Teaching methods and approaches
The instruction for writing this essay was to analyze some of the different methods and approaches of teaching a language and to focus particularly on the demonstration of the concept behind the approach I will be handling to teach a language.
After a profound analysis of the different characteristics of some of the different methods of teaching a language, like the Total Physical Response, the Direct (Berlitz) Method, the Silent Way method, the Suggestopedia approach, the Communicative approach, the Grammar-Translation method, the Audio-Lingual Method, the Callan Method and the Oxbridge method, there was not one specific method or approach I could fully support. Always there were characteristics that I found wrong or inappropriate or old-fashioned or too focused on one skill. Also remembering my own, sometimes painfully experiences of learning languages (as I do speak 5 languages), my work experiences in teaching informatics to my customers and the teaching knowledge and practice acquired during a 4 weeks/120 hours intensive training to accomplish the TEFL-certification, I started to think there should exist a well-thought-of manner to make it practical, structured and fun to learn a new language. Thus I made the following approach that reflects the best manner on how I think a language should be taught to students. You could state that it is based on a mix of some of the characteristics of the Direct Method, the Communicative approach, the Suggestopedia method and the Oxbridge method.
My approach is based on 2 important facts: that learning a language has 4 skills (listening, speaking, reading and writing) and you can’t learn a language without listening and speaking the target language. Thus the intense activation of reading and writing skills should be introduced at a later advanced level. The reason for introducing the intense activation of the reading and writing skills at a later stage is that reading and writing can only be accomplished after being able to understand and communicate in the target language. Not to be misunderstand! Reading and writing also happens at lower levels by showing words or by spelling, but the actual practice of it will eventually happen at a more advanced level. Try to imagine a pyramid with at the top corner the speaking skill, at the base corners the reading and writing skill. The listening skill should come in the centre of the pyramid as it is shared and used to acquire the 3 other skills. Most of the different methods have the focus on one specific skill or the focus on the productive or perceptive skills or the focus on communication only. In most cases this was totally not beneficial for the learning process of the student(s), as history has shown in the past.
In this approach there are also 3 elements that play an important role in this process: the teacher, the student(s) and the classroom. They all play an equal role in this process.
First we have the student(s):
- Whatever age, sex, cultural background or race, the student(s) has aims to reach, needs to be understood and problems to be solved when learning. It is up to the teacher to find out what they are and how to find a solution for a better management of the classroom.
- A student should be participating actively and showing engagement in class, as preparing and studying freely outside the classroom.
- The student(s) should ONLY use target language when in contact with the teacher in and outside the classroom.
- The student(s) will be assigned a class depending on the proficiency of the language he has already acquired. An assessment test will be taken to define their level. There are 5 levels: S1 for beginners, P2 for low-level, P3 as intermediate level, P4 as advanced level and P5 as high advanced level. In the levels S1 and P2 the focus is on grammar and vocabulary activities wherein correct pronunciation, high correctness of structures and understanding the context of daily life situations are applied. At level P3 fluency and conversations are introduced through means of topic activities and the correctness during those topic activities happens afterwards to keep the fluency of the conversation going on. Grammar, vocabulary and topic activities are equally applied. At level P4 we introduce the reading skill by means of texts, authentic or not. Finally in level P5 the writing skill is also introduced. Special writing exercises are applied.
We could define the teacher to be:
- A role-model, as students always look up to the teacher, therefore should he be emitting self-confidence and have the class prepared in-depth.
- A guide during the class while the student(s) perform.
- A companion that listen to the needs and problems of the student(s).
- A psychologist to see those needs and problems and find a solution to them, de-suggesting all psychological barriers students have and through indirect positive suggestion showing that success is possible. He should praise and encourage the student(s), not punish and discourage.
- A game player towards the student(s).
- Very natural, instinctively and adaptable to the needs of the type of the class.
- Using realia, audio and visual aids or authentic text graded to the proficiency of the language of the student(s), mimics and gestures (more in lower levels).
- Following a syllabus to have a structure of what will be taught and when it will be taught. Now the discussion about using your own syllabus or the one forced upon you that you may adapt or not in some schools or companies, I will leave open as this is an endless debate. But in my opinion use one.
- Using ONLY target language in and outside the classroom for the benefit of the student(s).
- Demonstrating with examples in most common context, not explaining definitions or rules.
- Having a good class management.
The classroom defined as a warm, friendly environment wherein the student(s) can relax. This way the student(s) will feel more comfortable to engage and produce during class. A good management of the class is necessary in the classroom. Some points to focus on:
- Arrange seats so that all students can see each other and especially you as you will need to monitor them closely.
- Always have eye-contact with the student talking and only one student at a time speaks. All students are involved in exercises, not only the dominant persons.
- Interaction between teacher and student should ALWAYS happen in target language in and outside the classroom. No translation permitted.
- Repeating is important. By repeating the student will learn more effectively.
- Praising and encouraging during class. Student need to feel relaxed and comfortable to engage and produce.
- Class material always prepared and distributed before class.
- The talking time should be more focused on the student side. Teachers only should talk to guide and correct, while the student(s) talk a lot to practice.
- The classroom used as real-time and real-life environment with lot of materials: realia, audio and visual aids, using mimics and gestures to demonstrate.
- A lesson should consist of different activities, depending on the level of the student and depending on the time available. Try to link the activities in a natural way so it seems like one big activity (lesson) and not as different individual activities.
- Activities should be prepared before-hand. They are exercises wherein one grammar structure at a time is explained or 5 to 10 vocabulary words are defined or a topic for conversation is used or reading or writing exercises are practiced. All activities should be graded to the level of the student(s). Each structure, vocabulary, reading and writing activity should take around 10 to 15 minutes, topic activities can be extended to 20 minutes as it is about giving their opinions and making conversations, training expressions, fluency, accuracy and pronunciation. Each activity should start with some easy questions to make the student(s) think and speak in the target language. Then an introduction: the issue is demonstrated with common examples. No direct rules or definitions should be given. After this the actual practice of the issue by all means (positive, negative, questions, inversion, etc.). Clearly and simple instructions are used to explain exercise. There should come another phase wherein you check if the student(s) understood the concept of the issue and he should be able to provide different examples of usage in context, synonyms or acronyms. Finally a last phase: the concept is explained again and comprehension is achieved with some quick concept question.
This is the idea behind my concept of how a language should be taught to a student. I’m not telling this is the ‘magic’ approach everybody should use to teach or that it will work for everybody to learn a language, as opinions about the subject widely differs from person to person and educational background. Just that this approach is the framework of a practical, structured and fun manner to teach that will help out a lot of teachers and students.
Finally to resume I would like to mention some of the important elements that defines this approach: the use of the 4 skills with a higher focus on communication (listening and speaking); a student with aims, problems and needs; a confident teacher showing a good knowledge of the practices to which students are to be exposed in the classroom.