The next essay will talk about the advantages and disadvantages of applying the Natural Approach to a specific educational context. First of all there will be a brief overview of the method, then a small description of the teaching context so at the end it would be possible to see the pros and cons.
The Natural Approach is based on Terrell and Krashen’s theories about the naturalistic principles existing in the process of teaching – learning a second language. It is based on the non – formal settings where learners acquire the first and second language, leaving aside all grammatical and formal language structures. A successful classroom in SLA regarding the Natural Approach, is the one that has its focus on comprehension and meaningful communication, plus the correct comprehensible input, making students pay attention and listen for a long period, before they start producing the language. “Its greatest claim to originality lies not in the techniques it employs but in their use in a method that emphasizes comprehensible and meaningful practice activities, rather than production of grammatically perfect utterance sentences” (Richards and Rodgers, 2001, p. 201).
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The teaching context, in which the recently described method would be applied, is a first grade class of a private, non – bilingual school. Regarding the English lessons, there are thirty male students between six and seven years. These children are all from a high socio-economic level, parents with superior education and professional title. In relation with the English background, most of the students are in a beginner level carrying only the contents learned in Kinder. Beginning the school year, they just listen and understand some instruction, but they cannot form complete sentences nor read or write any word. Second semester they are in a more advance level, where some of them could speak and form basic grammar structure sentences. The lessons are based on a course book (Playway to English, second edition), which has the Pupil’s and the Activity Book. Also, there is an Extraprogramme text, made by the English teachers that have different songs poems and rhymes related with the topics from the course books. Important is to mention that all the students are Spanish native speakers.
Considering the educational context just described, it is necessary to mention that the Natural Approach is quiet suitable to it. To begin, the learner’s role here is about students who are meant to acquire the language by listening, mimiquing and repeating. There is no hurry for children to produce the second language until they feels it is time to do it. As Richard and Rodgers (2001) states, in the Natural Approach view learner’s roles changes according with their stage of linguistic development. They also add “Central to these changing roles are learner decisions on when to speak, what to speak about, and what linguistic expressions to use in speaking” (p. 187). Therefore, children could receive lot of input, but there is no pressure for them to speak.
So the question here is, how do we know if they are actually learning if they don’t produce any language? The children in the context described starts the year knowing very little of English and they pass through different stages acquiring new knowledge and finishes the year being capable of forming sentences by their own. Krashen and Terrell (1983) specified the types of activity to make considering the stage of linguistic development. The pre – production stage they just participate without having to respond in the L2. In the early – production stage children respond with short sentences or single words and use fix conversational patterns. The last stage is the speech – emergent phase, where students produce more language in role-plays, games or participating in group problem solving. It is in evidence that the Natural Approach has its focus on the learning process more than in the results of it. When we talk about children with beginner level, these is what we need to engaged them with the second language, going step by step giving them the necessary tools for the learning process.
The teacher’s role concerning the Natural Approach method is very centered and has a lot of responsibility in the execution of the lessons. If we picture a lesson in which children does not speak in the target language, the only responsible of generating all the input is the teacher adding the fact that students may not understand what is she or he saying. As a result, we should add to the constant flow of input a constant provision of mimics and gestures to help the children to interpret it. Picturing this scene is inevitable to think about how is it possible for one person to be that multidynamic. Well, the answer is clear: lot of patience and heart. English teachers for beginners, specially for little children, knows that teaching that age is a hard work and requires lot of effort. To Nation and Newton (2009), proposed four principles for teaching listening and speaking to ELLs beginners:
Nation and Newton (2009). Teaching ESL/EFL Listening and Speaking, p. 19
These principles make clear what it was said before about the teacher’s responsibilities. The Natural Approach based its theories on the communication being meaningful and comprehensive, just what teachers of the described context need to do for a better teaching practice.
Although teachers are meant to have all those functions in the teaching process, there is a lot of expectation in what he or she could do with the second language acquisition of the students. All of this could have bad consequences during the lessons because of all the pressure put on the educator’s role. Richard and Rodgers (2001), conclude about the teacher’s responsibilities by saying “â€¦ the Natural Approach teacher has a particular responsibility to communicate clearly and compellingly to students the assumptions, organization, and expectations of the method, since in many cases these will violate students views of what language learning and teaching supposed to be” (p. 188).
It is essential to look up for the types of activities proposed by the Natural Approach and see if they are suitable in the described context. Krashen and Terrell (1983), proposed different types of techniques that could be used to teach an L2 using familiar components of Situational Language Teaching and Communicative Language Teaching. So what they did is to suggest types of activities that provides comprehensible input, but does not require “production of responses or minimal responses in the target language” (Richard and Rodgers, 2001, p. 188). Related to the teaching context, these activities are perfectly appropriate for seven year old beginners because of their dynamic and simple structure. Nation and Newton (2009), support this saying “To maintain learner’s interest, activities need to be short and varied, and to involve the learners in responding to or using the language” (p. 20). The main purpose of the Natural Approach activities, in reference to Richard and Rodgers (2001), is to “allow comprehensible input about things in the here – and – now, focusing on meaning not in the form” (class handout material). For these reasons, most of them are based on the TPR model, which its activities are basically responses from the learners to commands, questions and visual cues. They have lot of variations and could be used in the different linguistic stages. Nation and Newton (2001), explained that TPR activities “â€¦ can become speaking activities with the learners saying what to do and the teacher or another learner doing the action” (p. 21).
The important thing of planning the different activities is not loosing the main purpose of the lesson: encourage communication and comprehension. Many different materials are needed for the syllabus suggested by Krashen and Terrell, what makes the teacher’s job more complicated as she or he has to prepare everything. The disadvantage here for the context described, is that teachers have more than one class and there are thirty children per class. Preparing material for each class for all those children could be to much extra work for the educator. Richard and Rodgers agree saying “The selection, reproduction, and collection of materials places a considerable burden on the Natural Approach Teacher” (p. 188). Nevertheless, there many activities suggested and they do not require too much preparation. If the lesson planning is with time, maybe the teacher could prepare all the materials at the time for the different classes she had.
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Having in mind the pros and cons explained through the essay, it is more than clear that the Natural Approach is absolutely suitable in the educational context described at the beginning. These first grade children have the motivation and the attitude for learning the second language, and this approach gives the necessary tools for them to learn. The teacher’s role is essential and very demanding, but the school has a big and well-conformed English department that could help in the collection of materials.
Richard and Rodgers (2001) finishes concluded about the Natural Approach teaching process: “Teaching the Natural Approach is hence evolutionary rather tan evolutionary in its procedures. Its greatest claim to originality lies not in the technique it employs but in their use in a method that emphasizes comprehensible and meaningful practice activities, rather than production of grammatically perfect utterances and sentences” (201).
María Paz Wolleter
Generally well-researched, demonstrates some reading & reflection with elements of critical analysis but ultimately fails to make sufficient connection despite the inclusion of some very good points.
Generally well-written & presented although there are a couple of minor lapses in coherence and one or 2 slips in understanding some elements of the approach in relation to the support material (see teacher’s role).
Weak introduction and final paragraph also detract from the aim of the essay.
No bibliography and somewhat under-length.
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