The Top-Down and Bottom-Up Approaches to Teaching Language

The Top-Down and Bottom-Up Approaches to Teaching Language

Have you ever taken the time to consider the different approaches educators and you as parent can utilise in order to teach your child a new language, or any language for that matter? And by approach I do not simply mean what tools and resources you will use, I refer to the underlying principles which will guide your approach. The truth is, you actually only have two options to choose from. You can either make use of the top-down or the bottom up approach.

The Top-Down Approach

The top-down approach refers to the approach in which you provide your child with a fully emerged experience of the language without breaking it up into smaller components. This approach will therefore entail that you introduce your child to the language and all of its aspects at once. You do not “waste time” to lay the foundation of the language by spending time on things such as vowels, nouns, pronouns, verbs, etc. You introduce this language to your child with the conviction that he will catch up on these things as you go along. To put this approach into perspective one can explain it as trying to build a house by starting with the roof. Something which might be possible but not without a generous amount of trouble, difficulty and issues. The results might be seen sooner because the roof will be up but you need to ask how strong and sturdy this house will be.

The Bottom-Up Approach

The bottom-up approach on the other hand begins to build the house at the foundation. It might take a day or two longer before the roof will be up but you can rest assured that the house is built on a solid foundation. This approach thus starts with the component parts of the language and gradually builds up as the learners master certain areas. This approach therefore firstly focuses on phonics, letters, vowels, nouns, pronouns, verbs, etc.

Top-Down or Bottom-Up?

One setback against the top-down approach is the fact that it may not provide the learner with the same degree of specific subject skills as in the bottom-up approach due to the fact that it places its emphasis on the context and background in which the student finds itself. The bottom-up approach will ensure that the child has a good grasp of the subject’s fundamentals but its disregard for contextual learning may not make it so effective. It is however advocated and recommended that the approach to language teaching comprise of elements of both these perspectives due to the fact that each approach holds value. A great way of bringing these two approaches together is to start the lesson of as a bottom-up approach and to end the lesson of with a top-down approach which summarises the entire session nicely.

Both of these perspectives hold value and personal preference and user comfort with the approach and its outcomes will certainly play a big role in the approach each educator or parent take when it comes to teaching language.


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