The oral approach

25 Nov

The oral approach


The oral approach was developed from 1930 to 1960 by two of the most important British linguists of the 20th century, Harold Palmer and AS Hornsby. Until Palmer and Hornsby’s  study linguists were familiar only with the direct method, as well as the work of linguists of the 19th century, such as Otto Jesperson and Daniel Jones.

A number of  researches on language learning and the importance  of  the ability to read, have led to the notion of “vocabulary control”. It turned out that languages have a basic vocabulary of about 2,000 words, most of which frequently used in written texts, and it is assumed that mastery of these would be a great help for reading comprehension. Parallel to this is the concept of “grammar checker”, emphasising the sentence patterns most commonly found in a spoken conversation. In this way the basics of grammar are taught through an oral approach. These models have been incorporated into dictionaries and student handbooks.

The main difference between the oral approach and the direct method is that the methods developed under this approach would have the theoretical principles that guide the selection of content, the degree of difficulty of the exercises, the presentation of the material and  exercises.

Despite the fact that the Oral Method was mentioned above, this should not be confused with the direct method which has been examined previously.

Although this approach is currently unknown among many language teachers, elements of it are nowadays used in language teaching, it being the basis for English teaching as a foreign language. This methodology has been used in textbooks until the 80s with elements still appearing in current texts. Many of the structural elements of this approach have been called into question in 1960, causing changes in the approach itself that led to language communication. However, its emphasis on oral practice, its grammar and its sentence structures are still widespread among teachers of language and  it remains popular in the countries where the foreign language curricula are still heavily based on grammar. 

The main features of this approach are:

1. Language teaching begins with the spoken language. The material is taught orally before it is presented in its written form.

2. The target language is the language of the classroom.

3. The new language points are introduced through practical situations.

4. The selection procedure of the vocabulary is monitored to ensure that the general vocabulary essential is covered.

5. The items of grammar are classified according to the principle that the simplest forms must be taught before more complex ones.

6. Reading and writing will be introduced only when the basics of grammar and vocabulary will be established.

In this way, new words and phrases are taught with examples, and not through grammar explanations or descriptions. The goal of this method is not to learn through the translations but through images that include objects, pictures, actions and facial expressions. The techniques used by this approach involve mainly replacement, repetitions, dictated and controlled readings.

During the first part of learning the student merely has to listen, repeat what the professor says and answer questions. The second phase will encourage the student to a more active participation.

The teacher’s role is very important because he/she must be the role model, the one who guides and manipulates the lesson. The professor is essential for the success of the method as the textbook describes the activities to be done, but it will be the professor himself who will bring them to an end. Visual aids are important in addition to the textbook.

The lesson will have the following structure:

 1. Pronunciation.

2. Revision (preparation of new jobs if necessary).

3. Presentation of new patterns or vocabulary.

4. Oral practice.

5. Reading material or writing exercises.




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