There are two fundamental elements within my understanding of how language should be taught. The first, and most important, is that the primary concern of language teachers should be affective Factors. The success of a student’s learning is primarily determined by their motivation, self-confidence and enthusiasm for what is clearly a long and difficult process; namely – the process of learning a second language. However, that long and difficult process need not be arduous!
The second fundamental element to language teaching we must all take into account is that that language learning is sequential. Exactly the best way of delineating the stages of language-acquisition is up for debate, however, with the information and experience I have gathered I can propose how best I believe it may be laid out as a broad blueprint.
Firstly, bearing the sequential aspect of language learning in mind I think it is important to stress that different methodologies are appropriate for students of different levels. No single existing teaching methodology is so holistic that it is entirely appropriate for teaching students of all ages and all stages and so the methodologies we utilize must therefore also be sequential.
For me there are two main stages of Language Learning – the Comprehension stage and the Communication stage. These are better understood in teaching terms as two different approaches we should take and use within our teaching practice. Within these stages we will use different methodologies that focus on different Macro and Micro skills.
Stage One –Comprehension:
I propose that for beginner Language Learners a combination of the Total Physical Response Method and the Direct Method be used in conjunction. TPR is extremely useful in that it that engages all aspects of VAK [Visual, Audio and Kinaesthetic]. At this stage – for children, adolescents and adults – it is vital to engage all centres of the learner’s brain. The reason for this focus – particularly the focus upon kinaesthetic learning [whereby the student actively embodies imperative commands given and demonstrated by the instructor] – is simple. As children we learn language through observation, gradually developing an internalised understanding of linguistic input that is closely linked to our physical behaviour. Our cognitive learning process is informed through linking linguistic cues with physical actions. In this way our language is directly linked to the tactile world we see, hear, feel, taste and smell. Whether with children or adults, teaching students who are learning a new language is greatly advantaged by de-associating [in the case of adults] words in the taught language from that of the learner’s native tongue – and instead associating them with physical, visual and auditory cues. In this way we can circumvent some of the interlanguage challenges that inevitably arise with second-language acquisition.
Furthermore, to actively engage and stimulate students of all ages in this manner is extremely effective in breaking down crucially important Affective Factors such as boredom, stress, lack of confidence etc. by getting them to participate actively and animatedly.
Success in this instance is then not measured by ticking the various criterion of a forgettable list of grammar-structures and vocabulary fields, but is rather measured according to participation.
So the Direct Method element involved at this stage of learning is that grammar is taught inductively. Contrary to the classic Direct Method, students at this point should not be expected to exceed more than 50% of Talking Time. The idea here is that through internalising and processing input, students – with encouragement and positive reinforcement – will begin to communicate when they have received and processed the necessary amount of input and this progression should occur as organically as possible.
Stage Two: Communication.
After students begin speaking [externalising input] without significant requirement of Physical Response cues, then it is time for them to progress from the comprehensive approach of Language Learning to the Communicative approach, which is the approach they will follow for the remainder of their Language Learning journey.
At this point we may use as a blueprint the Direct Method of teaching, with the exception of emphasising Speaking skills over Reading and Writing skills unless the requirements of the student specifically require improvement of Reading and Writing as much or more than Speaking skills. In general we may say that Speaking skills will take precedence over Reading and Writing, but that Reading and Writing skills will be taught in conjunction with Speaking skills using the same or similar inductive techniques.
As our teaching methods will be inductive our focus will be on content and use rather than explicit formal study of structures. In this sense we may understand that Implication is always better than Explication unless explication is impossible to avoid. At the foundation of this methodology is the basic Q and A format whereby the student is encouraged to proactively answer and discuss the Target Language injected into our questions. In this way Target Language may be used as anchorage around which grammatical structures may be taught inductively, explored and strengthened through use and practice.
Home work: Pre-class preparation is entirely optional. This is because the primary requirement of the teaching philosophy is that student’s learning-process should be self-motivated. Home-work activities should also therefore be as engaging and fun as possible. An example of an optional homework activity would be the watching of a TV series or topic-based Youtube series that correlates with the interests of the student. For example, if the student is highly interested in History, a series of Youtube videos that focus on the students preferred area of history be used as an after-class activity from which Target Language is selected and used as a starting point within every class. However, the viewing of videos in class-time should always be avoided, as class-time is use-oriented.
Further to the notion that learning should be oriented around the student’s own motivations, so assessment should be also. If a student has not personally chosen to partake in English lessons then assessment should be divided into two stages depending on the level of the student.
If the student is in the Comprehensive stage of the learning process then assessment should be based on participation. The most important aspect of a student’s learning process when engaging with Total Physical Response is that they actively take part in performing and embodying the content taught. As I have expressed, the progression from listening to speaking should be organic and I believe that provided the student actively participates in engaging with input, their transition from listening to speaking will correlate with their participation.
Once students are actively communicating, a formative approach to assessment should be taken whereby the assessment of pronunciation, vocabulary, use of grammatical structures and spelling is assessed using assigned project activities such as presentations, and regular quizzes that document as well as assess students progress so that the assessment may act as feedback that informs the student of their progress.
Finally, teaching should be limited to the language being taught. Language should be graded appropriately to students of different levels so that it remains just within the limits of the student’s comprehension, but beyond their ability to use. The faster a student can get used to the natural use of the language being taught the sooner they can begin to engage in real-world exchanges.