The Appropriate Methods for Teaching ESL
Jennifer Teacher in Action
There are a number of methods used to teach English as a Second Language (ESL). Various considerations must be made when deciding which approach is best for your teaching contexts. While some (most) of these methods go in and out of favor, it is best not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. That is to say, you do not need to disregard a given method because it is currently out of favor. Chances are, there was a reason why it was once popular in the first place. By critically examining different methods, you can consider which aspects of each would work in your classroom.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. I have merely compiled the most common or well-known methods of teaching ESL.
The audio-lingual method will be familiar to most, if not all, second language learners. This method relies on drilling and repetition, focusing almost solely on accuracy over fluency. The goal is to create good language "habits", as in, automating speech.
Students practice using the language by repeating phrases over and over. If you have seen the movie Love Actually, you have seen Colin Firth in a huge language lab where each student was repeating phrases without any interaction with anyone else. That is the audio-lingual method at its most heinous (in my opinion).
Although it is currently out of favor in Western countries, it is still the standard in many parts of the world. It is probably still the standard even in the Western countries which consider it to be outdated and inefficient, simply because it is the easiest for teachers to prepare for and it is how most teachers learned foreign languages themselves.
To go back to the above example of the language lab where each student worked independently, hopefully you can see the drawbacks. Namely, language is too rich and varied to get far memorizing stock phrases. People in real life rarely do language learners the favor of speaking slowly and enunciating clearly, as voice actors do for language CDs. Not to mention, there is no one there to let you know if you are correctly pronouncing what you hear.
Not a Result of the Audio-Lingual Method
More Likely Results of ALM
This method has students study their second language by comparing it to their first. As you may guess, translating written texts features heavily. Grammar Translation also relies on practice exercises, tests, and essay writing. In contrast to the Audio-Lingual Method, the focus is on reading and writing, rather than listening and speaking (repeating).
However, this method, too, has fallen out of favor, because it does not lead to fluency in a second language. It creates a strong awareness of similarities and differences between two languages, but not natural speakers/ users of a second language.
A Humorous Look at GTM
The Communicative Approach
Communicative Language Teaching, including Task-Based Learning, is the current darling of the ESL world, although there tends to be broad variation in how it is put into practice. At its "purist", CLT has minimal teacher interaction or TTT (teacher talk time).
Students learn the language by completing tasks which require them to communicate with their classmates. The definition of "task" can be used broadly here to include just about any activity which requires student interaction to complete. You can read more about that here.
Clearly, the focus is largely on fluency, although accuracy can improve through CLT tasks. Depending on the teacher, there may or may not be a language focus included in the lesson. If there is, the teacher should create one on the fly, based on actual errors which the teacher overhears during the task.
Realistically, there are certain errors which could be predicted and planned for. More beneficially, in my opinion, the pre-task portion of the lesson should activate students' existing vocabulary and include a review of useful language and grammar forms.
Although this method is currently very popular, it could fade as it gets watered down to make preparation or standardization, such as in mass-produced text books, easier.
Task-Based Learning in Action
TPR: Total Physical Response
TPR is a great way to get Very Young Learners (VYLs) and lower level Young Learners (YLs) involved in ESL classes in a way that is non-threatening for them. Total Physical Response gets kids moving around the classroom as they follow the directions given to them by their teacher.
The teacher uses gestures and, over time, increases the complexity of their language while introducing new vocabulary. Students are not required to do much, if any, speaking until they are ready. Although many people assume you can only use commands with TPR, I have included two videos demonstrating using the method to teach the alphabet and for storytelling.
Clearly, there are limits to what one can learn this way, but it is a good way to start VYLs and YLs off in a new language.
TPR Training Video
TPR Phoncs: Silly and Fun
The Silent Way
The final method discussed here is not widely used, but I include it to show that accuracy exercises are possible with minimal TTT (teacher talk time). Rather than have students listen and repeat, the teacher creates a visual which the students then describe. To do this, the teacher has Cuisenaire rods, blocks of various sizes and colors, and pronunciation charts posted on the wall.
I have strong doubts about this method's efficicacy in the long term, but I do think it could be useful to create awareness of correct pronunciation. I also think that it is a non-threatening way to get older beginners involved.
The Silent Way
Methodology and You
As you can see, there are many ways to teach ESL. There are a number of methodologies not even mentioned here, but they are less common, perhaps with the exception of the Silent Way. However, you should not see each methodology as complete or perfect/ terrible. Each method has aspects which could make it more or less useful in your classroom.
You should consider your students and their needs, as well as their expectations in the classroom, when considering which methods to use. For example, you may think task-based learning is the best thing since sliced bread, but if your students are used to a very teacher-centered classroom, they may think you are just being lazy. On the other hand, while those same students may expect the Audio-Lingual Method, it is unlikely to be the most beneficial for them. Mixing and matching methods can help you meet their expectations for what should happen in a language classroom while improving the efficiency of their language learning.