The Direct Method

The Direct Method

Language reformers towards the end of the 19th century turned their attention towards naturalistic principles of language learning, and for this reason they were referred to as advocates of a ‘natural method’.  They believed in the idea that a foreign language could be taught without translation or the use of the learner’s L1 fi the meaning was conveyed through demonstration and action.  These natural language learning principles provided the foundation for what became known as the Direct Method. It was introduced in France and Germany at the turn of the 20th century and was used by Maximilian Berlitz in commercial language schools.

Practice stood for the following principles and procedures:

  • Classroom instruction conducted in L2
  • Only every day (high frequency) vocabulary and sentences taught.
  • Grammar taught inductively
  • New teaching points were introduced orally
  • Correct pronunciation and grammar were emphasized

Some general guidelines as adopted by Berlitz:

  • Never translate – demonstrate
  • Never explain – act
  • Never make a speech – ask questions
  • Never imitate mistakes – correct
  • Never speak with single words – use sentences

The Direct Method challenged the way that Grammar-Translation focused exclusively on language.  By claiming to be the ‘natural method’ it prioritised oral skills, and, while following a syllabus of grammar structures, rejected explicit grammar teaching.  The learners, it was supposed, picked up the grammar in much the same way that children pick up grammar of thier mother tongue, simply by being immersed in the language.

 Critics of the Direct Method pointed out that strict adherence to the target language required teachers to go to great lengths to avoid using the L1 when sometimes a brief explanation in L1 would have been more efficient.

The Direct Method was not very successful in mainstream education.  Some problems included the fact that it required teachers who were native speakers or who had native like fluency in the L2.

The linguist Henry Sweet recognized its limitations.  The Direct Method lacked a thorough methodological basis.  Its main focus was on the exclusive use of L2 in the classroom, but it failed to address many issues that Sweet thought more basic.  He argued for the development of sound methodological principles that could serve as the basis for teaching techniques.  In the 1920s/1930s applied linguists systemized the principles proposed earlier by the Reform Movement and laid the foundations for what developed into the Augiolingualism Approach (USA) and the Situational Language Teaching in Britain.

All notes taken from ‘Approaches and Methodologies in Language Teaching’ Richards and Rodgers, Cambridge University Press

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