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Language learning experiences of traditional teaching methods

Written by Emma Zhenzhen Gu

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I was born and raised in Henan, central China, where the largest population dwells. The severe competition for great universities inevitably resulted in exam-oriented teaching and learning. As an example and product of traditional language teaching, my language learning experiences would share some similarities with plenty of students in and outside China.

What Is Traditional Language Teaching?

Among traditional methods, the Grammar Translation Method, the Direct Method, and the Audiolingual Method dominate, and they still strongly influence English instruction in many parts of the world. These three traditional methods are based on the following principles:

  • Detailed analysis of written language, especially grammar
  • Mastery of grammatical rules and memorization of long lists of literary vocabulary
  • Reliance on translation exercises, reading comprehension, and the written imitation of texts
  • More emphasis laid on the activities of reading and writing
  • Use of native tongue as the medium of instruction
Grammar Translation Method

The method originated from the practices of teaching Latin and aims at enabling students to read and translate literature written in the target language and to further students’ intellectual development. It’s main focus is on reading and writing with little attention paid to listening and speaking. In a typical grammar-translation class, grammar is taught deductively through long, elaborate explanations of grammar rules followed by exercises. Much vocabulary is taught in the form of lists of isolated words.

Direct Method

The direct method proposes to think and communicate directly in the target language without translation or mother tongue. It seeks to immerse learners in the same way as when the native language is learned. Speaking is the primary focus of the method. The class always starts with reading the texts aloud followed by guided conversation, question-answer exercises, fill-in-the-blank exercises, and dictation. Mime, demonstration, everyday objects, and visual aids are employed to help students understand grammar and vocabulary.

Audiolingual Method

Learning is tightly controlled by the teacher who follows the text closely and drills students in the use of grammar. The instructor would present the correct model of a sentence, the students memorize and then practice the sentences or grammar pattern in drills such as listen and repeat, substitution, chain, and transformation. In the audio-lingual method, there is no explicit grammar instruction: everything is simply memorized in form.

My Experiences of Traditional Language Learning

As the receiver of traditional language teaching, I had little chance or time to develop my spoken and listening skills in high school. Because all my efforts were made to get a high grade in the written test. During that time, the grammar-translation method dominated my language learning process. Consequently, I had neither the motivation to speak English nor the knowledge about how to use all the vocabulary I had learned. I have to admit that I wasted the optimal stage in childhood when it is of high possibility to achieve a native-speaker level. I did not have the opportunity to get the productive output I ought to have had.

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Relearn English

University life in China gave me the chance to relearn the language. Combined with traditional language teaching methods, technological methods were also used for more interesting and productive outcomes. Students’ LSRW (listening, speaking, reading, and writing) skills were separately targeted and rapidly developed. However, learning in a large group meant that I received little attention or time from teachers and, inevitably, did not yield the desired learning output.

For most Chinese people, what we are concerned with is perfect or native speaker’s pronunciation which is time-consuming and a hard task to be completed. For this reason, some of my friends never have the courage to open their mouths or to interact with others in English. During that time, all I truly needed was a pronunciation speech recognizer and online learning software for speaking and writing correction. It would have made a great difference if learning solutions and adaptive teaching methods were used at that time.

Despite the low-efficiency language learning process, I am always grateful for the opportunities the language gave me for working and further study abroad opportunities. The great benefits of and my affection for languages have allowed me to embark on a new language journey. With diversified and proper teaching techniques, my French learning process will definitely be more fun and productive. 

Written by  Zhenzhen Gu – Student Language Ambassador

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