It is a common conception that learning a second language is a monumental task that is so challenging, it borders on the impossible. People often find the thought of ever becoming fluent in a second language to be unimaginable-- as if learning a second language requires a rare talent-- when, in fact, the ability to acquire language is innate to all human beings. We are all fluent in at least one language because acquiring languages is as innately human as is standing on two legs. Our propensity for language acquisition is hard wired. We don´t need an education to learn language; we can´t help but learn as long as we are both exposed to a language and we need to use the language to communicate with others to get what we need. As my methodology evolves with my experience, I will ever be seeking how to work with what my students already have. Instead of traditional, academic approaches to second-language study, I look to the ways humans learn their first language and to modern teaching approaches and methodologies that are based on the natural acquisition through communication, listening and even action.
General Method and Approach
My methodology is based on my own experience teaching myself a second-language. I achieved conversational fluency in a second-language within 5 months through tasked-based submersion in my target language within highly motivating circumstances and without the option of using my mother-tongue. My methodology is very much informed by the Direct Method as I experience it through my study with Oxbridge. For example, I will teach entirely in English, I will emphasize speech and oral fluency first and grammar will be taught inductively. My method is also very much informed by Content-Based Instruction and Task-Based Instruction as will use subject matter in my lessons that engages and interests the student and I will teach whole sub-courses or side-courses in non-English subjects (such as art classes or cooking classes) in English as a way to teach English through submersion experiences, holistically connecting all the various intelligences (visual, kinesthetic, logical, etc.).
When teaching absolute beginners and young children I will borrow verbal drills from the Audio-Lingual and Callan Methods. However, those techniques will be reserved strictly for when the student is adjusting to the pronunciation and flow of the language. To teach vocabulary and meaning to absolute beginners I will model my teaching on the Total Physical Response Method by giving verbal commands which the students follow with whole-body movements and vice versa. I will be researching how to apply TPR to intermediate and advanced students, as I am attracted to techniques which get the student out of their chairs and into their bodies, integrating disparate areas of consciousness. I will borrow the emphasis on ambiance from the (De)Suggestopedia Method with occasional use of background music and attention to lighting whenever possible. I am attracted the Silent Method because it is so unconventional and new to me but for those same reasons, I am not yet sure if I want to apply it in my classroom. In addition to these techniques and approaches I will contribute various techniques and procedures of my own invention.
My Role as Teacher
I see myself as a guide and facilitator of the student´s learning experience. When commencing lessons I will assess the student orally and with a supplementary, written questionnaire. The oral assessment will allow me to quickly asses the comprehension and speech level as well as the presence of obvious, affective filters such as shyness or disinterest. The written assessment will contain both pre-written descriptions of levels and abilities as well as pictures and graphics that the student could use to indicate her or his abilities, learning objectives and personal interests. I will teach using content and tasks based on the personal interests, learning objectives and needs of the student. I am a reflective teacher. I write in a teaching journal after each lesson in order to maintain awareness of my student´s needs and responses as well as to hone my craft and support pedagogical innovation.
While I am qualified and interested in teach speaking, listening, reading and writing, the proportion of focus on each of these skill areas will depend heavily on the needs and objectives of my student. I will default to teaching the language orally/verbally first. Intermediate or advanced students will take on reading and writing, however if she prefers to study oral communication rather than writing I would still use reading and as a study and learning tool. For example, in such a case we would read play scripts or even transcripts of fluent speech. The student may at times be instructed write speech in order to aid in kinesthetically learning correct sentence formation. For a class group of mixed objectives who are taking lessons of indefinite duration, my syllabus will be grammar-based, but not fixed. This is because I´ll be teaching grammar primarily inductively with a functional-notional approach and, as a native English speaker, I´ll need to pre-plan what grammar structures I´m teaching in order to ensure that the structures are isolated and arranged in a rational, graded order. The syllabus will not be fixed in order to allow me to work with what the student is getting the most out of in the moment. If my class group is of specialized objective (e.g. business English), of a young age-group (any age group below age 16) or of a short-term duration, my syllabus will be task and skill-based and it will be fixed.
Vocabulary & Grammar
I will require that each student carry three things both in and outside of class: a portable dictionary translating English to their mother tongue, a portable notebook of some sort for noting vocabulary that interests them for later memorization as well as a recording device to record words pronounced in a manner that the student finds counter-intuitive. I will not curate pre-selected vocabulary lists. Vocabulary acquisition will be taught as a proactive, life-long-learning habit. If a student cannot determine the meaning of a new vocabulary inductively during a lesson I will instruct them to ask me to spell it for them, then I will spell it out verbally with the understanding that they will look it up themselves in their dictionary. I will also model methods of memorizing vocabulary that are visual--such as ways to draw to cement words—and kinesthetic--- such as using motion, touch and body-acting to connect the new words with their meaning in a present and felt sense. When I do student evaluations I will ask to see the vocabulary lists amassed by the student both to see that they are proactively acquiring vocabulary and using in an effective and convenient system for note taking and also to see what sorts of words and areas of life are interesting the student most. I will not judge the student´s level of engagement and their performance by how copious their vocabulary lists are, however, because I´d expect the those who memorize new words best in the verbal/linguistic or kinesthetic modalities to be the ones who´d favor hand writing, while other students might memorize better in entirely different ways such as inventing mnemonic devices or amassing recordings of words or drawings.
While I will generally teach grammar inductively in a functional-notional approach, I will occasionally deliver explicit grammar lessons. I´ll reserve this for when an explicit lesson will advance the student´s understanding quickly.
I will help guide the student´s inductive acquisition of grammar and vocabulary by grading both my language and the authentic materials that I introduce to them. For example, I´d give my students children´s books to read before movie or play scripts. I´ll give them scripts before news articles. I´d give them news articles from the Daily News to read before giving them articles from the New York Times, and so on.
Listening, Speech and Pronunciation
In contrast to the Direct Method where the goal is to have the students doing 80% of the speaking, I will teach English with much respect given to the sound. This is because sound is a much a part of a language as structure and vocabulary is, and listening is an original language-acquisition technique that is most natural. Babies listen for months before attempting their first phonemes and words and they end up speaking exactly in the same manner and accent as the people they grow up with. Therefore, a large percentage of the time will be devoted to listening, especially listening to “model speakers”: fluent speakers who speak true to an authentic, English-language form (beit a “proper” form, a colloquial form and everything in-between). This will address interference by the student´s mother tongue. I will begin each class with a listening session where the students are provided with a monologue or a conversation from or between model speakers. In ideal circumstances I would have a model speaker, teacher´s assistant available so we can speak freely and naturally to one another (thereby effectively avoiding “foreigner talk” or “teacher talk” for this portion of the class) providing the student with live, authentic speech creating a submersion experience. When without such a language assistant, I will instead either recount a story to the class as if I´m speaking to a fluent person or with an authentic, audio recording of model speakers conversing. This will help transition the student´s mind into a receptive, auditory mode which will allow new information about English to be observed.
While everyone who speaks any language has an accent of some sort and people who learn a second language after late-childhood can be expected to have a foreign accent to some degree, it is another thing to pronounce a foreign language exactly as if you´re speaking your mother-tongue. I consider the latter to be interference. I will address this by coaching accent. Like an actor, the student will choose a target, English-language accent. Using source materials such as movies or podcasts in the target accent as well as recordings the student makes themselves, the student will study and practice imitating the target accent in the student´s mother tongue. For example if the student´s mother tongue is Urdu and their target accent is the standard, American accent, they will learn how to imitate the standard, American speaking Urdu in a thick, American accent. After mastery, the student will apply their imitation of the target accent to their own English speech. Paying close attention to the sound of English will simultaneously improve the student´s ability to comprehend English speech. Because accent study and development is a slow, gradual process which can begin immediately I will have even the absolute beginner start on this project. Teaching the absolute beginner to study accent will also help them learn new vocabulary acoustically first. Ideally, the beginner wouldn´t start learning spelling and writing down the language until there´s already been an extensive, preliminary phase that is entirely verbal/sonic.
Integration and Synthesis
In the spirit of implementing life-long learning habits and learning through submersion experiences the student will designate one day of the week as her or his “English Day”. For the beginner that will be the day that she makes an extra effort to try to say something in English in real life or to listen to English. For the intermediate and advanced that will be the day she does everything that she can possibly do in English in English. The “English Day” practice will develop the lifestyle that the student will need in order to retain and master the language.
These are examples of the flow of ideas I experience when working with second-language study. Using the guidance of the methodologies and approaches that I´ve been introduced to by Oxbridge in concert with my own inspiration and my experience with my students I will be continually developing a teaching methodology that is multi-sensory and experimental. I expect my methodology will alter and evolve and my techniques will as well, however I will ever strive to teach to my student´s innate intelligence and curiosity and I will ever encourage and support the student´s development of a multilingual life-style thus facilitating a permanent and transformative experience of her everyday life through English.