Every student has a different aprroach to learning languages. To help you find out which approaches your students have, this article tries to explain and analyze the approaches to language acquisition. There are two different aspects: the written and spoken language. Every student prefers one of these accordng to his or her strengths and weaknesses. If you know how to recognize the different types of students, you can help them by planning your lessons accordingly.
Students who prefer learning by reading texts and grammar rules often have their strength in analytical thinking. They learn best when they can work on their own. You can recognize those students when you watch your students carefully. They are quieter than the rest but often have a good understanding when it comes to new words or grammar structures. Even during group working exercises, they tend to work alone.
When you notice that you have some students belonging to this group in your language class, you should plan to give your class time to read and understand new texts on their own before you start to discuss them with the whole class. Let them figure out new grammar without your help. Then they can explain the new rules to the class when you ask them. This way, you get them to participate in your lessons.
Oral acquisition means learning by listening to the language and speaking; for example, in dialogs with native speakers or classmates. These students are often very communicative and rather extroverted. They are easy to recognize. These students are always first to participate in lessons. They might not be able to pronounce words correctly, and they might lack correctness in their use of grammar, but they are not afraid of talking in the new language. Their greatest strength is this forthrightness. They often have difficulties with producing correct written language, though.
Students with oral tendencies often love group work. They like to talk in their new language and have a good understanding of spoken language even if the speaker speaks rather fast or mumbles. You can help these students learn new grammar rules by formulating easy-to-remember mnemonics and rhymes. They can improve their language skills with watching DVDs or listening to audio books too.
Learning by Doing or Learning with Instructions?
When we want to explain and analyze the approaches to language acquisition, we have to look at the way of teaching as well. Students preferring written language often excel at learning by doing while students preferring spoken language often need instructions to learn grammar rules. So, how can you as a teacher integrate both ways into your lessons?
When you read an unknown text with your class, give them time first to gain understanding of it alone or in small groups. (Let the students decide so that each student can work in his or her preferred way.) After an appropriate span of time, ask them questions about the text or let one or two students say what they have understood. Now you can go through the text line by line with the whole class, answering their questions and explaining new grammar structures.
Maybe you can give out exercises about the new grammar structures for those who have already understood it while you explain it to the others. This way, you give your students time to figure out new things on their own (or in a small group discussing their ideas) but explain things later on until every student has gained a good understanding of the new text and grammar.
The Best Way?
Now, after learning about how to explain and analyze the approaches to language acquisition, you might ask yourself if one of the two general ways of learning a language is better than the other one. The simple answer: No. Each of the ways has its advantages and disadvantages. The most important thing is that the student feels at ease with his or her preferred way. Therefore, you should allow your students as often as possible to learn in their preferred way to achieve the best possible results. Always keep in mind: The goal of language lessons is not that you as the teacher can have it your way but that the students gain a better understanding of the new language.