Learning Philosophy

There are four keys to the success of teaching English as a foreign language in order to achieve the ultimate goal of communicative competence.  Each individual lesson and indeed the entire framework of the curriculum’s scope and sequence must be student-centered, customized, balanced, and integral.


There is little point in a teacher lecturing from the front of the classroom while students alternately scribble notes furiously or stare out the window.  Every part of the lesson must focus on engaging the students’ interest, making the lesson and the language relevant to them personally, and involving them concretely in every aspect and moment of their own education.  From lead-ins meant to catch students’ attention, to grammar presentations, to feedback on activities, the bulk of classroom time must have the students speaking, writing, listening, and reading, in short interacting with each other, the teacher, and the language itself.  Rather than grammar presentations from a teacher drawing charts on the board with her back to the classroom, authentic materials and contexts should be presented from which students can begin to see the patterns, to discover on their own the systems that guide the language, to induce from the use of the language itself the rules of grammar and vocabulary that will provide accuracy to their language acquisition.  Teachers guide this discovery by eliciting these inductions from the students in active, engaging, and relevant ways.  During feedback and error correction, teachers can allow students to take more responsibility for improving their own accuracy and that of their peers, taking an important step toward ownership of their learning process.


A crucial element to this student-centered approach is the customization of the lessons and the entire curriculum to the individual students.  Learning styles, motivations, and desired/needed outcomes vary for each student and language acquisition is only as successful as the relationship between teaching style, learning style, and material.  A gifted teacher understands the broad spectrum of learning styles in every classroom and the indispensability of employing as many techniques as possible.  Advance planning should be given to ensure that every educational transfer provides access for students who internalize best through visual, audio, kinesthetic, or any other style.  A committed teacher will also take the time to get to know every student as an individual, analyzing their learning styles and taking into account what they want to learn, what they need to learn, and what motivates them to do so.  Only with this degree of observation and interest on the part of the teacher can the acquisition of the foreign language be truly customized to the benefit and success of each student.  Just like in any classroom in any subject area, a teacher meets each student where they are and brings them along at their own level and their own pace in their own manner.  A teacher does not perceive a class of different levels and different backgrounds as a difficulty, but rather as an unparalleled opportunity for a dynamic and engaging educational setting ripe for the exchange of communication and for an organic partnership of learning.


In addition to this balance of different learning styles and educational needs, balance must always be maintained between the four skills and the important systems.  Accuracy and fluency are partners and one should never be sacrificed at the expense of the other.  Both, however, must be taught within a cultural framework so that students’ communicative competency includes functional language, an understanding that those receiving their communication are doing so from within a cultural framework of their own.  Language should never be taught out of context, but rather in authentic usage, communication, and purposes.  Balance must also be achieved in each lesson between varying types of activities, different groupings and interactive patterns, and the focus on skills and systems.


Finally, the entire process of language learning should be an integral whole.  Vocabulary is built through the communicative needs of the conversation or the words presented in the authentic text rather than in isolation.  Grammar systems are encountered within the material and discovered as part of the learning process.  Functional language develops as students need it in their activities.  Although teachers may isolate meaning, form, and pronunciation in order to focus on accuracy, it is their duty to bring every lesson back around to fluency and relevancy, to have all learning based on activities and projects that engage students and build from a pragmatic whole language approach rather than fragments being fitted back together among the still missing puzzle pieces.

These four key elements to becoming truly communicative in any foreign language form the basic guidance system for teachers as they create lessons which flow from the larger field of a whole curriculum.  Student-centered lessons give them the most practice and engage them the most in their own learning.  Customization ensures that each student will most easily be able to internalize the language and succeed at their goals.  Balance keeps students engaged as well as creating well-rounded productive and receptive, accurate and fluent, active multi-lingual communicators.  Integral language learning maintains relevance and authenticity and prevents the foreign language from being merely an academic pursuit but rather an essential and innate active communicative device.