We don't really remember learning our first language as children. The process happened quite effortlessly and naturally, and we weren't ever sat down and formally taught the structure and form of our native tongue. Although second language acquisition is a different process, I believe that the most effective way of teaching and learning is an approach that mimics the natural way that our brains acquire our first language.
Yet traditional methods of teaching avoid this for some reason. The Grammar Translation Method focuses on form, and translating from L1 into L2. In my opinion, this is not conducive to efficient language learning. By creating a link between the native tongue and the target language, the student doesn't learn to think in L2, and ends up with lots of interference and wastes thinking energy on the task of translating. The Natural Approach tries to avoid this by focusing on communication and interaction. Students are encouraged to speak and listen (more than read or write); after all, don't we learn spoken language as children before we are literate? I feel that the purpose of language is to communicate - to share ideas and our perception of the world with those around us - and the best way to learn to communicate in a new language is to practice communicating in it.
In this way, The Natural Approach is communicative in style, but it differs drastically in the way that it's taught. We have to ask: What style and approach should the teacher take in the classroom? One such approach is the Callan Method, a system of rapid fire repetition. Yes, it keeps students on their toes, but it's very high-octane for the teacher and perhaps a stressful environment in which to learn a language. The idea of repetition, however, is very interesting. Modelling phrases or structures and having students repeat and use them in various ways is, I think, extremely effective in language acquisition. This is because it allows the learner to remember the new structure or phrase, since they've used it themselves quite a few times, and also because they can get feedback on their output from the teacher. I think we can take repetition as a positive thing, while rejecting the high-stress and rapid environment of the Callan Method itself.
On the other end of the spectrum is Suggestopedia, a method where various strategies are used to relax the learner. This contrasts vastly with the previous approach mentioned, since it tries to avoid stress for the learner, in order to relax their conscious mind enough to absorb the language. Personally, I think that being relaxed yet alert is the ideal learning state. Especially for learning a second language, since students might feel nervous or anxious about having to speak in a tongue they don't know very well, and worry about embarrassing themselves. Making learners feel relaxed and comfortable has the effect of coaxing them to speak; they're not stressed or worried about making mistakes and so they tend to speak more. The key phrase here is relaxed AND alert. The main problem with Suggestopedia is that perhaps it is so relaxed that it's not stimulating and quite boring. I think a balance is needed between creating and environment in which learners feel at ease and relaxed, and engaging them in the activities so that they're focused. For this reason, the goal of The Natural Approach is to strike a balance between the two extremes. The atmosphere in a class should be low-stress for teacher and student, and relaxed yet engaging and challenging.
I like the idea of abandoning the notion that English should always be taught in a classroom environment. The Natural Approach is well designed to be applied as students are moving around, perhaps outdoors, or perhaps just relaxing in a restaurant or bar. It sounds counter-intuitive to be doing other activities whilst trying to learn a language, but I feel it would be very effective. We learn our native language as children by interacting with the world. We are never fully focused solely on the task of acquiring language. In fact, it's learned quite naturally as we go about our daily life. The Natural Approach aims to mimic this, drawing inspiration from the Total Physical Response method, and communicating with students in an environment where they are engaged in another task, not over-thinking too much when they speak and thus allowing their brain to do what it is very well designed to do.
Whilst leaning solidly towards the communicative approach, I have to reject the policy on correction. When we think about correction during child language acquisition of an L1, what does that look like? A parent doesn't make a note of all the errors until the end of a conversation, and then present them to a child and correct them. Similarly, a parent doesn't jump in whilst a child is speaking and completely cut them off to correct them. Correction occurs quite naturally in the pauses of a conversation (after an utterance, at the end of a sentence). Personally, I think that correction during a lesson should be like this. The teacher should try to minimise interrupting fluency without letting errors pass by completely unnoticed. I think self-correction should absolutely be encouraged, but I diverge from the Silent Way in that I don't agree with long pauses for thinking. If possible, other students in the class could be asked to provide feedback on errors and corrections, to increase the STT and not be spoon-fed the answer by the teacher. When corrected, the learner should repeat the contract form, for memorisation purposes.
The syllabus of The Natural Approach would be split into categories: a general adult syllabus from basic level to advanced, a syllabus for children and young learners, and an ESP syllabus. I believe in tailoring lessons to individual students, so it would be up to the common-sense of the teacher to assess the needs of their students and tweak the syllabus to his/her advantage. For example, if the teacher is following the general adult syllabus but a student says they have to conduct a Skype interview in English the following week, the teacher needs to be flexible enough to ditch the lesson plan and prepare a student to communicate about a subject over Skype.
In this way, the syllabus is just a sort of guide for the teacher, and it shouldn't be followed to the letter. The Natural Approach gives more responsibility to the teacher for ensuring that lessons are tailored to individuals.
This doesn't mean that the teacher is alone, however. I think collaboration and pooling ideas is important. This approach is flexible and relaxed, and so I think a flexible way to share lesson ideas is also important. I envision an online Creative Database, where the syllabus is split into individual topics (e.g- colours, number, present continuous, asking for directions), and teachers can log in and post teaching ideas for each topic. For example a teacher could post; "I was teaching students to ask for directions in a city, so I gave them a cryptic map of an area and had them scavenger hunt for items. The directions were in English and if we got lost, they had to ask me for example 'where is the post office?' and then listen to the response."
This teaching idea could then be "liked" by other teachers who had seen and tried it, and commented on to edit and improve the idea, and then we could see which lessons were the most successful and popular. I think a Creative Database would be a great resource for teachers, and an easy way to share their creative lesson ideas.
The Natural Approach's objective is to work WITH the amazing organ that is the brain and harness its natural learning abilities. There is a common myth that language acquisition has to be difficult, strenuous, and dull. None of these things have to be true. By presenting the target language in a way that is easy and natural to absorb, learning seems more effortless, and everyone can have fun while they're doing it.