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Philosophies: the Direct Method


The famous and hugely successful Berlitz Method helped pioneer what is now known by linguists as the Direct method. The direct method advocates that all language teaching is done through the target language only - the rationale is that students will figure out the rules of grammar from the language provided without overt explanation necessary. The direct method flew in the face of the traditional or 'classical' Grammar Translation method, where students had grammatical rules explained to them in their native language and then applied those rules to translating sentences between the target language and their native language... quietly... alone... sitting down. Nowadays, the Grammar Translation method is great for a worksheet but back in the day, it was the norm, and the direct method was a revolutionary breathe of fresh air. Today, there are a variety of methods which trace inspiration from the natural and communicative elements that were pioneered by the Direct method.

One example is the Audio-Lingual method, which also teaches through language immersion, but branches away from the Direct method with it's focus on grammar. The Direct method begins by teaching vocabulary and expects that grammar to develop from exposure and repetition. Whereas the Audio-Lingual method focuses on grammar, and expects that instead student vocabulary will develop through use. Although both methods have a penchant for verbal reinforcement i.e. repeat after the teacher.

The Direct method, and indeed language education owes a great deal to Maximilian Berlitz, who was born in Germany in 1852, from a family of teachers. He emigrated to the United States in 1870, and while teaching French he decided to hire a French assistant language teacher, a Frenchman by the name of Nicholas Joly from a friends recommendation. Only later did he discover, to his great distress, that Joly could not speak English. Because under the Grammar Translation method it was assumed that it would be near impossible for beginners to learn a language without having explanations in their native language. In a fateful turn of events, Berlitz fell gravely ill and had no choice but to leave his classes to the sole instruction of his ALT. Several weeks later Berlitz returned to discover the students responded positively to Joly's instruction given only in French. In fact they had developed beyond what would be expected with the classical method. This made way to the development of the Berlitz Method and the opening of the first Berlitz language school in 1878, which would later develop into an enormous corporate empire, and change the language education industry forever. Today the Direct method is essentially the standard method for most teachers and schools, and the basis of the assistant language teacher and immersion education industries.

So all you ALT's out there can use this story to convince your JTE's into letting you try your ideas in class more often. They just might revolutionize education forever!
Big up for the ALT's!

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