Mark Ransley

Founder and Director, EEC-ITIS Malta

Mark Ransley is Founder and Director of EEC-ITIS Malta Tourism and Languages Institute.

More Than One Way To Teach A Language

Tuesday 04th December 2018

There many different methods and even theories on how languages should be taught.  I have asked three of our professional language lecturers to let me have their views on this subject.

Teacher 1 - "I always try to mix it up."

I have experience with all the main teaching methods, including Presentation, Practice and Production (PPP) method, explanation, demonstration, learning by teaching, as well as some fresh and exciting methods, for example learning by playing.

When I prepare my lesson plans, I always think carefully about these methods and try to apply the most suitable method in each lesson. I always try to mix it up, so the students experience the unknown, and the lessons are not routine or boring.

I cannot say that I prefer one method to another. Each method has certain benefits and should be applied in some situations. In one class I may prefer explaining, especially if pupils struggle with discipline. Then in some other classes, students are more creative, so I may prefer collaborating.

I typically try to apply various methods and observe the reaction of the students, measuring both their progress and interest. After a few lessons I typically know which method works with them, and which does not. I believe this is the most effective way that works for me and enables students to practice language in a fun and memorable way.

Teacher 2 - "My approach depends on the cultural background of my students."

A language can be learned in two different ways: casual or formal. Often, language students have an educational experience which was based mainly on the standard/formal way back in their countries. This “formal” method comes in many varieties, but most of the times, in such a classroom the teacher often uses the board for long periods of time to explain a lesson (in the native language). Therefore, the teacher is usually the most active person in the classroom and focuses on presenting/lecturing as a way of transmitting information to the students. Mistakes are often “criticized” and marked accordingly. The students listen, take notes, and often practice after a phase of the lecture, following the model: hear, see and repeat. This formal model of learning is widespread in many cultures. In many situations, a lecture or demonstration by a teacher can be efficient to inform a large number of students about a subject in formal schools.

However, in smaller groups such as in our school, a “casual”, student-centred approach is often more effective. The casual, student-centred and experiential approach is mainly focused on open/casual dialogue, practical learning experiences (students are given opportunities to do things themselves) and allowing mistakes to happen. The teacher uses the target language to speak to the students (“immersion method”) for short periods of time and encourages the student to communicate back using the target language as much as possible through various tasks that reflect real-life needs and skills such as working on a CV, or asking/giving directions and so on (this “experiential” approach encourages the students to use the target language rather than listen the teacher lecturing for a long time about various language aspects).

During my lessons I prefer engaging, interactive, experiential and communicative teaching methods. My approach depends on the cultural background of my students, but it is mainly casual and based on the student.

Most of the time, I prefer a “casual”, student-centred and experiential approach over a “formal” teacher-centred approach (which is the “standard”/formal teaching model).

During the lessons, I also try to encourage my students to share personal life experiences which are relevant to them. They seem to become more enthusiastic when they can relate the language to personal experiences.

I also often try to encourage students to work on a task in pairs/groups. Usually they enjoy pair/group activities because it is more interactive than solving a task on their own. However, their openness to various experiential activities (for example, working in pairs work) might depend on the cultural background/age of the student.

Teacher 3 - "I find the ESA method much more effective." 

I prefer adopting the ESA method of teaching. I find it much more flexible and give me room to change according to the students' mood and attention span.

There are three factors in ESA. The first is to engage using video, image, conversation, punchlines, slogans, etc. to engage the client into the topic of the day. As you know, most students come to a language school as part of their holiday itinerary. It is therefore very important to be able to involve the student and you then expect better behaved and motivated students.

The second factor is study. Expanding on the topic, the focus now turns to language teaching. Using text, one can focus on grammar and vocab by reading, comprehension and follow up exercises. I employ both group work and individual teaching styles.

The third factor is activate. By this time, students mostly start getting fidgety. So, the activation segment needs careful planning. What have we learnt today? Let’s put it to practice! Either a closing conversation where we practice vocab and grammar, possibly writing a short story about one's own experiences in the topic. A listening comprehension on the topic may also be the closing activity of the day.

Allowing the student space to express himself/herself is key.

I find the ESA method much more effective. It gives me more control of the class and the style allows modification if I see that students are lacking motivation.