brain-based approach to teaching
English as a second language
by Tanju Deveci
have pointed out that the brain seeks meaningful patterns
and resists meaningless. We tend to connect and interpret
new experiences through ones with which we are already familiar.
Therefore, we must design activities where our learners directly
and interactively experience things, which will let them construct
new knowledge. And the motivation for this can only come from
a deep sense of personal need. So we need to provide opportunities
where making meaning is prompted by some problem, question,
or disagreement that involves personal ownership of the issue.
Tomlinson (1999) points out that when the thing to learn has
deep and personal meaning, and when it is life shaping and
relevant, the brain responds to it differently, and learning
becomes more effective.
when the brain's natural tendency to construct meaning from
patterns is used in second language teaching, classroom learning
can become more like learning in real-life situations.
propose that English as a second language can be taught best
in immersion programs where meaning is embedded in contexts
taking into consideration all twelve learning principles of
Caine & Caine (1994).
we need to have closer look at what is meant by contextual
learning and immersion, which include meaningful learning
experiences for learners.
learning will occur only when students process new information
or knowledge in such a way that it makes sense to them in
their own frames of reference (their own inner worlds of memory,
experience, and response). This approach to learning and teaching
assumes that the mind naturally seeks meaning in context-that
is, in relation to the person's current environment-and that
it does so by searching for relationships that make sense
and appear useful. Contextual learning is meaningful to learners,
and this requires learners to analyse and process language
more deeply. This aids their contextual/episodic memory, which
is activated by direct association with events, circumstances,
or location. Episodic memory can last for years with moderate
review and has unlimited storage capacity. Our brain sorts
and stores information based upon whether it is heavily embedded
in context or in content.
content with context is an important part of bringing meaning
to the learning process. For that connection to take place,
a variety of teaching approached may be used. As a result
of recent brain research and development, we have learnt how
people learn. The following teaching approaches include context
as a critical component:
must be very careful how we go about using these approaches.
The critical thing is that they should be used at the students'
developmentally-appropriate level of learning, that the diversity
of students should be considered, that the environment should
be established to support self-regulated learning, that multiple
intelligences should be considered, and that appropriate authentic
assessment should be included.
role in contextual teaching differs from the roles of those
in teacher-fronted classes. They are facilitators rather than
plain teachers. They continuously draw on their students'
prior knowledge and experience when building up their learning
environment. Since they are not the ones transmitting knowledge
all the time, they engage their learners actively in their
argue that the most effective language acquisition can be
achieved in immersion programs because of the fact immersion
programs provide both meaning and context, which are necessary
elements for the brain to take up a second language.
immersion students enter into the process of learning a second
language at a time when it does not compete with other interests,
as it is an integral part of their normal school activity.
Older students, on the other hand, quickly recognize that
learning a second language involves considerable time, dedication
and effort, consequently preferring to spend their time and
energy elsewhere. In other words, older students excel in
their initial rate of second language achievement because
they have a greater ability to consciously learn grammar rules
while younger students excel in long-term second language
achievement. However, both children and adults go through
a hard time when they attempt to acquire a second language
have been to many schools where English is only used in the
classroom and the students' native language is reserved for
use during informal social interactions or in group/pair work
activities. I suspect that this is because the students are
generally not taught the formulaic language, which would allow
them to communicate in social situations in the second language.
Speaking the target language all the time does not mean students
are following an immersion program, and actually I believe
that we cannot disregard our learners' native tongue (L1)
let me start by describing what I mean by language immersion.
In language immersion, the usual curricular activities are
run in English. That is, English becomes the medium of instruction
as well as the object of instruction. Our curriculum should
be organized around themes, which arouse our students' interest.
Caine & Caine (1994) state that appropriate themes invoke
emotions, provide a personal challenge, and stir imagination.
All these elements will contribute to the meaningfulness of
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