Contemporary methodology in EFL teaching

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №9 - 2017

Author: Smagina Anna, Kazakh American Free University, Kazakhstan

Much research has been done in the field of EFL teaching in order to improve the latter. Educators and researchers have revealed and designed a big amount of techniques and strategies joined in methods and approaches. The main goal of all this work is, undoubtedly, to find the most effective way of language learning, the way that corresponds to certain requirements. However, a great amount of teaching approaches and methods within these approaches will not provide effective language acquisition without their appropriate implementation. In other words, effective EFL learning depends not only on a technique or strategy used but on a tool of implementation (i.e. education institutions, teachers).

Speaking about teachers, in modern context they are also responsible for combining language teaching and the development of the skills required by governmental standards. Governmental standards are determined by needs of society in order to systematize and equalize the outcome of educational programs. The implementer of governmental educational programs and different teaching approaches are Higher Education Institutions.

From the time of Socrates the main goal of education was to organize society. In other words, education should have provided socially active people, who realized their duties as members of society since human beings survived with its help through centuries. However, Higher Education Institutions also produce knowledge. Thus, there are two directions in HEIs activity: to satisfy society requirements and more ideal contribution in the form of producing knowledge. But not just producing: tertiary education creates transfers and preserves knowledge.

As for society requirements, higher education institutions are seen as training area for professional skills, generic skills such as problem solving, ability to communicate, work in groups, think critically, and skills needed for life such as self-control, moral judgment, civic values, etc. (Chan, Brown, & Ludlow, 2014). One way or the other HEIs are responsible for providing products who are responsible for changing world or society in a better way; it doesn’t matter through developing academic knowledge or active civic engagement. It also cannot be denied that through the process of education HEIs teach how to learn for the purpose of doing it the whole life.

Modern reality implies socially active people who are not only capable of working and providing services and goods, but those who can communicate within growing globalization. The academic world has no borders now, thus, there is a need in one language to share the knowledge all around the world. The language of international and intercultural communication is the English language. Therefore, there are two goals of EFL teaching in tertiary education: to teach how to communicate using English that is how to speak English in order to create, preserve and transfer knowledge on the global scale, and to teach through EFL for the purpose of achieving other goals of HEIs (i.e. skills and abilities development).

Since the role of the knowledge has shifted from simple acquisition of it to acquisition and application in the right time and right place, the role of the student and the teacher should have changed either (Kouwenhoven, 2006). Within the competence-based education, where all the curricula of one major take into account competencies to be developed the learner-centered approach takes place (Kouwenhoven, 2006).. The learner-centered approach implies language as communication, thus, it is seen as a network of transformations; the basic units of the language are not only grammatical and structural, but also notional and functional (Kumaravadivelu, 2006). Hence, the target language should be learnt both as a system and a discourse. The focus here is on learners’ communicative needs (Kumaravadivelu, 2006).

Moreover, the goals of learner-centered approach can include encouraging the learners’ development of interpersonal skills, promoting competence in carrying out generic activities and common roles in professional practice, fostering identification with relevant professionals, and developing an awareness of norms and values that promote the aims of a professional practice.

Learner-centered approach entails constructivist methods which are characterized by learners’ active involvement in learning contexts, where they are co-constructors of knowledge. The focus changes from teachers concentrating on only ‘transferring knowledge’ to the learners ‘constructing knowledge’ (Vigurs, 2009). In addition, constructivist methods raise problems and issues that are interesting and relevant to learners. Learners then use their initiative, research skills and experience to analyze the problem and to find solutions with the help of peer and teacher support and collaboration. These methods should better teach learners to become reflective and adaptable individuals and to develop the skills and competencies required and desired by graduate employers and thus, society (Xamaní, 2013).

That brings one to conclusion that in this approach the role of the student prevails and the role of the teacher is:

- the developer of self-motivated, independent and autonomous learners;

- the facilitator of the learning process.

Contemporary educational approaches imply English teacher in HEIs as:

- the model of an English speaker. A good English teacher must speak the English language fluently, thus, is able to notice and correct students mistakes. Also it should be noticed that students will absorb the language from the teacher either with or without mistakes. Teacher also should show that he never stops learning him or herself:

- the facilitator of the learning process. First, it means that the teacher must provide calm friendly atmosphere, in other words, mistakes-free atmosphere: students should be aware that they can make mistakes and they will not be laughed at, they can learn from those mistakes. Second, the teacher provides learners with strategies and techniques that simplify processing of the material acquired. Additionally, the educator should be consistent in his or her actions: every lesson should start with the same activities so that students know what to expect and do not worry about doing something new;

- the incentive provider. Motivation in language learning plays a major role. No matter if the major is connected directly with the English language or not the teacher should find and teach students how to find stimuli for them to learn the target language.

One should pay special attention to Foreign Language students who are future teachers and Master students who receive a qualification to teach, the educator must remember that students observe him or her as a model of teaching and can absorb both positive and negative features of his or her behavior in class.

The learners are problem solvers and thinkers who process information through their individual experience in the physical and cultural context. Effective teachers design course and provide activities so that students can learn by doing. Curriculum content is determined by students’ interests and needs.

According to Philosophy of Adult Education Inventory the author’s philosophical view on teaching is expressed by progressivism and humanism. Indeed, my ideas about EFL teaching match those of the two philosophies of education. As far as the learner-centered approach in the form of constructivist methods prevails in teaching now, progressivist and humanist theories of education is the right choice of philosophical side of teaching because both these theories focus on learners as whole persons and the role of the teacher here is defined as a facilitator of the learning process (Erkilz'g, 2008). As for progressivist philosophy of education it is of primary importance to design curricula based on needs, wants and interests of students and to provide relevant material and interesting activities including group and individual projects, discussions, work in groups. Problem solving and critical thinking are great parts of the learning process because they influence students as whole persons, making them analyze the given information. It is relevant since in the post-soviet area the generation of the modern parents of the present-day students still just follow orders (at work or on the community or governmental level); they do not analyze the necessity or validity of these orders. Hence, they do not teach their children to think critically about things that surround them. The main goal for the teacher in tertiary education in this context is to teach students to make their own decisions, to think critically, to ask questions and to accept different points of view. Progressivism in teaching helps learners to reflect on their previous experience, thus, probably, improve some skills and correct mistakes.

Speaking about humanist part of teaching, it is important to develop students’ personalities. Learners’ self - actualization and autonomy are main goals of teaching here (Elias & Merriam, 2005). As they are supposed to be active civic members they must find their place in society by revealing their best qualities and developing them. Hence, progressivism is responsible for students’ development as whole persons and humanism supplements it with providing self-actualization and autonomy development. According to Elias and Merriam, (2005) ‘humanism is a philosophical point of view that holds sacred the dignity and autonomy of human beings’ (Elias & Merriam, 2005). Therefore, the emphasis of the humanistic approach in education is on the development of the whole person, his or her freedom, autonomy, individuality, and personality. The main part of humanism concerns self-actualization which means ‘becoming what one has the potentiality to become’ (Elias & Merriam, 2005). All those features are impossible to implement without providing a human connection between teachers and learners.

Vasuhi (2011) gathered several methods of teaching within humanistic approach which deal with teacher-student relationship. The method of counseling learning suggests that the teacher consider learners’ feelings, intellect, relationship in class with empathy and balance. The teacher is responsible for making the learning process interesting for students starting it in an informal manner using their native language, then translating language units into the English language thus encouraging them to do the same. It makes learners to be responsible for the learning process and realize their self-worth. In the silent way method the teacher is just a facilitator who provides emotionally secure environment and students are responsible for activities and can decide on the curriculum. The total physical response is a method of teaching language where the teacher plays the role of the parent and motivates students to learn. This method is adopted from the theory that suggests that an infant learns how to speak by answering to the parents’ statements (Vasuhi, 2011). Anyway, in any of those methods the teacher should consider students not as a “class” but as a “group of people” and himself or herself as a counselor; the teacher is a facilitator of the process of the language learning who reduces anxiety and fear in class, providing students with interesting material and presentation of this material, involving them in the decision making process. Hence, students feel responsible for the knowledge acquired. Positive attitude provided by the teacher brings motivation and the raise of learners’ self-esteem (Vasuhi, 2011). Taking into consideration all the above-mentioned factors learners develop as ‘whole’ persons.

In other words, humanistic approach affects the following aspects of human nature: feelings, social relations, responsibility, intellect and self-actualization (Vasu-hi, 2011). Speaking about feelings personal emotions and appreciation are encouraged and negative emotions are neglected. Social relations accelerate language acquisition through desire to discuss learners’ problems and wants. Learners are responsible to observe and criticize each other. Intellect and self-actualization deal with revealing learners’ deepest qualities acquiring knowledge only intellectually.

As all approaches of education humanistic approach has its pros and cons for EFL learning. As for advantages, mistakes-free atmosphere provided by different humanistic methods of teaching accelerates the development of speaking skills. In addition, within humanistic methods students solve every day problems, they help each other to solve their problems thus developing good reasoning and critical thinking that is needed to take tests like IELTS. Discussing learners’ mistakes in groups students have an opportunity to explain those mistakes to each other, therefore they process the acquiring knowledge more deeply. Concerning tertiary education within the humanistic approach the following competencies or life skills can be acquired: self-development and self-actualization which are important for active civic engagement, problem-solving, and the development of moral values, interviewing skills, conflict resolution and leadership.

As for disadvantages not all methods of humanism are applicable in adult education and not all of them can deal with all the levels of language proficiency. For example, the method of counseling learning is only good for beginners. Also, informal style of speaking affects academic development among students. Along with the failure of academic knowledge acquisition students may not acquire certain competences that are required by society or government, for example, in the silent way method where learners are responsible for the curriculum. Moreover, friendly atmosphere which implements peer criticism and appreciation should have a system of assessment that differs from present ones in order to avoid fear and anxiety for getting bad marks.

As far as humanistic approach has both advantages and disadvantages it cannot be fully implemented in EFL classroom. However, it cannot be denied that even partially implemented humanism can enlarge opportunities to learn the English language and influence teachers’ development. Within human relations between the teacher and learners in EFL classroom where the first one is a counselor or even a mentor, teachers can reflect on their actions in class by observing students response towards these actions. Thus, taking into account students feelings, teachers have opportunities to improve their teaching and communicative skills.

As for the implementation of the above-mentioned philosophical view on EFL teaching it is the following: setting necessary human relations between the teacher and students, defining curricula content according to learners’ interests, providing respective classroom activities.

The most important step for the teacher at the beginning of the course is to introduce him or herself in the best way in order to gain prestige. Effective language learning is impossible without students’ respect towards a teacher. To gain prestige among students the teacher should be calm, confident and consistent (Magno, 2009). In addition, within the humanistic theory of education it is important to create ‘human’ relations between a teacher and students and, thus, to build trust between them. First of all, the teacher should show students that he or she is a human being and not a robot that just provides knowledge and assesses outcomes. It can be done by introducing him or herself with the help of a short funny story about the teacher him or herself. ‘Human’ relations between students and the teacher provide calm and friendly atmosphere, where students listen to the teacher’s and each other’s points of view and try to help each other. Such kind of relations can be very encouraging and the teacher can take advantage of it and motivate students to learn the English language. For example, after gaining students’ trust the teacher can ask them the following questions: “Why do you want to learn English?” or if English learning is obligatory “Why do you think you must learn English?” Therefore, students themselves find motivation to learn EFL. Moreover, the teacher can be a good motivation either as he or she is a model of an English speaker and English learner. It is closely connected with creating human relationships with students and mistakes-free atmosphere: I am a teacher but I can and I make mistakes. However, I am not ashamed of it and I look into the dictionary to correct pronunciation or translation mistakes or I read some grammar rules to correct grammar mistakes. It also has been emphasized that the teacher s the facilitator of the learning process so it is necessary to provide students with learning techniques and a choice of their usage.

As for curricula content it is determined in the first few lessons by means of questionnaires, interviews and discussions with students. Therefore, students take part in decision making on the content of curricula. However, they do not always decide on everything in the course, it depends on the competencies required since the teacher is responsible for combining language learning and skills development.

Classroom activities are closely connected with the curricula content defining as the content determines activities. Within humanistic and progressivist philosophy of education one would recommend learning EFL by group projects, where, for example, every group is responsible for explaining a certain rule to the whole class; by discussions relevant problems using previous experience, thus, developing critical thinking and accepting different opinions; by individual projects in order to develop autonomy and reveal the strongest features of each student; reflection discussions (i.e. students point out their mistakes and discuss how to remove them). On the whole all the activities along with the curricula content provide students with the development of self-actualization and autonomy, core and generic skills.

Summing up, the implementation of such philosophical theories of education as progressivism and humanism can be effective for EFL learning within higher education institutions as the educator is seen as a counselor and a facilitator of the learning process which is necessary for students who do not reveal their personalities yet and, hence, are not ready to become active civic members. The teacher in this context provides them with opportunity to become ones with the help of certain activities.

In recent years a lot of techniques and strategies of EFL teaching have been studied. Different educators have proved many of them to be effective so it may seem difficult to choose only one that can provide effective EFL learning because language learning within HEIs includes not only EFL acquisition but developing active members of society that is the development of certain competencies required by governmental standards. Therefore, teachers have a lot of responsibilities in the context of tertiary education: they are to teach English taking into consideration the importance of the language as far as it is the language of international communication, they should provide the most effective EFL teaching for the purpose of achieving the required level of proficiency, they are to develop skills connected to the major to satisfy governmental requirements to graduates.

However, since curricula are competence-based the learner-centered approach is used. The teaching approach determines methods that are applicable in EFL teaching. The techniques and strategies within these methods are chosen by the teacher as well as philosophical approach to education. It turned out that such philosophies of education as progressivism and humanism can supplement the basic teaching approach (the learner-centered approach) and teaching techniques within this approach in order to improve EFL acquisition along with competencies development.


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Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №9 - 2017

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