Sarah Davoren

My teaching approach

This essay will compare and contrast three different teaching methods and approaches by considering their effectiveness in creating a communicative lesson. The essay is broken into three parts and will analyse the Grammar Translation Method (GTM), the Direct Method (DM) and the Audio Lingual Media (ALM) method. The author will consider the advantages and disadvantages of each method and what aspects from each could be of use for teaching in a communicative approach to teaching the English language.

Methods for Teaching English as a Foreign Language

There are a wealth of techniques, methods and approaches to teaching English as a second or foreign language. For the purposes of this essay it was necessary to limit the number of methods being examined in order to provide a useful overview.  From a preliminary analysis of various teaching methods it is evident that the most popular methods are those that have been tried and tested over generations, such as the Grammar Translation Method (GTM), those that have been popularised due to use in a reputable language schools, such as the Direct Method (DM) and, interactive behaviour-based methods that provide rapid evidence of progress such as the Audio Lingual Media (ALM) method. Due to their popularity and widespread use, these three methods are worth examining further, with a particular focus on which aspects of each could be used in contribution to a communicative style of teaching.

The Grammar Translation Method

The grammar-translation method of foreign language teaching is one of the most traditional methods, dating back to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It was originally used to teach 'dead' languages (and literatures) such as Latin and Greek, and this may account for its heavy bias towards written work to the virtual exclusion of oral production[1].  The approach requires a teacher focus in the classroom and a high level of mental discipline from students so that they become as close to perfect as possible in understanding and producing grammatically correct text through analysis of written passages in the foreign language.  Discussion and analysis is carried out in the student’s first language with the teacher.  There is very little focus on the production of speech and this can be considered its greatest disadvantage from a ‘communicative’ teaching point of view. In terms of measuring student’s progress, the GTM approach considered that any student that could translate a text from the foreign language into his/her mother tongue had “learned the language well”.[2]

The GTM approach is no longer promoted as a sole approach to foreign language teaching in schools in the European Union, despite its prominence as an approach for many decades for the teaching of Latin, Ancient Greek and modern languages including English. The advantages of a GTM approach lie in its reliance on discipline and this can be very effective and suitable for left-brained students who respond well to rules, structure and correction. As the approach places such an emphasis on grammar, it has been shown to be highly effective and many students who were taught languages using the GTM approach may not be fluent in every day life using a language, but nevertheless are left with an in-depth understanding of the grammar, and therefore a transferable skill and strong base for learning future languages. However, for students who do not flourish in this type of environment a more flexible and more communicative method is more suitable.

The Direct Method

It has been said that the Direct Method (DM) developed in reaction to the GTM approach. Where the GTM approach focused solely on grammar and correct translation and written work while using the mother tongue as the language of instruction; the DM approach aims to teach the foreign language without ever using the mother tongue. Idioms, phrases and words are taught through context and explanations in the foreign language only.

"The DM of teaching a foreign language may be defined as a method in which a new word or expression is connected in the pupils' mind directly with what it stands for and not through the medium of the vernacular." [3] For example the word 'book' is connected directly with the real thing 'book' and not through any translations of that word in another language. Grammar is taught only through contextual use and only after the pupil grasps the structures and vocabulary through oral work, is he or she introduced to reading and writing.

The focus on speaking can be very advantageous for students and an interesting and flexible method of teaching for the teacher. Nevertheless, the method has been criticised as it requires a lot of dedication and input from the students in terms of completing tasks and learning lists of vocabulary in preparation for classes. It has been used widely by the Berlitz language school to great success, however, one of the reasons for such success could be that the students pay to receive a service and are therefore self selected and highly motivated to learn English. For these reasons, this method is not transferable to all types of students – those with limited time for preparation or who receive English classes as part of a company policy, may not be sufficiently motivated to progress using this method.

The Audio Lingual Method

The Audio Lingual Method (ALM) has a lot of similarities with DM. Both were considered as a reaction against the shortcomings of GTM, both reject the use of the mother tongue and both stress that speaking and listening competences preceded reading and writing competences. But there are also some differences. While DM highlights the teaching of vocabulary, the ALM approach includes grammar drills.

The objective of ALM is accurate pronunciation and grammar, the ability to respond quickly and accurately in speech situations and knowledge of sufficient vocabulary to use with grammar patterns. The main activities include reading aloud dialogues, repetitions of model sentences, and drilling. Lessons in the classroom focus on the correct imitation of the teacher by the students. Not only are the students expected to produce the correct output, but attention is also paid to correct pronunciation. Although correct grammar is expected in usage, no explicit grammatical instruction is given. It is taught inductively.  Furthermore, the target language is the only language to be used in the classroom.[4]

There are many advantages to the ALM approach including the innovative use of visual aids and the focus on listening skills as well as the students producing speech in the foreign language. However, criticism of the approach has noted that the method doesn’t provide students with an understanding of the rules underlying language performance due to its focus on ‘behaviourist’ thinking. In academic circles the approach was strongly criticised and discredited by Noam Chomsky for these reasons[5].


It is worth noting that the use of more innovative, communicative approaches has long been promoted by policy makers in the field of Language Teaching globally and within the European Union specifically. As a result, it is also useful to consider how aspects of existing and well known language teaching methods can be used to contribute to more communicative approaches of teaching a foreign language.

The European Commission has regarded language teaching as a priority for over 30 years; approaches to most effectively implement language policies have been examined and recommendations from a report on the diversity of language teaching in the European Union concluded that: “Teaching methods must develop the relationship of language to the skills necessary for the Knowledge Economy”. [6] The skills listed as necessary for such a knowledge economy include: a development of trust for other language speakers through interaction and speaking, working across languages and cultures within communities of practice in order to enhance reflexive learning of languages and team work associated with learning by doing.

A communicative approach including aspects of the three methods analysed in this article could provide a positive step towards achieving those recommendations. A communicative lesson could be developed by taking the more innovative and interactive approaches to learning from the DM and ALM methods. Students would spend more time speaking and producing speech allowing them to become active members of a multi-cultural society. Meanwhile the focus on grammar drills and an appreciation of the importance of language rules as evident in both the ALM and the more old fashioned GTM approaches would allow students to read and write accurately and would therefore be well equipped to effectively enter the world of work in another language.

By taking the most useful aspects of the three methods, the teacher will have a more interesting and challenging position where talking time and written text correction is low or nil, but innovation, speech correction and encouragement of students will require greater input. The syllabus can be tailored to suit students, also taking into consideration a possible lack of preparation time, and would ideally include elements of the above methods; grammar structures, vocabulary practice and speech production as well as listening time where the teacher is a source for listening in the class.  

It has also been noted in a recent report from the European Commission[7] that there is a growing need to integrate Information and Communications Technology (ICT) into the teaching of foreign languages. This could also be an important addition to a communicative lesson design, where teachers would be encouraged to make greater use of media, internet, short videos and other materials and students could access materials or re-watch videos during their own time through appropriate links.


Aspects of existing and well known language teaching methods can be successfully used to contribute to a communicative lesson when teaching a foreign language. Elements of older, and even some discredited methods for teaching a language can still be used and adapted to become useful in a modern and context driven approach to language learning. The use of a communicative approach is commended by policy makers and has been identified as a success; nevertheless, there is room for further improvement through increased integration of ICT tools while teaching.


[1] Thuleen, Nancy. "The Grammar-Translation Method." Article. 24 October 1996. Source: Last accessed: 24th June 2012

[2] Ibid

[3] Prakash, J., Short notes on the Direct Method of Teaching English. Source: Last accessed: 24th June 2012


[4] Article “The Audiolingual Method”. Source: Last accessed: 24th June 2012

[5] Chomsky, Noam (1959). “A Review of B. F. Skinner’s Verbal behavior”

[6] A Report to the European Commission on The diversity of language teaching in the European Union, Directorate General for Education & Culture, Brussels, 2007

[7] European Commission Study on the Impact  of Information and Communications  Technology (ICT) and New Media  on Language Learning, Brussels, 2009

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