How do you Teach Languages – Part 1

How do you Teach Languages – Part 1

Teach Languages

Teaching languages was once a case of getting students used to the repetitive aspect of continuously saying foreign words until they stuck in the brain. Today things are very different and although there is some parrot-type tuition, languages are mostly taught in a task-based way. As one famous language lecturer once said, you need a little grammar, but my approach is much more topic based with as little grammar possible. This attitude sort of grates against tradition and is frowned upon by many academics.

Task Based Learning

Task based learning is the type of teaching typically involves a gap of information, such as an incomplete sentence, so in order for the students to complete the task students have to communicate or search for language rules before applying them to solve the riddle. A senior lecturer at the University of Salford said, we know that people learn better when they struggle to communicate, so that needs to be at the core of the kind of delivery and the methodology. Mr Jarvis is convinced that this is the best possible way of teaching languages.

After all, the purpose of teaching languages is for people to be able to communicate with one another, grammar and learning the rules are important but there is a much bigger picture here. Mechanical exercises may eventually work, but the best way of learning is through interaction and to engage in the lessons.

A Conflicting View

However, saying all that, there are those who do not entirely agree with the task-based learning view. Richard Hudson is the professor of linguistics at University College London. He takes an opposite view to professor Jarvis. He stated that it was not fair for students to have to work things out for themselves through communication. He even went further, suggesting that it was a classic case of throwing the baby into the bath water.

So, which of the views is correct?

There is now a healthy respect for a mix of ideals, and that grammar and the basics should be taught but alongside task-based learning. This was the conclusion of Michael Erard who studied multilingual speakers and said that his students used a variety of methods. He illuminated on his theory by saying, they use a mix, with a focus on accomplishing tasks, whether it’s communicative tasks or translation tasks. Basically, he is saying that the best method of learning languages is the method you like and suits you the best.

Teaching any subject has its complications, but languages in particular cannot really be taught. Because of this it is better to tell students from the start that they are ultimately responsible for their own learning, and a teacher is simply there to guide and assist.

Another crucial problem with teaching a foreign language is the time allocated to the students. Many language teachers bemoan the class time, and say they are never given sufficient hours to really teach their subject.

Most teachers who agree with this theory state that they realistically would need to double the number of hours that they could be with their students to effectively impart the required amount of knowledge. We take up this and other ideas of teaching languages in part two of this blog.