All of us, at least once, came up with an idea that it would be just amazing to speak many foreign languages. However, this idea was usually followed by the assumption that it is too late to learn a new language or that we are not gifted enough to succeed in it. So how many chances have we lost by a mere fear of failure?
Since I was brought up in a bilingual family, I know what it means to acquire more than one language and literally shift between languages and cultures. It enriches your personality and helps to understand one simple maxim – all languages have much more in common than we think. So it does not matter how old you are and what your mother tongue is – you are “predisposed” to speak any human language in our world if you want to.
Learning languages is not about being extraordinary talented, or having an excellent memory, or even living in a multilingual environment. It’s your own motivation that becomes the quintessential element of your successful acquisition of any language. Yes, any language (!!!), no matter how different from your mother tongue it is or how challenging it might appear! The very first step is to fight away your fears and to start enjoying your learning!
Your motivation can come from anywhere – maybe you want to travel the world or you have a friend or relatives abroad, maybe you want to understand your favorite songs or watch the original movies, or you strongly believe it can be beneficial for your career, etc. The most important thing is that your motivation must always be fueled so that you keep improving.
As a teacher I do my best to help my students to learn a language in the most effective and enjoyable way. I am always involved in the teaching process, because I believe that it’s my “duty” to guide the students through all their “hardships” during the course. I understand my students’ difficulties and mistakes very well, since I learnt and keep learning foreign languages myself. So we are in the same boat! I do appreciate a friendly atmosphere in my class where I can have a role of a guide, a psychologist and a friend. The whole course is taught in English, being a target language. Even on the lowest levels if a student makes a question in his mother tongue, the answer will be given only in English. It works perfectly to make a student use and understand English even in a very basic way from the very beginning, being the only way of his interaction with a teacher. I would call it “the survival principle” when we get adapted to the difficulties by reshaping our way of thinking and behavior. However, thelanguage used by a teacher should be graded, depending on the student's level. There is no sense in using advanced topic and native-like convesation with the students on a lower level. It will completely confuse and discourage the student. If the student makes a mistake or mispronounces a word, I will never stop and correct him right away. All students learn from their errors and should not be afraid of making them. This is how we acquire our mother tongue. We start assimilating it in a natural way and become aware of our own mistakes. However, while the students on the lower levels should focus on fluency, the higher level students should pay attention to the accuracy in the use of grammar structures and vocabulary, since they should develop the self-awareness and self-correction in their communicative performance.
Regarding my teaching approach, I always adjust it to my students’ needs. The reasons why we start learning a new language can be very different. So my students’ goals are of the primary importance. For instance, if a student needs to get trained for the Cambridge exam, the whole course should be arranged taking into account the requirements and the format of this exam. If it is an English course for the specific purposes regarding professional or academic language, all materials used in class will focus on the corresponding vocabulary and topics. Usually, I stick to a communicative approach, which allows to develop all the necessary skills while acquiring the fluency in conversation. The ability to communicate in a foreign language from the very beginning is very encouraging, because when we come to class we expect to start talking freely as soon as possible. I do not say that grammar, listening and writing are not that important, but I consider them rather as the tools to successfully use the language in the real life situations. There is no use in drilling if a student is unable to interact with the outer world. There are students who have brilliant results in writing and grammar tests, but fail completely when it comes to speaking. The communicative approach helps the students to become much more confident language users and enables them to master their target language in a more practical way. When the students realize how many topics they can speak about quite fluently, they feel more motivated to keep improving. Moreover, this approach “imitates” the natural way of L1 language acquisition – just as a child assimilates the main rules and structures by means of experimenting with language in a real conversation.
The syllabus is another important element of the teaching process. It helps the teacher to organize the individual program in the most efficient and coherent way, according to the level and the goals of each student. Apart from that, it helps to “monitor” students’ improvement during the course and cover all the necessary aspects of a target language. I always use different materials in class that can be both useful and engaging. Since I want to create the language immersion for my students, I use authentic materials that reflect the real language in use, such as the newspaper articles, blogs, interviews, ads, TV-programs, cartoon, songs, etc. It may sound incredible, but even a rap song can be a source of the useful grammar structures and a new vocabulary!
For example, the framing topic of the class is “Eating out” at the intermediate level. This topic will be our melting pot into which we’ll add anything we consider important for this session. Every single section of the lesson must be interconnected to avoid a “patch-work” format. The class will begin with a warm-up section to make our students disconnect from their “native reality” and transcend into the English speaking one. It may include random questions or just a friendly TS interaction. The second section includes the vocabulary related to the framing topic. The vocabulary is never given as a list of words with definition to be memorized. It is rather a text or a video in which the student can “decipher” the meaning of the new words through the context. At the end of this section, by means of questions or a short conversation with a teacher “trigger” the use of this new vocab in context. The third section includes a new grammar structure, which should be presented in numerous examples and only then explained as a structure. The inductive method is the best one in this case. It is very important to make the student assimilate and, consequently, put into practice the grammar structure learned in class. The next section is reading and a following discussion. Both a text and a topic to discuss should include the vocab and the grammar seen before. The reading part works as a starting point for discussion. Here, a student practices reading comprehension and gets more information about the topic for the speaking part. The conversational part of the lesson should be performed in a form of a real spontaneous talk and a TS dialogue. Here, the fluency is much more important than accuracy, because the primary goal of the whole session is The English Language In Use. The accuracy should not be completely disregarded, but we should focus more on the ability to express ideas in a more or less free way, especially on the lower levels. The session ends with the wrap up questions, so that the student leaves the class clearly knowing what he has learned and which topic he has covered.
As to the evaluation, I consider the formative assessment approach as the best option to monitor learning process and to provide ongoing feedback. This approach allows to identify the strong and the weak points of the student and to modify the teaching techniques. I would not use the summative assessment, because it is focused mainly on the result obtained at the end of the course, which is not fair enough. There are many students who are brilliant during the whole course, but, unfortunately, do not do their best at the final exam. In this case, their grade does not reflect the real fulfilment of the expected outcomes. Since the language learning is a continuous process, it should be evaluated on a daily basis regarding the efforts and outcomes. Apart from that, the formative assessment provides a clear picture for a teacher to analyze where the approach failed, what areas should be improved and which subject matters should be included or eliminated.
In summary, whatever teaching style we use, it must be oriented towards every single student’s needs and goals. There is no an ideal approach to make the language learning successful, but rather the wisely used combination of different ones. It is a very challenging task for every teacher to find the most effective way to make the students immerse into a target language environment. Apart from that, the language should be acquired in a natural way through interaction. For I believe, that for successful language learning the student should be involved in real communication, so that the language becomes meaningful and “palpable” for him. And we, as teachers, open the door into an amazing world of other cultures, new opportunities and experiences for our students.