My approach to English teaching
Studying foreign languages is something I feel is very valuable; having studied French and Spanish from a young age I’m familiar with the challenges and rewards it presents. In my opinion, understanding different languages and cultures helps you to relate to different types of people and different ways of life, and it’s something I’m very passionate about. English is currently a very in-demand language, in both the business and personal world, and I try to bring forward this passion for languages when teaching my native language. Something I believe is important is for the language to feel meaningful and real in the students mind, and for them to think of it as something that is used every day for communication, not as something to be solely studied and worked out. To achieve this, it is key to make use of authentic materials, such as newspaper articles and documentary clips online, and communicative activities, such as question and answer and topic discussions. This is a principle I particularly admired when reading about the Direct Method, which stresses the importance of communication in the target language in real life situations, and oral skills and vocabulary have more importance over the study of grammar rules. Furthermore, creating a relaxed and friendly environment in the classroom and developing a sense that you are a team by building a strong rapport between teacher and students, encourages learners not to feel self-conscious when talking, and to be ultimately more likely to enjoy the classes. These are fundamental principles that I intend to include in all classes. However there are people wanting to learn English for business purposes for example, who will have different needs to those wanting to learn it for tourism or simply for pleasure, and similarly there will be students who learn more effectively through visual stimuli and others through auditory stimuli, and of course it’s necessary to adapt methodologies and approaches to every class, based on the multitude of different student needs, motivations, age ranges and class sizes.
Below I will describe the general approach I believe in using as an English teacher, and then will discuss some of the ways I would adapt my syllabus to suit the needs of my students, including changes to the lesson planning, class dynamics, use of materials, teaching and learning goals and language areas to be covered.
Having researched various teaching methods and found advantages and disadvantages to each one, I will attempt to use a combination of the principles I believe to be most effective. My general approach as a teacher (which I hope to use in every class with adaptations to suit student’ needs), would focus on building the skills in the order that they are naturally acquired, listening, speaking, reading, writing. Additionally I believe in a very communicative approach. This would mean firstly that the syllabus should be focused around situations or topics that the student would come across when using the language, for example for people looking to learn English for tourism or leisure purposes there would be units that focus on travel, money, food, going out etc. and similarly someone who is looking to learn English for business there should be units that focus on things related to their line of work. Given that their learning goals are different, my teaching goals will also have to be different in order to suit each one, for example it’s very possible that students learning English for business will be more focused on developing their reading and writing skills than others. I would therefore adapt the syllabus to ensure there are sufficient activities which practice these skills, for example comprehension activities, and writing emails/letters for an example situation, and continuously evaluate their productive skills, therefore still in keeping with a communicative approach. A further aspect of this communicative approach would be not to use the student’s mother tongue at all in the class, as this encourages them to translate mentally rather than learning meanings directly and learning to think in the target language, and slows their progress in acquiring it. I also believe it strengthens the problems of interlanguage that adults often find when learning a second language, whereby they make too many associations with their native tongue and transfer aspects of it into the target language, or overgeneralise rules. Furthermore, as a teacher, using a method that relies on using the students mother tongue unnecessarily limits you as to who you are able to teach.
In terms of assessment, I believe in an approach similar to that of the Silent Way Methodology, whereby the teacher is constantly evaluating the students’ progress and needs by observing their use of the language, and formal tests are never given. The teacher’s role will be as a guide who gives the students what they need to develop their skills, a motivator, an observer and a colleague, the role of the student is to aim to self-correct, build on and use what they know and have learnt, and to be an active participant in class. Normally a class would last one hour, the first five minutes would be dedicated to getting the students thinking in English, by asking them a few simple questions and maybe a short discussion. For lower levels this would consist simply of “Hello how are you? How was your day?” We would then move onto the first activity of 3 or 4, a vocabulary activity, the purpose being to expand their lexicon by introducing new words, normally within the same semantic field, and to get the students to then use them in context within an activity, be it a role play or discussion. We then move onto a grammar activity introducing a new structure, with the purpose of improving their accuracy in English, whereby the teacher first explains it’s function using examples, and the students then use it in an activity and the teacher observes to see if they have correctly understood how it’s used. Finally we start a discussion activity, encouraging to students to converse in English and ultimately improve their fluency, the topic should be based on something interesting and appropriate for the group, getting them as involved as possible. Each activity would last around 15 minutes, leaving us 10 minutes at the end to go over the new structures and vocabulary of the lesson, to check understanding and make sure they leave feeling they have learnt something new.
An example of a situation that would require me to adapt and slightly change my style of teaching is the different types of intelligence students may have. It’s important to get to know what type of things the students find most effective to help them learn, as this can differ from person to person. Visual learners learn most effectively through the use of visual stimuli and written examples therefore I would use utilise the element from the Direct Method when teachers introduce new target language by demonstrating its meaning through the use of things like realia, pictures, or pantomime. Auditory learners learn most effectively through hearing the language being spoken, recorded or sung, therefore I would use the element of the audio-lingual methodology where new vocabulary and structures are introduced through dialogues. Some people are known as Kinaesthetic learners when they prefer the use of movement, and body language to help them associate meanings, for these learners I would take elements from the Total Physical Response methodology. This methodology attempts to teach the target language in a similar way that children learn their native language, through following models and examples from the teacher and physical actions in response to commands. It’s obviously possible to have a mixture of these different types of intelligence in one class, I believe the most effective strategy to deal with that is to make sure there is a variety of activities that suit each one, furthermore you can recommend strategies for the students to use in their own time to properly absorb the material, for example for an auditory learner recommend podcasts online.
The dynamic of a class also changes depending on the size of the class, when teaching smaller groups the approach can be much more relaxed and there won’t always be need for a strict linear structure to the class. Discussion can play a major part and individual needs are more easily met. I feel like this is where the Direct Method is most effective. For larger groups this is more difficult, in order to manage the class and ensure all students are participating it’s often important to have a structure, and it becomes harder to have class discussions. For these situations I would use more of a Grammar Translation Methodology style to my teaching, for example reducing student-student interaction and the teacher adopting slightly more authority. However I would still conduct the entire class in the target language and not encourage the students to translate from their native tongue.
Beginner students have very different needs to those who are more advanced.
For a student with little to know knowledge of English the lesson should include constant repetition, and the teacher should give clear instructions to the student using the help of pictures and body language, and using cognates wherever possible. Additionally, it is imperative for the teacher to grade their language to a level that can be understood by the student, and also to grade the level of difficulty of an activity. The most effective way to build the students’ knowledge without discouraging them with the level of difficulty is to start with simple ideas and structures and gradually progress to more advanced ones. With the intent of making it easier for the student to process, the teacher should always introduce new vocabulary grouped in the same semantic field so that ideas and meanings are connected in their minds. Furthermore I believe correction methods must vary for beginner students as opposed to more advanced ones, it is worth only correcting major mistakes that really impede meaning and things they are likely to remember, so as not to discourage them by correcting everything and perhaps even inhibit their participation in class. For more advanced students, however I feel that correction is very important, they are looking to improve further and need the use of corrections, although still it is important not to frustrate them by correcting every lapse, and focus on correcting things that are related to the content of the lesson.
I feel through this approach; through constant practical use of the language, and close attention to their needs, the students will feel the rewards of learning English, and eventually become capable of using it with confidence in real life situations.