It is going to be October by the time you read this, but I am writing it in August at the end of an interesting summer. The theme of the issue is Methodology and Approaches, and my aim was to try and assess what teachers are using these days and whether there are any particular styles which are proving more successful than others. Over the last 30 years, a number of ideas have come and gone, most leaving some sort of trace. Methodologies asking for high standards from our students, minimal externally produced teaching materials, switching around what we do at home and in class or reducing the amount
of teacher talking time have all had an influence on my teaching. Essentially, however, I still teach very much as I always have done – finding out what they need, teaching it and then practising it for as long as they can stand it. Is that a method or an approach?
To help me with this issue I contacted a colleague and friend of mine, Adrian Underhill, and asked him to write a piece on methodology. He replied that he would be happy to but after 40 years of teaching he was still of the impression that no particular approach or methodology works. Indeed it is actually possible for the same teacher to use the same approach with the same group of students and for it to be successful one day and unsuccessful the next.
He did, however, send me a couple of quotes from Earl Stevick which I think are very pertinent to this issue. In his great work, Memory, Meaning and Method, he describes a world where you can have two quite different methods, Method A and Method B, based on different assumptions about how people learn. One teacher gets excellent results with A and another with B. How is this possible? He goes on to wonder why it is that Method A or B sometimes works so beautifully and at other times so poorly.
Stevick’s belief is that the surface methodology is less important than what actually goes on inside the learner. Things happen deep within the learner which make certain language items more memorable and more likely to be retained than others learned at a more superficial level.
We all have our own mix of approaches, borrowing from here and there, taking ideas from conferences, staffrooms and magazines like this one. The more you experiment, the better you will be able to observe learning. Language learning is particularly hard to assess because so often the final test is carried out in the real world where the student has to communicate in English and the teacher is not there to help. How accurate the English is, will depend on circumstances and whether the situation is monolingual, bilingual or plurilingual. Robin Walker’s approach is very much based on English as a lingua franca as he discusses in the first article of the magazine.
Other approaches and methodologies will depend on the aims of the course and the make-up of the class. The materials and equipment available will also influence your approach and we have some interesting articles on using technology, teaching particular skills like writing and listening, and handling feedback as we try to improve our students’ English.
I have been training teachers and teaching English to university students this summer and have used a wide range of techniques. Ultimately we can only be happy when there is a noticeable difference in performance or confidence by the time the course has finished. Whatever it takes to get there is, presumably, a sound approach. I hope you enjoy this issue and our new cover design. Let me know your thoughts.
Editor: Robert McLarty
Robert McLarty has been involved in Business English teaching since 1979. He is a teacher and teacher trainer, and has run a number of RSA Diploma and teacher-training courses. From 1986 to 1997, Robert was the Director of ILC Paris. In 1998 he moved to Oxford to run OISE Oxford and in 2004 he joined Oxford University Press' ELT Division as Publishing Manager, Business English.
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