Methods of teaching English: its content and tasks

Methods of teaching English: its content and tasks

Language teaching came into its own as a profession in the last century. Central to this phenomenon was the emergence of the concept of “methods” of language teaching. The method concept in language teaching – the notion of a systematic set of teaching practices based on a particular theory of language and language learning – is a powerful one, and the quest for better methods was a preoccupation of teachers and applied linguists throughout the 20th century.

Methodology in language teaching has been characterized in a variety of ways. A more or less classical formulation suggests that methodology is that which links theory and practice. Theory statements would include theories of what language is and how language is learned or, more specifically, theories of second language acquisition. Such theories are linked to various design features of language instruction. These design features might include stated objectives, syllabus specifications, types of activities, roles of teachers, learners, materials, and so forth. Design features in turn are linked to actual teaching and learning practices as observed in the environments where language teaching and learning take place. This whole complex of elements defines language teaching method­ology.

Ukrainian students, like many English as a Foreign Language (EFL) stu­dents, come to study for two reasons: either to learn how to use English, especially for speaking and to a lesser degree writing; or to obtain a certificate; or both, as is the case with the majority. Those students that want to learn to speak need English in their work or for job interviews. They also need English for their leisure time, to travel or meet tourists that come toUkraine, or to better understand British and American cultures as they appear in movies, music, or literature. At the same time, those that want a certificate inUkraineand many countries around the world cer­tificates are required the need to know and be able to use the structure and vocabu­lary of English.

Thus we understand the word “methods” (or methodology) in the following three meanings:

methods as a pedagogical science which combines general features of any other science (theoretical background, experimental base, objects of check­ing the hypothesis) and specific features connected with peculiarities of a certain subject;

methods as a combination of forms, methods and techniques of the teacher’s job; sometimes – techniques used by a certain group of teachers in their practical work;

methods as a university discipline.

Methods is closely connected with the concept of the learning process which includes three basic components:

Teaching activities of the teacher. The process of learning demands both activities – that of the teacher as well as that of the students. At the earlier stages of the teaching-learning process the teacher’s activity prevales, but as the process goes on the teacher’s activity decreases while the student’s activity increases.

Learning activities of the students. To learn, students need at least to be awake and paying some kind of attention; if they are asleep, or if their at­tention is elsewhere (which with adolescents is frequently the case), they are not going to learn much. Perhaps this recognition is one reason for the relatively recent shift from observing teachers in action to observing stu­dents in action: what are they up to while the teacher is “teaching”? A lot of people think that learning a language involves simply acquiring knowledge like learning history or geography. But learning a language is a lot more like learning tennis – it involves learning a skill, whereas learning history or geography simply invоlves learning a set of facts or a body of knowledge. Facts and knowledge are static, but skills like tennis or English are living and changing and need constant practice. They are spontaneous activities between two or more people. And just as in a tennis game you never know where the ball will land next, in English you can never predict what another person will say. How can students learn to face any kind of situation in English? In tennis, what leads to a good game is practice, and this involves not only learning the rules of the game and doing repetitive drills, but also spontaneous practice with real partners. It is the same with English. What leads to mastery of the language is not only learning the “rules of the game” – grammar and doing repetitive drills, but also spontaneous practice with real partners, classmates, for example.

Learning organization. It includes the following factors:

Teaching goals (objectives). For the teachers it is necessary to keep in mind the teaching goals with the two key words: communication and rigor: that is, a communicative approach within a rigorous framework should be applied. To achieve these aims, it is important to stress the interaction of three elements: pacing, content, and evaluation. Pacing relates to the rhythm of a class and the degree to which class time is used well. Since students study only three or two hours per week in school, the teachers try to maximize the time by doing activities that can be done only in class; that is, activities which require the presence of either the teacher or the class­mates. This can include grammar exercises that are not rote or that are done or checked with partners, or grammar explanations when students are not clear on a point. However, class time is spent mainly on activities in which the students use the language by speaking and listening, and to a lesser de­gree writing and reading. Class time is also spent giving students feedback on their performance. Pacing in the class not only involves knowing what to spend class time on but also involves knowing what to leave for home work. Rote grammar exercises, long readings, writing, and other individual activities that require time and reflection more than the presence of a teacher or classmate are ideal candidates for homework.

The greatest measure of good pacing is that students leave each class feeling that they have learned something concrete, either that they have practiced a lot or that they have acquired more knowledge about the language, and that the time in class has been well spent. The content is divided into three parts: input, focus on structure, and output. Input means that students are given rich and varied exposure to English; they are literally bombarded with aural and written English at the appropriate level. This input is provided both in class and in such homework assignments as reading/listening/vocabulary journals, seeing movies in English, and reading authentic texts or graded readers. However, input alone will not lead to students’ learning how to use the language. In order to achieve accurate output, students must learn how the structure of the language works. In the native environment, EFL stu­dents have lots of input and direct response to their output – if they use in­correct structures or accents, native speakers probably will not understand them and they will have to adjust their language accordingly. This tends not to happen in the EFL environment since the other students, and fre­quently the teacher too, understand the inter-language (in our case, Ukrain­ian) perfectly well, maybe even better than native English. Students are given rich input in order to learn what good English looks and sounds like. They are given the rules of the language so that they know how to put the elements together correctly.

And finally, they are given opportunities to practice and express themselves in English in both written and spoken forms. Written practice is done largely outside of class although there are certainly times when writing in class is valuable. However, speaking prac­tice occupies a large part of class time and is achieved not only through a communicative approach in which students participate actively, but also through specific speaking activities. And for both written and spoken out­put, error correction takes place to ensure that students are learning and improving from their practice, especially since they lack the real-life feed- back that EFL students receive outside the class which indicates the last element – evaluation.

The content of teaching, i.e., what to teach to reach the goals.

Teaching methods and techniques, i.e., how to teach English to reach the goals in the most effective way.

The first component of the content of teaching English is psychological -habits and skills which ensure the use of the target language as a means of com­munication in oral (listening and speaking) and written (reading and writing) forms, and which pupils should acquire while learning English. According to the aims of learning English they are: habits and skills in listening comprehension, speaking, reading, and writing.

The second component of “what to teach” is a linguistic one. It includes language material: phonetic elements, grammar and ‘vocabulary, sentence-patterns, utterance-patterns, pattern-dialogues, texts different in style and ar­ranged in topics. They serve as the starting points for the development of oral and written language skills.

The third component of the content of teaching English is methodological. Pupils should be taught how to learn the foreign language, how to work at certain language material in order to bring the least effort and to achieve the best results (for example, how to memorize words and keep them in memory, how to per­form drill exercises to acquire some habit).

So, methods of teaching English is a science the main tasks of which are: to study the goals, content, teaching methods and techniques, the ways of learning and teaching on the basis of foreign language material.