In reaction to the grammar-translation approach that had been used for several centuries, many educators placed an emphasis on oral communication skills. By the late 19th century, the natural method was primarily a method that focused on oral skills.
Many methods are derived from the natural method approach. One of the most influential methods in language teaching that came from the natural method approach was the direct method in the late 19th century. In this post, we will examine the characteristics of the direct method as well as its impact in teaching language.
Traits of Direct Method
The direct method stressed the use of only the target language in the classroom. Instead of using the students’ native language the teacher would demonstrate and use body language to express meaning. Due to this reliance on the target language, only common, everyday vocabulary was taught. As such, this method may not be appropriate for academic language learning.
Speaking and listening was the primary purpose of the direct method. These skills were developed through a question and answer approach. This supported the development of communication skills as well as strengthening comprehension.
Correct grammar was also important as was pronunciation. Grammar was taught inductively with the teacher sharing examples that illustrated the principle of the grammar lesson.
Impact of the Direct Method
The direct method was highly successful in private language schools were motivated students came to learn a language. However, this method never replicated this success in public schools. There are several reasons for this lack of broad-based success.
The direct method was lacking in any form of linguistic theory to support its principles. This method was basically developed by amateurs who were unfamiliar with the details of language learning but instead were trying to overcome problems strictly through the use of common sense rather than common sense with research.
The direct method also requires the use of native speaking teachers. This is not always possible. The strict avoidance of the students’ language was often too cumbersome when teaching for many people.
With these and other concerns, the direct method was mostly abandoned by the 1920s in Europe. This method was never popular in the US.
The direct method was perhaps the first major fad method in language teaching. For over 100 years language teaching went from one method to another as it searched for the perfect method for teaching language. As we well see in a future post, each method always claimed to be an improvement in relation to its predecessors. The reality is that there is no single best method but a collection of choices to be made depending on the situation one is facing.