In a globalized society, mastering foreign languages is important to succeed economically and socially. Therefore, language teaching has become an academic topic highly focused on, and subjected to many studies and research highlighting diverse paradigms (cognitive, cultural, statistics, etc.). Ideological debates are intense and often heated. Since the end of World War II, several patterns have confronted and succeeded one another. To make it simpler, those methods can be classified in three categories:
- communicative (method applied at the AF de Nice)
The grammar-translation method
This method is classic and traditionally used for teaching languages such as Latin or Greek. The focus is set on translation (from and to the native language), grammar and vocabulary. Speaking and comprehension skills are set to the side. Explanations are often given in the student’s native language.
This method is still used in many countries, more particularly developing countries, as it is adequate in classrooms with several dozen students and teachers who do not always have the sufficient proficiency to teach the language in question.
If your language textbook’s cover mentions how many words you will learn,
If you regularly ask your teacher to translate an extract of a text for you, or why a given tense is used rather than another in a particular sentence,
If your teacher hogs more than 50% of the speaking time in the class,
… then you are learning a language based on the grammar-translation method.
One of the main problems of the grammar-translation method is that it does not take into account two key elements in the learning process: interest and motivation. However, for students who are strongly determined and good at studying on their own, it can allow them to quickly get good results on written tests. This is why many teachers, who are trained in different methods, do not understand when they see in their classrooms students who have been assessed a B1/B2 proficiency level after taking certified language tests but who are not able to express themselves when speaking.
Note: the grammar-translation method has developed in sub-categories:
- The direct approach: a lesser use of the native language; pronunciation is taught before the language itself. It is more particularly the method Berlitz schools rely on.
- The audio-lingual approach: assimilation of grammatical structures. This method is used by the army (influence of SKINNER and PAVLOV behavioral approach).
- The cognitive approach: grammatical reasoning based on the use of the language in context.
The humanist method
This method, developed by James ASHER, is based on the idea that we are all naturally capable of learning languages since we can speak at least one language. The goal is to reproduce the way the native language has been taught. This method relies on the following:
- Input is more important than output. Therefore, one needs to be in contact with the language taught as much as possible, just like a baby who hears his parents talking and cannot yet answer them. This led to the subliminal approach in which the learner listens to the studied language while he sleeps.
- It is important to maintain a pleasant learning environment (classes with music, outdoors…)
- No use of the native language at all.
- No exam.
This method, which was very popular in the 70s, is still frequently used by young learners.