My teaching approach
There are many different methods of teaching a foreign language but none
can be defined as the “perfect” one as we all learn and teach in various ways.
In this text we are going to compare three methods; the grammar translation
method (also known as the “classical method”), the direct method (also known as
the Berlitz method) and the communicative approach (also known as communicative
The grammar translation method was first used in the teaching of Latin
and Greek but essentially for reading and writing purposes. Students are asked
to read in the target language to then translate it to their native language
and vice-versa. This method is also learnt through memorization of words,
grammatical rules and verb conjugation. Activities such as gap-filling
sentences are also a common way. The goal of this method is for the student to
later be able to read and translate literary masterpieces and classics.
In this method the
teacher is more of a source of knowledge and authority rather than a guide or a
so called play maker. No importance is given to pronunciation or speaking. The
focus is on the ability to write and read and little on the ability to express
themselves orally. Also, the teacher is only looking for the right answers and
not the correct way of pronouncing.
On one hand, this
approach is shown to be less time consuming for the students to explain
vocabulary items in the second language. Translation is very important and the
easiest way of explaining meanings or words. In this way, communication between
the teacher and the students does not cause any linguistic problems as the
teacher can easily ask comprehension questions on the text taught in the
students’s first language.
On the other hand, it
is a very unnatural way. The normal order is listening, speaking, reading and
writing. This method is reversed from how a child learns its mother tongue.
Also speech is completely neglected and students tend to only listen to the
mother tongue and less to the target language. Exact translation is also never
possible due to the variation of language and so called “false friends“.
Memorizing rules is not a good way as it is impossible to learn a language
fluently only based on knowing the rules, neither is the fact that the teacher
only wants right answers which puts the students in a defensive context. This
also does not require a competent teacher as he only needs to be a source of
knowledge and not a pedagogue. Students who have learned a foreign language
using this method are usually thinking in the first language to then translate
it to the target language.
The direct method is used mostly for children or beginners. This way is
only conversation based however grammar is in focus as well. Whatever the
teacher says, the student repeats. This way forbids the student from using its
native language but lets the teacher do all the talking. No translation is
allowed. The students also become used to the teacher’s voice and accent and
might have difficulties understanding someone else.
The way of learning is
by repeating the names of real-life objects or pantomiming. It is based on
everyday vocabulary. The teacher asks questions and the student replies then
asks the same questions. This method is focused on pronunciation and grammar
although grammar is taught by an inductive approach.
The usual order of teaching the Berlitz method is to show an object,
name it, the student repeats it then the teacher corrects the student who then
has to repeat several times.
So first the student learns new words, numbers, etc. Then he/she learns
the correct way of using those elements in a sentence to then progress:
The usual way in
progressing are ”the random sequencing”: (quoted from Wikipedia)
1. After new Element (X) is taught and learned, go to next Element
2. After next Element (Y) is taught and learned, return to
practice with Element (X).
3. After these two are alternated (X-Y; Y-X; Y-Y, etc), go to 3rd Element
4. Go back to 1 and 2, mix in 3, practice (X-Y-Z; Z-Y-X; Y-Y-Z, etc.)
and continue building up to appropriate number of Elements (may be as many as
20 per lesson, depending on student), practicing all possible combinations and
repeating 5-20 times each combination.
Followed by ”student-led
1. Observe student carefully, to know when mental
"saturation" point is reached, indicating student should not be
taught more Elements until another time.
2. At this point, stop imparting new information, and simply do Review
Keep random, arbitrary sequencing. If appropriate, use visuals,
pointing quickly to each. Employ different examples of Element that are
easy to understand, changing country/city names, people names, and words
student already knows. Keep a list of everything taught, so proper testing
may be done.
And ”observation and
Teacher should maintain a student list of words/phrases that are most
difficult for that student. List is called "Special Attention List"
This method came after the grammar translation method. Because of the
dissatisfaction for the latter, a different way of teaching was invented where
the focus was on the speaking rather than the writing. It was an attempt to
imitate the mother-tongue acquisition thus also known as “the natural method”.
The communicative approach emphasizes on interaction. Historically it
was a response to the audio-lingual method, a development of the
notional-functional syllabus and also practiced through learning by teaching.
method arose from the need for foreign language proficiency in listening and
speaking during the World War II. It was focused on drilling, repetition and
habit-formation. The grammatical structure was taught through short dialogues.
Students listened to recordings and had to repeat to get the pronunciation and
grammatical structures correct.
The disadvantage with this approach was that students didn’t achieve
communicative competence in the target language.
As this was not the
best method, the notional functional syllabus was created. This helps the
students develop their ability to effectively communicate in a variety of
real-life contexts through organizing the language rather than the method or
approach to teaching. For example, if a student talked about shopping, he/she
had to talk about everything around it as well as the price and/or the features
of the product.
Then we have the “learning
by teaching” which is often still used in Germany. The student and the teacher
change roles with each other. This way is defined by a list of features. One of
the most known lists is by David Nunan (Australian linguist who has focused on the teaching of English):
1. An emphasis on learning to
communicate through interaction in the target language.
2. The introduction of authentic
texts into the learning situation.
3. The provision of opportunities
for learners to focus, not only on language but also on the learning management
(the capacity to design pedagogic strategies that achieve learning outcomes for
4. An enhancement of the learner’s
own personal experiences as important contributing elements to classroom
5. An attempt to link classroom
language learning with language activities outside the classroom.
Eventually the mixture of the three became the communicative approach
which today is the most effective way of teaching a foreign language. In the classroom this method often is used
through group work where the students are required to negotiate and cooperate,
fluency-based activities that encourage them to develop their confidence, role-plays
in which they practice and develop the language functions, as well as use of
grammar and pronunciation focused activities.
This method has been
critiqued for paying insufficient attention to the context in which teaching
and learning take place. If the teacher is a native speaker of the target
language, he/she may have difficulties understanding the errors the student
If we look back at the grammar translation method, it is a good way of
learning how to write and listen but it should not be taught by its own. It is
only a fraction of what learning and teaching is all about. This is probably a
more difficult way of learning a language as the student will only be able to
direct-translate from and to his/her mother tongue.
What is good about the Berlitz method is that students are able to understand what they learn, think
about it and then express their own ideas in correct English. However some
students have difficulties understanding only auditory based and also need the
visual side. They also learn everyday vocabulary which would work only for
beginners. In larger classes this way would probably be more difficult as the
teacher needs to focus on one or a few students at a time.
Today no one asks whether you know how to read or write a language but
if you know how to speak it. Reading and writing also provides understanding a
foreign language and extending the vocabulary, therefore it should not be
excluded in teaching.
According to me, the communicative approach would be the better way of teaching
and learning. Although there are some things missing. The best way of learning
a new language is the “natural way”, the same way as a child learns its mother
tongue, through listening and speaking at first. Once the student has a common
knowledge and good pronunciation of the target language, writing and reading
should be introduced as well. The teacher could and should always encourage the
student to read and write at home.