Other Second Language Teaching Methods

In addition to the methods discussed in Richards and Rodgers (1986), you may also come across the following methods in the applied linguistics literature.


A. The Reading Method

The term "reading method" is closely associated with the work of Micheal West (e.g., 1926, Learning to read a foreign language: an experimental study) and Coleman (1929, The teaching of modern foreign languages in the United States; referred as the Coleman Report in our textbook). They delibrately limited the goal of language teaching to teaching reading skills. They argued that given the practical constraints faced by many second language learners, it is desirable to limit our goal to reading and reading may be the most practical and effective way to approach language learning.

B. The Audiovisual Method

The audiovisual method was first developed by the CREDIF term in France in the 1950s. One can see this method at work in such French courses/books as Voix et Images de France (for adult French learners), Bonjour Line (for young French learners), De vive voix and Dialogue Canada.

This method is intended for teaching everyday language at the early stage of second/foreign language learning. It is similar to the audiolingual method in many ways. Its unique feature is to present new language materials using filmstrips and corresponding tapes that describe social scenarios. The teaching process involves the presentation of new materials through a combination of filmtrips and corresponding tapes (first phase), explanations of the materials by the teacher through pointing, demonstration, selective listening, question and answer (second phase), reinforcement through repitition, memorization, and practice in a language lab (third phase), and development by means of applying the language in different context (fourth phase). Speaking and listening are taught before reading and writing; Minimum L1 is used.

C. The Cognitive Approach

The cognitive approach, also known as cognitive code-learning theory, was advocated by cognitive psychologists and applied linguists such as J.B. Carroll and K. Chastain in the 1960s. It was intended as an alternative to the audiolingual method that emphasizes habit formation as process of langauge learning. Becuase of its emphasis on studying a foreign language as a system of rules and knowledge, rather than learning it as a set of skills, the cognitive approach is sometimes considered the modern version of the grammar-translation method.

The cognitive approach is based on gestalt psychology (learning should be holistic; learning becomes easier when one treats the target as part of a structure or system and understands how it is related to the rest of the system) and transformational grammar (language is rule-governed and creative; these are related because you can use a langauge creatively only when are familiar with the rules of that language).

The cognitive approach considers the conscious study of language rules as central to the learning of a foreign language.One of its most important concepts is meaningful practice. Practice is considered meaningful when the learner understands the rules involved in practice. Thus, conscious study of grammatical rules is not only allowed, but also considered central to language learning. The teaching of grammar is deductive in this approach. The learner is encouraged and helped to first have a clear understanding of a grammatical rule before they practice and use the rule in meaningful contexts. It represents a sharp contrast to the audiolingual method which relys on pattern drills as a means of teaching syntax, without explicit explanation of grammatical rules.

The cognitive approach is essentially a theoretical proposal. It did not lead to the development of any teaching method as far as classroom procedures and activities are concerned.

Here are two quotes from Carroll, its first proponent:

"The theory attaches more importance to the learner's understadning of the structure of the foreign langauge than to the facility in using that structure, since it is believed that provided the strudent has a proper degree of cognitive control over the structures of the langugte, facility will develop automatically with use of the langauge in meaningful situations."

"...learning a langauge is a process of acquiring conscious control of the phonological, grammatical, and lexical patterns of the second langauge, largely through study and anlaysis of these patterns as a body of knowledge." (Carroll, 1966, p. 102)

D. The Comprehension Approach

The name comprehension approach comes from the title of a book edited by H. Winitz, The comprehension approach to foreign language instruction, published in 1981. It is not as much as a clearly defined method. Instead, it can be best regarded as a pedagogical principle, which can be found in a number of methods and in practice. This principle contains the following elements (according to Richards, Platt, and Weber, 1985)

a. before leaners are taught speaking, there should be a period of training in listening comprehension;
b. comprehension should be taught by teaching learners to understand meaning in the target language;
c. the learners' level of comprehension should always exceed their ability to produce langauge;
d. productive langauge skills will emerge more naturally when leaerners have well developed comprehension skills;
e. such an approach reflects how chidlren learn their first languge.

See a similar list in Richards and Rodgers (1986, pp. 87-88)

The idea of comprehension before production has a long history. H.E.Palmer suggested to include an incubation period at the early stage of langauge learning to focus on the training of listening comprehension and to "awaken and to develop the student's natural and spontaneous capacities for language-study" (1921). Later, similar proposal was made in the name of a "silent period" in language teaching, inspired by the silent period in child first language development and second language learning by young children in naturalistic settings. This principle can be found in teaching approaches such as the natural approach and total physical response.

E. The Eclectic Approach (or Eclecticism)

The Eclectic Approach was proposed as a reaction to the profusion of teaching methods in the 1970s and 1980s and the dogmatism often found in the application of these methods. The idea of choosing from different methods to suite for one's teaching purposes and situations is not a new one. For example, Memorandum on the Teaching of Modern Languages published in 1929 on the basis of a British study by Incorporated Association of Assistant Masters in Secondary Schools recommended the ecletic "Compromise Method" as a solution to the language teaching method debate (Stern, 1983, p. 101).

A main proponent of the Eclectic Approach is Rivers (1981, Teaching Foreign Language Skills). According to Rivers, an eclectic approach allows language teachers "to absorb the best techniques of all the well-known language-teaching methods into their classroom procedures, using them for the purposes for which they are most appropriate" (p. 55). This is necessary and important because teachers "faced with the daily task of helping students to learn a new langauge cannot afford the luxury of complete dedication to each new method or approach that comes into vogue." (1981, p. 54).

The main criticism of the eclecticism is that "it does not offer any guidance on what basis and by what principles aspects of different methods can be selected and combined." Stern (1983, p. 512),