There are many methods out there for learning language. Every persons’ brain works differently. And every person has different goals and reasons to learn. So know, there is no ‘right’ method. But we have found one we like and it has been successful.
In college I studied TESOL: Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. My favorite method I studied and wrote my curriculum around was TPR (Total Physical Response) Method. The basis of this method is to try to re-enact how a child learns their first language. A child listens, sees, mimics, and learns the names of items long before they can speak. In TPR the students do not speak in class until they reach a certain level of vocabulary.
EXAMPLE OF TPR METHOD
The teacher walks over to a door. Pointing at it he says, “door”, repeating three times. As he opens the door he says, “Open the door.” As he closes the door he says, “Close the door.” He repeats this process three times. Then he asks a student, “Jimmy, open the door.” Jim walks over to the door and opens it. The teacher then says, “Jimmy, close the door.” And Jimmy obeys. The class now knows three new words: door, open, close, without ever speaking.
There are many pros to this method.
(1) You mentally don’t translate your new word into English, but directly to the object. Most methods are direct translations from ex: Chinese –> English –> the object. The TPR method goes from ex: Chinese –> the object directly, which is extremely helpful when you get to talking to people. You cut out the ‘middle man’ of translating to English.
(2) TPR isn’t stressful. Without the pressure to say the word perfectly, the students are relaxed and learn much better—scientifically proven.
(3) Because students wait to speak till they’ve heard around 90 hours of the language, they can speak it much better because they’ve heard the teacher speak the words, sounds & accent correctly for 90 hours. In other methods, when students talk at first, they pronounce the words wrong because they don’t know all the sounds yet and it corrupts the ears of all students.
(4) Once the students get to grammar, they pick it up faster. Because of all the hearing they did at the beginning, they have a natural “this sounds right” about sentence structures (just like children do).
There are cons to this method also.
(1) It takes the student longer to speak. Because students learn like children they learn animals, colors, foods, numbers, etc. before learning conversations. This can be very frustrating to not be able to simply speak to people in the second language. But the faster you go through your hours, the fast you get to speaking. And usually once the student starts speaking they explode and can create their own sentences and express their own thoughts, rather than rote sentences.
(2) Students don’t learn grammar till later. This is hard for the perfectionist students. But the positive is once you start speaking you have already internally learned pieces of grammar from listening.
The exact method we used in Africa was GPA—Growing Participator Approach. Go here and check out this webpage of basic information.