For most, the acquisition of language is one which happens automatically as a result of exposure to language spoken by our parents and then, at school, we are taught to develop our skills. This miraculously, sponge-like intelligence has long been the subject of many child development studies. However, when we come to learn a second language, for most of us, it is significantly harder: so, we employ a number of strategies to help us in our education, and teachers of second language students use a number of teaching methods too. Obviously, because of learning styles and varying academic abilities, some of these methodologies are more effective than others, depending on the individual. Within the course of this essay, I will reflect upon my own experiences of learning English as a second language, and assess the effectiveness of the methods I used whilst also discussing how I might use them in my own classroom, at a later date.
The primary reason for having learnt English was because I was driven to do so: with all the will in the world, if I hadn’t wanted to do it then I would never have engaged enough with the language to do so. For me, personally, one of the best teaching methods I encountered was Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) which focuses on the idea of interaction. In my opinion, simply just learning a lot of vocabulary is not enough: you must be able to use it accurately in everyday situations. It built my confidence up to a point where I felt content with using my new language skills in the real world. Another method which worked very well for me was the Grammar Translation Method which, whilst over-whelming to some, I found to be a huge help to my studies. By learning how to translate great amounts of text, I was able to pick up a wider vocabulary, understand more intricate grammatical techniques and I am now able to engage with English culture on a less superficial level than I would have done otherwise. I also found that the Direct Method was highly effective as I felt immersed in the language and quickly began to recognise common words and grammatical phrases. A language such as English is so vast and technical that it takes the Direct Method to really develop a natural way of speaking. However, I realise that because these methods worked well for me, they may not be as effective for other learners.
When I am teaching English, in the future, I will enable my students by first investigating their academic ability and choosing a method/s that will be the best for them. However, the Direct Method really was effective from almost day one, and I think that it would be a great way of starting off any linguistic education. It is important to target students with the correct level of education to avoid confusion and uncertainty: two things which lead to a lack of confidence and half the battle with learning and using a new language is confidence: something I learnt very quickly. By using the Direct Method, the learner quickly begins to gain ‘automaticity’ which, according to Jack Richards and Willy Renandya, is: “automatic processing of a relatively unlimited number of language forms.” They also go on to clarify that over-analyzing language can often “impede [the] graduation to automaticity.” (Renandya & Richards, 2002, p 12)
My opinion that the learning process, behind acquiring a second language, needs to come from the student, is seconded by David Nunan, a renowned Australian linguist: “…it is impossible to teach learners everything they need to know in class.” (Nunan, 1988, p 3) This view is demonstrated through various teaching methodologies, including the Grammar Translation Method. Within these methods, the emphasis is placed on learner-centric activities which involve the learner partaking in a cognitive process-fuelled task that means engaging with the language, rather than having just a superficial response. This sort of learning is far more likely to be retained by the learner, and I found that this method of learning was an extremely effective one for me. However, this may not work for a beginner or someone with a less academic background; it requires a large amount of concentration and focus and not all learners are capable of this. Tom Hutchinson and Alan Waters state: “The starting point for all language teaching should be an understanding of how people learn.” (Hutchinson & Waters, 1987, p 39) This chapter opens with the famous Chinese proverb: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for one day. Teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Never has this proverb been more relevant than when teaching language-based skills. In my classroom, I will place a lot of importance on establishing the needs of the learner and then establishing how best to enable them through their learning. If a student is unable to introduce themself in another language, there is no point in starting with teaching them about how to order food in a restaurant.
There are two central theoretical approaches to teaching a foreign language: the ‘Theory-Philosophy Conception’ and the ‘Art-Craft Conception.’ The first reflects the need to conform to a stricter curriculum, whilst the second encourages the teacher to view each situation as being “unique” and to take a more experimental view; “to try out different strategies.” (Richards, 1998, p 47) I am of the opinion that these two, opposing views need to both be used in conjunction with one another: follow the curriculum, but also allow the learner to be your focus and adapt the lessons to their unique requirements. From my own experience, it is clear that to be an effective teacher; you must teach what your students need to learn.
Teaching and learning is an extremely reflective process. Whilst studying English, I have had to regularly reflect upon my learning in order to generate knowledge and the confidence to use it. In my future classroom, I will continue with this process to assess which method of teaching best suits my class. If they are an advanced group, I will use the Grammar Translation method to encourage independent language skills; if they are a less capable group, I will start with the basics and build up to CLT to encourage confidence and interaction. I still maintain that language acquisition needs to be a learner-centric exercise as ultimately, it is they who will be out in the world, using their knowledge; they will not have their teacher prompting them with vocabulary. The knowledge must come from within, as it did for me and with it, their confidence and linguistic ability will grow.
1. Hutchinson, T. & Waters, A. (1987). English For Specific Purposes: a learning-centered approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
2. Larsen-Freeman, D. (200). Techniques and Principles In Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
3. Nunan, D. (1988). The Learner-Centred Curriculum. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
4. Renandya, W. A. & Richards, J. C. (2002). Methodology In Language Teaching: an anthology of current practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
5. Richards, J. C. (1998). Beyond Training: perspectives on language teacher education. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.