How Language Teaching Methods Evolve

M. Syahruzzaky Romadloni

Understanding the history of language teaching methodology is very important to make language teaching better. Teachers can get many benefits through this understanding. Richards, Jack C. and Theodore S. Rodgers (2001:16) said that this study can provide teachers with a view of how the field of language teaching has evolved. This study that includes the study of the evolution of language and language learning theories, approaches, methods and techniques will certainly open teachers’ outlook in conducting language teaching. The teacher who acclaims using communicative approach, for instance, will understand beliefs, assumptions, backgrounds, methods and techniques related to this approach through studying this history. This understanding, then, will make his teaching better and effective. The communicative approach that is acclaimed to be used in his teaching will be well organized through the appropriate methods and realized into the related techniques.  Thus, understanding this history plays a significant role dealing with the betterment of language teaching.

Language teaching methods have evolved rapidly for years especially in the twentieth century. In the early development of language teaching, the use of method was strictly restricted. Teachers used a particular method exclusively ignoring the contextual situation of the teaching-learning process. The teacher who used Grammar Translation Method, for instance, would keep using it ignoring whom they taught or the materials being presented. He would use the structural approach even though in the elementary students who would certainly get difficulties in catching the complex materials focused on structures.

In the last years, however, the trend changed. The use of language teaching methods has been unified and comprehensive (Brown, H. Douglas, 1994:13). Teachers begin to consider some contextual situations of teaching and are not fanatic with a particular approach. They seek the best method which suits with the students they teach and the materials being presented. The linguists are more open and they don’t force teachers to use one method to achieve the goal of teaching language.

The changes and innovations in language teaching in the twentieth century are specifically related to the development of language teaching methods. Many methods were born and disappeared in this century. This development was the results of the linguists’ effort how to achieve the goal of language teaching effectively. The shift from Grammar Translation Method to the Direct Method, for instance, was the effort of applied linguists to make language teaching more effective. They weren’t satisfied with GTM which couldn’t make students speak and use target language. On the other hand, the Audio-lingual Method which was popular in the early part of the twentieth century was left by its supporters as it didn’t give the meaningful learning for students. As long as applied linguists continue their trials to make language teaching more effective, the changes and innovations in language teaching methods will never stop.

There are many factors causing the up and down of a particular language teaching method. The most influential one is the reflection of the change in language theory. The birth of new language theory will certainly bear new language teaching approaches, methods and techniques. Functional view in language teaching, for instance, makes people believe that language is the vehicle for the expression of functional meaning. They leave the belief that language is a system of structurally related elements for coding and meaning (Richards, Jack C. and Theodore S. Rodgers, 2001:20). This shift certainly supports the emergence of Wilkin’s Notional Syllabus and the English for Specific Purpose Movement. These methods don’t begin from a structural theory of language but from a functional account of learner needs.

The development of language learning theory is another factor causing the changes and innovations in language teaching method. Richards, Jack C. and Theodore S. Rodgers (2001:22) said that language learning theory may respond two questions: a) what are the psycholinguistics and cognitive processes involved in language learning and b) what are the conditions that need to be met in order for these learning processes to be activated? The belief that language learning will take place if language learners maintain their feeling of security, for instance, is the foundation that laid Community Language Learning. On the other hand, Silent Way comes from the assumption that learning is facilitated if language learners discover rather than repeat and remember without understanding what is to be learned. The vast development of language learning theory obviously contributes the changes of language learning method.

The issue of what kind of proficiency learners need has become another factor dealing with the changes of language teaching method. In the nineteenth century, many linguists thought that students should learn the grammar of Greek or Latin in sake of being “scholarly” or for gaining a reading proficiency in those languages. Then language was taught through rote learning of grammar rules, study of declensions and conjugations, translation, practice in writing sample sentences, parallel bilingual texts and dialogues. Those were actually the basic principles of Grammar Translation Method. In subsequent years, when the linguists from Reform Movement criticized this method, this belief changed. They proposed that students should learn the spoken language initially and the development of phonetics field should become the basis of language teaching. It showed that the kind of proficiency played a significant role in the evolution of language teaching method.

Despite of this advanced development, the changes and innovations in language teaching methods mentioned previously are not actually new as the ideas had been discussed and asked by many linguists in the early development of language teaching. Some new methods actually took some positive aspects from the previous ones. Marckwardt, Albert as quoted by Brown, Douglas H (1994:16) saw “these “changing winds and shifting sands” as a cyclical pattern in which a new method emerged about every quarter of a century. Each new method broke from the old but took with it some of positive aspects of the new previous practices.” The example of this cycle is Audiolingual Method which borrowed theories from its predecessor the Direct Method by almost half a century while breaking away entirely from the Grammar Translation Method. Within a short time, however, ALM critics were advocating attention to thinking, to cognition, and to rule learning, which return to Grammar Translation principles.

Through this way, language teaching method will never stop evolving and seeking the most effective way to carry out the language teaching processes.


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