The Future of Teaching
During my childhood, I was always interested in foreign languages. On trips abroad, I’d happily spend my time sitting in a busy park eavesdropping on other tourist groups, attempting to guess the origin of the strange words escaping from between their lips. As I have grown from that curious child into an independent adult, I have always jumped at the chance to learn new languages. This has resulted in two years of Russian classes, a year of Spanish, and full French immersion from the time I was twelve. As a result of these forays into language learning, I have been exposed to a vast number of instruction techniques, which has allowed me to gain valuable insight into the world of teaching a language.
I firmly believe that people have an inherent need both to communicate, and to feel connected with the world around them. Learning to speak a language that is not one’s mother tongue gives an immediate sense of accomplishment that cannot be recreated by mastering the reading and writing skills of that same language. For this reason, I am convinced that the best way to teach a language is through the Direct method. The Direct method immerses students in the target language, attempting to recreate the environment in which they learned their first language. All instruction is done in the target language, using miming, gestures, pictures, and various other auditory and kinesthetic mediums to supplement the spoken language and ensure comprehension on the part of the students. I find the Direct method extremely successful, as it allows the students to construct their own interlanguage, creating links between the native and target languages. In classes taught through the Direct method, students are given the tools necessary to deduce for themselves what words mean, introducing the process of thinking in the target language. The Direct method ties into the Audio-lingual method, placing the emphasis on speaking and listening rather than reading and writing. I believe understanding and producing spoken language are the primary skills needed for language learning, while reading and writing are secondary activities, whose mastery is dependent on the students’ successful use of the primary skills. This of course opposes the Grammar-translation method, which emphasizes the use of writing skills to learn a language, through mediums such as translation.
As mentioned previously, teaching a class with the Direct method discourages use of the students’ mother tongue, relying on other aspects of communication to ensure comprehension. Although this is very successful, I am convinced that use of the students’ native language can be extremely useful during the initial learning stages. In order to build a solid foundation for the students’ interlanguage, a framework must first be developed to aid in creating a system unique to each student. As learners progress, usage of the mother tongue should be phased out until instruction is only in the target language, to allow for maximum exposure. This also teaches the students to problem solve in the target language, a skill which is both incredibly valuable to possess and difficult to acquire.
An argument exists in the language-teaching world when it comes to grammar and how it is taught. There are those who believe grammar should be taught deductively – that is, teaching it’s theoretical uses through tables and direct definitions – and those who regard the inductive approach to be much more effective. Teaching grammar inductively is the opposite from deductive teaching, as students learn the grammar of the target language through conversation, role-play, and how the forms apply to specific situations. The inductive approach is far superior to the deductive, as it calls upon the students to actively think about the grammar’s application into conversation, rather than simply having them memorize its characteristics. This activity of creating real-life scenarios to attach grammar forms to forces the students to use constructivism to internalize what they are being taught. Constructivism, the most effective philosophy of education, is the theory that students learn and retain new information much more effectively if it is relatable to past experiences or concepts they already have a good grasp of. This is by far one of the most important aspects a language instructor should be aware of; as it not only keeps the students interested in learning more, but also provides them with an internal framework they can refer to when attempting to apply the new concept.
The role a teacher plays in the language-learning environment is a crucial one, to ensure students have every opportunity to improve, no matter what their level is. The teacher must be a role model in the classroom – modeling correct language while keeping subject matter and vocabulary appropriate for the class they are teaching. We chose to learn languages so we can communicate in other ways, and in order for the students to learn to speak a new language, they must be given every opportunity possible to speak that language. I have learned the hard way that learning to speak French in a traditional classroom setting for twelve years resulted in my being able to understand spoken French very well, but having almost no knowledge of how to speak it. The traditional methods, where the teacher is an authoritative figure that speaks while the students listen, is an outdated one that needs to be changed if students want any hope of being able to speak in the target language. The teacher must act as a playmaker, allowing as much time as possible for the students to practice speaking. The teacher should speak only to correct errors, serve as a model for correct language construction, and to actively direct conversation, ensuring students are learning the intended concept.
The teacher, by filling the role of a playmaker in the classroom environment, establishes the students’ role. As a result of the passive role the teacher assumes, the students must actively communicate much more and take up the role of a communicator or a self-manager. This means the students are not just passively absorbing information that they are being told, but are having a say in the direction of each class. This also allows students’ learning to be much more independent, granting them the opportunity to decide how much they get out of each lesson. The role between the teacher and the students is just as important as the individual ones each party assumes. As a playmaker, the teacher can pose weighted questions intended to illicit specific responses from students. As self-managers, students must communicate with the teacher, and actively participate in each class if they wish to improve.
In order to monitor student progress, the teacher must play a very active role in the evaluation process. There must be continuous assessment to ensure students are being adequately challenged, without being in over their head. Occasional formative assessments allow the teacher to determine if the material is being absorbed. These assessments will also monitor the affective factors in the language-learning environment. For example, if the class takes place in a public space with lots of distraction, a poor assessment result for that class could indicate the need to change where the class is being held.
The traditional world of language learning is no longer an effective one. The classic methods of deductively teaching grammar and speaking at students without much interaction have resulted in generations of people capable of understanding other languages, but not being able to express themselves. Through new approaches to teaching that can be easily applied to any language, class size, age, or ability, students will be able to communicate in a new language much more effectively, rather than just understanding it. The Direct Method places emphasis upon the valuable skill of communication. This has always been a difficult skill to master for students, but through the Direct method the students are immersed in the target language. This method attempts to simulate being in a country that speaks the target language. By attempting to teach the students through acquisition rather than just having them learn it, the teacher gives them every opportunity to obtain valuable communication skills that would not be feasible using other methods. In an ideal world, anyone who wanted to learn a language would be able to travel somewhere that speaks that language natively, as this is the most effective way to learn a language. As that is not possible for everyone, it is apparent that the Direct method of language instruction is the next best thing. If students are given every opportunity to communicate through the target language, then they will progress beyond anything they ever thought was possible.