THE ACQUISITION OF LANGUAGES
Learning a language or acquiring it, is a process through which we, human beings get the abilities to communicate with our peers, in this way we learn to use sounds, words and simple and complex structures to express what we think, what we feel or more important, what we need.
First of all we have to know we have to know what a language is, and most specifically, in this case we are talking about human language. It could be described as a system that uses vocal symbols for human communication. We also use non-verbal communication such as signs, marks, body movements or facial expressions. All this elements are part of what we call human language.
When we talk about language acquisition frequently we think about the first language acquisition, and this refers to the way children learn their native language. This language is acquired in a natural way, by listening and repeating the language used by the people around us, watching adds, signs, the TV, etc. This is an "easy" way to learn a language, because when we are kids, we are like white canvas, we don´t have a first language that confuse us as it happens when we are learning a second one.
There´s another type of language acquisition, the second language acquisition, and this is the topic what we are going to focus on.
Over the history, as an attempt to improve the way teachers convey a new language to learners, many methods have been created and developed. We are going to name some of the different teaching techniques used by teachers and how they work on students.
The Berlitz method: it´s said that this method uses a natural way to learn L2. You have to listen, repeat and speak. Translation is eliminated so you start speaking from the very first day. There´s a lot of grammar.
The audio-lingual method: it´s a method created for army people, so it is very rigid and old fashioned, they use a lot of repetitive drills and the teacher is the dominant character in class, so the students are not active, they just act as a response to what the teachers asks for.
The silent way: as its name says it, silence is used in an extensive way in this technique. Learners develop their own "inner criteria" for correctness. They have to be observant all the time and have a positive attitude. They are very independent from the teacher. But since the teacher does not speak very much at class, students are confused about pronunciation.
Suggestopedia: the arrangement of the class and the use of music are very important here. Some yoga techniques are used in order to relax student for a better concentration. Its aim is to develop a good conversation beetwen students in a short period of time. They have to memorize vocabulary and habits of speech. It uses a concrete plan (syllabus) to learn every part of the course. It´s also and old school method since the teacher takes an authoritative attitude and students a passive one.
Total Physical Response (TPR): It´s a technique that, as it name says it, uses a lot of body movements and facial expressions to help the student to assimilate the words as he relate them to the movements or gestures used during the class.
Callan method: this technique is based in an almost total participation of the teacher, as he ask questions to the students, repeating them a couple of times, then he says the answers and the learners repeat them too, word by word. It works a lot in the pronunciation and for this aim it´s really good, but it has a great disadvantage; it does not encourage the students to say their own words, they get used to say only the answers given by the teacher.
Visual-literacy techniques: in this type of teaching, a lot of images and videos are used to help the students to relate what they see with the meaning of this images and videos. It is helpful to help the new vocabulary to pass from the short-term memory to the long-term one. To learn vocabulary it is quite good, but as many others techniques, it does not motivate students to talk.
THE OXBRIDGE METHOD
Now I want to talk about the OXBRIDGE method. I found this as one of the best designed and prepared. I love the idea of having a syllabus to work with, and the plan made by oxbridge is just great. Since you start the class, students are immediately pushed to change the way they normally think by the quick questions. These are a bunch of questions made haphazardly to the students for them to answer in the language they are acquiring and start thinking in that language.
From now on, I am going to talk a lot about the oxbridge method because I am grasping this method for myself and this will be the method I´m going to use to teach ESL.
I dare to say this is the best way to teach and learn, not because I had taught with many other methods, however, since I studied English for many years, I had the opportunity to try quite a few teachers with different techniques or without them -really I found some of these-.
Well, since I´m becoming a a teacher, what I would do first, before I start teaching a student, I´d like to know if he has a previous knowledge of the English language. I would do this through a test, so I know where I can start. At the same time I always like to connect with the people I interact with, so I would try to ask about their families, professions, studies, etc. I think the affective factors are really important to define the relationship between student and teacher. If students feel this connection, the will be eager at class and therefore, willing to learn English. Remember you will have to take different roles, you´ll have to be, teacher, psychologist, good listener, adviser, friend.... Create rapport with they!!!!
Once you, as a teacher know what is the age, level and circumstances of your students, you´ll be able to prepare a plan -syllabus- for your students. Since we already have this plan being members of Oxinity, it is much way easier just to adapt it to the needs of every student. We will do this by choosing the most interesting topics for each of them. Classes must be interesting always. If you see the students are getting bored, stop immediately and change the activity. Don´t ever use the same techniques to obtain different results. Each person has their own needs and based in this affirmation, we have to be aware of this personal needs to offer them the best they can be given. For instance, you can´t teach in a kid in the same way you teach an adult. All this kind of characteristics and features
have to be evaluated in your students.
Another factor we have to take in account is the interlanguage. A learner of a L2 always is going to have this problem, they are going to try to use the same words and structures they use in their mother tongue. Learning a language is a slow process, don´t expect too much from you or your students. You and them could get overwhelmed if expectatives are too high. Don´t use their mother tongue while you are talking to them, speak in a loud, clear and slow way. Don´t ever scream to children, this has an negative result on them. If a student does not understand what you are saying, use body movements, cognates, gestures, images... there´s a lot of tools you can use to help your students.
Don´t lose your main aim. What we want is the students learn to communicate in the most accurate way, motivate them to talk, that is the most important of our tasks -at least for me, speaking and listening are the most important skills that we, as teachers, have to develop in our students-. We can achieve this having a well planned course. Pushing the students to talk a little bit more in every class.
But don´t be scared, being members of this project -oxinity- we have a great help. The syllabus and activities created by all the people that is part of this great enterprise. Since I´ve already made three of this activities, I feel proud of being part of this group. It´s a lot easier to work all together. I have no idea of how many members are in the community, but if everyone, make one of these every week.... That´s a lot of material to work with!!!! Now I would like to continue contributing to it, by creating more and better activities.
It feels great being Oxinity!!!!