Compare and contrast several different teaching methods and approaches by considering their effectiveness in creating a communicative lesson.
When we look at the various different teaching methods, we can see that a lot of the methods either resemble each other strongly or differ completely in their ways of being taught. This is because the classical methods that were used before were more focussed on grammar and how it worked. The students wouldn’t be taught in their target language, but in their native language and all their work was written; so the practice of speech wasn’t present. When more modern methods of teaching appeared we could see that there was a change; teacher talking time (TTT) was severely decreased and student talking time (STT) was encouraged. The classes were taught in the target language and there was less emphasis on written work.
We can see that today there are still different types of methods, but the main methods that are most commonly seen are; the grammar-translation method, the communicative approach, the functional approach and the direct method. When looked at, the grammar-translation -method and the functional approach are similar in the sense that they both have course books, but differ extremely in the sense that the functional approach is only spoken and the other is mainly written. The other two approaches have a bit of both but are mostly spoken (in the target language). As we will see, the teaching methods vary from opposite extremes; as one method may solely be the teacher speaking in the native language and imploring the class to write in their course books, whilst the other may be the teacher sitting in the class room in silence, only making gestures in order to encourage the students to describe his gestures in the target language (silent method).
Grammar-translation method vs. the silent method
These two methods differ in absolutely every single aspect of the way they are taught. The grammar-translation method is not taught in the target language but in the native language, student talking time is not encouraged focussing on the written; so the main focus is on the grammar and the speech is disregarded. If the students wish to acquire new vocabulary; it is done through the translations of texts that they have done. The way the teachers would test the students to see how good they were, was to see how well they could translate a text. The better the student translated the text, the better his target language was.
The problem with this method is that it neglects speech. So, the student may have perfect grammar but when the student is needed to communicate in his target language; he is incapable of doing so. He may be able to pronounce certain words, but the intonations will certainly be wrong as he has never learnt the correct way of pronouncing the language. Another downfall to this teaching method is the TTT. It is mostly TTT so the students are not as involved with the class as they would like to be and this could lead to disinterest in the class.
When we look at the silent method, it is impressive to see how much it contrasts the previous method. In this method it is mostly, if not only focussed on STT. The teacher will intervene only when necessary; usually during the times where new words (vocabulary) need introducing. The student is encouraged to use his cognitive skills to come up with the right sentence structure. The teacher may begin by giving one example of how the sentence structure is supposed to be; but after that, it is the student who must continue finding the correct structures. Often the class works together in formulating the correct structures which may boost a student’s confidence when he is correct.
Another aspect of this method is that it is based on the belief that we have a better chance of remembering something if we find it ourselves rather than it being taught to us. This is why STT is encouraged. Also, usually nothing is written down, it is by the use of gestures and objects that the teacher teaches his class. So we can see that a visual aid is used to teach the students. This can also have different effects (positive or negative) on students, as not everyone takes in information the same way.
We can see that when the two methods are contrasted there will always be pros and cons. On the one hand the grammar-translation method allows the student to have perfect grammar but it neglects his ability to communicate in that language. It may also cause the student to not be as engaged in the class as he would like to be, because it is based around TTT. The silent method is effective if we want the student to have good communication skills, as the class is structured around STT in the target language; but on the other hand certain students may not be as involved as they would like to because they lack confidence. This means that the students that excel in this class will always be talking, cutting of the other students. The ability to spell will also be a flaw, as the class is done through STT.
Nowadays we can see that the first method is still used, but it is usually employed when we want to learn a dead or dying language (such as Latin). This is why STT (in the target language) is encouraged, as we want to practice the speech aspect of the language. It is also worth considering the fact that with the grammar-translation method, students may become frustrated, as the more incorrect answers they provide, the more negative feedback they receive.
The communicative approach vs. the audio-lingual method
The audio-lingual method appeared to be a step in the right direction when it came about, as the lesson was taught in the target language. This allowed the students to be familiar with the language they wanted to learn. The method demanded that the students repeat exactly word for word what the teacher asks them to recite. Any mistake made by the student would be followed by a direct correction and negative feedback by the teacher. The students would be taught by the use of repetition. Vocabulary was not the focus of the class, it was mostly grammar. They wouldn’t learn grammatical rules but they would be obliged to memorize the grammatical structures of sentences. This can only be done by repetition.
They way the teacher would see if his students had grasped the knowledge he had provided them with was by drilling them. He would question them and ask them how to say certain sentences and if they were unable to do so, he would provide negative feedback; on the other hand if they were successful in passing the test, then they would receive positive feedback. We must note that these classes were only taught through phonetics; nothing was written down. So it was by memorizing the structures the teacher gave them that they were able to pick up the target language. The idea was that the information would be implanted in there minds by the end of the course, allowing them to respond to certain questions automatically (acting like a linguistic reflex).
The downfall to this method is that the student isn’t really learning, he is memorizing; this is a whole different thing. When the student is allowed to learn, this implies that there is a level of understanding in the process that he has undergone. When the student has memorized something, he hasn’t learnt a lesson, so he doesn’t know why the grammatical structure is a certain way; he just knows that it is what he has memorized. The teacher would appear to have failed his students in my opinion as they are unaware of the grammatical rules of their target language; which is extremely important when we want to make sense of why certain things are the way they are.
This method doesn’t seem to meet the goals of the students either, because they are taught random sentences that may or may not have useful input in their lives later on. This may cause the student to lose interest in acquiring the target language as he is not engaged in the class. The teacher will follow his syllabus and teach it with no regards to the students’ aims or goals.
The communicative approach can be seen to be an answer to the grammar-translation method and the audio-lingual method. It was developed because it was believed that the two methods were ineffective. Too many people weren’t engaged enough in the class and something had to be done to alter this. The classes demand more STT which engage the students more, the lessons are also taught in the target language, which allows to student to be familiar with it and the teacher observes the class a lot more. This allows him to intervene when he sees fit (to correct students). This method has a certain syllabus as targets must be met, but it also provides the possibility to enquire about the students aims (engaging students).
The lessons are based on real life situations and classes are a lot more interactive; this can trigger a student’s bodily kinaesthetic intelligence, which allows him to excel a lot faster when certain activities are performed. This method also allows the student to think in the target language which improves content and language integrated learning (CLIL). Every aspect of this method is better than the audio-lingual method as it allows the student to think, engage and interact in the lesson. It also allows the student to understand the certain rules of the target language.
The positive aspect of the communicative approach is that all the activities used in the classes demand that the students be engaged. Activities such as role play, information gathering or even listening to a recording all demand that the student listen, or interact. These activities usually tend to relate to everyday things; which increases a student’s interest.
In my opinion when we analyse the grammar-translation method and the audio-lingual method, we can see that they are bound to fail. The goals of the students rarely seem to be met, the teaching styles usually provide negative feedback to the student (if he is wrong), which usually happens to beginners. This can have negative effects as the student becomes less motivated. The teaching attitude and behaviour do not seem inviting or friendly to the students, as the student may have a fearful view of his teacher. He may be afraid of wrongly answering a question and receiving negative feedback or being humiliated in front of the class. All these factors seem to make the approach to learning an uninviting one.
When we look at the other two methods we can see that the teaching styles are more open and friendly; allowing the students to be more engaged in the class, which increases their motivation to learn. The activities are more relevant to the students’ aims and grammatical structure is learnt even though no written exercises are given (gap fill). The teacher can stick to the syllabus all the while questioning his students on the various aims they wish to achieve.
In my opinion this method of teaching is much more effective as it increases a students will to learn, lightens the mood of a class and makes the whole experience much more enjoyable. The teacher can afford to be patient as the students are willing to learn. This makes the class and the teacher’s behaviour a much more favourable one; in contrast to a class where none of the students are engaged and none of them are willing to learn the target language anymore.
- Teaching approaches: what is the silent way, Tim Bowen
- Teaching approaches: task based learning, Tim Bowen
- Teaching approaches: total physical response, Tim Bowen
- Thuleen, Nancy. "The Grammar-Translation Method." Website Article. 24 October 1996
- The functional approach to language teaching, Claude Germain
- Comparison of first and second-language learning processes (Language Teaching and the Bilingual Method, CJ Dodson, Pitman Publishing 1967)
- Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching, J.C. Richards and T.S Rodgers
- TEFL fundamentals