My own approach to language teaching
by Iveta Ramonaite
I think that everyone has had at least one influential teacher in their lives. It might be that you have looked up to your primary school educator or was inspired by a professor at your university. The time or place does not play such an important role here; what matters is that teachers have the ability to affect and inspire students of all ages to strive for success and greatness. They have the power to motivate students and because of this, it is crucial that teachers understand their role and importance in education. We, as teachers, have to facilitate students’ learning and point them in the right direction. We have to be resourceful, understanding, creative and ambitious in order to make the learning process enjoyable for both us and our students. We have to take on certain roles in the classroom, set certain objectives and goals to guide our students and base our vision of teaching on specific teaching approaches. In this essay I will briefly discuss key concepts in language teaching and present my own teaching approach.
Language learning and teaching has changed dramatically over the years. Even though it was previously based on Grammar-Translation Method where students had to memorize grammar rules and there was very little attention to other skills, now teachers have a wide variety of teaching approaches and methodologies to choose from. The Eclectic Approach is the one that I would present to my students, while it incorporates different language teaching approaches depending on students’ age, motivation, needs, and specific lesson goals. For example, one classroom activity might be based on a Communicative Approach where students focus on certain skills and real, meaningful language; I can also apply Task-based Instruction to another activity the same day and encourage my students to use the target language while performing meaningful tasks. The options are endless and I think that there is no single, best way to language teaching. However, I would focus on Communicative Approach and Direct Method while both of them include characteristics that I personally find the most helpful for learners: Communicative Approach puts emphasis on interaction and real language, whereas Direct Method emphasizes both listening and speaking and only uses the target language to communicate meaning.
When creating a course plan and setting objectives, many factors should be taken into account. Therefore, I still do not have a clear vision of a syllabus as it depends mostly on the kind of students I would have and on their needs. However, I would certainly use situation-based, function-based and task-based syllabi, as none of them focus on grammar. Also, these syllabi aim at more entertaining and fun classes, and that is what I would like to achieve myself – an environment where students can feel stress-free. Moreover, students’ needs can also influence learning outcomes. For example, it is important if students need English for Specific Purposes (ESP) or English for Academic Purposes (EAP), because then classes have to be prepared accordingly. If a student only wants to learn business English, then classes have to be structured around vocabulary. Also, what is your students’ learning style? Is it more visual, kinesthetic or auditory? As most of the students I have met (including myself) tend to memorize visually, I would certainly bring different realia to the classroom, encourage my students to create associations when learning new vocabulary and write down key words/concepts. Elicitation can also be effective in learning. If a student does not understand some word, for example, I would ask other students to explain it first or for the same student to try and figure it out by himself. Only if nobody really knows the answer would I intervene and give it to my students, as I believe that it is more beneficial to elicit information than to give quick answers without making students think.
No matter how the syllabus would be structured, I would only use the target language in my classroom. If students’ have a very low language proficiency level, I would teach them generic words first to help them express themselves in an easier way and would grade my language. If the students have a higher level, then it is easier, as they are already familiar with the language and are ready to learn more complex words and structures. As classroom might be the only place where students can practice new language, it would be prohibited to use the mother tongue. Students need to get out of their comfort zone and get used to not only speaking, but also to thinking in a foreign language as it is another major factor in language learning. Also, as a teacher, I would try to clearly explain all of the topics and exercises in an understandable way and let my students focus on what I am saying and learn from it, as I believe that listening is a skill that highly influences learning process as well. All that being said, listening and speaking would be the skills that I emphasize the most, even though other micro skills (writing and reading) would also be given importance, but in higher language proficiency levels. As for certain language areas, I would certainly focus on vocabulary, grammar structures (not rules) and pronunciation while teaching my students new, fun and useful topics that they would use in their everyday life.
While I think that both fluency and accuracy are equally important, in my classes students would be able to express themselves freely and their mistakes would not be instantly corrected. However, when introducing certain structures, I would make sure that they use them correctly. As I have mentioned before, I think that elicitation is a good technique in language teaching and that is why students need to learn to correct themselves and reflect on their mistakes in order to avoid fossilization. For the same reason, grammar would be taught inductively, not deductively, as students are then given a chance to figure out a rule on their own and so make it more significant to remember and retain.
My role as a teacher would be that of a facilitator and a guide, therefore I would do my best to point my students in the right direction by trying to encourage active participation in the classroom, as lessons would be student-centered. I would try to understand their needs, moods and emotions (affective factors) and also build rapport. I think that it is important to understand your students’ temperaments as everyone is different. If a learner is an introvert, I would try not to pressure him/her too much or put the student on the spot. I know from my own experience how challenging and difficult it might be to deal with stress in the classroom when you are shy and reserved. Of course, these students cannot be left out and they need some positive reinforcement to overcome their fears, but I believe that once students are more comfortable in the classroom they will open up more and give in to learning. As for extroverts, this type of students would be given more creative and sociable tasks as they feel at ease when communicating with other people.
I think that the most important factor when teaching your students is their age and proficiency level. Kids, for example, might need more task-based activities, role-plays and games integrated into learning because it is hard for them to stay focused. Therefore, when teaching an alphabet for beginners, it is a good idea to create a song out of it so that they can move around a bit when learning and enjoy their time with friends. As for adults, lessons have to be centered around meaningful topics so that they can express their opinion. For example, they can learn new grammar structures and vocabulary while talking about politics or culture in their country, or talk about facilities in their area while using new structures such as near to or far from.
Finally, there has to be some sort of criteria to assess students’ learning and performance in the classroom. Although some people might find it old-fashioned to grade students’ work, I think that evaluation is very beneficial for students as it can motive to continue improving their knowledge. It is not necessary to grade everything, but I think it is important to evaluate students’ work during the class to make the lessons more engaging and also to check students’ understanding after every lesson. It does not necessarily need to be evaluated by receiving a mark, but by asking students to explain the new concept, give examples or situations in which it can be used, etc. In this way, students learn not only to memorize but to truly understand what they are learning and thus to make learning meaningful.
Both teaching and learning a language are complex processes that need to be looked into with consideration. As we can see, there are many factors that can influence learning such as students’ needs, motivations and even emotions. Teachers job is to analyze these factors in order to understand their students and thus to facilitate the learning process, and that is exactly what I will do with my students. I will try to make the classes interesting and fun so they look forward to learning; I will try to get rid of anxiety and tension in the classroom as it makes students nervous; I will place emphasis on communication and fluency while discussing a wide range of relevant topics or assigning fun activities. Finally, I will focus on real and meaningful language, bring in authentic material to the classroom and expose my students to the target language as much as possible. I think that there is nothing more rewarding than to be influential in someone’s life. That being said, I will work hard to help my students reach their goals, adapt to their needs and hope to see their progress.