Which factors are necessary for teaching English as a foreign language?What situational factors are related in teaching and learner-centered approaches?

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karenrandolph eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Teaching English as a foreign language (EFL) is often confused with teaching English as a second language (ESL); a primary distinction between the two rests on the notion that EFL learners, for the most part, are quite competent in their 'native language'; thus EFL students (often without realizing) apply this 'native language' competency to learning English vocabulary, context, and syntax.

A learner centered approach to teaching both EFL and ESL is most effective because this approach allows students to learn how to distinguish what they do know from what they need/want to know. According to Vygotsky (1986), a learner centered approach to teaching both EFL and ESL rests upon the learner's Zone of Proximal Development (ZOPD). Vygotsky equates ZOPD to the point that exists between what students can learn on their own, and what students can learn only with the help of others. Vygotsky describes the 'help of others' as including teachers, other students working in groups, access to mediated learning, etc. Therefore, students who possess a larger ZOPD are more successful in learning EFL (and ESL) than are those students possessing a smaller ZOPD. More to the point, a learner centered approach is more likely to increase students' ZOPDs because of the wider range of interactions with both teachers and other students who all possess a variety of levels of language understanding.

Moreover, as Vygotsky (1987) maintains, "...the native language serves as an already established system of meanings...The concept of system organization thus becomes a crucial one" (p. 197). Vygotsy's notion of 'the concept of system organization' is akin to EFL students already possessing reliable cognitive language/cultural categories.

Furthermore, Bloom (2002), examines two methods of teaching language (both to EFL and ESL students). The first is through 'context'; "The best way to learn a word through context is by hearing it used in a conversation with another person" (p. 192). This point supports constructing a learner centered environment. The second method that Bloom describes is learning language through 'syntactic cues' leading to the understanding of the meanings of words. This point supports the notion that EFL students often learn English more quickly than ESL students, because EFL students already understand the 'syntactic cues' that make up their native language, and are therefore able to employ a syntactic approach to taking this "part-of-speech membership of a new word" as a way of learning the meaning of that new word. (p. 195). Clearly Bloom too supported the construction of a learner centered educational environment when working with both EFL and ESL students.

Additionally, EFL students also have a thorough understanding of their own culture, which helps these students better understand the cultural nuances of the English language. In other words, EFL students have already 'constructed' reliable language/culture cognitive categories making EFL easier to teach/learn than ESL.