Many language teachers have felt that language teaching is most successful through stressing grammar as the content and by exposing the student to language that concentrates on one aspect of the grammar system at a time – present tense before past tense, comparatives before superlatives, first-person singular before third-person singular, and so on. Let’s have a look at several of these approaches.
Grammar-translation was the most popular method until several decades ago and versions of it still exist in some countries around the world. Its goal was to produce students who could read and write in the target language by teaching them rules and applications.
A typical grammar-translation lesson began with a reading to be translated into the first language followed by the rule it illustrated. New words would be presented in a list along with definitions in the first language. These new words would be included in the reading, which was usually far above the level of the students’ proficiency. Topics for readings may have included a trip to the library, an historical sketch of an area, a shopping expedition, a trip by train, a vacation, and the like. Lessons were grammatically sequenced and students were expected to produce errorless translations from the beginning. Little attempt was made to communicate orally in the target language. Directions and explanations were always given in the first language.
2. The Audio-Lingual Method
The Audio-Lingual Method, or ALM was a new approach to oral communication that came of behaviourist B.F. Skinner’s work in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It follows the theory that language is acquired a) through the process of forming habits and b) the stimulus/response model. Learning a second language, according to ALM, is throwing away the habits of the first language and learning a new set of habits for the second.
Audiolingualism was developed to replace grammar-translation. Through the use of this method, structures of the target language were ordered and dialogues were repeated in an attempt to develop correct habits of speaking. Mimic and Memorise is a common tool used with ALM. Students listen and repeat until they memorise. Drills were usually only related through a common grammar point or syntax and had little to do with anything actually happening; in other words, they had little direct meaning to the student. Sometimes the situational scenarios that students had to memorise were useful in that they contained idioms and expressions and greetings. Rules were presented with this method but not formally explained to the student, and minimal pairs were often used (sit – seat; yellow – Jell-o) to overcome habits of pronunciation from the first language. Listening and speaking skills took precedence over reading and writing with the audio-lingual method; however, in most classrooms there was little use of creative language and a great deal of attention was paid to correct pronunciation. Language labs were a big part of this method.