Approach, Method and Techniques

Approach, method and technique are the three terms which are often overlapped in language teaching. People often mention one of them but they refer to another. Even, people tend to use the term "method" for all of the three. Some people think that they refer to the same concept: a procedure of teaching a language. Are the three terms the same or different? Anthony (cited in Richards and Rodgers, 1986: 15) attempted to clarify this difference. According to Anthony, the three have hierarchical arrangement. Approach is the level of theories, method is the plan of language teaching which is consistent with the theories, and techniques carry out a method. In other words, the arrangement of the three is that approach is axiomatic, method is procedural and technique is implementational.

An approach is a set of correlative assumptions dealing with the nature of language and the nature of language learning and teaching. Approach is the level at which assumptions and beliefs about language, language learning and language teaching. Different people may agree with different beliefs and assumptions dealing with the nature of language, learning and teaching. Assumptions or beliefs may be taken for granted. People do not have to come to an agreement about the assumptions. Therefore, in language teaching there are different assumptions about language and language teaching. Richards and Rodgers (1986: 17) states that at least there are three different views of the nature of language, namely: the structural view, the functional view (or notional view) and the interactional view. The structural view sees language as a system of structurally related elements. The functional view regards language as a vehicle for the expression of functional meaning. This view emphasizes not only elements of grammar as the structural view does but also topics or concepts that language learners need to communicate about. The third view is the interactional view, the view that language is a vehicle for the realization of interpersonal relations and social interactions between individuals.     

As mentioned earlier approach also includes assumptions about language learning and language teaching. Assumptions about the nature of language in themselves are not complete and need to be completed by theories about learning or teaching. There are many theories of learning and teaching. Richards and Rodgers (1986: 18) suggest that a learning theory underlying an approach or method responds to two questions: 1) what are the psycholinguistic and cognitive processes involved in language learning, 2) what are the conditions that need to be met in order for these learning processes to be activated. In general an approach has the answers to the two questions but certain methods may only emphasize one of the two dimensions. From assumptions about language and language learning, a method will be developed. There can be many methods within one approach.      

A method, which is developed based on some assumptions of an approach, includes the whole plan for the presentation of language material. Since the plan is developed based on the same assumptions, no part of the plan contradicts and all parts make a unity. The unity of a method makes the method distinctive. Even though some assumptions of two different methods may derive from the same theories, some other assumptions may be developed from different theories. How little the difference is will make the unity of a method is different from others. The difference between methods can be easily observed from their techniques. What is a technique then? As mentioned earlier, a technique is implementational, meaning that a technique is something that actually takes place in language teaching or learning in the classroom. All activities that take place in a language class are techniques. Techniques are not exclusive to certain methods. To some extent, different methods may have similar techniques even though they must have different techniques. Language teachers may develop their own techniques as long as the techniques are still consistent with the assumptions or theories of the methods from which the techniques derive. Techniques not only include the presentation of language material but also the repetition of the material. Therefore, the position of a technique is at the implementation phase and it is often called procedure while approach and method are at the level of design (Richards and Rodgers, 1986: 16).

Another way of looking at method in language teaching has also been suggested by Richards and Rodgers (1986: 16). They state that at the level of design the objectives of language teaching, language syllabus, content are determined. At the level of design the roles of language teachers, instructional materials are also specified. A method is theoretically related to an approach, organized by the design, and practically realized in procedure. Using Richards and Rodgers' terms, method includes approach, design and procedure. Even though their description of method is different from Anthony's, basically the two are similar, in the sense that a method should include assumptions about language and language learning, and it will be realized in a set of techniques of presenting materials to language learners, which is often called procedure.      

A number of ways of conceptualizing approaches, methods and techniques may have been proposed. Different people may have different ways of conceptualizing them. Understanding how people conceptualize the terms will provide language teachers with a clearer picture of language teaching methods. This understanding may avoid the teachers from misunderstanding the concepts among themselves. Following certain methods, language teachers may be expected to develop their own techniques by considering the underlying principles of the methods. Approaches and methods are relatively permanent but techniques may be adapted to the environment of the language learners and language teachers. The procedure of a method, which comprises a set of techniques, may not be fixed even though the assumptions of an approach and the basic principles of a method are relatively fixed. 

There have been many methods that have been introduced in language teaching, to mention some: Audio Lingual Method, the Silent Way, Suggestopedia, Community language Learning, Natural Approach, Total Physical Response and Communicative Language Teaching.  This paper will only address procedures of some of the methods  which may be applicable in the Indonesian context.

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