My own approach to teaching
I have been learning this or that foreign language since I was in the 5th form of the secondary school. I started from English, then continued with Chinese and finally took some courses of Spanish and German a few years ago. Now I work as an interpreter and a translator of a Russian-Chinese language pair. Due to my personal experience, I may have developed such an approach to language teaching than may differ from that of Oxbridge colleagues whose translation experience may be insignificant.
In my secondary school a teacher’s approach to English teaching was mainly focused on grammar, basic structures and vocabulary. In the university since there was a rigid requirement of a counterpart US university, my classmates and I were required to prepare for a paper-based TOEFL (in a version not including a writing test). After exams all students were merited and assigned to a particular English group. My English course was very down-to-earth, which meant a rather narrow but practical application of needed skills: numerous specific grammar drills, abundant reading and painstaking learning of the profuse TOEFL vocabulary. While learning Chinese, I inevitably became a target for new learning approaches again but they were different from those used when I was learning English. Since learning of Chinese overlapped with English, I even became a victim of language attrition one day that came as a bolt out of the blue, namely, one of my productive skills – my speaking ability – lessened dramatically. This experience makes my exposure to foreign language acquisition extremely rich.
It goes without saying that translation and especially interpretation requires a solid and profound knowledge of grammar and vocabulary of both languages, not just one. At the same time to be interpreter it is obligatory to acquire a decent command of oral language, therefore speaking skills and correct pronunciation are vital. So it appears to me that a student may need to develop all macro skills during learning. To tell the truth, I never thought that I would become a translator, but I remember that I considered being a teacher of a foreign language. Who knows which skill will be the most important in future?
To teach English successfully my task as a teacher will be to create a healthy and encouraging atmosphere in the classroom. I will pursue an aim to decrease the level of anxiety and cultivate such personal factors as conscientiousness and openness in my students. I will be developing self-efficacy in my students, genuine interest in the language itself and a zest for self-education, all that being a vital part of motivation during my lessons.
One of the objectives of today’s students can be taking an EILS and TOEFL or other professional exams with a rather convoluted language section. Improving speaking abilities will also be my goal. Test preparation for such exams can be difficult, tedious and time-consuming. I may expect that some of my students will require me to lay a firm basis for their taking such exams in the future. Therefore, I argue that in order to prepare my students for a real life they should develop all macro skills during their studying in a sensible sequence, if we speak about a long-term studying. In this case, I would suggest an eclectic approach to English learning to my students. In my view, an eclectic approach combines various efficient techniques derived from all major approaches, still allowing one approach to dominate. In this case it can be the only way out. I shall borrow and adapt some efficacious activities of each approach and elaborate them, according to my objectives.
At different stages of English teaching I am going to put an emphasis on the most relevant skill and language area. In the start of this course I shall give more importance to basic grammar and vocabulary and elementary speaking. As the course evolves, the emphasis will be transferred to vocabulary and speaking, and to speaking and elementary writing at higher levels. Thus, the dominance of one approach will be fading away, while the role of another approach will be strengthening.
Since my students may need to take English exams, I will need to provide a well-adjusted balance between a grammar-translation method and communicative language teaching. However, in my approach I shall definitely minimise or get rid of translation work, countless grammar drills and learning grammar rules by rote. In some limited cases (proceeding from a language level of the students) I may also resort to a more explicit use of a bilingual method for quick and time-saving explanations of difficult grammar rules in native language, for example, in Russian. This method is useful when you need to focus on grammar rather than on vocabulary or when it is not essential to explain a meaning of every word using a target language (TL). However, it can be a wonderful and interesting task or even a game to ask students to guess the meaning of the word without using their mother tongue. The more advanced a student becomes in TL, the less s/he needs his native language to communicate in English (unless they want to become interpreters in the long run). For kids or even adult beginners we can use colourful realia and charts, and audio-visual materials by means of projection or on computer screens.
My usual class will be conducted in the following way: at the beginning after a few warmers and short talk we will selectively check home assignment from a previous class and repeat previous grammar points and structures that we leant last time. If new information still causes problems with the students, we will do exercises to fix the rules. At the end of a class we will speak on a current topic, making a full use of the target grammar, structures and vocabulary.
For new information I am going to use a traditional three-phase structure of presentation – practice – production. Presentation of a new content is fulfilled by means of a text or a dialogue, and then the new content is explained and used orally, and after students use the new information in a free conversation.
For my classes I am going to use textbooks and authentic texts from internet, newspapers or books, aiming to expose my students to real English context. Some particular classes will be dedicated to developing speaking skills by organising discussions, watching films or TV programmes. Students will be required to make reports and presentations regarding the topic. Spelling contests can also be used.
Formal tests will be used to assess students’ knowledge of correct English grammar. To test their ability to speak English, testing will be conducted in form an oral exam, when a student is asked to report on a given topic and talk about it with a teacher afterwards.
As a teacher, I will be endeavouring to become an adviser and friend to my students. At the start gross mistakes will be corrected. At higher levels minor mistakes will be tolerated for the sake of developing speaking fluency of students. My role as a teacher will vary from a model of imitation to a communication facilitator depending on the current progress of students and the objectives. Students are expected to take part in group learning and learn to work in group projects.
If we speak about English exams, the course needs to comprise separate classes for Reading, Listening, Grammar Comprehension and Writing. Each class should be provided with a relevant textbook. There should be a home work which must not however become a burden to the students. Each task and work will be assessed by a present system, 100% being the highest mark. In order to reach a goal of successful passing a formal English exam, I would give preference to a mixed syllabus, which will contain seminal ideas from both constituents: an exam and a articulate skill-based syllabus.
I will organise speaking classes or discussion lessons where a native language of the students must be totally avoided by a teacher. Grammar will be taught inductively. For such classes the teacher will be required to prepare concise, authentic and interesting texts or excerpts that can galvanise a conversation or discussion.
In a nutshell, I would venture not to employ the only teaching method and would remodel any particular approach to the specific needs of the students. For Russian beginners of any age I will lay emphasis on bilingual method, which is a creative combination of direct method and grammar (translation) method. Any difficult information will be clarified in a native language to avoid frustration and misunderstanding. As beginners accrue a sufficient vocabulary and become more proficient in grammatical structures of the TL, the focus will have to be transmitted to direct method and then to communicative language teaching. At the start my syllabus for such learners will be structure-based, covering the main language area from point of view of grammar, but converting later to a situational syllabus. For Spanish beginners, I would predominantly choose a direct method with a lavish use of audio-lingual and visual materials and a total physical response. As my Spanish students become more confident and fluent in English, we will shift the focus to communicative language teaching.
“The years of teaching, I believe, passed in vein, if the person did not realise that the majority of teachers were idiots”. You should not be a rocket scientist to admit that even a highly qualified teacher can shatter students’ desire to learn by his or her inappropriate and demotivating behaviour. Not only should a teacher constantly polish his or her language knowledge and teaching skills, a teacher of foreign language also may be advised to become a respectful authority to his or her students and be an honest and considerate person.
By adhering to such simple advice, nobody will ever say that the only thing a student retrieved from your lessons has been an ability to sit straight.