Fitting the method to the learner, not vice versa
Today the professional language teacher has a good grounding in the various techniques and new approaches, and they know and understand the history and evolution of teaching methodologies.
The modern teacher will in fact use a variety of methodologies and approaches, choosing techniques from each method that they consider effective and applying them according to the learning context and objectives.
They prepare their lessons to facilitate the understanding of the new language being taught and do not rely on one specific ‘best method’.
- The teacher proposes a variety of exercises, both written and oral, to improve the learner’s accuracy, fluency and communicative ability.
- The teacher corrects errors immediately if the scope of the classroom activity is accuracy, but if the scope of the activity is fluency these errors will be corrected later on.
- The teacher develops all four linguistic capabilities (reading, writing, listening and speaking).
- To improve pronunciation the teacher uses drills, where students repeat automatically the phrases spoken by the teacher.
- The teacher helps the student personalize the use of grammatical and lexical elements used in class.
- The teacher understands that a didactic program has to include not only grammar and lexis, but also linguistic functions, colloquialisms, idioms, etc.
- The teacher introduces exercises of guided discovery for new grammar rules.
- At times the teacher may translate – but only if they know both languages very well and believe it is the most efficient way to provide the meaning of a new concept in that moment, especially for abstract ideas.
- The teacher is committed to developing a wide range of resources in order to give relevant, stimulating, and productive lessons.
It is impossible to do everything if only one method is used. As a result, professional EFL teachers follow what is described as the Principled Eclecticism approach, where students are also encouraged to be autonomous in their learning.
However, some private schools and training companies still prefer to promote a specific in-house branded method or approach, though often mainly for commercial or marketing reasons rather than for didactic reasons.
The Way Ahead
The respected author and American university professor, Douglas Brown, provides a list of the ‘ten commandments’ for effective language learning, applied to both ESL teachers and learners:
|For EFL Teachers||For Language Learners|
|Lower inhibitions||Fear not!|
|Encourage risk-taking||Dive in|
|Build self-confidence||Believe in yourself|
|Develop intrinsic motivation||Seize the day|
|Engage in cooperative learning||Work with your team|
|Use right-brain processes||Get the BIG picture|
|Promote ambiguity tolerance||Cope with the chaos|
|Practice intuition||Follow your hunches|
|Process error feedback||Make mistakes work FOR you|
|Set personal goals||Set your own goals|
From his book Principles of Language Learning & Teaching (Pearson Longman, 2001)
These recommendations aim to promote learner autonomy and stress the importance of self-motivation.
Through guided discovery, language learners should not expect the teacher to deliver everything to them neatly packaged, wielding some new magic teaching method, but should take charge of their own learning and jump in.
When – mid 1990s to today
Focus – Fitting the method to the learner
Characteristics – Focus on motivation and learner autonomy, selecting techniques based on the learner and context
Supporters – J. Dean Mellow, Douglas Brown
By Alex Taylor