I have been asked more than a couple of times about the best methodology for learning a second language and I have been very direct about my opinion. My dissertation for university was based in the most used methods and approaches for learning English as a second language in the most popular language schools in Sāo Paulo, Brazil. But I am not here to discuss which all of them are, which one works which way. I would like to discuss quickly the types of learners we are and how we learn, because that is what I would like people to understand when they ask professionals in education about the best methods and approaches for learning a new language.
I personally believe that the best methodology for you is that one that does work for you. What? Yeah! I mean it… Every student is different, as every person is different, we all learn in different ways. Some of us are audio/musical learners, the ones who will be able to understand well by listening to how the language is used and repeating it, trying to place those words in similar situations to develop communication. It is more or less like those chemistry lessons when the professor used to sing or rhyme to help us memorise chemical formulas or elements of the periodic table. When we needed to use them again, all we needed to do was singing that song back again.
There are those who are mathematical learners. I have had a student who was a programmer and needed to learn English and the best method we found for him was working with the language as a mathematical problem. Is that weird? Maybe a little, but it worked really well. Once we needed to review a grammar tense, how to say things in the Present Simple, we made notes like this: “Do + you + verb + complement + time? = Do you watch TV everyday?” It worked well and now he can use what we have learnt together confidently.
I consider myself in another group of learners, I need more than just listening to how words or expressions are used by native speakers. I am the type of learner who needs “to see to believe”. I am a visual and a more hands on learner, I need to see written examples of the new content I am learning, or maybe graphics, pictures, videos, anything that exemplifies what I am learning in a more practical way and put them to practice.
Let’s take my driving lessons as an example: although it helps me a little when my instructor explains verbally how to position the car before turning right or left, I cannot say I successfully acquired that knowledge. However, if he opens his booklet and shows me the signs I will see on the road it will help me a little bit better. It also helps me a little bit observing how he positions the car when he turns right or left. But it is when we go for it, when I have to do it myself – with his help, of course – that I fully and successfully acquire that knowledge.
The same way I need visual and practice to learn, I need visual and practice to facilitate the learning process for my students. When I start teaching a new subject, I use Power Point presentations, I search for videos, songs, pictures, anything to help them learn by observing, at the same time we are speaking the language, using the language. I feel like this way will help us access the language by using it and not translating it (I could talk for hours about why I avoid translating as much as I can during my lessons, but that is a subject for next time). I know there are people who need to translate when learning a new language. If that is the way it works for you, that’s fine! Go ahead! The most important thing is the communication. If at the end of the story you are able to communicate, express your thoughts and understand well what your hear or read. That’s perfect!
What I suggest, though, is to find out exactly what type of learner you are before you look for a teacher, tutor or partner with whom to study. If this person learns and teaches the way you learn, this will be the right person with the right method for you. You are the best person to tell which is the best method or approach for you.
I would like to remember that this is my opinion. Even though I have been teaching for over 11 years, I don’t own secret of life. I am more than sure there are hundreds of other professionals much more experienced than me and who know a lot more than I dream to learn in this lifetime. If you agree or disagree with me, let me know your thoughts, I am always eager to learn more. 🙂
Best of luck finding your learning style and your learning partner! 🙂