No. LanguageBug is not a language learning method, but an approach to language learning. Language learning methods are rigid, fixed instructions to learn languages. An approach, on the other hand, is a flexible and adaptable set of practices and beliefs.
The problem with methods
The word “method” usually comes to mind when discussing how to make language learning. Yet, language learning and teaching methods can be too strict and purist.
Brown (2002, p. 10) lists several reasons to give up with such “obsession” with methods. This list includes the following items:
- It is hard to empirically test, and verify language pedagogy,
- Methods are usually too prescriptive and overgeneralized,
- Methods become indistinguishable as learners reach advanced levels.
A unified approach has been substituting individual methods. This shift begins with the Designer Methods and results in the Post-method Era.
In the 1970s, “in a burst of innovation” (Brown, 2000, p. 10), several language teaching learning methods were created. Nunan (1989) calls these the designer methods.
The designer methods consisted of Community Language Learning, the Silent Way, Suggestopedia, Total Physical Response, and a few others.
EXAMPLE: Total Physical Response
To understand what these methods meant and still mean, and how to approach them, let’s analyze the Total Physical Response method, also widely known as the TPR method.
TPR is one particularly unconventional example of a designer method, created by Dr. Asher (1969), psychologist at San José State University.
Archer observed that children “in learning their first language appear[ed] to do a lot of listening before they speak” and that “their listening is [was] accompanied by physical responses” (Brown, 2000, p. 30).
Based on these observations, Archer proposed the TPR method. Its functioning relies on very specific and limited roles in the classroom:
- teachers give commands in the target language (“Sit down!”),
- students react to these commands physically (they sit down).
No other actions or activities are part of the TPR method, which means that all language learning should occur exclusively through physical reactions to voice commands.
A great deal of physical engagement makes TPR a really fun method for some students. Also, TPR can be “especially effective in the beginning levels” (Brown, 2000, p. 30).
In the field of embodied cognition (Lee, 2014), TPR might offer an interesting case study. For example, it would be fruitful to assess how much these body movements might contribute to memory retention.
Would it be possible to teach an abstract word, such as “socialism”, through TPR? What about idioms, such as “Bite off more than one can chew” or “Elephant in the room”? Probably not.
TPR is notably limited regarding what can be taught through it (Widodo, 2005, p. 240). There is obviously not one body movement associated with every word or phrase in a language.
Today, it has become rare to find an exclusive TPR classroom, where speaking, writing, and reading are not allowed. Still, some strategies and activities taken from the TPR method remain popular among teachers.
The post-method Era
Designer methods such as TPR should be applauded “for their innovative flair” and have indeed left behind their legacy of findings, achievements, and teaching strategies. However, we now acknowledge that they were “not the godsend that their inventors and marketers hoped they would be” (Brown, 2000, p. 25) in light of their limitations.
Brown (2002) coined the expression Post-Method Era (p. 9) to refer to the moment in which practices that come from different, fundamentalist methods can be integrated into a single approach.
While in the 1970s language teaching consisted of many competing methods in Brown’s view (2000, p. 13), it is “now more aptly characterized by a relatively unified, comprehensive ‘approach’”.
Galante (2014) defines this as a “shift from using methods in the purist sense to recognizing that the nature of language learning is complex and nonlinear” (p. 58).
An approach, therefore, is a consistent body of knowledge (strategies, best practices, …) that supports a particular path to language teaching and learning. It does so without being too restrictive or normative.
Image 3 summarizes this whole trajectory from the designer methods to the post-method era. It ends with the acknowledgment that “there is no single right way to learn languages”.