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Language teaching innovations in the nineteenth century

Toward the mid-nineteenth century several factors contributed to a ques­tioning and rejection of the Grammar-Translation Method. Increased opportunities for communication among Europeans created a demand for oral proficiency in foreign languages. Initially this created a market for conversation books and phrase books intended for private study, but language teaching specialists also turned their attention to the way modern languages were being taught in secondary schools. Increasingly the public education system was seen to be failing in its responsibilities. In Germany, England, France, and other parts of Europe, new ap­proaches to language teaching were developed by individual language teaching specialists, each with a specific method for reforming the teach­ing of modern languages. Some of these specialists, like C. Marcel, T. Prendergast, and F. Gouin, did not manage to achieve any lasting impact, though their ideas are of historical interest.

The Frenchman C. Marcel (1793—1896) referred to child language learning as a model for language teaching, emphasized the importance of meaning in learning, proposed that reading be taught before other skills, and tried to locate language teaching within a broader educational framework. The Englishman T. Prendergast (1806—1886) was one of the first to record the observation that children use contextual and situational cues to interpret utterances and that they use memorized phrases and "routines" in speaking. He proposed the first "structural syllabus," advocating that learners be taught the most basic structural patterns occurring in the language. In this way he was anticipating an issue that was to be taken up in the 1920s and 1930s, as we shall see in Chapter 3. The Frenchman F. Gouin (1831-1896) is perhaps the best known of these mid-nineteenth century reformers. Gouin developed an approach to teaching a foreign language based on his observations of children's use of language. He believed that language learning was facilitated through using language to accomplish events consisting of a sequence of related

actions. His method used situations and themes as ways of organizing and presenting oral language - the famous Gouin "series," which in­cludes sequences of sentences related to such activities as chopping wood and opening the door. Gouin established schools to teach according to his method, and it was quite popular for a time. In the first lesson of a foreign language the following series would be learned:


[ walk toward the door. walk.
[ draw near to the door. draw near.
I draw nearer to the door. draw nearer
I get to the door. get to.
I stop at the door. stop.
I stretch out my arm. [ stretch out.
I take hold of the handle. [ take hold.
I turn the handle. turn.
I open the door. [ open.
I pull the door. I pull.
The door moves. moves
The door turns on its hinges. turns
The door turns and turns. turns
1 open the door wide. [ open.
I let go of the handle. let go.

(Titone 1968: 35)

Gouin's emphasis on the need to present new teaching items in a context that makes their meaning clear, and the use of gestures and actions to convey the meanings of utterances, are practices that later became part of such approaches and methods as Situational Language Teaching (Chapter 3) and Total Physical Response (Chapter 6).

The work of individual language specialists like these reflects the changing climate of the times in which they worked. Educators recog­nized the need for speaking proficiency rather than reading comprehen­sion, grammar, or literary appreciation as the goal for foreign language programs; there was an interest in how children learn languages, which prompted attempts to develop teaching principles from observation of (or more typically, reflections about) child language learning. But the ideas and methods of Marcel, Prendergast, Gouin, and other innovators were developed outside the context of established circles of education and hence lacked the means for wider dissemination, acceptance, and implementation. They were writing at a time when there was not suf­ficient organizational structure in the language teaching profession (i.e., in the form of professional associations, journals, and conferences) to enable new ideas to develop into an educational movement. This began to change toward the end of the nineteenth century, however, when a more concerted effort arose in which the interests of reform-minded language teachers, and linguists, coincided. Teachers and linguists began to write about the need through their pamphlets, books, speeches, and articles, the foundation for more widespread pedagogical reforms was laid. This effort became known as the Reform Movement in language teaching.

Date: 2016-03-03; view: 1669

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