Essay: Language Teaching and Learning Methods

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Language Teaching and Learning Methods: Focus on the Natural Approach of Teaching and Learning English as a Foreign Language

One of the oldest and most widely-cited beliefs involving learning as a process is one that is noted in an ancient Chinese proverb which reads, "Tell me, I forget. Show me, I remember. Involve me, I understand." Such a notion is highly relevant when delving into the issue of language teaching and learning methods, especially in the area of foreign language instruction. Many theorists and scholars have developed a vast and varied series of approached when it comes to the search for the most successful way to teach learners. In the area of language instruction, the key to success is retention and understanding, and the key to retention and understanding is involvement in instruction, which is a focus of the Natural Approach to language teaching and learning.

In order to be fully effective, a teaching method must be complete in terms of theoretical and practical points-of-view that offer full advantages to students who remain eager to learn the English language. In understanding these facets of learning and teaching, one can better understand which elements and structural makeup are necessary to best approach the field of learning and teaching languages, particularly English as a foreign language -- as seen by citing the example of the Natural Approach. In viewing the complexities of the approach at hand, one can understand which components of any methodology are necessary to engage students in a way that allows them full grasp of the information presented them.

Selected Methodology: The Natural Approach

In beginning to pinpoint the most complete methodology of language teaching and learning, one must understand a method from both a theoretical and practical standpoint. In viewing a methodology with respect to the teaching and learning of English as a foreign language, the Natural Approach, which has gained a massive influence in language teaching in the United States and around the world, can be viewed as one such complete methodology, maintaining more advantages than disadvantages when applied to the classroom and weighed by scholarly research.

The Natural Approach was developed by Tracy Terrell and Stephen Krashen in 1977, and since its inception in the field, has risen to prominence in the area of language learning and teaching methodology, and has been proven particularly effective with limited English proficient students (Iruio 95). The Natural Approach, as depicted by its title, is immensely appealing to any learner eager to take on a second language, and these theories on second language acquisition have had an especially large impact on certain areas of use, such as within the education system in the state of California. Starting in 1981, the influence of the Natural Approach has been widely-noted as the lynchpin to success in the bilingual education programs implemented within the state, placing the Natural Approach into the position of widely-cited success in the teaching of English as a second language.

In theory, the Natural Approach bases itself on a communicative view of language that lays particular emphasis on language as a set of messages that can be understood by the learner (SIL Communicative 1). Additionally, a communicative, otherwise known as a functional or notional approach, is organized on the basis of communicative functions, (i.e. apologizing, describing, inviting, promising) that a given learner or group of learners needs to know and emphasizes the ways in which particular grammatical forms may be used to express these functions appropriately (Canale and Swain 2). The Natural Approach is designed in a way that allows the learner to develop basic communicative skills in the language being presented to them, and involves a series of stages including: comprehension (preproduction), early production, and speech emergence (SIL Natural 1).

From a theoretical standpoint, the Natural Approach as noted by Krashen and Terrell (1983), bases itself on the following tenets: the belief that language acquisition (an unconscious process developed through using language meaningfully) is different from language learning (consciously learning or discovering rules about a language), and language acquisition is the only way competence in a second language occurs (the acquisition/learning hypothesis); the belief that conscious learning operates only as a monitor or editor that checks or repairs the output of what has been acquired the monitor hypothesis); the belief that grammatical structures are acquired in a predictable order and it does little good to try to learn them in another order (the natural order hypothesis); the belief that people acquire language best from messages that are slightly beyond their current competence (the input hypothesis); and the notion that the learner's emotional state can act as a filter that impedes or blocks input necessary to acquisition (the affective filter hypothesis) (Krashen and Terrell 183).

Taking these tenets from the theoretical page and placing them into action is another undertaking in itself. In viewing the practical applications of this theoretical approach, instructors have often aligned their teaching methods with a set of guidelines set forth by the method itself, which breaks the entire approach into three stages: comprehension, early speech and speech emergence. The Natural Approach then offers a set of learning tools and methods which allow for the retention of each of these stages respectively in order to model an all-encompassing retention of the language at hand.

In beginning stage one of the Natural Approach, comprehension, the instructor often creates activities which are designed to teach students to recognize the meaning of words and their uses in meaningful contexts. Additionally, instructors seek to teach students to guess the meaning of phrases without the full knowledge of all the words and language structures that are present within a set of sentences. At any age of learning, instructors utilizing the Natural Methods often employ the use of visual aids, such as pictures or gestures along with modification of speech during the use of such visual aids to add to comprehension. In utilizing this approach, instructors aim to teach learners in a manner that moves in natural sequence, beginning with simplistic ideas and visuals in order to gain a sense of understanding and context before moving on to greater levels of conceptual depth.

In this initial stage, the Natural Approach emphasizes the idea that students will begin to use English when they are ready to do so. Therefore, the forcing of students to use English before they have achieved a solid grasp on the idea or vocabulary presented to them will only counter the learning process and postpone the desired ending point and should be avoided by instructors regardless of any aggravation that may come from students' unwillingness to initially participate. Such a period of time is referred to by Krashen and Terrell as the "silent period" which often occurs in learning. Such a period can last for days, or even weeks, in the learning process, but often involve a student's mentally dissecting an idea before utilizing it in their own speech. Success in this phase can eventually be seen when students are able to offer instructors an identifiable TRP (total physical response) which allows students to react with their bodies as well as their brains in their responses (Iruio 95).

The second phase of the Natural Approach delves into a learner's early speech. As the Natural Approach allows learners to move from stage to stage at their own pace, in a non-threatening environment (which has been widely cited as this approach's most significant advantage), stage two begins when students begin using English in a way that allows them to communicate simple answers to each other and to instructors. For instance, stage two is reached when students have the ability to: offer yes and no answers; offer one-word answers; recite lists of words; and create two-word strings or short phrases (Iruio 96). In this stage, the instructor bridges the gap between theoretical teaching methods and practical usage by applying methods in a way that allow students to develop a core basis of understanding. In this early speech stage of learning, the Natural Approach allows learners and instructors to expand upon their knowledge as that knowledge comes to them. In this capacity, students who tend to learn at a slower pace are not discouraged, while students who tend to learn at a quicker pace have the option to expand upon their knowledge significantly before moving to the next stage. As such, a classroom of more than one learner has the ability to remain on the same page despite discrepancies in the time it takes for each learner to be able to grasp the skills needed within this phase of the three-part learning process.

Finally, in the Natural Approach's three-part process is the stage dealing with speech emergence. In the speech emergence stage, speech production will normally improve in both quantity and quality, the sentences that students will produce will become longer, more complex, and will contain a wider range of vocabulary, and the number of errors will decrease (Iruio 97). This stage offers students the chance to hone the skills they have… [END OF PREVIEW]

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