Once upon a time, perhaps, the art of teaching was relatively strait-forward. Each teacher used their own style, or that which had been handed down to them by those they learned from. While certainly a certain degree of theory has always been involved in teaching (after all, the so-called Socratic method of teaching was debated centuries before the birth of Christ, and is still cropping up as a controversial pedagogy), it was not until very recently that a great deal of academic attention was turned not just to the subject matter in schools, but to the way in which they were taught. Even so, the methodology of teaching second languages, as a separate study from general pedagogy, is even more recent. "The designer methods emerged in the 1970's, a period of great enlightenment as many would describe." (Brown, 1994) According to Jack Richards (2001), "The method concept in teaching -- the notion of a systematic set of teaching practices based on a particular theory of language and language learning -- is a powerful one, and the quest for better methods was a preoccupation of many teachers and applied linguists throughout the twentieth century." Today, there are five significant bilingual education methods which deserve to be compared and contrasted, so that the benefits of each may be evaluated. These five methods are the audiolingual method, the total physical response method (sometimes referred to in the literature as TPR), the Silent Way Method, the natural approach method, and the Soviet-inspired "Suggestopedia" method. Each of these has been relatively influential in various parts of the world, and many successful bilingual programs today use derivatives of one of these methods, or draw elements from each to compose spin-off styles. As Brown (1994) says, "None of them has every been recognized as being the current state of the art, even during its most popular time. Nonetheless, the originality of some of these methods have brought new ideas that are currently used today in the Communicative Approach."
The AudioLingual Method casts the teacher into the role of a language modeler and a drill leader. (Word History, 2001) It has been referred to as the "Army Method" because is was originally developed "through a U.S. Army program called ASTP, standing for 'Army Specialized Training Program.' [and because it]...emphasized in pattern drills, and conversation practices." (Brown, 1994) In this method, there is a heavy emphasis on mimicry, structure, and memorization. Like many of the other experimental methods, little emphasis is placed on grammar, and additionally there is little focus on vocabulary. A great deal of focus is, however, placed on pronunciation. This method has a number of positive attributes. First, its use of mimicry (both of the teacher and of recorded audio and audiovisual material) and pronunciation tends to produce students with highly comprehensible accents and a good grasp on the sound a flow of the language. It also has a reasonable psychological foundation in its use of positive reinforcement for success, which appeals to the inner behaviorists in many teachers and students. Moreover, the authoritarian relationship established between teachers and students may be positive within certain school or military environments, charging learners to achieve as much as possible. Negative aspects, however, are also present. Many students may not flourish in such an authoritarian environment, and the pressure created by constant drilling and memorization may not create learning which translates into real-world usage. There is some difference between a correct answer on a drill and in a real conversational environment. Lack of grammatical explanation, along with a lack of focus on learning valuable vocabulary or other content may leave students with very good accents and very poor conversational abilities.
The Total Physical Response Method, on the other hand, is all about connecting actual situations with the vocabulary one uses within them. While in the TPR method the teacher is still a "commander" (World History, 2001), he/she also becomes an "Action Monitor" while the student is a "performer." (World History, 2001). This method focuses on a "associating language with physical activity." (Brown, 1994) This method gains much insight from children's natural language learning patterns, which is an advantage because such acquisition seems natural (especially for younger students) In a TPR learning environment, students do a lot of listening and acting out commanders, associating words with action. TPR has been acclaimed as a teaching method, and may be one of the more popular methods world wide. One advantage to TPR is that it creates a fun environment for learning which is relatively low-stress and yet still requires the learner to work in order to succeed. "It also focused on the ideas that learning should be as fun and stress-free as possible, and that it should be dynamic through the use of accompanying physical activity." (TEFL, 2004)
TPR works especially well, then, with young students who are still learning as if for the first time, and for teachers who do not speak much of the language of their students. (Since one can act out the actions being spoken of, it is possible to teach TPR with very little knowledge of the student's native language)
Another advantage is that TPR does not require students to speak before they are comfortable, which makes sure that comprehension proceeds mere pronunciation. There are also a few disadvantages. One is that while TPR does an excellent job teaching how to speak about daily activities, it may do very little to teach proper grammar and pronunciation. Additionally, it may not serve to teach about more complex or abstract subjects of dialogue. As one teacher says, "I therefore view it as an almost prerequisite technique for teaching young students or older students at beginning levels, but a method that needs to be supplemented with other approaches as students progress in proficiency." (English Raven) TPR may seem repetitive or even pointless to older or more experienced students.
Not unrelated to the Total Physical Response method is the Silent Way method. This was developed in the 1960s by Calen Gattegn. (World History, 2001) It takes a problem-solving approach not unlike that suggested b Socrates, in which learning is best expressed when "the learner discovers or creates rather than remembers and repeats what is to be learned. " (Brown, 1994) The goal, then, is to use problem-solving skills to help students figure out the language, rather than giving them required vocabulary or grammatical advice. Mediating objects, physical actions, and play-acting may all be used to create an environment where the students figure out the language on their own through "discovery learning" exercises. Potential benefits include using a very natural style of learning, establishing a sense of accomplishment in the individual and equipping them with the tools they need to later continue leaning the language within immersion environments where they may not have a teacher to help them learn. However, disadvantages are also present. For example, a student may not be capable of figuring out linguistic elements by the him or herself, especially if the student is very dense or is not profoundly motivated to learn. Additionally, this method may provide a great deal of frustration when it comes to complicated linguistic or grammatical rules which may not be easily apparent from observation or even problem solving exercises. In English, for example, one can imagine that learning the patterns of pluralization of words such as moose or mouse may be very curious.
The natural approach also attempts to be "the same method people use to learn their mother tongue... The most natural way of learning..." (Idioma, 2000) In the first stage of Natural Approach learning, the student acquires a great deal of knowledge. They learn "real life" grammar structures, pronunciation laws, idioms, and so forth. In the output stage, students portray their knowledge by allowing students to stage a play, to role-play in their language of choice, or to find some other way to use their experience. "Self-correction and peer correction is encouraged since they are the most effective and less frustrating ways of correction. The teacher interferes only when students cannot solve a problem on their own. Our method strives for the student's most active participation. The teacher's role is mainly passive...." (Idioma, 2000) There are a great number of benefits to this system. The first is the naturalistic way that it works, which may encourage fluency and communication skills, and developing the ability to "pick up" language as one did as a child. Students learn both to listen intelligently, and how to communicate. This system is useful because it does not just teach students a few relevant phrases, but encourages learning full responses, moving (as the student progresses) from the monosyllabic to the grammatically correct full sentence structure. Grammar is not ignored, but is also not the focus to the exclusion of communication, and is particularly a focus when it interferes with communication. This is positive because it does not let students be grammatically incoherent, but also does not drown content in a sea…