We will follow a largely chronological order as we delve into the different strategies for teaching English, from time-tested methods to modern approaches.
The Classical Method
This approach, also known as grammar translation, was originally used for teaching classical languages like Greek and Latin. It places a strong emphasis on grammar, particularly verb conjugations and language rules.
The Direct Method
Also known as the "natural approach", it strives to mimic the way we acquire our mother tongue naturally. Consequently, only the target language is employed, prioritizing speaking and listening skills.
As the name suggests, this method primarily emphasizes listening ('audio') and speaking ('lingual') abilities. It employs various drills to reinforce language structures.
Task Based Learning
The main focus here is the practical application of the target language to perform specific tasks, like 'buying a train ticket'. Successful task completion is prioritized over the exact language used, underscoring successful communication as the method's cornerstone.
Total Physical Response
Developed by James Asher, this method endorses the use of the entire brain in language learning. It blends the left brain's linguistic abilities with the right brain's kinetic capacities, resulting in a robust learning experience.
Engage Study Activate
Championed by Jeremy Harmer, this is a three-step teaching method, incorporating engagement (warm up), study (lesson content), and activation (applying the target language in realistic contexts). This linear approach can be modified with two alternatives: the "Boomerang" and the "Patchwork".
Standing for Content and Language Integrated Learning, this method uses English as the medium for teaching academic subjects like science, math, geography, history, and art to English language learners.
Each method has its strengths and weaknesses, and it's imprudent to claim one as superior. The best method often depends on factors such as the students' age, their purpose for learning English, and the course's examination requirements. Here are some examples:
A group of 5-year-olds learning English for the first time, having mastered the alphabet, now moving onto nouns and simple sentences.
Recommended methodology = Total Physical Response
School-age teenagers at the elementary to intermediate levels learning general English.
Recommended methodology = Engage, Study, Activate
Hospital reception and administration staff learning how to interact with English-speaking customers.
Recommended methodology = Task-based learning
Adults at a language center preparing for the IELTS listening and speaking exams.
Recommended methodology = Audio-lingual method
As evident, each group's unique factors could make one methodology more appropriate than others. However, recent research suggests that an eclectic approach (pairing specific methods with particular activities) could be extremely effective.