Being new to the world of teaching I have found it fascinating to learn all the new methods and techniques used in modern day language teaching. There is such a wide variety of tools and information out there, that I believe can fit any personality and teaching style.
I have always had a fascination with language, but never had the opportunity to immerse myself in another language and culture to learn one. I was taught my second language, afrikaans, in the typical school-style grammar translation method. Having an impatient and intolerant teacher, I ended up spending most of these classes confused or in trouble for my lack of interest. Being a more visual and kinaesthetic learner, I became unmotivated to learn the language and, unfortunately, never obtained much proficiency in it. I have found the more direct, conversational approach used in oxford to be a far more effective method and am excited to expand on my experience in the new and interesting world of teaching.
Firstly, how do we learn? Reading, writing, listening and speaking are the four macro skills when it comes to learning a new language. When we learn our mother tongue, we learn through listening first, then speaking and later writing and reading. It only stands to reason that learning a second language in the same order would be most effective. Therefore, my teaching style will be primarily focused on these two mediums of learning so that students can learn to express their thoughts, concepts and opinions. Reading and writing are secondary and can be taught one a student has reached a recognisable level of communication. My classes are taught entirely in English to get the students thinking in the language they are attempting to learn, with the exception of the very beginner classes. In my view, there would need to be some translation. If I had to go to a Spanish class with no translation, I would quickly become frustrated and give up.
Having no prior teaching experience I can only relate my own style of teaching to what I have experienced personally in learning. Having recently moved to Barcelona with no prior knowledge of Spanish, I feel I have a good perspective on the numerous difficulties one can encounter in such a situation. I have found myself to be highly motivated to learn Spanish just so I can get around with ease and talk to people in general. Realising this, I feel it’s important to consider the reasons and motivations behind students taking up English language. Therefore my first step is to discover the students reasons for learning English, and structure some of my class content around these factors. For example, the student wishes to learn English for travel, then I would construct scenarios and activities focusing on the target language needed. This would help the student feel there is a use for the knowledge he or she is being taught and remains interested in the class.
The next point I consider in teaching is motivation. What motivates the student to come to my classes and how will I motivate those who are feeling discouraged. After all, it can be frustrating learning a new language and students may become disheartened and un-motivated. If a student is intrinsically motivated then half our work is done already. This is the ideal situation but the reality is it isn't always going to be like this. This is where having a good connection and rapport comes into play. I always endeavour to discover a little bit about the student’s likes and interests, and forge a kind of connection between myself and the student. Then if I feel the student is losing focus, I can switch to a topic more closely aligned with things they enjoy talking about. I have noticed how enthusiastic students I've observed get when they talk about a topic they are interested in, and this can be used to the teachers advantage. It is also beneficial as it encourages discussion back and forth between each other and the teacher, which is the reason we are here in the first place.
Another aspect I feel is important is to keep class fun. As Winston Churchill once said, “Personally, I am always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught.” Often we label the idea of learning a new skill, or in this case language, as fun and exciting, but the process or experience that creates the end goal can often be boring and tiring. I believe the process of learning can be fun and exciting if we just adapt our teaching styles to suit the various needs of the students. Fun has a positive effect on motivation and mood and also determines the effectiveness of the class. Some ways I would add fun to my classes will be to implement some simple games and role-plays. This is also beneficial as it gets the students thinking in the target language and not just memorising endless lists of grammar based information. This isn't to say grammar is not important, but a good balance between the two is what I aim for.
I would structure my course to have a mix of vocabulary exercises, grammar and interactive games or role-plays, keeping each exercise between ten to twenty minutes long to ensure students don’t get bored and lose focus. In the beginner classes I have to really think out of the box and be creative as my knowledge of Spanish is still very basic. Flash cards, simple illustration and hand gestures are all tools I use to get across what I’m looking for. A positive here is that both the student and myself are forced to find ways to understand each other and therefore encourages growth in the target language. In the lower level classes, exercises would be kept to very basic question and answer based activities and the objective would be to familiarise them with some new terms and grammar. I believe its important not to overload the lower level students with too much new information as it will be harder for them to retain. Rather then varying the class too much, the focus would be more on the target language and drilling techniques to ensure that new concepts are fully understood and implemented before moving on to the next area. As the students progress to higher levels, more complex grammar and vocabulary would be introduced, but always ensuring that concepts are fully understood before moving to the next activity. As I feel the students are progressing, I would allow the class to a more conversational style of learning, broadly basing them on a topic or exercise and allowing things to move on organically. This is where its important that I keep an open mind to my classes and remain flexible, as every class would need to be constantly adjusted to cater to the each students unique needs and requirements in learning. It is also essential to revise and reinforce lessons throughout the class to ensure all the information has been assimilated.
Younger teenage and child learners do not see learning English as a need, and are not motivated in the same way. Having a fun and entertaining learning environment would be advantageous to the younger learners. Using more TPL teaching methods with kids as they tend to have more energy and learn best when able to use that energy “doing” things so to speak. There are many ways a teacher can use this to their advantage by keeping classes more interactive with games, movement based activities and visual stimuli.
Personally, my role as a teacher would be more laid back approach, more as a guide to set out activities and then allow the students to work with each other and using me as a sound board for their language. This is where plenty of preparation is important, always having a selection of tools, games and activities on hand should the situation and need arise for new ideas or direction. This also gives students a chance to use their imagination and keep things interesting in the classroom. I am also there to provide positive feedback and encouragement when needed. One has to be very intuitive when correcting as one can easily destroy a students confidence with overly or negatively correcting.
In conclusion, the key factors to keep in mind when teaching a class are flexibility, adaptability and keeping the focus on the students and how they are responding to the content. One can very quickly tell when the subject matter is of little or no interest to the student and its important to be intuitive here and adapt your style to keep the classes fun and interesting. As long as the students are conversing in English and interacting with each other and the teacher, then knowledge is being gained. As with all things, practice makes perfect.