There are certainly various ways of teaching English or a second language: suggestopedia based on peripherial learning authoritative teacher's role and passive role of the learner,audio lingual which is somehow similar but a little more modern, the silent way based on only showing objects without speaking, the total physical experience based on mimicking the meaning of the word and then the most modern ones: the Callan and direct method which are based on exclusive use of the second language also called target language (TL), emphasis on speaking and listening as opposed to writing and reading and use of everyday vocabulary and conversation. One of the main differences between the two is that in the first one there is a very strong emphasis on correct pronunciation and grammar whereas in the second one grammar is considered important but it is taught inductively without giving explicit rules. Learning a language is something different from acquiring one, which is the case of our mother tongue since the acquisition refers to a skill we develop from an unconscious level which goes from understanding a language to reproducing it. Learning is an activity which follows and it is a consequence of studying a language. Having said that, when teaching one has to consider first of all what are the needs and motivations of the learners, who they are ( regarding age, type of person, sex, profession and so on) and their expectations and goals.
There are certainly a lot of factors which affect the way we teach and also the way we learn . From a perspective teacher point of view I would say that first of all I would make sure I understand the reason why a student wants to learn English. Then I would make sure that I can get him or her to be able to at least communicate and express him or herself correctly. Of course if a student needs to speak the language for work or needs a specific vocabukray (legak english for example) I would make sure to satisfy his or her need and enable him or her to do that.
How would I do that? I believe that I would use a mixture of all the approaches I listed above. I think that in any method there is something which can be borrowed and work well for students. I believe for example that sometimes body language for the total physical response is the only way for some students to understand some words, as I believe that borrowing from suggestopedia the use of music (probably not baroque) and some yoga techniques could be also beneficial or the central role of the teacher from the audio lingual method which could help a learner to memorize things better. I believe though that interaction and stimulation of a student are essential for somebody to when learning anything and not only a language. In my experience as a law teacher and now as a yoga teacher I believe that keeping a class entertained and keeping their attention together with stimulating them to act is the key for them to learn.
What would I give more importance to? Well everything is important : I would certainly prefer an approach stressing more vocabulary, conversation and also pronunciation. However since grammar is a very important part in learning a language I would teach them as well “incidentally” meaning during conversation. So if I am saying” Had I known before etc. “ during our conversation I would take the occasion to explain the reverse form or introduce conditionals and go on from there.
As far as the organization of the syllabus is concerned I would prefer a function syllabus or a situation or a content based one since I believe it would be more effective in catching the student’s attention and to stimulate his or her capacity.
For example in a P4 or P5 level I would organize my class choosing a function let’s say “ Travelling by plane” or a situation “ At a party” and then I would plan activities such as vocabulary giving them phrases related to the subject matter, verbal forms, questions and answers, ask them to make sentences, show them videos or pictures thereto related, have them to read books’ extracts or newspapers’ articles but most of all engage in conversation and have them to interact with each other of more than one or only with me.
As a matter of fact I believe that the teacher is a concentration of roles and for me the most important ones are hereby summarized: a teacher is a guide for the student to follow, who analyzes his or her needs and organizes their learning. In order to do that he or she has to be a good playmaker for them to get challenged and interact and a resource for the students. The most important thing though for me is to use a little psychology because it is essential to understand who is there in front of us and be a good conversationalist with a tiny little bit of authority.
Before I mentioned that it is important to understand students and this is a fact: not only regarding their level but mostly regarding their age/sex/profession and most importantly personality. I believe empathy is what makes of a teacher a good one. Empathy is in fact important in some professions but when it come to teaching I think it becomes essential.
On the other hand also students have different roles and a teacher should adapt to whether they are passive learners, communicators or self managers. Probably communicators would be the ones who have most possibility to learn better although it certainly depends on each individual case.
Going back to the psychologist role a teacher sometimes has to cover, for example the attitude a teacher should have towards corrections should be the most aware as possible. Correcting somebody in the middle of what they are saying (obviously depending on the person) could result in a disaster for some, causing them to get paralyzed and affecting their self esteem. I remember the many times this happened to me in the past especially when made roughly and with a hard tone of voice in front of others. This would affect me for days and would really undermine my self esteem. I would always wait at the end of a conversation writing down errors and then commenting them in a soft but firm way. Should this not be possible I would interrupt as little as possible and always with a smile. Also praising could be very important for some people. It is incredible what a little of this can do to some people and really make their day!
So what would I do practically ? I would probably rely on one textbook since I have been always taught this way but I would keep it on the side. The main part of my class would be conversation about current issues with massive use of newspapers (in a digital form and in paper), videos and a good portion of body language. Given my past experience in theatre and dance I believe that even when learning something which apparently doesn’t have anything to do with it, theatre, body expression and acting can help a lot to learn and also to have some fun. Entertaining and getting entertained is very important. Also when explaining any grammar rules give examples, examples and more examples.
This approach in the beginning would probably work only for some types of students, these being the most extroverted ones but in the end I think it would work for everybody because when you get someone’s trust slowly respecting their difficulties and limitations, and having a lot of patience they would eventually let go. Of course there would always be someone resisting this kind of things and in that case as a teacher, one should adapt to their needs without giving up completely their approach. For example : a very busy manager in his 50’s could not be at all thrilled by getting entertained or interacting in a theatre-like way. Maybe he or she would just be more comfortable in taking about politics or the news or current issues plainly. In that case the teacher would have to switch to that role probably by giving only a little personal touch and some sparkle with a joke or two.
Also when having a first level (S1 for example) student interaction of this sort could be difficult but I believe there should be always some involvement of some sort even at a very basic level.
Another very important factor is our attitude: we all have bad days but a smile is always the most important thing and so is eye contact and showing interest for what the student is saying no matter what. That’s also part of the theatre approach: we need to act as if we were on stage where the public doesn’t really care if you had a bad day. In any case should this not happen always would also be understandable and also human.
In this respect if possible I try to use a yoga approach: when very stressed or angry or sad I would use some meditation or breathing techniques which could also turn out to be useful with the students. If a students is very nervous or gets blocked or frustrated I would suggest to apply some of these techniques. They usually work very well if someone doesn’t resist to them. Some people are afraid of what they don’t know so sometimes they put up some resistance and in that case it is better not to insist. It will all come with time and step by step.
One last remark about my personal approach. Mutual respect is something which is also essential in human relationships therefore this has to be obvious from the first moment teacher and students come into contact. Never let the student be disrespectful towards you and never be disrespectful to him or her.
To conclude: I believe that the future of teachers relies in interaction, getting to know who is your student, getting them involved as much as possible, entertain them, be emphatic and apply the things I wrote about before. I believe this would help students on one side and teachers on the other. Also in a world where evreything is becoming more and more technical, basic and digital a little humanity is really something to be appreciated. And never forget that smile!