Approach, method and technique

Aproach, method and technique are the three term which are often overlapped in language teaching. People often mention one of them but they refer to another. Even, people tend to use the term method for all of the three. Some people think that they refer to the same concept: a procedure of teaching a language. Are the three terms the same or differents? Anthony (cited in Richards and Rodgers, 2001: 19) attemted to clarity this difference. According to Anthony, the three have hierarchical arrangement. Approach is the level of theories, method is the plan of language teaching which is consistent with the theories, and techniques carry out a method. In other words, the arrangement of the three is that approach is axiomatic, method is procedure and technique is implementational.

An approach is a set of correlative assumtions dealing with the nature of language and the nature of language learning and teaching. Approach is the level at which assumption and beliefs about language, language learning and language teaching. Different people may agree with different beliefs and assumtions dealing with the nature of language, learning and teaching. Assumptions or beliefs may be taken for granted. People do not have to come to an agreement about the assumtions. Therefore, in language teaching there are different assumtion about language and language teaching. Richard and Rodgers (2001: 20-21) states that at least there are three different views of the nature of language, namely: the structural view, the functional fiew (or national view) and the interactional view. The structural view sees language as a system of structurslly related elements. The functional view regards language as a vehicle for the expression of functional  meaning. This view embhasizes not only elements of grammar as the structural view does but also topics or concepts that language learners need to communicate about. The third view is the interactional view, the view that language is a vehicle for the realization of interpersonal relations and social interactions betwewn individuals. The three differents views of the nature of language will lead people to have different assumtions about what language is and finally will produce different methods in language teaching. For example, teaching methods that have been developed based on the structural view suggest language teachers to select their teaching materials based on grammatical considerations. They will select the elements of grammar and the put them in gradation for the whole plan of their teaching. The evaluation of the teaching and learning process will also be based on grammatical point of view. In consequence, the items of the test in the evaluation will be grammatically oriented. This is also the case with other methods that have been developed based on the other two views of the nature of language.

As mentioned earlier approach also includes assumtions about language learning and language teaching. Assumption about the nature of language in themselves are not complete and need to be supported by theories about learning or teaching. There are many theories of learning and teaching. Richard and Rodgers (2001: 22) suggest that a learning theory underlying an approach or method responds to two questions: 1. What are the learning 2. What are the conditions that need to be met in order for these learning processes to be activated. In general an approach has the answers to the two questions but certain methods may only emphasize one of the two dimensions. From assumptions about language and language learning a method will be developes. There can be many methods within one approach.

Differents methods derive from different theories or assumptions about the nature of language. The assumptions about the nature of language can be different because different people may agree with certain assumptions while some other people may agree with other assumptions. They do not have to argue why some other people agree with the assumptions that they may disagree. The assumptions bellow my be the common assumptions about the nature of language.

  1. Language is a group of sound with specific meaning and organized by gramatical rules (the silent way)
  2. Language is the everyday spoken utterance of the average person at normal speed (audio lingual method)
  3. Language is a system for the expression of meaning (communicative language learning)
  4. Language is a set of grammatical rules and language consists of language chunks (total physical response)

As stated earlier, principles in teaching a foreign language are developed from an axiom about language. The following principles have been developed from  an axiom that language is a group of sounds with specific meaning and organized by grammatical rules.

  1. The syllabus is composed of linguistic structures.
  2. Language is first learned as sounds and then associated with meanings.
  3. The repetition of the teaching materials is based on linguistic structures.

The three principles mentioned imply that the language teaching should be presented through a syllabus that is arranged based on grammatical point of view. The presentation of materials in teaching language is not always arranged in this way. In arranging teaching materials, there are some other ways, which are called types of syllabus. There are some types of syllabus, which have been developed from different assumptions about the nature of language, and each type of syllabus will characterize a method. The difference among them will be discussed later in this chapter.

Theories of learning and teaching also suggest the principles of a method. Richard and Rodgers (2001) state that the theories of learning and teaching may respond two questions, namely a) what language learning and b) what are the conditions that need to be met in order for these learning processes to be activated. The following assumptions relate to theories of learning and teaching.

  1. Learning is facilitate if language learners discover rather than repeat and remember without understanding what is to be learned (silen way)
  2. Learning involves the unconscious functions, as well as the conscious functions (suggestopedia)
  3. The norm of the society often block the process of learning (suggestopedia)
  4. Language learning will take place if language learners maintain their feeling of security (community language learning)
  5. Language learning is a process of habit formation (audio lingual method)

Assumption about learning and teaching, which have been developed from theories in psychology, seem to developed faster than those about the nature of language. The assumptions about learning mentioned above are not the only assumptions about learning. There are still some other assumptions that may be differents from one another; even one may be contracdictory to another. Together with the assumptions about the naturae of language, the assumptions about learning will differentiate one method from another. Some methods may have similar assumption, while some other methods have different assumptions.

How a assumption about language learning will be developed into the principles of a method will be presented as follows. For example. People who believe with an assumption that learning is facilitated if language learners discover rather than repeat and remember without understanding what is to be learned may develop the following principle.

  1. Language is taught with physical objects.
  2. Language is presented by problem solving involving the material to be learned.
  3. Meaning is made clear by providing contexts, not through translation.
  4. The student are provided with a lot of practice without emphasizing repetition.

The assumption about language learning that has been developed into the four principles may be developed into other principles depending on the teacher’s creativity and wxperience. The principles mentioned above are examples of how an approach is developed into principles that finally characterize a method in teaching a foreign language. Since there are many assumptions in language teaching, there are also many methods that people may agree or disagree.

As stated before, approach is the level of theories and method is the plan of language teaching that is consistent with the theories. Method should come after approach because the plan of language teaching should be developed from theories on the nature of language and language learning. Then, what does the term “method” mean? “method” may mean different things to different people (Mackey, 1975: 155). For some, it means a set of teaching procedures; for others, the avoidance of teaching procedures. For some, it is the primary of a language skill; for others, it is the type and amount of vocabulary and structure. Different meaning if “method” can be inferred from the names of the methods. The term “method” in the Direct Method may refer to a single aspect of language teaching: presentation of material. “method” in the Reading Method refers to the emphasis of a single language skill: reading, while in the grammar translation method “method” refers to the embhasis of the teaching materials.

According to Mackey (1975: 157), all teaching, whether good or bad, must include some sort of selection, some sort of gradation, some sort of presentation, and some sort of repetition. It includes selection because we cannot teach the whole aspects of language; we have to select the part that we wish to teach. It includes gradation because we cannot teach all of what we have selected at once; we have to put something one afther another. It also includes presentation because we cannot teach the language without communicating it to other people; we have to present what we have selected to others. Finally it includes repetition because we cannot make other people learn the language without repeating the materials they are learning; we have to teach language skills with practice; all skills depend on practice. Therefore, all methods should include the four steps of teaching a language. Any method should include the four steps: slection, gradation, presentation and repetition. Some “method” may include only one or two of the four steps. Such “methods” may not be regarded as methods. They may refer only to teaching techniques. They may refer to techniques of selecting language materials, such as the grammar method or the reading method. Those “method” do not include selection, gradation, presentation and repetition of language materials. Some of the “methods” may not be considered as methods, in the sense that they do not include all of the four steps mentioned above. Following the discussion above, many traditional methods may be considered techniques; they may be techniques of selecting materials, techniques of presenting material, or techniques of evaluating the materials that have been learned.

A method, which is developed based on some assumptions of an approach, includes the whole plan for the presentation of language materials. Since the plan is developed based on the same assumptions, no part of the plan contradicts and all parts make a unity. The unity of a method makes the method distinctive. Even though some assumptions of two different methods may derive from the same theories. How little the difference is will make the unity of a method different from others. To mention some, the methods that have the whole plan for the presentation of language material are Audio Lingual Method, direct method, silent way, Total physical response, community language learning, and suggestopedia. Another way of looking at method in language teaching has also been suggested by Richard and Rodgers (2001). They state that at the level of design the objectives of language teaching, language syllabus, content are determined. At the level of design the roles of language teachers, intructional materials are also specified. A method is theoretically related to an approach, organized by the design, and practically realized in procedure. Using Richard and Rodgers’ terms, method includes approach design and procedure. Even though their description of method is a different from anathony’s, basically the two are similar, in the sense that a method should include assumptions about language and language learning, and it will be realized in a set of techniques of presenting materials to language learners, which is often called procedure. The difference between methods can be easily observed from their techniques. What is a techniques then? The following discussion will describe what is meant by technique.

As mentioned earlier, a technique is implementational, meaning that a technique is something that actually takes place in language teaching or learning in the classroom. All activities that take place in a language class are techniques. The following are some examples of techniques in error correction/

  1. The teacher does not praise or criticize so that language learners learn to rely on themselves (silent way)
  2. The teacher often praises when a student has made a good thing in learning (audio lingual method)
  3. When a student has produced a wrong expression, the teacher just repeats the right one (total physical response)
  4. The teacher does not care when a student makes an error as long as it does not hinder communication (natural method)

Techniques are not exclusive to certain methods. To some extent, different methods may have some similar techniques even though they must have other different techniques. Language teachers may develop their own techniques as  long as the techniques are still consistent with the assumptions or theories of the methods from which the techniques derive. Techniques not only include the presentation of language material but also the repetition of the material. Therefore, the position of a technque is at the implementation phase and it is often called procedure while approach and method are at the level of design (Richards and Rodgers, 2001: 20). Since techniques are also developed from an assumption (s) about the nature of language, they will also deal with how the teaching materials are selected, which is often called syllabus. Language syllabus will guide language teachers to decide what to teach (selection), the order in which it is taught (gradation), how meaning or forms are convered (presentation), and what to be done to master a language (repetition). Since language syllabus is essential in understanding teaching methods, which will be presented in the next modules, types of language syllabus are discussed in this module.

There are at least six types of language syllabus (Reily, 1988). The difference is shown basically based on the criteria for grading and squenching the units of second language classroom activity. There are options in the units to be adopted. Units can be based on an analysis of the language to be learned, in terms of grammatical structures or of lexical interns. Units may also be based on an analysis of the components of skilled behavior in the second language. Following are the six types that are commonly implemented in language learning.

  1. A structural syllabus. The content of the language teaching is a collection of the forms and structures of the language being taught. Example include nouns, verbs, adjectives, statements, questions, subordinate clauses, and so on.
  2. A notional/functional syllabus. The content of the language teaching is a collection of the functions or the  notions that are performed when the language is used. A notional syllabus may cover functions of the language such as greeting, apologizing, requesting and informing, and it may include the notions of language such as age, color, comparison and time.
  3. A situational syllabus. The content of the language teaching is a collection of imaginary situation where the language is used. A situational syllabus may include at a restaurant, at schools meeting a new neighboor and seeing a doctor.
  4. A skill based syllabus. The content of the language teaching is a collection of specific skill in using the target language. Examples of skills in using the target language may include reading for the main idea, writing good paragraphs, and listening for the main idea.
  5. A task-based syllabus. The content of the language teaching include a series of purposeful tasks that language learners need to perform; tasks are defined as activities that are needed when using the target language. Example of a task-based syllabus may include applying for a job, ordering food via the telephone and getting housing information over the telephone.
  6. A content-based syllabus. A content-based syllabus in language teaching is actually not a language syllabus. The primary purpose of instruction is to teach some subjects or information using the target language. The subject is primary and language learning occurs autoatically while language learners are studying the subject. An example of a content-based syllabus is a science class that is taught in the target language.

The choice of a syllabus is a major decision. Even though there are six types language syllabus in practice, there are combinations of two or more of the types discussed above. The choice really depends on the method that has been developed based an assumption about the nature of language. Besides determining the type of language syllabus, assumption both about language and language learning in approach also determine the roles of language teachers and language learners.

The roles of language teacher are also regarded as techniques, which have been developed based on assumptions introduced in approach. As discussed earlier, the assumptions about the nature of language and the assumptions about language learning will determine all plans of the language teaching which is called a method. How an approach views the nature of language will determine how a language teacher should perform his or her roles. And, how an approach believes about the conditions that promote language learning will also determine the roles of language teachers. Principally, language teachers have two functions: the instructional function and the managerial function (Wright, 1987: 52). The two functions complement each other; the former would be more or less impossible without the latter. In practice, it is difficult to sparate the two and language teachers can perform both functions simultaneously. Some methods may suggest the language teacher to perform the instructional function more than the managerial one, while some other methods may encourage the language teachers to function as the manager of the classroom more. In some methods the role of a language teacher is very dominant while in some other methods the teacher role is less dominant in instructional strategies. As stated in Richard and Rodgers, (2001: 28), some methods are totally dependent on the teacher as a source of knowledge and direction; others see the teacher’s role as catalyst, consultant, guide and model for learning. Understanding the roles of language teachers will be important for understanding the methods, which will be discussed in most of the next chapters. Following are the most common roles of language teachers, which are implemented in different methods.

  1. Language teacher functions as an organizer in the classroom. The teacher maintains discripline to the extent that an effective learning atmosphere is established. It can be done by involving the learners more actively in the classroom activities that demand inter-student communication and co-operative efforts.
  2. Language teacher functions as a counselor. The teacher role is to respond the learners’ problems nonjudmentally and help the learners to reach what they want to learn.
  3. Language teacher functions as a motivator; the language teacher gives praise and encourangement for positive efforts by the learners. It can be done by giving positive feedback on returned assignments.
  4. Language teacher function as an observer. The teacher shows the errors that the learners have produced and let the learners work on the correction.
  5. Language teacher function as a model for producing correct expressions and judges whether the learners’ contribution to the learning process and their efforts are relevant and correct.
  6. Language teacher function as a resource of knowledge and direction. The teacher establishes a position of dominance over the learners in selecting the materials to learn and also how to acquire them.

The teacher role will determine the role of language learners automatically. When a language teacher is very dominant, language learners will be less dominant in learning teaching interaction. Some methods have been criticized for making language learners stimulus-respone mechanisms whose learning is a result of repetition. Language learners will be more active in learning when a language teacher can be less silent in the classroom. The role relationship of language learner and teacher are many and varied from one method to another. Some methods suggest that they should be in an equal position but in some other methods the role of the language teacher is regarded as the primary source of skills and knowledge in language learning. Johnson and Paulston (cited in Richards and Rodgers, 2001: 28) suggest five possible learner roles that can make language learners more autonomous. Following are the roles of language learners, which are suggested by advocates of different methods.

  1. Learners plan their own learning program and thus untimately assume responsibility for what they do in the classroom.
  2. Learners monitor and evaluate their own progress.
  3. Learners are members of a group and learn by interacting with others.
  4. Learners tutor other learners.
  5. Learners learn from the teacher, from other student, and from other teacher sources.

A number of ways of conceptualizing approaches, methods and techniques may have been proposed. Different people may have different ways of conceptualizing them. Understanding how people conceptualize the term will provide language teachers with a clearer picture of language teaching methods. This understanding may avoid the teacher from misunderstanding the concepts among themselves. Following certain methods, language teacher may be expected to develop their own techniques by considering the underlying principles of the methods. Approaches and methods are relatively permanent but techniques may be adapted to the environment og the language learners and language teachers. The procedure of a method, which comprises a set of techniques, may not be fixed even though the assumptions of an approach and the basic principles of a method are relatively fixed.


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