My teaching approach
Nowadays cultures mingle in such way that in order to be able to communicate English has become a necessity rather than just an additional skill that one proudly adds to his curriculum vitae. Celce-Murcia and Larsen- Freeman (1999:1)1 state that “Over the years, language teachers have alternated between favoring teaching approaches that focus primarily or language use and those that focus on language forms of analysis.“ Without no doubt, over the recent years the course of teaching languages has been directed at being able to communicate in the Foreign Language (FL) rather than on their grammatical structures. This is due to the fact that in the past the attention was given primarily to the latter one and resulted in people studying a language for years but not being able to communicate in it. This resulted in people being tired of this way of studying a FL and wanting a change. Thus the need for new approaches was born. Once the teacher is familiar with what the student needs, he can choose the appropriate approach(es) and strategies. But in order to do so, he needs to be aware of them and also of their strengths and weaknesses.
Even though there are some of methods and approaches which I believe are not my cup of coffee (suggestopedia and silent method) I consider all of them to be important and usable even nowadays; probably not for the whole course, but as something that could make our classes more interesting and different. As Francis Bacon said: “Knowledge is power” and if a teacher is aware of the majority of the approaches, he has the power to make teaching fun, enjoyable, worth the time and interesting.
For a long time, the Grammar-Translation Method (GTM) has been the dominant method. The primary skills to be developed were reading and writing. The teacher was the authority in the classroom which means that students must obey the teachers in order to make progress. Written tests were frequently used as well as ‘fill in the gaps’ exercises. Little or no time was dedicated to listening and speaking, so the problem was that the students were not able to communicate. Naturally this is not acceptable nowadays and it represents a great problem both for the teacher and the student (the loss of motivation, interest and will to continue studying).
It is important to keep in mind that language first appeared in spoken form; it has always been used for communication between people, to pass on and receive information and the written form of it came to existence because of the need to record. Moreover, the GTM uses the first language in order to explain the FL which means that students will never really ‘leave behind’ their mother tongue which can be a real problem once the student’s level starts to improve. So if the student needs to be fluent and be able to communicate this method might not be the best choice to achieve it and needs to be combined with a different one in order to satisfy the needs of a language learner. That different one could be the Learner-Centred Approach.
The aim of Learner-Centred Approach is to make the learner responsible for his/ her studying which is done thanks to the promotion of autonomy. Some of the roles, which were traditionally done by teachers, are transferred on to students. Compared to GTM, teachers do not assume dominant role in the class, but rather guide the students who are making their own decisions and solve problems thanks to materials, resources and the guidance of their teachers. This whole process is gradual and challenging. One may argue that it is also quite time consuming, but as Montijano (2005:166)2 explains: “it is an altogether worthwhile enterprise for any educator given its triggering effect in learners”.
The advantages of this approach are that the learners become more conscious of not only learning but also how they are learning. They are actively participating on their improvement, they observe themselves and therefore become responsible for their progress. Thanks to this their motivation is stimulated and their learning experience becomes more meaningful. This is also achieved thanks to intensive communication with the teacher who keeps following the evolution of his students and makes sure that there are provided with the necessary studying material. Thus the classes are more tailor-made. Of course, this intensive relationship between student and his teacher is as its best when we talk about long term courses (e.g... schools, high-schools, language centres) where a class does not change a teacher throughout the school term. Also there is a strong need to constantly evaluate the needs and progress of students which is usually done via questionnaires or interviews which is also not the best way when it comes to in-company classes such as we could observe in Oxbridge.
Another interesting approach is the Communicative Approach (or Communicative language teaching) which, as can be deduced from its name, is used in cases when communicative skills need to be prioritized. Communicative language teaching originated in Britain (1960s) and it replaced Situational Language Teaching and it can be also traced to the work of N. Chomsky and his notions of ‘competence’ and ‘performance’ 3 (reaction against then prevalent audio-lingual method).
The important thing about the communicative Approach is that the functional view of the language is the primary one behind this method as well as theory of learning. This means that activities consist of real communication, students are carrying out meaningful tasks and there is emphasize on semantics as well. Students will learn to use the FL in order to communicate values, judgments, needs and etc. and they will also work on their interaction skills.
This method answers all the needs of present day students who are tired of the traditional way of studying languages. The structures are not the centre of attention, but still can be presented in a way that students will not even realize that they are practicing them and can be easily combined with other approaches or methods. Moreover, it is not that demanding for the teachers as for example suggestopedia, Berlitz method or Silent way are.
I believe that a teacher who is passionate about his job can make a good use of all of the methods. Maybe some of them will be more dominant and some of them will be of peripheral importance. The most important thing is to discover the needs of your students and then keep them in mind when preparing the class. As I mentioned before, throughout my life GTM was the dominant method therefore I am quite aware of how students perceive it and I do agree that nowadays its use is not attractive anymore. I believe that Communicative Approach can substitute GTM’s position because thanks to that students start to communicate in FL from their very first class which definitely has a positive influence on their motivation and improvement. Moreover communication is the desired field on which students want to work on.
When it comes to material I prefer to use up to date topics which are connected with real life so that they are more meaningful for my students. Online news articles, videos, songs, charts and schemes can help students understand even harder concepts and are easily adapted to all levels. This can be many times combined with Total Physical Response as students can use all their senses in order to understand the meaning of words and phrases. It is always good to create a familiar context for the students so that they can relate with it easier. This will also help them in case they are struggling. It is good to use words which are similar in L2 language (especially with elementary levels) and also to make the students aware of false friends, e.g.. words which are similar to those of their native language, but have a different meaning in L2. That way embarrassing situations can be avoided and this the student’s face can be save. Pictures, role plays, videos and interesting articles can help us teachers to achieve all of this.
There has to be a good balance between the grammar, vocabulary, speaking and listening. Thanks to what I have experienced in my life and observed and learned in this course, I believe that vocabulary, speaking and listening should have the priority over grammar. Vocabulary is essential when one wants to be to express himself (starting from talking about oneself, continuing through likes and dislikes, giving advices, criticizing, speculating, reporting things and so on). Naturally, classes without grammar are impossible, but I believe that it does not to be presented in a highly linguistic terms and students do not need to be so conscious about it.
First of all I believe that a good teacher needs be aware how much he can influence the class, its mood, the impact he makes on his students, on their motivation and learning progress. During the first lessons he needs to analyze his class in order to decide how much he can correct his students so that they will not get blocked or unmotivated. I believe that nowadays the teacher should not be the dominating figure, but rather he should find a fine balance between being a guide and a source. Students should be encouraged to do their tasks, find the way of expressing themselves and in case they are struggling, they, naturally, will address the teacher. The idea is to not abuse the teacher and not get everything served on a plate and definitely not in their mother tongue. On the other hand teacher also needs to be there when a student is struggling. His approach to the matter is crucial here because it can mean the difference between whether the student might get blocked (negative influence which can later on have an impact on his progress) or whether the student successfully tackles the problem and will feel positive about his learning and himself. Constructive criticism is essential and student should never feel attacked or being put down by his teacher.
The last but not least is that as the teacher follows, observes and tries to improve learning conditions of his students, he should also do the same with himself and not become too comfortable with what he already knows. Teachers can observe themselves, record, write diaries about their classes and analyze them afterwards in order to discover more about themselves, their strategies and actuation. In order to keep the pace with the evolution of languages and learning them we cannot allow to become stuck in our familiar paths but we should be on a constant search for new information and ways how to implement them in our classes.
(1) Celce-Murcia, M. and Larsen-Freeman, D. (1999) The Grammar book: An ESL/EFL Teacher's Course. Boston: Heinle
(2) Montijano Cabrera, Mª P. (ed.) (1983) Broadening Horizons in TEFL: 21st Century Perspectives. Aljibe
(3) Brown, G. et al (ed) (1996) Performance & Competence in Second Language Acquisition. Cambridge: CUP