english teaching methodsThere are several methods of teaching English to students who are learning the language for the first time, each with their own unique pros and cons. Depending on the teaching situation, setting, and resources available, any one of these English teaching methods could be right for you and your students.

In this guide, we’ll go over the basics of each method and determine what kind of English language student it would work best on. If you or someone you know are trying to learn English for the first time, or improve a current English speaking skill level, check out this elementary English language course for starters.

1. Grammatical Approach

A focus on grammar rules is one of the most popular English teaching methods in traditional academic settings, perhaps due to the focus on grammar in native language courses. Teaching English as a second language, according to this approach, should not stray from the model.

This approach can only work if the instructor speaks the first language of the students in addition to English, because much of it is based on the teacher’s ability to translate. English grammar rules should be taught conceptually in the student’s native language, with examples provided in simple English sentences that the teacher can translate back to the native tongue so that a solid parallel can be drawn. These grammar rules should be strictly enforced, and students should be allowed to practice proper structure and syntax through the use of examples and quizzes.

Also important to this method is vocabulary, as students need a large knowledge bank of English words in order to interpret and form their own English grammar examples. Grammar and vocabulary quizzes fuel this approach, and should be at the forefront of instruction. The English language is examined in terms of grammar rules. Get a firm grasp on this side of the English language with this advanced English grammar course.

Who is this best for?

This approach is best for students who natively speak a language with a dramatically different set of grammar rules from English. The instructor must have a strong grasp of the English language themselves, and the grammar rules of their classroom’s native tongue, meaning it’s best if all students are coming at English from the same first language.

Check out this course on English grammar essentials for some tips.

2. Aural Approach

The aural English teaching method focuses on the most natural way to learn a language, which is by hearing it. Children who are raised to speak English learn it first by hearing it from their parents and others around them, long before they ever learn how to read or write. The aural approach is similar, meaning it’s strictly audio-based and should not focus on the reading or writing until long after the students can grasp the language on a speaking level.

The actual method involves dialogue. In the beginning, the students will mostly be spoken to. The teacher might use visual cues such as objects to give the students something to associate the words they’re hearing with. Then, they will be instructed to speak the words themselves, coming to grasp vocabulary and basic grammar through hearing and speaking, rather than advanced instruction or writing. Teachers should not write the words they’re saying, and let the bulk of the instruction exist in dialogue.

For note taking purposes, students should be allowed to write words they’ve learned phonetically, in their native language, if applicable. Check out this course on hearing, speaking, and pronouncing English properly for tips on teaching these elements of the language.

Who is this best for?

The aural English teaching method is an approach best used for younger students, as it most closely relates to the way they’ve been used to learning language. It’s also great for students whose first language is of a writing system dissimilar to English, such as Mandarin or Arabic.

This way, the students can focus on learning the language in its purest, aural form, rather than be distracted and possibly confused by learning the written word as well. That segment of the instruction can come once the students have a firm grasp on the spoken language. Proper pronunciation is a huge part of this method. Check out this introduction to English pronunciation course for instructional tips.

3. English-Only Approach

The English only method is one of the most direct approaches to teaching the language. For this method, neither the teacher nor the student should speak their native tongue at all during instruction. All instruction should be done in English only.

Vocabulary should be taught first, as it is the easiest to grasp because it can be demonstrated with a visual aid. As the student builds vocabulary, the instructor can begin introducing abstract words and elements of the language, but without explaining or focusing on the actual grammatical structure. The complexities of the language will be learned inherently, with the student picking up on its patterns through practice and application only.

At the end of each class period, there can be an optional question and answer session where students are allowed to ask the teacher about that day’s lesson. Here, clarifications may be made and confusion may be cleared up, but again, this is entirely optional. Sometimes, the best way to learn the language through this method is to just tough it out and let it come naturally.

Who is this best for?

This method works best for situations where the instructor does not speak the native language of the students they’re instructing. (Of course, this would make the optional question answer sessions an impossibility.) It is also an ideal method for situations where there is a diverse set of students who don’t share the same native language, all trying to learn English. This way, the barriers and constraints brought in by an inability to communicate natively can be dismissed, and a stronger focus on the language at hand can be made.

Looking to teach a course with this method? Check out this intermediate English language course and make sure you’re prepared to represent the language with fluency and accuracy.

4. Translative Approach

The translative approach is a bit like the grammatical approach, only with a broader focus on the English language’s structure in comparison to the native language of the students. This approach must be taught by an instructor who speaks the same language as their students, and all the students must also share a fluency in the same language.

English will be taught as a subject like any other, with different elements of the language such as vocabulary, grammar, syntax, speaking, reading, and writing focused on every day. This method will make strong use of notecards, where students can write English vocabulary and grammar concepts on one side, and then translate the word or idea on the back in their native language.

Quizzes and exams should be given, first asking questions in the native language of the students, and eventually moving into English-only in the later duration of the course. Lecturing will be the primary method of instruction during the class, with student questions allowed and encouraged. Check out this introduction to English grammar course and make sure you’re up to speed on the basics.

Who is this best for?

This method is best for students learning the English language because of an academic interest in it as a language, and not just an interest or need to know how to speak it. Speaking, reading, and writing the language will be given equal priority, and grammar rules and concepts will not be avoided for a more “natural” approach. It will be taught academically, as any other subject, and is best for students who are interested in this kind of rigorous approach.

5. Immersive Approach

The immersive approach is one of the best ways to learn the language for older students who are able to travel for their education. Someone who wants to learn English doesn’t even need to be enrolled in an English language course to use this method – all they need are the resources involved in travel.

For students wanting to learn British English, a trip to the United Kingdom is recommended. For students wanting to learn American English, a trip to the United States is recommended. If the student wants an academic-heavy approach, there are foreign exchange programs they can enroll in through colleges, or other academic programs that allow prolonged travel.

Again, an academic program is not required for this method. Staying in a new country and learning the language through pure immersion and necessity is one of the best ways to learn it quickly. Students will be surrounded by media in that language, and people who speak that language. It is a great way to break off from the distractions of your native tongue, and learn how to think in the English language as well as speak it.

Who is this best for?

Teachers and students who are able to travel and stay in another country long enough to develop a strong grasp on the English language.

For more tips on teaching the English language, check out this course on how to teach English for academic purposes. Want to take your teaching skills around the world? Check out this course on how to land a job teaching English abroad.

Page Last Updated: February 2020

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