Building English Understanding: From The Underground Up
In developing the best possible teaching method, theorists often cut corners in order to expedite the learning process; however, I feel it is best to pursue a more holistic and natural approach by teaching how to think in English. Thought is the root of all language and therefore, it follows that, the truest approach to learning English can only be through cultivating understanding. Teaching to understanding in English, the same way a child learns to understand life in terms of their first language, allows the learner an educational journey on an, albeit longer, but sturdier road. Moreover, teaching of thought offers the most holistic understanding of English, second only to the understanding of a native speaker.
Methods such as Grammar-Translation create shortcuts by distilling a language down to a set of rules. The Direct Method in turn is a practical but somewhat lacking in depth. While the former method wrongly esteems the mastery of the analytics of English to be a useful goal, the latter teaches communication but without laying a strong structural foundation. Teaching understanding necessarily achieves all of that which the aforementioned methods cannot: it teaches the same depth as Grammar-Translation while including the breadth of the Direct Method.
In order to understand anything, one must be sensitive to the pertinent clues at one’s disposal. In order to gain this sensitivity, students should be flooded with quality English. Generally, the best way to immerse the students sufficiently is through various forms of media, beginning with television and graduating to good audiobooks followed by literature as soon as possible. The idea behind this is to expose students to plenty of English that can later be referred back to in lessons. Through English literature, the student will also begin to grasp much more of the culture, which surrounds the English language as a whole.
Exposing students to an abundance of proper English instills in them the model of proper sentence structure. Knowing what sounds right structurally is the most important aspect to learning English. Once a student has an ear for structure all other aspects fall into place on their own. As soon as possible, an English teacher should work with the students on sentence structure with great heed to any hint of language transfer (the supplication of native language structure to English) that creeps into the classroom. Depending on the situation and the level of the students, the teacher may employ basic exercises using cards to be moved into their structurally right order, or conversation that encourages the use of a certain sentence structures. Ideally, the students will learn to become receptive sponges.
Encouragement is the staple tool of a good teacher. A teacher should always praise rather than admonish while leading as uninhibited a class atmosphere as possible. It is crucial that students make errors freely as only by being fully aware of students’ weaknesses can teachers strengthen them. In order to create such an atmosphere the teacher must befriend the students and take personal interest in each of them individually. To establish such a connection while allowing the students to distance themselves from their mistakes, roles should be taken on by both the teacher and the students. The extent to which roleplaying is practiced in class is left up to the teacher’s discretions. If the roleplaying is generally seen as the heart of the class, the more trivial the student’s mistakes will seem. Be careful though, while it is better if the students see the class as a game, the teachers must always know the game to be a class. In other words, although it is important that students be fully immersed in their roles, they are paying for class, not dungeons and dragons.
Sample Lesson Plan
1. Begin with a little movement such as a yoga session of several sun salutations in order to wake up your body.
2. Directly follow up movement with rapid-fire question in order to wake up the mind:
Whose dog is that?
Are you married?
Did you bring donuts today?
Does the story have a happy ending?
Is your friend coming?
Won’t you buy some blue fish?
3. Structured Exercises:
Using “will” to express promises.
Model promises and then ask students in turn.
What will you do this weekend?
… go swimming.
… sleep in.
… go out to eat.
4. Free Discussion (in roles):
Discuss the homework. For example: Gonzo (fake name), what do you think will happen next to Tom Sawyer?
5. Discuss future homework. Answer comments, questions and concerns.
6. Practice closing recitation.
Roleplaying aside, from a practical standpoint, this method differs most obviously in it heavy reliance on homework. This work is never writing or exercises. It is always a combination of reading, watching television or movies, or listening to audiobooks. The idea is to replace normal leisure activities with the same activities in English. Media immersion is the means by which student, little by little; deepen their understanding, on both a cultural and a linguistic level.
In the classroom the teacher should always be a model and guide, but never, if at all possible, an authority. The teacher, sentence structure aside, should not directly correct most mistakes. The teacher must learn to understand the students’ inter-language on an intellectual level in order to be able to rightly address the weaknesses of his or her their students. If the teacher meditates on their students and actively seeks the best way to teach them individually, the students’ progress will be greatly accelerated.
Anxiety, attitude and other undesirable affective mood or personality factors can be quick mitigated by a perspicacious teacher. The best means of countering such negative classroom influences is naturally role-play. Directly telling a student to stop sulking can have plenty of adverse affects. Roleplaying allows difficult students to save face.
Another means of staying on point with even the easiest students is through one-on-one check ups. These occasionally reviews give students the individual attention they need. These reviews also should also be treated as informal tests. Since students will not be focusing on writing, assessments must all be oral and it is best it is also best that students be assessed privately. These reviews offer an excellent opportunity for such an assessment. Additionally, the better the teacher knows his or her students, the sooner the teacher will know when the student is ready to focus on productive skills.
Teacher student relationships are by nature professional, but it is rather better if it they casual and deep. Understanding a student as a learner and understanding a student as a person are really one and the same; they are two sides of a single coin. Because of this this, a strong bond linking the teacher and student is capital.
Roots. They are the paramount factor in teaching English. In a linguistic sense, the roots are sentence structure. Vocabulary is the trunk, while everything else, such as pronunciation, conjugation and even semantics to a point, are the leaves. Similarly, if a teacher to student relationship is superficial it, like the leaves, will wither, die and fall in time. If the relationship is deeply rooted, trivial factors such as the weather will be trivial. A deep-rooted class friendship directly supports the students learning, but it also garners a richer life to everyone concerned. In tandem, deep linguistic and friendly roots lead to a deeper, better English education.
Students should begin with several months of TV before even beginning to learn English. Once students have been “primed,” regular class should begin. Of course basic structure should be covered before anything else; however, once this has been covered, the teacher should feel free to move more into vocabulary and other grammar. Once the student have taken enough of a break from structure, it should duly be returned to once or even twice over until all structure has been mastered. Afterwards, the class should shift to more of a production based direct style method, all the while backing everything up with lots of reading and television.