My approach to teaching English as a foreign language.
Learning a new language takes a lot of time and effort and there is unfortunately no magic pill to get around that. With learning English as a foreign language there is however one big advantage: we can hear it, see it and read in almost all corners of the world. Even in countries where the native language is prevalent English lingers in the background from things like music and social media, all the way to your sat nav. To many it is a necessary tool in their job right up there with basic IT skills and in most countries it is the most taught foreign language. Despite the English language being so available in all it’s different forms, dialects and uses, the motivations of students to learn it are still very varied. Though for most the end goal is the same. Fluency.
As someone who has learned English as a foreign language I have come to know my own pitfalls as a learner as well as having been exposed to many different ways of teaching. These have ranged from more conversational approaches where the student participation has been valued all the way to learning nothing but grammar. In many of the classes I have taken part in the syllabus has been the same but the roles of both teacher and student have at times gone through drastic changes. The best results have always been in classes where the teacher’s function has been that of a guide to ensure a flowing conversation on predetermined topics rather than a strict authority figure pointing out your mistakes and teaching rules. It quickly became clear to me that encouraging the students and feeding their enthusiasm works better than restricting them and their creativity. This is why my approach to teaching embraces a much more conversational and student focused approach that to this day seems to be lacking in many more traditional forms of foreign language teaching. Grammar is of course an valuable tool in learning a correct way of speaking but to many it can be daunting on its own and with minimal context.
As mentioned above this approach is very much student focused and based on an ongoing conversations with the student. In my opinion it would work best when used in small groups divided by their current skill level as in my opinion language is best learned when surrounded by others. Although a group setting is be preferred people still learn and progress at different speeds which is why it is crucial that the needs of the individuals are taken into consideration. In this approach the teacher must recognize these needs in order to create a productive learning environment. Does the student want to learn a language because of their work? Or perhaps because they want to travel? Things like these factor strongly to what should be taught and what sort of exposure the students should be encouraged to get. Someone learning because they need to be able to discuss the intricacies of manufacturing has different needs to someone that wants to study English literature. Often these individual needs are overlooked at schools because groups are big and skill levels within them highly varied. In classrooms the teacher is kept as the main point of focus and does most of the talking with vocal exercises given too little emphasis. This can lead to a situation where the differences between students can become increasingly polarized. For example in cases where the student struggles to take the initiative to ask for more help, they can feel left behind which can lead to frustration and lack of motivation. To more advanced students regular class environments might not offer enough challenge and stimulus to keep them focused and help them improve their existing skills. In my approach the degree to which the teacher is to take part depends on the level of the students. In groups where the pupils know little to no English the teacher would participate more and provide a structured set of exercises whereas in the higher the level classes teacher’s role would be to get the ball rolling and help the students polish their skills.
In my method I believe the attitude, enthusiasm, personality, creativity are vital skills for the teacher to have and develop. They are to try to read the group well enough to keep the topics taught interesting and the mood positive. If the student does not feel encouraged and supported by the teacher their motivation to learn decreases which can affect the learning outcome. It should be the teachers’ prerogative to evaluate their given groups of students so that the class each pupil takes part in reflects their skill level. Movement between groups should be kept as open as possible because progress can happen both fast and slow, depending on the person. This is of course not an easy thing to implement in all settings due to financial and logistical reasons. Personally I would see this approach work best in settings where this movement is possible, like in schools.
As mentioned above the main focus in the lessons should to be on student participation with the degree of involvement by the teacher changing depending on the groups’ level. However even in well versed classes I would not encourage the teacher to follow something quite as drastic as the Silent Method as conversations often have a tendency to flow away from given topics. The teacher must remember that in class they are the figure of authority, the one with the road map to what is to be learned. However straight up discipline is discouraged as it rarely works in any way other than lowering morals. This structure in class is needed so that it can be ensured that the time spent with the teacher is effectively used and learning goals are reached. Regardless of the level of the group the most active part the teacher is to play in class is in helping students fix their mistakes. In this method corrections would be done quickly, helping the student understand where they went wrong and then letting the conversation continue. This is because I have in my personal life often seen people form habits by repeating certain grammar mistakes due to the thought that it is more important to just produce language then it is to do it correctly. To a certain point I agree with this, as the simple act of speaking can help build confidence but the teacher’s job in class should be to correct these patterns before they form and in that helping the student develop an ear for hearing when something is right, or when something is wrong. This “ear” is something that develops to most of us over time. It is intuition and on some it can be stronger than others but by helping the student to develop it can stop the common use of translating sentences from native tongue and instead make it easier and more comfortable to simply use the foreign language.
Another important factor in this approach to teaching is the simple fact that lessons are only a small part of the process of learning a language. If the student is in class only once a week it is difficult for the information to remain in memory unless actively kept there. This is where exposure to the language comes to play. As mentioned before most of us are surrounded by English in its different forms on an almost daily basis and the teachers should actively encourage the students to keep it that way. Watch movies without subtitles, emerge yourself in a book already familiar to you in your native language, listen to a podcast on a topic that interests you. There are countless of ways to expose yourself to various forms of authentic language. As most people are often put off by homework this would be a more pleasant way to keep students engaged in their own learning process. I would even have all the students share what they learned that week at the beginning of each class. It breaks the ice and lets people share things that interest them in a language new to them.
Though this approach is very much conversational, I do believe that the ability to both read and write in the language is crucial as we are often exposed to those forms of a language as well. Then how should written English be taught if such a big focus is placed on oral production of language? In an interactive, student inclusive way. Various games can be useful as people tend to like a bit of friendly competition. Reading can be encouraged by giving students articles from magazines and asking them to read them and tell what is in them to the rest of the class. The possibilities are endless and teachers should be given the chance to come with tasks of their own.
This aim of this approach is to keep the learning experience interesting and productive for both the students and the teachers. The students’ role is the most important as they are in the end in charge of their own desires and needs for learning. The teacher is the guide that makes this process possible by creating a positive, active and engaging learning environment with interesting topics they have been able to use their own creativity in creating. They are to encourage the students to not only actively participate in class but listen, read, watch and in other ways consume the language. One or two lessons a week is not in many cases enough for a full learning experience which is why the role of other sources of exposure are a highly valuable and should be also be brought into the classroom setting. I believe that this way learning is pleasant, exciting and most importantly effective.