Direct Method in Foreign Language Teaching

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Direct method

Innovation in foreign language teaching began in the 19th century and, very rapidly, in the 20th century, leading to a number of different methodologies, sometimes conflicting, each trying to be a major improvement over the last or other contemporary methods. The earliеst applied linguists, such as Jean Manesca, Heinrich Gottfried Ollendorff (1803-1865), Henry Sweet (1845-1912), Otto Jespersen (1860-1943) and Harold Palmer (1877-1949) worked on setting principles and approaches based on linguistic and psychological theories, although they left many of the specific practical details for others to devise. The development of foreign language teaching is not linear. There have been two major branches in the field, empirical and theoretical, which have almost completely-separate histories, with each gaining ground over the other at one point in time or another. Examples of researchers on the empiricist side are Jesperson, Palmer, Leonard Bloomfield who promote mimicry and memorization with pattern drills. These methods follow from the basic empiricist position that language acquisition basically results from habits formed by conditioning and drilling. In its most extreme form, language learning is basically the same as any other learning in any other species, human language being essentially the same as communication behaviors seen in other species. On the other, are Francois Gouin, M.D. Berlitz, Elime de Sauzé, whose rationalist theories of language acquisition dovetail with linguistic work done by Noam Chomsky and others. These have led to a wider variety of teaching methods from grammar-translation, to Gouin's "series method" or the direct methods of Berlitz and de Sauzé. With these methods, students generate original and meaningful sentences to gain a functional knowledge of the rules of grammar. This follows from the rationalist position that man is born to think and language use is a uniquely human trait impossible in other species. As a reaction to Grammar Translation Method (GTM) and under the influence of Phonetics (Sweet, 1877, 1899 and Jesperson, 1904), the reform movement began. This method of teaching was marked by the primacy of spoken language with the help of phonetically transcribed texts. The use of isolated sentences was replaced by coherent texts and the foreign language came to be used in class. In this time, people began to use phonetics in language teaching. The two strands of ‘reform’ and the ‘direct method’ came together in the work of Harold E. Palmer (1877–1949) who taught English along Berlitz lines in Belgium from 1902 until the German invasion in 1914. . He was then forced to return to London where he renewed an earlier contact with Daniel Jones (1881–1967) who had since become the head of the Phonetics Department at London University and was about to publish his famous English pronouncing dictionary (1917). The two worked together for nearly seven years (1915–22), during which time Palmer published a series of books, including “The scientific study and teaching of languages” (1917) and “The principles of language-study” (1921), which established a new approach to practical language pedagogy called the Oral Method, combining his classroom experience with the insights of modern phonetics. After 1918, a significant straw in the post-war wind was the decision of the Japanese government to reform English teaching in order to promote greater spoken fluency. They approached Palmer who accepted a position as a special advisor starting in 1922. The following year he was appointed as the Director of an Institute for Research in English Teaching (IRET) (1923–1936), where through both research and materials development, he helped to create a specialized profession which came to be known as ‘English language teaching’ (ELT) after the founding of a journal of that name in 1946 under the editorship of a close Tokyo colleague, A. S. Hornby. A second interwar development was the emergence of...
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