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Direct Approach to Foreign Language Teaching


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The Direct method teacher uses only English in the classroom if English is the language being taught (only French, if it's French and so on). Many believe that this is one of the better methods of teaching a foreign language, but I disagree. It all depends on the language levels of your students - teaching English in English for beginners isn't really a good approach. They don't understand a thing. How can you teach them something if they can comprehend about 5 per cent of what you're saying?

I had this experience with Spanish. We had a Spanish teacher and she spoke very little Croatian and only the basics of English. It was very difficult to understand her and almost impossible to ask her a question. I still don't speak Spanish, after one whole year of the classes - I can't form a coherent complex sentence. True, I can ask basic questions, but that is only because of my textbook. I put effort into passing the subject. If I hadn't it would have been impossible. Direct approach is good only when you're teaching intermediate students (and upper). It can alienate your beginner students from the subject and make them feel anxious - that isn't good and poses as a barrier to language learning.

What do you think?

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I agree with you. However, I must say that it all depends on the type of learner. Say, if you learn by immersion, then that would be a good way to do it with this type. And there are people who have the knack for learning new languages. I don't so I must be like you. My Spanish teacher also did not speak a single English in class. Though, she was speaking slowly for us, I wasn't really able to learn the language well enough for me to engage in a simple Spanish conversation.

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I agree with you, but I think it also depends on the subject curriculum. If the curriculum is more of a TPR or TPRS style and if its geared toward i+1 type of learning, then speaking only in the TL is more than welcome.

Well, of course that it's i+1 or else there is no progress, but this also means that there should be implied information that the students understand. I mean, we were complete beginners - we had never encountered Spanish before. We needed something familiar. i+1 can be implemented within various different methods and approaches. I would have loved the audiolingual exercises from time to time, to help us with the vocabulary. I would have loved a bit TBL as well. TPR is ... more for children. It's still questionable when its used in adult classes, especially as there are ''multiple intelligences'' and not everyone learns the same way. I am not a person who responds well to psychical commands. I am what they call a conformist-converger type or learner. I guess I am for multilingual approaches and various methods which include all students and not just the communicative ones.

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I am teaching English and German to mostly Spanish students, and even though I have a good command of the Spanish language, I only ever use it in the classroom to explain grammar or vocabulary points. I have several different classes, ranging from teenagers to adults. I find that the direct approach works a lot better with the younger students than with the adults. Adult learners often feel more inhibited and self-conscious when it comes to confronting them directly with new language material. But, again, it depends on the background, temperament and motivation of each student. Some of the adults I teach are very eager to learn English or German as fast as possible, as they want to expand their businesses or work in foreign countries. And they readily absorb whatever I present to them, as they want to talk immediately.

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Yes, I do see your point. Adults are very self-conscious when it comes to learning a new language and prefer being talked  to in their own native tongue. I believe that they would consider a combination of the grammar-translation method with some exercises a better choice than direct approach or even task-based learning. That's something that children like. Just like TPR is more suited to children.

Children are a wonder. They can pick up a language easily. I do believe you could use this approach wit them, but if you're trying to teach a foreign language to 12-year-olds who'd never heard it before... that's when I would falter. I believe I'd try a combination. I am very curious about your experiences. Have you ever tried various approaches and tested how they worked? Which one works the best for you? I am still in college and I will be having my first class in spring and I am actually curious about this - very much. That's why I'm testing the grounds, so to say.

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  • 2 weeks later...

There are times when it's more effective just to use the students' native language (if teaching a monolingual class), for example with difficult grammar points or abstract concepts that are hard to get across. However, the direct method is very efficient at getting students into thinking in the target language and creating a space where e.g. English only is used. Having been taught at school using the traditional bilingual approach and experiencing the direct method as an absolute beginner as part of a TEFL course, I can say that for me personally the direct method is not only more effective but also much more enjoyable. This obviously depends on how good your teacher is too :)

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Yes, exactly. I do believe this is a sound approach. However, if you have beginners, you won't really be achieving much. They will still be thinking in their native language and trying to translate the sentences into English... which would be very sloppy and would hinder the communication - many of them would become so shy they'd never want to speak, as it is natural that in the beginning, you make a lot of mistakes. But sometimes, if you have too many, it can be discouraging. You'd feel as if you're doing everything wrong.

You've had TOEFL? What was it like? I chose CAE, so I'm not really sure about the other one.

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  • 1 month later...

Hey all.

Let's begin with the historical "source" of the so-called "direct" method, especially in ESL teaching: The English-Only Movement: Myths, Reality, and Implications for Psychology and The Politics of English Only in the United States: Historical, Social and Legal Aspects for example. Once you've browsed those two articles, you'll understand where I am coming from. (Those titles are live links, so just click on them to read!)

As others have mentioned, the idea that standing in front of a class of total beginners and expecting them to acquire a new language through the exclusive use of that language in the classroom can become a horrid exercise in frustration. Though there will be occasions in which the use of L2 by itself is "natural" (for example, conversation practice with more proficient students), thinking that any language is acquired through osmosis is pretty much a folk-tale or urban legend. The classroom is not a theatre of immersion, that's what the outside world is for.

Though a teacher may not know the native language of the students, or the class may be made up of students from many native languages, stubbornly insisting on using only the native language is the stuff ex-pats earn their living on when travelling in foreign countries. Though they may not know the native language of the country they are visiting, they way-too-often think that just because they are native (English, mostly) speakers, they can be teachers simply by talking to their students.

Especially beginning students need clear reference to their own native language in order to understand why that string of sounds in the second language is meaningful. The most direct way of communicating that meaning will be by using the native language; however, there are dozens of techniques available for the experienced teacher to communicate without simply repeating over and again something in L2, hoping that through repetition it will sink in. It is the teacher's responsibility to find those techniques that will lead to understanding. It can be an uphill road, but it is essential.

Please, please, any of you who think that English Only is the only way, do read through those above mentioned documents and reconsider your methods. Again, in certain circumstances it may be best for the student (especially if he/she asks for it!) but it is not the end-all of Language teaching and often leads to drop-outs, confusion and frustration, both for the student and the teacher. Use every tool available, and if one of those tools is knowing a bit of your student's native language, don't avoid it because of some L2-only mandate, it's simply foolish.

Sorry, I'm kind of passionate about this, seen a lot of people discouraged after having had to go through the English Only experience and not learning a thing (besides the incredible boredom of sitting for an hour or so listening to someone you simply don't understand! ha.)

peace,

revel.

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As others have mentioned, the idea that standing in front of a class of total beginners and expecting them to acquire a new language through the exclusive use of that language in the classroom can become a horrid exercise in frustration. Though there will be occasions in which the use of L2 by itself is "natural" (for example, conversation practice with more proficient students), thinking that any language is acquired through osmosis is pretty much a folk-tale or urban legend. The classroom is not a theatre of immersion, that's what the outside world is for.

That’s exactly how my Spanish classes were for me - complete and utter frustration. I’d chosen for my elective class Spanish for beginners - for BEGINNERS, for God’s sake and then it turned out that the teacher expected us to talk to her in fluent Spanish (she was Spanish). Grammar classes were done... twice in a month. For a group of 20-year-olds, that’s not enough, especially if you consider that the rest was more or less constant “conversation” - I don’t remember a single phrase, it was all Greek to me (In Croatian, this idiom is a little different, literal translation is “It was all a Spanish village to me” - you get the humour). Not one of us could use Spanish in conversation - a teacher speaking our mother tongue would have been a blessing - I believe that one year was a wasted time and I’ll never do it again. 

Though a teacher may not know the native language of the students, or the class may be made up of students from many native languages, stubbornly insisting on using only the native language is the stuff ex-pats earn their living on when travelling in foreign countries. Though they may not know the native language of the country they are visiting, they way-too-often think that just because they are native (English, mostly) speakers, they can be teachers simply by talking to their students.

Agreed, agreed, agreed! Talking in foreign language isn’t enough! It’s important for the students to hear the new language, but they must be talked to in their own language, L1, explained things in L1 and given, I’ll agree with the textbooks here, various drill exercises for practice. Whereas adults may not like them very much - they’re important, especially because some languages have different sounds! The soft sh in Russian, for example, or ae in English - some can’t tell the difference in between ae and e (cat, bed), simply because their native language, for example, doesn’t distinguish in between these two sounds. Same is with r and l in Japanese - there are numerous examples. These things are difficult to teach and almost impossible, no, I’ll be bold and say, completely impossible, if you’re speaking in L2 to beginners and expecting them to understand you perfectly.

Especially beginning students need clear reference to their own native language in order to understand why that string of sounds in the second language is meaningful. The most direct way of communicating that meaning will be by using the native language; however, there are dozens of techniques available for the experienced teacher to communicate without simply repeating over and again something in L2, hoping that through repetition it will sink in. It is the teacher's responsibility to find those techniques that will lead to understanding. It can be an uphill road, but it is essential.

Yes, yes, yes! How can a student know which words correspond to their own? If you have a sentence “The cat is listening to music” you have to be aware that translation in L2 will most probably be different even when it comes to the word order, so how can your students know which word in this string corresponds to the image of cat, what’s “the”? Is that an R-expression? You have to start from the assumption they have zero knowledge and work your way up. And never explain articles at the beginning!!! Just tell them to put one - I remember the struggle of students from my German lessons. All those article variations and cases... pointless. Grammar is important, true, but comprehension is more important.

Please, please, any of you who think that English Only is the only way, do read through those above mentioned documents and reconsider your methods. Again, in certain circumstances it may be best for the student (especially if he/she asks for it!) but it is not the end-all of Language teaching and often leads to drop-outs, confusion and frustration, both for the student and the teacher. Use every tool available, and if one of those tools is knowing a bit of your student's native language, don't avoid it because of some L2-only mandate, it's simply foolish.

Sorry, I'm kind of passionate about this, seen a lot of people discouraged after having had to go through the English Only experience and not learning a thing (besides the incredible boredom of sitting for an hour or so listening to someone you simply don't understand! ha.)

Yes, yes - that’s exactly how I see it. English Only is perfect for upper classes. I have all of my literature classes in English. I have grammar sometimes in English, sometimes in L2 (depends on the teacher, really), but we also have mandatory translation classes, which is a blessing. That’s exactly where you learn the language and see the differences in between L1 and L2 - sometimes you can struggle with one phrase for hours, simply because it doesn’t work in your language and it does in English or vice versa. But teaching in L1 alone to beginners, no. No. No.

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  • 1 month later...

My Korean boss believes in direct approach. He once asked us to look for a native Chinese speaker to teach his daughter Mandarin. I remember having difficulty looking for one because the only teacher I could find in our area don't speak any English at all. My  boss insisted that we hire the Mandarin teacher even though she rarely speak English. Of course, I argued against it as I don't see how his daughter will learn Mandarin if the teacher doesn't know any English. He argued that the teacher's NO English isn't an issue as he believes his daughter can still pick up from the class regardless if the teacher speaks to his daughter in Mandarin 100% of the time. He said there's more to language learning than just the spoken words. Facial expressions, gestures etc., somehow helps, too. Anyway, the reason he believed this works because when his Korean daughter was learning English, all her classes were 100% in English because at that time her daughter only speaks Korean while the teacher speaks English and Hindi (They were then living in India). English was the only common language because the teacher doesn't speak any Korean, too. So he thought the method could also work with Mandarin. Sadly, I never learned the outcome of the classes, though since their plans changed and the daughter flew to the U.S. to study there.

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Oh man, when I started learning French this was the method my teacher (who's a native speaker) used. At that point, pretty much everyone in the class was either close with a French speaker or about to go to a French speaking country. I was the only one who wanted to learn for fun. I was like a massive fish out of water the first few lessons.

Gradually, it got a lot better, and now I'm actually quite grateful that that's how I learnt, because I picked up a LOT during that first course.

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  • 8 months later...

I agree.  I see the reasoning behind the direct approach, but I think it's flawed.  A lot of people say things like, "this is how toddlers learn their native language".  I think the difference is that adults learn differently than children.  Also, children are exposed to the language constantly.  Most adults who are doing the direct approach only take a class that lasts an hour or two, so that's not much exposure to it. 

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Totally agree with you. What may be great for children is not necessarily the same for adults. I have no idea how a beginner can learn the language like this. I'd lose my confidence and motivation after a couple of classes and never be back.

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I'd probably try to power through, if there was no alternative.  I love learning languages.  I would just probably end up taking the class again because I'd be so lost the first time around.  Or I would go to a different class, if there was one available.

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