Second language acquisition is a daunting and challenging process for any person to face, however, with an understanding of these challenges and the correct teaching methods, a student can feel more comfortable and achieve their goal. This paper will examine a number of factors which influence the student during language acquisition and the response of the teacher as well as identifying several teaching systems before suggesting a new and more effective system based on pre-existing literature.
When teaching EFL (English as a Foreign Language) there are a number of important considerations we must take into account. The motivation and goals of the student can strongly influence the teaching process and methods which should be applied. A ‘needs analysis’ helps to identify what the student hopes to gain from their language learning experience, be it English for a specific purpose (i.e. business) or just for general communication.
The age of the language learner has one of the biggest impacts on the learning process. Adult learners will often experience ‘interlanguage’ effects, whereby the grammatical structures of their mothertongue interfere with the new structures they are attempting to learn. Second language acquisition is also characterized by fear in many adults, who are afraid to leave their comfortable native paradigm and take steps into the unknown. Children in contrast often find new language acquisition far easier, as they are not burdened by habits or routines from other languages or social fears that often stop adults practicing conversation. Children also are not impacted by busy work schedules or other commitments, which often stop adults from full committing to the language learning process. A ‘contrastive analysis’ can help to identify some interlanguage issues (e.g. false friends) and aid the teacher in clarifying any potential conflicting situations.
There are numerous other affective factors in learning a second language, all of which must be considered when teaching. The student’s motivation is a key factor and one which may decide the outcome of the whole learning process. If a student wants to learn then the process can often be far easier than if they are forced to learn (e.g. sent by their parents). The size of the group is another affective factor, as larger groups may significantly reduce a students talking time in class. One-to-one lessons can be far more specific and focused on the student’s strengths than a larger group lesson.
Individual students may also have different ‘learning styles’, which refers to the way that they best absorb information. Visual students learn best through the use of pictures and visual stimuli; Auditory students absorb information through listening whilst Kinesthetic learners require movements or gestures (e.g. such as writing out language) to absorb the information. Teachers may well try to include a range of these methods in their lessons to cover all types of learner, however in one-to-one groups it may be possible to further adapt the lesson to closer suit the student’s style.
A syllabus defines the learning goals of a programme over an extended period of time (rather than for 1 specific lesson). Ideally, teachers will be able to adapt the learning objectives of their programme to fit the needs of the student (especially important if the student is learning language for a specific purpose such as business). This however, may not always be possible, for example in many language schools where the syllabus is set by a director of studies.
An effective syllabus must promote a balance between reception and production of language, enabling a student to develop a balanced set of skills. It must ensure an effective delivery of class material, ensuring some repetition of concepts but not of material. Furthermore, it must take into account the level of student being taught when considering the material to teach. For example, low-level students may benefit from more grammatical practice and the use of images, whilst higher levels will be able to hold more complex discussions based on topics and articles.
Students attend English classes instead of learning by themselves to benefit from one thing, the teacher. This therefore makes the teacher the most important and key element of any language class. A good teacher will display a range of skills and personality traits in order to generate a good class vibe and build a rapport with their students. The use of humour, coupled with a depth of knowledge, a calm approach, an understanding of body language and good organisation can make the difference between a good and bad learning experience for students.
The teacher must also be happy to take different roles given the dynamics of the class they are teaching. Some classes will require the teacher to be a guide, knowing where to take the students in their learning experience and showing them the way (more common in lower levels). Other classes may need a playmaker, who helps the students to “score the goals” or in other words reach the goals they have set for themselves. Yet again, a teacher may need to act as an agony aunt, listening to the problems students are having and helping them to find solutions. These roles highlight adaptability, management of difficult students and a balance of TTT and STT as key traits for teachers to illustrate.
The use of different materials is another key consideration of a teacher during their classes. Many language schools may have their own systems for material creation, and if so, then teachers must double-check the exercises they are given for suitability to the level of their students, including grammar, vocabulary, font size and even pictures. Other items may be useful for learning practices. The use of black/whiteboards in the classroom can often be beneficial for visual learners, who are able to see specific words or structures written out.
Textbooks can also be used by teachers, often in smaller classes. Many textbooks come with set syllabuses which can benefit teachers who are holding private classes and may not have the resources which are possessed by larger organisations such as language schools. When using activities from textbooks, a teacher may use, adapt, completely change or drop specific sections to better suit the needs of their students.
There are a number of different language teaching systems that have been suggested in the past, all of which have vastly different characteristics.
The Grammar-Translation approach is defined by its focus on writing and reading of language as opposed to communication. The teacher takes an assessors role, telling the students what they need to learn rather than a mutual understanding. Whilst this method may be good for developing written skills, in terms of second language acquisition for communication it is highly ineffective and cannot be considered a good quality or modern approach.
The Silent Way is a method developed by Caleb Gattegno, and places an emphasis on the students developing their own “inner-criteria for correctness”. By not speaking taking a passive role and teaching through gestures, the method intends to free the teacher for student observation and focus the students on self-correction. The method does however require a very committed and cohesive group, and would not be suitable for absolute beginners of a language. Moreover, the method has no fixed structure or syllabus, which can leave students confused as to his or her progress during classes.
Suggestopedia is a method developed by Caleb Gattegno in conjunction with Georgi Lozanov and is intended to reduce the psychological barriers humans face when learning a new language. The use of positive suggestions along with relaxing art, music and drama is intended to free the students of worries in their daily lives an focus them 100% on language acquisition. Whilst this method is on of the only ones to deal with the subconscious and emotional barriers to language teaching, its high TTT and lack of either communication or student language creation makes it a less than preferable method.
Total Physical Response focuses on the use of gestures to indicate the meanings of language to students. By using all the senses it becomes easier for students to remember the vocabulary. This method however is rather limited, as intangible concepts such as ‘wisdom’ or ‘freedom’ are almost impossible to enact, as well as grammar being very difficult to teach.
The Communicative Approach is a more modern language method and focuses on language creation by the students rather than the teacher. Learning is intended to be done in context, with specific attention to speaking and listening rather than reading and writing. The Oxbridge Method is an adaption of this, moving smoothly between the three aspects of grammar (structure), vocabulary and topics using the communicative method.
To conclude, whilst all of these methods have their positives, in my opinion they are generally outweighed by the negatives. Therefore, I wish to propose a new system of learning:
The Westwood Method
The Westwood Method of learning places an emphasis on language creation by the student rather than input from the teacher. The role of the teacher is to act as a playmaker for the students, facilitating learning and conversation through real life scenarios such as stories taken from the news or students experiences.
However, The Westwood Method varies from the Communicative Approach through its use of writing. In today’s society communication is not always vocal, with the majority of people engaging in conversations through Internet sites such as Facebook and phone messaging. Therefore, the importance of written language creation is increasing ever further. The Westwood Method introduces a fourth category, written communication, to the Communicative Approach whereby students create short stories during classes to aid their virtual communications with friends.
This method would also incorporate some aspects of other methods. Teacher gestures would be adopted from The Silent Way, a relaxed atmosphere and focus on subconscious factors (for example helping adults who have a fear of learning language) would be taken from Suggestopedia and the use of student gestures for memory would be taken from Total Physical Response. In this way, The Westwood Method would be more complete than The Communicative or Oxbridge Methods, equally practical for learning application and far more suited to lingual experiences in the modern society.