TEFL Foreign Language Experience

There are many different methodologies for teaching a foreign language. Here at TEFL international, we are exposed to the ESA (engage-study-activate) method, put to use in the classroom in a total emersion context, which is quite effective, yet very different from the way that many of us have been exposed to learning a second language in our native countries. Second language study in school in the United States was always done with the ?Grammar translation? method, usually in a bilingual classroom, a different yet somewhat effective way to learn some languages. These are contrasting methods yet they seek the same result, to increase communication skills in a tongue you are not familiar with, and until you are exposed to the both of them it?s hard to say which is more effective.

I have taken the usual curriculum of foreign language studies from a couple different American universities: a year of beginner French at Portland State University, as well as a year of introductory Spanish at the University of Hawaii. Both these classes were taught in the staple ?grammar translation? method (translating the students first language into the second) that is so prevalent in the U.S. However, on top of these experiences I was exposed to an ESA total immersion structure, similar to the one used at TEFL International, at the Instituto Cultural de Oaxaca, in Oaxaca City, Mexico. The methodology I encountered there brought about a new appreciation for other, perhaps alternative methods, for teaching/learning a second language.

I always dreaded going to my foreign language classes at my respective Universities in the States, because for one, much of the work we did was busy work that was to be done outside of class, on our own. Working on your own, may have some advantages, yet there is one very large downside to this type of work; you don?t get to practice speech, and you aren?t put in real situations where you might use it. You end up memorizing translations, and what you need to know grammatically, yet you lose functionality, and the material is easily forgotten. As Jill Mora put it: ?Often the only drills are exercises translating disconnected sentences from the target language into the mother tongue, and vice versa. Little or no attention is given to pronunciation.?

When I first signed up for the course in Oaxaca City I was a bit worried, since it was advertised as a Spanish only course, and while I did decently in my courses at UH, I was still a first year beginner as far as I was concerned. However, using the total emersion ESA structured, method they bestowed upon us at the Instituto, I feel I was able to learn more practical Spanish in one month than I had in one year. This gave me a new appreciation for this particular methodology, and motivated me to sign up for the TEFL course here in Phuket. I always wondered how one could teach a language without knowing a word of the student?s native lingua. Although: ?One study concluded that the words a person use account for only 7 percent of that person?s influence on others! Voice tone explains 38 percent of the impact and, and visual impression 55 percent. (Decker 1992: NIBM 1988).?

Upon arrival here in Phuket, and formal training using the Engage Study Activate methodology in a total immersion classroom, I realize that this method may be more highly suited for second language learning than the old American classic, grammar translation. For Thailand especially, this seems like a great methodology, since it is difficult, if not impossible to translate a tonal language into English. ESA, when used in a total immersion context, increases student talk time, and interaction, while minimizing direct translation (after all, of you don?t speak the native language of the people you are teaching you cannot give them I direct translation.), and increases elicitation by the students. ?Research has shown consistently that immersion students acquire functional proficiency in?second languages, that surpasses that of students in all other forms or second language instruction to which immersion has been compared. (Genesee, 1987)? I couldn?t agree more.

The ESA total immersion methodologies in use at TEFL international are by far superior to the bilingual grammar translation classes I had first been exposed to. I would encourage everyone interested in learning a second language, or teaching one for that matter, to have a go with an ESA structured total immersion classroom.

Author: Will Skadden

Date of post: 2006-10-10