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Learning is something that has been focused in many different ways, especially when it comes to foreign language learning. Of course, a lot of approaches have been suggested throughout history to go about this issue. This has always concerned linguists and other experts in general. Some may say that, nowadays, we know more about the process of learning because we know more about our brain and how it works. This is partly true, however, from a purely linguistic point of view there are other implications. A learning method or approach is proved efficient as long as one can implement it successfully. There are a lot of these methods and depending on who tries to apply them, they may work or not. Personally, I have heard some teachers who claim that one method may not work in the same way depending on the teacher or even on the students(their age, personality, etcâ€¦). So, what one could infer from this, is that there is no perfect or infallible method and that perhaps the "perfect" one would be the one that is able to adapt itself to its context of implementation. In my view, flexibility is probably the main feature that this "perfect" method should have. In this project, I will take a look at different learning methods and then, try to compare them. The aim of this project is to offer an overall view on some of the main learning methods and approaches.
2. The Grammar-Translation Method
Historically, the Grammar-Translation Method began in Prussia(Germany) at the end of the 18th century and became popular in the early 19th century. The Grammar-Translation Method, anciently also known as the "Classical Method", has been used by language teachers for many years. It is one of the most traditional teaching methods among others. It has been mainly used in the field of what is called applied linguistics. Initially, it was applied as a teaching method of both Latin and Greek, often referred to as "dead" or classical languages. Diane Larsen-Freeman says in the 2nd chapter of one of her books about the Grammar-Translation Method: "(...) this method was used for the purpose of helping students read and appreciate foreign language literature"(Larsen-Freeman, D. (2000). Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press). The original aim of this method was to enable students to read classical texts, translate them, understand the grammar and get to know the influence that the so-called "dead" languages, especially Latin, have had on the evolution of modern West European languages.
Classes are conducted in the native language(sometimes called "vernacular language"). Students have to produce huge vocabulary lists in both their mother tongue and a classical language either Latin or Greek. So, an example for a Latin lesson would be like follows: "Truth - veritas". Students make lists writing the word in their mother tongue first and, beside, its equivalent in the target language. They learn grammar by reading texts and by listening to the teacher´s explanations. By learning grammar they learn how to build consistent sentences. So, students learn grammar rules first and, then, they apply them when it comes to producing sentences. They pass from isolated words to full sentences, making the class more and more complicated. An example for this would be: "Quid est veritas? - What is truth?". The popular and perhaps somewhat archaic drill method is herein used as students itemise sentences to memorise new words by repeating them again and again. There is almost no focus on communication, that is to say that students do not have to learn how to express themselves in the language orally, they just have to be able to master the grammar and understand what they read. As this method was conceived to learn literature, literary language carries the most weight. As Diane Larsen-Freeman asserts in the 2nd chapter of one of her works: "Literary language is superior to spoken language"(Larsen-Freeman, D. (2000). Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press). Another aspect to which this method gives no special importance is pronunciation. The formal or cultured "version" of the language prevails over the spoken or familiar one. Students are allowed to correct each other, so if, for example, a student makes a mistake he or she can be corrected by another one, which makes the class more interactive and participatory in a way. According to the features and the idiosyncrasy of this method, it is more important to know the meaning of a single isolated word than to understand its context.
From the teacher´s point of view, one could say that the Grammar-Translation Method is one of the easiest or simplest ones to implement. The instructor does not need to have a great command of the language, he or she just simply has to be able to teach vocabulary through grammar which makes the job less demanding than others.
3. The Direct Method
The Direct Method appeared as an alternative to the previous Grammar-Translation Method which was harshly criticised for focusing so much on grammar and almost leaving the oral part aside. "Since the Grammar-Translation Method was not very effective in preparing the students to use the target language communicatively, the Direct Method became popular."(Larsen-Freeman, D. (2000). Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press).
At first, linguists tried to conceive a new method or approach to teach foreign languages based on the learning process of one´s mother tongue, thus calling this method the "Natural Method" which is like the "predecessor" of the Direct Method. The so-called "Natural Method" has its roots in the 19th century. The German F. Franke and the French L. Sauveur, among others, were two outstanding supporters of the Natural Method. They claimed that the process of learning a foreign language can be compared with that of learning one´s own language. It is not until the end of the 1860s that the method used by L. Sauveur in his school in Boston is called the "Natural Method". He supported the idea of using the second language without resorting to the first one, trying to solve problems through questions and learning, thus, in a spontaneous way. So, if, for example, a student does not know the meaning of a word, his teacher can try to describe or explain it, always in the target language, so that the student ends up by inferring it somehow. Later, in Germany, by the year 1884, F. Franke published a book on which he pointed out the psychological connection between "object" and "word". According to Franke´s view, if a student does not know, for example, what the word "chair" means in his own language, the teacher should not tell him or her. He could show him or her a chair and probably the student will know what the teacher is referring to. Mime might be a useful resource in certain circumstances as well. This is how the so-called "Natural Method" became, later, the "Direct Method". "Direct" is the adjective that describes this method best, because it is focused on starting to learn the second language straight, without any previous theoretical explanations. "In fact, the Direct Method receives its name from the fact that meaning is to be conveyed directly in the target language through the use of demonstration and visual aids"(Larsen-Freeman, D. (2000). Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press). The Direct Method began also in Germany and France in the early 20th century, although one of its most important theorists was a Dane called Otto Jespersen. There is no substantial difference between the Natural Method and the Direct Method, so it is just a change of name really. The two of them are based on inductive learning which lets the students more freedom to experience on their own and at the same time it stimulates their logic and their ability to deduce meanings from objects, gestures, etcâ€¦ .
Unlike the Grammar-Translation Method, the Direct Method focuses on oral communication, what we would refer to as the "Speaking" part in an English lesson. So, basically it aims at developing oral expression, inferring grammar rules from sentences and, obviously, the use of the target language all the time.
4. The Audio-lingual Method
The Audio-lingual Method was developed within the context of the Second World War and became really popular in the United States during the 1950s and 1960s. It was originally known as the "Army Method". It has a lot in common with the Direct Method. Like the Direct Method, it was regarded as a reaction to the deficiencies of the Grammar-Translation Method as well.
The Audio-lingual Method is based upon a theory holding that language learning is closely linked to creating habits. It is also deeply influenced by structural linguistics proposed by the Swiss Ferdinand de Saussure, as well as by a behaviourist conception of language in the sense that the psychologist B. F. Skinner pointed out and by other American psychologists. Diane Larsen- Freeman mentions this point in the 4th chapter of one of her books: "Charles Fries(1945) of the University of Michigan led the way in applying principles from structural linguistics in developing the method"(Larsen-Freeman, D. (2000). Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press). Unlike the Grammar-Translation Method, the Audio-lingual Method does not support the idea of using the mother tongue to teach a second language. On the one hand, according to de Saussure´s structuralism, language and human culture in general can be analysed semiotically, that is, through signs. There are still supporters of this approach to language nowadays, such as the well-known Italian professor and writer Umberto Eco. On the other hand, behaviourism claims that all human attributes, including language, can be seen as behaviours. So, it is the combination of these two elements that makes up the theoretical or philosophical foundations of the Audio-lingual Method. Moreover, speaking and listening take priority over writing and reading. Grammar structures are learned by resorting to the popular drilling method, i. e., by repeating structures and other grammar points over and over again. The Audio-lingual Method lays particular emphasis upon both pronunciation and grammar. It aims at getting students to pronounce in the most accurate way possible. No specific grammar lessons are taught, students learn grammar as they go along. They basically have to imitate the teacher and are rewarded if they do well, thus being reinforced. As for vocabulary, everyday vocabulary takes clear precedence over other lexical fields which are considered as "less" important. The point here is to help students get by in a second language through listening and speaking. One could assert that the main priority of this method is to elicit good conversational skills from the students.
So, the Audio-lingual Method seems to be another alternative like, for example, the Direct Method, to previous learning methods or approaches which were thought to be somewhat "defective" in the sense that they did not really cover or tackle some skills of great importance when it comes to learning a second language.
5. Total Physical Response(TPR)
Total Physical Response, often known as "TPR", is a method created by Dr. James J. Asher, Professor of Psychology at San Jose University in California. It became popular in the 1970s and had certain success. It is based upon the belief that the human brain is able to learn any language. Besides, this method focuses a lot on the role of the teacher in the classroom. A proof of that is what Diane Larsen-Freeman says in the 8th chapter of one of her works: "On the basis of his research, Asher reasoned that the fastest, least stressful way to achieve understanding of any target language is to follow directions uttered by the instructor(...)"(Larsen-Freeman, D. (2000). Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press).
The way children learn their native language attracted Dr. James J. Asher´s attention and used this as a theoretical element for his method. He maintained that a child is able to communicate him or herself with the parents by means of gestures even before he or she learns to speak. Just as other methods that we have seen before, it is influenced by behaviourist theories as well. As far as the instructor is concerned, his or her main function is basically to give commands to the students, so that they carry them out. As Dr. James J. Asher himself said: "The instructor is the director of a stage play in which the students are the actors". The teacher could, for example, say to the students: "Stand up!" or "sit down!" and they would obey his or her command without saying nothing at all. In this case, the teacher would stand up and sit down together with the students. The whole class performs activities such as the popular game "Simon says" where one of the players takes the role of "Simon", starts giving instructions and the rest of the players have to carry out his or her commands. So, what this Total Physical Response method does is to combine both speech and action and look for activities that involve the two of them. According to Dr. James J. Asher´s view, second language learning is actually very similar to first language learning. He advocates for the imitation of the mother tongue learning process when teaching a second language. Body language plays also an important role, since it is about getting "physical responses" without resorting to spoken language. Diane Larsen-Freeman asserts in this respect also in the 8th chapter of one of her books: "The teacher helps her students to understand her by using pictures and occasional words in the students´ native language and by being as expressive as possible"(Larsen-Freeman, D. (2000). Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press). That is the reason why in this method listening skills are trained before the speaking or oral ones. As regards the goals of the Total Physical Response Method, we find comprehension training before teaching speaking skills and oral command through action-based drills.
The Total Physical Response Method is yet another strategy to address second language learning. It is aimed at imitating native language learning and thus reproducing the process with a foreign language. It basically contributes to comprehension development by means of some sort of body language. It is important to stress the fact that the TPR Method is still nowadays used in language teaching in some countries.
6. Communicative Language Teaching(CLT)
Communicative Language Teaching, also known as "CLT", aroused in Britain during the 1970s. Any method seen up to now tries to get students to express themselves in a foreign language. However, this assumption went through a crisis. "In the 1970s, though, educators began to question if they were going about meeting the goal in the right way"(Larsen-Freeman, D. (2000). Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press). CLT has been often seen as a response to the Audio-lingual Method. It is grounded upon the theories of some British linguists such as J. R. Firth and M. A. K. Halliday and American sociolinguists like D. Hymes, among others. In addition, this approach highlights the importance of harmonising the purpose to be attained with the means to do so.
The roots of CLT can be found in the British teaching tradition that underwent some changes during the 1970s. By that time, there was an approach called "Situational Language Teaching"(SLT) which was the leading approach to English as a second language. In this approach, the main thing was the acquisition of basic structures within a context of diverse activities. However, linguists and language experts, in general, started questioning SLT, as they considered language had to be approached much more in depth than it had been until then. They also claimed that language sciences in general had to recover a concept that had long been in force, that is, the one that holds that words can contain meaning in themselves. According to this, object names would not be given arbitrarily, since words would have an intrinsic sense regardless of the object or thing they may refer to. CLT is profoundly influenced by a functionalist conception of language. According to functionalism, language changes constantly as change lies in its nature. This approach to language considers that there is a "hidden" purpose in language change. The key point in CLT is, as its name points out, communication, so, any activity involving communication should be aimed at learning. As regards the objectives of CLT, apart from, obviously, communication, students shall learn to use language as a means of expression and as a way of satisfying their own communication needs and bringing values and judgements to expression. In order to achieve that, they need to acquire a certain competence. This aspect is mentioned as well by Diane Larsen-Freeman in the 9th chapter of one of her works: "Communicative Language Teaching aims broadly to apply the theoretical perspective of the Communicative Approach by making communicative competence the goal of language teaching(...)"(Larsen-Freeman, D. (2000). Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press). Moreover, semantics is dealt with thoroughly, as it is the way students learn grammar, unlike in the Audio-lingual method where they learn grammar through the meaning of words. CLT emphasises the significance of a good coordination between the instructor and the student. When a teacher decides to use CLT to give a class, the most important thing is to create situations in the classroom that imply real communication, so that the students can develop this skill.
CLT is aimed at, as we already said, communication. It is a good method to promote communication in order to arouse interest in the study of a foreign language. A good thing about CLT is that it starts from real-life situations for students to learn instead of creating hypothetical ones. That is a way of preparing the students better to use the language in a real context.
7. The Silent Way
The Silent Way is a method to teach foreign languages created by the Egyptian educator Dr. Caleb Gattegno in the 1960s, although Gattegno himself said that the "Silent Way" was not a method. It aroused somehow as a reaction to the Audio-lingual Method. "Although people did learn languages through the Audio-lingual Method(and indeed it is still practiced nowadays), one problem with it was students´ inability to readily transfer the habits they had mastered in the classroom to communicative use outside it."(Larsen-Freeman, D. (2000). Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press). It is based upon the premise that the instructor should be "silent" in the classroom, thus limiting his or her role. So, he or she should cede the initiative to the students in order for them to practise and learn the language.
The underlying idea to this method is that students gain in autonomy throughout their learning process. By being given more "freedom of action", the students do not worry so much about making mistakes and this allows them to express themselves in a more spontaneous way. Silence is for the teacher the way to intervene as little as possible in the class. Dr. Caleb Gattegno put such a special emphasis upon silence because: "In silence students concentrate on the task to be accomplished and the potential means for its accomplishment"(Richards, J. C., Rodgers & Theodore S. (2001). Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). Herein it is important to mention Gattegno´s view on learning: "Learning is regarded as a problem-solving, creative, discovering activity"(Richards, J. C., Rodgers & Theodore S. (2001). Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). But, of course, this is a large-scale process where students play a much more active role than they used to in the past, whereas instructors stand a bit aside. Gattegno maintained that learning can ultimately be compared to discovering. This is what is known as "discovery learning". Students do not learn a foreign language in the "old" rigid academic way, but in a more natural one, just as if they were abroad in the street and needed to be able to communicate themselves. As for the instructor´s role, he or she may express him or herself by means of gestures. It is really important for the teacher to bear in mind that he or she is no longer the centre of attention in the class. He or she is rather some sort of facilitator, as they say these days, than a teacher in the traditional sense. His or her task is to provide the students with the resources for them to learn, then, the students solve the problems on their own which is one of the purposes of this method.
The Silent Way is quite an original method. It is the first one we find so far where the teacher has such a "secondary" role. One thing that is good about the Silent Way is that, unlike other methods or approaches that we have seen, it lets the student "emancipate" from the teacher in a way giving him a certain freedom to experiment with the language.
Suggestopedia is a teaching method designed by Georgi Lozanov, a Bulgarian educator and psychiatrist. The term "Suggestopedia" is a hybrid of the words "suggestion" and "pedagogy". He based his method on his studies of suggestion in the late 1970s that he called "Suggestology". So, Suggestopedia is basically about learning through suggestion. Yet, now it is frequently referred to as "Desuggestopedia", since it ended up focusing on what is called "desuggestive learning". This type of learning is aimed at "releasing" the student from his or her own mental barriers that make him or her think the ability to learn is somehow limited. "The reason for our inefficiency, Lozanov asserts, is that we set up psychological barriers to learning(...)"(Larsen-Freeman, D. (2000). Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press).
First of all, we have to place Suggestopedia in its historical context. During the 1960s and 1970s lots of both teaching and learning methods began to appear and started competing against each other for the academic "leadership". This happened mainly in the field of foreign language teaching and Suggestopedia was not an exception to that. Lozanov thought that one of the things that any new method should improve was learning speed. So, it should help students and learners in general learn faster. This is what was later on known as "Accelerated Language Learning". Lozanov himself conducted some experiments to see if the human brain was able to retain more information than normal and, if so, how much more. What he found was that our brain was able to keep much more information than experts thought. "According to Lozanov and others, we may be using only five to ten percent of our mental capacity."(Larsen-Freeman, D. (2000). Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press). This insight into the brain and its faculties could be applied to the field of foreign language teaching. And that is exactly what Georgi Lozanov did. Students achieved better learning results by applying this method. They retained more vocabulary, more grammar, etcâ€¦ . So, this is also a way of making the most of the student´s mental potential. It may seem that this method is linked to hypnosis, however, it is not. It is not about manipulating the student´s mind, but optimising it. Another key point in Suggestopedia is what we could call "freedom". But, what does this "freedom" refer to? It has to do with the students and their feelings. The teacher plays a liberating role here. He or she should create such an atmosphere that the student does not feel that he or she learns because he or she has to, but because he or she wants to do so.
Suggestopedia may have something in common with the Silent Way, especially as far as the role of the instructor is concerned. The teacher does not play such an active or participatory role as in other methods. Both of them, the Silent Way and Suggestopedia, give a certain degree of freedom to the students which is good up to a point, since they have the opportunity to experiment on their own.
9. Community Language Learning(CLL)
Community Language Learning(CLL) is an approach developed by Charles A. Curran, a Jesuit priest and professor of psychology at Loyola University in Chicago. "It takes its principles from the more general Counseling-Learning approach developed by Charles A. Curran"(Larsen-Freeman, D. (2000). Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press). It is noticeably influenced by Carl Rogers´ humanistic psychology. The origins of Community Language Learning date back to the 1970s. The basis of this approach is a new pattern of relationship between the instructor and the student. It is designed to coordinate the roles of both teacher and student. It also allows the students to have the opportunity to learn whatever they want in the target language. There is not so much guidance on the instructor´s part.
In accordance with this approach, one of the main goals on the student´s part is the immersion into the foreign language´s sound system which is regarded as "basic" to acquire a certain instinct in that language, comparable to that of native speakers. The teacher plays a markedly advisory role, he or she is a passive "character" in the class. In CLL, the teacher changes his or her name, he or she is called "knower" instead of "teacher". So, the relationship between the so-called "knower" and the student may seem somewhat "commercial", as if it were the case of a salesman and his customer. Even the way the teacher perceives the student changes, as Diane Larsen-Freeman says: "CLL advises teachers to consider their students as "whole persons""(Larsen-Freeman, D. (2000). Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press). The teacher somehow puts him or herself in the students´ position to connect with their feelings. So, it is not about forcing anything, the students may release their fears about learning a language which is new for them. In this "releasing" process the so-called "knower" acts as a sort of "language counselor" in the words of Diane Larsen-Freeman herself(Larsen-Freeman, D. (2000). Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press). And as such, he or she just tries to help the student learn the language by solving doubts and intervening only if necessary. As regards goals in CLL, we could mention fluency, the ability to solve language problems without the teacher´s help and the training of conversational skills. Since students are allowed to talk to each other in the classroom, they have the opportunity to put all this into practice.
CLL, as some approaches seen before, lets the students a certain freedom to make mistakes and to correct themselves. They can ask the teacher for help at any time if they need to. In CLL, the teacher is no longer such, at least in the conventional sense. CLL could also be called "Constructive Learning Approach" because that is, in short, what it is aimed at.
10. Content-based, Task-based and Participatory Approaches
Content-based, Task-based and Participatory Approaches is a wide range of ways to address both foreign language teaching and learning. According to Diane Larsen-Freeman, this variety of approaches "make communication central"(Larsen-Freeman, D. (2000). Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press). In other words, the main goal in all of them is to elicit a good communication from the students. They learn the target language through communication. Obviously, apart from the similarities that one can find between them, these approaches are different to a certain extent, as we will see now.
Content-based instruction is not something recent. Actually, it has been on the rise for a long time. That is due to the fact that depending on the student´s foreign language needs, he or she may want to learn a given register or a different one. Diane Larsen-Freeman refers to this point in the 10th chapter of one of her books: "(...)the content of a language course for airline pilots is different from one for computer scientists."(Larsen-Freeman, D. (2000). Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press). So, therefore, Content-based instruction takes into account the student´s professional background and makes learning conditional on it. By using Content-based instruction, students have the chance to learn the target language, along with the subject of their interest. Content prevails over the
language itself. This does not mean, of course, that the language has no importance, quite the opposite, it does. The teacher functions as an intermediary. In a content-based language course, the first thing the teacher does, is to tell the students what knowledge they will acquire during the said course.
As for Task-based instruction, Diane Larsen-Freeman says also in the 10th chapter of one of her books in this respect: "(..., a task-based approach aims to provide learners with a natural context for language use."(Larsen-Freeman, D. (2000). Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press). This is something that Task-based instruction has in common with Content-based instruction. Task-based instruction stresses the importance of the interaction between learners. They interact by trying to understand each other, so, they are somehow forced to do so. They have to be able to understand if they want to communicate themselves. Language learning is herein conceived as a problem-solving exercise. As its name already offers, Task-based instructions resorts to the use of "tasks" for learning purposes. This may be a similarity with other approaches dealt with before such as CLT (Communicative Language Teaching). Students use the target language to carry out tasks and that is how they learn.
Finally, as regards the Participatory Approach, its roots date back to the early 1960s. It arose as a result of Paulo Freire´s works. The Participatory Approach, as Content-based instruction, is also content-centred. Content is relevant as
long as it is relevant for the learners as well. Nevertheless, the kind of content is different. In this regard, Diane Larsen-Freeman asserts again in the 10th chapter of one of her books: "What is strikingly different though is the nature of
the content. It is not the content of subject matter texts, but rather content that is based on issues of concern to students."(Larsen-Freeman, D. (2000). Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press). Paulo Freire´s way of thinking in this respect is characterised by a certain "humanistic" touch. He considered it more important to try and improve the lives of learners than to direct teaching towards the command of a specific language content. So, at the same time, learning is a way for students to reflect on their lives. As for the objectives of the Participatory Approach, the main purpose is, as Diane Larsen-Freeman refers to in the 10th chapter of one of her books: "(...) to help students to understand the social, historical, or cultural forces that affects their lives(, ...) to take action and make decisions in order to gain control over their lives(Wallerstein 1983)."(Larsen-Freeman, D. (2000).Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press).
The three approaches, Content-based instruction, Task-based instruction and the Participatory Approach, are aimed at the same thing: Communication. Each of them represents a different way to elicit it from students. Content is another thing they all have in common regardless of its nature. These approaches seek to combine both things in the best way possible.
After writing on several learning methods and comparing them, it is time to draw some conclusions. I do not want to finish this project by saying which method is the best or the worst. It is not about that at all. I would like to finish by expressing my point of view. Each method or approach has given me an insight into the issue of foreign language teaching. Some of them are more focused on the grammar part, I find, whereas others are more "conversation-oriented", let us say. For example, the Grammar-translation method could be seen today as a rather outdated method since it is probably the most traditional one. I personally agree on that view to some extent. In my opinion, the most "practical" one is the Direct Method, it has been implemented in foreign language teaching for many years now. It is also modern in a way because it focuses on speaking, on practising the target language and not so much on grammar. I certainly believe that it is by speaking that you learn a foreign language and not even a foreign language but your mother tongue as well, you learn by imitating. So, I hope this project offers the reader an overall view on different learning methods, their evolution, their uses and, obviously, the results that one can achieve by putting them into practice.