9 Approaches to Teaching EFL That Will Help You Ace Your EFL Interview
I am an EFL teacher currently located in Brazil and I’ve been looking for work.
So, last week I had an interview at a school. It was going really well until the interviewer asked the following question:
“Name as many approaches to teaching English as a second language as you can.”
Well, let’s just say that I blanked. I think I said something like, “There’s that one where you mostly just use your body?” but could remember precisely zero of the words “total” “physical” and “response”.
I’m not going to say that I bombed the interview in general, but I definitely bombed this question. I’m completely embarrassed just thinking about it. As a way to sort of recover, I immediately went home and did a bunch of research.
I’m writing this post based on that research so that no one else has to go through that experience. If you ever get that question in an interview, hopefully you’ll have a great answer.
A note on the research: I’ve used mostly Jack Richards and Theodore Rodgers’ Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching (Second Edition) as the main source for this article (1). As they point out, the approaches listed here are not as commonly used in the classroom as they once were. They have been replaced by other methods, like the Communicative Method, the Natural Approach, Cooperative Language learning, and Task-Based Language Teaching, among others.
Still, these nine are worth knowing, not just because they are historically important and because some are still used in a number of language schools, but also because—as I found out—interviewers still ask about them.
As such, this post doesn’t aim to provide the detail you would need to learn and practice these approaches. Instead, it provides a rough overview of these methods and aims to give you a sense of how they are different from each other. It is designed to give you enough to talk about if you happen to be asked about them in an interview!
So, without further ado, here are nine approaches to EFL language teaching.
Total physical response, or TPR to anyone in the field, is an approach that focuses on using body language to support language learning. It is often used for beginner language learners, but can also be adapted to higher levels. It places primary importance on listening comprehension and uses body language to communicate meaning. The idea is that the use of gesturing helps learners understand the meaning of language and that this is consistent with how we learn our mother tongue as children.
This method also focuses on having fun. It sees stress as a major barrier to learning a language, so by making classes engaging and comfortable, this method seeks to reduce learner stress. The teacher acts as the director of the class at first, but with more advanced students, these roles reverse.
This method is often used by online language teaching companies, so it is worth knowing if you’re trying to get work in that industry.
The silent way, developed originally by Caleb Gattegno, is a language teaching approach that emphasizes the use of language as self-expression. It is based on the idea that in order to master a language, learners must learn the rules of language. These rules come ultimately from real language examples. It emphasizes trial and error and learning language through discovery.
This method is called the “Silent Way” because the idea is that the teacher is silent. The teacher is not literally silent for the whole class, but the teacher does use silence as a teaching technique. But more than that, the idea is that the teacher’s silence diminished role in the classroom requires the student to take responsibility for their own learning. The teacher provides examples and facilitates students to interact with each other, but they mostly foster students to engage in the material, take risks, and take an active role in discovering the language.
This method is not often used in modern language schools (1).
Community language learning, or CLL, takes a holistic approach to understanding how learners acquire language. It uses a counseling-like approach to work with the learner to discover what they would like to know. In this way, the learner is more like a collaborator with the teacher or a client. This method also emphasizes the group aspects of language learning and encourages interaction between learners.
Students determine together what will be learned, so CLL typically does not use a set syllabus. Teaching techniques include real life role-play conversations, meaningful discussions, as well as translation and transcription activities.
This method is not necessarily very common in language schools, although something like it is increasingly common in online communities of students learning English. For example, English, Baby! uses an approach that resembles CLL.
Suggestopedia, developed by Georgi Lozanov, has as its foundation the idea that individuals have barriers to more effectively using their mental capacity. The EFL teacher using this approach can “desuggest” those barriers, and “suggest” or offer choices to the students that enable more effective learning. The goal is to overcome these psychological barriers. Teachers might suggest (tell) student that they will be successful so that they are more confident. Suggestions can also be indirect, such as through comfortable physical surroundings that encourage confidence.
The teacher’s role in this approach is as the authority, presenting information to the student. The teacher seeks to ensure that students are confident in their own ability and to ensure that the physical surroundings and classroom allow students to feel comfortable. They also employ a number of techniques to aid learning, including art and music. These bring the students into child-like states that may be better for learning.
Besides suggestion, this approach focuses on oral communication—speaking and listening to music, as well including some reading and writing.
This method is not commonly applied in language schools and has been called “pseudo-science” (1). But, if someone asks you to name an EFL approach off the top of your head, it’s a good one to remember.
The premise behind whole language is that the process by which children learn to read is similar to how they learn to speak—it comes naturally. The idea is that children learn by using context-based cues. Children construct meaning from these cues and associate that meaning with the words. Therefore, an instructor that is trying to teach reading to children should emphasize context-based cues, pictures, and so on.
Is whole language legit? Survey says… no. A systematic review of the evidence for whole language has concluded that what we know from science contradicts pretty much every premise of the approach (3). Indeed, one psychologist (2) has said,
“The idea that learning to read is just like learning to speak is accepted by no responsible linguist, psychologist, or cognitive scientist in the research community.”
So, maybe don’t rely on this approach. But if a language school manager asks you about it, now you know a little about it!
Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences has had a large impact on education, including language learning (4). His idea is that our society often considers “intelligence” as a single or unitary kind of logical intelligence that we use to solve problems. Gardner argues that, in addition to the logical-mathematical ability and verbal-linguistic ability, which we typically associate with intelligence and what is measured by IQ tests, there are at least 6 additional intelligences: musical-rhythmic (“music smart”), visual-spatial (“space and picture smart”), body-kinesthetic (“body smart”), interpersonal (“people smart”), intrapersonal (“self smart”) and naturalistic (“nature smart”). This theory proposes that people have abilities in each of these categories and may be very strong in some while being weak in others.
Multiple intelligences theory can be applied to language-learning by recognizing that learners may possess strengths in different areas. This approach to teaching uses a variety of activities that engage each of these different intelligences in the process of acquiring language. Whereas language learning is usually considered a purely cognitive endeavour, this approach sees it as holistic and emphasizes engaging more than one intelligence. For example, teachers can engage the musical-rhythmic intelligence by incorporating chants and songs in language learning; they can use charts, drawings, slides, posters, and graphics to engage the visual-spatial intelligence; and they can use dance, acting, or drama games to use engage students who have higher bodily-kinesthetic intelligence. And so on.
This view continues to have some relevance in language teaching. Some language schools are explicitly built around this method. However, even if it a language school does not explicitly use this approach, the idea that a teacher should use a variety of activities to engage their learners—which is the fundamental premise of this approach—is accepted good practice in language teaching.
Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) has its origins in therapy. John Grindler and Richard Bandler noticed that particularly effective therapists had certain communication patterns as well as particular beliefs about their work. NLP was developed as a way to teach therapists how to effectively develop rapport with their patients, identify and achieve goals, and promote personal change.
Principles of NLP were then adopted by some language teachers who saw the value in humanistic approaches to teaching language that focused on developing a learner’s self-awareness and becoming self-actualized. In language learning, NLP is a set of techniques; instead, the idea is that NLP includes a set of principles that underlie other approaches to learning. These include that there is no such thing as failure (only feedback), that knowing what a learner wants helps them achieve it, that communication is nonverbal as well as verbal, that communication is non-conscious as well as conscious, that modeling language behaviour leads to learning, and that flexibility is important.
Basically, you can use these principles as the basis upon which a set of language learning techniques is built.
This approach to teaching language is to prioritize lexis, or words, above other parts of language, like grammar, functions, notions, syntax, and so on. The focus is on vocabulary. It is based on the observations that much of our language consists of units that usually go together in predictable ways. The focus here for language teachers, then, is to teach words and word chunks that typically come together. Learners try to memorize these patterns and chunks and how they go together or “collocate”. For example, “do” is taught with “my hair”, “the dishes”, and “my homework”. “Make” is taught with “my bed”, “the dinner”, “a mistake” and so on.
The research on this is mixed. Some suggest that it can work with lots of language input and at least a basic language level. Others suggest it is most useful for teaching particular pieces of language that do not have direct translations in a learner’s native language, but that it is limited as a general approach to language.
Competency-Based Language Teaching (CBLT) differs from many of the previous approaches in that it is focused on the output of language learners rather than the input. It has at its core the idea that there should be clear and measurable goals for language learning that can be expressed as descriptions of knowledge, skills, or behaviours. In CBLT, Learners demonstrate their learning, sometimes in comparison to explicit standards. Goals are broken down into short-term objectives so that learners accomplish them and build on their previous knowledge. It teaches language in a social context and emphasizes interaction for the purpose of achieving a specific goal. It highlights communicative competence and developing functional communication skills.
This was widely used in many parts of the world in the late 1980s and early 1990s. For example, the United States used to require that all refugees enrol in a CBE language course. While there have been criticisms of this method as being reductionist, there continue to be many language schools that have versions of this approach as their foundation.
So, did you get all that? There is lots here, and this post only touches each approach very briefly. The goal is to give you a brief understanding of each and give you a sense of the breadth of approaches to TEFL teaching. And if that helps you ace an interview, so much the better!
About the author: Ramsay is a writer, editor, and English teacher currently located in Brazil. When he’s not teaching, he writes for Crisp Text.
1. Richards, J. C., & Rodgers, T. S. (2014). Approaches and methods in language teaching. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
2. Stanovich, K. (1994). Romance and reality. The Reading Teacher, 47, 280-291.
3. Moats, L. C. (2000). Whole language lives on: The illusion of “balanced” reading instruction. DIANE Publishing.
4. Derakhshan, A., & Faribi, M. (2015). Multiple intelligences: Language learning and teaching. International Journal of English Linguistics, 5(4), 63.
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