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Direct method (education)

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Title: Direct method (education)  
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Subject: Language education, Natural approach, Wolfgang Butzkamm, Language-teaching methodology, European School
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Direct method (education)

The direct method of teaching, which is sometimes called the natural method, and is often (but not exclusively) used in teaching foreign languages, refrains from using the learners' native language and uses only the target language. It was established in Germany and France around 1900 and contrasts with the Grammar translation method and other traditional approaches, as well as with C.J.Dodson's bilingual method. It was adopted by key international language schools such as Berlitz and Inlingua in the 1970s and many of the language departments of the Foreign Service Institute of the U.S. State Department in 2012.[1]

In general, teaching focuses on the development of oral skills.[2] Characteristic features of the direct method are:

  • teaching concepts and vocabulary through pantomiming, real-life objects and other visual materials
  • teaching grammar by using an inductive approach (i.e. having learners find out rules through the presentation of adequate linguistic forms in the target language)
  • centrality of spoken language (including a native-like pronunciation)
  • focus on question-answer patterns


  • Principles 1
  • Pedagogy 2
  • Historical context 3
  • See also 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6


  1. Classroom instructions are conducted exclusively in the target language.
  2. Only everyday vocabulary and sentences are taught during the initial phase; grammar, reading and writing are introduced in intermediate phase.
  3. Oral communication skills are built up in a carefully graded progression organized around question-and-answer exchanges between teachers and students in small, intensive classes.
  4. Grammar is taught inductively.
  5. New teaching points are introduced orally.
  6. Concrete vocabulary is taught through demonstration, objects, and pictures; abstract vocabulary is taught by association of ideas.
  7. Both speech and listening comprehensions are taught.
  8. Correct pronunciation and grammar are emphasized.
  9. Student should be speaking approximately 80% of the time during the lesson.
  10. Students are taught from inception to ask questions as well as answer them.


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.

NOTE: Teacher should be aware of "high frequency words and verbs" and prioritize teaching for this. (i.e. Teach key verbs such as "To Go" and "To Be" before unusual verbs like "To Trim" or "To Sail"; likewise, teach Apple and Orange before Prune and Cranberry.)

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

SAY & REPEAT...Teacher states a phrase or sentence to student; Student repeats such 5-20 times.
ASK & 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".
INTERROGATIVES Teacher provides intuitive examples using 5 "w"s (Who, What, Where, Why, When) or How". Use random variations to practice.
PRONOUNS WITH VERBS 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 Element (Y).
2. After next Element (Y) is taught and learned, return to practice with Element (X).
3. After these two are alternated (X-Y; Y-X; Y-Y, etc), go to 3rd Element (Z).
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. The 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.

It should be noted that an integral aspect of the Direct Method is varying the setting of teaching; instructors try different scenarios using the same Element. This makes the lessons more "real world," and it allows for some confusing distractions to the student and employ organic variables common in the culture and locale of language use.[3]

Historical context

The direct method was an answer to the dissatisfaction with the older grammar translation method, which teaches students grammar and vocabulary through direct translations and thus focuses on the written language.

There was an attempt to set up conditions that imitate mother tongue acquisition, which is why the beginnings of these attempts were called the natural method. At the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries, Sauveur and Franke proposed that language teaching should be undertaken within the target-language system, which was the first stimulus for the rise of the direct method.[4]

The audio-lingual method was developed in an attempt to address some of the perceived weaknesses of the direct method.

See also


  1. ^ See
  2. ^
  3. ^ Société internationale des écoles Inlingua (1999), Inlingua Teacher Manual (3rd Edition), Berne Switzerland.
  4. ^ Chomsky, N. (1975). Reflections on Language. New York: Pantheon Books.


  • Bussmann, Hadumod (1996), Routledge Dictionary of Language and Linguistics, London/New York, s.v. direct method
  • Krause, C. A. (1916), The Direct Method in Modern Languages, New York.
  • Societe Internationale des Ecoles Inlingua (1973), Inlingua English First Book, Berne Switzerland.
  • Societe Internationale des Ecoles Inlingua (1999), Inlingua Teacher Manual (3rd Edition), Berne Switzerland.
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