The Life Cycle Methodology – a pathway to learning English as a second language.
Throughout our life as human beings we continue to acquire knowledge. From the day we are born, to the day we take our last breath, we are constantly learning. Research has proven that the way in which we acquire knowledge, specifically languages, changes as we move throughout certain stages in life. From birth, our infancy, adolescence, adulthood and further into our elderly years we acquire knowledge using different methods, many of which we may be unaware of at the time. The Life Cycle Methodology focuses on acquiring a second language by using the methods we have used to acquire our native language, compacted into an easy to follow program with the aim of keeping students engaged. It provides the student an easy format with logical rational and focuses on what the student will naturally find challenging in order to overcome these difficulties and move into fluency and ease of communication.
For the purpose of this example we will focus on native Spanish speakers from Spain acquiring English as a second language, however this approach could be developed across any language that uses the Latin alphabet. It should be noted that many Spanish speakers seeking to develop their English already have basic grammatical knowledge of the English language and their areas for improvement are predominantly 1. verbal fluency and 2. listening comprehension.
Before diving into learning, it is a key element when adopting The Life Cycle Methodology that the teacher sets the mood for the class. The teacher leads a number of breathing exercises to welcome the class and set the mood. Encouraging students to feel at ease so the student is open to taking on new information in a relaxed state. This idea is inspired by the Georgi Lozanov methodology – Suggestopedia, and also by James Asher´s methodology - Total Physical Response where by our actions reflect the word ¨breath in, breath out¨ for example. We focus internally on our breathing essentially centering ourselves and simplifying our ¨life¨ and eliminating the distractions around us. It gives us the ability to look at learning a language as positive and enjoyable activity that enriches our life as opposed to a traditional academic lesson which some may find daunting, overwhelming and stressful. These exercises should take no longer than a few minutes.
Moving from the breathing exercises, the Life Cycle Methodology focuses on the phonetic differences between the two languages. Identifying the sounds that the Spanish speaker doesn´t poses in his/her repertoire. These are sounds that an English speaker would acquire by having listened to them repetitively throughout their formative years and thus becoming imbedded in their repertoire of sounds. This would be replicated in class by listening, to aid in comprehension, followed by a drill mimicking the sound in the same way a child would mimic their caregiver however in a more chant like meditative state. This being Stage 1, INFANCY. The start of any lesson is with English sounds. Eg. repetition of the ¨z¨ sound. Or, repetition of the ¨s¨ sound. The teacher can lead students directly from breathing into using these sounds without explanations. Similar to that of an ¨OM¨ in a yoga class.
Stage 2 CHILDHOOD. Here we start to move into a more traditional classroom state as the student is encouraged to use the sound in a word. The teacher provides a series of words that use the sound. These words are always accompanied by realia even if it just a picture on a screen. Again developing the students listening comprehension, verbal ability and importantly their vocabulary. The visual is also very important for the student to connect a new word with existing visual knowledge rather that connecting the new vocabulary with existing vocabulary in their native language. They are effectively renaming the visuals in the new language rather than adding an additional name to their existing native language. Here we are moving in to the third stage of the class. Eg. Relating to the ¨S¨ sound which has been practiced, it is reinforced by using it in a word; stop, start, school, strip etc. These words can be graded according to the level of the student to ensure that every lesson provides new vocabulary.
Stage 3 ADOLECENCE. By the time we reach adolescence we are well underway using our repertoire of words in context - syntax. Thus providing meaning. The teacher guides students through an activity specifically designed to focus on the sounds in context and related to a specific tense and topic that they will focus on for the remainder of the lesson. Again, these activities can be graded according to the class.
Stage 4 ADULTHOOD. As adults we develop a need or ability to rationalise our actions, thoughts and mental processing. Therefore, at this stage we close the lesson by providing the grammatical rational behind what has been taught, allowing the student to link their new knowledge back to their formative grammatical knowledge of the language. It´s the ´Ah haaa´ moment for many students.
Specialty Focus Areas. The same as during our lifecycle we focus on specialty areas for example sport, our profession or our family to name a few, there is also a need for Specialty Focus Areas throughout the Life Cycle Language course. These are developed in order to bring light to areas that simply require special attention, for example; -ough, -aught etc or phrasal verbs, silent letters, irregular verbs etc. These areas in English are difficult to justify, however placing them under the banner of Specialty Focus Area informs the student of this challenging area in the English language. That special attention is required as it is often an exception to the rule.
The classes would be conducted in English, allowing students to assist each other with translations although this should be discouraged in a passive manner given that there are significant visual aids used during stage 3 of the class. This is not a restrictive environment, the teacher should be a facilitator and guide for the students, not an authoritative figure.
The classes can be tailored to suit requirements of the student/s to last from 1 to 2 hours, an ideal duration for this method is 1.5hrs. Long enough to take on new ideas and develop a good base of understanding and not too long that a student begins to lose interest. Classes up to 8 students would ensure that everyone has plenty of opportunities to participate. An in-depth retreat would be offered for businesses however these would be limited to 2 hours per day, 5 days a week and ideally incorporated into other business retreat activities.
Students will initially be assessed an assigned a level according to the European frame work. This is an existing and recognised framework and the levels taught will correspond with this existing framework. Further assessment is made by the teacher in the classroom setting as no homework or exams are provided. This is in line with providing a stress-free environment conducive to acquiring new knowledge. The only additional optional activities provided for students outside of the class are listening exercises that cover Breathing, Infancy and Childhood. Similar to following a guided meditation on a podcast. Students can spontaneously practise sounds and word pronunciation if they wish.
This method is appealing because it provides a good scope depending on how a student may better acquire his/her knowledge. Each class guides the student through a process which better enables the student to take on new knowledge. It works with human nature, not against it. A good example of this is the thought that children are better at acquiring languages than adults. This is not necessarily the case. The main difference recognised in this method is that children don´t have the same inhibitions that adults have. As adults we are less inclined to lose face and are easily embarrassed, more so in a classroom setting with our peers. By starting at the beginning with shared breathing and the basics the students work together removing any inhibitions they may have. Opening themselves and each other up to participate and contribute to the lesson in a more fruitful way than if it was a traditional deductive approach.
In conclusion, it is my personal belief that by following a path to learning that we have already walked once before, we are able to grasp ideas with ease and confidence. It would be an ideal world if we were all able to dedicate the time to clear our mind, be at peace and practice language, not just learn language.
I look forward to sharing language with you in the not so distant future.