The Direct Method, also called Natural Method, was established in Germany and France around 1900. It appeared as an answer to the shortcomings of the Grammar Translation Method. It is a method for teaching foreign languages that uses the target language, discarding any use of mother tongue in the classroom. As teachers became frustrated with the students’ inability to communicate orally, they began to experiment with new techniques. The idea was that foreign language teaching must be carried out in the same way people learn their mother tongue!
- Translation is completely banished from any classroom activity. Classroom activities are carried out ONLY in the target language.
- Oral teaching comes before any other kind of reading and writing activities.
- Use of chain activities accompanied by verbal comments like ‘I go to the door. I open the door. I close the door. I return to my place. I sit down.’ (called the Gouin series)
- Grammar is taught inductively. (i.e. having learners find out rules through the presentation of adequate linguistic forms in the target language.)
- Use of realia to teach concrete vocabulary. Abstract vocabulary is taught through association if ideas.
- Emphasis is put on correct pronunciation and grammar.
- Teaching through modeling and practice.
The teaching techniques rely mostly on:
- Reading aloud,
- Question answer exercises,
- Conversation practice,
- Fill-in-the-blank exercises,
- and Paragraph writing.
Clearly the Direct Method is a shift away from the Grammar Translation Method. One of its positive points is that it promises to teach the language and Not about the language. More advantages can be listed as follows:
- It is a natural method which teaches language the same way the mother tongue is acquired. Only the target language is used and the learning is contextualized.
- Its emphasis on speech made it more attractive for those who have needs of real communication in the target language.
- It was one of the first methods to introduce the teaching of vocabulary through realia
In spite of its achievements, the direct method fell short of fulfilling the needs of educational systems. One of its major shortcomings is that it was hard for public schools to integrate it. As Brown (1994:56) points out, the Direct Method
” did not take well in public education where the constraints of budget, classroom size, time, and teacher background made such a method difficult to use.”
After a short popularity in the beginning of the 20th century, it soon began to lose its appeal because of these constraints. It then paved the way to the Audiolingual Method.
To read more on the Direct Method, 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
Wikipedia: The Direct Method