James Daniel Johnstone

My teaching approach

James Daniel Johnstone

November 13 2011



Foriegn Language Teaching Methodologies


            There are many different methods for teaching foriegn languages.  Some of these methods focus on particular aspects of language such as written language.  Some methods might be considered by many to be outdated or simply inadequate while other methods might be chosen due to other factors such as the style preference of the teacher or student.  This paper will discuss 9 different methods; analyzing the goals of the students, the approach to teaching and learning, the teacher's attitude and behavior, the general syllabus of the courses and a little but of personal opinion. 

            The first method to be discussed is called the Grammar Translation Method (GTM).  GTM is derived from the classical method of teaching Greek and Latin.  GTM is taught in the native language (L1) and requires the students to  translate texts.  GTM only focuses on reading and writing and not at all on speaking or listening.  The syllabus will likely follow a  textbook which focuses on grammar and vocabulary.

            There are some advantages of the GTM.  One advantage is that time is not wasted on explaining the target language (TL) because the class is taught in the L1.  Another advantage is the teacher's labor is reduced.  Even teachers that are not fluent in the TL can utilize this method.  How do the advantages compare to the disadvantages of this method?

            The disadvantages of the GTM are numerous.  The natural process of learning a language is listening, speaking, reading and writing and the GTM only focuses on half of that process.  Speech is completely neglected in the GTM so the students don't learn how to speak or listen in the TL.  In fact the students probably wouldn't even be able to write a letter correctly because they don't practice communicating, they only learn the rules of the TL which isn´t enough to learn how to communicate.  Furthermore,  translations aren't always possible.

            Many consider the GTM to be an outdated method.  Most schools stopped using the GTM in the 1960s but it might still have some uses (teaching a dead language or translating texts accurately).  The GTM has been replaced by methods that include speaking and listening like the Direct Method.

            The Direct Method (DM), also know as the Berlitz method, is quite different from the GTM.  All of the classes are taught in the TL and absolutely refrains from using the L1.  The DM will include some reading and writing but not initially.  The teacher demonstrates the vocabulary of the TL by showing real objects or images.  The grammar is taught inductively, meaning that the learners adquire the rules of the TL through its function in a more natural process.  There is a strong focus on question and answer forms.  The students interact with the teacher but more so with each other.  The goal is to have the students talking 80% of the time.  Although a syllabus for the class will include goals like present simple to be learned on day X and past simple to be learned on day Y the class isn't presented in a manner that directly tells the students what they are covering that day.

            The advantages over the GTM are numerous.  The students learn how to speak and listen in the TL.  The DM has high input and high output compared to the GTM being a high input only.  The result is that DM students can better communicate in the TL.  GTM students might produce better translators when dealing with written documents but the DM will produce much better oral interpreters.  The only real disadvantage in the DM is the teacher needs to be more proficient in the TL and handling large classes will be more difficult when compared to the GTM.

            The DM was created as a result to the dissatisfaction of the GTM.  Although most people would almost certainly agree that the DM is superior to the GTM some were not completely satisfied.  As a result the Audio-Lingual Method was created to alleviate some of the short comings of the DM.

            The Audio-Lingual Method (ALM), also known as the Army Method, is based on reinforcement.  The students repeat phrases after the teacher over and over again.  One word or group of words is substituted for a new word or group of words and then the drilling repeats.  The classes are teacher centered.  There is a focus on pronunciation and the students are expected to use correct grammar.  The students do not communicate with each other and they don't really learn grammatical rules.

            Overall this method is horrible (this is not just the opinion of the writer, linguists such as Noam Chomsky debunk this method) but it can have a time and place to be used.  The US army used this method duing WWII.  This method is well suited to teaching large masses of people and can be used to quickly teach important phrases.

            Perhaps the opposite of the Audio-Lingual Method is the Silent Way (SW).  The SW, unlike the ALM, is student centered.  The students talk about 90% of the time which allows for the teacher to carefully observe the students.  When the teacher hears an error he immediately corrects the student and some times refers back to a color coded pronunciation chart if the error was phonetical.  Pronunciation is taught first and then the class follows a structural syllabus, introducing a new structure everyday while practicing previous structures.

            The main goal of the teacher is to start a discussion and direct the class but the students do most of the talking and most corrections are done by oneself or with the help of the classmates.  Overall the SW isn't too far removed from the DM.  They both are student centered, focus on the function of language, are highly communitive, focus on listening, speaking, writing, and reading.  The main differences between SW and DM is that the teacher talks a little less in SW and it focuses a bit more on pronunciation.  These two distinctions are almost completely absent in the next method, Suggestopedia.

            Suggestopedia is a teacher centered method.  It doesn't focus on pronunciation because the only time a student talks is when the whole class repeats a phrase with the teacher.  Although there are some elements of the written language the focus is on listening and watching the teacher.  The teacher reads a passage while acting out a scene.  Then the teacher reads the passage again while the class listens to soothing classical music. Later the students read along or repeat after the teacher.  The whole purpose of this method is to provide an environment with a positive attitude.  Suggestopedia teachers believe that if a pleasant atmosphere can be achieved then the students will be more able to learn (removes affective filters).

            Suggestopedia has many critics.  Some believe it is a method based on pseudo-science.  Other problems include a lack of communication, low output from students, grammar isn't clearly explained and there are is little to no concept checking.  It is unlikely that a student would be able to communicate in the TL and the positive attitude that the Suggestopedia teachers try to achieve will be absent in real world situations.

             Total Physical Response (TPR) is a teaching method that adds physical activity to the learning process.   Sometimes this will include acting out actions or playing games like Simon Says.  Although this method might seem to be limited in some ways such as an over focus on commands or an inability to express complex concepts it also has plenty of advantages.  TPR can be extremely helpful for beginners, especially children.  This method can help with kinesthetic learners, dyslexic students and students with varying aptitude levels.  The movements can help to explain new vocabulary since the class is only taught in the TL.  TPR encourages student cooperation and communication.  Reading and writing is also still involved.  Although this system might particularly appeal to children, TPR techniques can be used for all age groups.

            The Callan Method (CM) is another drilling based method.  The teacher quickly fires off a question, repeats the question, and then the student answers the question.  Corrections are made right away.  This continues for three hours. 

            The class is completely taught in the TL and appears to follow a structure syllabus.  The students will affectively learn a lot of vocabulary and grammar in a short period of time but possibly only to a certain extent.  The problem with the CM is that there are no normal conversations.  The class isn't even taught with a normal rate of speech.  This method like all other drilling methods lacks imagination.  A student could correctly answer a question and not know the meaning of the question because there are no concept checks.  The classes are intense and errors are immediately corrected which might act as an affective filter for some students.

            The positive side to the CM is that the teacher doesn't have to understand the grammar and doesn't have to spend much time on class preparation.  The only requirement to be a teacher is to have good pronunciation because the lessons are scripted.  This method seems to be very business orientated.

            Vaughan Systems is a business that focuses on teaching English to native Spanish speakers.  Vaughan actually has several different specific classes but what this paper will call The Vaughan Method will refer to the short (often just 1-3 minutes) radio, television, and internet lessons. 

            The Vaughan Method is a teacher centered method that utilizes both the native language (L1) and the TL.  L1 appears to be used to save time that would otherwise be spent on defining the word in the TL and to emphasize specific differences between the two languages.  There is no output, interaction or concept checking.  The teacher simply gives a quick short lesson.  The short messeges are quick and easy to process but obiously only so much can be taught in that time frame.

            Finally, we have the Oxbridge System (OX).  The OX is a student centered method that focuses on how students learn.  Due to the fact that the OX focuses on how students learn there is some focus on preventing an affective filter via seating arrangements, positive attitudes from the teachers, not interrupting the student to correct a small error etc.. The traditional seating arrangement is replaced with a circular seating arangement to encourage conversation, cooperation, and lower anxiety.  The teacher and students speak only in the TL.  The teacher begins conversation using a topic that will naturally teach vocabulary and structure via function.  The students are very communicative and do most of the talking which allows them to practice concepts while allowing the teacher to better observe the students.  The teacher does more reaction than action.  The teacher's goal is to keep the students talking, using the vocabulary and structures, make concept checks and to keep the topic interesting.  Several topics will be discussed in each class to keep things interesting and to allow a shift in focus between vocabulary and structure. 

            This paper discussed nine different teaching methods.  They are not all equally effective but each one has something to contribute.  The Oxbridge System seems to have the best balance of good qualities from each method. 

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