Saturday, May 9, 2009

Spanish Learning Chapter Thirteen

The Grammar Translation Method

The grammar translation method of second language acquisition is virtually the only method used in most language courses taught in classrooms all over the world. It is also known as The Classical Method. This method was developed over centuries to teach classical languages. Latin and Greek were seen as important "dead languages" to learn in order to read ancient texts, understand the origins and basics of the grammar and vocabulary of modern languages as well as the influences Latin and Greek had on them.

Literally, you learn through the memorization of grammar rules and lifeless vocabulary (not taught in the context of real life speech) how to translate and read a piece of written text. Latin and Greek are still taught this way today, the same way as they have been taught for centuries. So are most modern languages. You engage in an unimaginably boring process and somehow, though no one tells you how, you are supposed to arrive at the goal you are seeking in taking these courses: spoken fluency.

The reason The Grammar Translation by design does not work to give you any degree of spoken fluency is because it concentrates on short and long-term memory. You have to engage in intense memory work to try and recall the rules of translation. You also have to try and engage memory for the massive amount of vocabulary you must remember for the written tests within the course and to perform translation tricks.

This method is still taught today because "that's how we've done it all these years." More than 40 years of linguistic research in second language acquisition is totally ignored in favor of, "that is how we've always done it." Tradition and blind allegiance is a woeful combination.

If what you are seeking is real fluency in speech and listening comprehension, then this method doesn't work. There really is a natural progression to acquiring speech no matter if it's your first or second language. It involves developing a "speech center" in your brain that is not connected to memory. When you are shown a picture of a cat, immediately in your brain you can utter the word "c-a-t" in your native language. You did not engage in short or long-term memory work in order to do this. It comes automatically without translation or even thinking. You "just know" the word for cat in your native tongue when you are shown the picture.

That's what you are shooting for in true second language acquisition. Not memory recall as is involved in The Grammar Translation Method. What you want is thinking in the language. The Grammar Translation Method is not going to give you that.

The Direct Method

Realizing that The Grammar Translation Method of second language instruction did not work to impart spoken proficiency in the target language, in the late 1800's, The Direct Method surfaced in language instruction. The need for a system that worked to teach spoken competence is what drove those to create The Direct Method. What it entailed was methods of language acquisition that were more closely related to how first (native) languages were acquired. The main goal was to teach how to think in the second language and move as far away as possible from the harmful grammar-first approach. It did not seek to make constant references to one's first or native language, as does The Grammar Translation Method.

The Direct Method brought a new wave of thought into this type of teaching. The shift in philosophy of second language education led its proponents to believe that all instruction should be taught in the target language with no translation into the learner's native tongue. The emphasis was in forming connections between meaning and the one being learned. One of the major and famous advocates of The Direct Method was Charles Berlitz. His schools still employ this method and are famous worldwide.

The basic idea was to learn to think in the language one wanted to learn. This was to be done without relating the learner's first language to the second language at all. Through the use of picture and pantomime, meaning was to be conveyed. The objective was to make links between meaning and the target language. If you were shown a picture of a cat, the word c-a-t in English would not be used to help you learn that in Spanish, the word is gato. The picture would convey the meaning of the word spoken by the teacher.

A problem with The Direct Method is that it met with opposition in public schools that are governed by strong political forces. Second language learning, for communicative purposes, was never popular in education and especially in mainstream America. Budgets, time, classroom size, and teacher incompetence were all cited reasons for sending The Direct Method into decline in the public eye. It is still employed in private schools.

It is the basis for The Audiolingual Method of Second Language Instruction.

The Audiolingual Method

This method of second language instruction was a further development or evolution of The Direct Method. World War II rose up and slapped the U.S. government in its linguistically challenged face, waking it to the need and definite lack of language competency to deal with the other nations of the world. Apparently, the U.S. continues to find itself in this position with International conflicts. The lesson has to be relearned over and over again that bilingual fluency is crucial for Americans. Without it, other nations, some of which are our enemies, have the distinct advantage.

The Audiolingual Method incorporated much from The Direct Method. To that method, it added the concept of recognizing patterns within languages to try and teach communication ability within the target language. Drills and extensive repetition exercises were used to impart an "over learning" of the material that could impart the patterns of the language and, hopefully, make automatic responses within the minds of the student when hearing and speaking the language.

To facilitate this, one engages in a lot of memorization of dialogues in the target language, complex but useful drills, and grammar games. One technique used in this method, one that the Pimsleur Language products use, is the expansion or "backward build-up" drill.

This is where a sentence or new vocabulary word is broken down in parts or syllables. The student either starts from the end of the final word in a sentence and repeats each word within the sentence working backward or begins with the final syllable of the word and repeats each syllable, again working backward until the entire word is pronounced. This is highly effective when done correctly. You will see this used extensively in the Pimsleur and Learning Spanish Like Crazy courses.

The Audiolingual Method works and brings rapid success but is not without its critics. It was argued that this method was just rote memory work and did not take into consideration the emotional factors in second-language acquisition. This paved the way for newer methods.



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