Throughout this essay I will be identifying what I believe would be the best method for teaching English as a second language (ESL). I will be looking at why and how students learn, if age is a factor in this and how difficulties, such as second language acquisition etc, may hinder their learning. I will discuss how I feel a syllabus should be set out as well as the role and attitude of the teacher and what mediums can best assist learning.
When approaching EFL it is important to first consider who it is we are teaching and how we may need to tailor our approach to suit the needs of the learner. Children and adults learn in different ways in that children still have a natural curiosity for everything the world has to offer whereas adults may need more practical subject matter such as business English or consumer reviews to keep them motivated. It is important to identify adults learning styles as they are usually ingrained through years of learning although as they are not necessarily innate do not influence younger learners as much. We need to also consider that many adults have busy lives with both professional and personal obligations that take up most, if not all of their time.
Second language acquisition is a process by which people learn a second language in addition to their first language. Learning a second language as an adult in most cases means that the learner will never reach the same level of proficiency as a native speaker. Second language learners will often take the lead on grammar and pronunciation from their native language leading to common errors; these are known as language transfer.
Interlanguage is the type of language used by second language learners who are in the process of learning a target language, and can also refer to a second or third language and not just necessarily the native language. This can create interference from the first language in the form of ‘false friends’, or words that sound similar in the two languages but have very different meanings e.g. embarrassed in English and embarazada in Spanish. Also there can be grammar issues as their native language verb form may have for instance little or no need for pronouns, for these reasons it is useful for the teacher to have some knowledge of the native language of their learners. Being able to anticipate potential problems in this way is known as Contrastive Analysis.
A syllabus is an outline and summary of the topics to be covered by a specific course and sets out objectives to be met by the conclusion of the course. When attempting to set out an EFL syllabus there are several factors to take into consideration and this may be influenced by the students it is intended for. When a teacher is working for a language school they will have little or no input of what is contained on the syllabus or how it is set out; when working with a private student however it is important for the teacher to ascertain what the students goals to ensure that the syllabus is effectively meeting their needs. A syllabus can be based on more on grammar, vocabulary or topic or may have a specific purpose such as business, law or medical English. In addition to this, one must consider the balance between productive (speaking and writing) and receptive skills (listening and reading) and what the students specific learning needs are.
The syllabus also ensures consistent delivery of classes and ensures that lessons are not repeated, this may be especially relevant in a company that employees numerous teachers who may be on a rotation system. It must consider the level of the learner as a total beginner’s syllabus would look different to syllabus aimed at more advanced learners. A typical absolute beginner’s syllabus would mainly focus on grammar and how the language is structured as well as introducing commonly used vocabulary, it would be virtually impossible to have a topical discussion at this level. As the learners competence level begins to increase there is more of a balance between structure, vocabulary and topic and as competence reaches a higher level, the syllabus should focus more on topic discussion and have students expressing more complex issues and ideas.
The most important factor when teaching English is the teacher themselves. It does not matter what methodology is being used, how carefully a syllabus has been planned out or how detailed a lesson plan is, if the teacher cannot impart the information to the student in a manner they understand and enjoy, then learning outcomes will be reduced. A teacher needs to be enthusiastic, resourceful, engaging, humorous, and tactful, cool under pressure, knowledgeable, responsible and be able to build a positive rapport with students. A teacher must be able to play many roles for their students such assessor advising and clearing doubts, a psychologist interpreting responses and reactions to stimuli and an agony aunt sensitively listening to students problems and concerns, to name but a few.
Interaction with students is an essential part in assisting them to learn, so classes need to be involving and fun. A teacher should make an effort to ensure that they learn their student’s names and use them in class as will help engage the student and build rapport. The teacher must be aware of their body language and tone of voice, when managing a classroom it is much more effective to lower the tone of gain attention as nobody likes being shouted at, least of all adult learners.
Correcting errors is necessary part of teaching EFL and your students will expect it of you and the teacher must carefully consider how this is done. In the early stages of learning it is important that mistakes are corrected immediately almost all of the time, especially during structure and vocabulary exercises. As their language develops they should be corrected immediately on structure and vocabulary but less on topic activities as we are trying to encourage fluency in the student; it is more prudent at this time to make notes and go over corrections when the student has finished speaking.
There are several ways and techniques of correcting a student. The first and most basic is to repeat their answer back to them putting emphasis on the incorrect structure or vocabulary. If they cannot come up with the correct answer themselves the teacher should then look to other students as this will help consolidate their learning and give a more favorable balance towards student talking time. Possibly most important of all is that correcting should be done with respect and never condescension whether teaching children or adults, students should be reassured that making mistakes is a natural and normal part of learning.
It is also of vital importance for a teacher to consider the mediums and materials they use to complement the students learning. Ideally activities should be printed out with consideration given to things such as the font size and use of capital letters for target language and any pictures or photographs used should be clear and should easily be recognized against the issue or target language. Text books can be useful when teaching private students as they can act as a syllabus, however they quickly become outdated and not all the activities may fit in your preferred methodology. In cases such as this activities can be altered slightly, changed completely for more up to date or appropriate material or dropped altogether.
Black/white boards may be used but may be detrimental to the teacher being able to take the temperature of or read the class. They will spend a large part of the class with their backs to the students will cut down on teachers ability to read the students and so ascertain whether or not by their facial expressions if they are grasping the concept or not. Reading of facial expressions and body language is an essential tool in teaching and teachers must be aware of when there is a need to engage a student who is sitting side on with arms folded or that their frown is telling you that they do not understand. It is of equal importance that a teacher is aware of what their body posture or facial expression may be saying to their students.
For many years teachers often used the PPP model of Presentation, Practice and Production although this has been criticized as does not work well when teaching more complex language structure beyond sentence level or when teaching communicative skills. Jeremy Harmer came up with an alternative to this called ESA or Engage, Study, Activate. In the Engage stage the teacher attempts to stimulate the students interest and engage their emotions and interest by using a story, pictures, video sound recording etc to motivate them. PPP assumed that students are already motivated to learn however students who are forced to learn by employers or parents may disagree with this notion.
The study phase focuses on language and how it is constructed from pronunciation of a particular sound, to techniques an author may use to create excitement in a particular text. It could be examination of a text for new vocabulary to a transcript of an informal conversation and is language acquisition mainly through listening and reading. In the Activate stage the activities and exercises are to get the students to use the language as communicably as they can and emphasis is not on language structure or patterns but on them using their full language knowledge to express their issue or idea as fluently as they can.
I feel that my own preferred methodology would be largely based on the Communicative Approach with productive and receptive skills more geared towards speaking and listening. For most people, their aim when learning a second language is to be able to communicate effectively and this is much easier if they can have the language to ask or answer questions and understand what is being said back.
Parts of other methodologies would be borrowed such as students observing and performing actions with an ethos of ‘learning should be fun’ as in Total Physical Response or ensuring that learning takes place in a cheerful environment where students are relaxed and confident as in Suggestopedia.
I feel that use of first language translation would useful in the absolute beginner stage of learning and may alleviate some of the stress the student may feel at the start. Mistakes would most definitely be accepted and managed in a way that empowers and enhances the students learning.