Jordi Aceta Cuenca





My teaching approach

The aim of this essay is to give a compared and contrasted analysis of four different methodologies for teaching a foreign language, in order to make an approach to their respective vision of the basic concepts of the issue (i.e. the teaching and learning processes, the students’ goals, the organisation of the syllabus and the teacher’s attitude and behaviour toward the learners), so that the strong and weak points of each come out. The treated TFL1 systems have been selected with the intention to focus on the most relevant and find out if there are significant differences between them. They share common aspects, such as not allowing the use of L12, during the lesson, and taking correct pronunciation as fundamental.

In the Direct method, the teacher shows the students diverse visual prompts, such as gestures, pantomiming, pictures, objects and realia. He makes use of a question-answer model, so they learn grammatical structures in an inductive way (finding its rules from the examples). Grammar and vocabulary make up its syllabus. Students are intended to speak as much as possible (at least an 80%).

The Audio-Lingual method, also called the Army method, is based on behaviourism -certain traits of human behaviour can be developed by using elaborated training techniques-. Influenced by the above presented, this one removes vocabulary from the syllabus, expecting learners to acquire it by grammar structures. The class dynamic employs four kinds of drills that consist in repetition and substitution.

The Silent Way method owes its name to the silent role the teacher develops, which is the most singular characteristic this methodology brings. Learners receive graphic and symbolic instructions, following a visual code, with the aid of elements like Cuisenaire rods, field charts, sound-colour charts and word charts to build a structure or correct a wrong one. The professor monitors their outputs and rather uses charts and non verbal messages -like mouthing and gestures- to communicate with them. The students are encouraged to correct their own errors and help each other and the teacher will. Like the Audio- Lingual, this method is structural-syllabus-based, so the core of the learning system is formed by grammatical structures.

1 Teaching Foreign Language. 2 First or Native Language.

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Inspired in the Direct method too, The Oxbridge system puts the stress in the learning. As both have, as the core of their respective syllabus, grammatical structure and vocabulary, the latter incorporates a new element: the topic, as a tool for learners to use, around an issue, the acquired grammar and vocabulary. Besides, pupils are given some new language, in relation to that same issue.

The first to appear, among the above described -during the early years of the 20th century-, is the Direct method. It is based in grammar structures but introduces vocabulary as a necessary element in target language use. When the Second World War, in the 1940’s, required short-term assimilation of a foreign language, this method proved so slow to the experts. They would modify it to obtain the Army method. Structures became the centre of the syllabus and vocabulary would be introduced through them. In the mid-sixties, a pedagogue and mathematics teacher called Caleb Gattegno decided to apply his knowledge to develop a new method, the Silent Way, grammar-centred, as well, but under a structural concept, starting from simple grammatical structures, growing in difficulty, up to more complex ones. Probably because of the teacher-learners dynamics, some structures were not included, judged too difficult to be learned. The Oxbridge system acquires the grammar-vocabulary basis from the old Direct method, and introduces the topic to let students produce much more creatively, using structures and vocabulary learned along their whole learning process in a free way.

Most of the TFL methods are teacher-centred, so students are expected to give the correct answer through the assimilation of the specifically asked structure. There’s only one possible output. Thus, teachers guide the pupils in a more or less rigid way, talking or keeping as silent as possible. In the Silent Way, a completely collaborative ambience is favoured among the students, who help each other and have a very active role, despite it often consists in correcting the own errors, while the teacher communicates by the use of his visual instruments (sound-colour charts, word charts, ...), what might deviate learners’ attention. In the Oxbridge method, L23 teaching is seen through the needs and application of students, so they learn in realistic situations, what helps them to link the structures and vocabulary to their real life. Blackboards are not an element in the classes, in order to focus on the activities.

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3 Second or Foreign Language.

Errors come out in the class, especially when learning a foreign language. But how do the different methods react to pupils’ wrong answers? The Army method sees the imitation and trial-and-error as the way to learn the correct structures, so students can’t see what is wrong in a not valid answer. So happens with the Silent Way, although teacher’s silence makes students find the correct answer themselves or with peers’ help. Both Direct and Oxbridge methods accept and encourage errors as well as they promote self-correction. Students will be helped to find where the mistake is so as to get a better knowledge of the L2.

Why students need or want to learn a foreign language? The possible answers to that question are countless. But a common ground should be presumed, that is, to use it in real situations. The pleasure of knowledge doesn’t seem to fit this fragment of cultural section. Language is communication and it needs to be utilised to survive. Teachers may appear to have accomplished their function once students have assimilated a large amount of grammatical structures and a big truck full of vocabulary. Do they know how to transform this burden in useful messages to communicate? The Audio-Lingual method doesn’t seem to work and has been consequently discredited shortly after its appearance. The other examined methods, however, in a lower or higher degree of authenticity, incorporate contexts. At Oxbridge, context is a fundamental tool and the topic element brings learners into real-like situations, as an in-class activity.

The teacher’s role has been changing through every new expression of methodology. In the Direct method, the teacher will let students speak as much as possible to produce the correct answer. When a certain sense of celerity is required, the professor must develop a more imperative function. The structure must be soaked up quickly. Therefore, a new system appears, designed as a code that lets students know how the previous grammatical structure must be modified. It’s the Audio-Lingual method, emerging to teach soldiers the language of the places they are about to land up in military mission. So the teacher is now a trainer in foreign language discipline. In the Silent Way, there’s a mostly quiet professor, and communicates mostly with the help of physical or graphical elements, which will help him be understood by a code of association the students will have learned to decipher (this is why we call it the Silent Way). Oxbridge has rescued the Direct method teacher, who will not have to neither prepare the next lesson as before nor be worried about the unaccomplished activities in the limited class time: the contents are prepared by the professors’ team -guaranteeing brainstorming and consensus on the resulting material- and the class has always the same structure and no activity is left unfinished.

The Audio-Lingual method doesn’t seem valid at all. There’s no positive aspect in it that the other methods lack. It brings no cognitive assimilation, so the goals an average learner achieves will be very probably soon forgotten or proved limited in real life. Learning process takes its time. Is there a reason to keep it in use? From rejection to complexity, the Silent Way presents the use of physical elements, elaborated specifically to work as a code in order to teach a target language. It would require some experts’ opinions about its effectiveness and possible consequences. Without those experts knowledge, a method based on the use of an in-between language appears to be totally illogical, as long as it makes students absorb a system of messages as a means to learn a foreign language. Moreover, in a total output-open-fire situation, will students know with certainty which answer was the correct one? Both Direct and Oxbridge methods appear effective, being the latter preferable for its newer approach, according to the needs of today’s society. Its team-worked teaching materials elaboration and real-like context activities make the difference.

Four TFL methodologies have been seen through a lens. Diverse aspects have guided the observation. The focus has been put in the functional point of view. Each method should answer some questions: Does it work? Am I learning? Can I use it for real life situations? Will I be able to combine the grammar and vocabulary to express what I want? Only the language in use is alive. Grammatical structures are pieces and we can have all the pieces we need but we must now how to put them into place to complete the puzzle. And how do we learn? It must be by practice in the most realistic situations possible. So the old proverb goes: “Tell me and I will forget. Show me and may remember. Involve me and I will understand”.

by Jordi Aceta Cuenca. 



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