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The Top 5 Methods to Teach English Overseas

The Top 5 Methods to Teach English Overseas

Teaching methods, also known as ‘methodology’, refer to the different practices and theories related to teaching foreign languages.

Since the 19th century many methods have been applied to teaching Modern Languages, when they were implemented in many school curricula.

Past Methodologies

The first method, originally used to teach Greek and Latin, was the Grammar-translation method. These lessons were based on a lecture-style format, which involved a lot of translation and memorisation of grammatical structures.

The focus was on writing and reading skills, making the learning of the language very limited. Although this method has widely become obsolete, it is used in some parts of the world.

In the 1900s in England the Direct Method started gaining popularity, becoming widespread by the 70s. In contrast with its predecessor, this method avoided any form of translation, focusing on speaking and listening skills with lessons delivered only in the language being taught – the target language.

Through this method, the learning process is facilitated by the use of visual aids and real-life objects (known as ‘realia’) to promote language discovery and pantomimes, role-plays, and other speaking activities to encourage language production.

On the other side of the ocean, the Audio-lingual method was being used during World War II, when American soldiers were posted all over the world.

To provide such a large number of servicepeople with basic foreign language skills, these lessons were based on observation and repetition.

Like the Direct Method, the audio-lingual lessons were taught exclusively in the target language, but they relied heavily on repetition (‘drilling’) of vocabulary and grammar patterns, much like the Grammar-translation method.

Modern methodologies

Since the mid- to late 1900s, English has become the common language (‘lingua franca’) of business, entertainment, technology, and aviation.

This has caused the number of learners of English across the globe to increase exponentially, together with the demand for teachers of English as a foreign language (TEFL).

As a result, the way in which foreign languages are taught has been in continuous evolution.

Most Popular Teaching Methods Are:

Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) approach

This is currently the most widespread method in TEFL classrooms. The goal is to equip learners with the language tools necessary to communicate in English in different kinds of situations, such as making requests and complaints, apologizing, expressing opinions, etc.

In CLT lessons, the teachers become ‘facilitators’ rather than ‘instructors’, helping learners discover the language, instead of being told.

The interaction between the learners and the teacher – and among the learners – is an integral component of CLT, which relies heavily on language production and giving/receiving feedback.

Presentation, Practice, Production (PPP)

This is the most popular procedure among newly qualified TEFL teachers, as its easy-to-follow structure is clear and logical for both teachers and students.

During the presentation stage, the teacher introduces the topic and the target language for the lesson with some discussion questions or visual materials, such as pictures or videos.

For example: Look at this picture. Where are they? What are they doing? How do you think they feel? Why? Tell your partner your ideas.

Using the students’ answers as a starting point, the teacher guides the learners through language discovery.

At this point, the students practice the target language while the teacher assesses if there are any language-related issues to be addressed.

In the production stage, the students participate in speaking activities where the target language should be produced spontaneously. The teacher observes and takes notes to provide feedback at a later stage.

Task-based Learning/Teaching (TBLT)

Often described as ‘inverted PPP’, the TBLT approach involves a pre-task activity that leads the learners to the discovery of the target language.

This approach is very engaging, as the learners work together to solve a task or achieve a goal without worrying about the technicalities of the language used. This is discussed and analyzed only upon completion of the task.

Test-Teach-Test (TTT)

This is another popular procedural approach that allows teachers to assess, evaluate, and reassess the students’ learning while giving learners tangible evidence of their progress.

In the ‘test’ stage, learners work on a task that focuses on a specific language area. This allows the teacher to understand their understanding and challenges related to that language point.

In the ‘teach’ stage, the teacher revisits the target language and helps learners as needed, depending on the outcome of the ‘test’ stage.

It is a great opportunity to integrate some peer teaching at this point, to avoid a less-than-engaging lecture-style lesson.

In this final ‘test’ stage, the learners complete tasks that focus on the same target language to check their understanding once again.

Lexical Approach

This is the most modern approach of significant impact in the TEFL industry because it completely avoids the traditional presentation of grammatical structures surrounded by a range of vocabulary.

Instead, the Lexical Approach introduces language in ‘chunks’ with a common function.

This is a popular approach in Business English classes, where the learners – usually busy professionals – need to make fast language progress and don’t have the time to focus on learning grammar rules.

In countries like Kuwait and UAE, there’s a high demand for Business English teachers. If you’re interested, read this awesome blog post on how to do teach in UAE.

For each lesson, the language chunks revolve around high-frequency set phrases (e.g. I’ll have a look at it, I’ll see you tomorrow) and collocations, words that are often used together (e.g. golden + opportunity, do + homework, get + away + with).

The lack of a formal introduction to grammar favors those who struggle with the technical structure of the language.

However, it has been argued that it overlooks the way in which the language system is built and it does not facilitate the understanding of how it works.

Other approaches

During the 60s and 90s, many other teaching approaches were developed, all falling under the umbrella ‘humanistic approach’.

They stem from the belief that effective learning can only occur when psychological barriers are removed from the learning environment.

The Silent Way focuses on speaking and listening skills, considered fundamental for achieving full control of a language. Visual materials are combined with kinesthetic activities, which require physical movement.

Total Physical Response (TPR), like the Silent Way, relies on kinesthetic activities but it does not require any language production from the learners in the early stages of the learning process.

In this way, students don’t feel pushed into stressful situations (e.i. speaking in a foreign language) if they don’t feel ready.

Until then, they follow instructions and show understanding by completing a task, like ‘close the window’, or ‘give Stefan the red pen’. This method is used for beginner-level classes.

Community Language Learning (CLL) is suitable for mono-lingual classes, where learners have the same first language in common. For this reason, the teacher must be proficient in the students’ language.

These lessons are student-led, where the students decide what to talk about in every single class. The teacher helps the conversation by giving feedback and introducing the language related to the topic of their choice.

Suggestopedia aims at reducing the learners’ stress levels as much as possible. These lessons are divided into three parts.

In the first part, there’s a discussion based on what was previously learned – a review. In the second part, the teacher introduces the new content discussed both in English and in the student’s own language.

In the third part, Baroque music is played in the background to facilitate concentration while the teacher reads the lesson material out loud to the class.

Find your method

Without a doubt, every single teaching method has its benefits and some faults. Find what works for you and your students and make their learning (and your teaching) experience memorable.

To keep things interesting, switch them around and see if they enjoy the change. What’s your favorite teaching method?

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