The Direct Method or Natural Approach
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The Direct Method, also called the Natural Approach, developed towards the end of the 19th century. It represents are critical reaction to the teaching methods of the ancient Grammar Translation Method which produced knowledge about language rather than knowledge of language. The general goal of the Direct Method is to provide learners with a practically useful knowledge of language. They should learn to speak and understand the target language in everyday situations.
historical background to the call for a new approach to the teaching
of modern languages like French and English has both socio-economic and scientific
aspects. On the social and economic level the industrialization of western European
countries created a demand for a practically useful knowledge in subjects like
mathematics, physics, and modern languages. In
The teaching methods recommended by the new reform movement followed logically from the emphasis on providing a useful knowledge of target knowledge, because that can only be developed by the direct use of the target language in class. Rather than forcing learners to accumulate abstract knowledge about rules of grammar, declensions and conjugations, with translations as a test of knowledge, reformers proposed that the target language should be learnt like children learn their first language, that is by using it in class. This is why the new approach is known as the Natural Approach or the Direct Method. Typical of the new teaching methods is the use of chains of activities accompanied by verbal comments like: I go to the door. I open the door. I close the door. I return to my place. I sit down. They are also called Gouin Series after the French reformer Gouin. There can be no doubt, however, that given the general authoritarian attitude to education typical of the 19th century teachers remained very much in command and all teaching was very much teacher centred.
There was a marked change in teaching contents, however. The emphasis was now on knowledge of words and phrases useful for everyday life, and of factual knowledge about the target language country, its geography, major cities, industry, etc. In contrast to that the reading of great literary texts by the greatest authors, which is typical of the Grammar Translation Method, was given no priority. Note, however, that the still strong and influential faction of grammar school teachers considered this a debasing of the high principles of good education, and eventually many reformers were willing or forced to compromise when they fought for recognition of the new type of Oberrealschule as institutions entitled to issue school living certificates that granted access to university studies and were equal in status to grammar school diplomas. It is important to note this because for many years to come classroom reality was characterized by a mixture of methods and goals of teaching that had their origin no less in ancient grammar translation methods than in the reformist concepts of the Direct Method.
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