Methods and approaches in learning foreign language through independent study

Today`s students have very high demands for their education. They want it to be interesting, effective and not boring. They do not want it to be boring and monotonous. Students often want to have unforgettable lessons and understanding teacher. Thus we introduce this paper to show the importance of independent study approach where students are surrounded by the atmosphere of English language. It is very important to create the atmosphere where they will not feel themselves alone and get angry that the teacher seems to be “outside the lesson”. So, we provide information for these approaches and introduce ideas how to improve the lessons using this approach. The methods can be widely used for learning new vocabulary. Studying grammar shall be accompanied by examples of the teacher. Students must analyze grammar examples given by teacher and compare different forms of verbs and make logical conclusions. Tertiary education must intentionally include instruction on the development of independent learning skills. Independent learning skills are one of the secrets to success in tertiary level learning, and the importance of such skills is acknowledged in the graduate learning outcomes and capabilities

The increasing of English Language Learners autonomy has become a very important demand in universities and English Language Schools. Thus, the teachers besides the organizing high quality education process now have the new task to help EFL to adjust in new educational conditions. In this reason, the problem of forming and development of new ways for mastering language in independent way is of current interest.

Most researchers distinguish two approaches for mastering grammar and lexicology: teacher guided and independent study. Guessing the words form the context and forming the abilities to work with the dictionaries to check the guessed words and modeling the situations where new grammar can be analyzed by the students through the examples is the typical representation of the above mentioned approach.

The main advantage of this strategy is that it can be used particularly at any stage of English Language Learning. It is especially effective for education of self-beginners, helping them to reduce the time for developing their vocabulary.

For centuries, people have attempted to learn foreign/second languages through formal education. The methods and approaches employed have changed through the years, having been impacted by advancements in the theories and psychology of learning.

The cognitive approaches pay attention to spoken communication as well, although usually the development of students' speaking abilities is preceded by different visual or listening stages. The most typical of these approaches is the Silent Way, which encourages real talking after a period of students’ developing an understanding of, and familiarization with, the target language material.

The Communicative Approach is directly connected to all of manifestations of verbal, spoken communication and it tries to use verbal communication in all its possible forms. Communicative approach uses a great number of the elements of spoken communication. We also observe an extremely important phenomenon: All the methods, except communicative ones, assign primary importance to elements of the speech itself: grammar, structure, pattern, phonetics, and syntax. Only the communicative approach made studying the language elements secondary. Whether this method is good or bad brings us to a different topic, but for now we can state that this shift brings the communicative approach closer to communication than other methods.

We know that communicative approaches (including The Natural Approach, Cooperative Language Learning, ContentBased Teaching, Task-Based Teaching, TPR) emphasize negotiation of meaning, social contexts of learning, interaction among students, information gap activities, cooperative learning, and role-playing. Grammar is an important part of the program, but it does not drive the curriculum. Language is not studied for the sake of language but for true communication. The main principle of communicative teaching is: learn a language by using it to communicate. [1, p 32]

For all of that the communicative approaches do not teach on the basis of principles of communication. The problem is that communicative approaches use only superficial, non-essential elements of spoken communication or speech. All other methods use this or that manifestation of spoken communication as well. But all the methods including the communicative one do not reflect the core of spoken communicational process in teaching foreign languages. As a result, they consider neither the special nature of speech nor the specific principals of speech that are important for language learning.

The fact that the Communicative Approach declares the interaction between the student and the teacher or between pairs or groups of students as its key does not mean that it connects this interaction with inner elements of the phenomenon which exists undependably from language and which is called spoken communication or speech. It is similar to saying that we teach language on the principal of philosophy only because we use some philosophical stories; or on the principal of mathematics because we presented biographies of famous mathematicians. The same is true with communication. The fact that we use role playing, dialogues, cooperative learning, and negotiations (which are the forms of speech) in our teaching doesn’t mean that we teach language on the basis of essential inner elements of speech.

Basic assumptions about why and how people learn, shape the way in which languages have been taught.

Next approach was known as suggestopedia, which was developed by Bulgarian psychiatrist-educator who wanted to eliminate the psychological barriers that people have to learning. It uses drama, art, physical exercise, and desuggestive–suggestive communicative psychotherapy as well as the traditional modes of listening, speaking, reading, and writing to teach a second language. The influence of the science of suggestology is clear in this method that calls class meetings “sessions” [2, p. 125].

In this method, the classroom atmosphere is crucial. Creating a relaxed, nonthreatening learning environment is essential for its success. The goal is that students will assimilate the content of the lessons without feeling any type of stress or fatigue.

Classrooms are equipped with comfortable seating arrangements and dim lighting in an effort to provide an inviting and appealing environment. Soothing music is employed to invite relaxation and allow students to feel comfortable in the language classroom. The use of the native language is also allowed, especially to give directions and to create that welcoming atmosphere. Based on the belief that how students feel about learning will make a difference in the learning process, Suggestopedia takes into consideration the affective domain. It could be said that the philosophy of the little engine that could “I think I can, I think I can, I know I can” [3, p 147] is one of the basic underlying principles of Suggestopedia. If the students feel they can learn, they will.

The communicative approach to language teaching is based on several theoretical premises:

  1. The communication principle: Activities that involve communication promote thecaquisition of language.
  2. The task-principle: Activities that engage students in the completion of real-world tasks promote language acquisition.
  3. The meaningfulness principle: Learners are engaged in activities that promote authentic and meaningful use of language [4, p. 148]

The main goal in this approach is for the learner to become communicatively competent. The learner develops competency in using the language appropriately in given social contexts. Much emphasis is given to activities that allow the second language learner to negotiate meaning in activities that require oral communication in the second language.

In the communicative approach, it is important to create an “information gap” between speakers. Thus, the need to communicate is authentic because communication must take place to narrow the gap and accomplish the task (i.e., “I/we have what you need, and you have what I/we need to complete our task”). The task cannot be completed individually; partners must work together to successfully complete the assigned task.

Classroom activities must be varied and must include interactive language games, information sharing activities, social interactions, need for impromptu responses, and the use of authentic materials, such as the newspaper for oral discussions on current events.

Developed by Caleb Gattegno, the Silent Way requires that the teachers remain silent much of the time, thus its name. In this method, students are responsible for their own learning. Based on the belief that students are initiators of learning and capable of independently acquiring language, the Silent Way provides a classroom environment in which this can take place. The teacher models once, and the students are then given the opportunity to work together to try to reproduce what has been modeled [5, p. 212].

Beginners are initially taught the sounds of the new language from color-coded sound charts. Next, teachers focus on language structures, sometimes using colored, plastic rods to visually represent parts of words or sentences. As students begin to understand more of the language, they are taught stories using the rods as props. At all stages of the method, the teacher models as little as possible, and students try to repeat after careful listening with help from each other. The teacher leads them toward correct responses by nods or negative head shakes (Ibid).

The Silent Way is a fairly complex method that requires the teacher to receive extensive training in the use of the methodology. Students also need to be well versed in the use of the charts and the rods to participate effectively in the lessons. Because, according to research, teachers speak from 65 percent to 95 percent of the time in traditional classrooms, it is difficult to find teachers who are comfortable with the required “silence” of the Silent Way, thus limiting the number of teachers available to teach employing this method.

As it can be seen from above, during all periods the scholars tried to find new creative approaches leading to improvement of teaching and make students interested in the studied subject.

According to James Scrivener, the most effective way to understand how to teach is simply to watch other people teaching. Observing different classrooms he found that some lessons were boring, and other were completely excellent. In those “excellent” classes there were no specific tasks, anyway all the students were involved in work and showed better results [6, p. 238]

The secret of that specific excellent atmosphere was that teachers let their students learn by themselves. Those teacher did not apply traditional teaching, they did not give direct recommendations and instructions to their teachers, otherwise they organized their classroom in a way where students can do something, recall what happened, reflect on that, draw conclusions from the reflection and use those conclusions to inform and prepare for future practical experience. The role of teacher in this learning cycle is to maintain information, counseling, instructions, demonstration, support, explanation, feedback, teaching and guidance, each information only after the first step of students is done.

It is thought that giving people opportunities to do things themselves may be much more important. It is necessary to give students opportunity to practice as much as they can. In traditional approach, the teacher doing a lot for his students, e.g. explaining things and giving explanations, may be over-helpful. The more teachers do themselves, the less space for learners there will be for learners to do the things.

One fundamental assumption of this approach is that people learn more by doing things themselves rather than being told about them. This suggests, for example, that it may be more useful for a learner to work with others and role-play ordering meal in a restaurant (with feedback and suggestions of useful language) than it would be to listen to a fifteenminute explanation from the teacher how to do it correctly.

The second assumption is that learners are intelligent, fully functioning humans, not simply receptacles for passed-on knowledge. Learning is not simply a one-dimensional intellectual activity, but involves the whole person (as opposed to only their mental processes such as thinking, remembering, analyzing, etc). Given the opportunities, they will be able to make important decisions for themselves, to take responsibility for their learning and to move forward (although their previous educational experience may initially predispose them to expecting that you, the teacher, need to do all that for them).

Thus, the implementation of independent study is essentially important at the first year of study in higher education. Independent learning skills are one of the secrets to success in tertiary level learning, and the importance of such skills is acknowledged in the graduate learning outcomes and capabilities. We contend that developing independent learning skills has the capacity to increase the psychological well-being of first year university students.

Importantly, independent learning ‘is a goal, not a starting point’ and students, peers, academics and tertiary institutions are all involved in the journey [7, p. 356].

There are many different definitions and descriptions of the term ‘independent learning’. The terms ‘self-directed learning’ and ‘learning how to learn’ are sometimes used interchangeably with independent learning [8, p. 367].

As it was said above, the independent study approach is quite new and interesting. Among main advantages, such as being effective and meeting the requirements of majority of the students, it also has some disadvantages and weak points, e.g. sometimes it is difficult to draw learners attention to what is going on and make them to participate in discussions, tasks and committees. This may happen due to psychological and education gaps between students, thus the main task is to correctly form the groups of the same speaking, grammar and general comprehension level.

The second problem is that some of the students are quite passive and they want to be simply explained the rules, without having language experiments and tasks for comparison and analyzing them. Thus, teacher’s task is to create easy-going atmosphere, where all the students can step in the guessing words and comparing grammar. To make them interested in reading part, the teacher should give out individual tasks for the understanding of the text or discussion questions with other students.


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  2. Principles of Language Learning and Teaching by Douglas Brown's (1994)
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  4. Brookfield, S.D. (2006). The Skillful Teacher: On Trust, Technique and Responsiveness in the Classroom (2nd ed), JosseyBass.
  5. Knight, P. (1996) Independent Study, independent studies and core skills’ in higher education. in: Tait, J and Knight. P. eds. (1996). The management of independent learning. London: Kogan Page in association with SEDA.
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  7. Ashford. S.J., & Cummings, L.L. (1983). Feedback as an individual resource: Personal strategies of creating information. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 32, 370-398.
  8. 9. Zimmerman (1986, p. 308), Meyer, B.Haywood, N., Sachdev, D. and Faraday, S. (2008) Independent Learning Literature Review. London: DCSF (RR051)
Year: 2015
City: Oskemen
Category: Philology