My teaching approach
Language education has been a great challenge for all teachers, as more and more students want to learn a new language for many different reasons (for a job, for travelling and for personal enlightenment, to name a few). To cater to the students' demands, many different teaching methods have appeared throughout History. Some have fallen into relative obscurity, whereas others are still widely used ; still others have a small following, but offer useful insight. In language education, a method is a plan for presenting the language material to be learned and should be based upon a selected approach, designed by the objectives, the organization of the content, the types of tasks to be completed, and the roles of the students and of the teacher. Taking all this into account in this essay, I will compare and contrast several teaching methods and approaches by considering their effectiveness in creating a communicative lesson. I have chosen to study these strategies : the grammar-translation method, the direct method and the Silent Way. I believe that these dissimilar methods will allow me to understand more the meaning of a communicative lesson.
The grammar-translation method was the predominant method in Europe during the 19th century. This method was mostly used in the instruction of classical languages, such as Latin and Greek. The main and only objectives are reading and writing, leaving no time for communication.
The direct method was established in France and Germany around 1900 as a response to the grammar-translation method. Taught in the target language, this method focuses on oral language (listening and speaking), thus encouraging the students to communicate correctly with the teacher.
The Silent Way was created by Caleb Gattegno in the 1960's. Not usually considered a mainstream method in language education, it emphasises the autonomy of the learner and the silence of the teacher (as the name suggests). So, the students are responsible for their own improvement.
Many factors must be taken into account when comparing these three methods : the approach and goals of the student, the approach and role of the teacher, and the organization of the syllabus.
As we all know, the learner is the most important person in language education. These three methods all have different views on the position of the learner.
The student of the grammar-translation method has a passive role. Through literary translations, he is to assimilate as much grammatical rules and vocabulary as possible : they only focus on reading and writing. No time is wasted in explaining grammar and new words with examples or definitions. This limits the interaction between teacher and students, so the students fail to express themselves correctly in the target language and develop a shyness towards speaking. In short, students do not acquire a habit of speaking another language, only its rules.
To the contrary, the direct method gives the student a more active role. The main objectives are talking and listening, but reading and writing are developed in intermediate phases. This style of teaching is mainly about the use of the target language : thanks to the student's surronding (i.e the classroom, the house, the supermarket, etc.), he can acquire the confidence to speak. The use of pictures and real-life objects by the teacher also helps the learner to feel more comfortable with the foreign language. Unlike the grammar-translation method, the student is encouraged to communicate and interact with the other students, not only with the teacher : he should speak at least 80% of the time during the lesson, and grammar points are taught inductively. To sum up, practitioners of the direct method believe that a new language is taught by means of oral communication.
Unlike all the previous methods, the Silent Way is all about the students. They begin their learning experience by studying the sound system of the target language ; the sounds are associated to different color using a sound-color chart specific to the studied language. The association of sounds and colors are also used with spelling, reading and pronunciation. Their aim is to gain basic fluency and good pronunciation : they should be able to use the language to express their thoughts, feelings and needs. Students are encouraged to develop their own grammatical correctness thanks to what they already know (their mother tongue). In a nutshell, this method rests on the self-reliance of the students in the learning process.
Meanwhile, the teacher also has an important part in language education. He is the one who directs and guides the student through the process.
In the case of the grammar-translation method, the teacher can be seen as a « dictator » : he is the only one who talks during the lesson. This method demands few specialized skills on the part of the teacher, because grammar translation deals with the memorization of rules, manipulation of the morphology and syntax of the target language. In this sense, the teacher does not even have to be a native speaker. This method does bear one advantage for the teacher : he works less. In fact, because all the teaching is done in the mother tongue and with the help on a textbook, the communication between the teacher and the students does not cause any ambiguity and the teacher can easily check if the students have learnt what was taught in class.
A teacher using the direct method can be seen as a « director » : the teacher acts like the students' partner in the whole process. The teacher must to a native speaker of the target language or, at least, have a very high level because all communication should be done only in the target language. He demonstrates the meaning of new vocabulary through the use of pictures or pantomime (he never translates into the students' mother tongue). Being patient and encouraging the students to interact in the target language are primordial : the teacher must adapt to the students' level and make them talk (no textbooks are used). Also, the teacher should not narrate his lesson : asking questions, demontrating and acting are great ways to get the message across to the students.
As the name suggests, the Silent Way implies that the teacher should be quiet as much as possible. He then acts as a « engineer », guiding the students through the learning process thanks to the sound-color chart, pictures, films and other visual aids. Silence allows the teacher to neutrally observe the students. He should neither praise the students when correct, nor criticize when wrong ; he must give them time to self-correct and develop self-reliance. Even though the teacher should be silent, he can help by mouthing words without vocalizing, or by using gestures, only when it is necessary. In addition, his silence must encourage the students to work as a team and to help each other.
Finally, the syllabus assists the teacher in the whole teaching and learning process. It outlines and organizes the topics and activities to be covered during the language course.
The syllabus of the grammar-translation method is grammar-driven. In fact, translating texts or sentences from the mother tongue into the target language, and vice versa, allows the student to learn and memorize grammar rules and vocabulary in an organized and systematic way.
The syllabus of the direct way is based on two things. First of all, it is founded on situations : the students learn grammatical structures and vocabulary that could be necessary in everyday life, such as going to the bank. It is also established on topics, like current affairs or the weather. The student should then learn to think in the target language and gain plenty of conversational practice.
The Silent Way lessons are planed around a structural syllabus, emphasising on grammatical items and related vocabulary. While the teacher will keep reviewing old language structures, he can also introduce new ones with the help of adequate learning situations. Then, the learners discover the grammar rule through a process of induction.
As I have been and will always be a language student, I believe that all these methods have some strong advantages, but also some major drawbacks.
Even if the grammar-translation method can fustrate a student, drills do help with the memorization of grammatical rules, but this method does not allow the student to practice communicating. This is the exact same method that was used in my Spanish classes during my education, and most certainly the reason why I do not speak as good Spanish as I should.
The direct method does emphasize on the oral part of language education, and interaction between students themselves, but it pays less attention to writing. I do believe that this method is similar to learning a foreign language in a country where it is spoken : a most of the local population does not speak your mother tongue, so you do not really have a choice but to communicate (this was the way that I learned French). Thus, you can learn a language relatively quickly.
The Silent Way does allow the students to depend on themselves to learn how to read and speak in a foreign language, but the lack of praise, and even criticism, can make the students feel unsure. In this sense, I think that the method does not work for me : in my experience of learning new languages, constant praise and sometimes a bit of criticism did help me to know what I was doing well or lacking.
In conclusion, a mix of all these teaching methods can produce a communicative approach that includes drills, communication and interaction, and student self-reliance.