Descripción: Publicación periódica de interés general e histórico de la Cátedra Central de Buenos Aires.
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INTRODUCTION Many different methods and approaches have been devised in the s earch for the best way of teaching a foreign language. In fact, one of the main characteristics of contemporary FLT is the proliferation of teaching methods. To some teacher, the wide variety of method options available ma y be confusing rather than helpful. It is best to have a flexible and practical attitude and recognize of this variety of methodological options. One of the main advantages is the possibility of choosing the most appropriate method for each student’s needs and circumstances. It is therefore advisable for the English teacher to be aware of all the methods available, they will be able to find more efficient and effective ways of teaching. teachin g. It is often necessary to adopt an eclectic approach, sele cting different aspects of different methods met hods to meet particular language points. In this unit we will study widely-known approaches and methods and their influence on the history of FLT. These methods will be presented in a sequence that roughly corresponds to their historical development, although it shouldn’t be assumed that each method was totally abandoned in favour of its successor. In fact, all of these methods have survived somewhere in the world. Besides, there have been considerable borrowings from one method by another, and amalgamated versions have come up. It is worthwhile discussing the difference between approach, method and technique. When we use the word approach, we mean that certain theoretical principles are being applied. A method is a set of procedures and techniques used in a systematic way. The word approach is much more general, and it is sometimes used informally to mean something closer to a method. A technique is, then, the narrowest nar rowest term, meaning one single procedure. 1
THE TRADITIONAL APPROACH. THE GRAMMAR-TRANSLATION METHOD
Background This method derives from the traditional approach to teaching classical languages such as Latin and Greek. Children entering grammar school in the 16 th, 17th and 18th centuries in England were given a rigorous introduction to Latin grammar, which was taught through the study of rules, declensions, conjugations, translation and practice in writing sample sentences. School learning must have been a deadening experience, since lapses of knowledge were often met with brutal punishment. In the 18 th century, modern languages began to enter the t he curriculum of European schools, but they were t aught using the same procedures that were used for teaching Latin. Textbooks consisted of abstract grammar rules, lists of vocabulary and sentences for translation. Speaking a foreign language wasn’t the final aim. Oral practice was limited to students reading out the sentences they had translated. By the 19 th century, this approach had become the standard wa y of studying foreign languages in school. This approach became known as the Grammar-Translation Method. The Grammar-Translation Method was the offspring of German scholarship. It dominated foreign language teaching from the 1840s to 1940s, and it still continues to be used in a modified form in some parts of the world. Characteristics
The goal was to learn a language in order to read its literature or benefit from the mental me ntal discipline of studying. A language was to be approached through detailed analysis of grammar rules and by memorizing these rules.
Reading and writing were the main focus, little attention was paid to speaking or listening.
Vocabulary was taught through bilingual word lists, dictionary study and memorization. Accuracy was emphasized.
Translation was the distinctive feature of the method.
Accuracy was of prime importance.
Grammar is taught deductively, via the study of grammar rules.
The mother tongue is used to explain new items and also as a reference system.
The material used is the textbook.
Advantages and disadvantages Although this method has very few advocates today, we can point out some advantages:
It can be useful in particular situations, such as understanding literary texts.
It is an easy method to apply, the teacher just need a textbooks with grammar rules, vocabulary lists and model sentences to translate.
Some teacher still find its intellectual discipline appealing.
However, the vast majority of teachers recognize that this approach doesn’t meet the language needs of today’s learners. It has many serious disadvantages:
There is no learning theory behind this method, no literature that can offer linguistic or psychological justification.
This method puts great strain on students’ memories. They have to memorize endless lists of grammatical rules and vocabulary.
Translation might be useful as an exercise, but not as a method to learn a language. Translation helps to know about the language but it doesn’t teach how to use a language.
THE DIRECT METHOD
Background Towards the mid-19th century, the Grammar-Translation Method started t o be questioned in several European countries. Several factors contributed to this:
A demand for oral proficiency in foreign languages had started, due to increasing opportunities for communication amongst European countries.
Reformist ideas about language teaching helped design new methods. The best-known of these 19 th century reformers was F. Gouin. He developed an approach based on how children use language. He claimed that new items had to be presented in a context that made their meaning clear.
The writings of particular scholars on linguistic theory. Linguists started to research into Phonetics and Applied Linguistics. Their scientific approach to language teaching gave the reformist ideas credibility and acceptance, and ultimately led to the development of natural methods, such as he Direct Method.
Those who believed in natural methods claimed that a foreign language could be learnt without translation or the use of the learners’ native tongue. The simple idea behind the Direct Method was that people learnt languages by hearing them and engaging in conversation. Characteristics
Oral communication is the main objective.
The skills of listening comprehension and speaking are taught gradually and systematically.
Only everyday vocabulary and sentences are taught.
New teaching items are taught orally, through demonstration, objects and pictures.
Correct pronunciation and grammar is emphasized.
Translation is avoided.
Teachers don’t follow a textbook.
Advantages and disadvantages The Direct Method was quite successful in private language schools. The advantages of this method are:
The learners are encouraged to think in the foreign language, since translation is avoided.
The teaching takes place through demonstration and action.
Correct pronunciation is emphasized.
The Direct Method continues to attract enthusiasm, but it is not an easy approach to use in schools. The reasons for this are:
The method overemphasizes the similarities between naturalistic first language acquisition and foreign language learning.
It requires native teachers or speakers with native-like fluency in the foreign language.
The complete avoidance of the mother tongue by the teacher is often counterproductive, since a simple brief explanation in the learners’ native tongue can sometimes be very efficient. THE ORAL APPROACH
Background This approach began with the work of British applied linguists in the 1920s and 30s. These scholars, attempted to develop a more scientific foundation to teaching English than what was evidenced in the Direct Method. The theory of language underlying the Oral Approach also called Situational Language Teaching, was influenced by British structuralism: speech is the basis of language and structure th e heart of speaking ability. The main classroom activity is the oral practice of structures. Characteristics
The objective of this method is to teach the basic skills of language, but skills are approached through structure.
Oral skills are taught first. Reading and writing skills are achieved through speech work.
Structures are taught within sentences, and vocabulary is chosen according to s entence patterns.
Situations are used to present new sentence patterns, and drill-type exercise to practice the structures.
Accuracy in both pronunciation and grammar is regarded as crucial. Errors ar e to be avoided.
Learners are not given grammatical explanations.
The mother tongue is never used.
The Method is dependent on both a textbook and visual aids.
Advantages and disadvantages The impact of the Oral Approach has been long-lasting, and it has influenced many textbooks and courses, including many that are still being used today. The Oral Method was the accepted Britis h approach to English teaching by the 1950s. Advantages of the method:
Language teaching begins with the spoken language.
Items of grammar follow the principle that simple forms must be taught before complex ones.
Language is always presented and practiced within a situation.
In the mid-60s, however, this method began to be questioned, because the learner was often unable to use the language for real communication outside the classroom.
THE AUDIOLINGUAL METHOD
Background There are many similarities between the Oral Approach and Audiolingualism. Both have similar views about the nature and the learning of language. Their views on the nature of language come from structuralist ideas, but they stem from different traditions: whereas the Oral Approach was a development of the Direct Method, Audiolingualism derives from behaviourism. The emergence of the Audiolingual Method resulted from the increased attention that foreign language teaching in the U.S.A. received towards the end of the 1950s. It’s based on: 1) earlier experiences of the U.S.A. army programmes, 2) structural approaches and 3) behaviourist psychology. Characteristics
The main aim in the early stages is oral proficiency, which means accurate pronunciation and grammar and the ability to react and answer quickly.
Language skills are taught in this order: listening, speaking, reading and writing. Reading and writing are dependent upon oral skills. Learners are taught t o read and write what they have learnt orally.
The syllabus is structure-based.
Language structures are learnt through imitation, repetitions and memorization.
Accuracy in pronunciation, stress, rhythm and intonation is emphasized.
Translation and grammatical explanation are avoided.
The use of the mother tongue is not allowed.
Tape recorders and audiovisual equipment are essential.
Advantages and disadvantages Audiolingualism influenced the way languages were taught in the U.S.A. in the 1950s, and it reached its peak in the 1960s. The advantages of this method are:
It provides the learner with considerable conversational fluency.
Language is practiced orally before being seen and used in the written form.
Students proceed in very easy steps.
Disadvantages: much of the method consists of mechanical drilling. Therefore, learners tend to find the procedures boring and repetitive. There is the danger of students uttering patterns without realizing what they are saying. Students are often unable to use the language for real communication outside the classroom. 3 3.1
CURRENT APPROACHES THE COMMUNICATIVE APPROACH
Background The Communicative Approach also called Communicative Language Teaching and Functional Approach is one of the principles on which foreign language methodology is based on at the moment. This approach appeared in the 1970s as a reaction to the Audiolingual Method, which paid more attention to structure than to its function. The changes became a revolution in applied linguistics, that is, the teaching of a language. The person responsible for these changes was Noam Chomsky. Noam Chomsky rejected the structuralist approach to language description and the behaviourist ideas on language learning: “Language is not a habit structure. Ordinary linguistics behaviour characteristically involves innovation, formation of new sentences and patterns in accordance with rules of great abstractness and intricacy”. What struck Chomsky about language was its creativity.
He proposed an alternative theory of language learning to that of behaviourism. Chomsky argued that sentences are not learned by imitation and repetition but are generated from the learners’ competence. Learners, then, should be encouraged to use their innate and creative abilities. The linguists that pleaded for a new approach based their position on the theory that learning a language is not only the learning of structures, it implies much more. It is also necessary to learn how to use these structures by keeping in mind the moment, the place, the social conventions and the channel used. The work of these scholars had a significant impact on the development of a Communicative Approach to language teaching. The Council of Europe incorporated this communicative view into a set of specifications for a First Level Communicative Syllabus called Threshold Level English in the 1980s. These specifications have had a strong influence on the design of methods and textbooks in Europe. The main concept derived from communicative teaching is communicative competence, which is defined as what a speaker needs to know in order to be communicatively competent in a speech community, Hymes coined this term in contrast to Chomsky’s theory of competence. For Chomsky, competence simply implied the knowledge of the language system. Hymes maintained that Chomsky’s theory was incomplete and that a communicative and cultural dimension should be incorporated. A speaker does not only need the ability to use grammatical structures, but also to learn how to use those structures in a community (appropriateness). Characteristics
The goal of language teaching is for the learner to develop communicative competence. Language learning is learning to communicate in that language.
Contextualization of language items is a basic premise: teaching items are introduced in a meaningful context. The items are isolated for controlled practice stage first, and later for freer practice. There are two stages: the pre-communicative stage and the communicative stage.
A functional syllabus consists of arranging the functions, not the forms, of language.
Translation may be used where and when students need or benefit from it.
Fluency and acceptable language are prior to accuracy. Errors are seen as normal in the teachinglearning process.
Grammar explanation is used if the students benefit from it.
A judicious use of the mother tongue is also accepted.
Materials have a very important role in promoting communicative language use. Variation is essential.
Advantages and disadvantages The rapid adoption and implementation of the Communicative Approach resulted from the fact that there was a need for a more effective way of learning a language. The advantages of this approach are:
The teaching focuses its attention on real world la nguage use.
The role of the learner in the teaching-learning process is emphasized.
The role of the teacher is to help learners in any way that motivates them to work with the language.
Once the initial wave of Communicative Teaching has passed, some possible disadvantages can be seen:
Is this approach suitable for all levels? Many teachers consider that the functional syllabus is more suitable for intermediate students, who have already learnt the basic grammatical items.
Is it a good idea to abandon the procedures of structure-based methods? It is argued that students must inevitably learn the grammar of the language. HUMANISTIC APPROACHES
The Humanistic Approach focus on the learners’ emotional factors. What counts is t he student as a whole person. The development of their personality and the encouragement of positive feelings are seen as being
very important in the language-learning process. The creation of a positive mood in the learner will facilitate learning. Total Physical Response (TPR) This method was developed by James Asher. The name derives from the emphasis on the actions that learners have to make. The method attempts to teach language through physical activit y. Asher sees successful foreign language learning as a parallel process to child first-language acquisition. He argues that children respond physically to adults’ commands before they produce verbal responses. Therefore, second-language learners should imitate this first-language acquisition process. The principles of this method are: 1. 2. 3. 4.
Comprehension abilities precede productive skills. Teaching should focus on meaning rather than form. Teaching should reduce learner stress. The verb in the imperative is the central linguistic form around which language learning is organized.
The two main advantages of this method are: 1. The important role of comprehension. 2. The reduction of stress in the learner. Natural Approach In the 1970s, Stephen Krashen proposed an influential view on L2 learning. The term natural emphasizes that the principles underlying the method conform to the principles of how children learn their L1. The Natural Approach also grew out of Tracy Terrell’s experiences while teaching Spanish in California. Krashen and Terrell joined forces and created a theoretical rationale for the Natural Approach. They identified the Natural Approach with direct or natural methods, which are “b ased on the use of language in a communicative situations without recourse to the native language”. This approach places importance on comprehension rather than production. There is an emphasis on exposure or input rather than practic e. The main features of this method are:
As much comprehensible input as possible must be presented.
Whatever helps comprehension is important.
Focus on listening and reading; speaking should be allowed to emerge.
A relaxed classroom atmosphere.
The Natural Approach emphasizes comprehension and meaningful communication as well as the importance of emotional rather than cognitive factors in learning. These principles have influenced current syllabus designs. However, some authors point out problems in the learning/acquisition hypothesis:
One problem is that acquisition takes long time. L2 learners have less time and opportunities for language exposure than children acquiring their mother tongue.
Another problem is that it doesn’t make sense that learnt language doesn’t lead to acquisition.
The Silent Way This method was devised by Caleb Gattegno. It is based on the principle that the teacher should be as silent as possible, and the learner should be encouraged to speak as much as possible. The learning hypotheses of this method are:
Learning takes place if the learners discover or create rather than repeat what they have to learn.
Physical objects are used in the learning process.
Silence, like avoidance of repetition, encourage alertness and concentration in the learner.
The Silent Way focuses on the capacity for self-awareness; a capacity that differs from first language acquisition. In fact, Gattegno claims that first language acquisition and second language acquisition are totally different processes. The method of learning a second language must differ radically from first language acquisition. The innovations in Gattegno’s method are to be found in the indirect role of the teacher of monitoring learners’ performance, the responsibility placed upon learners to figure out how language works, and the materials used to elicit language. Community Language Learning The method was developed by Charles A. Curran. It is based on the principle that “true” human learning is both cognitive and affective. This is termed “whole- person learning”. According to this, language learning is “person in contact”. He applied psychological counselling techniques to learning. The “counsellor” is the teacher and the “client” are the learners. It attempts to give the students only the language they need. This is the procedure: a student whispers a message in the mother tongue; the teacher translates it into the target language; the student repeats the message in the foreign language into a cassette. Students compose further messages with the teacher’s help, and then reflect upon their messages and their feelings. Community Language Learning is the most sensitive method to learner communicative intent. However, the role of the teacher radically differs from the conventional one, the teacher must be non-directive, there is a lack of syllabus, which makes objectives unclear, and he/she needs to be trained in counselling techniques. Suggestopedia This is a method developed by Georgi Lozanov. It is based on the non-conscious influences that human beings have when learning. Suggestopedia tries to optimize the learning by creating a relaxing and enjoyable classroom atmosphere. The decoration, furniture, the use of music, the teac her’s voice, etc. these are the most conspicuous characteristics of this method. Suggestion is the base of Suggestopedia. The teacher presents linguistic material in a way most likely to encourage positive reception and retention. In the first session, all participants sit in a circle. They are presented with large amounts of foreign language. The text is translated. Then, it is read aloud against a background of classical music. In further sessions, new material is presented and discussed within the group and used for communicative activities. The idea is to convey, using a large amount of linguistic material in the process, that language learning is easy and natural. 3.3
THE LEARNER-CENTERED APPROACH
Background Traditionally, the central issue in FLT was the teaching, which was seen exclusively as a matter of methodological techniques. If teaching was effici ent, learning would automatically follow. Learning was seen as a passive process. Since the 1970s, however, the emphasis has gradually shifted to the process of learning: changing from teacher-centeredness to learner-centeredness. Today, the active role of the learner is an established principle.
This means that, on the one hand, individual differences among learners are taken into account and, on the other hand, students are seen to be largely responsible for their own learning. Characteristics The focus on the student has led to the development of learner training and self-directed programmes. The aim is to train students to be good learners. If students take charge of their own learning, they achieve more. The teacher is a helper who assists with a choice of materials and advises what to do, but he/she doesn’t teach directly. Learner autonomy is the goal of learner training. As Holec said: “By becoming autonomous…the learner progressively becomes his own teacher and constructs and evaluates his learning program himself”. Three main areas are involved in a learner-training programme: personal assessment, learning strategies and language awareness. Advantages and disadvantages The main advantage of this approach is that students take on more responsibility for their own learning. The main disadvantage is the difficulty in matching the individual nature of instruction and the collective nature of most classrooms, matching individual needs with group needs. 3.4
Background In 1979 N.S. Prabhu conducted a project using task-based learning with secondary school pupils. He suggested that if the emphasis in class was on meaning, language would be learnt incidentally. For him, learning takes place if the students are thinking of something else other than the structures themselves. He devised a series of tasks, with a problem-solving element, for the students to perform. The processes involved in finding a solution will stimulate natural language acquisition. He divided these tasks into: 1) information gap-activities; 2) reasoning-gap activities, and 3) opinion-gap activities. Characteristics Task-based Learning aims to create opportunities for language use, the help language learners activate whatever language they know, and to discover for themselves what other language they need to learn. But, what is a task in TBL? It is a goal-orientated communicative activity in which learners talk or write to each other. Tasks involve pupils exchanging real meanings for a real purpose. A task can also be seen as the ultimate “big” product resulting from a series of “smal l” mini-tasks. The project work is the most prototypical example of TBL tasks. TBL methodologists also reject the presentation-practice-production methodology. They claim that learners don’t always acquire a language in the order in which it is presented to them. TBL is based on the belief that giving learners tasks to perform rather than items to learn provides the context which best promotes natural learning. In the PPP framework, students are expected to produce language only after they have practiced the structures, in TBL, learners are expected to experiment with language from the very beginning. A Task-Based learning framework consist of three phases:
The pre-task phase. The teacher introduces and defines the topic and helps students activate the structures and lexis that will be useful for the completion of the task.
The task-cycle phase. This is divided into three sub-stages: o The task itself The planning o The report o
The language-focus phase. This provides opportunities for explicit language instruction.
Advantages and disadvantages Advantages:
TBL promotes attention to meaning.
It develops communication strategies.
It promotes learner training for problem-solving.
It makes the learner more aware of the learning process.
The danger is that students gain fluency at the expense of accuracy. Primary students usually lack the intellectual capabilities and responsibility to direct their learning process.
CONCLUSION Much research has been conducted on the effectiveness of different methods of teaching a foreign language, but it is very difficult to scientifically prove which the best method is. As we have already seen, all methods have advantages and disadvantages. It is important for teachers to be aware of the theoretical principles that lie behind the main methods and approaches in Foreign Language Teaching. He/she will therefore develop a critical attitude, which may help him/her find more efficient and effective ways of teaching languages.