Join hundreds of MFL teachers in the TES MFL group. Find lesson ideas and inspiration, share best practice and get your questions answered by peers. This is also the place to go to debate the latest issues in MFL.
I'd like to strat a thread on some basics about language teaching as I get the impression that we work from all kinds of differerent theoretical and methodological backgrounds.
Are PGCE students taught the basics of second language learning theory and approaches these days? Have they learned about, for example, direct/natural method, the traditional British oral/situational approach, the audio-lingual approach of the 1940s to 1960s, the functional-notional approach? Have they evaluated the merits and demerits of the grammar-translation approach?
Because I do wonder on what many of us base our practice.
I'll come clean. I was taught using the Mark Gilbert oral approach ( a kind of structured, situational direct method) . This was reinforced when I did my PGCE and later MA at London University. This approach made theoretical sense to me. It had a rationale and seemed to work in practice, at least with relatively able children.Over the years I have stuck to it to a large degree (and many teachers use this approach, even if they cannot put a name to it), though I have become more pragmatic and am happy to dip into grammar-translation, especially at A-level, and many aspects of the communicative approach.
I do feel that I have a "method" and I know why I am using it. I also know that are many ways to skin a cat and that teachers should use what works. But I do think we should have that theoretical underpinning to justify what we do.
My PGCE (St Martin's 1990) was totally "communicative approach" which I was happy to adopt, although it did not square at all with my own personal experience of language learning, which was heavily grammatical-translation.
Over the years, I reckon I've developed a synthesis of various approaches - there are certain aspects of my teaching which are recognisable as "St Martin's Communicative Approach", but also aspects which are grammatical and translation based. Increasingly, I find myself asking pupils to compare languages (often English with French, but also bringing in other languages they know), and I find that certain pupils really respond to this comparative approach.
I suppose our "methodology" will always reflect (to some extent) what we have experienced as having "worked" for us. Personally. I know that colour-coding gender, for example, works effectively for me, so therefore it seems only natural to share that with my pupils - and some respond better to it than others.
spsmith45I was taught using the Mark Gilbert oral approach ( a kind of structured, situational direct method)
Interesting - are there any links you can give us for further reading?
Petite Joueuse My PGCE (St Martin's 1990) was totally "communicative approach" which I was happy to adopt, although it did not square at all with my own personal experience of language learning, which was heavily grammatical-translation.
Petite Joueuse(often English with French, but also bringing in other languages they know), and I find that certain pupils really respond to this comparative approach.
Petite JoueuseI suppose our "methodology" will always reflect (to some extent) what we have experienced as having "worked" for us. Personally. I know that colour-coding gender, for example, works effectively for me, so therefore it seems only natural to share that with my pupils - and some respond better to it than others.
There is a very good article by Wilfried Decoo that summaries all the different approaches that have been in vogue since the 19th century:
Decoo W. (2001) On the mortality of language learning methods. Paper given as the James L. Barker lecture on 8 November 2001 at Brigham Young University.
It used to be available at his website, but recently I have only been able to find it in the Wayback Machine. I can send you a copy by email - you can contact me via my website athttp://www.camsoftpartners.co.uk
BTW, I was trained in the mid-1960s, when the audio-lingual and Structuro-global audio-visual approaches were in vogue.
This is a good idea, Steve.
Having now spent as long out of teaching as I spent as an MFL teacher (it's been 8 years now - I only taught for 7), I have to admit that I'm curious as to what is considered best practice, or even good practice, in a typical MFL lesson these days.
What does a typical lesson sequence look like (in terms of activities) for beginners in year 7? For GCSE students in year 10?
I'm not talking about the song and dance spectaculars that we put on when we're being inspected. I mean proper lessons.
I found the Decoo article in the Wayback Machine (the Web Archive) at
(25 November 2011)
I think this article should be compulsory reading for teacher trainees.
The Wayback Machine, BTW, is an amazing archive of Web pages that are now dead. I have found a lot of lost sites there: http://www.archive.org/
Great stuff, Graham. I love the "Next method" at the end of the article:
following is fiction, to be situated somewhere in coming years. I quote from a
book someone will write some day.
decline of the prevailing methods around 2010 was due to the following:
There was too much dependence on personal initiative and learning
attitudes of the individual student, whereby only the very best became
successful. Scores of students were left drowning without buoys.
The method totally misjudged the mental expectations of students who
view school-bound learning within a framework of cognitive grip and clear
The method worked with a "real-world approach with authentic
texts" to avoid translation and grammar. However, many of the better
students were actually, after each lesson, spending excessive time and effort
in deciphering these authentic texts through translation in the mother tongue
and figuring out the grammar. The method thus encouraged doing what it
strongly pretended to avoid.
On the other hand, by telling students not to worry about detail or
precise comprehension or production, but to be satisfied with approximation,
the method fostered slovenliness among many other students.
Though the method had valid final objectives, it wanted to reach those
objectives much too quickly in non-intensive programs. It neglected gradation
and careful content-selection.
new approach stresses the following:
A deflation of the importance of oral skills: if students are not
needing immediate contact with natives, there is no reason to give absolute
priority to oral skills, which they can hardly practice outside class.
Moreover, a stronger receptive basis at first will facilitate the development
of oral skills at a later stage.
Therefore, since reading is the skill they can practice most outside
class, this skill must be stressed, starting from graded texts to ensure
fluency and contentment, to selected books, magazines and the Internet.
The writing skill has also gained in importance, because it allows
quick electronic communication with pen palls, chat groups and classes abroad.
Moreover, on the college level, the language curriculum requires many written
tasks at the upper level. Therefore, renewed attention is given to
"disembedded" language skills, i.e. grammatical analysis, especially
in those languages that require strong analytical reflexes to write correctly
because of agreements and various syntactical spellings for the same sound.
While for several decades language learning has been viewed as only
functional, its complementary value for intellectual development has been
partly restored: as a core subject on the curriculum, language lends itself
admirably to analysis and insight, to mental training, just like mathematics.
The famous slogan of the new approach is: 'It is an insult to civilization to
interesting exercise for students would be: jump 30 years further and describe
why this new approach failed around 2040.
Of course in Scotland, we are now defined in our delivery of ML by Curriculum for Excellence - many of the approaches I learned (if that's the right word) during my PGCE now seem stuffy when brought to the table of a "CfE lesson" even if I feel they have real educational value.
CheerieOf course in Scotland, we are now defined in our delivery of ML by Curriculum for Excellence - many of the approaches I learned (if that's the right word) during my PGCE now seem stuffy when brought to the table of a "CfE lesson" even if I feel they have real educational value.
Why? What does a "CfE lesson" look like?
mlapworthWhy? What does a "CfE lesson" look like?
I would really like to know that too.
I must admit I have become very cynical during the course of my life about the value of this or that approach to teaching foreign languages. I must have been exposed to at least a dozen different approaches as a learner (1953-1964) and as a teacher (1965-1993). All of them worked to some extent, although I think it was a question of the singer not the song that determined how well they worked. As a novice teacher I became very despondent when I got poor results using the audio-lingual and SGAV approaches in the 1960s - which my HoD insisted on all MFL staff using. Then, as I became more experienced, I realised that they were simply not my style. Finally, I developed my own style of bumbling eclecticism, and I got better results.
Do read the Decoo article. He is pretty cynical too. An approach or a method is in vogue for around 20-30 years, i.e. around the same time as a teacher's career. Publishers adapt their textbooks to whatever approach or method is in vogue at the time.
The Decoo article is fun. Thanks for posting. Though i thought he neglected the Bristish tradition after Henry Sweet. Jack Richards' book on approaches and methods in language teaching gives it more prominence.
An earlier poster asked for a reference to the London University approach espoused by Mrs Hodgson in 1955, then later by teachers such as Mark Gilbert and Alan Hornsey.
Here is a summary:
This approach did draw on theory, but was (and is) also very pragmatic and can be combined with more adventurous communicative appraches. The Tricolore series of text books stands for this approach quite well with its rigororous selection and grading of language for presentation and practice.
But yes, Graham, I have become more cynical/felxible about methodology, although I cling to some basics: plenty of TL, a grammatical syllabus (at least in the school context), selection and grading, plenty of variety to avoid boredom.
I used to be more fundamentalist about pupils working out rules for themselves. Now I am fairly happy to present a rule, then practise it.
That link takes you straight to an extract from the Jack Richards book. I have just purchased it from Amazon.
mlapworthThis is a good idea, Steve.Having now spent as long out of teaching as I spent as an MFL teacher (it's been 8 years now - I only taught for 7), I have to admit that I'm curious as to what is considered best practice, or even good practice, in a typical MFL lesson these days.What does a typical lesson sequence look like (in terms of activities) for beginners in year 7? For GCSE students in year 10? I'm not talking about the song and dance spectaculars that we put on when we're being inspected. I mean proper lessons.
Ha ha! Not sure about a typical lesson, but to answer your question: in Y7 you may warm them up with an alphabet or days of thr week song, sit them down, tell them what they are going to achive that lesson, then do some oral repetition and rapid QA using a visual (usually ppt pictures these days), then get them into pairs to do something similar (maybe a simple game like who cannot say something first), then maybe some note taking and a little written task or task with the CD to reinforce the prior learning. Then maybe a little plenary (I'm not a fan of those really.)
Y10 would be much more variable, but would probably involve pair work, maybe whole class QA listening to CD, note taking from the teacher talking in the TL, paired dictation, oral grammar drills, note taking for a composition write up, in the ICT suite using TM3 (ha ha) or languagesonline.org.uk etc etc. Too varied to describe a typical lesson really.
One very good point Decoo makes in his talk is that when you are given a course based on a very specific method, you tend to adapt it for a more pragmatic use. A good case in point was the Longman Audio-Visual French course, very widely used in the 1980s. It was, as the name suggests, based on the audio-bisual/lingual approach, but was easily adaptable for an oral/situational approach.
I think it is easier to adapt a grammatical course to communicative methods than vice versa.
I was trained in 1991, and it was definitely the 'communicative approach' which was propagated. I taught in the 90's but always combined the communicative approach with grammar lessons. Now I've just returned to teaching after 10 years outside the classroom and I definitely feel that my methods are out of date. Part of me wants to learn all the lovely new methods, so that I can become a better teacher, and part of me is a little suspicious of them.
I was taught grammar when I first learnt English and I loved it. My dad spent 2 weeks explaining all the tenses to me and drilling irregular verbs and after that I felt that I basically had the English language sorted, apart from learning more vocab.
I've not heard of any of the other approaches mentioned in this thread - will definitely read the article. I keep hearing the other teachers talking about peer assessment, and about making the pupils more aware of how to get to the next NC level but adding connectives, varying their sentence constructions, making sure they add opinions etc - it just seems a bit like jumping through hoops. And all this stuff about LOs - I have a LO in every lesson now, but I don't see why every lesson has to have a cut-and-dried LO that every pupil achieves at the end - surely some lessons can just be spent on improving various aspects of language learning. You end up feeling guilty about spending 10 minutes of the lesson doing something different, because you're not working on your LO. And it means less target language is being used because you're constantly having to explain what you're trying to achieve - which is kind of self-evident - you're aiming to improve their knowledge of the language.
And all the technology - I'm supposed to use my smartboard all the time, and I do, but why would that revolutionise my language teaching and be so much better than an OHP?
I do love the way I can just go onto the internet and get a song or another piece of authentic language and use that in my lesson - projected onto the smartboard - that used to be a lot harder. And there's such a wealth of websites and materials out there that I just feel swamped - after a while you just forget what's out ther because there's so much of it, it's like a junge.
I loved both the Decoo article and mlapworth's continuation of both - thank you both very much. It's not only trainee teachers but also SMT types and Ofsted inspectors who should be compelled to read both.
My best lesson last week (AS German) dealt with a short text. We picked out the 18 verbs, found their principal parts, wrote them up in a table, and discussed what the use of those verbs told us about the imperfect and pluperfect tenses, modals, separable and inseparable, and the verb's position in both main and subordinate clauses, amongst other things. Questions designed to manipulate the structures without lifting directly from the text were used to test both comprehension and use of German. I had no lesson plan to stick to, no whiteboard (well every room has one but I didn't use it), but at the end had achieved what I had set out to do (i.e. met my objectives or outcomes of whatever it is) by having a lesson concentrating entirely on the use of the German language and its grammar and a very good response from the clientèle (best not to use the German word for that in front of those with no knowledge of German) whose confidence had improved.
The book used for the text was on old O level one from 1982: In your own words: German by Stan Gregory, bought for under £3 on Amazon Marketplace, a real bargain. Good, old fashioned concentration on the language - as it should be. Bliss.
Siegen81to82I loved both the Decoo article and mlapworth's continuation of both - thank you both very much.
I should just point out that I was quoting directly from the article. Good though, isn't it?
Oh yes, and you proved that there's nothing new under the sun: it's all been done before in a different guise and gets recycled every now and again with a new name and a load of spin..
Top of page
TES Editorial © 2012 TSL Education Ltd. All pages of the Website are
reproduce, duplicate, copy, sell, resell or exploit any material on the
Website for any commercial purposes. TSL Education Ltd Registered in England (No 02017289) at 26 Red Lion Square, London, WC1R 4HQ