The Oral Approach or Situational Language Teaching is an approach developed by British applied linguist in the 1930s to the 1960s. While it is unknown for many teachers, it had a big influence on language courses till the 1980s. Textbooks such as Streamline English (Hartley and Viney 1979) was designed following the SLT approach principles.
The Oral Approach or Situational Language Teaching is based on a structural view of language. Speech, structure and a focus on a set of basic vocabulary are seen as the basis of language teaching. This was a view similar to American structuralists, such as Fries. However, what distinguishes The Situational Language Teaching approach is its emphasis on the presentation of structures in situations.
Vocabulary and grammar control
Situational Language Teaching is characterized by two major features:
- Focus on vocabulary and reading is one of the most salient traits of SLT. In fact, mastery of a set of high frequency vocabulary items is believed to lead to good reading skills.
- An analysis of English and a classification of its prominent grammatical structures into sentence patterns, also called situational tables, is believed to help learners internalize grammatical rules.
The behavioristic view of language learning constitutes the cornerstone of Situation Language Teaching. The approach gives primacy to the processes over the conditions of learning. The following processes are noted in this approach:
- The act of receiving knowledge or material
- Repetition to fix that knowledge or material in memory.
- The use of the knowledge or material in actual practice until it becomes a personal skill.
The behaviorist theory of learning is based on the principle of habit formation. Mistakes are banned so as to avoid bad habit formation. Following the premises of behaviorism, a teacher presents language orally then in written form.
The objectives of Situational Language Teaching involve accurate use of vocabulary items and grammar rules in order to achieve a practical mastery of the four basic skills. Learners must be able to produce accurate pronunciation and use of grammar. The ultimate aim is to be able to respond quickly and accurately in speech situations with an automatic control of basic structures and sentence patterns.
The syllabus, techniques and activities
Situational Language Teaching syllabus is designed upon a word list and structural activities. Grammar teaching involves situational presentation of new sentence patterns and drills to practice the patterns. the teacher moves from controlled to freer practice of structures and from oral use of sentence patterns to their automatic use in speech, reading and writing.
According to Situational Language Teaching, a lesson starts with stress and intonation practice followed by a revision and a presentation of new material (mainly structures or vocabulary). The teacher then proceeds to oral practice and drilling of the elements presented. Finally, the lesson ends with reading activity or written exercises.
Situational Language Teaching is still attractive to many teachers who still believe in structural practice of language. Its practicality in the teaching of grammar patterns has contributed to the survival of the approach until recently. Besides, its emphasis on oral practice still attracts support among language teachers.
Many premises underlying the approach have been criticized. For example Chomsky (1957) showed that the structural and the behavioristic approaches to language are simply incorrect as they do not explain the fundamental feature of language learning: the ability to create novel and unique sentences. Children do not acquire their mother tongue through repetition and habit formation. There must be, however, an innate predisposition that lead them to a certain kind of linguistic competence.
Read more on Situational Language Teaching. Check Richards & Rogers’ book: Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching (Cambridge Language Teaching Library)
To read more on Situational Language Teaching and other methods:
Richards, J. C. & Rogers, T. S. (1986). Approaches and methods in language teaching: A description and analysis. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Brown, H. D. (2000). Principles of language learning and teaching (4th ed.). New York: Longman
Chomsky, N. (1957) Syntactic Structures, The Hague: Mouton
Hartley, B., & Viney, P. 1978. Streamline English: Departures. Oxford University Press.
Wikipedia: Language Pedagogy