THE DIRECT METHOD
[ This method concentrates on the spoken language. The Direct Method is a method of teaching a foreign language, whether classical or modern, through conversation in the language itself, and by reading the literature of the language. Speech is of primary importance; writing of secondary importance. The mother tongue is not used during the conversation exercises, nor in connection with reading. Explanations are in the foreign language, never in the home language. Verbal explanations in a foreign language being difficult, especially in the early stages, and often wasteful of time, the teacher generally resorts to displaying objects and pictures, making gestures, and doing actions, in order to enable the pupils to understand unfamiliar words. Translation is taboo, and so is the teaching of formal grammar.
The Direct Method is an attempt to introduce into the classroom, as far as possible, the natural way of learning a language. The conditions under which a child learns his mother tongue cannot, however, be artificially reproduced in the classroom in the learning of a foreign, or of a second, language.
The Direct Method thus has its weaknesses. Its main claim, viz. that it teaches a foreign language directly and not through the mother tongue, is partly false. The mother tongue equivalents of words may be in the pupils’ minds even when the foreign language is used exclusively. The hobgoblin moves with us, says Jespersen. Also, the emphasis being on speech, the written work of the pupils may suffer, especially when the classes are large. Furthermore, learning by ear is not all-sufficient. Many children cannot pick up the sounds of English by ear alone. The tone-deaf certainly cannot. The Direct Method is thus not the panacea that its advocates once thought it. – G.M.N. EHLERS ]
AN EXAMPLE OF A LESSON FROM A DIRECT METHOD ENGLISH COURSE BY E.V. GATENBY
LESSON SIX – IN SCHOOL (2)
This is John’s pencil. It is on his desk. It is red. Is your pencil red? His book is not red. What colour is it? Ann’s desk is near the teacher’s table. Her books and note-books are on her desk. This girl is Ann’s friend. What is her name? Her name is Mary. Are Mary’s books on the desk too? Yes, their books and note-books are on the desk. Where is my ruler? It is under the book. Whose book is this on my ruler? Whose newspaper is this? It is the teacher’s. Put it on his table and put our note-books near it. Your note-book is not here. Where is it? Our friends are not in the room. Where are they? Their coats and bags are here.
Point to John’s cap. Whose cap is it? It is John’s. Whose is that bag, Ann’s or John’s? It is Ann’s.
What is your name? Write your name on the blackboard. What is his name? Write his name on the blackboard. What is her name? Write her name on the blackboard.
Take my book and open it. Take her books and put them on my table. Where are they? Are they your books or his (her) books?
Point to the chair. Whose is it? It is the teacher’s. Draw a cap. Is it Mary’s? No, it isn’t. Draw a match-box. Draw five matches near it. Where are the matches? They are near the box. Draw a ruler and draw a box under it. The note-books are on the table. Are they our note-books?
Is that your box or my box? It is your box.
Is that his pen or your pen? It is his pen.
Is that her ruler or your ruler? It is her ruler.
Stand up. Put my chair there near that desk and sit on it.
A. Put in my, his, her, our, your or their:
1. This is not John’s pencil. ______ pencil is red.
2. ______ friend’s desk is near the window.
3. Put ______ note-books on the teacher’s table.
4. Tom’s note-book is not there. ______ books are here.
5. Mary is John’s friend. She is ______ friend too.
6. The pupils are in the class-room. ______ coats and bags are here.
7. ______ desks are brown.
8. Who is ______ friend?
9. Where is ______ coat?
10. What is this girl’s name? ______ name is Mary.
B. Put he, she, it, we or they instead of the words printed in italics:
1. The books are red and blue.
2. The girl is not here.
3. Put the bag on the desk.
4. The bag and the coat are on the chair.
5. The bag is near the door.
6. Ann and I are pupils.
7. The boxes are not on the floor.
8. Where are the girls?
9. Whose is this cap?
10. Who is this boy?
C. Put into question form:
1. The books are brown.
2. The pencils are yellow.
3. She is near her desk.
4. He is there, too.
5. My friend is in the room.
6. We are here.
7. I am near the door.
8. You are near the teacher’s table.
9. The box is open.
10. It is on my desk.
The boxes are here. They are not my boxes. Put them on the teacher’s table. Put his books there too. Look at Ann’s coat. What colour is it? This is John’s cap. It is on my desk. Put it on his desk. Take Mary’s bag. Is her note-book in it? Whose books are open? Our books are. Are their books open? No, they aren’t. Shut your books. Write your name on this piece of paper.
THE STRUCTURAL APPROACH
The bones of the English language are therefore of three kinds:-
2. Structural words.
3. A few inflexions.
Of these three, by far the most important is word-order, because word-order in English is fixed, and upon it depends the plan of each standard model sentence.
This gives a very important principle for the guidance of the English teacher. Because word-order in English is fixed, and because word-order is the most important thing in every English sentence, therefore the models for the different kinds of English sentences are fixed also. And these can be taught to the pupils as soon as they begin to learn the language.
As examples, study the plan of each of these model sentences:-
|Mr. Kazi is||working.
in this classroom.
There is one model:
for those different kinds of sentence; and having learned the model, the pupil is able to make up at once many hundreds of sentences.
That lion / was not / sleeping.
My teacher / will be / very pleased with me.
My father / became / headman of the village.
Your sister / has not been / in this town.
2. STRUCTURAL WORDS
After word-order and sentence-patterns, the next important thing in English is structural words. These are:
a) the pronouns: I, me, he, her, their, some, any (and many others).
b) the prepositions: in, on, under, at, from (and many others).
c) the helping verbs: do, have, be, will, can, may (and many others).
d) structural adjectives and adverbs:
a, the, this, that, all, each (and many others).
ago, again, also, even, ever, no, not (and many others).
These structural words are used more frequently in English than any other words. In 100 ordinary sentences there may be as many as 300 prepositions, 200 pronouns, and 100 other structural words – a total of 600 structural words in 100 sentences.
This fact gives another valuable guide to the English teacher: structural words must be taught as early as possible and must be constantly practised, because of their great frequency and high importance.
3. A FEW INFLEXIONS
However, there are a few changes in words, which have to be learned:-
a) in verbs:
I go, You go, She goes, He goes, It goes. // I answer now. I answered yesterday.
But there is no change in:
I went, You went, She went, He went, It went.
b) in nouns:
One boy, two boys, a boy’s book.
c) in adjectives and adverbs:
quick, quicker, quickest.
Every language has its own ways of fitting words together to form sentences, and these ways take shape as sentence-patterns. A sentence-pattern is therefore a model for sentences which will be of the same shape and construction although made up of different words.
A very useful sentence-pattern in English is:-
In that pattern, the sentence is in three parts, and the word-order of the parts is always the same:-
|AT THE BEGINNING – A noun or words like a noun.||IN THE MIDDLE – A verb.||AFTER THE VERB – A noun or words like a noun.|
Two of the men
The woman and her husband
|took / will not buy
tried to make
refused to take
|this. / the other one.
a wooden box.
a small lorry.
Each division of the pattern may contain one word or it may contain a group of words stuck together in a phrase; and it is possible to change the words or phrases in each division many times and so make hundreds of sentences. There are 4x4x4=64 sentences in the example given above.
Taking only simple sentences, and omitting double sentences like:-
1. One of the men told me that
2. he was ill.
the sentence-patterns of English can be arranged in seven groups. The patterns in each group can be changed in many ways (chiefly by adding new parts), but the main shape of the pattern remains. These seven groups are:-
1. TWO-PART PATTERNS.
He / laughed. The poor old lion / went away on three legs.
2. THREE-PART PATTERNS.
Daud / wrote / a book. You / have never seen / a lion with three legs.
3. FOUR-PART PATTERNS.
He / gave / me / a book. Learning sentence-patterns / will encourage / young students / to make long sentences.
4. PATTERNS WITH ‘THERE’.
There are / seven.
5. QUESTIONS BEGINNING WITH A VERB.
Has / he / done it? Will / any of them / come to this house?
6. QUESTIONS BEGINNING WITH AN ASKING-WORD.
When / did / Kazi / do it? What / will / the richest man / say to me?
7. COMMANDS OR REQUESTS.
(a) Go away! / (b) Please don’t take / the other one.
Out of 100 English sentences, 97 will be in the form of statements; and of the statement-patterns the three-part pattern is the most frequently used:-
Daud / wrote / a book.
I / like / this.
My brother / isn’t / a policeman.
Next in order of importance comes the pattern which begins with THERE:- There are three books on the table.
These two sentence-patterns (2 & 4) are in the first rank of importance and must therefore be taught and drilled very early and very thoroughly.
In this drill, because the pupil learns by saying and doing things himself, the teacher’s object will be, not to make statements of his own all the time, but to get the pupils to make statements. This is done by asking questions:-
TEACHER: What is that?
PUPIL: That is a red book.
Question patterns must therefore be taught at the same time as statements patterns.
For the same reason (in order to make the PUPILS do things) command patterns will be necessary as soon as the pupils have to learn verbs.
For these reasons, the early stages of teaching English must include:-
1. Three-part statement patterns;
2. The THERE pattern;
3. Question patterns;
4. Command patterns.
We have noticed that language is not made up of single words, but of words stuck together in groups. These groups also fall into patterns each of which is built upon a structural word:-
|in the box||a ton of ……|
|in the room||a pint of ……|
|outside the room||a cupful of ……|
|behind the trees||a pocketful of ……|
|I know||what to do / where to go.
which one to buy.
whom to ask.
These are phrase-patterns, and they are just as important and useful as sentence-patterns. They should be most carefully and thoroughly drilled in speech and in listening before the pupils are made to read them from the reading-book. – F.G. FRENCH.
The Direct Method is not the Structural Approach. The Structural Approach is not the Direct Method.
[“The Direct Method evolved from earlier methods aimed at enabling the learner to think in and use foreign languages as soon as possible and with the same facility as the native speakers display. An important feature of the Direct Method is the excessive emphasis on the teaching of speech. The basic principles and techniques of the Structural Approach do not differ vitally from those of the Direct Method. It is the logical extension of the Direct Method and is a GREAT IMPROVEMENT over the latter.” – M.S. PATEL.]
The differences are word-order, structural words, a few inflexions, phrase-patterns and sentence-patterns in the Structural Approach. In addition, the most noticeable difference is the use of substitution tables in the Structural Approach. The Direct Method doesn’t use substitution tables at all as is evidenced from the example of the lesson given above.
It can be seen that non-English speaking nations which discarded the Structural Approach in learning English did so at their own peril. As a result, the student population in these countries is at a greater disadvantage when competing in the global arena as English is THE lingua franca in trade, investments, education, etc. A perfect example is Malaysia.
Below is an excerpt from F.G. FRENCH’s Introduction to his book. It is shown here to enable one to understand better what his purpose of writing the book was all about. Please bear in mind that this book serves as an introduction on how to use the Structural Approach for teaching English. Hence, much higher work is reserved for later stages by other writers on the Structural Approach.
[ This book uses the experience which has been gathered over many years by teachers in AFRICA, INDIA, BURMA, MALAYA, JAPAN and CHINA, as well as that of teachers in AMERICA. Those principles which are now accepted by successful teachers are explained, and suggestions are made for using them in the classroom.
The methods of teaching the other school subjects (arithmetic, geography, and the rest) give rise to much less argument than the teaching of English, for two reasons. In the first place, the matter to be taught is fixed and arranges itself in a natural order for teaching. Arithmetic begins with number and goes on to the four rules – there is no other way of teaching arithmetic. BUT ENGLISH IS NOT LIKE THAT. In the second place, TEACHERS OF ENGLISH HAVE STRONG LIKES AND DISLIKES WHICH COME FROM THEIR OWN EXPERIENCE AND FROM THE WAY IN WHICH THEIR TEACHERS TAUGHT THEM WHEN THEY WERE BEGINNERS. Some find difficulty in giving lessons without a reading-book open in front of every pupil; some would give much time to easy poems and rhymes; some would pay most attention to reading or to writing. It will be found that the arguments put forward by these very good teachers are often not quite fair; they push into the background anything which does not support that side of the work which they like best.
This book does not try to argue; it simply sets out those kinds of work which many thousands of teachers have found to be successful. Do these things first; you can add to them all the other things which you particularly like.
The first problem is, “WHAT MUST WE PUT IN AND WHAT CAN WE SAFELY LEAVE OUT OF OUR ENGLISH LESSONS?” In this book the matter to be put into the lessons has been selected as follows:-
(a) those sentence-patterns which occur most frequently in straightforward English speech and print. The difficult sentence-patterns (which are not really necessary, because the same thing can be said in simpler patterns) have been left out.
(b) those words which pass the test of the highest measure of usefulness in general English, with some more words connected with the pupils’ own life and surroundings.
(c) those grammatical points which are essential when judged by the test that English depends upon word-order and upon “structural words” (pronouns, prepositions, auxiliary verbs) to form its sentence-patterns, and uses only a very few inflexions (for number, for degree, and in verbs.) Other grammatical topics are left out.
The second problem is, “WHAT PRINCIPLES MUST WE FOLLOW IN CHOOSING THE THINGS WE SHALL DO IN THE CLASSROOM?” In this book, these principles have been taken:-
(a) the importance of forming language habits, particularly the habit of arranging words in English standard sentence-patterns, to replace the sentence-patterns of the pupils’ own language.
(b) the importance of speech as the necessary means of fixing firmly all groundwork.
(c) the importance of the pupils’ activity rather than the activity of the teacher.
The third problem is, “WHAT CLASSROOM PRACTICES WILL BEST TURN THESE PRINCIPLES INTO ACTUAL LESSON-WORK?” In this book, those classroom practices are described which have been proved successful in the hands of ordinary teachers. IT IS UNDERSTOOD THAT THIS BOOK WILL BE READ BY ONLY A FEW BRITISH TEACHERS AND AMERICAN TEACHERS; IT IS WRITTEN FOR THOSE TEACHERS WHO HAVE NOT THE ADVANTAGE OF USING ENGLISH AS THEIR MOTHER-TONGUE, BUT HAVE HAD TO LEARN IT THEMSELVES AS A FOREIGN LANGUAGE. SUCH TEACHERS FIND IT VERY DIFFICULT TO DO IN CLASS WHAT AN AMERICAN OR BRITISH TEACHER FINDS IT VERY EASY TO DO. THEREFORE THE CLASSROOM PRACTICES HERE DESCRIBED ARE THOSE WHICH ARE USED SUCCESSFULLY BY TEACHERS TO WHOM ENGLISH IS A FOREIGN LANGUAGE.
Finally, because the book is short, it can only offer help; it cannot contain everything that can be done in lesson time. F.G. FRENCH ]
To summarise the above, word-order, structural words, a few inflexions, sentence-patterns and phrase-patterns form the substance of the Structural Approach. Hence, grammar study is a definite help to a foreigner in understanding and applying all the above in his English learning. As I’ve said earlier, grammar study is given prominence in the Structural Approach so as to improve one’s transmission skills – speaking and writing. Kill two birds with one stone.
As can be readily seen, the Structural Approach is not a walk in the park as portrayed by its detractors. These detractors have little or no knowledge at all as to how it REALLY works. But at the same time, they can’t prove the efficacy of their language theories in their own home countries where English is the first language. This can be evidenced in the respective English tests conducted by organisations within their own countries.
The Structural Approach covers rigidly the study of English and its grammar as tools that enable a foreigner to attain the same proficiency and usage as that of a native speaker of English in his country. After the necessary building-blocks to understand and apply English have been mastered, the foreigner is introduced to much higher work which he takes on easily as the basic rudiments have been thoroughly practised. Confidence in using the language in work and social environments becomes a stepping stone for the foreigner to achieve even more in later life.
By following the principles explained in this book as to how a learner can attain facility in the English language with the proper direction of time and effort, practical results on the part of the learner to understand its working enabled him or her to study it independently. Isn’t one of the aims of education to set an individual on the path of independent learning? Therefore, the interest to learn the language is awakened. And interest in anything helps one to go far. As a trainer, I cannot be spoon-feeding the learner forever. I have tried this on numerous groups of learners – working adults, primary, secondary and university students. The results were the same – a feeling of satisfaction and empowerment in the practical use of English among these learners.
Besides, the Structural Approach did deliver the practical results of English proficiency and usage among Malaysians before 1970. Its success in the Malaysian context has been proven. That made me find out more as to why this approach delivered the results in English teaching and learning back then. If a theory in language teaching and learning delivered the practical results of English proficiency and usage in the Malaysian environment in the past, why can’t it deliver the same practical results in the same Malaysian environment now?