English in Media
The society of the 21st century is a world of ubiquitous interconnectedness characterized not only by a constant flood of information but also by globalization and the worldwide influence of the English language, being so that English has become the vehicular language pretty much everywhere. Likewise, the popularity and frequency of travelling as a regular activity for the (pos)modern individual has fostered the exposition to English and the necessity of its use for global communication. More and more people tend to spend longer periods of time abroad, be it for studies, work or immigration. Additionally, a huge percentage of the information found on the Internet is in English. Therefore, the need for learning English has become widespread and it has raised many questions regarding the teaching techniques and the most effective ways of helping people acquire a proficiency in said language.
Hence, my proposal aims to combine what I consider the most practical aspects of several teaching methods, centering it on the Communicative Approach. Many other methods are based on repetition (like the Direct, the Callan or the Audio Lingual methods), on the study or translation of grammar (like the Grammar-Translation Method) or on the enhancement of vocabulary on the students’ part (like the Silent Method). However, these methodologies often show language either out of context or within precarious simulacra of contexts that might prove inefficient or confusing for the learner. Other than complete natural immersion in a target language speaking context, I believe the most effective simulated or constructed context could be achieved through the exposition to cultural texts like songs, television shows, movies, documentaries and social media. This method is tangential on emotional-based methods like (De)Suggestopedia through the use of music, and the Communicative Approach, with an aimed communication exclusively in the target language. I think these materials can spark the interest of many learners, as everybody is somehow interested in culture. By focusing the teaching of English on the understanding of this kind of cultural products, discussions on a vast array of current topics are enhanced and all kinds of linguistic situations that speakers need to deal with on a daily basis are raised. I argue that these materials motivate students in our modern society because many people base their entertainment on TV, movies, music and social media. Plus, the latter category has become an essential means of personal and social interaction, so these materials would bring up grammatical concepts and vocabulary that are very close to reality in a sufficiently natural way. By facing these materials, students are in direct contact with several accents and dialects portrayed in the cultural products, and this also allows to focus on the receptive macro skills (listening and speaking), that are often times harder to grasp and more complicated to acquire on the students own.
This proposal targets a broad spectrum of student groups, as my approach mainly innovates the choice of materials, keeping a more traditional approach on the progressive teaching of the language through the exposition to written, audio and visual texts, and the work, analysis and practice of the micro skills (pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar and spelling), this is, mixed-skills lessons. The interest of people in cultural and entertainment products appeals to their affective nature, as it is easy to touch on hot topics for every learner, and thus motivate them and give them the opportunity to dig in their motivations and objectives to learn the language, which are different for each individual but often have points in common. This method is adequate to students who want to become fluent in the language and eventually communicate effectively with native speakers, as it gives them a broad cultural background knowledge as well as linguistic. However, the demands of the market make one consider the offering of tailored classes according to the interests of the students, possibly more focused on business and conversational English, as well as preparation for official exams and certificates (Cambridge exams, TOEFL, PTE, IELTS…). My innovation plan also includes the offer of Skype classes and/or tutoring sessions, as well as a virtual space with forums and chats where students can discuss their doubts and present their questions and might be able to get help not only from their instructors but also from their peers. I deem these resources necessary to be consistent with the essentiality of the online communication these days, and with the creation of social media spaces in English. This virtual space also will contain the materials used in the classroom for the students review and practice, as well as for additional study.
An important point to consider in the proposed method is the role of teachers and students in the classroom, thus the instructors act as presenters of the topics or themes appearing in the materials, and of the target language (vocabulary), as facilitators of discussions (mediators or moderators) and as guides for the comprehension of the sources, offering an inductive type of learning for the speaking and listening comprehension. On the other hand, students are expected to develop an understanding of the language in natural speech by becoming producers of language and communicators of their own ideas and opinions regarding the topics in the target language. I consider the attitude of the teacher extremely important to create a comfortable atmosphere in which the students feel comfortable enough to speak up ad not feel intimidated or afraid of participating. I believe the adjectives describing a teacher should revolve around engaging, supportive, enthusiastic, understanding, encouraging and cheerful, although I believe in letting every instructor develop a personal style as long as there is a place for a cooperative and possibly humorous attitude. Personally, as a teacher I like to foster a relationship with my students over the course of the term, either through email, in-class, or out-of-class interactions. This may involve giving pep-talks to discouraged students, letting a student know that I really like their way of writing, and showing an interest in their life, experiences, and plans for the future. I think it is very important to establish an affective way of learning that does not hinder progress due to unnecessary frustrations on the part of students.
The lessons are organized through main topics with vocabulary sets and grammar points brought up in the materials, so the class structure is composed of a presentation of some general questions related to a certain song, an excerpt or clip of a movie, show or documentary, followed by the direct exposition (listening, visualization and/or reading of the text) and the work on the new vocabulary and grammar concepts. After these, students participate in exercises like debates, role playing, questions, etc. as mentioned previously, the materials comprise songs, lyrics, videos, clips, subtitles, pieces of news, blogs, social media excerpts, reviews, etc. As complementary work to this technique of immersion simulacra, homework is assigned with the purpose of drilling the macro skills that need more practice and might have less dedicated time in the classroom due to time restrictions, like reading and writing. The type of exercises assigned are “fill in the gaps”, verbal conjugations and grammar structures, writing of sentences, paragraphs, essays and short readings. The methods of assessment are based on unit projects (e.g. developing questions in regards to a piece of materials to present to the rest of the class), essays, quizzes/tests on grammar aspects and vocabulary. Lastly, the use of mother tongue is not allowed, because the objective is to simulate immersion, however in extreme cases and always counting on the homogeneity of the classroom mother tongue, it might be punctually used to clarify specific terms that prove confusing or hard to understand.
The variety and abundance of this kind of materials allows for an adaptation according to the age and level, for instance: for kids and lower levels adequate materials like cartoons or kids music will be used, combined with games and other exercises like dramatization or mimicry, very relatable to cultural products. For adults and/or upper levels, more controversial topics can be presented through the view of more complex content addressed to more mature individuals.
In conclusion, I base my learning system on cultural products because I believe by fostering the students’ critical thinking skills about their own culture and any other worldly issues they will be equipped to effectively face any cultural and even linguistic differences they might encounter in the use of the target language. I deem it important to constantly challenge students’ ideas about the role of culture since they are inherent to language. Yet, I believe it is important to give them enough room to make their own connections and explore these areas while providing them with clear guidelines and useful tools to do it.