Teaching English as a foreign language can be something very enjoyable for both instructors and students. There are many ways to teach a language although students tend to be more used to the classic styles that emphasise grammar learning over all other approaches. Because of this, most people are demotivated to start learning a new language.
Many things have to be taken into consideration when helping others to acquire a new language. We should ask ourselves, as teachers, what our pupils expect from the language, what their reasons for learning are and how willing they are to learn it. Nowadays many people demand to learn English as a way to improve their social position or to get promoted at work. Some others are younger students who are forced by their parents to learn a new language. We need to acknowledge that most of our learners will not be in our class because they really want to but it is more likely that it is because they have to.
Throughout the years, many approaches have appeared based on different views. Although the structural view has been used for over a century, and encloses those methods that prioritise grammar over communication itself, more recent views have managed to dominate the field of language teaching for the last few decades. The functional methods had been used extensively during the last century and emphasised vocabulary learning and sentence repetition over the understanding of the concepts and communication. The newer interactive methods have taken over the other approaches on these recent years as they have proven to be more effective. Although some of the methods regarded as interactive were developed over a hundred years ago, they have been perfected and redeveloped in the last two decades and are gradually being implemented in more schools every year.
Personally, I am a fan of the newer styles of teaching. I am inclined to use the direct method, also known as the natural method. I agree that a new language should be learnt in the same way we all learnt our mother tongue, without any interference from any other language. It is also very useful to start by using only verbal communication and to progress into reading and writing as soon as there is a good control of the language. While other methods prefer to translate vocabulary into the first language, I very much prefer to use images and realia to make the learner remember the new vocabulary words. I am also very keen on using different academic subjects to learn a language after the first levels have been mastered.
Total language immersion helped me, as a non-native English speaker, to learn and master communication, reading an writing as I was motivated by the fact that I was learning more than how to name things but concepts about my favourite subjects at the same time. I must add that it took longer than using other methods but I am certain that the level of vocabulary obtained is a lot larger than with other methods. I tend to recommend to my students the use of a digital dictionary or word translator as the last resource for unknown words or for confirmation that the term used has a parallel meaning in the second language and it is not a mistaken reference. Besides this mixture of techniques, I believe that using systematically during some lessons the silent way can be an advantage to assess to what extent the learner dominates the target language, by exposing different scenes or situations to be described.
A clear example of a system that works as a catalyst is the Callan method, where the system seems to function well due to its repetition technique on lower levels but becomes quite ineffective when students that have used the system for quite some time start to find it boring. It is a problem that is overcome in the Oxbridge teaching method by making students interact at all times.
As explained above, when assessing the needs and requirements of our students, we have to take into consideration the fact that many of them may have negative feelings about learning a new language. It could be due to past unsuccessful attempts or because of a preconceived idea that acquiring a new language is difficult, but as the creators of the silent way and desuggestopedia stress, eliminating the feeling of negativity linked to learning a language will improve the rate of success. I must add that I do not agree to their idea of using music during the lesson but that perhaps “acting and drama” can be a good way to put our students’ communication skills into perspective when using the target language.
If I were to developed a new system, I think I would take into consideration everything I have exposed so far and I would add some of the points regarding materials and class organisation learnt at Oxbridge. I believe that books are good to use as a source for a structured syllabus. It would be really hard to develop a new syllabus from scratch and using a good grammar book for reference can be of great aid for the teacher. Unfortunately I do not enjoy using a book all the time as students feel like at school, where they associate the book with a chore and that reduces their motivation for learning. Only the teacher should use books and activities should be used to cover the learning of structures and vocabulary. Also I want to stress that it is very important to assure that the students produce as much language as possible. Teacher talking time should be kept under minimums as the student is the centre of the class and we are only the facilitators of the learning task, not the providers.
Audio tapes are not my style and I prefer to read a text to my students on the more basic levels and to ask my pupils to read it for me on the more advanced levels, applying corrections on structure straight away but correcting vocabulary and pronunciation errors at the end of each sentence or paragraph.
Classroom organisation is key for a successful teaching session. In small groups I prefer a setup that allows for constant eye contact, whereas for larger groups I can survive in a lecture hall based style of structure. I very much prefer to use a projector than a board as it allows for constant eye contact and also as an aid to present images and concepts.
As for homework and the extra mile, I like recommending my students to watch movies they have previously seen dubbed into their native language once again but with the audio settings set into English. This way they can pick up words and sentences from familiar scenes in known movies. I also recommend them to use English subtitles if they find it hard to understand it.
I find extremely important to have a proactive attitude as a teacher towards our students. We are “the tool” for their success and it depends on us that they feel that they are able to learn. Authoritarian roles and punishing methods are something from last century. We have to befriend our students and make them feel comfortable. It is important that they understand that we were on the other side once in the past and that they can be as proficient using the target language, as we are if they follow our advice. While there is a decreasing preference for native teachers, I believe that high level local teachers that have had to learn the target language will be more useful at spotting common usage errors and mistakes as well as being a good guidance on how to overcome bad habits and eventually leave aside the interlanguage to start using the language successfully.
My point of view is that in order to get students to make a good usage of a newly acquired language is by speaking it first. We can use repetition but more important is to use inverted questions where the answer is given first and the question is made afterwards. It is very important to use gestures aided by the communicative approach to start with, although at higher levels it would be good, in my opinion, to introduce written tasks to start transforming that initial speaking ability into a more formal writing ability. Also, all the activities related to listening and comprehension activities make the student more aware of their current knowledge and are perhaps more related to passive learning.
Having seen all the different approaches to teaching in the classroom, I am prone to agree that the best teaching method is the Oxbridge English Teaching System. Although different approaches seem to work better with different levels, the Oxbridge system can provide a good learning at all levels due to its adaptability to the students’ needs and priorities. Also the triangular projection model assures that everything that is important within a language is seen and acquired, using grammar and structure as the base, vocabulary as the extension and topic activities to develop expression.
Also, the fact that activities are created constantly assures a good outcome in every class and the element of having a script for every activity simplifies the preparation work to such an extend that it would make almost impossible for an individual to be able to teach more than two different lessons in a day. All in all an excellent system that is here to overcome the learner difficulties and that after having tested it myself for a few hours, I am happy to continue using from now on.