Nowadays, the English language has become the "international" language, an obligatory language for the people who want to communicate with "foreigners" regardless the country of origin. Why? The English is the language of the most of the inventions; it was widely spread through the modern technologies that are so essential in our every-day life; it is the "official" business language allowing us to contact customers and suppliers from all the continents; it is the language of our leisure time watching movies or listening to music, or travelling abroad. So wherever you go, you are requested to speak English. No matter whether you are VIP businessman, an ordinary administrative employee or just a shop assistant working in Passeig de Gracia (in Barcelona), you are supposed to speak English. We live in a globalized world, the frontiers are disappearing and there is a need of a common language especially after the crash of the Esperanto. And this is the English language.
We use the language to receive information listening or reading different sources of knowledge and to communicate ideas through our speech or writings. So, in my opinion, when learning a language, all these four aspects should be covered. LetÂ´s take a look at the main methodologies, that I find interesting to get inspired and create my own method:
Grammar Translation Method (GTM) - implies to learn the language through literal translations, which gives a wrong idea about the L2 as the exact translation is not possible due to the variation of the languages. The method requires a lot of memorization of vocabulary and grammar; it is stressed on reading and writing, no listening and speaking skills are developed. It is very counter-productive because of the interlanguage and might have negative consequences for the students as they will always tend to translate from L1 to L2, influenced by the L1, instead of thinking in L2. It can fossilize, or cease developing, in any of its developmental stages, due to inability to overcome the obstacles to acquiring native proficiency in the target language.
Nevertheless, the GTM could be beneficial if applied together with other methods when teaching S1 students - the translation is the easiest way to explain the meanings of the words. The methods explaining the vocabulary in L2 are time consuming and can be very frustrating for the S1 students.
The Total Physical Response (TPR) - in my opinion this method could be quite successful with small kids. It implies the activation of the visual, auditory and kinesthetic senses. "Listen-Watch-Imitate" - no text usage, just pictures and realia and the TL is conveyed through actions which converts it to a very dynamic and motivating for the kids, where no detailed vocabulary is needed. But not really appropriate for adults as too limited, time consuming and could be considered as "childish" by the SS.
The Communicative Approach (CLT) - in my opinion, the greatest advantage of this method is that it is learner centered and involves real life communication in context to promote the learning. More meaningful activities - more effective is the learning. While grammar is still important, the emphasis is on communicating a message. The CLT involves the development of the four skills - productive (speaking and writing) and receptive (listening and understanding).
The teacher is not the "authority" in the classroom, he/she is a facilitator of the information in and should carefully select the materials and activities relevant to the aims of the lesson, taking in mind that that the Teacher Talking Time (TTT) should be less than the Student Talking Time (STT).
As a disadvantage of the method, I would point that it could be discouraging for S1 students, making them feeling insecure and "lost" due to the usage only of the L2.
In order to choose the right methodology and set up the syllabus, we should first analyze our target group of our students and take into consideration the following:
I think that the teacher should understand well the students, to be able to see everything from their point of view. For this reason, my teaching approach is based on my experience as a student that had studied several different languages (English, Spanish, Russian, Catalan, Italian, French and German), approaches that had positive effects on me and others that frustrated me and made me give up studying (i.e. French and German).
I am convinced that if you want to learn a language well, all the four basic skills - listening, speaking, reading and writing should be developed. The method I liked most and that I think could give the best results is the Communicative approach emphasizing on the real life communication that I believe is very motivating for the students, though with some modifications. The syllabus will slightly vary depending on the level and the objectives of the students. Features:
Grammar - for me, the Grammar is essential for the good learning of the L2, the grammar is like the base when constructing a house, you cannot build a high building without having a very solid base and structure. Nevertheless, teaching grammar should not be excessive, it should be considered just as a tool for the student to make him/her be able to construct his own phrases based on the understanding and not on the memorization of set expressions (e.g. like in the Audio-Lingual method).To improve the grammar learning it must be reinforced with many visual, oral, written examples.
The "quantity" of the grammar studied should be higher in the lower levels as the SS need to learn the structure how to express correctly and to be reduced in the upper levels.
Usage of the L1 - besides its usage is highly criticized in the most of methods, I think the L1 usage is necessary in order to explain the grammar and may be part of the vocabulary to S1 students in the best for them way. We should be aware that there are many students that feel overwhelmed and confused when everything in explained in L2. Feeling insecure and "lost" can block them and make them give up from studying L2. This is my observation as a student and a teacher but also an observation from some language professionals. And as the Suggestopedia "suggests", more confident and motivated the SS feels, better results can achieved.
Apart, besides that I do believe that the SS should learn to think in L2, some basic translation ability can be useful, for example, to pass your CV from L1 to L2, to translate to your boss during a business meeting with a foreign customer or just to be the "communication bridge" between your foreign friends and the family members, etc. In all cases, the translation should be based on the meaning in the context and never literally, like in the GTM.
Listening - stimulated by different means - teacher readings of authentic materials, videos/audios of native speakers on topics related with the TL of the lesson (vocabulary and structure); songs. The goal is to get used the SS to the speech and the different accents, to try to comprehend the meaning from the context.
Speaking - essential to put in practice the structure and vocabulary. The STT should be increased in the upper levels. The CLT is a very good approach to improve the fluency. Special attention to be paid to the correct pronunciation in all levels. The speaking would be activated through different activities such as topics discussions, role plays, etc.
Reading - to be able to read and comprehend different kind of texts - news, articles, etc. will help the students to achieve better grasp of the language, expand the vocabulary, get used with the syntax and the spelling of the words as different from the pronunciation, etc.
Writing - last but not least important, necessary in order to get a full proficiency of the language, helps to put in practice the structure and the vocabulary. When writing on different topics the SS will learn to structure their ideas in a more argumentative way than the speaking.
Errors - should be corrected to avoid erroneous habits and fossilization. But the error correction should not be exaggerated to avoid a possible frustrations of the SS.
TTT-STT - In the beginning, with S1 students, the TTT is superior as the syllabus is more grammar based and time is needed to build a vocabulary, but the STT should go increasing.
In conclusion, I do not think that the Best Teaching Method exists, but as a teacher I should be very dynamic, imaginative and flexible person; comprehensive and motivating; to be able to adapt my method to the students needs in order to achieve the best possible results.