I would like to take a moment of your time to explain my philosophy of teaching and learning English as a Second Language. You might find this article useful if you’re a returning student to the language lab, a new student, or a fellow teacher. I have been teaching ESL for 43 years. In that time, I have worked with many students on their English. I feel that also, my students have taught me. Based on their needs and their statements about what has helped them the most, I have, over the years, built a method of teaching that I think addresses the needs of the ESL student. I have also learned an immense amount from other teachers and linguists in this field.
First, let me explain what I don’t think works in language acquisition. It’s a mistake to think that a student can learn a language well by concentrating on one type of exercise, one book, or one topic. Just as the body needs different types of nutrition, the mind needs different approaches to a subject. For example, the study of biology demands field work as well as class work. A biology learner finds himself or herself studying other subjects such as anthropology, physics, and mathematics. In the same way, the study of English demands conversation practice, pronunciation practice, grammar writing practices, and reading-listening exercises. There is also definite benefit in language acquisition derived from music, art, literature, and science, and history; in other words, the liberal arts.
It is a mistake to teach or learn English solely through one-dimensional topic agendas such as life skill training or the problem of social justice. These topics are very important, but they should not be the ESL student’s only reading matter. That’s why online reading/listening websites such as Voice of America and EDCON reading workbooks are so important: they provide a wealth of diverse reading/listening materials and VOA includes music with their excellent podcast presentations.
Any philosophy of ESL teaching would be incomplete without mention of the importance of enjoyment in the learning of English. Yes, it’s difficult, but at the same time, it should be fun. Humor plays an important role. I like textbooks like Side by Side that include humorous cartoons such as huge dogs or funny faces and situations. But fun can be serious, too, when the mind is stimulated and our natural curiosity is awakened. Curiosity is a wonderful thing. It drives you to learn about and understand something you had never learned about or understood before. You discover new things about the world, and you discover new things about yourself, and you learn how to do something you didn’t know how to do before.
I'd like to stress the importance of self expression in the process of learning a language. Even though your vocabulary is limited and you're unsure of grammar and spelling, it's a good idea to try to speak and write in your new language. Don't be afraid to make mistakes. It's like riding a bicycle or playing the piano. You may make many mistakes at the beginning, but it's your best chance for increasing your skills and the depth of your knowledge. You can always count on the publication of your writing at the New Mission Journal, one of the websites in this blog.
I hope this article has given you a little understanding of my philosophy of ESL teaching. If you like what you read here, I’m sure you’ll get a lot out of the ESL classes we’ll be enjoying together this semester.