Photo by Eric under Creative Commons licence.
In this article we are going to take a look at some of the more popular English teaching techniques. By the time you finish reading this article you will understand the key benefits of each teaching style and the inherent weaknesses as well. The first thing we will need to do is look at the 4 most common teaching methods which will provide an overview of the key features associated with that particular teaching style and drawbacks. There are a variety of teaching terms but they essentially follow 1 of the following 4 approaches. At the end of this article there will be a summary so without further delay it is time to being.
Grammar Style: This style is recommended for individuals who have a firm working knowledge of spoken and written English. By learning proper grammar and punctuation the student will be able to communicate thoughts and ideas more effectively. This style of teaching is essential before the student finishes primary school or if they are adults approach post secondary institutions. It is vital to know how to properly structure a sentence, paragraph or article. While every student of the English language should go through this process it is not recommended as a foundation module since the student will learn how to write and speak but will not have the proper syntax.
English Only: There are individuals who mistake this with the immersion technique which we will discuss later. This “English only” approach forces the student and teacher to speak only English and to not communicate in their mother/native language. The premise behind this is the more the student and teacher communicate in this method the more comfortable the student will feel speaking and writing in English. While the premise seems valid there are some potential challenges with the first being a sense of intimidation, if the student does not have an extensive vocabulary they may not know how to ask the right questions to the teacher. Another perceived drawback is while all communication is in English the teacher does not know if the student full understands what they are saying or is the student simply mimicking the teacher. There is a profound difference between speech and comprehension.
Oral Teaching: This style of teaching English is one of the most common, the student listens to the teacher speak and the student is then ask to reply to questions. Unlike the “English only” approach with this Oral approach the students can pose questions in their native language and the teacher can address those questions in the native language then provide the example in English. The oral way of teaching is how children learn their mother tongue, they are exposed to it since they are young. This consistent “immersion” into the language helps the child learn the language quite rapidly. There are teachers who take the oral approach one step further and use music. The premise behind this approach is by having students listen to pop music they can gain some cultural context behind the words being spoken plus the music is provides an additional dimension of engagement. While the “oral” approach is quite simple to implement and it does produce results it should be noted that the students will require help with writing since this teaching method is based primarily on oral communication.
Immersion: As the name implies the study is immersed in an environment where everything they read, hear and see is in English. This method could be in a single class or the students could actually go to a country that is English speaking i.e. the United Kingdom, Australia, U.S.A etc… While this experience can make the student feel apprehensive given the “culture shock” they will also have the greatest learning opportunity provided the teacher structures it properly. There is a finite amount of information an individual can process in a day. The immersion approach works well but not every student is capable of giving the time needed for this approach so it is only for the most ambitious students and teachers wanting to take their English skills to another level.
We have lightly covered the 4 main teaching styles and some of their drawbacks, now we are going to look at how to provide the students with a more comprehensive learning experience. We cannot approach teaching English like we approach science or mathematics for a few very distinct reasons. As humans we think in language so the quality of our thoughts are directly influenced by our language comprehension skills. In mathematics we can prove 1+1=2 but in language we need to utilize syntax and context. For example how would we explain oxymoron’s like “jumbo shrimp” to students? In order for the student to understand the context of that statement the student would have to either look at the actual seafood (immersion teaching style) or they would require a better understanding of vocabulary and conversational dynamics (oral and grammar teaching styles).
There are cultural sensitivities that must be addressed when teaching English as well. Each nation has their own cultural identity and that has influenced the way they communicate in English. In North America they use the term “soccer” to describe “football” in Europe while Australians use “footy” to describe their national sport. All of these cultural nuances and “slang” have to be taken into account when teaching students how to communicate in English. It is not enough to know how to write a sentence or speak the student also needs to appreciate the context of what they are saying.
In our humble opinion to effectively teach English the teacher must take elements from all 4 of the main teaching styles and use them in the curriculum or they are doing a disservice to themselves and their students. By using this hybrid approach the teacher can meet the needs of students who are visual learners and those who are visual learners at the same time.