Gavin Paton

My teaching approach

Comparing Teaching methods for English as a foreign language


Traditionally there have been two dominant methods in respect to teaching language acquisition: grammar translation and the direct approach method. In more recent times, specifically since World War II, there has been a third, that of the Audio-Lingual Method. It could be argued that as each student is different there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ method though each has advantages and disadvantages, though some more crippling than others. Much will depend on the objectives of the student in question.

Dealing with Grammar Translation firstly, sometimes referred to as the classical model, it can be said it flows from the tradition on the way Latin and Greek were taught when Latin was the lengua franca of Europe. This method involves a heavy reliance on grammatical rules and direct translation. Grammar points would be found from a text and explained contextually. Translation and grammar rules would be learned and enforced in repetitive tasks with minimum regard to content. Sentences directly translated with minimal regard to pronunciation or the communicative points in real world settings.  The flaw can be pointed out easily, namely, the lack of creative output encouraged a lack of spontaneity within students, leading to difficulty with speaking and a lack of flexibility in any creative activity.

This lack of flexibility led a number of theorists in the late 19th and early 20th century to produce a number of new methods. Arising from this was the development of the Direct Method. The method would teach in the target language and aimed for interaction with the student as a means of acquisition, involving tactics such as having real life objects, pantomiming and visual materials. The important concept here was that spoken language is central. This must involve the teaching of correct pronunciation and talking as much like a native as possible. Only everyday vocabulary would be taught to the student at the beginning, with grammar, reading and writing, as the student progresses. The emphasis ought to be on real life situations with grammatical proficiency secondary to the focus on spontaneity and usefulness.

Audio learning was first used by the American army during World War II and can be used as a self teach method. The learning involves listening to a series of words and dialogues about everyday situations and repeating them. Reading and writing are used as reinforcements to what is learned aurally. The problem with this method is it involves comprehension only if the student is familiar with the specific material.

Unless the aim of the student is to achieve a high level of writing and reading ability without the physical communicative aspect, it can be said that the grammar translation method suffers from too many failings, especially for beginners.  The student is confronted with a plethora of rules before construction. Although the audio approach is rapid, it can be seen that the shortcomings are glaring as the creative element is again secondary. An understanding of how to use the language is very limited.

Although each of the methodologies has something to recommend them, it could be argued that notwithstanding the aims of the students, the direct approach gives the most in terms of the ability to understand what another person is saying to you in another language. It would be the method of choice for the majority of students who have rapid acquisition as a target.


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