Second Language Acquisition and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) Methodology

07/27/2012 12:34
Sandra Jivcovici - 7/23/12

Hi everyone! My name is Sandra Jivcovici and I am an ESL Instructor here at Bell Language School. I have had the pleasure of teaching at BLS since August of last year (2011) and am grateful for having been given the opportunity to work with such a diverse community of students, whom I learn new things from every day through our varied classroom interactions. Of course teaching such a diverse group of students requires that we appropriately and effectively incorporate a myriad of interactive teaching techniques and methodologies into the ESL classroom; this will allow us, as teachers, to adequately cater our lessons to the needs of our students, and will subsequently allow our students to derive maximum benefit from their daily interactions, both within the classroom and outside the classroom environment. For students to derive such a benefit it is recommended that the English development program be well-balanced; that is to say, it should provide ample opportunities for students to develop not only their conversational language fluency, but also their academic language proficiency.

Over time, different methodologies and approaches have been utilized in the ESL classroom, some of which are no longer valid or useful, in large part because of their outdated and ineffective approaches to second language acquisition. As ESL methodologies for second language acquisition have changed from decade to decade, and even from century to century, new research studies have been conducted in this domain to identify and establish better techniques and methods of teaching ESL more effectively to students. Keeping this goal in mind, ESL programs should be structured around activities and lessons that fall under a combination of the following FL (Foreign Language) teaching approaches: content-based, literature-based, and communicative-based.

The first approach is the content-based approach, which is also known as "integrated language and content instruction". This method of instruction requires that teachers, whether ESL, bilingual, or foreign language teachers, use instructional materials, learning tasks, and classroom techniques from academic content areas as the principal vehicle for developing language, content, cognitive, and study skills. In doing so, the second language is often used as the medium of instruction for academic subjects. There are also a variety of strategies and techniques that are used in content-centered second language instruction, such as:

  • cooperative learning (working together on a common task for a common goal),
  • task-based learning (first a context is provided and then students learn through carrying out specific tasks),
  • whole language approach (integrating all 4 skill sets),
  • graphic organizers (charts, graphs, tables, timelines, and Venn diagrams to organize ideas obtained from written or oral texts).

The second approach is the literature-based approach, which primarily uses literature as a tool for language development and enrichment. Literature-based instruction is meant to help students develop their reading, writing, and critical thinking skills. It is a more creative means of teaching students academic-type skills. When dealing with a diverse population of students, multicultural literature is recommended; the literature should reflect the diverse backgrounds of the students. It is important to keep in mind that quality literature is a rich resource that promotes language acquisition, provides language models, and helps in literacy development, as well as building vocabulary and familiarity with idiomatic expressions. Lessons following this approach are usually organized around three phases:

  • pre-storytelling (analyzing the title, the illustrations, and determining what the story/book might be about),
  • storytelling (reading the book),
  • post-storytelling (textual analysis/conceptual analysis/identifying the plot, characters, problems and resolutions).

The third approach is the communicative-based approach, which uses interactive activities or language engagement as a tool for language development. This approach is very student-centered in that lessons are built around situations that are practical and authentic in the real world (example: asking for information/directions, complaining, apologizing, job interviews, making a phone call). Emphasis is really put on engaging the learners in more useful and authentic language rather than repetitive grammar patterns, as well as communication and meaning rather than accuracy. Being understood takes precedence over correct grammar, as communicative competence becomes the desired goal, and using language appropriately in different social situations is the main focus of this approach.

Another approach that is often used in ESL and is probably most effective with beginner students is the TPR (Total Physical Response) approach. In TPR, understanding is developed through movement of the body, and speaking is never forced. For example, the teacher might give a command while modeling the action at the same time. The teacher may say "Stand up!" while standing up, or "Pick up your pencil!" while picking up their pencil. The commands are repeated and modeled until the students have made a connection between the two and are able to respond easily without the use of the model anymore to guide them. This method of teaching English is good for kinesthetic learners who need to be active in class, because it is a technique that promotes active learning, rather than passive listening.

These approaches have been identified as some of the more successful and effective approaches to second language acquisition. Active learning is encouraged above all and conversational fluency is stressed more so than academic proficiency, with the content-based approach being an exception. Students need to acquire both conversational and academic proficiency in order to fully integrate themselves into the American mainstream, and it is common for students to develop conversational fluency before academic proficiency, and at a much faster rate. While it is important for students to develop their conversational or "survival language" fluency, as teachers we must also encourage our students to excel in the cognitive and academic aspect of English language development. That said, the most important thing we can provide for our students is a safe and supportive classroom environment in which students are not afraid to take risks and students' attempts at language use are encouraged, in order to further their language development and academic and personal success.