The Interactive Communicative Approach
Teaching English has been, and, continues to be a huge phenomena. The current boom in the field matches the position of English as one of the World's most commonly spoken languages. There is therefore no surprise that classes are also being devised for specific purposes, for example: English for Business Purposes and, English for Medical Purposes. The qualms and queries of how best to teach English as a Foreign Language has seen an explosion of methodologies including The Silent Method, The Grammar Translation Method and, a variety of others. Between these approaches and the more modern Communicative Approach I will be analysing the effects on students, the role of the teacher for a successful class and what in the world of teaching English can be considered as the most beneficial for students' own learning. This will lead to the assessment of my own theory The Interactive Communicative Approach.
Any student's main goal is to achieve comprehension and oral skills in English, whether their purpose be work, travel or, simply pleasure. This is clearly evidenced in modern methodologies and is The British Council's main focus. The Oxbridge System (OXS) teaches English using a communicative approach based on 'real-life' meaning which encompasses a huge emphasis on Student Talking Time. Of course what can be considered as real English is arguable, but ultimately the essence of learning English is to achieve pragmatic understanding to enable communication in everyday conversations. The Grammar Translation Method (GTM) on the other hand focuses primarily on form. Whilst it is important to understand grammar in order to construct proper sentences the approach largely refrains from speaking practice rendering the failure of learners to survive in any given situation. It is therefore appropriate to dismiss the GTM in favouring a method that develops the ability to communicate. Despite dismissal, what must be remembered is the integral part grammar plays to the foundations of communication. Special attention must be paid at early stages and continue throughout all levels.
To sufficiently enable second language acqusition students' lexicion must be implored. The Direct (Berlitz) Method (DBM) favours vocabulary over grammar placing the main emphasis on communication. The syllabus concentrates on situations and topics. The effect seen in students learning English this way shows the ability to communicate sufficiently in real situations as well as an extensive understanding of a range of vocabulary. Combining lexicon development with realia (The Silent Way (SW)) we arrive at my suggested Interactive Communicative Approach (ICA). Students should learn vocabulary actively as the need for tangibility as well as visuals is ever increasing. Another point worth mentioning here is DBM refrains from using the native tongue but arguably translation may be used when absolutely necessary providing that English is reinforced directly. Within ICA translation may be used to the extent of enabling true understanding. The combination provides students with real meaning and exposure to accents and pronounciation.
This multi-sensory approach develops a real contextual meaning of new vocabulary. Looking at children it is evident they learn using their hands and eyes for daily communication. In adopting this under ICA I am suggesting the requirement of students to actively touch, see and interpret new vocabulary. Of great importance here is the capability of the human mind and the limit of learning 8 - 10 items at once. Envisaging comprehension of more items for learners becomes unperceivable leaving students rather confused. A vocabulary based syllabus similar to DBM would render ineffective, what is favourable therefore is interactive based learning.
A requisit for pragmatics and meaningful interpretation leaves little point in carrying out drills as in GTM and The Callan Method (CM), there is no real accomplishment of meaning. Students possess ability to repeat words but lack true understanding. OXS is far more favourable using topical situations often including role plays as part of actively learning. To go one step further ICA would focus on the acting out of situations encouraging students to engage entirely. The Total Physical Response (TPR) Method is a good demonstrator of this. Students first observe and later perform. However TPR refrains from activating spoken language until students are ready. The ICA which I have suggested would include something very similar to a live pictionary. Students would automatically be talking and describing what their fellow students were doing. Of course at first students would need empowering with vocabuulary. Activation would change simultaneously depending on a students' level.
The discussion has reached an understanding of constituent elements of a lesson plan. A given lesson plan for one hour under ICA at an intermediate level would therefore include 10 - 15 minutes on grammar, 10 - 15 minutes on vocabulary and 25 - 30 minutes based on interactive communicative situations notably including physical elements. Learning by doing would vastly improve the speed at which one mastered English. Reading books and lengthy texts (GTM) although is beneficial for developing good writing skills largely ignores real communicative meaning. It should therefore be part of every lesson to have activities based on acting out the real meaning combined with the use of gestures. The overall syllabus for ICA therefore derives from a situational-base. When considering the syllabus weight must be given to consistency. Existing methodologies demonstrate this. SW focuses on students being self-reliant, GTM pays attention to literacy language and TPR provides a fun learning environment which engages the senses. The syllabus of ICA focuses on the consistency of active and communicative sessions at all levels.
The lesson plan above is suggested for an intermediate level so ultimately must be adaptable for different levels. We could hardly expect complete beginners to interact for such a long period of time as they lack the relevant tools for successful and complete communication. It is therefore appropriate to suggest at early stages of learning lessons focus far more on grammar and vocabulary. GTM comes to standing here as with good understanding students will be able to communicate effectively. Level adaptation in OXS provides the early stages of learning with far more teacher talking time. Even so at early levels under ICA students should be encouraged to interact, act out words and actions as much as possible equally as much as advanced learners. TPR lends support to this in that learners are to respond actively to instructions and to re-iterate: learn by doing.
One of the biggest factors to be considered is age. At what stage do we ignore the age factor or should we even consider it? There are obvious elements in the answer to this question, one being the usage of appropriate material. ICA classes for children and teenagers would be designed with relevant communication sessions borne in mind. For example there would be little relevance in talking about the concepts of marketing or interest rates with younger people. Admittedly this could be educational but is too far removed from the principal of communication and understanding. For example children's topics would be based on familiar circumstances: i.e. the home, going to school. For older learners these kind of topics would be introduced at earlier stages of their learning or with more complex language. Briefly cast upon earlier many learners of English as a Foreign Language do so for specific purposes. ICA would take this into account by ensuring specific classes focused on relevant vocabulary and situations.
The Teacher's role varies depending on the syllabus organisation. Under SW teachers remain silent and simply foster the learners' autonomy whereas their role within GTM is to be an authoritative, perhaps over-domineering figure. Neither of these methods enables learners' to sufficiently comprehend and master English from their teachers. Like OXS, ICA would run on a compilation of all lesson plans distributed as and when required among teachers. The system is an effective tool to enable teachers to properly prepare themselves. Rather than spending hours creating lesson plans teachers would receive their materials and interpret classes to achieve goals and objectives set out for that lesson. The teacher's role in ICA rathermore becomes one of an actor who puts on a show aiding and directing students to do the same; emphasis lies in the goal of building confidence in students ability to apply in real life. Teachers must also recognise the need to deal with students' difficulties from confidence issues to miscomprehension. It is therefore necessary for teachers to take a simplistic approach, offering a lot of praise and corrections, the latter at appropriate times.
Also paramount within ICA is students understanding their role which possesses equal importancy. Sitting in a classroom as a passive body simply allowing information to bypass you would be no good. Additionally it would be of little relevance to learn English and not put this into practise outside the teacher-student environment. Under ICA it would be reasonable to expect students to use what they learn in situations in real environments. However this is not always the reality, as such at the beginning of classes teachers are required to recap prior learning. This can be criticised for its academic approach, however to support this kind of learning I refer to OXS. In OXS students recap, albeit at early stages, to ensure the grasp of basic principles and, in CM where students are drilled. In ICA recaps at every session ensures students are aware of their role. Recaps do not need to be in the form of drills and may be presented in the format of a game or quiz to engage and activate students. Students overall role is to learn to speak English and be active members in doing so. Using ICA clearly achieves this principal, students would develop confidence to take part and subsequently replicate this in the real world.
We have seen a wide range of approaches to teaching English where not a single one can be considered the right approach. There is a large dependency on a teacher's own interpretation of a given syllabus or lesson plan and equally a student's preferred learning style. GTM lacks a communicative goal whereas this is OXS predominant focus. A total rejection of translation, as in DM is not absolutely necessary and the SW places too much weight on students' self correction. Therefore I arrived at the suggested ICA. This encompasses various elements from many of the methodologies, leaving the method very favourable. ICA takes into account different needs of the learner and places interaction at the fore. Making interaction such a strong focus during the learning process would leave teachers and students thoroughly enjoying english classes with a real sense of achievement. The ability to communicate and survive in English would develop from being a play to becoming second nature.