by Marc Anderson

Learn English with a Direct Way to Gain English Fluency

Woman pointing

One language sets you in a corridor for life.  Two languages open every door along the way. – Frank Smith, contemporary psycho-linguist from Harvard University

The Direct Teaching Method vs. the Grammar-Translation Method

Teaching online English (ESL) often uses the direct teaching method that began in 1900 in Germany and France. This method of teaching spread to the United States in the 1980’s.  The direct teaching method has also been called the “natural method of teaching”, “systematic teaching”, “explicit teaching”, and “active teaching”.  It is a teaching model that can be used to teach any subject. However, in this blog the topic of direct teaching will refer to ESL language teaching for the goal of English fluency.

The basic purpose of direct teaching is to teach students in a way that is similar to the way they have learned their native language. Listening and speaking skills are taught. The direct teaching method was created because there were teachers who felt there was a better way to learn English rather than to mostly study grammar and to spend a lot of time in translating vocabulary from the student’s first language to English. This second method is called the grammar-translation method. It teaches reading and written language skills.

History of the Direct Teaching Method and Its Success

The direct teaching method has positive effects on student learning.  The teaching is done in small ordered steps. You learn one skill or concept. Then you learn the next one. It also uses practice, and makes sure all students have successful practice before moving on to new or harder material.  Having students practice until they are successful helps students increase their self-concept. They feel better about themselves. They feel better about learning.

Today, the direct teaching method is used all over the world. It is used in many online English programs.

What are the Advantages of the Direct Teaching Method?

Well, first off it has the advantage of teaching English by immersing the ESL student of any age in the English language.  The teacher uses the English language at all times for instruction and never uses the student’s native language.  The teacher uses pantomime (acting without words), real-life objects, and other visual materials to teach English concepts and vocabulary to students.  It is common for a student to hear correct grammar being used but not told the rules of grammar. Students learn grammar by listening and speaking naturally. Students are asked questions. They answer in English. The teacher makes sure there is sufficient practice before moving to the next skill.

Main Aspects for Direct Teaching When Applied to ESL Instruction

There are five main parts of the direct method of teaching ESL:  Show, Say, Try, Mold, and Repeat.  Let me explain each part.

The first part, Show – The teacher shows students something (a new word, number, alphabet character, phrase, sentence, concept, etc.) through actions. Or the teacher might show the real object or use a video, etc. to show it.  An example would be acting out the word “throw” by “throwing” a ball. Or the teacher could show a “rock” and say the word “rock” so the student associates the object with the word.

The next part is Say – The teacher pronounces (slowly and accurately) the new word, number, alphabet character, phrase, sentence, concept, etc. several times. The teacher uses whatever is being learned in many examples that the student can understand. The student practices the targeted item(s). The teacher makes sure the student has enough practice.

Try – The teacher waits while the student repeats the targeted item(s) several times.  If this is too difficult or the student cannot respond, the teacher repeats part 1 and 2 of the instruction above (Show and Say).  The teacher then waits for the student to pronounce the targeted item(s).

Mold – The teacher corrects the student’s pronunciation (if needed) by pointing to his/her mouth to show proper shaping of lips, tongue, and relationship to teeth.  Then the student repeats. The teacher continues to correct the student until the student can correctly pronounce the targeted item(s). The teacher gives praises and encourages the student. This helps increase the student’s interest, attention, confidence and perseverance in learning the English language.

Repeat – The teacher directs the student to repeat the response 5-20 times.  The teacher uses many different ways to help with the repetition: question and answer patterns, using the word in a sentence, explaining the word, conversation practices, among others.

Advantages of Direct Teaching – ESL Teachers’ Comments

Teachers who like the direct teaching method for ESL learning say that it actually teaches the English language. It does not focus instruction “about the language”.  It helps students develop English naturally. They think that students learn to speak and to communicate with English more quickly this way.  They feel that students can apply the English language to things in real life because they see visual examples.  Teachers who use direct instruction believe it is the best way to teach English and a great way to learn English online.

Advantages of Direct Teaching – ESL Students’ Comments

Many ESL students are happy with the direct teaching method. They say that they can learn English easier this way. They are proud of their listening and speaking skills. They feel that they have more vocabulary to use. These students believe that by using the English language that they have good grammar, and they can read and write so much better now. The ESL students like the repetition of the lessons. They like knowing something well before moving on to something new. The most important thing students like about direct teaching is that they speak English at least 80% of the time in every single lesson.  They are proud to have moved through the stages of English language learning:

  • Pre-production/early production (knowing1000 words)
  • Speech emergence (knowing 3000 words and being able to use simple questions and phrases)
  • Immediate fluency (knowing 6000 words and being able to use more complicated sentence structures; ability to share thoughts and opinions
  • Advanced fluency (able to function at a level close to native speakers)

Implications of Direct Teaching on Learn English Online Programs

Many online ESL language programs use the direct teaching method.  These programs focus on English language fluency in a positive and efficient way. The direct teaching method helps achieve this goal.  Learn English online programs are designed to be affordable. A learn English online program can work for any number of students at any given time.  It is available to students within the comforts of their own home or any other environment, and can be taught within a timeframe around the student’s schedule.

There are many options for on-line learning. These include the number, length, and time of classes per week; the type of instruction (general English language skills, English for business, TOEFL instruction, individual/group format, etc.); and the fee for services and materials.  Also, teachers hired (by these companies that offer learn English online programs) are carefully selected based on their teaching ability and native language speaking skills.  The language companies supervise and monitor the teachers. They also provide on-going staff development in the areas of best teaching practices for the most growth in all areas of English (ESL) language literacy: listening, speaking, reading and writing.

Conclusion

There are many ways to learn English as a second language.  The direct teaching method that is used in many learn English online programs has been proven to be highly successful.  The native English speaking teacher offers targeted instruction through a five part teaching method (Show, Say, Try, Mold, and Repeat). This helps the students to improve their speaking ability. Students talk at least 80% of each lesson. Teachers can individualize instruction to the skill level of the student. They can match instruction to the student’s interests and goals. Maybe a student wants to learn interviewing skills for a job or they might want to practice English to take the TOEFL test, etc. The direct teaching method can help each student succeed.

Through repetition and review, ESL students move through all stages of language development with more confidence. This helps them to be successful in the English language. This also helps them to reach their language learning goals.

If you haven’t tried to learn English online before, it just might be the right option for you now.  There are over one billion people learning English throughout the world RIGHT NOW, according to the British Council.  Close to 250 million of these people are learning English online through any number of programs available on the Internet. Of these, many are adult speakers who use English to communicate in their workplaces.  They are studying individually in their homes or as a group at their workplaces.

There has been an increase in using English language between nations where English is not the primary language.  In fact, it is only obvious that as the world becomes more globalized, that the number of English learners around the world will only grow further.

Businessman finding the solution of a maze

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Comments?

Please write to me using the comments section below and let me know your thoughts and experiences about the direct teaching of ESL.  Have you tried it?  What do you like about it?

Are you one of the millions of people who are learning English online?  What do you feel are the advantages?  What has helped you the most throughout your stages of English language learning?

Has your workplace offered English language instruction?  Have they offered online English training programs?  Do you see an increase in using English at your workplace?

Talk to me about any of these.  I am always interested in learning more about what I can do to help those who want to learn English online. I believe in Frank Smith’s quote: One language sets you in a corridor for life.  Two languages open every door along the way.  How about you?

About the author:

Marc Anderson is the co-founder and CEO of TalktoCanada. Since founding the company in 2006, he has grown it to over 25 staff with operations in 50 countries. Marc spends his time outside of TalktoCanada travelling, playing with his son and working on new business projects.