Human beings are social creatures; they need to contact each other. There’s always a great passion towards getting closer to others. The language usage is the engine for this way of socializing thus the communication process itself. Moreover, we live in a world full of different languages which we use to deal together. We need to get more information from other countries in order to understand how to manage the political issues well. That’s why it is important to learn these languages.
There were many methods held and tried throughout the years to enhance better performance for the teacher and the used materials in order to help the students to achieve a good level of language learning, whether these theories were good or bad, succeeded or failed, they were all trials of improvement, we should show respect to their founders for they had tried to make a better change at least in their own point of view.
“The history of education must have a great future. However, if we ignore the past we will not understand the present or hold a view for the future”. (Quick, 2003)
One of these methods is the direct method, its origin came from the last decades of the 19th century as a consequence of economic problems in Europe, more and more people tried to find different means of living in the USA and Australia and Canada. Naturally millions of people had to learn English quickly and at the same time successfully too as a way of communication in the new chosen country. In addition, that the direct method was an answer to the dissatisfaction with the older method of the grammar-translation, which teaches students grammar and vocabulary through direct translation and thus, focuses on the written language.
The direct method is a method of teaching language directly establishing a direct or intermediate association between expression and expression, between the English word, phrase and its meaning through demonstration, dramatization without the use of the mother tongue. This intends for the students to learn how to communicate in the target language. This method is based on the assumption that the learners should experience the new language the same way as they experienced or acquired their mother tongue. Direct method tends to use the native L2 speakers as its teachers to guarantee the accuracy of pronunciation, where grammar is not emphasized directly as well, it is induced indirectly.
“Learning was very much seen as under the control of the teacher”. (Richards, 2008)
The interaction here in this method relies on the teacher, where the teacher controls everything; the teacher is the only source of information and knowledge. This method doesn’t give space or accept the errors to occur. That’s why this method depends on repetition and drilling, no field of creativity is there.
Direct method has some benefits where it encourages the learner to understand L2 directly without any help from his native language. The direct method allows the student to face the second language frankly; where it inhibits the linguistic interference from the mother tongue. In which the student will obtain more morphological and semantic understanding accordingly.
Another advantage for this method is the usage of the visual aids which are used to demonstrate the language and vocabulary meaning which (by regular exposure) develops the language sense in which the concrete vocabulary is taught by pictures and objects while abstract vocabulary is taught by association of ideas. It helps in preceding the English language from particular to general use, it bridges the gap between the practice and the theory, and also it facilitates the participation of the students.
But it has some disadvantages as well, one of the fatal drawbacks against this method that it ignores systematic written work or reading activities. It limits the vocabulary where it restricts the scope of vocabulary as not all the words can be directly associated with their meanings. Another fatal drawback, that this method aims at an active command of a language so only the clever child can profit by this method; but what about slow learners! It is clear that they struggle with this method. The direct method doesn’t suit or satisfy the needs of individual students in large classes, it is considered to offer an artificial English language, that’s because of the limitation of vocabulary it offers. So the student will be always unable to express freely what he wants because it is enclosed in some situations or activities of the language where as well the grammar is not taught systematically. So this method showed no creativity or broad usage for guaranteed learning results.
Then comes the audio-lingual method, this method is the third developed method after the grammar-translation and the direct method. It started to appear in beginning of the 20th century. At the same time, behaviorist psychologists such as B.F. Skinner were forming the belief that all behavior (including language) was learned through repetition and positive or negative reinforcement. In addition to the outbreak of World War II, this created the need to post a large number of American servicemen all over the world. It was, therefore, necessary to provide these soldiers with at least basic verbal communication skills. Unsurprisingly, the new method relied on the prevailing of scientific methods of the time, observation, and repetition. And because of the influence of the military, early versions of the audio-lingual came to be known as the “army method”.
Subsequently, the audio-lingual method had found its way to schools; as it focuses on the situational language by using listening materials reflect the real-life usage of the second language. The teacher is not considered the only source of knowledge as he used to be in the direct method. Audio-lingual method targets pronunciation accuracy and to what extent the student will be close to the second language’s accent. Visual aids are used as well like in the direct method. All the previous points could be considered as the advantages of the audio-lingual method; in spite of the grammatical rules demonstration absence.
This method relies on oral and the listening activities; then reading and writing are introduced in the next stage. The oral lesson learned in the previous class becomes the reading material to establish a relationship between speech and writing. All reading materials are introduced orally first. Writing, in the early stages, is confined to transcriptions of the structures and dialogues learned earlier. Once learners mastered the basic structure, they were asked to write composition reports based on their previous spoken lessons.
Another advantage of the audio-lingual method is that listening and speaking skills are emphasized and, especially the former, rigorously developed. Plus the use of audio labs is effective in vocabulary and situational teaching. The method is just as functional and easy to execute for larger groups. But correct pronunciation and structure are emphasized and acquired as well. It is considered as a mechanical method since it demands pattern practice, drilling, and memorization.
The method emphasizes the listening-speaking-reading-writing order. Listening is important in developing speaking proficiency and so receives particular emphasis. There are strong arguments, both physiological and psychological, for combining speaking practice with training in listening comprehension. Speaking is effective through listening. By hearing the sounds, articulation is more accurate, with differentiation of sounds, memorization, and internalization of proper auditory sounds images. Development of a feel for the new language gains interest for the language. There has been practically no study or experiments to determine how much time should be taken between listening experience and speaking practice.
And about its disadvantages, that it does not pay sufficient attention to communicative competence. It is a teacher-dominated method too like the direct method. It depends on drilling and memorization so there is no creativity in using the language or the ability to solve any sudden situation, otherwise, the student would receive negative feedback. It demands fluency with accurate pronunciation rather than emphasizing the grammatical rules; so as it doesn’t balance between the components of the language where the teacher introduces specific construction which limits the language usage, and finally, it focuses on the language activities only as listening and speaking. This is not enough although.
At last, there are so many theories for teaching a second language. In my opinion, it’s hard for a teacher to keep sticking or following only one theory of them. I think you can mix between what you find it good for your learners in each theory, of course, there isn’t a rule or a law for a learner to deal with a specific theory if he doesn’t like it and the teacher must be aware of that. Not all the theories or approaches can work with all the learners; because the learners are completely different, they are not copies of each other, in their minds and skills and the way they get engaged to the learning materials. So that the professional and experienced teacher can determine what fits which student. Hereby the teacher gets the learning process into life to be more sensitive to the learners’ needs. As a teacher, you can get their attention with a song, a mysterious topic, a teaser or a question, so many approaches to so many different mindsets. For example, in my first teaching year, I got a video song to show to my class, they found it so funny and they were very interested in it even they asked me to watch the video every now and then; in my second year, I put this video automatically in my curriculum with the rest of the songs I used to show to my students; and their reaction surprised me actually, they found it very boring and silly song and I didn’t play it again this year. I’ve learned from this situation that there’s no rule for the learners. Each class and even each student has the right to choose his way and his likes and dislikes, there’s no need for obligation, as long as he will learn something so let him learn it in a relaxing and comfortable atmosphere.