The natural approach appeared in the 1970s - 1980s out of the collaboration between American educators Stephen Krashen and Tracy Terrell. According to Terrell, there is no reason why second or third language should be acquired differently from the way first language is acquired by children. Krashen and Terrell believe there is no need to deconstruct a language into its component pieces. This means no listen-and-repeat drills, grammar exercises and error correction in lessons. Being exposed to the language is the major requirement for the student to begin to speak naturally.
Principles of the natural approach
1. Students don’t learn the language,they acquire it
Instead of memorizing usage rules, vocabulary and conjugations, studying grammar, semantics and phonology, (all of which constitute learning but not necessarily fluency), students acquire the language through communicative and immersive activities.
2. Students are allowed to make mistakes
This doesn’t mean that grammar doesn’t matter. This means the teacher isn’t going to spend half of the lesson correcting beginner students' every mistake.
3. Students don’t stress
According to the Natural Approach, “pressure won’t lead to acquisition”. Language acquisition takes place in a relaxed environment through enjoyable tasks.
How the communicative approach works:
The production of speech, as a response to listening, has several phases similar to those of a child acquiring their first language:
1) Pre-production phase (nonverbal response)
The teacher doesn’t require the learners to respond orally. They decide themselves when to start speaking. This is similar to how the children have a silent phase where they just listen and observe before they are ready to speak.
The teacher uses the total physical response method. The learners respond by performing physical actions. These can be:
- pointing at things
- handing each other objects
- sitting down
2) Early-production phase (one/ two - word response)
When children begin to speak, they start by saying a few words although they can understand much more.
At the early-production phase the teacher asks students simple questions and uses fixed conversational patterns. The focus is still on receptive skills and input.
Learners can do listening and reading tasks such as:
- order pictures
- fill in grids
- follow maps
- tick items on the worksheet
3) Speech-emergence phase: (a short-sentence / compound-structured response)
The child is getting fluent and can use the language to express what they want. Notice, they are doing this without any prior grammar lessons. They might make some grammar mistakes in the beginning, however these will correct themselves without any need of grammar lessons or specific corrections.
During the lesson the teacher now introduces communicative speaking tasks, such as:
- dialogue modelled on a transcript
- role plays
How is the natural approach different from other methods?
1) Natural approach vs audio-lingual method
-no drilling and error correction,
2) Natural approach vs direct method
- input is more important than output
- less practice means less stress for the learners
3) Natural approach vs task-based approach
- more emphasis on comprehension than production
How to implement the natural approach into your lessons:
- avoid grammar exercises and rules
- don’t correct student’s errors unless they hinder communication
- create a stress-free environment e.g. no exams
- don’t force students to speak
- make communication the goal of your lesson
- focus on new vocabulary rather than new grammar structures
- choose topics and situations that are motivating and interesting for the students
- to help students remember new vocabulary use gestures or actions rather than translation
- focus the lesson on listening
- present the students with a variety of easy to understand material
- keep the input one level above the student’s communicative competence
- avoid using student’s native language
- make sure communication between students is meaningful
Advantages and disadvantages of the natural approach
- students acquire the target language in a natural and easy way.
- well-designed and carefully chosen materials ensure that the students acquire language from easy to difficult, from simple to complex, and from concrete to abstract.
- the natural approach creates an excellent environment for beginners.
- students interact in meaningful situations at their own level.
- this approach requires all activities to be engaging and motivating
- students may speak fluently, but not always accurately
- amassing engaging, meaningful tasks this approach requires is quite a bit of work for the teacher
- doesn't seem as effective for more advanced students
- some students require a more demanding approach in order to improve
In theory the natural approach makes more sense than all others combined. Children learn their language effortlessly, painlessly,quickly and speak it fluently - the epitome of what all learners would like to do.
In practice different students respond to different approaches, so the best thing would be to combine this approach with other effective ELT methods such as communicative and task-based approach. This will ensure your students achieve the best possible result.
Have you ever used the natural approach? If not, would you like to try?