Teaching a Foreign Language Is Not What It Used to Be!
written by: Audrey Alleyne
• edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch
• updated: 7/12/2012
Teaching the rules of any language is important because grammar makes it possible for us to understand how the new language functions. However, the grammar translation method has taken second place in modern foreign language teaching. Read on to learn more!
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Most Baby Boomers will remember their early experiences in learning a foreign language. They learned by the grammar translation method, i.e., translating sentences with emphasis on correct grammar; which most of the time had no bearing on the everyday language used. However, teaching a foreign language and the methodologies utilized has drastically changed over the years.
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The Need for Various Methods
Very often, students learning a foreign language come from many different backgrounds, countries of origin, and educational preparation. To be a successful foreign language teacher, you must keep this foremost in mind and adapt your foreign language teacher methodologies to this effect. You must also consider that a foreign language is taught with various goals in mind.
The teacher of a foreign language in a high school or college is teaching with specific goals towards writing exams, the results of which will testify general knowledge of the foreign language. An ESL teacher of adult students needs to use different methods in order to assist immigrant students to achieve the goal of being able to socialize in their new environment, to deal with everyday needs of health, banking and shopping, and to find employment. The private tutor, who is teaching an individual or a group of individuals whose goals are to travel on vacation or business purposes, will need yet a different approach.
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Grammar Translation Vs. the Direct Method
All of the above scenarios, however, currently use the direct method or natural approach to teaching compared to the grammar translation method. The direct method, rightly called the natural method, places emphasis on using the target language versus the learner’s native language. The very fact that students very often come from many different backgrounds, countries of origin, justifies this method.
When I was about to study Swedish in Sweden, I was consternated when I heard that the teacher taught completely in Swedish, absolutely no English. I inquired of a student at the school, how I would understand? The answer was, “You would," and understand I did. I realized during the course of study that the teacher had no choice: there were students from as far away as Chile and Argentina in South America, to Eritrea and Angola in Africa, to students like me from Trinidad and Tobago, plus many more from various countries; obviously, the teacher did not speak all these various languages. There was only one direct language to communicate in, and that was Swedish.
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Value of the Direct Method
In the direct method, which many foreign language schools insist their teachers use, the printed language and text are kept away from the learner for as long as possible. Speaking, body language and listening are primarily used. The learner learns like how a baby learns a language. Oral proficiency is the main goal of learning the language, and this is achieved in this manner. When the printed word is introduced for reading, the learner should already have a good grasp of the spoken language. This is especially important because learners of foreign languages automatically tend to pronounce the written word in the manner of their native language, and this definitely hinders correct pronunciation in the new language. Learning about writing and spelling should then follow reading, and finally grammar and translation.
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The Audio-Lingual Method
The audio-lingual method should go hand in hand with the direct method approach. Audio and video tapes of native speakers in various situations are very valuable in language instruction. Role play drills can be a natural by-product of this method, in which students are given various situations to dramatize and make use of the target language.
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Complete Immersion and the Internet
Complete immersion in the foreign language in the native country either as an exchange student, or by combining holiday travel with language studies are other methods of learning a language. The Internet is also playing its role as a powerful medium for teaching and learning foreign languages. Whichever way you choose, foreign language teaching methods are certainly more exciting and more effective than they ever were.
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David's English Teaching World: Methods of Teaching Foreign Languages, http://www.eltworld.net/pdf/ARTICLE-%20Methods%20of%20teaching%20foreign%20languages.pdf