English is the most commonly used lingua franca language in the world. There is three times more non-native speakers of English than there is its native speakers, making the number at something between 470 million to over a billion. One might think that since there is so many non-native speakers of English all around the world, it means that we pretty much mastered the art of teaching and learning it. I dare to disagree with that statement. Unfortunately most of speakers of English first came across it at school, where the strongest focus is put on grammar and writing skills, leaving behind oral skills like pronunciation as well as the fluency. A person who has finished an English course in school or university has a very good grammar knowledge, but is not able to talk freely, which most of the time is the reason people learn English in the first place- to communicate. The fluency is then acquired through real life situations, either this being a year or a semester abroad, working in an international environment, or simply by being around other speakers of English. It does not mean however that the only way to accomplish fluency in English is through those real life situation. It can also be achieved through lessons with a trained teacher. In order to achieve that however, the teacher has to turn to a more communicative approach of teaching, which is also the way I want to teach my students.
When talking about teaching and learning English the issue that has to be considered first is why people do learn English at all. The motivation for learning is crucial for choosing the perfect approach in English teaching. In situation when a student wants to pass a written grammar test, the Grammar Translation Method would be the best. I do believe however that these days most people who decide to learn English are driven to it, not because of its fascinating grammar, but rather because of social reasons. People want to learn English so they can watch movies in English, read or chat in English, so they can travel and communicate in English, or to go to a foreign country and through English make new friends or business partners. People learn English to communicate. And this is also something that I want to focus when teaching English- communication. That is why even though I would want to cover all four of the macro skills- speaking, listening, reading and writing, I would put the strongest focus on the oral skills. I want my students to feel comfortable in English speaking situations. That is why I would focus on their fluency, teaching common expressions, everyday language as well as slang. Abbreviations are usually not part of a syllabus, but in my opinion it is very important to know what does for example “brb” or “btw” mean, as without that knowledge the communication between the two interlocutors would have been broken due to a lack of understanding. Of course the use of correct grammar is very important as well, but I would not make it the main focus of the lesson, and transfer the grammar knowledge in the inductive way of teaching. Which leads me to the next point which is the syllabus. I would like to build my lessons based on either function-based syllabus or the situations-based syllabus, enabling my students to jump right into a real life situations in English, and being able to deal with it in a successful manner. Also pronunciation here is very important. Sometimes incorrect pronunciation can lead to misunderstandings which is why I would want to make sure that my students have a good pronunciation so they can be understood well.
Another important factor for a successful English learning is the environment and matter in which the language is acquired. I did use the verb “acquired” intentionally, because I believe an unconscious acquisition of a language is more natural and hence more successful and also less stressful. One should learn the language in a friendly and relaxed environment, so elimination of all the stress factors is crucial. I would not use any examination or grading elements. I would like to make a use of the continuous feedback so the students can improve their skills as they learn, or come to a point when they can correct themselves without the help of the teacher. Also the concept of books or a classroom brings back not so pleasant memories of school. That is why I am not a big fan of books, and rather use material prepared on my own, designed especially for the needs and interests of my students. I would also abandon the typical classroom arrangement of the tables, having the students opposite to the teacher, and I would change it into a one big table in the centre of the classroom, having everyone facing themselves, where there is no hierarchy between the students and the teacher as well as among the students themselves. I think this would also bring a friendly atmosphere in which everyone feels comfortable and relaxed which makes it easier to acquire new knowledge. What is crucial for that as well is the role of the teacher, who even though makes sure that the atmosphere is friendly and relaxed should also take the role of the guide to direct the class dynamics as well the organiser who makes sure everyone is involved in the activity and is following it correctly, as well as the playmaker to make sure the classes are fun, but also the assessor.
In my opinion it is also better to lead the lessons in the target language, trying to avoid the use of the native one. Just like the idea of the Direct Method suggest, I would use the target language in trying to explain what the new word means. I would also use props and body language as well as face expressions. I think this is very important, because students are learning the language not in order to translate their native language, but in order to communicate in the new one. Thus they have to learn how to “switch” in their heads to the new code. When using only English in classroom environment they would automatically switch as soon as they would see the teacher or his fellow students.
I would always start the class with a little warm-up, and a review of the knowledge acquired during the previous session. I would then introduce the new material, such as new vocabulary or structures, but without the use of any grammatical terms. After that I would carry out activities, such as watching videos (to practise listening skills) or reading texts (to get accustomed to the spelling). I would rather use authentic material, but of course for lower levels students I would use the adapted one. Also for practising fluency I would try to initiate discussions and dialogs, and I would make the students to do role plays as well as give them task based instructions. I think that a situation when a student is able to accomplish a little mission in English is not only a very good one for him to practise his English skills but it also boosts up his confidence which is very important for general communication and hence his fluency.
I don’t think that my approach would change much considering differences between beginners and advanced learners. Of course I would choose easier vocabulary and structures for the beginners and more complicated ones for the advanced learners. But I believe that the general approach of focusing on the oral skills, using an authentic material and using oral activities like debates, dialogs and role plays would stay the same. It would of course be different in cases of different age groups. Here not only the activities would be different, as for young learners I would rather use some physical response activities as well as more songs, but also the topics would have to be modified. Instead of using a text or a video from the news I would choose something that the young learners are interested in and can relate to. But in general I would also want to focus on oral skills and the function skills that can be used in real life situation making my student comfortable while using English.