Comparative Teaching Methodologies There are a number of methods and


There are a number of methods and approaches for teaching language to non-native speakers. This paper will attempt to compare four popular methodologies: The Grammar-Translation Approach, The Direct Approach, The Audio- lingual Method, and PPP (with ESA as an alternative to PPP).

The Grammar-Translation Approach was historically used to teach Greek and Latin. Classes using this approach are taught in the student’s mother tongue, with little active use of the target language. Vocabulary is taught in the form of isolated word lists. Grammar instruction provides the rules for putting words together. Study involves the reading of texts, which are treated as exercises in grammatical analysis; little or no attention is given to pronunciation. 1

The Direct Approach was developed as a reaction to the grammar translation approach in an attempt to integrate more use of the target language. Lessons begin with a dialogue using modern conversational style in the target language. Material is first presented orally with actions or pictures. The mother tongue is never used. There is no translation. The preferred type of exercise is a series of questions in the target language based on the dialogue or an anecdotal narrative. Questions are answered in the target language. Grammar is taught inductively—rules are generalized from the practice and experience with the target language. The culture associated with the target language is also taught inductively. Culture is considered an important aspect of learning the language. 2

The Audio-lingual Method is based on the principles of behavior psychology, which states that conditioning is the result of a three- stage procedure; stimulus, response, and reinforcement.

With this method new material is presented in the form of a dialogue, fostering dependence on mimicry, memorization of set phrases and over-learning. Structural patterns are taught using repetitive drills. Little or no grammatical explanations are provided. Skills are sequenced: listening, speaking, reading and writing are developed in order. There is abundant use of language laboratories, tapes, and visual aids. Use of the mother tongue by the teacher is permitted, but discouraged among and by the students. Successful responses are reinforced; great care is taken to prevent learner errors. 3

By doing its best to banish mistakes, this method runs counter to a belief among many theorists that learning from errors is a key part of the process of language acquisition; yet Audio-lingualism is still in use today and retains popularity among teachers who feel insecure with the relative freedoms of some more recent methods.

A variation on Audio-lingualism is the procedure referred to as PPP, which stands for Presentation, Practice and Production. In this method the teacher introduces a situation which contextualizes the language to be taught. Then the language is presented. The students practice the language using accurate reproduction techniques such as choral repetition (where the students repeat a word or phrase all together after the teacher), individual repetition (where individual students repeat a word or phrase after the teacher), and cue-response drills (where the teacher gives a cue such as “work”, points at a student and that student makes the desired response, e.g. “I work at a florist’s shop.”) The students later make sentences of their own, which is referred to as production. The cue- response drills used in PPP are similar to the drills used in Audio- lingualism, but because they are contextualized by the situation that has been presented, they carry more meaning than a simple substitution drill.

The PPP method came under attack in the 1990’s. Its critics argued that it was teacher-centered, that it only described one kind of lesson, and that it failed to describe the many ways in which teachers can work when using course books or when adopting a task- based approach. In response to these criticisms, many people have offered variations on PPP and alternatives to it. One alternative to PPP is the ESA model, in which three components will usually be present in any teaching sequence.

“E” stands for Engage. The point is that unless students are engaged emotionally with what is going on, their learning will be less effective.

“S” stands for Study, and describes any teaching and learning element where the focus is on how something is constructed, whether it is relative clauses, specific intonation patterns, the construction of a paragraph or text, the way a lexical phrase is made and used, or the collocation possibilities of a particular word.

“A” stands for Activate and this means any stage at which students are encouraged to use all and/or any of the language they know. Communicative activities, for example, are designed to activate the students’ language knowledge.

ESA allows for three basic lesson procedures. In the first, ‘straight arrows,’ the sequence is ESA, much like PPP. A ‘boomerang’ procedure, on the other hand, follows a more task-based approach. Here the order is EAS, so that the teacher gets the students engaged before asking them to do something like a written task, a communication game, or role play. Based on what happens there the students will then, after the activity has finished, study some aspect of language which they lacked or which they used incorrectly. ‘Patchwork” lessons, on the other hand, may follow a variety of sequences such as ones where engaged students are encouraged to activate their knowledge before studying one and then another language element, and then returning to more active tasks, after which the teacher re-engages them before doing some more study, etc. 4

What this model demonstrates is a desire to put PPP firmly in its place as one of a number of teaching procedures for the teacher to employ—rather than the central plank of good teaching. The goal is flexibility, not rigidity.

1. http://coe.sdsu.edu/people/jmora/ALMMethods.htm

2. http://coe.sdsu.edu/people/jmora/ALMMethods.htm

3. Harmer, Jeremy, The Practice of English Language Teaching, 3rd Edition, Pearson Education Limited, 2001. 4. Harmer, ibid.