The aim of this paper is to identify the best approach of teaching English as a second language in Canada. English is one of the two official languages in Canada. It is the major language in the whole country except Quebec and most Canadians can speak English. According to the recent census conducted in Canada, 58 percent of Canadians speak English as their first language, though 85 percent of Canadians can speak English (Statistics Canada, 2008). There is a considerable percentage of people who speak English as a second language. However, Canada is now home to people of different nationalities from all over the world and many people are still moving to Canada in droves in search of educational and economic opportunities. A good percentage of these immigrants do not come from English speaking countries and for them to operate in Canada, they need to learn English as a second Language. The influx of newcomers into Canada has made the teaching of English as a Second Language a very important part of the Canadian teaching and education system. This paper will therefore focus on the teaching of English language to newcomers in Canada. For this teaching to be effective, an efficient approach must be used to impart linguistic skills unto these newcomers.
There are various approaches that can be used to teach English as a Second Language to newcomers but which approach is the most effective. Most scholars and analyst argue that communicative approach is the best method of teaching English as a Second Language because it has succeeded in many English teaching environments. Is communicative approach the best method of teaching English as a second language to newcomers in Canada? Communicative approach or communicative language teaching is an approach of teaching English as Second Language that focuses on interaction as a means and goal of teaching and learning the language and though other methods are effective in teaching English as a Second Language, this is the most effective approach of teaching the language to newcomers. This paper will review the background literature concerning the use of the communicative approach and discuss various variables that are related to English as a second language. It will use theoretical positions to support the thesis that communicative approach is the best method.
Importance of English in Canada
This paper will focus on teaching of English as a Second Language to newcomers in Canada most of whom have not been exposed to the language before. Why should newcomers to Canada learn English as a Second Language in the first place? To start with, English is the major language in Canada by far and more than 80 percent of Canadians can speak and use the language either as mother tongue or a second language (Statistics Canada, 2008). English is one of the two official languages in Canada and it is more predominant than French, the second official language in Canada.
Most official and national functions in Canada are carried out in English which. Most education institutions in Canada use English as the medium of communication and instruction except in Quebec area where French is predominant (Statistics Canada, 2008). Canada has become a preferred destination for many people around the world and it has attracted immigrants from different countries. Most of these countries do not use English as a Second Language which means that newcomers to Canada from these countries must learn English for them to survive in Canada.
Teaching Methods and Approaches
An approach to teaching is a theory that is based on assumptions about how students learn. These theories are put into practice through the teaching methods. A method is a strategy that moves students towards achieving a certain objective which is to learn a second language. Over the years, there are many methods of teaching English as a Second Language that have developed and while some have failed by the way side, there are some that are still in use in the modern teaching of the language. Modern theories and methodologies have led to the emergence of innovative approaches and most distinguished linguists have worked hard to develop effective ways of teaching the language to non native speakers and they have tried various teaching methods. Various methods of teaching English as a second language have been tried and used over the years and each had its own strengths and weaknesses. The main methods that have been used in the past for a long time are audio lingual methods and direct method. Audio lingual method focuses more on grammar (Richards, 2006).
It utilises phrases and repetitive set ups on the other hand direct method focuses on teaching vocabulary and it involves drilling words over and over until students build up a vocabulary base. However, there was an understanding later that being able to communicate and use the language proficiently goes beyond the ability to use vocabulary and grammar and to translate. Educators and linguists were dissatisfied with the conventional methods of teaching English as a second language that did not yield the results they desired. The linguist felt that the students were not learning the whole language when the translation and grammar methods were used because after learning, the students did not know how to use appropriate social language, use linguistic expressions and could also not communicate in the linguistic context (Richards, 2006).
Further research led to the development of a teaching methodology that would be effective in teaching English as a second language and this method is the communicative approach. Communicative approach replaced the audio-lingual and grammar translation methodologies of English as a second language instruction. This method was meant to foster authentic use of language and create classroom exchanges where the learners engaged in actual communication with each other. Communicative teaching of language makes use of actual situations that necessitate linguistic interaction and communication. The teacher sets up a real life situation that the students can encounter in a real life setting and unlike the traditional approaches that relied on repetition, the communicative approach has a variety of outcomes based on the situation set by the teacher (Richards, 2006). The life based simulations that the teacher uses change daily and the motivation of the students to learn emanates from their desire to meaningfully communicate about topics that are also meaningful. Did the communicative approach succeed where the traditional methods failed? How does communicative approach work?
Educators and linguistic experts believe that the communicative approach revolutionised the teaching of English as a Second Language by creating experiences that the conventional methods could not create. The strengths of the communicative approach lie in the two main methods that are used to teach the English as a Second Language. These are the content based instruction and task based language teaching. Educators and experts argue that communicative approach is the best method of teaching English as a Second Language especially to learners who have not been exposed to the language before because it applies linguistic content to tackle some tasks in a linguistic setting (Richards, 2006). The content based instruction focuses on acquisition of linguistic skills and knowledge while the task based learning focuses on provision of communicative activities that are needed in the learning of the language.
Various scholars and linguistic experts have over the years raised points in support of the communicative approach as the most effective method of teaching English as a second language and have advised teachers of this discipline to use the approach widely. Why is communicative approach the best method of teaching this discipline?
According to William Littlewood, the author of a book titled "Communicative approach to language teaching methodology” communicative approach is the only approach that can help students of English as a Second Language to use English for wide range of functions and purposes. It also makes them be able to use language in different settings and also be able to use the language for formal and informal purposes (Littlewood, 2003). They can use English in speech in a manner that is a different from the written language. Communicative approach also enables the learners and the users of the language to produce and comprehend different types of texts like conversations, narratives and interviews. Lastly Littlewoods contends that communicative approach helps the learners to maintain communication even if they have challenges emanating from the differences between English and their native languages because it avails to them different kinds of strategies for communication.
Another linguist namely Larsen-Freeman, of Oxford University, the communicative approach provides opportunities for the learners to experiment with whatever they have been taught and whatever they have learnt. Communicative approach, according to Freeman, makes the learners to be tolerant of their errors and the errors made by their peers and provides the learners with the avenue to develop accuracy and fluency in the language (Larsen-Freeman, 2003). He says that the approach helps the learners the learners to link different linguistic skills such as speaking, listening and reading together and use them in a real linguistic context. Instead of teaching grammar and vocabulary, the approach helps them to discover the aforementioned and this is the best and way of learning these two elements of language (Adams, 2006).
De Rolf (2004) is another scholar that supports the communicative approach to teaching of English as a second language. In his paper titled “English communication through practical experiences” published in the journal of English as a Second Language, De Rolf argues that conventional methods of teaching English as a second language rarely give the students the confidence to use the language outside the classroom context .The methods only helps the students in a very limited way. According to this scholar, the main aim of teaching English as second language is to help the students in the aspect of communication (De Rolf, 2004). I think the above reasons given by the three scholars are plausible and support the thesis that communicative approach is the best method of teaching English as a second language.
Comparing the Communicative Approach with the Conventional Approaches
Communicative approach is the best method of teaching English as a Second Language. The approach excels because it does not focus on the basics of the language and the structure of the language; if focuses on learners acquiring knowledge and skills that help them to use the language. Unlike traditional methods of teaching English as a second language that were behaviouristic, this method is quite holistic. The most notable strength of this approach is that it prioritises the semantic content of linguistic learning where the learners learn through meaning and not the other way round. The learning activities that the approach uses engage the students in an authentic and meaningful use of language and this creates more motivation to learn the language. The traditional methods like the audio-lingual and the direct methods did not have any motivating elements because they engaged the students in mechanical learning of the patterns of language. The primary aim is meaningful communication and when students make errors, they are able to learn from these errors which help them to make more meaningful discourses. The approach is also learner centred as opposed o the audio-lingual and the direct methods used in the past where the teacher was at the centre of the teaching and the learning activities. Putting the students at the centre of teaching and learning activities makes the process focus on the needs of the students and not the goals of the teacher. The approach which is centred on the learner serves the social affective needs of the ESL learner. It also motivates the students to learn the language.
Effective communication involves the use of emotions, feelings, expression of ideas and very many other paralinguistic features of language. This means that using the conventional methodologies does not give the learners the opportunity to use the aforementioned features of language thus neglecting vital skill of communication. Using the communicative approach to teach English as a Second Language creates a context for meaningful application of language, thus enhancing the linguistic abilities of the students. It is especially very helpful in teaching set texts in literature and ensures that the learners are more involved in the teaching learning process. Using this technique of teaching breaks the monotony of the traditional teacher based methods that are less interesting (Adams, 2006). It also prepares the students to communicate better in the outside world after their school life. This is because communicative approach helps the students to learn language in its operative context. The value of communicative approach in ESL teaching should be emphasized because it is one of the most effective linguistic development tools that provokes creativity, develops skills of self expression and also serves to stimulate reality. Activities like hot seating where a learner is put at the centre of a debate to answer questions on a specific role are very viable in the teaching of English as a Second Language. The approach also helps in critical analysis, writing reports and also in public expression. It also helps the learners to be able to use language to react quickly to situations because through spontaneous use of language and the mind.
Though communicative method is the best method of teaching English as a second language, I believe that it is not possible to teach English to newcomers using only one method. Though the conventional methods have some drawbacks and challenges, they can be used to supplement the communicative approach to produce a whole some experience. This means that teachers of English as a Second Language should ensure that they use a wide range of methods to teach English as a second Language.
Canada has become a preferred destination for many people searching for educational and economic opportunities and since English is the major official and national language, people who settle in Canada from non Anglophone countries need to learn the language to survive in Canada. This means that teaching of English as a Second Language has become a very important discipline in the country and these newcomers can only get relevant linguistic skills if the correct approaches and methods are used. This paper has tackled the communicative approach asserting that the approach is the best method of teaching English as a second language to newcomers in Canada. The paper has used supporting evidence from relevant literature written by authoritative scholars in educational and linguistic circles. The bottom-line is that the communicative approach has succeeded where conventional methods of instruction have failed.
The communicative approach is a very holistic approach that focuses on the semantics of language instead of structure and patterns. It helps the learners to achieve a wide range of linguistic functions and gives them a meaningful and authentic experience. The approach also removes the focus of the teaching- learning process from the teacher to the students making the teaching of English as a second language and this helps in satisfying their social affective needs. However, it cannot work in isolation it needs to be supplemented by the conventional methods of teaching English as a second language so that the newcomers can have a whole some experience. A mixture of different methods is better than just using one method which is deemed to be the best. Therefore, people who settle in Canada from countries that do not use English as means of communication can get a meaningful and authentic linguistic experience if the teachers of English as a second language use the collaborative approach together with the conventional methods to teach this discipline since it has been proved beyond doubt to be the best method of teaching English as a second language especially in such a setting.
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