned. In this paper, I will propose a new pedagogical approach to those interested in second language acquisition writ large. The approach focuses on both the instructor and students so as to ensure maximum usage of the target language (the second language) while promoting comprehension and competence in the language’s socio-cultural usage. The paper will be structured in the following manner: in the next section I will present the current state of various pedagogical approaches to second language acquisition (SLA) and their drawbacks. This will be followed by my proposed approach to SLA, called the Bonga Method and a conclusion.
The pedagogical approaches to second language acquisition are varied and their results even more so. In this section I will review the four approaches and their drawbacks. The first, suggestopedia (Lozanoy 1978) aims to eliminate the negative barriers to language acquisition. The barriers to learning, assumed to be psychological, are eliminated through the creation of a calm and relaxed environment, either through music or art, while the target language is introduced to the student. This dual approach to teaching, conscious (target language introduction) and subconscious (relaxing stimuli) is believed to allow for the students to think of learning as enjoyable. The approach also allows for the use of the student’s first language. The approach, however, places too much emphasis on the environment and the quality of the instructor rather than on the students achieving a high level of linguistic competence in the target language. The next approach, total body response (Asher 1964) calls for the students to learn the target language through repetition and the acting out of instructions provided by the instructor. The drawback facing this approach is the constraints it puts on higher-level learners and its irrelevance where language and structure are more nuanced. It also fails to allow for students creativity; that is to say that any negotiation of meaning and contextual application of language is lost. The audio-lingual approach (Fries 1939) to SLA focuses more on the structure (grammar) of the language rather than the vocabulary. This is done through drills in the sentence patterns that focus on grammar while eliminating mistakes. The approach, much like the others mentioned suffers from a few drawbacks, namely: its focus on structural linguistics is not informative about language and its constant evolution. Additionally, the method’s focus on structure makes the use of native languages necessary, which can stunt SLA. The Grammar Translation Method, which focuses on students learning the target language through translation so that they can read its literature and benefit from the mental discipline and intellectual development that result from foreign language study. The approach however, fails recognize that students ought to learn languages actively rather than indirectly, fails to teach students how to apply the knowledge gained in real life situations and due to its method leaves students with poor listening and speaking ability du to the low levels of listening and speaking practice.
The Bonga method unlike the previously discussed second language acquisition methods is designed to encourage communication in the target language from the very first lesson. Students are treated as agents who wish to use the target language in socio-linguistically appropriate ways and contexts. As a result, though the Bonga system are caters to the specific needs of the students, the ultimate goal of the system is to ensure that students are able to function independently in all possible social contexts where they may encounter the language. In the Bonga system, all classes are taught in the target language, a strategy that is advocated by the direct method, the communicative method and several other systems, including Oxbridge. The focus on L2 instruction is to acquaint the student well with the target language while also attempting to minimize the occurrence of L1 interference. In addition, the introduction of the language’s structure and vocabulary is explicit, especially with beginners and low intermediate students. Failure to be explicit in teaching these aspects of language can be detrimental. Without a proper base in the language that is direct, the likelihood of students making errors that become into habits, which are more difficult to modify, increase significantly. The method also places a great emphasis on communication since this is the best way to ensure language acquisition, not just mere learning. Through communication students are exposed to the use of language in particular contexts and the dynamic nature of language, since it is never static.
More than taking into account the language of instruction and the nature of communication in the classroom, the method also considers sequencing. In what order should material be introduced? The general course of instruction will be progressive; that is to say, functional formulaic sequences are introduced to beginners and as students achieve higher levels of language comprehension and usage, then more complex topics and themes will be introduced. The initial reliance on functional and formulaic vocabulary (simple and limited) and structures will familiarize the students with the language and build up their confidence in its use. For the absolute beginners, for instance, the classes are a mix of total physical response techniques and a communicative approach. The physical response aspect will help the beginners be engaged in the lessons while also associating information with specific actions, such as introductions and learning simple verb tenses (possession, future actions, past actions, etc). Lessons will also take place outside the classroom on certain days. This is in order for the students to become familiar with the contexts in which the language being learned is used and how to actually use it themselves, such as in supermarkets or cafes.
In a café, for instance, students learn how to order coffee (if learning English, for instance, “I’d like a coffee, please”) and the proper response to questions asked. These situations can also help them understand phrases that may not be possible to teach through a total physical response approach – when a barista responds by saying, “Coming right up” in reference to the coffee, students will learn the phrasal verb in action and thus help them retain its meaning and context easily. In this stage of learning, the teachers speak more than the students. This is because the teacher establishes the appropriate form of the language while introducing the vocabulary. Another way of engaging students in these low levels is through the introduction of assignments that take place outside the classroom. For instance, the instructor can assign students a children’s book in L1 that will in turn be discussed in the target language during the next course. Encouraging outside classroom activities like reading can help build vocabulary, especially when linked to classroom discussions.
As proficiency and competence in the language are attained, then a thematic structure to the lessons will be used. At this level, students need more real life, situational and contextual knowledge of the language. Here the Bonga system drops the total physical response aspect and focuses more on the communicative approach to language learning. Here the amount of speaking done by the student is increased while that of the instructor decreases. Knowledge of the contextual usage of the language is also increased through the introduction of film and role-plays in the classroom. The audio-visual aids, however, will be related to the particular context of language use and will be limited to 3 minutes. The Bonga system’s also encourages the use of information exchanges where in the discussion of a topic, students have different pieces of information that must all be contributed to the discussion so as to have a more complete picture of the topic at hand. This method is more dynamic and challenging to L2 students than one where all students have similar information because students are forced to contribute to the discussion, whereas if they all share the information then its likely those who do not want to engage will simply remain quiet. The focus on the thematic and interactive nature of learning is driven by the realizing that it is at these more advanced stages of language acquisition that student will be able to interrogate language for its context and meaning.
The Bonga method also takes into consideration the teachers, who are guides. The teacher in the Bonga method is not just a facilitator but also a learner. They must learn how to adapt the lessons to each classes and levels needs, styles and strategies. The teaching methods taught in each level differ. As a result, the method requires 35 hours of teaching before certification occurs. The increase in teacher training leads to increased language knowledge, which is directly correlated with increased student learning, fluency and competence (Celya et al. (2007). The method also links teachers into a network of instructors who provide guidance and advice on how to improve their teaching techniques so as to have a better effect on their students’ language acquisition.
The method proposed as it becomes clear borrows from some methods but is progressive. Relying on one method can lead to unnecessary obstacles to language acquisition.
 It is interesting to note that some researchers find a significant effect in learning where suggestopedia is used. The effect, however, is only noticed after a long interval from when the treatment is administered, when the teaching method was conducted. There is no acknowledgement of inter-temporal interference that may have enhanced learning rather than the teaching method itself (Adamson 1997, Levison 1991).
 Measurement of student abilities shows that they are unable to transfer their language skills to situations outside the classroom.
 Students who are interested in simply learning the target language only for business purposes, will, by the end of the end, be able to speak the target language in all contexts, not just professionally.
 Interference is the influence that the student’s L1 exerts over the target language. It is driven by the perception of what is transferable and by stage of development in the target language (L2) (Ellis 1997).
 Though total physical response as a technique was previously criticized, it’s use in combination with another more respected technique alleviates some of the concerns. The communicative approach refers to pedagogical approaches that focus on interaction and communication in the target language. This is not restricted to linguistic competence; however. It included all four aspects of language communication: listening, speaking, reading and writing. The approach also teaches students the appropriate use of language in different contexts.
 Clips longer than this fails to focus the attention of students leading to a lack of retention of the relevant material.
 This approach to encouraging discussion also helps tackle issues of avoidance that accompany interlanguage. Avoidance in interlanguage means that students who find the structure of L2 different from L1 simply avoid using the structure. This interactive method forces students to use the language and its structure and if errors are made, they can be quickly rectified.