Wednesday, July 11, 2018


I'm in a major that doesn't really have tests that require me to study notes: instead, I write papers and cite sources, and my academic pursuits are later put to the test when I'm employed. The theory side of Teaching ESL is all about linguistics and how people learn languages, and the classroom side is what you'd expect, plus psychology. If any of this looks remotely interesting, consider teaching ESL...the field could use your enthusiasm, and you get to work with different cultures and be an ambassador!

Theory: How people learn languages

There's this guy named Stephen Krashen, who has five hypotheses of language. The first splits 'getting' a language into two parts. Acquisition is where you pick up a language without explicit instruction. So, like, when I listen to JPOP for a few hours because I like the tunes or singers' voices, I'm acquiring Japanese. Similarly, when I read Ranma 1/2 with a dictionary or watch Miyazaki films with or without subtitles. Learning is explicit, conscious, guided language. That's when you take JPN 101, or even write down and keep a separate vocabulary list of the acquisition activities I just listed.

Krashen's second hypothesis says that when you pay attention to grammar and accuracy, you inevitably slow down your language production, as you're self-correcting. Nothing too brain-bending there.

Third down this guy's theories, Krashen says that grammar is acquired in a natural order. While it's easy to imagine that a kid will nail, "I ate an apple" before "By 8:05 pm, I will have eaten the apple if I put my mind to it," there are more complex grammar rules that aren't so obvious. Think about the different uses of s in the sentence He sings (1) to his mother's (2) cats (3) while she's (4) not at home. The first s is required for singular subjects (he), the second s is to show the cats belong to mother, the third is to show more than one cat, and the last one is a reduction of is. English speakers master 4 3 and 2 a lot faster than they do 1, and Krashen says that ESL students would likely follow the same pattern, so teachers should teach in that order.

Still with me? Good, cause there are 2 more.

The Input Hypothesis is that for students to progress in language learning, they need to hear and read language that is slightly above their level of speaking and writing, or i+1. Authentic communication with a native or higher-level speaker naturally is i+1. Krashen also argues that teachers shouldn't teach grammar: everything worth learning will be taken up naturally. This theory certainly has its critics, though. His fifth and final theory is about the affective filter, which is all the things that prevent the aforementioned input from being processed. The affective filter is stuff like being turned off by grammar because your previous teacher made you repeat phrases for hours on end, or students being afraid to present to classmates because they'll be laughed at. I attack this head on by having a low-pressure classroom with a lot of laughter and students give presentations all the time, so it becomes habit. I have to undo all of the trauma that students who've been in test-focused English classes who were yelled at over imperfect answers have suffered.

Steven Krashen doubled down on his acquisition theory, believing in teaching language without explicit grammar lessons. If all of us naturally picked up English from our families, friends and

The belief goes that a beginning language learner will get a lot more out of a language class than an hour of complete immersion. So all of those people that suggest going to France to learn French had better build a foundation, first.

Theory: Teaching methods

Diane Larsen-Freeman is another big name in ESL. The book starts off with her saying that no teaching method is inherently better than another; you've got to do what works for you and your students. For example, I give praise to students because they've often come from classrooms where they weren't given much chance to speak and really use what they've learned. My thinking goes that now that students are here risking embarrassment that comes from not being able to be understood or sounding funny, they should be encouraged to experiment with less-than-perfect English. The contrasting method, called the Silent Way, means that teachers don't give praise. The idea is that no news is good news. Your English is accepted if no one makes a comment about it and proceeds talking to you. This is more like communicating outside of the classroom and puts more of the motivation in the hands of students. In my own experience with Japanese as a second language, I figured out pretty quickly that when a Japanese person says "Your Japanese is good!" It means that it really isn't, in an encouraging, sometimes patronizing way to address foreigners speaking the language. However, if someone continues the conversation or answers my question without praise, that means they are acknowledging my ability to communicate.

The Grammar-Translation / Classical Method

This is probably what you think of when you think of Latin or your own language-learning experience in high school. Students get a text in their target language, read it out loud, translate it, and answer questions about it. Class is usually taught mostly in the native language, and students are rarely encouraged to speak in the target language. The idea behind this is that language is learned primarily to understand literature, which is linguistically superior to spoken language. Grammar rules are taught and then students need to apply them in exercises. Vocabulary sheets are given with the native language meaning. Another feature of the Grammar-Translation method is that there is no place for wrong answers; it's important that answers are accurate because that reflects comprehension of the text. There is very little attention given to spoken language and pronunciation, so students who've gone through this system will likely find themselves struggling to speak in the target language community.

Example activities: translation of a literary passage, reading comprehension questions, antonym/synonyms, bilingual vocabulary lists for memorization

The Direct Method

Think 'immersion,' where class is conducted entirely in the target language. The idea is that language learners need to think in the target language instead of translating everything in their heads. Vocabulary is usually associated with full sentences and context. More objects and pictures are used in the classroom for students to connect meaning to ideas. Grammar is taught by students drawing their conclusions from a set of examples, rather than having the rule explicitly explained. For errors, teachers try and lead students to correct answers, which in turn encourages self-correction. Students are also given more opportunity to interact and ask and answer questions; this method focuses on speaking, vocabulary and listening over reading and writing. Content is more about modern peoples' daily lives in the target culture than fine arts (Grammar-Translation). For example, a lesson in the Direct Method might be about how to order food at a restaurant, where G-T would involve reading a review of a restaurant.* (Can G-T be modern like this? Is my assumption going too far?).

Example activities: dictation, reading aloud, paragraph writing, map drawing

The Audio-Lingual Method

In this type of classroom, students spend a lot of time memorizing dialogue that includes useful patterns of language with no overt grammar lessons. The idea is that language is acquired through habits and repeated exposure. Example dialogue:

George: Hey Luna, I'm heading to the store in an hour.
Luna: Can you wait until 3 o clock? I have to finish my homework first.

The teacher would first read it aloud or play a tape, then have students gradually repeat it back. Next, half of the class might practice the dialogue, and then students would do it in pairs. At some point, the teacher could prompt students to use a different phrase for the underlined words, but there is rarely a chance for students to create their own content in a freer environment. Also, after the teacher models, they could have students change the form of the sentence to negative or question form. For writing, students might have a partially-erased conversation that they'd memorized earlier, and have to write it down entirely in their notebooks.

Example activities: drills, drills with word substitutions, backward buildup drills, minimal pairs

Cognitive Code Approach: The next methods were developed after Noam Chomsky came along and said that all humans were born with a language acquisition device (LAD), a mechanism that allows all of us to learn languages. Languages have a lot of things in common, such as nouns and verbs, a way to talk about the past, and an established word order. To Chomsky, the difference in language is pretty much just which boxes are switched on and off in your LAD.

This lead to methods where the main goal of language is to communicate.

The Silent Way

The goal here is that students need to control their learning. One thing that jumps out about this method is the use of a sound-color chart, where students refer to colored words for pronunciation. One use I've seen is that common words with known pronunciations, so your chart might have alternativeabout, and apple to illustrate the three different pronunciations of 'a.' This method is called The Silent Way because the teacher identifies students' levels and provides the prompts necessary to advance their learning, but gives only the necessary input to do so, not offering praise and often modeling only once. The goal here is to make students independent learners from the teacher, listening to themselves and each other, finally becoming autonomous. This is one of the first methods to ask students for feedback on their learning experience.

Example activities: Anything with rods, self-correction gestures, word and Fidel (color-coded pronunciation) charts


This is the first teaching method that pays a lot of attention to the (Krashen's) affective filter: the psychological barrier that prevents 100% of what the teacher says from being 100% absorbed. This method uses fine art to relax students and ease their tension to facilitate learning. A teacher will perform a dialogue while classical music is playing, matching their intonation to the music on the first concert. They might also be encouraged to close their eyes. On the second, the music might change, and the reading is more like speech than singing. Eventually, the students would read the dialogue themselves, and their final reading would involve intonation and dramatized versions of different emotional states. Another characteristic is that related grammar patterns are posted on the wall around the room for passive reinforcement. Lesson content usually has positive concepts and motivating phrases, and uses role playing because it's often easier to be more expressive as a different persona. Lastly, there are games to motivate students to use the language and focus on winning instead of rules and accuracy.

Example activities: Nicknames in class, frequent role playing, first & second concerts (listening to dialogue with classical music), emotional dialogue readings, ball throw

Community Language Learning

Students are people and the teacher is a counselor. This technique has students discussing a topic in their native language first before attempting the target language. Next, students have a group discussion, using their teacher as a translator for when the students can't quite produce the target language. This puts control of learning in the students' hands. Ideally, the students would rely on their teacher less and less for group discussion in this heavily student-focused classroom. At first, fluency is the focus, and errors are rarely addressed, but this flips as students become more self-reliant. Also, students' target language chunks are recorded bit by bit, and replayed in a coherent sentence at the end of the lesson. All students would work together, adding their own amount of language to the tape. After the entire exchange is recorded, it would then be transcripted and studied in future lessons. Another component of this is asking for student feedback.

Example activities: recording student conversation, Human Computer, reflective listening

TPR - Total Physical Response (technique, not a method)

Language to concept (instead of translating). This method imitates the way babies learn to speak - they're pretty passive in their first months, listening to language and observing things to make their own meaning. In the classroom, this is where the teacher gives commands like sit down, stand up, jump and students act them out. Commands will gradually become more complex, and occasionally, the teacher will appoint a student to give commands. Ideally, the lesson will reach an entire action sequence, which is the process of doing something. For example, open the door, wave to your neighbor, talk to your neighbor, shake their hand, wave again to your neighbor, close the door is the series of commands to answer the door.

Methods discussion questions
Example activities: using commands to direct behavior, action sequence, dictation where students write minimally after listening

Classroom questions written by peers:
Does using translation in a classroom raise the affective filter because of the number of untranslatable language that students can't completely translate?

Is checking your students' feelings about learning the same as checking for their comprehension?

Do you believe it is possible to teach all grammatical features through the imperative form in TPR?

Is there any formal evaluation of students in The Silent Method, Desuggestopedia or CLL ?

What's the difference between direct and indirect positive influence in Desuggestopedia?

Communicative Approach
Despite the goal of teaching communication with previous methods, these next methods analyzed language learning and evolved.

CLT - Communicative Language Teaching

In this way, the teacher facilitates communication in the classrooms by establishing situations that get students talking. Because language is thought of as a social activity, students are broken into small groups to maximize their talking time, and the teacher monitors groups and answers questions. The activities are supposed to give students choice in expression (though there's still an accuracy component) as well as feedback from their partners via response to their input. Lastly, there should be an information gap, where one person knows something the other doesn't. Best to be an attitude to be used for the following CBI and TBI.

Example CLT activities: role plays, scrambled sentences, language games.

Analytic vs synthetic syllabus

This dichotomy comes from whether or not curriculum is organized by grammar points and vocabulary (synthetic) in order of linguistic complexity. Analytic syllabuses organize content by language purpose, such as

CBI - Content-based Instruction

When English is used for specific purposes. Business English. French culinary terms. Tourism English. An Italian (language) History class in Morocco. This uses the SIOP model.

TBI - Task-based Instruction

This is very similar to CLT, except the lessons are based around accomplishing tasks. A lesson could be designed around how to fill open a checking account, or how to ace a job interview. In this method, the teacher assigns the task, but students decide which grammar best suits their purposes, and teacher helps out with necessary vocabulary. The theory is that learners acquire grammar and vocabulary in their own time, so it's best to focus on completing tasks.

Example TBI activities: Navigation based on schedules, how to apply for citizenship, Yelp review

The Natural Approach

A teaching method that uses the above 5 Krashen hypotheses is called The Natural Approach. Receptive skills (reading and listening) come before productive skills (speaking and writing). Adult learning is different from child learning. Grammar raises the affective filter for everyone, but adults tend to demand it. The use of authentic learning materials (newspaper articles, poems) means that students aren't encouraged to know everything about the language, just the gist.

Intensive (meaning) reading: carefully, word by word. Extensive (form) reading: for pleasure, main ideas. We need both.

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