What is ‘skills development’? For language learning, the opposite of ‘skills’ is ‘knowledge’: what we know about the language is balanced by what we can do with that language.
While most of the language learning experiences people have in Japan focus mostly on knowledge acquisition, accompanied by some speaking practice, the ultimate objective of people operating in that language in daily life seldom forms part of learning outcomes: in my experience, a knowledge test is usually the basis of course evaluation.
Presentation – by the teacher
Practice – student application of initial content monitored by the teacher
Production – evaluated by the teacher
This approach rests absolutely in control of the teacher, positioning them as the centre of the learning process. For people just beginning to learn a language for the first time, this provides a safe and secure learning environment.
However, unless the teacher has the skill to draw content from, and support the creation of knowledge networks with students, the key skill learned with PPP is passivity. This approach allows no autonomous learning unless the teacher is familiar with other techniques which support active learning and student output.
PPP is a favoured approach by many ESL companies and most school curricula simply because it is easy to manage from a controlled-outcome point of view. Developing confidence in doing as instructed completely fails to address realistic needs for communicative competency after the class has ended.
Test – the instructor directly and indirectly evaluates current knowledge and functional abilities of the student
Teach – the instructor then either introduces or explores the next step for that student’s/client’s progress, based on their stated goals, usually work-related
Test – the instructor then reevaluates what and how changes in competency have occurred.
This approach depends upon the active participation of the student/client, and the instructor/coach’s skills for engaging, focussing and motivating clients: the client is the centre of the learning process at all times.
However, unless the student/client is prepared to engage in their own learning process, there is no process. The responsibility for course content may be focussed by the instructor, yet it is the client who provides it – directly or indirectly. The TTT learning process can be launched from PPP where motivation or knowledge are low, though.
The key benefit of TTT is the actual ability of the client to engage with others in the target language with no assistance. Every TTT class is a tailored experience for the client, and cannot fail to result in increased skills and knowledge specifically suited to that client’s stated needs. The most significant and obvious result from TTT is client self-confidence.
TTT is rarely employed in the ESL industry or schooling simply due to a severe lack of trained instructors. Due to this fact, the prevailing attitude is to be safe with clients, and avoid changing expectations.
What does this mean?
There are many knowledge-based tests for English, such as TOEFL and TOEIC, not to mention all the weekly, monthly etc tests manufactured in the education system. Yet the biggest complaint I have with clients is this: ‘I still can’t use it! English is difficult!’
Obviously, the predominantly PPP approach employed by the majority of educational institutions, applied effectively or otherwise, has failed many students and clients. Yet, despite the response being in the target language, the failure of PPP is not as complete it may seem.
The majority of my clients, regardless of their testing scores, have a significant store of English knowledge, directly due to PPP. Most Japanese people endure six years of English classes through high school, and most of them were also subjected to more at university and through the workforce.
Engaging people accustomed to taking a passive role in the learning environment requires a substantial effort on my part in promoting the tangible benefits of language coaching as opposed to language teaching. Most people engage and see for themselves the benefits of doing so.
For some few people, taking such responsibility is overwhelming, and results in their refusal to engage or participate. I am always disturbed by this eventuality, which numbers at about two people a year.
However, for those who do engage, I have witnessed my clients improve in self-confidence and language awareness, varying from noticeable to amazing. And this is the power of TTT over PPP, of empowering people to develop their own skills according to their own needs: actual skills development and their ability to function autonomously.