Methods of foreign language teaching are based on the fundamental principles of didactics; among them, a conscious approach to language learning, activity, visualization, and others. However, in foreign language teaching, due to the specific features of the subject in which means and ends are equally essential, these principles are used in a particular way. There are three principal views at this level:
· The structural view treats language as a system of structurally related elements to code meaning (e.g. grammar).
· The functional view sees language as a vehicle to express or accomplish a certain function, such as requesting something.
· The interactive view sees language as a vehicle for the creation and maintenance of social relations, focusing on patterns of moves, acts, negotiation and interaction found in conversational exchanges. This view has been fairly dominant since the 1980s.
The principle of conscious approach to language learning implies comprehension of a linguistic phenomenon of language material by the pupil usually through the medium of the native language, or the arrangement of the material in sentence patterns graded in difficulties with the emphasis on some elements which are singled out as ― teaching points. In all cases pupils understand both the form and the content of the material they are to learn, and they are aware of how they should treat the material while performing various exercises which aim at developing habits and skills in using it. Such an approach to language learning usually contrasts with ― mechanical‖ learning through repetitive drill. V. A.Artemov, a prominent psychologist, puts forward a theory of the unity of the language rule and the speech activity (language behaviour) in foreign language teaching. In teaching a foreign language therefore, it is more reasonable to help pupils in assimilating language rules which function in this language by introducing the rules, rather than to wait until the learners deduce these rules through speech activity.
In connection with the analysis of the principle of conscious teaching, it is necessary to dwell upon the forming of habits and skills in a foreign language. Language habits and skills are extremely complex in their nature and are closely connected with conscious activity of students. Consequently, a habit may be considered to be a dialectical unity of automatism and consciousness. The psychological basis of habits is conscious associations; their physiological basis is temporary nerve connections, conditioned reflexes, arising as a result of reciprocal actions of first and second signalling system.
The principle of activity in foreign language teaching is of utmost importance since learning a foreign language should result in mastering the target language which is possible provided the pupil is an active participant in the process, he is involved in language activities throughout the whole course of instruction. In modern psychology activity is now generally considered to be a main characteristic of cognitive processes. Activity arises under certain conditions. The main sources of activity are motivation, desire, and interest. In teaching a foreign language it is necessary to stimulate pupils’ activity by involving them in the act of communication in the target language either in its oral (hearing, speaking) or written (reading, writing) form.
Methodologists and teachers are searching for ways to solve this problem.
Some ways may be recommended. They are as follows:
- work in unison, when pupils are told to pronounce a sound, a word, a phrase, a sentence, or to read something out loud in chorus in imitation of the teacher, or a speaker if a tape-recorder is used;
- mass work, when pupils are invited to listen to a text, to read a text silently, to do some exercises in written form, in other words, when they learn for themselves, and each does the same work as his classmates;
- work in small groups when pupils are divided into four- five groups, and each group receives a special assignment either for reading or speaking; the work results in conversation between group 1 and the class, group 2 and the class, etc.;
- work in pairs, when pupils sitting at the same desk have an opportunity to talk in the target language: reciting a dialogue they are to learn, doing an ask-and-answer exercise or making up a dialogue of their own;
- individual work in programmed instruction, when each pupil can work with the programme he receives either through visual or auditory perception at his own pace.
The principle of visualization has always been very important for language learning since the gaining of knowledge begins either with sense perception or with what has been formerly perceived, that is, with previous experience. Visualization, as
it is understood here, may be defined as specially organized demonstration of linguistic material and language behaviour characteristic of the target language with the purpose of helping the pupil in understanding, assimilating, and utilizing this in connection with the task set. Since pupils acquire a second language in artificial conditions and not in real life, as is the case when children assimilate their mother tongue, visualization should be extensively used in foreign language teaching. Through visual presentation of the material and the pupils’ observation of language behaviour of native speakers they acquire the necessary habits and skills in spoken language, namely, in intonation, word usage, and grammar. Visualization allows the teacher to create natural conditions for pupils’ oral practice and ―free conversation.
Visualization can be utilized in teaching various aspects of the language: phonology, vocabulary, and grammar, and in developing different language skills: hearing, speaking, reading, and writing.
Visualization implies an extensive use of audio-visual aids and audio-visual materials throughout the whole course of foreign language teaching for presentation and retention of the linguistic material, and for developing oral and written language, although they are to be used differently depending on the stage of instruction, the age
of pupils, their progress in the target language, and other factors. The extensive use of audio-visual aids and audio-visual materials the teacher of a foreign language has at his disposal nowadays, together with the use of carefully selected and graded linguistic material, create favourable conditions for teaching pupils to understand the foreign language when it is spoken and to speak it themselves. This is the first step when dealing with beginners. Hence the methodological principle may be formulated as follows: In teaching a foreign language at schools it is necessary to follow the oral approach as it is the one that allows the pupil to deal with the language in its primary function — as a means of communication.