I first learned English when I was five years old. In 1995, my family immigrated to B.C., Canada and was able to learn English as my second language. Since I was young, I was able to learn English fast and became fluent within several years. From my memory, I was in a kindergarten class with other students but occasionally went to the ESL class several times a week. My ESL teacher was an old lady who taught me from ABCs. At first, she taught me one on one and when I was learning grammar I was in a group of 3-5 students. Quarter of the students in my kindergarten class (not ESL class) were Asian but most of them were second or third generation immigrant children. Their first language was English and did not speak their heritage language at all. This might be the reason why despite the big number of Asian students, ESL class was rather small. I benefited a lot from the ESL class and I really thank my teacher Mrs. Kerkum.
I lost most of my memories of my ESL class but I do remember that “direct method” was used. Direct method is also known as the ‘oral’ or ‘natural’ method. The direct method is named “direct method” because meaning should be connected directly with the target language without translation into the native language (Freeman, 2000). Since English was only used to teach in class, there was no way to translate into my native language. Also, the main purpose was to teach communicative skills (Larsen-Freeman and Anderson, 2011).
The theoretical assumption is that language can be learnt only through demonstration. Instead of analytical procedures of explaining grammar rules, students must be encouraged to use language naturally and spontaneously so that they induce grammar (Richards and Rogers, 1986). I did not know the terms ‘present participle’ but was rather introduced to find “Mrs. ING.” The teacher showed me a picture of an old lady who had a cane that was written “-ing.” Whenever the teacher shows Mrs. Ing, it means that I should be using the –ing form. This way of teaching grammar helped me in naturally learn the language.
The Direct Method continues to provoke interest and enthusiasm today, but it is not an easy methodology to use in a classroom situation. It requires small classes and high student motivation, and in the artificial environment of a classroom it is difficult to generate natural situations of understanding and guarantee sufficient practice for everyone. Brown (1994) points out that direct method did not take well in public schools where the constraint of budget, classroom size, time and the teacher background made it difficult to use. And especially in an Asian context where English is learned as a foreign language, the purpose of language learning is to take a test and get a good mark. It helps them to go to good school and get good jobs. So, in terms of limited resources and since the purpose of language learning is not for communication, direct method cannot be seen as a realistic way of learning a second language.
However, variants of this method have been developed where the teacher allows limited explanations in the student’s native language and explains some grammar rules to correct common errors a student may make when speaking.
Brown, D. H. (1994). Teaching by Principles. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall Regents.
Brown, D. H. (2000). Principles of language learning and teaching (4th ed.). New York: Longman.
Freeman, D. L. (2000). Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching. Oxford University Press.
Larsen-Freeman, D. & Anderson, M. (2011). Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching, 3e. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
Richards, J. C. & Rogers, T. S. (1986). Approaches and methods in language teaching: A description and analysis. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.