My approach to teaching English.
An essay by
Bart J. Kruk
This essay will explain my own approach to teaching English. It will take into consideration teaching and learning goals, role of the teacher and of the students, differences in giving lessons to beginners and to more advanced students, and to different age groups. My main objective is to show my personal way of teaching English.
The ability of fluently speaking and understanding English has became a basic necessity of a good education almost everywhere around the Earth. English is a lingua franca now, with many travellers taking for granted that they will be understood wherever they go, if speaking in English. However, English is a second language for majority of those people, and often both of speakers are not speaking in their first language. The scientific study of human language, the linguistics, is developing rapidly in the last decades, shifting of the way the languages are taught. Now with over one billion people learning English (British Council), to find an accurate and easy way to teach is very important.
The main reason for starting to learn English seems to be will to communicate, however the individual goals will differ. When I was starting to learn English (aged 7, I think) it was to communicate with my English cousins and, in the future, to speak and understand it so to travel to the Western Europe, America and everywhere. I understand that people will have far different goals. Therefore, before coming to the class I would find out as many things as I can about the students, so I could adjust my syllabus accordingly. Things like age, profession, size of a group would be important, but only a starting point. I would try to ask the other teachers about what to expect from the class.
The most important thing is to come prepared to the classroom, that way the learning time is maximised. That would be my first, and crucial goal as a teacher – to make sure that by the end of each class students walk out in a good mood and knowing that they have learned something useful. As I would be responsible for input of what the learner receives (which according to Stephen Krashen is significant), this great responsibility is in my hands. Krashen put emphasis on not teaching explicitly about grammar. So, what would be the way to provide the best input, the best teaching method?
Traditional way focused on grammar, on teaching the rules, and forgetting that the language is for communication and just the technical knowledge of how language works will not be enough to use it in everyday life. Even from my short knowledge of the Oxbridge System, I can see big advantages of this teaching method. It puts emphasis on communicative competence of the learner – only English is spoken in the class, speaking and understanding is the key, reading and writing is secondary. But not only a student role is changing, the teacher's too. Since the student is becoming more active and there is a huge increase in Student Talking Time, the teacher becomes a playmaker, who sets the activities.
Even before I knew the OS existed, I was aware that there is something not right about the teaching methods used to teach me English. I started with the Grammar-Translation Method, which was very boring and frustrating for me. Later, being lucky to have the excellent private teacher with my brother, I was more often learning how to speak, but mostly it was still based on the textbook. When I was older I took care of my English education – I watched news and movies only in English (often with no subtitles), read books, magazines, and the most importantly I was never afraid to speak in English, even when the stranger would ask me for the way when I was in a town I have never been to.
So how would I use my experience and knowledge in the class? First I would keep the balance between the receptive skills (listening and reading) and the productive skills (talking and writing). The receptive skills would be the start to learning. With the beginners, I would focus on teaching students how to listen – how they could answer or state an opinion if they would not understand what was said! But that would be followed closely by teaching them how to speak. Because they would know little English I would do most of talking not leaving any silent gaps, but I would press the students, gently but firmly, to talk too. I would keep all activities in a natural context with simple vocabulary with many cognates, with adjustments in their length and subject according to the students' group. With children I would use more realia, make activities shorter unless I would see they would enjoy it so I would keep them slightly longer and possibly expand it into different activity. The selection of subjects would be different – I would have activities about going to a cinema, buying an ice cream or a dog, but no activity about buying a car or going to the bank! Mostly I would try to make each activity in a game – a physical game, possibly some singing, card game, role play... With more senior students I would also do games – this is the best way to learn! Although the subject would change e.g. booking a hotel room, or ordering a meal in a restaurant.
With higher level students the balance between structure, vocabulary and topic activities would be different. The importance and use of topic activities would rise with the level of students, because those goal is to further improve fluency of English. With beginners the vocabulary activities would be the most important, with intermediate levels the main proportion would be between structure and vocabulary, with topic activities letting them use what they learnt.
The important thing for me would be to keep in mind that the students continue to acquire the language, they build their own interlanguage. This could be influenced not only by present teaching but previous, often not that good, one. Because this interlanguage is constantly changing, heavily influenced by the mother tongue. Therefore I can expect and predict some errors e.g. not using irregular verbs “I goed home” because form 'went' would be hard to grasp quickly. I would not jump on each mistakes like this, but should I left them alone they would 'fossilise' and become part of the student's language. What would be the best way? I would simply repeat what was said, looking into their eyes putting slight stress on the mistake. If they still had a problem with noticing it, I would say it in correct way, finishing with “repeat, please”. If I saw that student is still not sure I would come with my own example e.g. “I go to the beach everyday, but yesterday I went to the park”. And ask them to repeat and come with their own example. But the main thing for me would be that the student is not tired, frustrated or bored, so I could skip this, do some other activity and come back to this one later.
An English teacher has an important role to play – introducing a new world unknown to a student. I believe that I am able to do it in understanding way, with patience and humour, keeping all of the students interested and eager to learn more and work on their mistakes. But I am also aware that I, as a teacher, am also learning, and it is a continuous path, with excellence always behind the next turn. I wish to make it easier and more fun for my student to learn English than it was for me.
British Council website - www.britishcouncil.org/learning-faq-the-english-language.htm
The Oxbridge System materials.