I believe that, for something to be attractive to people, it must be interesting, in one way or another. Learning a language is no different. One of my goals as a teacher is to make the process as fun and interesting as possible for my students, thus motivating them to continue to improve their knowledge, even when learning English is not their personal decision, but an obligation imposed on them by their boss.
I like to believe that each learner has, at least, one goal they wish to achieve by learning English. The most fundamental one, I think, is to be able to communicate with others, amongst many others. The techniques I use for teaching will, of course, change depending on what these goals are. For example, for a student that wishes to take and pass an official English exam, I would strive to get them accustomed to both grammar exercises and topic activities, but I wouldn’t forget to also insist on vocabulary or pronunciation since the official English exams require students to have all around adequate language skills (reading, speaking, writing and listening).
However, for someone that mostly wishes to travel, for example, I would mostly focus on the speaking and listening skills, putting writing and reading in secondary positions since being able to just communicate, to understand and make oneself understood, would be more important, and they would need more topic activities and vocabulary practice.
As I have mentioned, I wish to make the process of learning as least boring as possible for the students. For this, I would use materials that derive as much as possible from the traditional textbook. Thus, I strongly believe that media content, such as soundtracks, videos, music, images, etc., is a great help in learning a foreign language and I intend to use it whenever possible to achieve an easier learning experience for the student. Of course, the materials would be chosen so that they are relevant to the students’ situations and, if possible, designed with native speakers in mind since then they will be “the real deal”.
One example of an activity using the above-mentioned materials would be having the students listen to a song in the Target Language (TL) and try to understand every single word. The students would write down the words they understand and, at the end of the activity, compare notes. In this way, they would have to practice all four language skills.
The methods that have most inspired my approach are the Direct Method (since I believe teachers should only use TL) and the Audio-Lingual Method (by creating a praise system, which is very beneficial for learning). The Content-based instruction, Task-based instruction, Participatory approach were also a great source of inspiration.
I believe that the use of the student’s mother tongue (L1) should be avoided at all costs by the teacher, who should only speak in the TL. However, if students can build their confidence in their English abilities by being able to check the meaning of a particular word in their mother tongue, I have nothing against this aid. I think that be doing so the student will gain more confidence in their listening and understanding of the TL and, ideally, will not need to use this crutch in the future at all. At the same time, the use of cognates will help students understand concepts that might be difficult to grasp at first.
A teacher should be many things for their student: an organizer of activities, a manager of students’ learning, but also a conversationalist. In my opinion, teachers have various obligations: they need to reinforce, for example, grammar rules and pronunciation by modelling first for the student and having them repeat; also, “heal” students’ mistakes; and “summon” new content into the student’s world by introducing new vocabulary and structure and putting the student in different, imaginary, situations. If I were to compare a teacher to a deck of cards, I would say a teacher needs to be a Joker (jack of all trades that can adapt to the learning needs of the students).
At the same time, the students’ role should not only be passive, in my opinion. Students are not there to only be talked at, they are an important (probably the most important) part of the process. I believe that students need to have an active role in the classroom. They should be the managers of their own learning. It is for this reason that I believe that students should propose, occasionally, the topics they are most interested in discussing. This, of course, implies that some of the responsibility of the lesson will fall on their shoulders, but only occasionally, and, as I said, I believe students should be responsible, to some degree, of their own learning.
Of course, allowances can be made depending on the age or level of the student. I believe children need a different approach than adult learners since their attention span and honesty made of them rather special learners. Thus, I would introduce more games and competitions, as well as storytelling and roleplaying, during children’s classes to keep them interested. Also, Total Physical Response could be used for younger students to stimulate their interest and call their attention back to the proposed activities if they begin to get bored.
As for changes depending on the level, beginners would have more basic vocabulary than more advanced students, and the emphasis will be in making them remember vocabulary and structure rather than pronunciation. Proper pronunciation (except for the most basic and important of words) can be developed in the higher levels. At the lower levels, I believe it’s more important to make the students leave behind their fear of talking in a foreign language and communicate rather than properly pronouncing every single word, since constantly correcting their pronunciation would interrupt the flow of the conversation.
In terms of assessment, I believe the most effective way of assessing a student’s level and knowledge is the formative assessment since it implies a process, without any fixed exams. The reason why I believe it is the most useful is because, in my own experience as a student, I remember with dread the exams I had to take and the anxiety they caused me, even if I had studied and knew the materials quite well. Also, tests can only provide a small clue of the students’ real knowledge since other factors (stress, tiredness, boredom, etc.) can influence the results. Of course, if the student’s goal is to pass an official examination, like a Cambridge exam, then the summative assessment (exams or tests) might be necessary for them to get rid of nerves and transform the experience in routine so they will not get nervous on the day of the real examination.
One of the most interesting types of assessment that I can think of is peer assessment. Most of the time, we can only see the negative parts of our ideas, however, where we see something bad or that needs to be improved, someone else might be able to see the positive aspects and, through, peer assessment, share those positive aspects with the creator. I believe this is very important to help build confidence in oneself.
I believe a syllabus can be an important tool for both the teacher and the student, especially as a guideline for the course content and the objectives we (both teacher and student) hope to attain. At the same time, the syllabus should be changed to adapt as much as possible to the student and their goals, since someone willing to take an official English exam might have different needs than someone unwilling to take it.
Finally, I believe that, as teachers, we have to learn from other teachers as well as from our students. I belive we can evolve as both professionals and people by sharing our experiences in teaching, learning, and life in general with each other.