There are many different methods used to teach languages. However, three methods enjoy significant use and dominate the language market. Each of these methods has distinct advantages and disadvantages. Although many language-training sources may speak about exclusive or unique approaches, with few exceptions they are using one of these three methods. Each is described below, then a comparison of the three is provided.
The Direct Method: This method is also known as the oral or natural method. It is based on the active involvement of the learner in both speaking and listening to the new language in realistic everyday situations. The process consists of a gradual acquisition of grammatical structure and vocabulary. The learner is encouraged to think in the target language rather than translate. He or she hears and uses the language before seeing it written. The writing is done with homework that reinforces what has been learned during the lesson.
The Grammar-Translation Method: This method grew from the traditional method of teaching Latin and Greek. The method is based on analysis of the written language using translation exercises, reading comprehension and written imitation of texts. Learning mainly involves the mastery of grammatical rules and memorization of vocabulary lists.
The Audio-Lingual Method: This method is also known as the aural-oral method. It is a self-teaching method. The learning is based on repetition of dialogues about everyday situations that are imitated and drilled to make the response automatic. Reading and writing are both reinforcements of what the learner practices.
This comparison indicates the results for a typical student applying the same amount of time and motivation to the learning (+ is above average and – is below average)
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The Direct Method gives the learner the ability to communicate quickly because he/she is encouraged to be creative during practice. It gives, by far, the widest range of capability to understand what another person says to you and in developing your capability to speak. This is the method of choice for instruction with a live trainer and where speaking and listening are most important.
The Grammar-Translation method requires the learner to spend a lot of time understanding the language structure. Listening and speaking suffer because of this. Understanding the structure is helpful in reading and particularly in writing. Grammar and vocabulary are emphasized throughout. This is the method of choice for large groups because control of the class is easier. It also is used when writing is most important.
The Audio-Lingual Method also allows the learner to communicate quickly but within the limited range that the repetition allows. It gives a good comprehension only if the speaker uses what the learner has studied. Reading is limited, and an understanding of how to use the language is very limited. This is the method that is used when a live trainer is not available.
ALTA creates customized training programs based on the Direct Method or the Audio-Lingual Method, or both for Blended Learning programs. The Direct Method is used for teaching oral skills in trainer-led programs. These programs are for training individuals or groups from any level of initial skill to any target level of performance. The trainer-led programs include placement tests, progress tests, and achievement tests to verify language skills improvement.
The Audio-Lingual Method is used for specialized programs that are not trainer-led, particularly at the lower levels of initial skill.