The technological advancements that have accompanied the arrival of the 21st century have made worldwide communication instantaneous. Gaps have been bridged between previously distant and sometimes inaccessible cultures offering international exchange on a scale that has never been seen before. For this exchange to be fully realised however, there is a need of a lingua franca, a common language between people without which, communication would be impossible despite technological capabilities. The English language, among other languages, has found itself in this position, it has become the means by which any two people can communicate.
For this reason, teachers of the English language could find themselves giving lessons to a huge variety of students with different reasons and goals for learning the language and so what students would learn in a lesson entirely depends on the students themselves. It is for this reason that I believe that people who teach english as a foreign language should have a thorough knowledge of the language and of international culture allowing them to be malleable to the needs of the student.
It is then essential to consider what an individual student’s needs are and what their reasons for learning are as these, along with other affective factors, directly affect an individual’s motivation and motivation is the balance on which a student’s success in learning english hangs. Take for an example somebody working in a bar in a touristic location and someone who works in an office who has regular interaction with international clients. They both need to learn english for their jobs but the way they will apply the language in their daily lives will differ. The person working in a bar will perhaps use english in a conversational manner whereas the office worker may have need of a more formal register and also be required to write in english. Or, imagine one student is a teenager who has been persuaded to take english lessons by a parent and another is someone who wants to take english lessons to further their career. Or that in a group of students in one class one is particularly shy and another is highly confident. In all of these scenarios the student’s needs and reasons for learning differ and there are different affective factors at play and so to ensure the student’s motivation is high the lesson must be altered accordingly and the way a teacher interacts with their students must also be altered slightly to guarantee that the student is engaged in what is being taught. With the unmotivated teenager for example I would tailor the content of the lesson to suit their interests to hopefully make the lesson more relatable and in the case of the confident student and the quiet student I would try to harness the energy the confident student was injecting into the class to motivate the student who is less willing to engage, ask the confident student to ask questions to their peer for example. I would also direct questions to specific students rather than leave them open to make sure that everybody is given the same opportunity to practice their english.
As the engagement of the student is integral to their motivation there are some language skills that I would prioritise over others. Looking at speaking, listening, reading and writing, two of these are active skills and two are passive. Speaking and writing require input from the student but listening and reading do not. I consider this difference between activity and passivity synonymous with being engaged and not being engaged in the lesson and therefore it has a huge role in the motivation of a student. If a student is reading a text or watching a video they are a passenger in the class, the direction the class takes does not depend on them as they cannot alter the material being studied therefore this implies a level of detachment on their part, they are not engaged in what is being taught. However if they form a part of a conversation they help to steer the course of the lesson and so they will be more engaged. Even though writing is also an active activity I would prioritise speaking over it, often it is less conducive to the needs of the student and it could detract from the vibrancy of the class. Whilst I would give priority to speaking that is not to say that I would ignore listening and reading. A listening activity would be invaluable in introducing different accents to the student and a reading activity would present the student with formats of english that they are likely to encounter such as email and news. To ensure a holistic approach to teaching english, listening and reading should be included however they would play a minor role.
Equally, for a holistic approach to teaching english I think that addressing all areas of language is vital. In the latter half of the 20th century language classes began to diverge from the traditional grammar-heavy layout and began to explore new territory believing that there were better ways to teach foreign languages by focusing on different areas such as vocabulary and pronunciation. One such method is The Silent Way, using silence from the teacher to strengthen the student’s sense of autonomy and in which pronunciation is fundamental. Another is The Callan Method, this heavily criticised method drills phrases into students without giving them an opportunity to consolidate the grammar or vocabulary. Personally, there are things from methods like these that I can see the benefit of and that I would incorporate into my teaching method. In The Silent Way for example, the general focus on the autonomy of the student particularly appeals to me, the idea of removing the master-student classroom relationship is something that I believe would heighten the student’s motivation to learn. I also think that a stronger presence of pronunciation would benefit the student as I believe that bad pronunciation detracts from the fluency of the student. The Callan method however is something that I would stay clear of. As the classes are completely scripted this method does not allow for the fluidity that I believe is necessary for the engagement of the student, the importance of which I stated previously.
With that said an example of how I would structure a course and a class would be as follows. Firstly I would need to develop a syllabus and to do this I would need to establish what the students know and don’t know and what they have to learn. As I mentioned earlier, these needs and objectives could vary significantly given the many different students that would want to learn english however as a general rule I think it is extremely important to strike a balance between things that would be too easy for students and things that would be too hard for students. I would not want to waste time on things that the students already can do and equally I would not want to try to teach students things that they will fail to learn. For this reason I would aim activities at students that are just above their comfort zone, just outside the realms of what they already know. I feel that this will engage the students by not boring them and it will also not overwhelm them with being too difficult. For individual classes I would prepare by having a range of topic, structure and vocabulary activities ready and I would loosely plan to dedicate five minutes at the start of the class to warming the students up using either quick questions or general conversation and then following that I would give around fifteen minutes to each activity. It should be noted that this is a loose plan however, as I have already said, lessons should be directly influenced by the student and they should have a hand in leading the lesson on its appropriate path and so despite having selected activities deemed appropriate by me for the lesson I would be completely ready respond to the needs of the student which I imagine would not be specifically stated in class but would present themselves as the class developed. I would also select around 5 pieces of target language for each activity that I would hope to teach the student during the class and this target language would be regularly reviewed throughout the class as I believe that just going over it once is a step backwards more than anything; the student will not remember it and it will be a moment of darkness when the student thinks back on the class which would create a feeling of being overwhelmed in the student which would ultimately detract from their motivation. Doing this I feel that I would ensure a successful class, that the students would be engaged, their motivation would remain high and they would be learning things appropriate to their individual cases. With that being said, that activities in my classes would be a base from which the lesson could grow, a general rule that could be applied to my classes would be that of Jeremy Harmer, stated in his book ‘How to Study English’ , my classes would contain the elements which he outlined, Engage, Study and Activate.
The vehicular language of my classes would be english and assessment would be informal. Having gone through the education system from a young age to my mid twenties I can confidently say from my own experience and that of my peers that formal assessment tests not your ability of the subject but your ability to handle stressful situations and to cram your short term memory with relevant information. I am not testing stress levels of students but their improvement in english and so any assessment would be carried out informally in class. The difference that would exist between a beginners class and a class of advanced students would be the content of activities and the grading of my language. I will be very careful to steer clear of a trap that I have seen some english teachers fall victim to, that of confusing a student’s inability to speak a language that is not their mother tongue with low intelligence. Above all I hope to teach with complete equality and transparency between myself and the student.