There are various teaching language methods and approaches that have been used throughout history. And there are certainly some, including the communicative language approach and task-based learning approach which are all the rage these days. Keep on reading for all the details you need to know about these older methods as well as the newer options.
Teaching Language Methods
Let’s get into the various methods for teaching a language, including ESL/EFL. But first, we’ll answer an important question: method vs approach.
What’s the Difference Between a Method and an Approach?
The approach is the way that you’re going to do something. The method is the way in which you’re going to complete that thing. As far as language teaching goes, method and approach are used almost interchangeably.
The Direct Method
In the direct method, the class is conducted entirely in the target language and learners are encouraged to not use their first language. Grammar rules are not emphasized but pronunciation is. Students learn vocabulary through realia, pantomime, and other visuals. There is a focus on question-answer patterns.
It was established in England around 1900 and is in direct contrast to some of the older methods like Audio-Lingual. Berlitz and the US State Department adopted this method for their language teaching materials.
This is a way of designing a course syllabus. It’s broken down into notions (real-life situations where people have to communicate) and then further divided into functions (specific communicative aims). For example, the notion might be going to the airport, and some functions are answering specific questions at the check-in counter and filling out an immigration form.
Suggestopedia Language Teaching Method
This was first developed in the 1970s by Bulgarian psychiatrist Georgi Lozanov and is a combination of suggestion + pedagogy. It consists of three parts:
- Deciphering (a spoken or written text is introduced, usually with a translation).
- Concert session (active and passive sessions are used, along with music).
- Elaboration (students express what they’ve learned through music, games, or acting).
There is a fourth phase, production that is sometimes used. This is when students spontaneously produce the language
This is an older approach to learning languages. Grammar rules are emphasized, as is vocabulary acquisition. The purpose behind learning a language is for translation purposes, not communication or pronunciation.
It’s commonly seen in post-secondary language classes. It can work well for teachers who are not fluent in the language they are teaching because they can rely on textbooks. The grammar-translation approach is derived from the teaching of classical Greek and Latin.
The audio-lingual method is all about habits. The theory is that people need to first hear, then drill, then write a language. There is extensive use of dialogues in this method.
It’s based on behaviourist theory which says that humans can be trained through reinforcement (along with positive and negative feedback), in this case, of a language.
It came into popular use around the time of WWII when the US military had to train a large number of service people to be able to communicate in other languages to at least a basic level. They drew upon B.F. Skinner’s work at the time.
Communicative Language Teaching (CLT)
- Audible Audiobook
- Jackie Bolen (Author) - Lizzie Richards (Narrator)
- English (Publication Language)
- 05/07/2019 (Publication Date) - Jackie Bolen (Publisher)
This is by far the dominant method of language teaching seen in classrooms around the world today. The focus is on the learner being able to communicate effectively in a variety of situations, to an acceptable level (the hearer is able to understand).
In class, students are expected to communicate with a partner or small group about a variety of topics. They are encouraged to talk about their personal experiences, just in the target language. The teacher is more of a guide than a guru; they are generally in a facilitator type of role.
These types of courses are often structured around functions such as agreeing/disagreeing, giving advice, asking for help, inviting, or notions like talking about time, expressing location, etc. Many language learning apps, as well as modern-day textbooks, are based around CLT.
Task-Based Learning (TBL)
- Amazon Kindle Edition
- Bolen, Jackie (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 74 Pages - 06/22/2021 (Publication Date)
Task-based learning (also known as task-based teaching) is commonly seen in classrooms around the world today. It’s generally used as a supplement to the communicative language approach to add some variety to classes.
The focus of TBL is the completion of a task, which is usually done in teams. Students are free to use whatever language they wish, as long as they complete the task. They are able to explore language and topics that are interesting and relevant to them. The teacher acts are more of a guide to this process, rather than an all-knowing guru.
The Structural Approach
The theory behind the structural approach is that learning a language can best happen by selecting and grading structures (sentence patterns). It was first seen in the USA in the 1950s and the idea behind is that speech is most important. For example, the simple present “be” verb is learned before the present continuous tense which used “be” as a helper verb. You can often see the structural approach used in language learning apps.
It came into common use in the USA around 1950. The focus is on authentic language and communication. Mastering correct sentence structure is more important than vocabulary acquisition. Similar to some of the other approaches from the mid-1900s, it’s based on behavioural theory and the idea that language is a habit that can be acquired.
Total Physical Response (TPR)
TPR was created by American psychologist James Asher and is based upon how people learn their first language as babies. At first, parents and caregivers use gestures and physical though to teach basic things. Young children are not expected to speak but just to listen and respond. Asher hoped to replicate this learning process.
In terms of using total physical response in the classroom, it works best for young children who are beginners. It’s a nice way to teach basic vocabulary, especially verbs.
The Natural Approach to Language Teaching
The natural approach was founded by the well-known language theorist, Stephen Krashen in the late 1970s. The emphasis is on the similarities between the first and second languages. It shares many similarities with the direct method.
The idea is that people learn a language by taking in large amounts of comprehensible input (things that are very near to their level) or slightly higher if they have a teacher. This is done through extensive reading and listening. After that, comes speaking and writing in a natural, unforced way.
What about Test-Teach-Test (TTT) and Presentation Practice Production (PPP)?
A common question that people have is where test-teach-test and PPP (presentation, practice, production) fit into these language teaching methods and approaches. These two things are often seen in lesson plans but are not really a method or approach in and of themselves. They can be widely used by proponents of many of these methods listed above.
What is Test-Teach-Test?
TTT tries to uncover what students don’t already know about a topic in order to focus the lesson on that. It’s not for total beginners who are seeing something for the very first time.
Essentially, a small test/assessment is given and the goal is to try to find out what studnets don’t know. Then, some focused teaching is given and there is another test (can be informal) to see if students have picked up additional information. Check out this video for more details.
What is PPP?
Presentation practice production is the style you’ll see in language teaching courses like the CELTA. The teacher presents the language, students do some controlled practice (usually a written exercise), and then are expected to produce the language (often through a speaking exercise).
FAQs about Language Teaching Methods & Approaches
There are a number of common questions that people have about teaching language methods. Here are the answers to some of the most popular ones.
What are the methods of language teaching?
There are a number of methods of language teaching, including grammar-translation, the communicative approach, the direct method, total physical response, and the structural approach, just to name a few!
What is the best method of language teaching?
The best method of language teaching depends on the era that you’re teaching in! These days, communicative language teaching (CLT) is all the rage and most textbooks and classes are conducted in this manner.
What are the four types of language teaching?
The four types of language teaching are speaking, listening, reading, and writing. Vocabulary and grammar are important components of these four skills.
How many methods of language teaching are there?
Throughout history, we have seen around 30 methods of language teaching. However, there are around 10 that are widely known, including task-based learning, grammar-translation, communicative language teaching, and the direct method, just to name a few.
Methods of Language Teaching: Join the Conversation
Which language teaching method or approach do you prefer? Leave a comment below and let us know. We’d love to hear from you.
Last update on 2022-07-17 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API