"What is my preferred teaching methodology? What elements of established theories would I utilize, were I to synthesize an entirely new approach?
When approaching this question as a TEFL student, one must of course bear in mind that Second Language Acquisition is an incredibly complex process, which, like most processes of the human mind, is not fully understood even at the highest levels of academia.
Various hypotheses concerning the way in which the human mind accumulates and activates language do indeed come and go. A consensus seems to have formed in linguistic circles concerning the primacy of acquisition (over formalized learning), but even this may, in the fullness of time, be contradicted by new evidence that has not yet come to light.
But for now we can see that most modern approaches to L2 teaching are at least in basic agreement about the over-arching goal, that being fluent communication (as opposed to the emphasis on pure structure and literacy which had previously dominated the field).
Another important consideration that we (my fellow TEFLs and I) have touched on in classroom discussions is that a long experience of teaching, using various methods and materials and dealing with a wide variety of students, would be necessary to formulate a truly useful answer to the above question. Actually seeing first hand why some students progress and some don’t, why some methods or materials seem to work and others don’t, this is truly necessary to make meaningful judgements about the relative merits of various teaching methods.
Since the Oxbridge system is the only one in which I have direct experience it makes sense to discuss it at some length. Given the status of my experience in this field and the limited amount I have learned about various other established teaching systems, I would not significantly modify the basic Oxbridge blue-print as a model for how I would prefer to teach the English language.
The emphasis on oral transmission of L2 and the absence of translation into L1 chime very strongly with both my intuitive ideas about teaching and also it seems the latest thinking in academic circles. This is a common feature of the various methods I have come to identify as the ones most in tune with my own thoughts on the subject, primarily the Berlitz method and the Communicative Approach.
There are many elements of the Oxbridge system with which I strongly agree. The teaching of generic language at low levels to promote versatility within a limited vocabulary, the emphasis on interaction in L2 and the general goal of promoting STT over TTT. The basic principal of speaking to learn (as opposed to learning to speak) is one that I personally believe is an excellent philosophical model for learning of almost any kind. It is heartening also to see this tennet carried through into the TEFL course, where actual teaching experience is used as a primary tool (teaching to learn, rather than just learning to teach).
One feature of the Oxbridge system that we as Oxbridge TEFL students take somewhat for granted, but which is remarkable in a number of ways, is the collective pool of learning activities and the radical effect this has on the amount of time necessary to prepare a class. This quasi-collectivization of responsibility for formulating the syllabus strikes me as a masterstroke. By involving the teachers in shaping the activities which form the basis of each class, the element of personal creativity is fostered, while simultaneously the time necessary to prepare for any individual class is drastically reduced.
The Quick Questions are also a feature of the Oxbridge system which are worth mentioning. In class we have discussed their role in moving a class, psychologically, into L2 in a very short space of time. Once the students are accustomed to the format they seem very comfortable responding to even the strangest and most un-contextualized questions. They seem to appreciate that the grammatical context of the question and a correct response to that grammar is what’s important. It seems to me that the Quick Questions are a kind of Concept Check, a swift and informal revision of the L2 the students have acquired up to that point.
The “triangular” break-down of language from which the Oxbridge system derives it’s structure seems entirely rational, and in practice clearly contributes to the pace and dynamics of the classes.
Having said all this, here are many aspects of other systems and approaches that, given a greater store of classroom experience, I might be inclined to explore and adopt.
For instance, the TPR (Total Physical Response) method developed by James Asher strikes a chord on a number of levels. Non-verbal communication is certainly something which most language teachers use from time to time to reinforce meaning and trigger comprehension, and the TPR emphasis on reducing anxiety and making the classroom a fun environment is hard to dispute.
Having lived in several non-English speaking countries continuously over the last 10 years I have found that the single greatest barrier to my own SLA has been anxiety and lack of confidence.
Desuggestopedia’s introduction of cultural material (music, art, drama ect) is also quite intriguing and suggestive. Since culture and language are inseparable entities in many ways, it seems to me to be highly appropriate to use the arts as a way to culturally contextualize the English language and generate enthusiasm and a sense of exploration in the students.
I am also drawn to the philosophy of the Communicative Approach in several respects. For instance the CA philosophy pertaining to error correction, where errors are seen as a natural bi-product of the learning process and tolerated to some degree. My own instinct in the classroom is to correct only when the error directly impedes communication (ie: When it results in non-comprehension or loss of meaning). Of course I lack the experience to anticipate any (many?) problems this might cause as the student progresses through increasingly complex vocabulary and grammatical constructions, but I am interested in what might happen if pure communication (the accurate communication of an idea) was made of prime importance, and correct pronunciation and grammar were made subordinate to that concern.
The use of authentic materials is also an issue that interests me. While I agree with the tenant of the Oxbridge system that states literacy should be subordinated to the goal of fluent speech, I think that authentic written materials could have an important place, particularly outside the classroom (as set homework pieces for example). The use of authentic written material would also assist in illustrating the cultural context in which the English language exists. This cultural context can often be the deciding factor as to whether what we are saying in L2 is appropriate or not.
With the exception of the generally discredited Grammar Translation Method, each of the methodologies we have been introduced to and discussed in class have elements I can imagine being valuable to a truly integrated and effective English teaching system.
The guiding principal which seems to drive modern teaching methods is the idea that the student is primarily learning to communicate in the target language, which seems rather obvious but has equally obviously been side-lined in the GTM in favor of learning about the target language. This point has been impressed upon us with great clarity. The idea that “productive” methods of inducing SLA are the most effective is not only intuitively appealing but appears to be sustained by a large and ongoing body of linguistic research, so any sylabus I had a hand in creating would have "production" at it's core.
Much of the literature available about being a language teacher, and indeed the small store of experience I have myself so far accumulated, seems to support the idea that it is vital to be adaptable, to have a range of strategies and materials at your command which can be deployed where and when they seem appropriate. Language is an incredibly dynamic, living phenomenon which is constantly being adapted to new situations. It seems to me that as language teachers we should make ourselves aware of all credible methodologies and leave no stone unturned in the search for new and more effective ways to induce Second Language Acquisition.
In summary, if I had responsibility for formulating a methodology and syllabus for the teaching of the English language I would encapsulate my criteria thus…
Learning a second language is a truly bold adventure, and in our role as guides we must surely respect this fact first and foremost. The style and tone of our lessons may vary wildly from one teacher to another, but at root there absolutely must be respect for the students desire to achieve this remarkable goal.