Direct Method as One of Language Teaching Approaches

Direct Method as One of Language Teaching Approaches

Compiled by:

  1. 1.      Pratiwi Lestari                       (06081001010)
  2. 2.      Rahmedia Alfi Rahmi           (06081001017)


1. Introduction

            English Language Teaching has been subjected to a tremendous change, especially throughout twentieth century. Perhaps more than any other discipline, this tradition has been practiced, in various adaptations, in language classroom all around the world for centuries. While the teaching of Maths or Physics, that is, the methodology of teaching Maths or Physics, has, to a greater or lesser extent, remained the same, this is hardly the case with English or language teaching in general.

2. The History of Direct Method

In the western world back in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, foreign language learning was associated with the learning of Latin and Greek, both supposed to promote their speakers’ intellectuality. At the time, it was of vital importance to focus on grammatical rules, syntactic structures, along with rote memorization of vocabulary and translation of literary text. There was no provision for the oral use of the languages under study; after all, both Latin and Greek were not being taught for oral communication but for the sake of their speakers’ becoming “scholarly?” or creating an illusion of “erudition.” Late in the nineteenth century, the classical Method came to be known as Grammar Translation Method, which offered very little beyond an insight into the grammatical rules attending the process of translating from the second to the native language.

It is widely recognized that the Grammar Translation Method is still one of the most popular and favorite models of language teaching, which has been rather stalwart and impervious to educational reforms, remaining standard and sine qua non methodology. With hindsight, we could say that its contribution to language learning has been lamentably limited, since it has shifted the focus from the real language to a “dissected body” of nouns, adjectives and prepositions, doing nothing to enhance a student’s communicative ability in the foreign language.

The last two decades of the nineteenth century ushered in a new age. In his the Art of Learning and Studying Foreign Languages (1880), Francouis Gouin described his “harrowing” experiences of learning German, which helped him gain insights into the intricacies of language teaching and learning. Living in Hamburg for one year, he attempted to master the German language by dint of memorizing a German grammar book and a list of the 248 irregular German verbs, instead of conversing with the natives. Exulting in the security that the grounding in German grammar offered him, he hastened to go to the university to test his knowledge but he could not understand a word. After his failure, he decided to memorize the German roots, but with no success. He went so far as to memorize books, translate Goethe and Schiller, and learn by heart 30.000 words in a dictionary, only to meet with failure. Upon returning to France, gouin discovered that his three-year-old nephew had managed to become chatterbox of French-a fact that made him think that the child held the secret to learning a language. Thus, he began observing his nephew and came to the conclusion that language learning is a matter of transforming perceptions into conceptions and then using language to represent these conceptions. Equipped with this knowledge, he devised a teaching method premised upon these insights. It was against this background that the series method was created, which taught learners directly a “series” of connected sentences that are easy to understand. For instance, I stretch out my arm. I take hold of the handle. I turn the handle. I open the door. I pull the door. Nevertheless, this approach to language learning was short-lived and, only a generation later, gave place to the Direct Method, posited by Charles Berlitz. The basic tenet of Berlitz’s method was that second language learning is similar to first language learning. In this light, there should be lots of oral interaction, spontaneous use of the language, no translation, and little if any analysis of grammatical and syntactic structures.

3. The Concepts

In short, the principles of the Direct Method are as follows:

  • Classroom instruction is conducted in the target language.
  • There is an inductive approach to grammar
  • Only everyday vocabulary is taught
  • Concrete vocabulary is taught through pictures and objects, while abstract is taught by association of ideas
  • The learner is actively involved in using the language in realistic everyday situations
  • Students are encouraged to think in the target language
  • Speaking is taught first before reading or writing
  • This method states that the printed word should be kept away from the second language learner for as long as possible
  • Translation is completely banished from any classroom activity. Classroom activities are carried out only in the target language
  • Use of chain activities accompanied by verbal comments like: I go to the door. I open the door. I close the door. I return to my place. I sit down. (called the Gouin series)
  • Grammar is taught inductively (i.e. having learners find out rules through the presentation of adequate linguistic forms in the target language)
  • Emphasis is put on correct pronunciation and grammar

The teaching techniques rely mostly on:

  • Reading aloud
  • Question answer exercise
  • Self correction
  • Conversation practice
  • Fill-in-the-blank exercise
  • Dictation
  • And paragraph writing

The key Aspects of this method are:

I. Introduction of new word, number, alphabet character, sentence or concept (referred to as an element):

• Show: point to visual aid or gestures (for verbs), to ensure student clearly understands what is being taught.

• Say: teacher verbally introduces element, with care and enunciation.

• Try: student makes various attempts to pronounce new element.

• Mold: teacher corrects student if necessary, pointing to mouth to show proper shaping of lips, tongue and relationship to teeth.

• Repeat: student repeats each element 5-20 times.

II. Syntax, the correct location of new element in sentence:

• Say and repeat: teacher states a phrase or sentence to student; student repeats such 5-20 times.

• Ask and reply in negative: teacher uses element in negative situations (e.g. “Are you the President of the United States?” or “Are you the teacher?”); students says “No”. If more advanced, may use the negative with “Not”.

• Interrogative: teacher provides intuitive examples using 5 Ws (Who, What, Where, Why, When) or How”. Use random variations to practice.

• Pronouns with verb using visuals (such as photos or illustrations) or gestures: teacher covers all pronouns. Use many random variations such as “Is Ana a woman?” or “Are they from France?” to practice.

• Use and questions: student must choose and utilize the correct element, as well as posing appropriate questions as Teacher did.

III. Progress, from new Element to new Element (within same lesson):

A. Random Sequencing:

1. After new Element (X) is taught and learned, go to next (Y).

2. After next Element is taught and learned, return to practice with first.

3. After these two are alternated (X-Y; Y-X; Y-Y, etc), go to 3rd Element.

4. Go back to 1 and 2, mix in 3, practice (X-Y-Z; Z-Y-X; Y-Y-Z, etc.) and continue building up to appropriate number of Elements (may be as many as 20 per lesson, depending on student, see B.1), practicing all possible combinations and repeating 5-20 times each combination.

B. Student-Led Limits:

1. Observe student carefully, to know when mental “saturation” point is reached, indicating student should not be taught more elements until another time.

2. At this point, stop imparting new information, and simply do Review as follows:

C. Review: Keep random, arbitrary sequencing. If appropriate, use visuals, pointing quickly to each. Employ different examples of Element that are easy to understand, changing country/city names, people names, and words student already knows. Keep a list of everything taught, so proper testing may be done.

D. Observation and Notation: Teacher should maintain a student list of words/phrases that are most difficult for that student. List is called “Special Attention List”

IV. Progress, from Lesson to Lesson:

• Lesson review: the first few minutes of each lesson are to review prior lesson(s).

• Global review: transition from Lesson Review to a comprehensive review, which should always include items from the Special Attention List.

V. Advanced Concepts:

• Intermediate and Advanced Students may skip some Element introduction as appropriate; become aware of student’s language abilities, so they are not frustrated by too much review. If Student immediately shows recognition and knowledge, move to next Element.

• Non-Standard Alphabets: Teaching Student to recognize letters/characters and reading words should employ same steps as in above Aspect I. and alphabet variations may be taught using Aspect III. Writing characters and words should initially be done manually, either on paper or whiteboard.

• Country Accents: Any student at intermediate stages or higher should be made aware of subtle variations in pronunciation, which depend on geography within a country or from country to country.

4. The Advantages

Clearly the Direct Method is a shift away from the Grammar Translation Method. One of its positive points is that it promises to teach the language and Not about the language. More advantages can be listed as follows:

1. It is a natural method. It teaches the second/foreign language in the same way as one learns one’s mother tongue. The language is taught through demonstration and conversation in context. Pupils, therefore, acquire fluency in speech. They are quick at understanding spoken English. They can converse in English with felicity and ease.


2. There is no gap between active and passive vocabulary. This method does not differentiate between active and passive vocabularies. According to this method whatever is required for understanding through English is also required for expressing through it. If English is taught through the mother tongue, the gulf between the active and passive vocabularies is widened. The learner acquires more of passive vocabulary because he concentrates on understanding English rather than expressing through it.
3. This method is based on sound principles of education. It believes in introducing the particular before general, concrete before abstract and practice before theory.


  1. Its emphasis on speech made it more attractive for those who have needs of real communication in the target language.


  1. It was one of the first methods to introduce the teaching of vocabulary through realia.

5. The Disadvantages

  1.  Major fallacy of Direct Method was belief that second language should be learned in way in which first language was acquired – by total immersion technique. But obviously far less time and opportunity in schools, compared with small child learning his mother tongue.
  2.  Is first language learning process really applicable to second foreign language learning at later stage
  3. First language learning is essential part of child’s total growth of awareness of world around him. He starts off with blank sheet, then starts collecting/selecting organizing the experience of a totally new world, perceived through his senses, by formulating a variety of pre-verbal concepts.
  4. Subsequently part of the process of learning how to live is the acquisition of skills to verbalize his desires and aversions and to label his concepts, so as to make living more sufficient and secure.
  5. Effectiveness of these verbalizing skills depends on maturation level of the child / on type of environment on intelligence.
  6. Language is part of an intrinsic process through which child learns to recognize/ deal with new situations.
  7. Compare learning of second language
  • At 11 years of age, child is not interested in recognition of new living situations; child has normally learned the basic concepts and can handle situations for ordinary living purposes. So as far as ‘learning to live’ is concerned, no similarities between two processes of learning (not the case for immigrant children – they need to learn English for survival purposes – therefore motivating force is totally different).
  • Older child has already at his disposal a first language, which is securely fixed to the universe of things; (s) he is equipped with this advantage; first language learner does not have this.
  • Older child is more mature and it would seem nonsensical to imitate first language learning processes totally for learning additional language (think of contact hours needed)  this is argument for using MT (anti Direct Method).
  • What does foreign language learner wish to know first?
  • To know the FL equivalent of MT sentences/ words used in hitherto familiar situations.
  • To learn how to handle certain known/ recurring situations through the medium of the FL. He doesn’t wish to handle completely new situations in FL terms.
  1. The Direct Method rejects use of the printed word – but this objection is illogical since second language learner has already mastered his reading skills.
  • Does printed word interfere with FL pronunciation? -In fact experiments show that the printed word is of real help to consolidate the FL and actually reinforces retention- leaves mental imprint, image of shape of word.
  1. Later disciples of Direct Method took it to extremes and refused to speak a single word of English in lessons. To avoid translating new words, they searched for an association between new words and the idea it stood for. Extreme Direct Methodists had cupboards full of realia. Explanations became cumbersome and time-consuming.
  2. Successful teacher of the Direct Method needed competence in his language / stamina/ energy/ imagination/ ability and time to create own materials and courses – beyond capacity of all but gifted few.

“The method by its very nature presupposes a teacher of immense vitality, of robust health, one endowed with real fluency in the modern language he teaches. He must be resourceful in the way of gesture and tricks of facial expression, able to sketch rapidly on the board and in the language teaching day, he must be proof against linguistic fatigue”.

  1. Also Direct Methodists failed to grade and structure their materials adequately – no selection, grading or controlled presentation of vocabulary and structures. Plunged pupils into flood of living language – quite bewildering for pupils.

However, many teachers did modify the Direct Method to meet practical requirements of own schools, implemented main principles, i.e. teaching through oral practice and banning all translation into target language. Obviously compromise was needed.

Direct method did pave the way for more communicative, oral based approach, and as such represented an important step forward in the history of language teaching.

Comparison of first and second-language learning processes (Language Teaching and the Bilingual Method, CJ Dodson, Pitman Publishing 1967, ISBN 0 273 31665 6)



If first and second-language learning processes are compared, the following pattern emerges:

First-language learner

1. He has no command of another language before learning the target language

2. He is neurologically immature, thus his mother tongue is not fixed

3. He learns to recognize and cope with reality through the target language

4. He requires a high contact-frequency with the target language to learn that all things have names

5. He requires a high contact-frequency with the target language to recognise the meaning of sounds representing the names of things, because he is neurologically immature because his range of experience with the outside world is limited and as he has no knowledge of the equivalent meaning of sounds from another language for the same things

6. He requires a high contact-frequency to establish integration of mother-tongue sounds with things

Second-language learner

1. He has command of another language before learning the target language

2. He is neurologically mature, thus his mother tongue is fixed

3. He learns to recognize and cope with reality through the mother tongue, not the target language

4. He already knows that all things have names

5. He has already experienced the process, involving high contact-frequency and maturation, of recognizing the meaning of sounds representing the names of things in his mother tongue. As he is now neurologically mature, he need not be subjected a second time to the same process in the new target language merely to recognize the equivalent meaning of target-language sounds for the same things. (Recognition of the sound representing the thing should not be confused With the integration of the sound with the thing, set

6. He has already established integration of mother-tongue sounds with things, but requires high contact-frequency to establish new integration of target-language sounds with the same things.

6. The Teachers’ Role

In direct method, teachers introduce a new target language word or phrase to the students and there is no mother tounge. Therefore, the role of the teacher is as demonstrator because the teacher demonstrates the meaning of words through the use of realia, pictures, or pantomime; they never translate it into the students’ native language. The teacher is also a facilitator because he facilitates the students with the target language. The teacher is the source for the students to know the words in target language. The teachers provide information of the target language including the culture consisting of the history of the people who speak the target language. The teacher is the partner of the students. Teachers interact with the students a lot, asking them questions about relevant topics and trying to use the grammatical structure of the day in the conversation.

The teacher can be the monitor of the students. He watches the students’ progress in using the target language. The teacher has the students self-correct by asking them to make a choice between what they said and an alternative answer supplied. Another possibility is for the teacher to repeat what the student said, stopping just before the error. The student knows that the next word was wrong. The teacher is also the initiator. He finds various techniques to get the students to self-correct whenever possible. The teacher uses map drawing as a technique to give listening comprehension. The teacher can use paragraph writing as a technique for writing activity. He asks the teacher to write paragraph with their own words about the lesson studied. The students can use their memory or use the passage in the lesson as the model.

7. The Students’ Role

The teacher and the students are more like partners in the teaching/learning process. Teacher/student interaction became fuller, guessing of context or content, completing fill-ins, and doing “cloze” exercises were the order of the day. The students’ role in direct method is the active learner. They are active in exploring new words, expression, etc. in target language.  The students are also the observer and practitioner. In direct method, the students observe the target language used by the teacher in teaching and they try to get the meaning based on the demonstration given and then they will practice the target language they observed and they use it to communicate with their friends and teacher in classroom.


8. Conclusion

The direct method of teaching was developed as a response to the Grammar-Translation method. It sought to immerse the learner in the same way as when a first language is learnt. All teaching is done in the target language, grammar is taught inductively, there is a focus on speaking and listening, and only useful ‘everyday’ language is taught. The weakness in the Direct Method is its assumption that a second language can be learnt in exactly the same way as a first, when in fact the conditions under which a second language is learnt are very different. The teacher and the students are more like partners in the teaching/learning process. Teacher/student interaction became fuller, guessing of context or content, completing fill-ins, and doing “cloze” exercises were the order of the day. The teacher is as the facilitator of the language and the students is the active learners who are active in learning and exploring the target language.




Lena, Marta. 2010. The Direct Method.   method.html. Accessed on April 23, 20011.

Thanasoulas, Dimitrios. 2002. The changing winds and shifting sands of the history of English Language Teaching. Accessed on April 23, 2011.

-. 2000. Direct Method. Accessed on April 21, 2011

-. 1999. Methodologies in Foreign Language Teaching. Accessed on april 21, 2011.

Hadinata, Purwanto. 2006. The Direct Method. Accessed on April 23, 2011.

Wilson, Reid. 2000. A Summary of Stephen Krashen’s “Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition. Accessed on April 24, 2011.






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