It was three years back when I landed my first job in an English academy in Madrid, Spain. I was young, inexperienced, very nervous and had absolutely no idea how on earth I was going to actually go about teaching my classes. Ever since arriving in Spain, I, alongside all the other native English speaking expats that arrive here to try their hand at teaching, are ready and eager to get themselves inside the classroom to commence teaching.
It seems though, that when push comes to shove, when the time comes when you finally get into a teaching position, you find yourself in front of a group of students and most teachers won’t have a clue what to do. The lesson plan usually goes out the window, and so does the confidence as well as any other previous motivation or enthusiasm for teaching. The only thing you’ll be left with are 3-6 pupils giving you odd looks and most disappointingly they’ll be fairly upset at your lack of confidence and expertise. The whole ordeal can be a terribly drastic situation for the new teacher and in some cases, even bring a possible English teaching career to an end entirely.
Well, this was me when I first started out. I sought though not to give up but rather endeavour to understand and succeed at the art of teaching and above all, find a method. A method that students love and is efficient. After months of trial and error, learning more or less completely all the nuts and bolts of the English grammar I came across a method that works. A method that you can find in all prestigious English institutions. It’s called the direct method.
When you think about it, the objective of all English learners is very plain and simple: Speak English with good pronunciation and without error. Thus the teacher needs to facilitate just that in the classroom, However I feel that some teachers in their initial stages don’t really understand this and even though their heart is surely in the right place, they may not have really got to grips with the mechanics of teaching, or rather facilitating correct speech without error, respectfully speaking.
Most of my colleagues will complain about having to teach very low levels but I always state that this is best part of teaching! It’s here one can really get down and dirty with the ultimate language teaching method, the direct method. It’s here in the very initial stages of a language learner that the direct method shines through and works amazingly, facilitating speaking for the learner and ensuring the student learns the essential grammar without having to touch their pen (although it is good to take note occasionally!). All the while having the entirety of the lesson focused on the student speaking instead of doing grammar worksheets. A much more humanistic approach, wouldn’t you say?
Now, how about we delve into a little analysis and elaboration on the direct method?
The direct method or the natural method focuses on three main elements:
- grammar taught using an incredibly inductive approach.
- target language taught in the target language itself and not using the learner’s native tongue to aide the process.
- Question-answer system. For virtually the entirety of the lesson, correct speech (which is always the goal) is taught on a question and answer basis, that is the transmitter asks the question and the recipient must answer accordingly, focusing not on his or her personal response and elaboration but rather answering the question correctly, grammatically speaking of course (all of which is being monitored carefully by the teacher).
So concluding our three points which make up the direct method we have; 1. the incredibly inductive approach, 2. the target language being taught in the target language itself, 3. the question-answer approach as the basis for the entire lesson. I now intend to fully elaborate and go in depth into these three facets so we can thoroughly get to the bottom of all this.
- The inductive approach. When has anyone ever learnt anything from being told directly what it is? Never. Parents give their kid a few words of wisdom, kid does the exact opposite. Kid will instantly reject the advice and only when he or she has figured out what ever it might be for him or herself to understand will they solidify the solution into their mind. So how is this comparable to learning English you might ask? Well here’s a quick example:
Teacher asks student A to ask student B if she (student B) had left her office before her boss arrived yesterday.
Student A asks (incorrectly) Have you left the office before the boss arrived yesterday?
Teacher takes note of the error and gives a quick grammatical analysis to the class. Teacher then repeats; ’ask student B if she had left the office before her boss arrived yesterday’.
She (subject,third person singular, but will be changed to second person as the question is intended for student A to ask)
Had left (past perfect tense) as it’s the past before another past)
Her office (possessive adjective is used, followed by the object) (student must use the possessive not the article)
before (conjunction to introduce next clause)
Her boss (possessive adjective and ‘boss’ as subject in subordinate clause
Arrived (past simple after past perfect)
Yesterday (time expression and adverb),
Student A takes note of the grammatical analysis and now reforms the question in the correct manner: ‘’Had you left your office before your boss arrived yesterday’’?
The teacher never corrected the student nor gave him the answer, rather continuous induction is used so the learner can understand the problem for themself and never be given the answer explicitly. Thus the correct form will stick in their mind and they’ll have worked out the answer for themselves. All the teacher does then, is guide them in the right direction to induce the correct answer. This is the real learning process. Induction is absolute key.
- Target language to be taught in the target language itself. In order to learn a language, regardless of the student’s level. It is vital the student is taught in the target language with zero translations. Grammar books and worksheets can be worked on in the pupil’s own time in whatever language they deem most helpful but class time is scarce and here it’s vital the teacher ensures the student exits their native language and activates the new ‘chip’ to guarantee a complete immersion in the target language. Regardless of the level, good implementation of the inductive approach will mean that no translations are necessary whatsoever.
- Systematically implementing the Question-answer system is the key to facilitating speaking and provides the main basis for working on. This system works incredibly well with very low level beginners all the way up to very advanced and proficient learners. Although the whole ‘question-answer’ system doesn’t need to be so rigid when dealing with more advanced learners simply because the lessons can be much more conversation based. Although errors need to be taken note of later on to be corrected using rule number 1 ‘the inductive approach’.
Utilising the question-answer system in a very low level group or individual class is the best possible means of aiding and helping your students in correct speech in virtually any grammatical aspect. Remember the goal for the pupil is usually always the same: correct speech with no grammatical fault and good pronunciation. So for instance, in a low level class where one might be teaching basic prepositions such as ‘at’,’in’ and ‘on’. The teacher will prepare their lesson specifically to ensure that the questions he or she is directing to the recipients will encompass fully the usage of the above prepositions which would be part of the lesson plan. Once the the student has answered the question they will then proceed to ask their neighbour another question and so forth whilst the teacher obliges them all to go around in a circle until all students have transmitted and received their question and answer. Most importantly though, after every question and answer the teacher must listen out very meticulously for any perceived errors so they can be corrected using the inductive approach and then progress continues accordingly.
A quick example with a lesson based on teaching adequately the prepositions ‘at’, ‘in’ and ‘on’:
Teacher: asks student A where she will meet student B for lunch in Paris on Sunday.
Student A proceeds to ask student B: ‘Where will you meet me for lunch in Paris on Sunday’?
Student B responds (incorrectly): ‘I will meet you at the corner on Paris at Sunday’
Teacher then stops and writes student B’s sentence on the board for a quick grammar check:
Ask her: ‘where she will meet you for lunch in Paris on Sunday’
In: preposition for inside larger areas; not ‘on’
On: preposition for days of the week.
After a grammatical analysis student B then proceeds to restate the question correctly:
‘I will meet you at the corner in Paris on Sunday’
Take into account emphasis is also being put on the correct usage of the future simple and subject and object pronouns.
With a proper understanding of the grammar the teacher can facilitate speaking in the classroom while also teaching the grammar incorporating all the aspects of the direct method which include the inductive approach, target language taught in the target language and thirdly the question-answer system as a basis for all speaking.