Further, it is in this stage that instructors have the ability to widen the instruction significantly to incorporate many activities that allow students to practice their new knowledge in a variety of different ways and with focus on a variety of different subject matters.
In viewing the basic theoretical and practical-use background of the Natural Approach of Language Teaching and Learning, one can understand that basic functions that allow students the ability to hone new skills in a non-threatening environment. However, despite significant praise in the teaching community regarding the success of the Natural Approach, the method's critics still exist. Due to this, it is crucial to understand the advantages as well as the disadvantages that exist when the Natural Approach is employed in a language learning environment, especially in dealing with English as a second language.
Advantages and Disadvantages
In beginning to understand the overall value of the Natural Approach, one must assess its advantages and disadvantages, both of which have been cited by researchers and scholars since the method first came into use in the late 1970s. Many of the cited advantages of this method stem from the one-on-one nature of the learning that takes place between teacher and student. Additionally, this learning is fostered through the maintaining of an environment which is conducive to an individual's natural learning process. In this sense, instructors seek to teach a new language in much the same way that an individual's first language is learned and experienced. The method at hand involves a dissection into three separate stages, but unlike other more stringent approaches, allows freedom from strict structure and time constraints. It is with this advantage that learners have the ability to pace themselves in a way that supports their own learning, and not merely the overall success of the class. The Natural Approach offers a learning environment where language is adapted by a teacher to the level of the student's understanding, and not the other way around.
So often in a learning environment, pace and progress are placed before the value of true knowledge and understanding. In many classes, instructors work towards an end-point that often is measured by the amount of content covered and not the amount of content that is actually absorbed by the students. It is in this capacity that the Natural Approach goes above and beyond these more stringent classroom settings, allowing a free space to learn at one's own pace and not be faulted for it. Within a Natural Approach, input and discussion are utilized to maximize a student's understanding, which allows them to progress in a natural and fully-understood manner. In this capacity, a student's learning rarely backtracks due to forgetting a concept. Rather, these concepts are fully drilled into a student's mind before they are expanded upon, which benefits both the instructor and the students not only within the classroom setting, but in the long-run.
While the free sense of learning is one of the most widely-cited advantages of the Natural Approach, it is also the most widely-cited disadvantage in terms of critic's beliefs. Critics argue that the free structure can make it exceedingly difficult to measure progress, especially with the lack of a clear syllabus which would often offer time constraints on the coverage of certain topics or concepts. Additionally, critics note that with students interacting and learning at different levels, it can go against the acquisition of language, especially if instructors don't give students enough restricted practice (Scrivener 31). In other words, critics note that students may not absorb language as effectively through the Natural Approach as they would if they had more structured classroom time to reflect and process input in a class where an instructor would facilitate more formal lesson formats (Clandfield and Meldrum 1). However, despite arguments from critics, the Natural Approach continues to be one of the most widely-utilized approaches in the field of language instruction especially in the area of foreign language instruction.
Elements and Structure: The Notion of "Method"
In beginning to understand the basic elements and structure that should be present within the study of learning and teaching languages, especially in English as a foreign language, one must understand that no definitive approach to learning has been proven to be the go-to within the field, regardless of scholarly debates that continue to take place. As Gebhard et al. (1990) argue that there is no convincing evidence that exists from pedagogic research, including research into second language instruction, that there is any universally or "best" way to teach (Gebhard 16). While particular approaches are likely to be more effective in certain situations, language instructors and theorists have found that there is clearly no blanket approach that exists as an "end-all" approach within the field. Additionally, as has been noted in the past, the art of teaching does not lie in accessing a checklist of skills, but rather in knowing which approach is better suited to adopt with different students in different situations and within different curricular circumstances or cultural settings (Klapper 17).
How then, can the basics be determined in assessing what is necessary to accurately teach the second-language learner? Over the years, it has become increasingly more apparent that a clash between theory and practice continues to exist. With the inception of each new theory of language teaching and learning comes its accompanying critics and naysayers. However, what has been consistently cited throughout the years, in terms of required elements and structure in the teaching of language has been an understanding that "method" weighs more on success than any other aspect of the process. Though the idea of "method" has been offered up in the field as an umbrella term, this approach allows the structural components of any method to be assessed in terms of its ability to fully and accurately educate any student, regardless of differences in approach.
Richards and Rodgers (2001), note that the concept of "method," is an umbrella term for the specification and interrelation of theory and practice (16). In this sense, they argue, that teaching method, with its accompanying approach, design and procedural concerns are the essential components to ensuring that any method of teaching and learning is successful in its facilitation. With a successful methodology comes an ease in language acquisition for the student, which has been evident in viewing the Natural Approach, for example. In this sense, the Natural Approach follows the general model for successful elements and structure with its inclusion of a naturalistic and direct method of instruction.
With its own elemental framework and structural design, the Natural Approach focuses on distinguishing between acquisition and learning. Founders of the approach, Krashen and Terrell long noted that acquisition occurs in the subconscious while learning is a conscious process. As such, they noted that they two cannot be interchanged. It is this overarching theory that the method of learning associated with the Natural Approach not only came to be, but allowed it to flourish. While this theory is completely different from many valued theories that exist today, its success can be widely-attributed to its focus of method, approach and structure, as without these basic elements, no theory can exist in a long-term capacity within the field of language instruction.
When an individual learns his or her first language, knowledge acquisition is in a sense, completely free-flowing. As we take in new concepts and ideas, we begin to learn in a way that involves conceptualizing, understanding, and communicating. As children, this process is not structured on an initial level, but allowed to come to us in a manner that aligns with our own pace and desires to enhance our learning. It is in this sense that our first-known language comes to us so easily. It is in this manner that the Natural Approach seeks to shape its methodology. In allowing learners to acquire the skills to communicate both orally and in a written manner in terms of a new language at their own pace and with loose rules and constrictions, the Natural Approach to Language Teaching and Learning has proven itself to be a respected theory within the field and continues to be utilized to this day.
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