Each ESL classroom is different and therefore each instructor’s teaching style is, too. Because there is no one “right” answer, it can be difficult to compare English teaching styles. An awareness of the different options that exist, however, can help you to decide which may be the right one for you and you students.
There is more than one way to skin a cat, as they (colorfully) say, and what is true of house pets is equally true of English as a Second Language instruction. After all, language learners are themselves like snowflakes and English language teaching methodologies are just as varied as they are. When it comes to comparing English teaching styles, though, what are the most common and – perhaps more importantly – which is the right one for you?
The grammar-translation approach is arguably the oldest and most obvious instructional technique because it focuses on the direct conversion and/or translation of words directly from the target language (L2) to the native language (L1). Although a time-honored tradition, because this method focuses on building an expansive vocabulary and applying grammatical rules through written texts, it is somewhat impractical in a number of situations. While it is a common approach when, say, English language students learn a similar language (such as French or Latin) by translating practice texts from the target language to student’s mother tongue, this technique is somewhat impractical when two languages in question differ dramatically. For example, because the structure of many Asian languages so dramatically differs from that of English it can be less helpful.
Unlike the Grammar Translation method, which predominately focuses on the form and structure of a language, under the Audiolingualism approach learners are exposed to a language through conditioning (i.e., repetition) that eliminates almost all explicit grammar instruction. The teacher instead has the student practice words and phrases with the goal of eliciting speaking abilities naturally and spontaneously over time. This is still a wildly popular method, especially where instructors and low-level learners do not share a common language (as seen in the teaching practices in Korea).
Presentation, Practice and Production
The newer but increasingly popular Presentation, Practice and Production (PPP) methodology relies on a three step process to facilitate language acquisition. First, the instructor systematically explains the context, situation and form of the target language lesson in question (Presentation). Then, the students practice this method in a controlled environment through the use of activities and drills (Practice). After such careful reinforcement, students are then given the opportunity to use the language in a freer way to allow expression of their own purpose or meaning (Production). Although it always difficult to compare English learning styles, this approach is useful to many intermediate learners as it presents the student with the material and then provides them with multiple ways to use it in context.
Communicative Language Teaching
Taking its cues from the Production stage of the PPP method mentioned above, the Communicative Language Teaching method emphasizes communicative ability over accuracy by allowing learners to increase their exposure to the target language in a more natural, less purely academic, setting through the use of role-playing and simulation. To a certain extent, as long as the listener understands what the speaker is trying to say, the goal of language (and thus language learning) is being accomplished. Its focus is less on “right or wrong” but more on “effective versus ineffective” communication and is most effective for intermediate and advanced learners.
In the end, then, you can see that it is difficult to directly compare English learning styles. Even among these four (and there are certainly more!) what works in one context – or even classroom – may not work in another. Thus, if you are trying to decide how to teach English it is important to shape your unique style to fit the needs of your students. In so doing you will be amply prepared to help your students no matter the situation!