In language teaching, in the general area of teaching methodology, people talk about approaches, methods, procedures, and techniques. This post will help to clarify the meaning of these interrelated terms and provide examples of each.
An approach is a theory about language learning or even a philosophy of how people learn in general. They can be psychologically focused such as behaviorism or cognitivism. They can also be based on older philosophies such as idealism or realism.
Approaches are fuzzy and hard to define because they are broad in nature. An example of an approach that leads to a method would be the philosophies of scholasticism, faculty of psychology, or even perennialism. Each of these philosophies encouraged the development of the mind in the way of a muscle. Train the brain and a person would be able to do many different things. These philosophies have impacted some methods of language teaching as we will see below.
A method is an application of an approach in the context of language teaching. An example of a method is the grammar-translation method. This method employs the memorization of various grammar rules and the translation of second language material to the student’s native language. Students were able to develop the intellectual capacity to understand the new language through a deductive process of acquiring the rules of the language.The purpose is not to critique this method but to show how it was derived from the approach that the mind needs to be trained through intellectual exercises to be able to accomplish something.
Procedures are the step-by-step measures to execute a method. These step-by-step measures are called techniques and will be discussed next. Common procedures for the grammar-translation method includes the following…
- The class reads a text written in the second language.
- Student translates the passage from the second language to their mother tongue.
- Student translates new words from the second language to their mother tongue.
- Student is given a grammar rule and derived from the example they apply the rule by using the new words.
- Student memorizes the vocabulary of the second language.
- Student memorizes grammar rules.
- Errors made by the student are corrected by providing the right answers.
This is the process (with variation) that is used when employing the grammar-translation method.
A technique is a single activity that comes from a procedure. Any one of the steps of the procedure list above qualifies as a technique. Naturally, various methods employ various techniques.
Language teaching involves approaches that lead to methods, methods that are broken down into procedures, and procedures that are a collection of techniques. Understanding how these concepts interrelate can help a teacher know the reasons behind their choices in how they choose to teach.