When I think back on how I learned Spanish I first think about all the grammar I learned. But when I think better, I remember that when I finished my course, I could hardly speak.
I had learned a lot of grammar, but I hadn’t learned how to think in Spanish, how to practice different structures and how to apply them in the daily life: how to speak!
I really learned Spanish during the time that I have lived in Aruba, where I was forced to speak because nobody understood Dutch or even English.
As an English teacher, I want my students to learn how to speak English right from the start.
Of course I want to focus on all four macro skills, but in my opinion speaking is the most important one. Of all the different teaching methods there is not one I agree with a 100 %. I would like to implement a mix of a few methods in my classes.
For young learners I would use ideas from the Total Physical Response. Instead of asking your students to be quiet and sit still, you will be requiring them to stand up, move around the classroom and get physical. Children are so imaginative and for them it is helpful to link an action to a word and by doing the action themselves they will find it easier to remember the word in L2. For adults and teenagers it is enough to see the teacher mime the action or to have it visual to help them to understand and remember. I would use the repetition and transformation drill from the Audio-Lingual method to practice with pronunciation and sentence structure. A good way to do this in class is with the use of ‘The tongue twisters’. These exercises are a lot more fun for students than words only.
As the Direct method suggests, I would only use the target language in my classes. I would also use body language as well as facial expressions. I think this is very important because students are learning the language not in order to translate their native language but in order to communicate in the new one. I will always encourage students to try and explain something in the TL. Just let them describe a word if they don’t know it. In order for students to understand me at all levels, I will have to grade my language to their level.
I believe grammar is best taught inductively. Once students see and understand how a certain structure is used, by giving a lot of examples, it is not necessary to completely analyze the grammar. Once you understand the function of a structure, it’s a lot easier to apply it.
The students Intrinsic or extrinsic motivation has a big influence on their language learning. As a teacher I should always be positive, enthusiastic and optimistic. That means praise them when they are doing something well and correct them when it is necessary. Corrections are fundamental to learning but sometimes it is not good for the motivation of the student to correct all the time. If my activity is based on accuracy I would use on the spot correction. I will always give students a chance, and time, to correct themselves. Often by just raising your eyebrows or repeating the mistake students will know what you mean and back track the error themselves. If my activity is based on fluency (like a group discussion), I will collect a selection of the mistakes that are made and correct them together with the students at the end of the activity. When I am listening out for my student errors, I always try to find some really good uses of the language and highlight these to the group too.
Also it is important to know why the student wants or needs to learn the language. Is it for a trip to New York? Work related issues? Write an email? Give presentations? Conference calls? When you are planning your lessons you need to know what you need to focus on so you can adapt it to the needs of each student. Every student also learns in a different way. The VAK model shows you the different learning styles: visual, auditory and kinesthetic. I always use this model to prepare my classes that address each of my student’s needs.
A student may not always be motivated to learn L2. My role then would be to engage, inspire and challenge my students. The topics you choose need to correspond with the interest of the students. For example, If you have a group of teenagers then an interesting topic will be social media. If the students are interested in the topic they will automatically be more involved and more eager to participate in the classroom. It also helps a lot if you show them what the use of English is for and what the function is of what we are learning in the classroom. Some task based learning can be a great way to make your class more dynamic and active. A task that I would choose for a group of teenagers can be planning a road trip or if you have a class of older learners, college students or professionals I would choose to do a task about a mixer or a networking activity where they actually learn to use a combination of small talk and job talk. The center of the learning process moves to the students themselves and allows them to come to the realization that language can resolve real-world issues. Students will learn how to ask questions, how to interact in and work within groups. These are all skills that a student will need in order to succeed in the real world.
Also the learning environment has an impact on language acquisition. It is important to create a comfortable environment, where a student feels safe and relaxed and to build a good rapport with the student. But how do you do that? What I like about the Oxbridge way of teaching is that the traditional class room, text book and black board makes place for a more informal way of learning and teaching with activities, a table that everyone sits at and a verbal way of introducing a new part of the TL. This brings a friendly atmosphere in which everyone feels comfortable and relaxed which makes it easier to acquire new knowledge.
The learning process is also influenced by affective factors and personality.
Someone who is shy is less likely to succeed in a language than an outgoing person or someone who is afraid to make mistakes. Some students can have some personal problems or worries in their personal lives, which may affect their ability to learn. As a teacher you need to be capable of making a shy student feel comfortable and a stressed student to forget about their worries when they are with you in the classroom.
I would like the syllabus for L2 learning to be a combination of a structure based and function based. It is good to implement a certain structure at a certain level, but together with a function that structure gets more meaning and becomes useful in real life. For the structure of the class I strongly agree with the Oxbridge model and not with the way I have been taught languages (Grammar Translation Method). I think the Quick questions are a great way to start a class. After that I would start with a review of the knowledge acquired during the previous session. Then I would make a combination of the vocabulary, structure and topic activities. This way a class will always cover the use of the micro skills grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary. If a student needs to learn how to write English then I would focus also on the writing skills. For the fluency of the class I would use some (quick) questions to link the activities. I would like to choose a variety of activities: a combination of reading, practice syntax, discussion, role play, interaction between students, sounds, pictures and games. This will definitely make the classes dynamic and would cover all the different needs of each student , so they will be more engaged. Especially for the younger students language games are a great way of learning. But of course always in combination with vocabulary and structure. I would use some Cooperative Learning Strategies in my classroom. It is a good way to get everybody involved in the task. Students learn to express themselves with greater confidence when working in small groups or pairs. Especially when you are teaching larger groups it is a good way of engaging all the students.
For all of my students I would try to convince them that it is important to practice to gain fluency and this can be done in a fun way all by themselves. Students will need a lot of repetition to transfer the language from their short term memory to their long term memory and they can do this at home. I would recommend them to find something that they like to do like for example read a book or watch TV in English with or without subtitles depending on the level and the age of the student. Also it can be an option for them to go to ‘intercambio’ so that they can practice their speaking skills with other students.