The Structural Approach is based on the assumption that language can best be learnt through a scientific selection and grading of structures or patterns of sentences and vocabulary. The stress is on the learning of essential structures of English.
In the words of Menon and Patel: “The Structural Approach is based on the belief that in the learning of a foreign language, mastery of structures is more important than the acquisition of vocabulary.” This approach employs techniques of the Direct Method of teaching but the use of translation is not wholly discarded. Teaching is done in situations. Speech is mainly stressed but reading and writing are not neglected.
Structural Approach is essentially what the term implies-an approach and not a method as such. There is scope for limitless experimentation in imaginative ways of applying the Structural Approach in the class-room. Prof. C.S. Bhandari has rightly remarked: “It is not proper and correct to call the Structural Approach a method of teaching. It is not a method; it is an approach. Any method can be used with it”
The Objectives of the Structural Approach
According to Menon and Patel the following are the objectives of the new Structural Approach:
1. To lay the foundation of English by establishing through drill and repetition about 275 graded structures.
2. To enable the children to attain mastery over an essential vocabulary of about 3,000 root words for active use.
3. To correlate the teaching of grammar and composition with the reading lessons.
4. To teach the four fundamental skills, namely understanding, speaking, reading and writing in the order named.
5. To lay proper emphasis on the aural-oral approach, active methods and the condemnation of formal grammar for its own sake.
Characteristics of the Structural Approach
The concept of English structure system depends upon three main characteristics which are briefly discussed below in order of importance.
1. Word Order.
Word Order or the “patterns of form” is of primary importance in learning English language. It is the order of words in a pattern that makes true meaning clear.
2. Presence of Function Words. The structural devices make use of another important principle. This is the essential use of ‘function words’ or “structural words”. Observe the following structures:
(i) I kill the snake.
(ii) I shall kill the snake.
(iii) I shall be killing the snake.
(iv) I shall have killed the snake.
(v) I have killed the snake.
(vi) I have to kill the snake.
(vii) I might have killed the snake.
(viii) I can kill the snake.
In the second sentence, the word ‘shall’ tells the action is going to happen and the third and the fourth sentences convey the meaning of futurity in a different way.
The fifth sentence makes use of ‘have’ which tells us that the action is now over. Similarly, the meaning is modified by the use of structural words ‘have to’, ‘might’ and ‘can’ in the sixth, seventh and eighth sentence.
The structural words which help the construction of utterances with content words are:
(i) The pronouns such as I, me, he, her, their some, any etc.
(ii) The prepositions such as in, on, of, under, at, from etc.
(iii) The helping verbs as do, have, be, will, can, may etc.
(iv) The adjectives and adverbs such as this, that, all, each, every, ago, again, also even, ever etc.
3. Use of a small number of Inflections. Another important characteristic is that English language makes use of a small number of inflections as compared to other languages. Inflectional changes are prominent in the following examples:
(i) In Verbs: I play: he plays; I am playing; I played.
(ii) In Nouns: one boy, two boys, that boy’s cap; one man, two men, men’s food.
(iii) In Adjectives and Adverbs:
(a) great … greater … greatest good … better … best
(b) Great … greatly; beautiful … beautifully.
Principles of the structural approach
The principles of the Structural Approach may be as under:
1. Forming language habits. The Structural Approach gives due importance to the forming of language habits. The learners should acquire the habit of arranging words in English standard sentence patterns through language drills.
2. Important of speech. The Structural Approach regards speech as more important than reading and writing. Speech is the necessary means of fixing firmly all ground work.
3. Importance of pupil’s activity. The Structural Approach puts more emphasis on pupil’s activity than on the teacher’s. It is the child who is the learner, so he must be actively involved in the teaching-learning process.
From the above three principles, we observe that speech and oral work are the core of the structural way. The pupil himself assumes prominence in every activity connected in the new way of teaching and learning the language. Oral work, in fact, is the sheet-anchor of the approach.
The whole approach is based on the principle “that language is learnt through use, and that the use of it is almost always accompanied by activity of some kind. Pleasurable activity is the secret of success in language assimilation.”