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Online Resources: Digests

December 1992

Eight Approaches to Language Teaching

Don Snow, Amity Foundation, Overseas Coordination Office

Where there was once consensus on the “right” way to teach foreign languages, many teachers now share the belief that a single right way does not exist. It is certainly true that no comparative study has consistently demonstrated the superiority of one method over another for all teachers, all students and all settings.

Presented here is a summary of eight language teaching methods in practice today: the Grammar-Translation Method, the Direct Method, the Audio-Lingual Method, the Silent Way, Suggestopedia, Community Language Learning, the Total Physical Response Method, and the Communicative Approach. Of course, what is described here is only an abstraction. How a method is manifest in the classroom will depend heavily on the individual teacher's interpretation of its principles.
Some teachers prefer to practice one of the methods to the exclusion of others. Other teachers prefer to pick and choose in a principled way among the methodological options that exist, creating their own unique blend.
The chart inside provides a brief listing of the salient features of the eight methods. For more details, readers should consult Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching by Diane Larsen-Freeman, published in 1986 by Oxford University Press in New York, on which this summary was based. Also see references listed in For Further Reading.

Grammar-Translation Method

The Grammar-Translation Method focuses on developing students' appreciation of the target language's literature as well a teaching the language. Students are presented with target-language reading passages and answer questions that follow. Other activities include translating literary passages from one language into the other, memorizing grammar rules, and memorizing native-language equivalents of target language vocabulary. Class work is highly structured, with the teacher controlling all activities.

Direct Method

The Direct Method allows students to perceive meaning directly through the language because no translation is allowed. Visual aids and pantomime are used to clarify the meaning of vocabulary items and concepts. Students speak a great deal in the target language and communicate as if in real situations. Reading and writing are taught from the beginning, though speaking and listening skills are emphasized. Grammar is learned inductively.

Audio-Lingual Method

The Audio-Lingual Method is based on the behaviorist belief that language learning is the acquisition of a set of correct language habits. The learner repeats patterns until able to produce them spontaneously. Once a given pattern – for example, subject-verb-prepositional phrase – is learned, the speaker can substitute words to make novel sentences. The teacher directs and controls students' behavior, provides a model, and reinforces correct responses.

The Silent Way

The theoretical basis of Gattegno's Silent Way is the idea that teaching must be subordinated to learning and thus students must develop their own inner criteria for correctness. All four skills – reading, writing, speaking, and listening – are taught from the beginning. Students' errors are expected as a normal part of learning: the teacher's silence helps foster self-reliance and student initiative. The teacher is active in setting up situations, while the students do most of the talking and interacting.

Suggestopedia

Lozanov's method seeks to help learners eliminate psychological barriers to learning. The learning environment is relaxed and subdued, with low lighting and soft music in the background. Students choose a name and character in the target language and culture, and imagine that person. Dialogs are presented to the accompaniment of music. Students just relax and listen to them being read and later playfully practice the language during an “activation” phase.

Community Language Learning

In Curren's method, teachers consider students as “whole persons,” with intellect, feelings, instincts, physical responses, and desire to learn. Teachers also recognize that learning can be threatening. By understanding and accepting students' fears, teachers help students feel secure and overcome their fears, and thus help them harness positive energy for learning. The syllabus used is learner-generated, in that students choose what they want to learn in the target language.

Total Physical Response Method

Asher's approach begins by placing primary importance on listening comprehension, emulating the early stages of mother tongue acquisition, and then moving to speaking, reading, and writing. Students demonstrate their comprehension by acting out commands issued by the teacher; teachers provide novel and often humorous variations of the commands. Activities are designed to be fun and to allow students to assume active learning roles. Activities eventually include games and skits.

The Communicative Approach

The Communicative Approach stresses the need to teach communicative competence as opposed to linguistic competence; thus, functions are emphasized over forms. Students usually work with authentic materials in small groups on communicative activities, during which they receive practice in negotiating meaning.

For Further Reading

General
Bowen, D., Madsen, H., & Hilferty, A. (1986) TESOL techniques and procedures. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.

Larsen-Freeman, D. (1986). Techniques and principles in language teaching. New York: Oxford University Press.

Richards, J., & Rodgers, T. (1986). Approaches and methods in language teaching. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge.

On the Grammar-Translation Method
Chastain, K. (1976). Developing second language skills (2nd ed.), Chapter 5. Chicago: Rand-McNally.

Kelly, L.G. (1969). 25 centuries of language teaching. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.

On the Direct Method
Diller, K.C. (1978). The language teaching controversy. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.
On the Audio-Lingual Method
Chastain, K. (1976). Developing second-language skills (2nd ed.), Chapter 5. Rand McNally.
Rivers, W. (1968). Teaching foreign-language skills, Chapters 2-4. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

On the Silent Way
Gattegno, C. (1972). Teaching foreign languages in schools: The silent way (2nd ed.). New York: Educational Solutions (95 University Place, New York, NY 10003).

Gattegno, C. (1976). The common sense of teaching foreign languages. New York: Educational Solutions.

Stevick, E. (1980). Teaching languages: A way and ways, Chapters 3-6. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.

On Suggestopedia
Lozanov, G. (1982). Suggestology and suggestopedia. In R.E. Blair (Ed.), Innovative approaches to language teaching. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.

Stevick, E. (1980). Teaching languages: A way and ways. Chapters 18-19. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.

On Community Language Learning
Curran, C.A. (1976). Counseling-learning in second language. East Dubuque, IL: Counseling-Learning Publications.

Rardin, J. (1976). A counseling-learning model for second language learning. TESOL Newsletter 10 (2).

Stevick, E. (1980). Teaching languages: A way and ways. Chapters 7-17. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.

On the Total Physical Response Method
Asher, J. (1982) Learning another language through actions. The complete teacher's guidebook (2nd ed.). Los Gatos, CA: Sky Oaks Productions.

Blair, R.W., (Ed.). (1982). Innovative approaches to language teaching. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.

Krashen, S., & Terrell, T. (1983). The natural approach. San Francisco, CA: Alemany Press.

On the Communicative Approach
Brumfit, C.J., & Johnson, K. (Eds.). (1979). The communicative approach to language teaching. Oxford: Oxford Community Press.

Johnson, K., & Morrow, K. (Eds.). (1981). Communication in the classroom. Essex, UK: Longman.

Littlewood, W. (1981). Communicative language teaching. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

Savignon, S. (1983). Communicative competence: Theory and classroom practice. Boston: Addison-Wesley.

Widdowson, H.G. (1978). Teaching language as communication. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wilkins, D.A. (1976). National syllabuses. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Eight Approaches to Language Teaching

The Grammar-Translation Method

Goals
To be able to read literature in target language; learn grammar rules and vocabulary; develop mental acuity.
Roles
Teacher has authority; students follow instructions to learn what teacher knows.
Teaching/Learning Process
Students learn by translating from one language to the other, often translating reading passages in the target language to the native language. Grammar is usually learned deductively on the basis of grammar rules and examples. Students memorize the rules, then apply them to other examples. They learn paradigms such as verb conjugations, and they learn the native language equivalents of vocabulary words.
Interaction: Student-Teacher & STudent-Student
Most interaction is teacher-to-student; student-initiated interaction and student-student interaction is minimal.
Dealing with Feelings
n/a
Aspects of Language the Approach Emphasizes
Vocabulary; grammar emphasize; reading, writing are primary skills; pronunciation and other speaking/listening skills not emphasized.
Role of Students' Native Language
Native language provides key to meanings in the target language; native language is used freely in class.
Means for Evaluation
Tests require translation from native to target and target to native language; applying grammar rules, answering questions about foreign culture.
Response to Students' Errors
Heavy emphasis placed on correct answers; teacher supplies correct answers when students cannot.

The Direct Method

Goals
To communicate in target language; to think in target language.
Roles
Teacher directs class activities, but students and teacher are partners in the teaching/learning process.
Teaching/Learning Process
Students are taught to associate meaning and the target language directly. New target language words or phrases are introduced through the use of realia, pictures or pantomime, never the native language. Students speak in the target language a great deal and communicate as if in real situations. Grammar rules are learned inductively – by generalizing from examples. Students practice new vocabulary using words in sentences.
Interaction: Student-Teacher & Student-Student
Both teacher and students initiate interaction, though student-initiated interaction with teacher or among each other, is usually teacher-directed.
Dealing with Feelings
n/a
View of Language, Culture
Language is primary spoken, not written. Students study common, everyday speech in the target language. Aspects of foreign culture are studied such as history, geography, daily life.
Aspects of Language the Approach Emphasizes
Vocabulary emphasized over grammar; oral communication considered basic, with reading, writing based on oral practice; pronunciation emphasized from outset.
Role of Students' Native Language
Not used in the classroom.
Means for Evaluation
Students tested through actual use, such as in oral interviews and assigned written paragraphs.
Response to Students' Errors
Self-correction encouraged whenever possible.

The Audio-Lingual Method

Goals
Use the target language communicatively, overlearn it, so as to be able to use it automatically by forming new habits in the target language and overcoming native language habits.
Roles
Teacher directs, controls students' language behavior, provides good model for imitation; students repeat, respond as quickly and accurately as possible.
Teaching/Learning Process
New vocabulary, structures presented through dialogs, which are learned through imitation, repetition. Drills are based on patterns in dialog. Students' correct responses are positively reinforced; grammar is induced from models. Cultural information is contextualized in the dialogs or presented by the teacher. Reading, writing tasks are based on oral work.
Interaction: Student-Teacher & Student-Student
Students interact during chain drills or when taking roles in dialogs, all at teacher's direction. Most interaction is between teacher and student, initiated by teacher.
Dealing with Feelings
n/a
View of Language, Culture
Descriptive linguistics influence: every language seen as having its own unique system of phonological, morphological, and syntactic patterns. Method emphasizes everyday speech and uses a graded syllabus from simple to difficult linguistic structures. Culture comprises everyday language and behavior.
Aspects of Language the Approach Emphasizes
Language structures emphasized; vocabulary contextualized in dialogs but is limited because syntactic patterns are foremost; natural priority of skills – listening, speaking, reading, writing, with emphasis on first two; pronunciation taught from beginning, often with language lab work and minimal pair drills.
Role of Students' Native Language
Students' native language habits are considered as interfering, thus native language is not used in classroom. Contrastive analysis is considered helpful for determining points of interference.
Means for Evaluation
Discrete-point tests in which students distinguish between words or provide an appropriate verb for a sentence, etc.
Response to Students' Errors
Teachers strive to prevent student errors by predicting trouble spots and tightly controlling what they teach students to say.

The Silent Way

Goals
To use language for self-expression: to develop independence from the teacher, to develop inner criteria for correctness.
Roles
Teaching should be subordinated to learning. Teachers should give students only what they absolutely need to promote their learning. Learners are responsible for their own learning.
Teaching/Learning Process
Students begin with sounds, introduced through association of sounds in native language to a sound-color chart. Teacher then sets up situations, often using Cuisenaire rods, to focus students' attention on structures. Students interact as the situation requires. Teachers see students' errors as clues to where the target language is unclear, and they adjust instruction accordingly. Students are urged to take responsibility for their learning. Additional learning is thought to take place during sleep.
Interaction: Student-Teacher & Student-Student
The teacher is silent much of the time, but very active setting up situations, listening to students, speaking only to give clues, not to model speech. Student-student interaction is encouraged.
Dealing with feelings
Teachers monitor students' feelings and actively try to prevent their feelings from interfering with their learning. Students express their feelings during feedback sessions after class.
View of Language, Culture
Language and culture are inseparable, and each language is seen to be unique despite similarities in structure with other languages.
Aspects of Language the Approach Emphasizes
All four skill areas worked on from beginning (reading, writing, speaking, listening); pronunciation especially, because sounds are basic and carry the melody of the language. Structural patterns are practiced in meaningful interactions. Syllabus develops according to learning abilities and needs. Reading and writing exercises reinforce oral learning.
Role of Students' Native Language
Although translation is not used at all, the native language is considered a resource because of the overlap that is bound to exist between the two languages. The teacher should take into account what the students already know.
Means for Evaluation
Assessment is continual; but only to determine continually changing learning needs. Teachers observe students' ability to transfer what they have learned to new contexts. To encourage the development of inner criteria, neither praise nor criticism is offered. Students are expected to learn at different rates, and to make progress, not necessarily speak perfectly in the beginning.
Response to Students' Errors
Errors are inevitable, a natural, indispensable part of learning.

Suggestopedia

Goals
To learn, at accelerated pace, a foreign language for everyday communication by tapping mental powers, overcoming psychological barriers.
Roles
Teacher has authority, commands trust and respect of students; teacher “desuggests” negative feelings and limits to learning; if teacher succeeds in assuming this role, students assume childlike role, spontaneous and uninhibited.
Teaching/Learning Process
Students learn in a relaxing environment. They choose a new identity (name, occupation) in the target language and culture. They use texts of dialogs accompanied by translations and notes in their native language. Each dialog is presented during two musical concerts; once with the teacher matching his or her voice to the rhythm and pitch of the music while students follow along. The second time, the teacher reads normally and students relax and listen. At night and on waking, the students read it over. Then students gain facility with the new material through activities such as dramatizations, games, songs, and question-and-answer sessions.
Interaction: Student-Teacher & Student-Student
At first, teacher initiates all interaction and students respond only nonverbally or with a few words in target language that they have practiced. Eventually, students initiate interaction. Students interact with each other throughout, as directed by teacher.
Dealing with Feelings
Great importance is placed on students' feelings, in making them feel confident and relaxed, in “desuggesting” their psychological barriers.
View of Language, Culture
Language is one plane; nonverbal parts of messages are another. Culture includes everyday life and fine arts.
Aspects of Language the Approach Emphasizes
Vocabulary emphasized, some explicit grammar. Students focus on communicative use rather than form; reading, writing also have place.
Role of Students' Native Language
Translation clarifies dialogs' meaning; teacher uses native language, more at first than later, when necessary.
Means for Evaluation
Students' normal in-class performance is evaluated. There are no tests, which would threaten relaxed environment.
Response to Students' Errors
Errors are not immediately corrected; teacher models correct forms later during class.

Community Language Learning

Goals
To learn language communicatively, to take responsibility for learning, to approach the task nondefensively, never separating intellect from feelings.
Roles
Teacher acts as counselor, supporting students with understanding of their struggle to master language in often threatening new learning situation. Student is at first a dependent client of the counselor and becomes increasingly independent through five specified stages.
Teaching/Learning Process
Nondefensive learning requires six elements: security, aggression (students have opportunities to assert, involve themselves), attention, reflection (students think about both the language and their experience learning it), retention, and discrimination (sorting out differences among target language forms).
Interaction: Student-Teacher & Student-Student
Both students and teacher make decisions in the class. Sometimes the teacher directs action, other times the students interact independently. A spirit of cooperation is encouraged.
Dealing with Feelings
Teacher routinely probes for students' feelings about learning and shows understanding, helping them overcome negative feelings.
View of Language, Culture
Language is for communication, a medium of interpersonal sharing and belonging, and creative thinking. Culture is integrated with language.
Aspects of Language the Approach Emphasizes
At first, since students design syllabus, they determine aspects of language studied; later teacher may bring in published texts. Particular grammar, pronunciation points are treated, and particular vocabulary based on students' expressed needs. Understanding and speaking are emphasized, though reading and writing have a place.
Role of Students' Native Language
Use of native language enhances students' security. Students have conversations in their native language; target language translations of these become the text around which subsequent activities revolve. Also, instructions and sessions for expressing feelings are in native language. Target language is used progressively more. Where students do not share the same native language, the target language is used from the outset, though alternatives such as pantomime are also used.
Means for Evaluation
No specific means are recommended, but adherence to principles is urged. Teacher would help students prepare for any test required by school, integrative tests would be preferred over discrete-point tests; self-evaluation would be encouraged, promoting students' awareness of their own progress.
Response to Students' Errors
Nonthreatening style is encouraged; modeling of correct forms.

Total Physical Response Method

Goals
To provide an enjoyable learning experience, having a minimum of the stress that typically accompanies learning a foreign language.
Roles
At first the teacher gives commands and students follow them. Once students are “ready to speak,” they take on directing roles.
Teaching/Learning Process
Lessons begin with commands by the teacher; students demonstrate their understanding by acting these out; teacher recombines their instructions in novel and often humorous ways; eventually students follow suit. Activities later include games and skits.
Interaction: Student-Teacher & Student-Student
Teacher interacts with individual students and with the group, starting with the teacher speaking and the students responding nonverbally. Later this is reversed; students issue commands to teacher as well as to each other.
Dealing with Feelings
The method was developed principally to reduce the stress associated with language learning; students are not forced to speak before they are ready and learning is made as enjoyable as possible, stimulating feelings of success and low anxiety.
View of Language, Culture
Oral modality is primary; culture is the lifestyle of native speakers of the target language.
Aspects of Language the Approach Emphasizes
Grammatical structures and vocabulary are emphasized, imbedded in imperatives. Understanding precedes production; spoken language precedes the written word.
Role of Students' Native Language
Method is introduced in students' native language, but rarely used later in course. Meaning is made clear through actions.
Means for Evaluation
Teachers can evaluate students through simple observation of their actions. Formal evaluation is achieved by commanding a student to perform a series of actions.
Response to Students' Errors
Students are expected to make errors once they begin speaking. Teachers only correct major error, and do this unobtrusively. “Fine-tuning” occurs later.

The Communicative Approach

Goals
To become communicatively competent, able to use language appropriate for a given social context; to manage the process of negotiating meaning with interlocutors.
Roles
Teacher facilitates students' learning by managing classroom activities, setting up communicative situations. Students are communicators, actively engaged in negotiating meaning.
Teaching/Learning Process
Activities are communicative—they represent an information gap that needs to be filled; speakers have a choice of what to say and how to say it; they receive feedback from the listener that will verify that a purpose has been achieved. Authentic materials are used. Students usually work in small groups.
Interaction: Student-Teacher & Student-Student
Teacher initiates interactions between students and participates sometimes. Students interact a great deal with each other in many configurations.
Dealing with Feelings
Emphasis is on developing motivation to learn through establishing meaningful, purposeful things to do with the target language. Individuality is encouraged, as well as cooperation with peers, which both contribute to sense of emotional security with the target language.
View of Language, Culture
Language is for communication. Linguistic competence must be coupled with an ability to convey intended meaning appropriately in different social contexts. Culture is the everyday lifestyle of native speakers of the target language. Nonverbal behavior is important.
Aspects of Language the Approach Emphasizes
Functions are emphasized over forms, with simple forms learned for each function at first, then more complex forms. Students work at discourse level. They work on speaking, listening, reading, and writing from the beginning. Consistent focus on negotiated meaning.
Role of Students' Native Language
Students' native language usually plays no role.
Means for Evaluation
Informal evaluation takes place when teacher advises or communicates; formal evaluation is by means of an integrative test with a real communicative function.
Response to Students' Errors
Errors of form are considered natural; students with incomplete knowledge can still succeed as communicators.


This report was prepared with funding from the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Dept. of Education, under contract no. RI88062010. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of OERI or ED.