When learning Spanish I remember feeling more challenged and uncomfortable than I had during any other learning experienced I had encountered. It is not all bad news however, with an understanding of the student and the correct teaching methods, one can achieve their goal, I did! There have been many advancements in the study of language in the last 50 years and the consolidation of varying fields of study have resulted in the possibility for facilitated learning. 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 which parts of these systems I will apply when teaching myself.
The Grammar-Translation approach is easily criticized for its focus on writing and reading of language, but we had to start somewhere. Over the years, it has been shown to be good for reading and writing but for actually communicating, not so much so. The teacher is a distant and authoritative presence, telling the students what they need to learn rather than a conversational and mutual atmosphere. One thing I can take away from this approach is the respect for the teacher, not as a source of authority however but to remember the boundaries of the student/teacher dynamic as I believe this needs to be maintained.
The Direct way is a method I am very keen on. It allows students to perceive meaning directly through the language because no translation is allowed. This is the stand out part of the approach for me, and I would bring it to my own approach as I think it is important to immerse oneself into the new language and not be constantly going back to your L1 as a crutch. Reading and writing are taught from the beginning, though speaking and listening skills are emphasized. Students speak a great deal in the target language and communicate as if in real situations. Visual aids and pantomime are used to clarify the meaning of vocabulary items and concepts, similar to the Total Physical Response method and Suggestopedia, which i can also draw much from.
Suggestopedia is intended to reduce the psychological barriers humans face when learning a new language, as mentioned at the beginning i think embarrassment and shame can often have a negative influence so this is interesting path to go down for language acquisition. The use of positive suggestions along with relaxing art, music and drama is intended to free the students of worries in their daily lives and focus them 100% on L2. WhilstI believe the arts to be a great source of material which can be very motivational for student, there is the very real risk of losing focus with such an approach, due to high TTT and lack of communication or student language creation. This make it an approach only suitable for certain students.
Total Physical Response focuses on physicality to infer meaning 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. However, I think this is a great way to teach kids and often adults, one just has to be careful what topics are taught using it. It can also be a great way to break up monotony of classes, just like Suggestopedia, the contrast of using gestures, smells, and emotion to learn can be motivating and exciting for students.
Systems such as the Grammar-Translation Method and Audio-Lingual method stress the importance of correcting mistakes and in the Callan Method the students are treated as if in a boot camp, the are given the correct answer or made to repeat the correct sentence after the teacher. I find this to be very ineffective as students are likely to forget the correction quickly and increases reliance on the teacher. I believe that errors are a natural part of the learning process and my approach would be tolerant, having the teacher guide corrections but encouraging self-correction from the students which I believe to be more beneficial.
The Communicative Approach is a more modern language method and focuses on language creation by the students rather than the teacher, with errors seen as part of the process. Like the direct approach learning is intended to be done in context, but in contrast there is specific attention to speaking and listening rather than reading and writing. I think having speaking and listening as a base is a good start, this, in combination with the other aspects I have highlighted from the other approaches we will have people speaking english in no time.
When teaching there are a number of important considerations we must take into account in terms of the learner. A ‘contrastive analysis’ can help to identify some interlanguage issues (e.g. false friends) and aid the teacher in clarifying any potential conflicting situations. Before beginning to teach I would also do a level test, and try to ascertain the following: their level of English, past learning experience, age, motivation and their short and long term objectives. It is also essential to talk to the student and make your own assessment of their level, as self assessment can often be inaccurate. So for example, when considering the student, adult learners more than children will often experience their mother tongue interfering with the new structures they are attempting to learn (known as interlanguage effects). Children in contrast often find new language acquisition far easier, in general they learn more quickly, but at the same time may be more easily distracted. In general though, 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 fully committing to the language learning process. False beginners are also an issue, often more so in adults where previous study has taken place and some bad habits may have already formed for example. Motivation will often be a big problem, often more so with children who are not studying out of their own choice, here the use of diverse and interesting techniques as mentioned before will be important, as will the character of the teacher. It is important to know the objectives of the student, without this it is very difficult to measure the success of the classes after the fact.
A syllabus defines the learning goals of a programme over an extended period of time. It helps to achieve more linear and organized objectives. The level of student when considering the material to teach Is the first thing to be decided when constructing a syllabus. Later, effective delivery of class material, ensuring some repetition of concepts but not of classes. 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 and grammar based on articles and real life contexts. 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 may not always be possible as a certain exam may need to be passed which will have its own specific criteria. Individual students will inevitably have different ways that they best absorb information. Visual students learn best through the use of pictures and visual stimuli; Auditory students absorb information through listening etc. These are far from concrete separate categories however, my method would try to include a range of these methods to cover all types of learner and subject matter, as an aside, in one-to-one groups it may be possible to further adapt the lesson to closer suit the student’s own make up.
Students attend English classes instead of learning by themselves to benefit from one thing, the teacher. Therefore the use of a textbook during the class time would not be desirable for me. This then, makes the teacher the most important and key element of any language class. A good teacher after organizing a good syllabus and class will then display a range of skills and personality traits in order to present the new information to create a good vibe in the class and build a rapport with their students. My approach would encourage errors as opposed to punish them! Being friendly, whilst maintaining a serious tone is important, and a difficult balance to get right An an understanding of body language and the use of eye contact is key, there are many cues we can get from the student this way. The teacher must also be capable to take different roles depending on 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, no matter how tempting it may be to show ones knowledge! 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.
In my opinion, being in class should be an enjoyable experience, as mentioned, aspects of the TPR and the Suggestopedia methods would enable me to keep the students entertained and captivated. I also call upon the ideas of the direct method, but with more emphasis on speaking and listening. I wouldn’t want my students to consider the English lesson as a chore. I would give the students as much talking time as possible, all new rules would be taught inductively, meaning that I would teach through examples, as opposed to deductively. I think that verbal communication is the most important thing when learning a language. As I mentioned I am keen on the direct method, particularly the fact that it doesn’t allow students to use their mother tongue, it is essential not to translate, complete immersion in a language aids language acquisition in my opinion. I also think that encouraging the student and praising them is key, as a teacher. It is imperative to be very sensitive regarding error correction, i don't think students should hear the word 'No; or any negative feedback. I would correct the low level students more if they were doing vocabulary or structure activities as they are based on accuracy but then less when they are speaking, as they are practicing their fluency and I wouldn’t want to interrupt them, this diminishes slightly when higher level students are speaking as they can handle and benefit from the interruption.
Communication is not always vocal, I would promote practice of the target language and writing outside of the classroom, in the form of homework through story writing, however I appreciate this can be difficult to achieve. I would maximise opportunity for students to practice output by minimising teacher talking time and the use of authentic materials/texts, such as current news articles, which encourage the practice of authentic language as well as enhance engagement. Hopefully my confidence in the system I have constructed would be transferred to the students, a teacher cannot show any doubt! There is no perfect way of teaching so the ability to adapt and keep ones mind open is essential.