Camille Guter





My teaching approach

ESSAY

 

 

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 language teaching).

 

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 (Y).

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 (Z).

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 limits”:

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 as follows:

Then ”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 notation”:

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.

            The audio-lingual 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 students) process.

            4. An enhancement of the learner’s own personal experiences as important contributing elements to classroom learning.

            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 makes.

 

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.



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