The modern world has transformed from the days when people learnt, spoke and conducted all necessary activities in their maternal language; it is now a multi lingual society. Until the sixteenth century, Latin was the most common foreign language taught in various countries. French, English and Italian soon took over when Europe underwent political transformations and Latin became an optional language in schools.
In order to effectively teach the foreign languages, the language instructors used the approach of analyzing classical Latin works in terms of the rhetoric and grammar used. All students in England’s grammar schools went through painstaking sessions of syntax, conjugation, translation and oral or written exercises to master whichever foreign language they were learning. The concept of teaching foreign language through Latin grammar and translation had become the norm in schools by the nineteenth century . This was the grammar-translation method which focused on theory than oral aspects of a foreign language.
Setting up a proper methodology for teaching language requires one need to carefully pick what will be taught, putting limits on it, organizing the material to be taught in such a way that it inculcates all four areas of learning; listening, reading, speaking and writing. This prompted reforms from the scholars about how foreign language should be taught. They came up with a new approach of teaching known as the direct method. It is a naturalistic way of learning a language which presents similar settings to those when one is learning his first language; through oral interaction.
This form of teaching was embraced by France and Germany because the oral sessions were interactive with the teachers and students asking and answering questions. The words taught were mostly those used in every day communication and interactions. Phonetics classes ensured proper pronunciation while morphology and syntax enhanced grammar. The guiding principles for teaching oral lessons as employed in Berlitz schools were as follows: demonstrate not translate, use sentences instead of single words, let the students do much of the talking and finally use a lesson plan instead of relying on the textbooks to teach. It worked in the private schools but posed a lot of challenges in the public schools hence led to integration of both methods for effective teaching and learning.
A third method soon came up during the 20th century; the audio-lingual method. It sought to make learning a foreign language reachable by any group of students by focusing on the syntax than the semantics and morphology of a language. With its base in linguistics and psychology, it advocated for language to be taught in a descriptive and structural way using stimulus, response and reinforcement. Mastering the components of a language from the phoneme to a sentence enables effective teaching and learning. It also focused on the four skills of listening reading, writing and speaking. Dialogue was encouraged hence students spent hours in the language laboratories doing drills and mimicry. The only setback of this method was its theoretical approach and that students were unable to transfer the classroom knowledge to everyday communication.
There was still a gap in language teaching which led to introduction of a fourth method known as the communicative approach. It incorporated linguistics, sociolinguistics and philosophy to make the process of teaching a language concentrate on effective communication than on the composite structures like syntax and morphology. The four skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening were intertwined to ensure holistic teaching and learning. The students were presented with real life settings in which they attempted to communicate with each other as they performed the tasks. The teacher had responsibilities such as guide, counselor, analyst and organizer. This method was widely accepted and used in many school settings as it made the lessons interesting and lively. The students mastered the basics of a language while at the same time communicated effectively. The only concern was whether it could apply to all levels of teaching and modes of evaluation.
Teaching a language is usually based on three concepts; science research, theory-philosophy and art-craft concepts. In both science-related and philosophy-theory, focus is on the teachers understanding the required learning principles and come up with tasks and activities that conform to these principles. Science-research however focuses on students’ performance while theory philosophy focuses on teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom . The art-craft concept is focused on taking each learning session as a unique experience; the teacher identifies factors that set apart the various situations and uses a variety of teaching strategies. New methods are experimented on while those that are not workable are modified to meet the expected standards.