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The Reform Movement

Language teaching specialists like Marcel, Prendergast, and Gouin had done much to promote alternative approaches to language teaching, but their ideas failed to receive widespread support or attention. From the 1880s, however, practically minded linguists like Henry Sweet in En­gland, Wilhelm Vietor in Germany, and Paul Passy in France began to provide the intellectual leadership needed to give reformist ideas greater credibility and acceptance. The discipline of linguistics was revitalized. Phonetics - the scientific analysis and description of the sound systems of languages — was established, giving new insights into speech processes. Linguists emphasized that speech, rather than the written word, was the primary form of language. The International Phonetic Association was founded in 1886, and its International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) was designed to enable the sounds of any language to be accurately tran­scribed. One of the earliest goals of the association was to improve the teaching of modern languages. It advocated

1. the study of the spoken language;

2. phonetic training in order to establish good pronunciation habits;

3. the use of conversation texts and dialogues to introduce conversational
phrases and idioms;

4. an inductive approach to the teaching of grammar;

5. teaching new meanings through establishing associations within the target
language rather than by establishing associations with the mother tongue.

Linguists too became interested in the controversies that emerged about the best way to teach foreign languages, and ideas were fiercely discussed and defended in books, articles, and pamphlets. (1845-1912) argued that sound methodological principles should be based on a scientific analysis of language and a study of psychology. In his book The Practical Study of Languages (1899) Henry Sweet set forth principles for the development of teaching method. These included

1. careful selection of what is to be taught;

2. imposing limits on what is to be taught;

3. arranging what is to be taught in terms of the four skills of listening,
speaking, reading, and writing;

4. grading materials from simple to complex.

In Germany the prominent scholar Wilhelm Vietor (1850—1918) used linguistic theory to justify his views on language teaching. He argued that training in phonetics would enable teachers to pronounce the lan­guage accurately. Speech patterns, rather than grammar, were the fun­damental elements of language. In 1882 he published his views in an influential pamphlet, Language Teaching Must Start Afresh in which he strongly criticized the inadequacies of Grammar Translation and stressed the value of training teachers in the new science of phonetics.

Vietor, Sweet, and other reformers in the late nineteenth century shared many beliefs about the principles on which a new approach to teaching foreign languages should be based, although they often differed consid­erably in the specific procedures they advocated for teaching a language. In general the reformers believed that

1. the spoken language is primary and that this should be reflected in an oral-based methodology;

2. the findings of phonetics should be applied to teaching and to teacher training;

3. learners should hear the language first, before seeing it in written form;

4. words should be presented in sentences, and sentences should be practiced in meaningful contexts and not be taught as isolated, disconnected elements;

5. the rules of grammar should be taught only after the students have practiced the grammar points in context — that is, grammar should be taught inductively;

6. translation should be avoided, although the mother tongue could be used in order to explain new words or to check comprehension.

These principles provided the theoretical foundations for a principled approach to language teaching, one based on a scientific approach to the study of language and of language learning. They reflect the begin­nings of the discipline of applied linguistics — that branch of language study concerned with the scientific study of second and foreign language teaching and learning. The writings of such scholars as Sweet, Vietor, and Passy provided suggestions on how these applied linguistic principles could best be put into practice. None of these proposals assumed the status of a method, however, in the sense of a widely recognized and uniformly implemented design for teaching a language. But parallel to the ideas put forward by members of the Reform Movement was an interest in developing principles for language teaching out of naturalistic principles of language learning, such as are seen in first language ac­quisition. This led to what have been termed natural methods and ul­timately led to the development of what came to be known as the Direct Method.

The Direct Method

Gouin had been one of the first of the nineteenth-century reformers to attempt to build a methodology around observation of child language learning. Other reformers toward the end of the century likewise turned their attention to naturalistic principles of language learning, and for this reason they are sometimes referred to as advocates of a "natural" method. In fact at various times throughout the history of -language teaching, attempts have been made to make second language learning more like first language learning. In the sixteenth century, for example, Montaigne described how he was entrusted to a guardian who addressed him exclusively in Latin for the first years of his life, since Montaigne's father wanted his son to speak Latin well. Among those who tried to apply natural principles to language classes in the nineteenth century was L. Sauveur (1826—1907), who used intensive oral interaction in the target language, employing questions as a way of presenting and eliciting language. He opened a language school in Boston in the late 1860s, and his method soon became referred to as the Natural Method.

Sauveur and other believers in the Natural Method argued that a foreign language could be taught without translation or the use of the learner's native tongue if meaning was conveyed directly through dem­onstration and action. The German scholar F. Franke wrote on the psychological principles of direct association between forms and mean­ings in the target language (1884) and provided a theoretical justification for a monolingual approach to teaching. According to Franke, a language could best be taught by using it actively in the classroom. Rather than using analytical procedures that focus on explanation of grammar rules in classroom teaching, teachers must encourage direct and spontaneous use of the foreign language in the classroom. Learners would then be able to induce rules of grammar. The teacher replaced the textbook in the early stages of learning. Speaking began with systematic attention to pronunciation. Known words could be used to teach new vocabulary, using mime, demonstration, and pictures.

These natural language learning principles provided the foundation for what came to be known as the Direct Method, which refers to the most widely known of the natural methods. Enthusiastic supporters of the Direct Method introduced it in France and Germany (it was officially approved in both countries at the turn of the century), and it became widely known in the United States through its use by Sauveur and Maximilian Berlitz in successful com­mercial language schools. (Berlitz, in fact, never used the term; he referred to the method used in his schools as the Berlitz Method.) In practice it stood for the following principles and procedures:

1. Classroom instruction was conducted exclusively in the target language.

3. Only everyday vocabulary and sentences were taught.

4. Oral communication skills were built up in a carefully graded progression organized around question-and-answer exchanges between teachers and students in small, intensive classes.

5. Grammar was taught inductively.

6. New teaching points were introduced orally.

7. Concrete vocabulary was taught through demonstration, objects, and pictures; abstract vocabulary was taught by association of ideas.


7. Both speech and listening comprehension were taught.

8. Correct pronunciation and grammar were emphasized.

These principles are seen in the following guidelines for teaching oral language, which are still followed in contemporary Berlitz schools:

Never translate: demonstrate

Never explain: act

Never make a speech: ask questions

Never imitate mistakes: correct

Never speak with single words: use sentences

Never speak too much: make students speak much

Never use the book: use your lesson plan

Never jump around: follow your plan

Never go too fast: keep the pace of the student

Never speak too slowly: speak normally

Never speak too quickly: speak naturally

Never speak too loudly: speak naturally

Never be impatient: take it easy

(cited in Titone 1968:100-1)

The Direct Method was quite successful in private language schools, such as those of the Berlitz chain, where paying clients had high moti­vation and the use of native-speaking teachers was the norm. But de­spite pressure from proponents of the method, it was difficult to im­plement in public secondary school education. It overemphasized and distorted the similarities between naturalistic first language learning and classroom foreign language learning and failed to consider the practical realities of the classroom In addition, it lacked a rigorous basis in applied linguistic theory, and for this reason it was often criticized by themore academically based proponents of the Reform Movement. The Direct Method represented the product of enlightened amateurism. It was per­ceived to have several drawbacks. First, it required teacherswho were native speakers or who had native-like fluency in the foreign language. It was largely dependent on the teacher's skill, rather than on a textbook, and not all teachers were proficient enough in the foreign language to adhere to the principles of the method. Critics pointed out that strict n adherence to Direct Method principles was often counterproductive, since teachers were required to go to great lengths to avoid using the native tongue, when sometimes a simple brief explanation in the student's native tongue would have been a more efficient route to com­prehension.

The Harvard psychologist Roger Brown has documented similar prob­lems with strict Direct Method techniques. He described his frustration in observing a teacher performing verbal gymnastics in an attempt to convey the meaning of Japanese words, when translation would have been a much more efficient technique to use (Brown 1973: 5).

By the 1920s, use of the Direct Method in noncommercial schools in Europe had consequently declined. In France and Germany it was grad­ually modified into versions that combined some Direct Method tech­niques with more controlled grammar-based activities. The European popularity of the Direct Method in the early part of the twentieth century caused foreign language specialists in the United States to attempt to have it implemented in American schools and colleges, although they decided to move with caution. A study begun in 1923 on the state of foreign language teaching concluded that no single method could guar­antee successful results. The goal of trying to teach conversation skills was considered impractical in view of the restricted time available for foreign language teaching in schools, the limited skills of teachers, and the perceived irrelevance of conversation skills in a foreign language for the average American college student. The study — published as the Coleman Report — advocated that a more reasonable goal for a foreign language course would be a reading knowledge of a foreign language, achieved through the gradual introduction of words and grammatical structures in simple reading texts. The main result of this recommen­dation was that reading became the goal of most foreign language pro­grams in the United States (Coleman 1929). The emphasis on reading continued to characterize foreign language teaching in the United States until World War II.

Although the Direct Method enjoyed popularity in Europe, not every­one had embraced it enthusiastically. The British applied linguist Henry Sweet had recognized its limitations. It offered innovations at the level of teaching procedures but lacked a thorough methodological basis. Its main focus was on the exclusive use of the target language in the class­room, but it failed to address many issues that Sweet thought more basic. Sweet and other applied linguists argued for the development of sound methodological principles that could serve as the basis for teaching tech­niques. In the 1920s and 1930s applied linguists systematized the prin­ciples proposed earlier by the Reform Movement and so laid the foundations for what developed into the British approach to teaching English as a foreign language. Subsequent developments led to Audiolingualism (see Chapter 4) in the United States and the Oral Approach or Situational Language Teaching (see Chapter 3) in Britain. What became of the concept of method as foreign language teaching emerged as a significant educational issue in the 19th and 20th centuries? We have seen from this historical survey some of the questions that prompted innovations and new directions in language teaching in the past:

1. What should the goals of language teaching be? Should a language course try to teach conversational proficiency, reading, translation, or some other skill?

2. What is the basic nature of language, and how will this affect teaching method?

3. What are the principles for the selection of language content in language teaching?

4. What principles of organization, sequencing, and presentation best facilitate learning?

5. What should the role of the native language be?

6. What processes do learners use in mastering a language, and can these be incorporated into a method?

7. What teaching techniques and activities work best and under what circumstances?

8. Particular methods differ in the way they address these issues. But in order to understand the fundamental nature of methods in language teaching, it is necessary to conceive the notion of method more systematically. This is the aim of the next chapter, in which we present a model for the description, analysis, and comparison of methods. This model will be used as a framework for our subsequent discussions and analyses of particular language teaching methods and philosophies.


Date: 2016-03-03; view: 8156

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