12 Dec Some interesting language teaching methods
By James Jenkin
We’ve all heard of ‘methods’: for example, the Berlitz Method, which aims to recreate the way we learn our first language through listening, repeating and speaking; and the Callan Method, which claims it can develop native-like language habits using scripted, high-paced teacher-student interactions.
A ‘method’ generally describes a way of teaching that asserts there is one single best way to teach and learn language. Kumaravadivalu (2006:84) suggests at a minimum they are ‘conceptualised and constructed by experts’ as opposed to practices teachers work out themselves. Indeed, a method often has a guru: for example, Maximilian Berlitz in the 1880s, and Robin Callan in the 1960s.
A method is almost always promoted as being based on ‘scientific principles’, suggesting it has been proven, for example, that adults learn best if they learn an L2 in the same way as their L1, if they use language ‘without thinking’, or if certain psychological conditions in the classroom are met. It often has strict rules: requirements for setting up the classroom, gestures the teacher must use, sequence for introducing new language, routines for practice. It means teachers need specialist training and must use prescribed materials.
Since the 1970s there’s been a shift away from ‘method’ (Stern, 1983:477), and the term is viewed with some distrust. Advocates for a style of teaching tend to prefer the softer terms ‘approach’ and ‘methodology’, often used interchangeably (‘communicative approach’, ‘communicative methodology’).
There was always a kernel of truth in a method. It is important how students feel; form-focused practice is useful; using L2 without recourse to L1 does have benefits. The issue is whether one method alone is the only and best way for all learners. And a highly unusual classroom experience may make students anxious, the opposite of what many methods purport to do.
Let’s view some quite unusual methods from the past in action.
Suggestopedia emphasized the classroom environment and atmosphere to make learners feel comfortable and receptive to learning. Teachers used quite elaborate techniques involving poetry, art and music.
Silence was believed to encourage learner autonomy and participation. Teachers used silence and gestures to focus attention, to elicit, and to prompt students to self-correct.
Total Physical Response
This aimed to integrate language and physical movement to assist understanding of meaning and rapid acquisition. Teachers instructed students in the target language, and students used whole-body actions in response. (Elements of TPR are still used in many settings, especially with children.)
Community Language Learning
This attempted to build strong personal connection between teacher and student to reduce affective barriers. Students often spoke in their L1 on topics of importance to them, which was translated by the teacher and repeated by the student.
Kumaravadivelu, B. (2006). Understanding Language Teaching: From Method to Postmethod. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Stern, H.H. (1983). Fundamental Concepts of Language Teaching. Oxford University Press.
James Jenkin has worked in the field of TESOL for over twenty years as a teacher, teacher trainer, curriculum designer and academic manager. He is an IELTS examiner and has an MA in Applied Linguistics from Monash University, Australia.
Image source: shutterstock.com/spaxiax