My teaching approach
Tarrah K Reiber
Benjamin Franklin said, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I learn.” These words simply and clearly describe the basic theory behind the Communicative Approach to teaching, that in order for students to acquire language successfully, they must be directly involved in the learning process. The Communicative Approach emerged in the 1970's, and soon shifted teaching emphasis from rigid, mechanical practice in a teacher-centered environment, to a student-centered environment, involving more communicative and engaging practice, which allows students to make real use of the language. Ability to communicate is the main goal of this approach. Over the years several teaching methods have been developed and put into practice, which widely vary on their emphasis on the development of communicative skills. Some methods, like the Grammar-Translation Method, which was influential until the 1950's, don't focus on the productive skills of listening and speaking, but on the receptive skills of reading and writing. While certain methods involve a direct translation from target language to the student's first language, others involve no translation whatsoever; many methods are communicative, others are non-communicative.
The Audio-Lingual Method was the prominent method practiced before the 1970's. Lessons take place in a teacher-centered environment and students have no influence in the pace or direction of the class. Language is to be acquired through structures and patterns. The goal of this method is for the students to produce correct pronunciation and to know correct grammatical structures. Drills and gap-fill exercises are central to the Audio-Lingual Method, with students repeating in unison. No real communication is used in class, and students may have difficulty and become frustrated trying to transfer grammar patterns into real and useful speech. While drills can occasionally be good exercises in correct pronunciation, they can become tedious and boring after a short period, making it easy to see why this method is outdated by more interactive ones.
Unlike the stringent, repetitious approach of the Audio-Lingual Method, the power of suggestion in learning and a relaxed environment are key ideas in the Suggestopedia Approach. Soothing music, often classical, is played to induce a focused state while the teacher reads a dialogue, miming and gesturing to convey meaning. Although they receive vocabulary lists and observations on grammatical points, students, especially new learners, may have difficulty extracting structure from the complicated dialogue. This can frustrate students, rather than motivate them. Suggestopedia is completely teacher-centered and no real communication takes place in the class, as in the Audio-Lingual Method. The theory that a relaxed environment makes it easier to facilitate learning, the idea of absorbing a language, as displayed in the Suggestopedia Approach, is entirely unrealistic.
Unlike the Audio-Lingual Method and Suggetopedia, the Direct Method, also known as the Berlitz Method, involves a student-centered, communicative approach to teaching. Created by Maximilian Berlitz, the Direct Method involves the student in using the language in realistic, everyday situations, with the main focus on the communicative skills of speaking and listening. The name Direct Method comes from the idea that students are to convey meaning through visual aides and demonstration, while being totally immersed in the target language, with no translation involved. Abstract vocabulary is taught through association of ideas, and concrete vocabulary is taught through demonstration and use of realia, while grammar is taught with increasing complexity. The student and teacher actively engage in the process, with emphasis on the student speaking. The teacher is encouraging, and the use of realia makes for engaging and useful activities. The Direct Method immersion in the target language may frustrate learners with no prior knowledge of the language, but the system makes it easy to start learning language right away. As a way to learn real, usable language, the Direct Method is a realistic approach to learning.
As with Suggetopedia, the Total Physical Response (TPR) method relies on gestures and movements to convey meaning. The method was developed by James Asher, based on his observation that children learn their first language in a stress-free environment, and the idea language can be taught through physical activity. The structure of the class is teacher-centered, with communication limited to the students complying with simple commands given by the teacher. Miming and gesturing are key parts, with the idea that by engaging physically, the learner will more easily remember what is learned. TPR seeks to create an undemanding environment, through the use of games, that is supposed to create a positive mood in learners. On its own TPR does little to create an environment ideal for real communication, but used with other methods, as it was designed to be used, it can be a fun and useful tool to be included in lessons. Children may especially benefit from the fun environment and simple learning structure.
The Vaughan System, unlike the Direct Method, involves complete translation from target language into the student's first language, with the use of gestures to convey meaning. The Vaughan System is teacher-centered, with the teacher reciting sentences for the learner to repeat, and although the content of what the teacher is reciting may have communicative value, it may be difficult for students to elicit meaning and put it into real life practice. Different languages have different structures, so direct translation of a language can be of little or no use when it comes to internalization and application in real situations, making it difficult for students to take away useful language. Learners should not be taught direct translation or try to learn a new language through direct translation if they want a real grasp on the language. For learners who want to learn ways to effectively communicate in the target language, the Vaughan System ranks high with Suggestopedia in uselessness.
With the Callan Method, as with the Audio-Lingual Method, students are set in a teacher-centered environment, only instead of drills, the teacher asks a series of questions for the students to answer as quickly as possible. The lesson is fast-paced and highly structured, with little real communication outside of the structure. As with the Direct Method, only the target language is spoken, but only within the confines of the rigid structure of the lesson. The student's mistakes are constantly corrected until the student produces the correct
response. The fast pace of the class doesn't slow, and the constant correction may be overwhelming for learners, and the question and answer routine may become tedious after a short period, but the actual content of the lesson can be applied usefully outside of the class. As far as a fun and interactive learning environment are concerned, the rigid Callan Method has nothing to offer in thatdepartment.
The Silent Way of teaching, which was created in the 1970's by Caleb Gattengo, is based on the idea that learning is facilitated if the student discovers answers, rather than remembering and repeating. Unlike other approaches, the Silent Way relies on problem-solving as the key aide in learning. The target language is taught through sentences in a sequence based on grammatical complexity. The method is teacher-centered, with the teacher remaining as silent as possible, giving neither praise or criticism, to encourage the learner to produce the language. As with many other teaching methods, the Silent Way lacks real communication, with no communicative dialogue expressed. Students who want to communicate in the target language may become frustrated with the lack of communicative tools offered by this method. The silence of the teacher could actually move to demotivate learners, rather than motivate them. Quiet and less outgoing students might get lost in the background, without someone to bring them to the center of the learning. Certain aspects of the Silent Way are interesting and could possibly be used in an activity, but as far as effective communication is concerned, this method is inferior to many others.
The globalized world we live in today has led to the desire and need for people to learn how to communicate in a second language. This need to acquire useful language that can be applied in real situations has, in the last forty years, completely changed the mainstream way in which a second language is taught. The rigid, and boring Audio-Lingual Method and a teacher-centered class has been more or less replaced by the Communicative Approach to teaching, with students at the center of attention. The Communicative Approach also changed the teaching structure to focus less on student learning grammatical structure and more on actual ability to communicate. One amazing aspect of the Communicative Approach is its flexibility and its ability to adapt existing methodology of other approaches. While some of the previously mentioned methods of teaching are teacher-centered and do not focus on authentic use of the language, the most useful aspects can be taken from them and adapted to fit into a communicative lesson. For example, Suggestopedia may be an ineffective method for acquiring a language, but its emphasis on a relaxed environment being key to learning can be taken into consideration when planning a lesson using the Communicative Approach, as students who are relaxed are more apt to learn. Out of all of the methods reviewed, the Direct Method seems to be the most effective in engaging students with real and useful language, with amazing flexibility to suit the students needs. The Direct Method is also the only method which could be taught consistently, without becoming boring or tedious.