Teaching English as a second or foreign language entails the use of both traditional teaching methods as well as instructional techniques that are unique to the study and learning of language. Traditional teaching methods include teacher-centric approaches such as explicit teaching as well as approaches that encourage active student participation. Based on the teaching experiences of educators around the world, different techniques should be deployed depending on the instructional purpose, the subject matter, and the students’ level of competency, cognitive ability and enthusiasm. Concentrating and using just one approach has often been found to be grossly inadequate while a rich combination of approaches result to the most favorable learning outcomes.
This article describes the most common and effective methods that are being used in traditional classrooms as well as the alternative or improvised techniques that have been developed specifically for language instruction.
Fundamental Methods of Instruction
The primary approach in sharing new knowledge is basically the teacher-centric model that entails the techniques of 1) Exposition/Explanation/Description, and 2) Demonstration. Meantime, the participatory approach balances the responsibility of the cognitive process between teachers and students and employ the techniques of 1) Collaboration and 2) Teaching from a student perspective.
In the teacher-centric approach, the learning process follows the classic knowledge transfer model: teacher-to-student. The basic techniques used in this model include direct exposition and explanation of different subjects through formal or mini lectures that may be accompanied by audiovisual materials (whiteboard notes, CD ROM, videos, music, presentations, and other instructional multimedia). Using the techniques of exposition-explanation-description, students are often required to memorize different concepts, and, in the case of language instruction, the actual verbalizations (oral recitation) of words and phrases.
The very useful technique of concept/process demonstration also traditionally belongs to the teacher-centric approach. Through the technique of demonstration, the teacher can dramatically illustrate a concept by presenting it in different scenarios wherein students can clearly identify the different factors, players, or processes that are in play. In terms of language instruction, actual conversations in the foreign or second language within different contexts may be shown to students in order to help them establish the distinctions of language use for different language encounters. Compared with the former technique, demonstrations are better able to reinforce lesson concepts because demonstrations enable students to assess and appreciate sensory (visual and auditory) affirmations of the different concepts being taught by the teacher. This way, students are better able to retain and apply the lesson concepts when the need arises. An actual and simple conversation in English orchestrated for this purpose is an excellent instructional resource that will go a long way in language learning classrooms.
On the other hand, participatory approaches allow students to assume more responsibility in the cognitive process. Participatory approaches greatly encourage collaboration and role-playing such that students become very active drivers of their own competency about the lesson topics. In sessions that promote inter-student collaboration, the deeper involvement of students concerning the session outcome enhances their awareness of the concepts being described by the teacher. In addition, the participatory approach is a good way of assessing individual students’ socialization and leadership skills. Collaborative techniques may involve the submission of group projects, the holding of group discussions, role-play and simulations, and fieldwork.
For students with varying degrees of leadership aptitudes, the technique of teaching or presenting to peers and colleagues can further improve their subject competency. After all, research have conclusively shown that teaching is a very effective way of learning a subject matter, one reason why formal teachers eventually become extremely competent in their fields. By temporarily allowing students to role-play and assume the responsibilities of teachers, they eventually gain confidence about the subject matter and improve their skills expounding on or demonstrating its concepts.
To generate instructional variation for both teacher centric and participatory approaches, different teaching tools and enhancers should be deployed from time to time. More than breaking classroom monotony, this should enhance learning gains and feed student enthusiasm. This is especially true in the field of language instruction wherein students should be disrupted from being linguistically complacent in their respective comfort zones. Doing so will enable students to become more articulate in any language encounter, whether conversational, passive, or written.
Some of the best method enhancers that language instructors should deploy in their classes include ‘guided discovery’ (wherein students discover lesson concepts by themselves, and therefore, tend to nurture the discovered concept better), ‘problem solving’ (wherein critical thinking skills are fully utilized in order to build more complex concepts from fundamental building blocks–which are basic syntax and some vocabulary in case of language learning), and the ‘command style’ (wherein basic to complex commands given in the second or foreign language are used to ingrain the essence of the language by physical or emotional associations that are readily experienced by the learners). Furthermore, traditional teaching elements should also be used to enliven the classroom environment. These include group presentations, case studies, surveys, games, and assigned individual research or reports that are to be presented in class. Various media such as simple movies, short stories, television series, commercials, biographies, music videos and poems can be leveraged for interesting individual or collaborative exercises.
Approaches to Language Teaching
Because language learning entails a different desired outcome compared to other subjects, many field-specific approaches were developed by language educators over the years. The most commonly performed approaches are 1) Grammar-Translation, 2) Phonetic Method, 3) Communicative Approach, 4) Physical Response Approach, 5) Task-Based Learning, and 6) Language Immersion.
In Grammar-Translation, the focus is on the conscious and intensive learning of grammatical syntax. For students being instructed through this approach, the main learning strategy is memorization (phrasal and sentence constructions as well as the vocabulary necessary to build them). Meantime, the phonetic method leans heavily on the oral articulation of the language such that students are often engaged in recitation sessions, short speeches, and read reports. The communicative approach requires a higher form of cognitive appreciation of language than the two previous methods. Proponents of the communicative approach believe that knowing how to construct grammatically sound sentences and reciting formulated sentences are not enough for advanced learners. True language acquirers should be able to communicate well in any given language encounter. Used effectively for beginners in language learning, the Physical Response Approach aims to ingrain the essence of a second or foreign language into the psyche of learners by relating actual physical experiences or associations with foreign words or phrases. Known also as the “Command Style,” Tasked-based learning seeks to ingrain the actionable aspects of the foreign language with the aim of giving the learner some idea of its core mechanics. Lastly, immersive approaches aim to develop learners’ linguistic competencies through a comprehensive model that helps develop oral, listening, and written skills.
For teachers of English as a second or foreign language, the tendency to pick out only two or three teaching approaches they are most comfortable with is very strong. But as can be gleaned from the proliferation of literature on language instruction, there are quite a number of available approaches that can help both the teachers and the students in the learning engagement. Trying out different approaches from time to time and in various combinations will likely address some learning difficulties encountered along the way. Remember, for a language teacher to become a well-rounded, getting to know and applying different teaching principles is critical, not only for professional growth but also to the development of English language instruction as a whole. That is, teachers collaborating on the best techniques to use in different teaching-learning scenarios will help language educators systematize the different methodologies available.