A Brief Note about the Direct Method


Nowadays, the field of foreign language teaching has a very important position since people are now living in a global-world which doesn’t have the border anymore in individual interaction. The emergence of internet and electronic media in the twentieth century has successfully made the change of how people interact with others in different places and chances.  People are now able to communicate and acquire information from many different places and sources worldwide easily by clicking the computer or any other gadgets. Of course, these sources are available if they could master many important foreign languages such as English, French, Mandarin, Arabic, etc.

To support this change many applied linguists have done a great number of researches on making foreign language teaching more effective and efficient. Their works had made the field of foreign language teaching more prospective and challenging. Many language teaching models and methods are proposed to support people learn foreign languages faster than before. The private language teaching institutions mushroom. This field has really become a strong industry which involves thousand people worldwide.

One of the methods which appeared in the early development of applied linguistics is the Direct Method. This method was actually a reactive response to the rote teaching of the Grammar Translation Method which was the main language teaching method in the nineteenth century. Some linguists from ‘the Reform Movement’ criticized the practice of GTM as it’s not sufficient to make learners master foreign languages. Instead of teaching language elements and structures, they argued that teacher must begin with teaching conversation and other spoken activities. They believed that language teaching must be focused on using the language not knowing language, instead.

The Direct Method (DM) departs from the assumption that language is a communication tool. All teaching activities must support students to think and speak in the target language. Among other language skills, speaking has a special position as the experts believe that language is rather considered speech than written. As speaking is a central activity, this method stresses the use of correct pronunciation in speaking and teaching new vocabularies. In this case, it requires the near-native-competent teacher who really masters the pronunciation of the target language.

When DM was proposed in the late nineteenth century, the experts referred to the explanation from Franke (1884) about the psychological principle on the direct association between form and meaning of the word in the target language. He also gave theoretical explanation on teaching using the target language. This principle leads the teacher to use the direct demonstration technique when he or she explains the new materials instead of using translation technique. Diane Freeman Larsen (1992) highlighted that the most distinguishable thing from DM is its stress on the prohibition of the use of the translation when explaining the material.

Hassan Basarally (2010) stated that DM is relevant to one of the 12 principles of second language acquisition proposed by Douglas H. Brown; automaticity. Brown defined automaticity as “timely movement of the control of a few language forms into the automatic processing of a relatively unlimited number of language forms”. This principle can be achieved when language teaching is done unconsciously. The automaticity is the result of learning, repetition, and drilling. It forces the teacher to teach language actively in the classroom so the students can acquire the language easily.

The proponents of DM believe that the second language teaching is almost similar with the first language teaching so the teaching must be done as natural as possible. The learners acquire the language from the daily teaching and their interaction with the teachers and other students. The teaching is designed to be natural by providing the ‘nature’ into the classroom. Therefore, this method requires the high use of teaching media in the classroom.

The objective of the Direct Method is to train the learners think and speak the target language. This goal can be achieved by conducting the active teaching-learning process where the teachers are not allowed to translate the material to the first language. Instead of that, they use the teaching media such as realia, pictures, video, audio, body movement or the object itself. They also rather demonstrate and act the materials than translate or explain them. This natural classroom teaching-learning process is considered to be effective in making the learners think and speak the target language.

There are many techniques to make students active in the teaching-learning process. One of them is by doing Questions and Answers (Q&A) exercises. After the students have studied a particular passage, the teacher asks them some reading comprehension questions orally. Then the students answer them orally. Furthermore, they must be trained to speak as accurate as possible by using the self-correction technique. If their answer was wrong, the teacher might not judge immediately, but he ensured the students whether his answer was right or wrong, instead. If he didn’t recognize it, the teacher should offer the question to other students. When the right answer had been found, the first student had to answer the questions correctly. On this way, the students will be aware of their answer.

Some experts have compiled some techniques that can be used to achieve the goal of the Direct Method such as reading aloud, Question and Answer Exercises, Self-Correction, Conversation Practice, Fill-in-the-Blank exercise (for grammar material), map drawing, dictation, paragraph writing, etc. These techniques can be developed as long as the teaching is carried out as naturally as possible.

How about the syllabus and content organization? Different with GTM which focuses on linguistic elements, the DM focuses on contents. The syllabus is topical; each chapter talks about particular topics which are derived from daily life such as “In the Railway Station, “Summer and Spring”, “Taxi”, etc. In the end of the course, the students will have oral questions about the topic or retell it before other students. Or they may have written reading comprehension questions.

Teaching grammar is conducted inductively; the teacher begins with many examples related to the topic. The examples may come from the teacher himself or from his students. In the end, they make a conclusion based on the written examples. On this way, the students are trained to think and formulate the concept.


The use of the DM had already waned since the beginning of the twentieth century due to its lacks. One of the factors that makes people leave this method is that it doesn’t lay on a strong linguistic theory foundation. Besides, it requires the native teacher or the near-native-competent teacher. It also couldn’t be done in a big-size class, as the teacher should cover all students in an hour teaching-learning.

Nevertheless, we can still find many institutions which use this method in foreign language teaching with some modifications. One of them is Berlitz School of Language which has many branches worldwide. In Indonesia we have Pondok Modern Gontor which has more than ten branches and hundred affiliated schools nationwide. These institutions relatively succeed in applying direct method principles in foreign language teaching.

Sunday, January 06, 2013



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