Tuesday, 29 September 2020

How to choose the right method of language teaching? Better to combine approaches

Lingua Centrum |
15 September 2020

There are many factors that affect how well a student manages to learn a foreign language – student`s motivation, natural talent and diligence, quality of the lecturer and the chosen teaching method. And there is a whole wide range of teaching methods. According to Simona Škurková, Director of the Lingua Centrum Language School, the most effective way in modern adult education is to combine several methods in an optimized ratio. In her comment she states which language teaching methods are (or were) the most common in the Czech Republic and what are their advantages and disadvantages.

Not only foreign language teaching methods are undergoing logical development. Some methods are becoming obsolete, while others are emerging. Currently there are many classic, but also alternative methods that we can use in language teaching. When a lecturer chooses the most suitable one, he/she has to consider various factors: the nature of the taught language, whether his/her students are children or adults, what skills the student primarily wants to acquire and much more. It is also necessary to consider what advantages and disadvantages the given method offers. In the end, the lecturer often finds that the ideal way is to use synergies of several methods.

Drill is boring, teaching purely in a foreign language is frustrating

One of the methods of language teaching that is currently considered to be obsolete is the so called translational or translation method. In the Czech Republic, this method is mainly associated with professor Jaroslav Peprník and his now legendary textbook Angličtina pro jazykové školy. Many generations have learned English from this textbook. This method is based mainly on drill, students get acquainted with the language by translating texts and learning phrases and words. It is suitable for regular and "organized" languages, such as German, but nowadays it is used only marginally. This method is often criticized for being boring, for excessive focus on grammar and written expression, and considerable emphasis on the use of the mother tongue in teaching.

In some respects, the opposite of the translation method is direct method. It is usually defined as a way of teaching a language through conversation, discussion and reading directly in the target language without the use of translation and without the study of formal grammar. Its advantage is that students are exposed to the target language to a large extent and learn it "naturally". Unfortunately, there is one common disadvantage – frustration of students – resulting from the fact that often they do not catch up or understand, which may eventually lead to termination of study. It is thus appropriate to use this method in moderation, i.e. to speak to the student in the target language, but if it is a more complex phenomenon, explain everything in the mother tongue.

Modern teaching is based on communication, complexity and natural language acquisition

Vast majority of today's language teaching is conducted using communicative/audiolingual method. It is modern method that develops all language skills. The advantage is that the progress of a student is well-balanced in all areas of language, he/she comprehensively learns the spoken form of the language, the written form, listening and reading. Great emphasis is also placed on the meaning and use of language: the aim is to teach the students to evaluate in which situation it is appropriate to use which means of expression. This method is sometimes criticized for using mother tongue while teaching the beginners, but I personally consider it as an advantage - the student will better understand how the new language works compared to his mother tongue.

A method called TPR (total physical response) is used today especially in teaching children, they learn a foreign language in a style similar to the way they acquire knowledge of their mother tongue. The whole lesson takes place in English and is accompanied by physical activity, games, competitions and also various songs and rhymes. Student's relationship to the target language is also developed and strengthened by positive feedback: if you do something right, you will receive praise or reward. Recently, this method is beginning to be applied to adults, especially to beginners. The disadvantage, however, is that it is far too playful for many adults.

Optimized combinations of methods bring the highest efficiency

Rather than one particular method, a balanced combination of several methods is used in current language teaching. About 70 percent represent a combination of communicative and TPR methods. In the Lingua Center, a combination of basically all four stated methods in a balanced ratio worked best for us. The communicative method, which is suitable across a wide range of languages, is widely used. Depending on the target language, this method is supplemented in various proportions by the direct method, the drill method – i.e. translational - and the TPR method. We also use this combination with considerable success in our courses which involve intensive language teaching, thanks to which students will notice progress of up to one full level in just five weeks.