Direct Method in Foreign Language Teaching

12 December 2016

Direct method Innovation in foreign language teaching began in the 19th century and, very rapidly, in the 20th century, leading to a number of different methodologies, sometimes conflicting, each trying to be a major improvement over the last or other contemporary methods. The earliеst applied linguists, such as Jean Manesca, Heinrich Gottfried Ollendorff (1803-1865), Henry Sweet (1845-1912), Otto Jespersen (1860-1943) and Harold Palmer (1877-1949) worked on setting principles and approaches based on linguistic and psychological theories, although they left many of the specific practical details for others to devise.

The development of foreign language teaching is not linear. There have been two major branches in the field, empirical and theoretical, which have almost completely-separate histories, with each gaining ground over the other at one point in time or another. Examples of researchers on the empiricist side are Jesperson, Palmer, Leonard Bloomfield who promote mimicry and memorization with pattern drills. These methods follow from the basic empiricist position that language acquisition basically results from habits formed by conditioning and drilling.

In its most extreme form, language learning is basically the same as any other learning in any other species, human language being essentially the same as communication behaviors seen in other species. On the other, are Francois Gouin, M. D. Berlitz, Elime de Sauze, whose rationalist theories of language acquisition dovetail with linguistic work done by Noam Chomsky and others. These have led to a wider variety of teaching methods from grammar-translation, to Gouin’s “series method” or the direct methods of Berlitz and de Sauze.

With these methods, students generate original and meaningful sentences to gain a functional knowledge of the rules of grammar. This follows from the rationalist position that man is born to think and language use is a uniquely human trait impossible in other species. As a reaction to Grammar Translation Method (GTM) and under the influence of Phonetics (Sweet, 1877, 1899 and Jesperson, 1904), the reform movement began. This method of teaching was marked by the primacy of spoken language with the help of phonetically transcribed texts.

The use of isolated sentences was replaced by coherent texts and the foreign language came to be used in class. In this time, people began to use phonetics in language teaching. The two strands of ‘reform’ and the ‘direct method’ came together in the work of Harold E. Palmer (1877–1949) who taught English along Berlitz lines in Belgium from 1902 until the German invasion in 1914. . He was then forced to return to London where he renewed an earlier contact with Daniel Jones (1881–1967) who had since become the head of the Phonetics Department at London University and was about to publish his famous English pronouncing dictionary (1917).

The two worked together for nearly seven years (1915–22), during which time Palmer published a series of books, including “The scientific study and teaching of languages” (1917) and “The principles of language-study” (1921), which established a new approach to practical language pedagogy called the Oral Method, combining his classroom experience with the insights of modern phonetics. After 1918, a significant straw in the post-war wind was the decision of the Japanese government to reform English teaching in order to promote greater spoken fluency. They approached Palmer who accepted a position as a special advisor starting in 1922.

The following year he was appointed as the Director of an Institute for Research in English Teaching (IRET) (1923–1936), where through both research and materials development, he helped to create a specialized profession which came to be known as ‘English language teaching’ (ELT) after the founding of a journal of that name in 1946 under the editorship of a close Tokyo colleague, A. S. Hornby. A second interwar development was the emergence of ‘English as a second language’ (later, ESL) to refer to educational contexts (initially colonial) where the language played a significant role in the learner’s environment.

The phrase was first used in a research project in Bengal (modern Bangladesh) in the early 1920s which investigated the notion that reading was a more useful teaching objective than speaking in countries such as India. The key argument in the project report (1926) by the director Michael West (1888–1973) was that education should be bilingual, i. e. , the mother tongue should come first, but an international language such as English had a useful ‘secondary’ role to play, particularly in science and technology.

This view grew in influence and after decolonization in the 1950s and 1960s it became the norm in countries where English was retained alongside the national language(s). ‘Second language’ was also used in ‘English-speaking countries’ such as the United States, the United Kingdom, etc. , to characterize the role of English among members of minority language communities. West’s report also contained practical suggestions for teaching materials that stressed the importance of vocabulary control, extending a research theme that was also present in the work of Palmer and others in Britain and America.

In 1936, the investigation culminated in a so-called ‘general service list’ of the 2000 most useful words for reading materials in ELT (not published until 1953). There was also an ambitious attempt by C. K. Ogden (1889–1957) to create an ‘alternative language’ called Basic English (1930) by using only 850 words of ordinary English. It made a useful contribution to wartime teaching, but its long-term appeal was limited. The third and final thread in the development of ELT was the rising demand for English as a foreign language (EFL) in the United Kingdom itself during the 1930s, mainly from refugees from war-threatened Europe.

After 1945, there was a pause until the1960s when TEFL began to grow fast. Out of these influences post-war ELT developed a recognizable approach of its own which stressed the importance of carefully graded texts containing the new grammar patterns, a limited vocabulary of frequent items and an oral method which presented the new items in ‘situations’ that made the meaning clear without having to translate too much. Work on language teaching also was done in the USA though in the tradition of Sapir and Blommfield.

Language teaching in a large-scale way came up with ASTP (Army Specialized Training Program) that used the informant techniques of Bloomfield (1942). The method utilized dialogue memorization , patterned drills and other ‘habit’ formation exercises. This method was called ‘applied linguistics’ by 1948 when Language Learning – A Quarterly Journal of Applied Linguistics was published. Charles C. Fries established 3 months courses at his English Language Institute (ELI). His successor at ELI was Robert Lado. New technology adopted which name was Language Laboratory. and then relabeled as the Audio-Lingual Approach after Chomsky’s Transformational Grammar paradigm upgraded in the 1960’s as the Audio-Visual Approach. Towards the end of the late 1800s, a revolution in language teaching philosophy took place that is seen by many as the dawn of modern foreign language teaching. Teachers, frustrated by the limits of the Grammar Translation Method in terms of its inability to create communicative competence in students, began to experiment with new ways of teaching language. Basically, teachers began ttempting to teach foreign languages in a way that was more similar to first language acquisition. It incorporated techniques designed to address all the areas that the Grammar Translation did not – namely oral communication, more spontaneous use of the language, and developing the ability to think in the target language. Perhaps in an almost reflexive action, the method also moved as far away as possible from various techniques typical of the Grammar Translation Method – for instance using L1 as the language of instruction, memorizing grammatical rules and lots of translation between L1 and the target language.

The appearance of the “Direct Method” thus coincided with a new school of thinking that dictated that all foreign language teaching should occur in the target language only, with no translation and an emphasis on linking meaning to the language being learned. The method became very popular during the first quarter of the 20th century, especially in private language schools in Europe where highly motivated students could study new languages and not need to travel far in order to try them out and apply them communicatively.

One of the most famous advocates of the Direct Method was the German Charles Berlitz, whose schools and Berlitz Method are now world-renowned. Still, the Direct Method was not without its problems. As Brown (1994:56) points out, “(it) did not take well in public education where the constraints of budget, classroom size, time, and teacher background made such a method difficult to use. ” By the late 1920s, the method was starting to go into decline and there was even a return to the Grammar Translation Method, which guaranteed more in the way of scholastic language learning orientated around reading and grammar skills.

But the Direct Method continues to enjoy a popular following in private language school circles, and it was one of the foundations upon which the well-known “Audiolingual Method” expanded from starting half way through the 20th century. The Direct Method is an outcome of Francois Gouin’s 19th century ideas on teaching learners without giving them immediate translations and without teaching grammatical rules. The main idea is to allow students to experience language instead of analyzing grammatical constructions.

Maximilian Berlitz, the originator of the Berlitz (Direct) Method, came from Germany immigrating to the United States in 1872 and arrived on an assignment to teach Greek, Latin, and six other languages he came prepared to teach foreign languages according to the traditionalist grammar-translation approach, but adopted a direct method after he saw what happened when an emergency substitute teacher used a more conversational approach that actually produced the best results Berlitz had ever seen with any group of students.

The substitute teacher was a native speaker of the target language that was being taught but possessed little to no formal training. Berlitz told him to point at objects and act out verbs and do the best he could. After several weeks Berlitz returned to see how things were going and saw the students in a lively question-and-answer exchange with their teacher. They were speaking the target language. The Berlitz Method was made popular in the late 19th century by Maximilian’s grandson, Charles Berlitz and is now widely used by many language teachers.

There are over 450 Berlitz centers around the world where students can pay to experience the Berlitz Method; several centers are located here in the D. C. metropolitan area. The Direct Method, sometimes also called Natural Method, is a method for teaching foreign languages that refrains from using the learners’ native language and just uses the target language. It was based on the assumption that the learner of a foreign language should think directly in the target language. According to this method, English is taught through English. The learner learns the target language through discussion, conversation and reading in the second language.

It does not take recourse to translation and foreign grammar. The basic premise of the Direct Method is that students will learn to communicate in the target language, partly by learning how to think in that language and by not involving L1 in the language learning process whatsoever. Objectives include teaching the students how to use the language spontaneously and orally, linking meaning with the target language through the use of realia, pictures or pantomime (Larsen-Freeman 1986:24). There is to be a direct connection between concepts and the language to be learned.

The Direct Method is undoubtedly a highly effective method in terms of creating language learners who are very competent in terms of using the target language communicatively. However, as pointed out above, it requires small class sizes, motivated learners and talented teachers in order to succeed really well. It is also an unfortunate fact of life that students of foreign languages these days need more than just the ability to communicate confidently – they need to be able to demonstrate grammatical accuracy and good reading skills in order to succeed in both national and international language testing systems.

It becomes something of an issue in countries where English language learning is primarily EFL-based (that is, English as a Foreign Language) and there is a distinct shortage of both (1) the opportunity to apply the language communicatively in real-life situations outside the actual classroom, and (2) teachers who have the required level of native or native-like ability in the target language and the creativity to provide realistic examples to illustrate what elements of the language actually mean.

Some of the teachers who go on to practice this kind of methodology tend to be native speakers who travel to foreign countries where they have no ability in the local language. In many cases they are not even aware they are following what is known as the “Direct Method” – they are trying to make the best out of a difficult classroom situation where creativity and constant (careful) use of the target language are required to make up for teachers’ shortcomings elsewhere, whether that be a lack of ability in the students’ mother language or a lack of knowledge about various pedagogic approaches to language teaching.

The Direct Method was an important turning point in the history of foreign language teaching, and represented a step away from the Grammar Translation Method that was progressive and heading in the right direction. Whereas the material and the language of the grammar-translation class had been based upon great literature and high principle, the Direct Method based material on ordinary situations in which the learner might expect to find herself on going abroad – a lesson on the bank, the restaurant, or the hotel – or on subjects of ordinary conversation – geography, money, the weather.

There was little attempt to construct a grammatical syllabus, and if there was any grammar teaching, it was inductive. In Grammar-translation, the activities of the learners had been limited to learning by heart, and to translating, either from the L2 to the L1 or the inverse. In the Direct classroom, no translation was allowed. Instead, the learner was expected to listen, to answer questions, to work in pairs or groups on conversations, to write down dictations, once the written tongue had begun to be an object of study, and to write short passages.

One of the driving ideas was to put the learner in situations in which she was expected to produce the language. The learner was expected to become autonomous as quickly as possible, and so the teacher would train the learners to correct themselves. This could be done through offering the speaker a choice between what he had just said and another utterance. Or it could be that the mistake would be signalled by the teacher’s repeating the utterance in a rising tone, or by stopping the repetition just before she got to the error. As we shall see, the method has its limitations, particularly in schools.

It is perhaps better suited to debutants than to more advanced learners – most of the adults that came into language schools were, until quite recently, absolute beginners. It is still useful when a teacher is dealing with a class in which the pupils do not possess a common L1. The basic premise of the Direct Method of teaching a language is that the students’ native language should be excluded from the classroom environment, and that there be provided a complete immersion in the target language. Essentially the processes of learning the new language should almost mimic the progression of a child learning their primary language.

Specifically the method promotes the use of introducing vocabulary as if the student has no previous knowledge of what it might be called even in his or her native language. The ultimate goal is to get the student to “think” in the new language. The direct method denies the use of translation for the acquisition of the new language, and assumes that grammar will be learned by virtue of the context and pattern in communication. The grammar is not taught, per se, but instead the student is “led” to discover the patterns of grammar through carefully chosen illustrations (Diller, 1971).

Also the emphasis is not placed on correction of a student’s grammar, word order or on drills but instead it is placed on active learning. Often the writing and reading aspect of learning is considered secondary, and textbooks are not necessarily deemed necessary except as a resource outside of the classroom. Lessons follow a progression, and typically the student learns about 30 new words per lesson. In the first stages of the direct method or Preproduction, words are often taught using the Total Physical Response Method and there is special emphasis on listening comprehension.

The following stages include yes and no questions and answers as part of Early production, understanding and phrases as part of Speech emergence, and finally discussions as part of Intermediate fluency (Freeman and Freeman, 1992). There are a few significant problems with this method of teaching. The first requires the teacher to have an excellent command of the target language and also will power, in order not to revert to his or her other language out of habit or if they are stuck. This makes the method better suited for native speakers of the target language to be teaching using this method.

The second major problem requires the teacher to be conscious of the difficulty of keeping the students’ attention. It can be very easy for a student to “switch off”, if they are not understand anything, especially if they are not taking the course on a volunteer basis. It would seem that this method lends itself towards a young audience and maybe be considered condescending for adults. Contrastingly, it can be a fun and humorous experience trying to communicate with another who has no knowledge of the language.

It can also humanize the element of learning, and may seem more relevant to everyday life as opposed to learning through drills. Lastly, exclusive use of the foreign language gives a maximum amount of practice, thinking and communicating in the target language. According to H. G. Palmer, The Direct Method has the following: 1. Translation in every shape or form is banished from the classroom including the use of the mother tongue and that of the bilingual dictionary. 2. Grammar, when it is taught, is taught inductively. 3. Oral teaching precedes any form of reading and writing. . The use of disconnected sentences is replaced by the use of connected texts. 5. Pronunciation is taught systematically in accordance with the principles of phonetics and phonology of the target language. 6. The meanings of words and forms are taught by means of object or natural context. 7. The vocabulary and structure of the language are inculcated to a large extent by the teacher and answered by students. Aims: The Direct Method aims at establishing the direct bond between thought and expressions and between experience and language.

It is based on the assumption that the learner should experience the new language in the same way as he experienced his mother tongue. In the Grammar Translation Method, the foreign concept or idea is first translated into the mother tongue and then understood. But in the Direct Method the intervention of the mother tongue is done away with the learner understands what he reads or hears in the second or foreign language without thinking of the mother tongue equivalence. Likewise, he speaks or writes the foreign language without the need of translating his thought or idea from the mother tongue into the second/foreign language.

He acquires, what Champion calls that instinctive, unerring language sense which we all possess in variant degree in the mother tongue, and which superseding all rules, grammar and dictionaries, resting at bottom on the direct association between experience and expression, is the only sure guide in the use of language. Principles: 1. Oral Training The direct Method emphasizes the value of oral training in learning a foreign language. The pupil is given sufficient practice in listening to the language and then speaking it.

It also lays emphasis on the knowledge of phonetics so that the learner may be able to acquire intelligible pronunciation. Oral training helps in establishing direct association between the words of the foreign language and the ideas for which they stand. 2. Inhibition of the Mother Tongue Another way of securing bond between experience and expression is to inhibit the use of the mother tongue. Pupils are taught new words by actually showing them the objects for which they stand or performing actions or by suitable illustration in context.

This enables them to think in English and respond directly in English. 3. Sentence is the Unit of Speech Therefore, the teaching of a language starts with the teaching of sentence patterns rather than individual words. This enables the learner to internalize the structure of the target language. New vocabulary items are introduced gradually based on the principle of selection and gradation. They are taught through material association, explanation or use in suitable context. 4. Inductive Teaching of Grammar In the direct method, grammar of the target language is not taught for its own sake.

It is a means to an end. Its aim is to enable the learner to correct errors in his speech and writing. Grammar is taught inductively. It may be pertinent to point out here that in the Direct Method also lessons are prepared by the teacher or the author of textbooks according to some grammatical plan. The quantum of exposure to the language enables the learner to form his own hypothesis and rules of the language. Advantages: 1. It is a natural method. It teaches the second/foreign language in the same way as one learns one’s mother tongue.

The language is taught through demonstration and conversation in context. Pupils, therefore, acquire fluency in speech. They are quick at understanding spoken English. They can converse in English with felicity and ease. 2. No gap between active and passive vocabulary. This method does not differentiate between active and passive vocabularies. According to this method whatever is required for understanding through English is also required for expressing through it. If English is taught through the mother tongue, the gulf between the active and passive vocabularies is widened.

The learner acquires more of passive vocabulary because he concentrates on understanding English rather than expressing through it. 3. This method is based on sound principles of education. It believes in introducing the particular before general, concrete before abstract and practice before theory. Defects: 1. There are educationists, who hold the view that the Direct Method does not take into account all aspects of language teaching. Dr. Michael West considers that the best thing about this method is that it links the foreign word with idea that it represents.

Hence, instead of being called a Direct Method it should be called a Direct Principle. 2. Not Comprehensive Language learning involves acquisition of skills – listening, speaking, reading and writing. The Direct Method concentrates on listening and speaking but not reading and writing. That is why many of those who have learned English through the Direct Method feel that they do not get adequate command over written language. A comparison between the Direct Method and the Grammar Translation Method must take into account the following points: i. The Direct Method: . avoids close association between the second or foreign language and the mother tongue. 2. lays emphasis on speech. 3. follows the child’s natural way of learning a language. 4. teaches the language by ‘use’ and not by ‘rule’. 5. does not favour the teaching of formal grammar at the early stage. ii. The Grammar Translation Method: 1. maintains close association between the foreign language and the mother tongue. 2. lays emphasis on speech. 3. follows the adult’s natural way of learning a language. 4. teaches the language by ‘rule’ and not by ‘use. . teaches formal grammar from the very beginning. According to the Berlitz language schools. •1. The language is seen as being fundamentally a means of communication. The language that is taught is ordinary, every-day language. •2. The theory of learning is based upon an associationist psychology ; sounds (words) are associated with objects and with actions, and then ideas are associated with other ideas. The route into the L2 is direct – the learner does not translate, but links the L2 word directly with the object that it represents.

To do this properly, she must take an active role in the learning process – both asking and answering questions, reading aloud and so on. The L2 learning process is, as with Gouin and Comenius, taken to be very much the same as the L1 learning process. 3. The teacher should preferably be a native-speaker of the language. Her task is to present the language, and to direct classroom activities. The language is presented through the teacher’s monologue, and the use of realia, or images or of representations of the objects and actions – but it is above all the personal qualities of the teacher that make or break the learning process.

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