Richards and Rodgers (1986) mention, more than once, that the Natural Approach is not an ‘original’ approach in the sense that it implements it’s own exclusive ideas on SLT methodology.
Since the Natural approach depends largely on the needs and levels of the learners, it is possible that teachers can employ a variety of techniques and ideas from other popular language teaching methods to achieve classroom learning objectives and goals.For example, under the Natural Approach, beginner-level students who have not yet acquired enough comprehensible input to begin speaking in class will most likely be subject to procedures incorporated from TPR (Total Physical Response). This would involve teacher-induced commands such as “walk to the door and open it”. Should students respond correctly through the intended action, comprehensible input is therefore being achieved even though no utterance has yet been performed by the student. Techniques as such utilized during the pre-production stage seek to improve listening skills and gear the student up for speaking once enough language has been acquired.Other teaching techniques include the teacher speaking in context about objects about the room and asking for physical response. (i.e.
‘Pass the green sweater with the picture of Kermit the Frog on the front to the student wearing the blue sweater with no picture on the front.’) Speaking through mime is another means of providing comprehensible input (CI) to students. Extending the arms to illustrate something that is log or flapping one’s arms like a chicken to illustrate the word ‘chicken’ are ways that not only provide CI, but also create a fun and interesting atmosphere, thereby lowering affective filters.Procedures concerning the Natural Approach also rely heavily on visual stimuli, such as magazine pictures, maps, etc. to introduce new vocabulary and to provide topics for early and extending production. (i.e. a picture of a man running up a set of stairs can provide a slue of new language including clothing, places, actions, verb structures such as tenses, conditionals, etc.
It also can create an atmosphere for topic induction should questions like, “Where do you think he is going?” or “Why do you think he is wearing shorts?” be asked of the students. During all activities and discussion, the teacher must maintain comprehensible input via repetition, slowed or clear speech, physical gestures, and other means of ensuring the students are clearly following the lesson.Critical Analysis:Although my studies in Applied Linguistics have essentially just begun, I’ve thus far become an advocate of many of Krashen’s hypotheses on SLA and accordingly chose this teaching method for analysis. Teaching business-English in Japan allows for a great deal of exposure to how Krashen’s views apply in the classroom since, for example, many students suffer from anxiety and stress from conditions in the workplace and have little chance to receive comprehensible input outside of the classroom.Krashen’s (1982) ‘Input’ and ‘Affective Filter’ Hypotheses have seemed to make the most sense in terms of applicable classroom teaching and therefore I feel the Natural Approach’s theory of learning makes more sense than most learning theories of other methods.
I feel the exclusion of grammar explanation in the classroom, however, allows too much room for uncertainty. Krashen’s own Monitor Hypothesis (see Appendix B) may support my opinion in that a student’s learned knowledge (i.e. grammar) serves as a monitor for the correction of performance errors. I feel that with the exclusion of (some) grammar teaching in the classroom, students may be denied a monitor with which to correct their own mistakes during attempts at L2 performance.
The objectives of the NA seem practical. The NA attempts to tailor to the learning needs of the students. The only fault I can see in this objective is applying it to large classes where student goals may vary considerably. I’ve personally taught classes where some students wanted only to improve their business letter writing skills while others wanted to simply improve their TOEIC scores through tedious grammar study. Either one of these goals would not likely see the NA as the most suitable teaching method for such students. However, as the Natural approach seeks to maintain low affective filters through interesting and varied classroom activities, a syllabus containing enjoyable games and activities may satisfy students who are willing to be empathetic to the needs of their classmates.I feel the notion of the silent period to be a good idea in maintaining low affective filters.
However, this notion does not play well in Japan where ‘uncomfortable’ silences can last much longer than expected since Japanese culture stereotypically does not require Japanese people to break silence with small talk. I’ve personally tried to outlast some of my students in ‘competitions’ of silence only to be out done and consequently become the most frustrated person in the room. Having someone talk is more comfortable for everyone rather than sitting in silence. In Japan, this is the opposite. There is a saying that goes, ‘Silence is golden. Don’t speak too much; let them guess.’ So if you could imagine sitting at the dinner table in complete silence, then you could understand how hard it is for Japanese people to have a fluent conversation while sitting.(Author, About Japanese people, n.
d.) However, the notion of not striving for perfection in the NA, I feel, is suitable for achieving low effective filters by not applying unneeded pressure and anxiety on the students during class-time. Allowing students to assume their own roles in the classroom by handing them the responsibility of making decisions about their participation level in class is an honorable notion, but I feel the success of this idea lies heavily in the type of students and their level of motivation for self-improvement. Many students in business-English classes in Japan are ‘forced’ to participate in ESL classes and if not prodded to participate in class discussions, they would be happy to sit in silence, or sleep, for the duration of every lesson. Therefore, I feel the notion of assigning the participation responsibility upon the student should be taken cautiously by teachers employing this method; especially in Japan.
Teacher roles in this method are, in my opinion, easy to fulfill. Maintaining CI in class is not a daunting task should the teacher have any limited amount of experience teaching ESL. Furthermore, assessing student needs through direct inquiry does not seemingly require any type of special training. However, the difficulty in the NA may lie in maintaining the students’ interest through a variety of games and activities.For example, my company classes are only two hours per week and include students with extremely low levels of motivation. With no chance for comprehensible input outside of the classroom and a lack of interest in outside study (i.
e. homework), their levels don’t seem to improve much over time. Furthermore, I teach the same students, term in term out, and therefore many of them have been exposed to a repetition of classroom activities that no longer maintain interest.
Therefore, attempting to stay original can be discouraging at times. However, through the NA, I feel that the role of the instructional materials being related to ‘realia’ may help to solve my problem of any student’s lack of interest. But again, many students ‘expect’ some sort of structured syllabus and therefore textbooks and other such materials provide, to some extent, comfort to the veteran ESL student. Changes in rhythm or method, especially in a conservative country like Japan, are not without problems.