Approaches to Teaching English As a Second Language

Written by laurence peacock
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Approaches to Teaching English As a Second Language
Teaching English doesn't have to be a traditional lecture scenario. (lecture hall image by GeoM from

An approach to teaching English as a second language begins as a theoretical understanding of how students learn.

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Presentation, Practice and Production

PPP assumes that students learn by building their knowledge in small blocks, from presentation through tightly regulated practice before freer production. In PPP, the teacher divides the lesson into three parts. First, she presents a context -- for example, a picture of various sports -- and asks students to suggest words and phrases they know about the subject. Next, in the practice stage, the teacher isolates a particular grammar point, perhaps "He is playing football," asking the students to repeat, and changing the sport as she does so. Finally, in the production stage, students use the new language they have learnt -- for instance, students may work from pictures of different sports.

PPP is effective for lower-level learners but, as the author of "Learning Teaching", Jeremy Harmer, notes, at "higher levels [...] accurate reproduction and controlled repetition seem out of place." (See References 1). PPP has also been criticized for being too teacher focused and not allowing students enough freedom or creativity in the classroom.

The Lexical Approach

Made popular in "The Lexical Approach" by Michael Lewis, this methodology asserts that "language consists not of traditional grammar and vocabulary but often multi-word prefabricated chunks" (See References 1). A teacher using the Lexical Approach will not begin by teaching students how to build a sentence from individual words (e.g., subject + verb + object), but give students preformed "chunks" to use in real-life situations. For instance, a restaurant role play using sentences such as "May I have ...?" and "Are you ready to order?" The emphasis in Lexical teaching is not to explain how each sentence works grammatically but to show their use in the real world. The Lexical Approach has the benefit of giving students "real world" language phrases but can be criticised for not providing learners with the basic grammatical understanding with which to build their own structures.

Task-Based Learning

Task-Based Learning replaces a focus on grammar with an activity for students to complete. In TBL the "task will usually be 'real world' rather than 'language-focused'" (see References 2). For example, students could be asked to give a tourist advice about what to do and see when visiting their home countries. TBL often "tricks" students into using a particular language structure without the teacher having to draw explicit attention to it. In the tourist task, for instance, students will invariably use modal verbs such as "should" or "must." While TBL has the benefit of placing the lesson focus solely on the students, Harmer questions "its applicability to lower learning levels" (See References 1) as tasks of interest usually assume a certain level of language knowledge.

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