Having spent four years working and living in different countries across the world, I have seen first-hand how beneficial it can be to learn a foreign language. It has always amazed me how dedicated people are to learn another language (some of which are completely different from their mother tongue!), my respect for them is high. As someone who has just moved to Spain and is taking lessons in Spanish, it is something I can relate to on a personal level. Of course, each person has their own reasons for learning a second language- such as to become an asset in their work place, boost their CV, communicating whilst travelling or even just to be able to watch movies. Whether it be in the form of intrinsic or extrinsic motivation, it is extremely important to understand the motives a behind why a student wants to learn a second language and adapt the lessons accordingly.
There are many different approaches to teaching, each of them has its merits and drawbacks. Personally, I don't believe that there is a method that prevails above all others on its own. When learning to acquire a second language one must appreciate the individuals affective factors (Intelligence, aptitude, personality, motivation, environment and personality) and realise that they can both benefit and hinder the student. One shoe doesn't fit all! This means whilst some would hate the old notion of a teacher drilling students in grammatical form (such that can be found in ´the theory of ‘Behaviourism), others may respond to it more positively and therefore it shouldn’t be thrown to the skip quite yet! Constructivism may be an age-old theory but still has its place in teaching: The idea that the responsibility of the learning should reside with the learner themselves, seems to be still relevant today.
However, I believe that a more communicative and direct approach is beneficial when teaching a language. It allows students to feel more at ease and encourages them to participate in a free-flowing environment. Combined, these two approaches greatly improve motivation, fluency and accuracy in language learning. In group situations I would encourage interaction between the students themselves as they can generate ideas and be exposed to differing points of views. In doing so I would emphasise the need to focus on the target language and completely discourage the use a student’s native tongue. Target language would focus on the needs of the individuals and their motivation for studying the language. Repetition being key in remembering them. For example, people who work in a business capacity would benefit from target language geared towards contracts, emails and the day to day running’s of the office. Specifically, in a sales and customer relations capacity it would be language that is positive and good for relationship building. In contrast, someone who was using it to travel the world would need to know things such as how to ask for directions etc. By building oral communication skills in relation to their immediate needs, it is easier to get the student talking for most of the class, which in an ideal world would use the same ratio as the Pareto Law via a 20% teacher- 80% student split.
In my case, it is important to create an atmosphere in which increases motivation, reduces anxiety, avoids over complicating things and encourages participation. Constructive feedback should be delivered in a positive manner. People generally like to focus on the negatives, but it is important to show students what they ARE good at (with view of using that as a stepping stone towards improving areas where they are not as proficient). Always look to the future with open eyes!
At school despite not being the worst in the class, I was not interested in language lessons. This wasn´t because I thought that they would never be beneficial, but more due to the style of the lessons, which quite frankly, bored the life out of me! Even before coming to class the thought of sitting there and being talked at for an hour was frankly, demotivating. The approach was focused on learning sentences written on a chalk board and then repeating them in 'parrot fashion'. Once the teacher was adequately satisfied he would then swiftly move on to another topic. Generally, the subject was never touched on again. For me, the information was never retained which is indicative as to why I can´t remember it now!
Motivation to learn is key and getting students into a positive ´can do´ mind set is half of the battle. I like to create a fun, informal and conversational approach to teaching. It doesn't feel like you are trying so hard if you have a good rapport with the teacher and are having fun during lessons. In saying that, it is my responsibility as the teacher to remain focused on the objectives of the lesson, not to make it too intimidating, and thus it is important to have a good structure to it.
To meet the needs of each student on a personal level, it is important to incorporate the VAK model into the structure of each class. Although flexible to the needs of the students and their differing levels, an average one-hour lesson might cover some (certainly not all!) of the following:
Icebreakers- Short, light-hearted questions to get the student into the mind set of speaking and thinking in English. This could be something particularly exciting or funny that has happened in their week, whether they have watched any good movies, or general events that have taken place.
A recap on the vocabulary, grammar or word pronunciation from the previous lesson
An introduction to a topic (this could be something from recent the news) where the student is prompted to freely speak about their opinions on the subject.
The reading of a text related to the topic. This would contain new vocabulary. The student would be asked to discuss the meaning of the vocabulary and the implications of the text. A heavy focus on target language
A short film clip (the contents of which would be discussed and expanded on afterwards)
Activities or games
Wrap up and concept check questions
Constructive feedback where the students are encouraged to come to their own concussions on what they need work on
End on a high note!
The above entails some of the things structured in the syllabus I would deliver. Of course, the lesson would be organised into a manageable size and firmly focused on achieving specific goals aimed at the needs and skill level of the individual. Essentially, all are aimed at improving macro skills, fluency, confidence and giving people the opportunity to empower themselves and better their lives.
There is a stark difference between what you teach children in comparison to adults of varying levels. The same goes for how you feedback to the students. For example, a child’s efforts will focus on praise and their motivations for learning are primarily reward based. This is not as applicable to adults. Adults at varying levels are different. With adults at lower levels (L2 for example) it is important not to get them too bogged down in pronunciations but rather the focus is them having a fluent conversation, with as few pauses as possible. On higher levels students should be corrected more in terms of pronunciation and grammatical mistakes. Theoretically they should be more adept at learning new vocabulary. Again, it is important to remember that each person is different and just because they might be categorised at the same level, it doesn’t mean that they are all at the same standard.
In terms of giving encouragement to students, I think it is important to firstly highlight that making mistakes is a good thing! If people can work out where they went wrong themselves, they are more likely to remember it indefinitely. I like to take this approach and allow the student to find the solution for themselves. It is good to give encouragement. At times too, much encouragement can be a bad thing- as some students may become too satisfied and feel they do not have to try so hard. In these cases, they need to be pushed harder so they do not become too complacent. However, delivering positive constructive feedback for me is essential. There are not many people who enjoy a teacher barking seemingly negative 'do´s and don’ts' loudly in their face. Positivity offers the greatest encouragement. As a teacher, or as I like to call myself- a ‘needs analyst’ or ‘guide’, it is my job to help the students in any way I feel is going to benefit them. To be told 'you are wrong!' is detrimental but instead, by trying to understand why it is they thought like that in the first place, you can steer them in the right direction- ideally them concluding themselves.
I feel like I can draw from many aspects of my professional life (Sales and Youth Working) and personal background (Travelling and thirty-three years of life!) and understand some of the needs that people have, in wanting to learn English. I am an easy going, fun person who creates a relaxed, open minded and constructive teaching environment. For me, regardless of age, I am dedicated to helping people realise their ambition one step at a time and take personal satisfaction in doing so. I will endeavour to give students the tools they need to reach their potential. My reflexive teaching method means that, much like language itself, I am ever evolving in my approach. So, in essence- teacher or student aside, we are all learning and are all in this together!