The direct method of teaching was developed around 1900 in Germany and France. It is sometimes called the natural method because the aim is to teach students in a similar way that they acquire their first language.
The direct method of teaching came as a response to the shortfalls of the grammar-translation method, which works to teach grammar and translate vocabulary from the native language of the student.
Therefore, the grammar-translation method relies heavily on the written language, whereas the direct method places the emphasis on both listening and speaking.
Although the direct method isn’t limited to teaching foreign language, it is however, often used for this purpose. In fact, you can see evidence of it being used in many English classrooms around the world today. The aim of this method for teaching English is to immerse the students in English, the teacher would use realia, visual aids and demonstrations to teach English to students.
The teacher would in this instance focus on repetitive patterns of teaching with grammar being taught inductively. This means that the rules of grammar are not taught directly, instead students would learn to change different parts of the sentence. For example, “I go to school”, the word go could be changed for other verbs like walk, run, jog, drive, etc.
The direct method of learning English is fairly simple. In consists, primarily, of just five parts.
- Show – The student is shown something so that they understand the word. For example, they might be shown realia or other visual aids such as flash cards for nouns. The teacher might use gestures to explain verbs, and so on.
- Say – The teacher verbally presents the word or sentence, taking care to pronounce the word correctly.
- Try – The student then tries to repeat what the teacher is saying.
- Mould – The teacher corrects the students and ensures that they are pronouncing words correctly.
- Repeat – Finally, the students repeat the word a number of times. Here the teacher uses a number of methods for repetition, including group repetition, single student repetition and other activities designed to get the students to repeat the word.
Specific teaching methods would include such things such as students reading out aloud, question and answer exercises, conversation practices, dictation, fill-in-the-blank exercises, amongst others.
Probably the biggest advantage of this method of teaching English is that it actually teaches the language and doesn’t teach about the language. Furthermore, due to its emphasis on speech, it is better for students who have a need of real communication in English. Finally, this method introduced the use of teaching vocabulary using realia, which is still widely used today when teaching English to speakers of other languages.
One major disadvantage for this method is that is works on the assumption that a second language is learnt exactly the same way as the first. Second language acquisition varies considerably from first language acquisition.
Another criticism of the direct method is that it was hard for public schools to integrate it. In his book, R. Brown (1994:56) explains that the direct method wasn’t successful in public schools because of “constraints of budget, classroom size, time, and teacher background (native speakers or native like fluency) made such a method difficult to use.”
Direct Method of Teaching English
Although parts of this method are still used today, it was largely been overtaken by the audio-lingual method where the focus wasn’t vocabulary, instead students were drilled in the use of English grammar. This audio-lingual method is no longer a popular method of teaching, instead more communicative methods are more widely used today. Lessons now try to mimic real, everyday, occurrences, for example, a class would usually be taught things like ‘asking for things’ in different social settings.
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