:: Linguistics :: 18.1.06

The Structural Approach

The Structural Approach

The arrangement of words in English is very important. The meaning of an utterance changes with a change in the word order. For instance: there is a sentence ‘You are there’. Consider two other sentences made of two words but put in different order ‘Are you there?’ and ‘There you are’. The three sentences, although built of the same vocabulary items give different meaning because of a different way in which the words are arranged.

These different arrangement or patterns of words are called ‘structures’. Structures may consist of full utterances or they may fall on a part of a large pattern. F.D. French has defined a sentence pattern in these words: The word-pattern means a model from which many things of the same kind, and shade can be made like house or shoes which look the same. A sentence pattern is, therefore, a model for sentences, which have the same shade although made up of different words. For instance, there is a sentence in English: ‘I wrote a letter’. The formula of this sentence is SVO (Subject – Verb – Object). We can frame innumerate sentence on this pattern.

Researcher in the field of language teaching in the UK and USA have established that it is more important for the learner of the language to get mastery over the structures more than on vocabulary. So far we have concentrated more on the teaching of vocabulary than that of structures. A lot of work has been done on the selection and gradation of vocabulary but little work has been done on the selection and gradation of structures. It is as important to learn how to put words together as it is to know their meaning. Unless the learners become familiar with the pattern of English, he will not be able to use vocabulary.

Hornby has made a study of Sentence Patterns or Structures in English. He has found that there are approximately 275 structures in English and the learners of the language must master all of them. It should be remembered that the structure approach of language teaching is not a matter of language teaching but only an approach, which tells us what to teach while a method tells us how to teach. The method that is employed is called the Oral Method or the Audio-Lingual Method.

The structure approach is based on the following principles:
1. The important of a speech as the necessary means of fixing firmly all the ground works.
2. The important of forming language habits particularly the habit of arranging words in English sentence patterns to replace the sentence patterns of the learners own language.
3. The pupils’ own activities rather than the activity of the teacher.

The structure approach just lays emphasis on drills. Since language is primarily speak, learning a language means ability to speak the language. The structures, therefore, are drilled orally first before the learner can read or write them. Moreover, since language learning is a matter of habit formation, it requires repetition so that the language habits that are cultivated during the learning process may be retained. A class, which is taught a language through the structural approach, is more lively than other classes in which only teacher speaks and the students remain mere listener.

The selection of structures to be taught depends on the average ability of the students, the allocation of time and the availability of equipments. The following principles should be born in mind while selecting structures:
1. Usefulness: while selecting and grading structures we should adopt frequency and utility. The structures, which are more frequent in use, should be introduced first.
2. Productivity: Some structures are productive; other structures can be built on them. For instance, we have two sentence patterns:
(i) Mr. John is here
(ii) Here is Mr. John.
The former pattern is productive because we can frame many sentence on the same pattern like: ‘He is there’, or ‘She is there’, etc. We can frame many such sentences from the latter pattern.
3. Simplicity: The simplicity of structure depends on the form and meaning. The structure ‘I am playing cricket’ is far simpler in form and meaning than ‘The patient had died before the doctor came’. The simpler structure should be preferred to the complicated one.
4. Teach-ability: Some structures can be taught more easily than others. For example, the structure ‘I am writing’ can be taught easily because the action, which it denotes can be demonstrated in a realistic situation. To teach this structure the teacher will say:
(i) I played at 4 yesterday.
(ii) I played at 4 the day before yesterday.
(iii) I will play at 4 tomorrow.
(iv) I play at 4 everyday.

Structures are to be graded in the order of difficulty. Simple structures should precede the more difficult ones. The following are some of the patterns that should be taught at early stages:
1. Two-part patterns
He / goes.
2. Three-part patterns
He / plays / cricket.
3. Four-part patterns
She / gave / me / a book.
4. Patterns beginning with ‘there’
There are twenty students in this class.
5. Patterns beginning with ‘a question verb’.
Is she coming?
Will he go?
Has he brought the book?
6. Patterns beginning with ‘wh’ type question
How are you?
What does he do?
7. Patterns of Command and Request
Sit down
Please come here, etc.

Of the seven types of patterns mentioned above, the three part patterns and the pattern beginning with ‘there’ occur very frequently. Each pattern embodies an important point of grammar and only one meaning of one word is taught at a time. Moreover, the structures are graded in such a manner that a structure follows the preceding one naturally. During the learning of the structures the child automatically learn grammar also (learns grammar, word order and the use of words or usage). Thus he avoids common error in grammar and composition. This approach lays emphasis on the four skills – listening, speaking, reading and writing. Rapid speech patterns are taught with the help of printed material. Children, therefore, start speaking English before they read or write it. The British Council plays a prominent role in popularizing this approach for the teaching of English in India.

Subsequently the NCERT (National Council of Education Research and Training) introduces the structural syllabuses, and prepares books or teaching materials in elaborating with the Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages (CIEFL), Hydrabad. The books prepared by the NCERT have been adopted by the CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education) and also by the various boards of education in various states of India. At present English is being taught according to the structural approach in the majority of schools in the country.


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