Comparative Teaching Methodologies
Teaching English as a Foreign Language is a science, and like all sciences, it has a set of underlying principles upon which it is based. However, unlike the better-known sciences such as biology, chemistry and physics, TEFL is not quantifiable to the point of being either objective or equation based in its approach. Therefore, TEFL, like psychology and sociology, must rely on subjectivity in order to formulate its principles. These principles, in turn, define the relationships that exist between either the teacher and the student or the student and other students.
In order to teach English effectively, an EFL teacher must subscribe to one (or more) of the current approaches to teaching English as a foreign language and incorporate its language-learning strategies and techniques into each of his or her lessons.
What follows are descriptions of nine of the principle approaches to teaching English as a foreign (second) language. Without doubt, the reader will have experienced one or more of these approaches in his or her own classroom learning history. Though there is no one correct approach, most teachers usually find themselves more comfortable using one or the other of the approaches listed and described. Though there is nothing overtly wrong with this, it must be remembered that students differ greatly, not just in age but also in mentality, thus they may respond differently to any given approach to language teaching. Because of different learning styles, the effective teacher must be prepared to adapt his or her teaching to the needs and preferences of each class. Our advice is to 'find yourself' with respect to the approaches listed below. That said, don't be afraid to experiment with and/or adapt your style of teaching. In the end, you may discover that the best approach is eclectic in nature and includes bits of this and bits of that.
So as to give some depth of understanding as to the evolution of ideas that has marked the emergence of newer and different approaches to language teaching, we have tried to place the following list of methodological approaches in chronological order. For a closer look at some of these teaching methodologies and approaches as well as some of the more recently developed ones, please visit Language Link's TEFL Clinic.
* Grammar Translation Method
* Direct Method
* Audio-Lingual Method
* Silent Way
* Total Physical Response (TPR)
* Community Language Learning (CLL)
* Suggestopedia (Suggestology)
* Communicative Approach
* Natural Approach
Grammar Translation Method: Latin and Ancient Greek are known as "dead languages", based on the fact that people no longer speak them for the purpose of interactive communication. Yet they are still acknowledged as important languages to learn (especially Latin) for the purpose of gaining access to classical literature, and up until fairly recently, for the kinds of grammar training that led to the "mental dexterity" considered so important in any higher education study stream.
Latin has been studied for centuries, with the prime objectives of learning how to read classical Latin texts, understanding the fundamentals of grammar and translation, and gaining insights into some important foreign influences Latin has had on the development of other European languages. The method used to teach it overwhelmingly bore those objectives in mind, and came to be known (appropriately!) as the Classical Method. It is now more commonly known in Foreign Language Teaching circles as the Grammar Translation Method.
It is hard to decide which is more surprising - the fact that this method has survived right up until today (alongside a host of more modern and more "enlightened" methods), or the fact that what was essentially a method developed for the study of "dead" languages involving little or no spoken communication or listening comprehension is still used for the study of languages that are very much "alive" and require competence not only in terms of reading, writing and structure, but also speaking, listening and interactive communication. How has such an archaic method, "remembered with distaste by thousands of school learners" (Richards and Rodgers, 1986:4) persevered?
It is worth looking at the objectives, features and typical techniques commonly associated with the Grammar Translation Method, in order to both understand how it works and why it has shown such tenacity as an "acceptable" language teaching philosophy in many countries and institutions around the world.
Back to Top
Direct Method: Towards the end of the late 1800s, a revolution in language teaching philosophy took place that is seen by many as the "dawn" of modern foreign language teaching. Teachers, frustrated by the limits of the Grammar Translation Method in terms of its inability to create "communicative" competence in students, began to experiment with new ways of teaching language. Basically, teachers began attempting to teach foreign languages in a way that was more similar to first language acquisition. It incorporated techniques designed to address all the areas that the Grammar Translation did not - namely oral communication, more spontaneous use of the language, and developing the ability to "think" in the target language. Perhaps in an almost reflexive action, the method also moved as far away as possible from various techniques typical of the Grammar Translation Method - for instance using L1 as the language of instruction, memorizing grammatical rules and lots of translation between L1 and the target language.
The appearance of the "Direct Method" thus coincided with a new school of thinking that dictated that all foreign language teaching should occur in the target language only, with no translation and an emphasis on linking meaning to the language being learned. The method became very popular during the first quarter of the 20th century, especially in private language schools in Europe where highly motivated students could study new languages and not need to travel far in order to try them out and apply them communicatively. One of the most famous advocates of the Direct Method was the American Charles Berlitz, whose schools and "Berlitz Method" are now world-renowned.
Still, the Direct Method was not without its problems. As Brown (1994:56) points out, "(it) did not take well in public education where the constraints of budget, classroom size, time, and teacher background made such a method difficult to use." By the late 1920s, the method was starting to go into decline and there was even a return to the Grammar Translation Method, which guaranteed more in the way of "scholastic" language learning orientated around reading and grammar skills. But the Direct Method continues to enjoy a popular following in private language school circles, and it was one of the foundations upon which the well-known "Audio-lingual Method" expanded from starting half way through the 20th century.
Back to Top
Audio-Lingual Method: The next "revolution" in terms of language teaching methodology coincided with World War II, when America became aware that it needed people to learn foreign languages very quickly as part of its overall military operations. The "Army Method" was suddenly developed to build communicative competence in translators through very intensive language courses focusing on aural/oral skills. This in combination with some new ideas about language learning coming from the disciplines of descriptive linguistics and behavioral psychology went on to become what is known as the Audio-lingual Method (ALM).
This new method incorporated many of the features typical of the earlier Direct Method, but the disciplines mentioned above added the concepts of teaching "linguistic patterns" in combination with "habit-forming". This method was one of the first to have its roots "firmly grounded in linguistic and psychological theory" (Brown 1994:57), which apparently added to its credibility and probably had some influence in the popularity it enjoyed over a long period of time. It also had a major influence on the language teaching methods that were to follow, and can still be seen in major or minor manifestations of language teaching methodology even to this day.
Another factor that accounted for the method's popularity was the "quick success" it achieved in leading learners towards communicative competence. Through extensive mimicry, memorization and "over-learning" of language patterns and forms, students and teachers were often able to see immediate results. This was both its strength and its failure in the long run, as critics began to point out that the method did not deliver in terms of producing long-term communicative ability.
The study of linguistics itself was to change, and the area of second language learning became a discipline in its own right. Cognitive psychologists developed new views on learning in general, arguing that mimicry and rote learning could not account for the fact that language learning involved affective and interpersonal factors, that learners were able to produce language forms and patterns that they had never heard before. The idea that thinking processes themselves led to the discovery of independent language "rule formation" (rather than "habit formation") and that affective factors influenced their application paved the way toward the new methods that were to follow the Audiolingual Method.
Back to Top
Silent Way: In addition to "affective" theories relative to language learning, another challenge to the Audio-lingual Method was under way already in the sixties in the form of the "Cognitive Code" and an educational trend known as "Discovery Learning." These concepts most directly challenged the idea that language learning was all about mimicry and good "habit-formation." An emphasis on human cognition in language learning addressed issues such as learners being more responsible for their own learning - formulating independent hypotheses about the "rules" of the target language and testing those hypotheses by applying them and realizing errors. When students create their own sets of meaningful language rules and concepts and then test them out, they are clearly learning through a discovery/exploratory method that is very different from rote-learning. This appears to have much more in common with the way people learn their native language from a very early age, and can account for the way children come out with new language forms and combinations that they have never heard before. The underlying principles here are that learners become increasingly autonomous in, active with and responsible for the learning process in which they are engaged.
Caleb Gattegno founded "The Silent Way" as a method for language learning in the early 70s, sharing many of the same essential principles as the cognitive code and making good use of the theories underlying Discovery Learning. Some of his basic theories were that "teaching should be subordinated to learning" and "the teacher works with the student; the student works on the language". The most prominent characteristic of the method was that the teacher typically stayed "silent" most of the time, as part of his/her role as facilitator and stimulator, and thus the method's popular name. Language learning is usually seen as a problem solving activity to be engaged in by the students both independently and as a group, and the teacher needs to stay "out of the way" in the process as much as possible.
The Silent Way is also well-known for its common use of small colored rods of varying length (Cuisinere rods) and color-coded word charts depicting pronunciation values, vocabulary and grammatical paradigms. It is a unique method and the first of its kind to really concentrate on cognitive principles in language learning.
Back to Top
Total Physical Response (TPR): Already in the late 1800s, a French teacher of Latin by the name of Francois Gouin was hard at work devising a method of language teaching that capitalized on the way children naturally learn their first language, through the transformation of perceptions into conceptions and then the expression of those conceptions using language. His approach became known as the Series Method, involving direct conceptual teaching of language using "series" of inter-connected sentences that are simple and easy to perceive, because the language being used can be directly related to whatever the speaker is doing at the immediate time of utterance (i.e., one's actions and language match each other). His thinking was well ahead of his time, and the Series Method became swamped in the enthusiasm surrounding the other new approach at the time in the form of the Direct Method.
Some 80 years later, in the 1960s, James Asher began experimenting with a method he called Total Physical Response, and its basic premise had a lot in common with Gouin's. The method was to become well known in the 70s, and it drew on several other insights in addition to the "trace theory" that memory is stimulated and increased when it is closely associated with motor activity. The method owes a lot to some basic principles of language acquisition in young learners, most notably that the process involves a substantial amount of listening and comprehension in combination with various "physical responses" (smiling, reaching, grabbing, looking, etc) - well before learners begin to use the language orally. It also focused on the ideas that learning should be as fun and stress-free as possible, and that it should be dynamic through the use of accompanying physical activity. Asher (1977) also had a lot to say about right-brained learning (the part of the brain that deals with motor activity), believing it should precede the "language processing" element covered by the left-brain.
TPR is now a household name among teachers of foreign languages. It is widely acclaimed as a highly effective method at beginning levels, and a standard requirement in the instruction of young learners. It is also admired as a method due to its inherent simplicity, making it accessible to a wide range of teachers and learning environments.
Back to Top
Community Language Learning (CLL): In the early seventies, Charles Curran developed a new education model he called "Counseling-Learning". This was essentially an example of an innovative model that primarily considered "affective" factors as paramount in the learning process. Drawing on Carl Rogers' view that learners were to be considered not as a "class", but as a "group", Curran's philosophy dictated that students were to be thought of as "clients" - their needs being addressed by a "counselor" in the form of the teacher. Brown (1994:59), in commenting on this approach also notes that "In order for any learning to take place ... what is first needed is for the members to interact in an interpersonal relationship in which students and teacher join together to facilitate learning in a context of valuing and prizing each individual in the group." Curran was best known for his extensive studies on adult learning, and some of the issues he tried to address were the "threatening" nature of a new learning situation to many adult learners and the anxiety created when students feared making "fools" of themselves. Curran believed that the counseling-learning model would help lower the instinctive defenses adult learners throw up, that the anxiety caused by the educational context could be decreased through the support of an interactive "community" of fellow learners. Another important goal was for the teacher to be perceived as an empathetic helping agent in the learning process, not a threat.
The Counseling-Learning educational model was also applied to language learning, and in this form it became known as Community Language Learning. Based on most of the principles above, Community Language Learning seeks to encourage teachers to see their students as "whole persons", where their feelings, intellect, interpersonal relationships, protective reactions, and desire to learn are addressed and balanced. Students typically sit in a circle, with the teacher (as counselor) outside the ring. They use their first language to develop an interpersonal relationship based on trust with the other students. When a student wants to say something, they first say it in their native language, which the teacher then translates back to them using the target language. The student then attempts to repeat the English used by the teacher, and then a student can respond using the same process. This technique is used over a considerable period of time, until students are able to apply words in the new language without translation, gradually moving from a situation of "dependence" on the teacher-counselor to a state of independence.
Back to Top
Suggestopedia (Suggestology): In the late 70s, a Bulgarian psychologist by the name of Georgi Lozanov introduced the contention that students naturally set up psychological barriers to learning - based on fears that they will be unable to perform and are limited in terms of their ability to learn. Lozanov believed that learners may have been using only 5 to 10 percent of their mental capacity, and that the brain could process and retain much more material if given "optimal" conditions for learning. Based on psychological research on extrasensory perception, Lozanov began to develop a language learning method that focused on "desuggestion" of the limitations learners think they have, and providing the sort of relaxed state of mind that would facilitate the retention of material to its maximum potential. This method became known as "Suggestopedia" - the name reflecting the application of the power of "suggestion" to the field of pedagogy.
One of the most unique characteristics of the method was the use of soft Baroque music during the learning process. Baroque music has a specific rhythm and a pattern of 60 beats per minute, and Lozanov believed it created a level of relaxed concentration that facilitated the intake and retention of huge quantities of material. This increase in learning potential was put down to the increase in alpha brain waves and decrease in blood pressure and heart rate that resulted from listening to Baroque music. Another aspect that differed from other methods to date was the use of soft comfortable chairs and dim lighting in the classroom (other factors believed to create a more relaxed state of mind).
Other characteristics of Suggestopedia were the giving over of complete control and authority to the teacher (who at times can appear to be some kind of "instructional hypnotist" using this method!) and the encouragement of learners to act as "childishly" as possible, often even assuming names and characters "in" the target language. All of these principles in combination were seen to make the students "suggestible", and therefore able to utilize their maximum mental potential to take in and retain new material.
Back to Top
Communicative Approach: All the "methods" described so far are symbolic of the progress foreign language teaching ideology underwent in the last century. These were methods that came and went, influenced or gave birth to new methods - in a cycle that could only be described as "competition between rival methods" or "passing fads" in the methodological theory underlying foreign language teaching. Finally, by the mid-eighties or so, the industry was maturing in its growth and moving towards the concept of a broad "approach" to language teaching that encompassed various methods, motivations for learning English, types of teachers and the needs of individual classrooms and students themselves. It would be fair to say that if there is any one "umbrella" approach to language teaching that has become the accepted "norm" in this field, it would have to be the Communicative Language Teaching Approach. This is also known as CLT.
The Communicative approach does a lot to expand on the goal of creating "communicative competence" compared to earlier methods that professed the same objective. Teaching students how to use the language is considered to be at least as important as learning the language itself. Brown (1994) aptly describes the "march" towards CLT:
"Beyond grammatical discourse elements in communication, we are probing the nature of social, cultural, and pragmatic features of language. We are exploring pedagogical means for 'real-life' communication in the classroom. We are trying to get our learners to develop linguistic fluency, not just the accuracy that has so consumed our historical journey. We are equipping our students with tools for generating unrehearsed language performance 'out there' when they leave the womb of our classrooms. We are concerned with how to facilitate lifelong language learning among our students, not just with the immediate classroom task. We are looking at learners as partners in a cooperative venture. And our classroom practices seek to draw on whatever intrinsically sparks learners to reach their fullest potential."
CLT is a generic approach, and can seem non-specific at times in terms of how to actually go about using practices in the classroom in any sort of systematic way. There are many interpretations of what CLT actually means and involves. See Types of Learning and The PPP Approach to see how CLT can be applied in a variety of 'more specific' methods.
Back to Top
Natural Approach: Stephen Krashen and Tracy Terrell developed the "Natural Approach" in the early eighties (Krashen and Terrell, 1983), based on Krashen's theories about second language acquisition. The approach shared a lot in common with Asher's Total Physical Response method in terms of advocating the need for a "silent phase", waiting for spoken production to "emerge" of its own accord, and emphasizing the need to make learners as relaxed as possible during the learning process. Some important underlying principles are that there should be a lot of language "acquisition" as opposed to language "processing", and there needs to be a considerable amount of "comprehensible input" from the teacher. Meaning is considered as the essence of language and vocabulary (not grammar) is the heart of language.
As part of the Natural Approach, students listen to the teacher using the target language communicatively from the very beginning. It has certain similarities with the much earlier Direct Method, with the important exception that students are allowed to use their native language alongside the target language as part of the language learning process. In early stages, students are not corrected during oral production, as the teacher is focusing on meaning rather than form (unless the error is so drastic that it actually hinders meaning).
Communicative activities prevail throughout a language course employing the Natural Approach, focusing on a wide range of activities including games, role-plays, dialogs, group work and discussions. There are three generic stages identified in the approach: (1) Preproduction - developing listening skills; (2) Early Production - students struggle with the language and make many errors which are corrected based on content and not structure; (3) Extending Production - promoting fluency through a variety of more challenging activities.
Krashen's theories and the Natural approach have received plenty of criticism, particularly orientated around the recommendation of a "silent period" that is terminated when students feel ready to "emerge" into oral production, and the idea of "comprehensible input". Critics point out that students will "emerge" at different times (or perhaps not at all!) and it is hard to determine which forms of language input will be "comprehensible" to the students. These factors can create a classroom that is essentially very difficult to manage unless the teacher is highly skilled. Still, this was the first attempt at creating an expansive and overall "approach" rather than a specific "method", and the Natural Approach led naturally into the generally accepted norm for effective language teaching: Communicative Language Teaching.
Kamis, 02 Desember 2010
Comparative Teaching Methodologies