Describe any of the language learning approaches and evaluate their relevance to the current Malaysian classroom ELT content.
In the process of learning a target language, there are several language learning approaches that could be used by the teachers- Grammar Translation Method, Direct Method, Audio-Lingual Method, Silent Way, Suggestopedia, Total Physical Response, Community Language Learning and Communicative Language Teaching. All of these approaches are valuable for them as they help the learners to develop their target language and become fluent speakers. In my personal view, Grammar Translation Method and Communicative Language Teaching are approaches that I believe have their relevance to the current Malaysian classroom ELT content.
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Grammar Translation Method is a traditional method; it was introduced and became popular in the 19th century. For this method, according to Brown (2001), “it focuses on grammatical rules as the basis for translating from the second to the native language”. The basic approach of this method is the students have to analyse and study the grammatical rules of the target language. They are given explanations on grammar, and after that they will be given sentences which need to be translated from the target language to the native language and vice versa. In short, in this method, it only focuses on reading and writing which are grammatical rules, memorization of vocabulary, translation of text and doing written exercises, while other skills are ignored.
There are some characteristics of Grammar Translation as stated by Prator and Celce-Murcia (1979: 3) (cited in Brown (2001)). Firstly, the medium of instruction of the classes is the mother tongue, through little active use of the target language. There are also not many vocabulary is taught in the form of lists of isolated words, while long, elaborate explanations of the intricacies of grammar are given. Next, grammar provides the rules of putting words together, and instruction often focuses on the form and inflection of words. Besides, reading of difficult classical texts is begun early, where little attention is paid to the content of texts, which are treated as exercises in grammatical analysis. Next characteristic is the only drills for this method are exercises in translating disconnected sentences from the target language into the mother tongue. Lastly, this method does not really focus or give attention to pronunciation.
Teachers and pupils have their own roles for this method. As the teachers, they have to be skillful in teaching the target language, instead of using text books especially when explaining grammatical rules and patterns. They also need to be proficient in the target language, so that they are capable to provide translation practices and correct exercises made by the pupils. For the pupils, the academic skills is necessary for them as they have to memorise rules and examples when learn using this method. They also have to work hard to produce correct and perfect translations.
There are some reasons why Grammar Translation Method is relevant to Malaysian classroom context. If we go to primary school, we can observe that most of English Language teachers prefer to use Malay Language instead of English when speaking or giving instructions to their pupils, especially who are in Level 1 (Year 1, 2 and 3) and rural area school. This is because Malay Language is the first language or their mother tongue, and that is why it is used freely among the teachers and pupils in the English Language classrooms. According to Mohd Sofi Ali (2003), he stated that
Some ESL teachers claimed that Bahasa Malaysia had been used to a maximum of 70% in the weak classes, and 30% in the better classes. However, it was not uncommon to see 100% use of Bahasa Malaysia in the weaker classes; it would be an uncommon phenomenon to witness a 100% use of English in all the classes. (p. 4)
So, we can see that the use of mother tongue is like their common practice in the classroom and the reason why English Language is not fully used to communicate is that it is easy for them to understand English Language when they learn using their mother tongue.
This method is also applicable to Malaysian classroom context because it focuses on translation the target language to native language and vice versa. “Translation is applied on learners to facilitate the learning of these difficult words.” (Erlina Melati Mahpar, 2007). Thus, it is suitable for the Level 1 primary school pupils who do not yet possess vocabulary in their target language. They will learn to translate words in the form of list or isolated words, and next move to sentences or paragraphs. For instance, the teacher will provide the pupils a text from the target language and they are asked to read it either one by one or the whole class. After that, the teacher will ask them to translate the words into their mother tongue and help them if they are unable to translate. We can see that this activity is actually the same as what the teachers are doing in the Level 1 primary school English Language classroom. This activity is suitable for them as the beginners, where it will not only enhance their vocabulary, it also will increase their confidence to learn the target language.
Besides, this method is relevant to Malaysian classroom context because it focuses on teaching of grammar. There are some kinds of knowledge required by the pupils as they learn grammar based on KBSR English Syllabus- word order, Connectors, Verbs, Articles, Prepositions, Modifiers, Nouns and Pronouns. In Malaysia, the teacher will teach the grammar deductively. According to Beare, K. (2010), “Deductive is known as a ‘top down’ approach. This is the standard teaching approach that has a teacher explaining rules to the students.” For example, first and foremost, the teacher will teach and explain the grammar rules to the pupils. Next, they will provide some examples to help them grasp the concept and the pattern for their better understanding. The pupils have to memorise all the rules and examples as the teacher will also give them some drills like exercises on constructing sentences or filling in the blanks. So, with their knowledge and understandings, they are capable to do the exercises correctly and it is effective for the application of grammar and sentence structure.
Additionally, this method also focuses on vocabulary. For this method, Prator and Celce-Murcia (1979: 3) (cited in Brown (2001)) stated that “Much vocabulary is taught in the form of lists of isolated words.” For instance, the pupils have to turn to a list of words taken from the passage of the target language provided and find the synonym and antonym of the words. In this activity, it is a whole class activity and teachers may help them to provide the words if they are unable to find them. This is exactly the same as what the pupils learn in Malaysian primary school. This is also part of the language contents in the curriculum because based on the English Language syllabus, “The words in the list are some key words that must be mastered by all learners according to their stages of development.” Mostly, the teachers here teach vocabulary by using visual aids like pictures or flash cards. This is because according to Nesamalar Chitravelu et al. (2005), “Early vocabulary learning is best supported by visuals.” For example, they want to teach synonym to the pupils. They may show them the word “happy” in a card and ask the pupils to give the synonym of the word. The teachers may repeat the words regularly or give some drills in order to develop the pupils’ vocabulary when learning the target language.
The next language learning approach is Communicative Language Teaching (CLT). According to Richards & Rodgers (2001) (cited in Zhuqing Chen (2003)), “CLT is originated from the changes in the British Situational Language Teaching approach dating from the late 1960s.” Galloway (1993) also stated that “Interest in and development of communicative-style teaching mushroomed in the 1970s; authentic language use and classroom exchanges where students engaged in real communication with one another became quite popular.” From this background, it can be said that CLT emphasises on fluency and speaking skills which is real-life communication.
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There are some features of CLT. According to Brown (2001), “Classroom goals are focused on all of the components (grammatical, discourse, functional, sociolinguistic, and strategic) of communicative competence.” Nunan (1991) stated that CLT “emphasises on learning to communicate through interaction in the target language.” Besides, Nunan also stated CLT as “an attempt to link classroom language learning with language activities outside the classroom”, besides it is “an enhancement of the learner’s own experiences as important contributing elements to classroom learning.” Other feature of CLT is it is learner-centered. This means that teachers only responsible to facilitate and guide the students, as well as allowing them to be in charge of their own learning.
Teachers and pupils have to play important roles in CLT. Larsen-Freeman (2000) said that “teachers in communicative classrooms will find themselves talking less and listening more becoming active facilitators of their students’ learning.” So firstly, they are responsible to be the facilitator to facilitate communication as well as to monitor and guide the pupils especially when they are doing the activities. Besides, they need to arrange and set up appropriate tasks and activities for the pupils’ communication. For the pupils, they are expected to become active and participate in all classroom activities. Furthermore, it is vital for them to communicate frequently inside and outside the classroom in order to develop their fluency.
“English is taught in all primary and secondary schools in the country in keeping with its status as a second language in the country.” (KPM, 2001). Thus, CLT is relevant to current Malaysian ELT content because if we look at the English Language syllabus for primary schools, its aim is “to equip learners with basic skills and knowledge of the English language so as to enable them to communicate, both orally and in writing, in and out of school” (KPM, 2001) same as the goal of CLT which is according to Larsen-Freeman (2000), it is “to enable students to communicate in the target language.”
In Malaysian classroom, activity which involves real-life situations is applied by the teachers. They cannot take the pupils into all the environments in real life, but they “help them locate themselves imaginatively in such situations.” (Nesamalar Chitravelu, 2005). If we refer to Year 5 Curriculum Specifications, there is one learning outcomes where the pupils are capable to “perform a variety of functions in a social context such as exchanging greetings, making introductions, inviting people, etc.” (KPM, 2003). For this activity, Nesamalar Chitravelu also stated that “a person would need to understand the situation, listen to the person he is speaking to, understand what the person is saying and at the same time think of what he can say, when it is his turn to speak.” For example, the teacher tells the pupils to do the real-life telephone conversations. They have to identify their roles and what the situation is. After that, they will be asked to role-play it with their friends in front of the classroom. This activity is effective and it is a fun way of practicing language among the pupils. Besides, it really gives benefit to them as “they give students opportunity to practice communicating in different social contexts and in different social roles.” (Larsen-Freeman, 2000).
In relation with the current Malaysian ELT content, CLT also emphasises on pupil-centered learning, where the pupils are responsible for their own learning. The teachers will only facilitate them and “might be a ‘co-communicator’ engaging in the communicative activity along with the students.” (Littlewood, 1981 (cited in Larsen-Freeman (2000)). There are many kinds of pupil-centered activities that can be used in order to teach them the target language- role-plays, information gap, opinion-sharing as well as language games which are conducted either in pairs or small groups. During the school observation, I discovered that Level 2 teachers prefer to use opinion-sharing activities mostly in their class in which “students compare values, opinions, or beliefs” (Richards, 2006). If we examine the learning outcomes in the Curriculum Specifications of Year 5, it is stated that the pupils will be able to “express thoughts and feelings and give opinions on things read, seen, heard and viewed…” This means that they need to interact with others in the classroom and have to be actively participated in all activities. According to Leela Mohd. Ali (1989), “each student has maximum time to interact in order to learn to negotiate meaning” and she also stated that they are seen as “communicators actively engaged in trying to make themselves understood.” They have to maximise the use of the target language when they interact and communicate with their friends, as Larsen-Freeman (2000) asserted that “they give students valuable communicative pratice.”
As a conclusion, both Grammar Translation Method and Communicative Language Teaching approaches are applicable for the teachers to practice and apply in the classroom. They have to be creative and have good imaginations to modify and conduct activities during the lesson in order to lead to desired learning to the learners, so that they are capable to understand the language and able to communicate with other people either inside or outside the classroom.
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