COMMUNICATIVE TEACHING METHODOLOGY AS AN ACCELERATOR OF DEVELOPMENT IN DIVERSIFIED SOCIETIES
Language acquisition is achievable in most circumstances and environments through the use of various teaching or language acquisition methods. The experience however becomes somewhat interesting when you explore language acquisition within a highly diversified community and environment such as that which is found in South Africa. South Africa is a country with a population of some 60 million inhabitants, who are made up primarily of 13 language groups (including English). There are 13 official languages in South Africa, (I say official as there are several other languages considered non-official such as a language known as Fana-Kalo, a language developed in the mining areas of South Africa, which is expressed only orally and has never been captured in written form). Other non-official languages in the region include the language of the Khoi-San or Bushman people, regarded as the original inhabitants of the Southern African region.
There are currently many merits and demerits of the various teaching methods. In most cases, the teaching environment and the prevailing set of circumstances relating primarily to the learner and his immediate requirements would in most cases dictate to such merits. Therefore, In order to assess the merits of the various teaching methods used by various teachers and institutions, I felt it essential to assess these within a particular context, in this case that of present day South Africa.
CONTEXT AND BACKGROUND
As a result of many years of economic and political shifts that led to the formation of present day South Africa, language was almost always at the centre of determining how and when people interacted. One of the key developments of the previous Apartheid system was that of classifying people according to racial and tribal groups and effectively according to language. The result was the creation of what at the time became known as “The Townships”, large labour reserves that were created often a few kilometers out of an urban city or town. The most renowned of these townships is a place called Soweto. A place made popular by the student uprising of 1976 and the base where Nelson Mandela lived and built the anti-apartheid movement that finally ushered in a democratic government in 1994. Whilst the creation of the townships was initially meant to segregate and isolate certain communities, it created an integration of culture and language that shaped where South Africa is today.
Communities that lived in the townships of were largely from the rural areas of South Africa. They spoke different languages from their native lands. These communities lived in very close proximity to one another and as a result they experienced a blending and learning of their various cultures and language as part of their daily lives. They acquired each other’s languages and culture without any formal teaching intervention. As a result, a person from these communities was able to speak at least three other languages in addition to his native language. The dominant languages were Zulu, Xhosa, Sesotho, Xi-Tsonga and Sepedi. Through cultural and language immersion, it became possible for individuals to easily acquire other languages in their midst. By the time a young child started schooling, they would be fluent in several languages.
LANGUAGE ACQUISITION IN FORMAL SCHOOLING
Formal schooling started at age seven, an age where a young learner would be exposed to more formalized forms of language acquisition, in this case English, Afrikaans and several other native languages. Experience over the years showed that the process of learning language at the time was not as efficient as say the process of learning language through immersion in communities. In fact, your average learner’s proficiency of the English language would be of a much lower level and standard often up to finishing or competing school. It soon became the norm to find school learners whose command of the English language was not as proficient as would be expected. This single factor became a major stumbling block when it came to seeking decent employment for school leavers and significantly hindered career development.
For this reason, the question to be asked, against the context above is, “what is the most effective and efficient way or method or teaching language within a South African context in order to provide the opportunity for further development of individuals and communities?”
LANGUAGE TEACHING METHODS
There are various tried and tested methods for teaching language. The ones at the forefront are the Grammar Translation Method (GTM), The Direct Method (DM) and the Audio Lingual Media (ALM). These methods have been tried and tested through use in various Language Schools over many decades.
The Grammar Translation Method has a focus on learning a foreign language through “translation” into the Native Language. It focuses on learning the new language through very little discussion and or engagement in the Foreign Language, but rather in offering understanding in the native language. The focus is not so much on production of speech, (the communicative approach) but is more on understanding text and being able to translate text back to the learner’s mother tongue.
The Direct Method was developed in response to the GTM with the focus being not on translation of the foreign language back to the native language but rather on promoting communication and speech in the studied language (foreign). The key point of difference is that using the DM, all teachings and delivery of the lessons are in the foreign language.
The Audio Lingual Method of teaching focuses on pronunciation and the ability for learners to master the spoken word at the same time being exposed to grammar rules of the foreign language. This method is to some extent similar to the Direct Method in that the focus is on producing a communicative product first and an understanding of grammar rules second.
TEACHING IN A DIVERSIFIED ENVIRONMENT
Taking into consideration the noted short-comings of the grammar focused teaching approach in South Africa, it is fair to say that implementation of a communicative teaching method, in various sectors of society, could be the solution to achieve the following:
1) Provide an opportunity for adults who lack English language proficiency, to be able to improve their English language and thus afford themselves the opportunity for overall up-skilling in the work environment,
2) Provide the opportunity for learners that have not been provided the appropriate English learning or training to better improve their proficiency of the English language and put themselves in good stead for future career development,
3) Provide opportunity for learners to learn the English language in a manner that takes into consideration the diverse cultural environments that learners come from and in the process help to improve awareness and respect of culture.
The benefits of this approach will be an increase overall proficiency in the shortest possible time as opposed to the 12 years spent in school following a grammar based teaching methodology. It is important to note that these benefits can be achieved outside of the formalized Schooling System and can also be designed and implemented to augment the current system.
Of the various teaching methods examined before, a good mix of the Direct Method of teaching and the Audio Lingual Media Method can be structured and implemented to deliver significant results. This is due to the focus presented by these methods against the requirements of the learner.
In order for the above benefits to be realized, it is essential that language teaching and teaching overall be prioritized and given priority status in much the same way that it has been in Europe over the past decades. The benefits of such a development will be significant in terms of preparing learners for the New Economy and more importantly in ensuring active participation in this economy.
TECHNOLOGY AND THE TEACHING EXPERIENCE
Technology is a key part of our lives and continues to play a significant role. The primary role of technology is to enhance people’s lives, enabling them to conduct various activities more efficiently and more effectively. It goes without saying that the proper incorporation and implementation of technology in the teaching experience should yield similar results where the Teacher will be able to include various teaching aids in the learning experience. Interaction between the teacher and the learner is arguably the most important component in the teaching experience and technology will further enhance that experience through allowing the teacher to use various other forms of interaction that technology provides. Having said that, the role of the teacher does not change with the use of technology. The role remains the same and the teacher can never be reliant on technology in delivering the teaching experience. Used correctly, the introduction of technology into the teaching experience should allow for an increased learning pace for the learner.
Teaching and Learning methodologies have been around for many decades and each of them arguably have a place in the teaching environment. Often the question is not which method is best or better than the next. Sometimes it is a question of which method can best suit a particular environment best. The benefits of the communicative approach are clear and have been tested over time. The benefits of the Direct Method of teaching are very clear and have been realized in certain teaching environment such as in Spain. The big question to be asked is, how can the benefits and success experienced through this teaching method be extended exponentially to deliver far more impact on a much wider scale to truly unlock the power of this method of teaching. It is my belief that teaching methods have to move with the times and take centre-stage towards delivering the single-minded goal of language teaching, to bring communities closer together.
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