Learning another language is no small undertaking. On the other side of the coin, teaching someone another language can be a challenge in its own right! Robert McDougal, an ESL teacher, explained to us some of the various methods that are used in order to educate foreign language speakers on how to speak English. While some may have objectively higher success rates than others, it is important to note that everyone learns in their own unique way. What may work wonders for most may be completely incomprehensible to a small subset of learners, and vice versa. It’s important to discover what method of language education works best in the context of a classroom, but also what techniques you can use for certain individuals in order to help them master the language as well as anyone else.
The direct method (or as it’s sometimes referred to, the “natural method”) is a method of learning another language in which the student’s mother tongue is never used. In other words, the student is only spoken to in English, with absolutely no other spoken or written language allowed. This method of education operates under the assumption that the student should be absorbing the intricacies of the English language much in the same way they (assumedly) did with their mother tongue: with no outside influence from other languages.
The benefits of the direct method are many: learners who utilize the direct method often have a greater command over the fluency of their speech, which further benefits all other aspects of their mastery over English (writing, understanding complex thoughts with multiple meanings, expression, etc.). However, this method can be extremely difficult for many to pick up on, and it often takes a long time to be able to achieve real-world level results. Robert McDougal suggests the direct method for young minds, as they’re often able to more easily pick up on new concepts without being bogged down by preconceived notions.
Robert McDougal points out that a more traditional method of teaching ESL is the grammar-translation method. In the grammar-translation method, students apply learned grammatical rules by translated sentences either from or to English. The merits of this method of learning English are tied to its emphasis on translating the written word: students who excel at this method will find themselves able to easily translate written works to their own language and understand English type with no trouble. On the downside, this method de-emphasizes actual communication with little to no speaking practice. Because of this, modern scholars do not recommend this method of teaching-however, it remains by far the most popular method in schools around the world.
Yet another method, Robert McDougal explains, is the communicative approach, otherwise known as CLT, or communicative language teaching. CLT techniques hinge on communication between the student and teacher, with a focus on the practical application of English in conversation. The downsides of CLT are tied to its lack of standards when it comes to what constitutes communicative competence. Basically, because there is no unified agreed-upon standard for what this means, the requirements of instructors are likewise varied. CLT is also criticized for not placing enough emphasis on grammatical intricacies, which can lead to fundamental misunderstandings about the language.
These are just three of the many methods that are used all over the world to teach English. Robert McDougal suggests doing a little more in-depth research before deciding which one you think would work best in your classroom.