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Topic 13B – History of the evolution of the teaching of foreign languages: the grammar-translation methods to current approaches.


In the long search for the best way to teach a foreign language (FL), many different approaches, or methods, have been devised. Each method is based on a particular view of langue learning and usually recommends the use of a specific set of techniques and materials.

Ambitious claims are often made for a new teaching method, but none has been shown to be intrinsically superior. The contemporary attitude is flexible and utilitarian: it is recognized that there are ways of reaching the goal of foreign language competence, and that teachers need to be aware of a range of methods, in order to find the most appropriate one considering the learner’s needs and the objectives of the course. In other words, there is no single ‘best’ way of teaching foreign languages. The successful language teacher should not limit him/herself to one method only, excluding all others because a method which is appropriate with one class on one occasion will not necessarily suit the same class at another time. For most of us, our method is personal – an ensemble of our techniques, tricks of the trade, ways of presenting materials, ways in which we analyse and structure the content.

Out of all the methods used throughout the history of FL teaching, the following ones are widely recognized because of their influential role:

1. Grammar-translation 2. Natural method 3. Direct method 4 Audio-lingual method 5 Humanistic approaches 6. The Communicative approach, which is the most widely used today and the one recommended in our FL curriculum.


Basically, all the methods involve one or more of the following essential ideas:

Translation, which involves providing comparable native language words, phrases or sentences for unknown target language items.

– Use of the target language in actual or simulated situations in which the pupil participates.

Linguistic analysis, which concerns the application of linguistic knowledge – for instance, grammar structures- through the selection, organization and grading of the target language.

Awareness of cognitive principles related to how a foreign language is acquired, which will tell us, for example, whether syntactic rules or other linguistic complexities are best learned (i) through induction (or inference) or (ii) in a more guided way by providing explanations.

The main differences in the different FL-teaching methods depend on the sort of skill or skills emphasized, and the use of spontaneous language. For example, the grammar-translation method emphasizes reading-writing, with no role for the use of spontaneous language, whereas the audio-lingual method emphasizes listening-speaking.

We will now focus on the different methods used in foreign language teaching, from Grammar-translation to the Communicative approach.


The grammar-translation method relies heavily on cognitive ability and derives from the traditional approach to the teaching of Latin and Greek. Under this approach, grammar is important: Verb declensions, etc, are set out, with tables, and vocabulary lists are learned, leading to translation from mother tongue into the target language and vice-versa. Little or no attention is paid to pronunciation. Grammar was taught in a sequential manner. Language was merely a deductive process: from the data or a set of rules presented, the learner had to create sentences in the FL through transfer techniques. It was therefore a deductive approach in which the spoken form of FL played very little part in the learning process

The underlying justification for such a method rested upon the belief that what should be taught was not the language itself but the faculty of logical thought and mental discipline.

This approach has several disadvantages: Notions of grammar and acquisition of translation skills are fostered at the expense of oral skills, so the student does not learn to communicate. The worst effect of this method is probably on pupils’ motivation., which leads to frustration, boredom and indiscipline. This type of language-learning is not a rewarding or satisfying activity. Language learning should be fun and bring some joy and pride in achievement with it.
The natural method was developed in the early 19yh century as a reaction to the grammar-translation method. Its name comes from what was considered to be the natural way to learn a language and is therefore largely based on the model of mother tongue acquisition. Grammar was not taught at all. Books were rarely used and writing was also used with advanced students. The main emphasis is on the spoken language. The teacher only used the target language much the same as a parent speaks to the child. The Natural method is inspired in the works of Rousseau and Comenius, a 17h century language methodologist who was the first to use oral methods for communicative purposes. The works of Comenius stress the importance of the senses rather than the mind, the importance of physical activity in the classroom. He is best known for his use of pictures in language teaching. The natural method has had an important influence on later methodologies.

The Direct Method was also a reaction against grammar-translation, and is largely a development of the Natural method. It was based on the belief that:

1     Knowing a language was being able to speak it, so there was primacy of spoken word. This method also laid great stress on correct pronunciation from the outset.

2     Second language learning must be an imitation of first language learning, as this is the natural way humans learn any language, and so the mother tongue has no place in FL lesson.

3     Printed words (reading) must be kept away from second language learner for as long as possible (same as first language learner, who doesn’t use printed word until he has good grasp of speech).

4     Writing should be delayed until after the printed word has been introduced.

5     The learning of grammar/ translating skills should be avoided because they involve the application of the mother tongue.

Grammar is not the primary aim and it is learnt through induction. The Direct method became established towards the end of the 19th century through such advocates as Palmer and Jesperson, who sought to improve upon the natural method by providing procedures based on linguistic and psychological knowledge. The main improvements were: the use of preselected and graded materials and oral pattern drills for memorization.

Disadvantages of the Direct Method: The major fallacy of the Direct Method was the belief that the second language should be learned in the way as the first language was acquired – by total immersion technique. Obviously, there is far less time and opportunity in schools, compared with a small child learning his mother tongue. It is also objectionable whether the first language learning process is really applicable to second or foreign language learning.

Some disciples of Direct Method took it to extremes and refused to speak a single word in the students’ native language. To avoid translating new words, extreme Direct Methodists had cupboards full of realia. Explanations became cumbersome and time-consuming. And, of course, concepts like “but” or “never” obviously need immediate translation.

However, the Direct method paved the way for more communicative, oral based approaches, and therefore it represents an important step forward in the history of FL teaching.

Audio-lingual / Audio-visual method. In the mid 1960’s – three new technological aids came into general use in the classroom: language laboratory, portable tape-recorder and film-strip projector. The potential offered to language teaching by the tape-recorder was enormous as it offered the possibility to bring native speaking voices into the classroom. Tapes could be used with tape recorder or in language laboratory. Early audio-visual courses consisted of taped dialogues, accompanied by film -strips which were designed to act as visual cues to elicit responses in the foreign language.

Most audio-lingual courses consisted of short dialogues and sets of recorded drills. The method was based on a behaviourist approach, which held that language is acquired by habit formation. It was based on assumption that foreign language is basically a mechanical process and it is more effective if the spoken form precedes written form.

This approach has its roots in the USA during World War II, when there was a pressing need to train key personnel quickly and effectively in foreign language skills. The results of the Army Specialized Training Program are generally regarded to have been very successful, but it is also true that the learners were in small groups and were highly motivated, which undoubtedly contributed to the success of the approach.

The approach is theoretically based on structural linguistics, a movement in linguistics that focused on the phonemic, morphological and syntactic systems underlying the grammar of a given language, rather than according to traditional categories of Latin grammar. As such, it was held that learning a language involved mastering the building blocks of the language and learning the rules by which these basic elements are combined from the level of sound to the level of sentence. The audio-lingual approach was also based on the behaviourist theory of learning, which held that language, like other aspects of human activity, is a form of behaviour. TODO ESTO puede ser utilizado en el tema 6

The stress was on oral proficiency. But early enthusiasm for audio-visual materials and language laboratory soon cooled as teachers gradually recognised limitations of this approach.

Disadvantages of Audio-Visual/Audio-Lingual Method : The basic method of teaching is repetition. Speech is standardised and pupils turn into parrots who can reproduce many things but never create anything new or spontaneous. Pupils became better and better at pattern practice but were unable to use the patterns fluently in natural speech situations. On the whole, audio-lingual method preferred drills to the natural use of language in context.

On the positive side, the Audio-Lingual / Visual approach marked the start of the technological age in language teaching and it introduced important new elements. It emphasised the need for visual presentation and possibility of eliciting language from visual cues. It placed far more weight on use of the foreign language in classroom by both teacher and pupils, and the language used was of far greater practicality.

Humanistic approaches consider the following principles to be important: the development of human values, growth in self-awareness and in the understanding of others, sensitivity to human feelings ans emotions, and active student involvement in learning and in the way learning takes place, for example by taking part in setting goals and objectives. Under this type of approach the teacher becomes a “helper”, or a “!facilitator”. These approaches are, therefore, student-centered rather than teacher-centered.

The main approaches that come under this group are:

– Suggestopedia, based on the suggestion and devised by Georgi Lozanov,

– the “Silent Way”, which keeps the amount of teaching at a minimum and encourages learners to develop their own ways of using the elements of language introduced. The goal of the Silent Way is to prepare students so that they can freely express their own thoughts, perceptions and feelings. One important criticism made to this approach is that it is difficult to use with a fixed syllabus

-Community language learning, also called Counselling Learning was originated by a therapist, Charles Curran, who regarded tge second language learning situation from the point of view of small group dynamics and counselling. Charles Curran claims that learners pass through five stages. From dependence on the teacher to independence from the teacher, as they proceed to mastery of the foreign language.

-Total Physical Response, which derives its name from the emphasis on the physical actions that learners have to make, as they are given simple commands such as Sit, Stop, Stand, etc.


The Communicative Approach is not a highly structured method of teaching. It is rather a broad assembly of ideas from a range of sources which have come to be accepted as ‘good practice’ by many contemporary teachers. It was developed in the 1960’s and 70’s as a result of the recognition of the inadequacy of traditional grammar/translation methods and also of ‘structural’ methods with emphasis on meaningless pattern drills and repetition.

New syllabuses all over Europe took into account needs of different pupils. Traditional academic syllabuses had assumed learner’s goal was in-depth mastery of target language. But for less academic pupil a more immediate ‘pay-off’ was necessary, in terms of usefulness for practical purposes.

The Communicative Approach has the following characteristics

– It focuses on language as a medium of communication and recognises that all communication has a social purpose: the learner has something to say or find out.

– The term “communication” embraces a whole spectrum of functions (e.g. seeking information/ apologising/ expressing likes and dislikes, etc) that prepare students for real-life communication

– New syllabuses based on communicative method offered some communicative ability from early stage.

Communicative classroom activities provide useful opportunities for learners to use the target language in a meaningful way. There is emphasis on meaning (messages they are creating or a task they are completing) rather than form (correctness of language and language structure) – as in first language acquisition.

– The use of target language as normal medium for classroom management and instruction – reflects naturalistic language acquisition.

– It is a pupil-orientated approach because it is dictated by pupils’ needs and interests.

– There is strong accent on functional/ usable language. Learners should be able to go to foreign country, prepared for reality they encounter there. They need to be able to cope / survive in a variety of everyday situations.

– The FL Class should provide opportunities for rehearsal of real-life situations and provide opportunity for real communication: Emphasis on creative role-plays/ simulations/ surveys/ projects – all produce spontaneity and improvisation – not just repetition and drills.

– There is also emphasis on active modes of learning, including pairwork and group-work.

– Primacy of oral work. Emphasis on oral and listening skills in the classroom.

– Errors are a natural part of learning language. Learners trying their best to use the language creatively and spontaneously are bound to make errors. Constant correction is unnecessary and even counter-productive.

-The Communicative approach is not just limited to oral skills. Reading and writing skills are also developed to promote pupils’ confidence in all four skill areas.

-Grammar can still be taught, but less systematically, in traditional ways alongside more innovative approaches. The approach recognises that there is a role for learning grammar.

– Extensive experience of target language helps pupils. They need to hear plenty said about the topic in the foreign language at regular and recurrent intervals, so they are exposed to the topic and can assimilate it. (Not mere passive acquisition of certain lexical items).

-The Communicative approach seeks to personalise language and adapting it to interests of pupils. Meaningful language is always more easily retained by learners.

– Use of idiomatic/ everyday language, without exclusion of slang words. They not just learn grammatical/ exam-orientated/ formal language.

– It   Makes use of topical items with which pupils are already familiar in their own language – This motivates pupils, arouses their interest and leads to more active participation.

– Materials must relate to pupils’ own everyday lives and experience .

-Spontaneous and improvised practice helps to inspire confidence in coping with unforeseen, unanticipated situations.

– The Communicative approach seeks to use authentic resources. More interesting and motivating. In Foreign language classroom authentic texts serve as partial substitute for community of native speaker. Newspaper and magazine articles, poems, manuals, recipes, telephone directories, videos, news bulletins, discussion programmes – all can be exploited in variety of ways.

– It is important not to be restricted to textbook. The textbook is only a tool / starting-point. With a little inspiration and imagination, text-books can be manipulated and rendered more communicative. Teacher must free himself from it, rely more on his own command of language and his professional expertise as to what linguistic items, idioms, phrases, words, need to be drilled / exploited/ extended.

– Use of visual stimuli – flashcards, etc are important to provoke practical communicative language.

Write a brief conclusion outlining the main points of your essay

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1850s – 1950s: Grammar Translation

How language was taught in most schools; grammar was taught as a set of rules (e.g. verb conjugations) after the classical languages, Latin and Greek; practice was done through written exercises; the medium of instruction as the mother tongue; vocabulary was learnt via translated lists, often related to the comprehension of written texts; written text was seen as the ‘real’ language, superior to the spoken version; written texts were translated and composition in L2 was regarded as the apex of language ability; speaking and listening were seen as less important, and mediated via ‘conversation classes’ which were tagged on as extras to the main course.

1890s – now: Direct Method

Specific to the Berlitz chain of schools, started in the USA; the brainchild of the entrepreneur himself; speaking and listening were the most important skills; the medium of instruction was English; students learnt sequences of strictly-chosen (i.e. centrally-scripted) grammatical phrases by listening and repetition; grammar ‘rules’ were avoided, and replaced by phrases (which of course had grammar disguised in them); vocabulary was learnt either incidentally, as part of the phrases being taught, or via lists grouped under types of situation; its modern incarnation survives in the omnipresent language phrasebooks, and the method is still the basis of lower-level teaching in Berlitz’s ubiquitous and successful language schools.

1960s – 1970s (USA): Audio-lingual method + Structuralist view of language

A ‘scientificised’ version of the direct method; the new science of linguistics suggested that language was a set of ‘structures’ (e.g. ‘this shirt needs + washing, mending, ironing, etc’; ‘he has + washed, ironed, folded, etc the clothes’); grammar rules were an illusion, so it was more important to focus on these ‘structures’; vocabulary was seen as an adjunct to the structures; speaking and listening were the most important skills; the learning method was based on

behaviourist psychology – stimulus-response learning; language exercises for speaking were mostly listen and repeat (i.e. drilling), and repeat and extend; language exercises for writing were multiple choice and gapfill; thinking was discouraged, automaticity of response was favoured; the language laboratory epitomised the audio-lingual approach and was meant to revolutionise language teaching – the reason that it did not do so was simply, as with computers nowadays, that most learners need people as teachers, not machines; a lasting legacy of this approach is the much-loved substitution table.

1960s –1980s (UK): Structural-situational method (aka PPP)

This was a pragmatic (i.e. UK) version of audio-lingualism; the key difference from the audio-lingual approach was that the language presentation and practice was situationalised and so was always given social meaning; speaking and listening were the most important skills; this approach gave rise to the idea of PPP (presentation, practice, production) – here, a given language point, say the Present Simple Tense for routines (called the target item), was presented (P) and given controlled practice (P) and then given further semi-controlled practice (P) (often called ‘free

practice’) in say a role-play; it all took place in one lesson; all the techniques of audio-lingual method were used, but the famous ‘situation’ was added (mimes, pictures, sounds); it was assumed that what we taught during these three stages was what the students should learn, and pundits remained focused for decades on how to optimise this process; this equation of teaching and learning is now seen as a false goal; PPP has been rubbished recently by proponents of task-based methodology, a criticism in my view based on a deliberately false characterisation of PPP

(see Articles 4 and 5).

1970s – 1980s: Humanistic approaches

Emanating from the USA, and particularly championed by Earl Stevick, this movement was based on the assumption that language classes were places of fear for language learners; specifically associated with: the Silent Way, Community Language Learning, Suggestopaedia, and Total Physical Response; many in the UK questioned Stevick’s basic assumption, as the UK’s pragmatic teaching tradition had long taken account of so-called ‘affective’ factors in language teaching, and UK language teaching was famous for its engaging and ‘fun’ qualities; however, the philosophy of the humanistic approaches was valuable, and since then, it has become an essential precept of language teaching that students assimilate things best when they are talking about themselves, something now called ‘personalisation’; strangely, it was my experience that proponents of humanistic approaches were often rather dictatorial in their conference demonstrations!

1970s –1990s: Functional syllabuses – Communicative Language Teaching 1

Emanating from the work of the Council of Europe in the 60s, the first tranche of the communicative ‘revolution’ was based on the idea of grouping bits of language according to communicative functions (in the USA called ‘speech acts’) like apologising, requesting, and advising; it was rare for a direct relationship between function and language to be established because functions can be expressed by a vast range of expression and non-verbal cues; however,

where a clear direct relationship could be found (e.g. ‘my apologies’ for apologising, ‘do you mind if I’ + pres simple, for asking permission), it was regarded as a matter of convention only, to be used for teaching purposes, not for authentic linguistic description; these ‘bits’ were called ‘exponents’, so a number of ‘conventional exponents’, covering the range from formal to informal, could be related to each key function; students were taught these exponents, often, misguidedly, at the expense of grammar!; no obvious method was suggested by defining anguage in this way, so the listen-and-repeat and repeat-and-extend methods persisted, and rightly so, because, as such phrases depended for their usefulness on accurate rhythm and intonation, various forms of drill lent themselves well.

1975 – now: Communicative methodology – Communicative Language Teaching 2

The second part of the communicative ‘revolution’ really took off by the early 80s, mostly radiating out from the UK; the key principle was the separation of classroom work into ‘accuracy’ work and ‘fluency’ work; accuracy work was for concentrating on learning new bits of language (grammar patterns, functional exponents, vocabulary, etc); fluency work was for getting the students to speak freely (say in discussions); much confusion was caused when teachers were trained to see these as closely linked together, with accuracy work leading to fluency work (see PPP above), which is actually not possible (see below); the basic principle of all communicative activities in the classroom, whether accuracy-based or fluency-based, was the ‘information gap’, which has remained with us ever since; the ‘communicative revolution’, via the information gap, has been very profound and real, and has coursed through every aspect of method, whether accuracy or fluency oriented; as an example of the accuracy-oriented information gap, we can have ‘communicative drills’ (e.g. students interview each other about their daily routines to get controlled practice of Present Simple for routines); and as an example of a fluency-oriented information gap, we can have free discussion, where the students discuss a real thing without interruption and the teacher takes notes of the mistakes and feeds these back afterwards. In the US in the late 70s, an influential version of second language learning theory was developed by Stephen Krashen, which postulated that learners ‘acquired’ language if fed a diet of genuine communication (as does the child acquiring the first language), but they only ‘learnt’ language if fed a diet of classroom exercises; the result was that many teachers started to believe that (unconscious) ‘acquisition’ was profounder, more real, and therefore better, than (conscious) ‘learning’; these teachers decided that the classroom had to become an immersive ‘bath’ of authentic communication; this attitude persists today in many classrooms, at the expense of conscious learning; in fact, many variations of the learning-acquisition model have since emerged

(including those of Bialystok, Long, and Rutherford), and a combined processing model seems to be the current favourite, which is to say that the classroom learner probably operates both mechanisms – learning and acquisition – all the time, with some interchange between the two; it is now thought, increasingly, that teachers cannot strongly influence how these mechanisms are used by their students.

1980 – now: Test-Teach-Test

‘Test-teach-test’ was an inventive variation of traditional PPP, particularly appropriate to teaching functional exponents but also adaptable to grammar points and lexis; the students are given a task, such as a role-play, without any prior teaching of the relevant language points, and this is the first TEST phase; if the students have problems and make mistakes, the teacher knows that they have to teach the biggest errors, and this teaching (also known as ‘Presentation’) is the TEACH phase; this is followed by the students doing further practice exercises of these target items, which is the second TEST phase; all in all, this is a popular and resilient piece of methodology which brings together a number of principles, and has stood the test of time.

1985 – now: Negotiated syllabus

Mostly relevant to executive and Business English students where needs are specific and focused; it has become the norm for many professional language training organisations; based on the principle that we first find out what students want and test them to find out what they need, and then negotiate the syllabus with them; it has recently had a big impact on general English classes too; it is especially good when the syllabus is emerging and flexible and is being negotiated on a regular basis during the whole course; because it is diametrically different from school-set

syllabuses and exam-oriented syllabuses, it has to be applied carefully, depending on whether it is appropriate to the specific context.

1985 – now: Task-based approaches

This is very relevant to business English teaching, and has been solidly part of Business English teaching since the late 80s; since the mid-90s it has become much more established in General English teaching; it is a methodological idea which attempts to get away from PPP altogether; students are not taught language points in advance, but rather are given communicative ‘tasks’ to prepare for; these tasks require them to ask the teacher to ‘give’ them whatever language bits they

might need in order to fulfil the task; an example would be ‘have the students in groups plan a recreational weekend in London for a visiting friend coming to London’; here, the language they need will be: discussion exponents, telephoning language, arrangement language, lexis of sightseeing, etc; each group would be given what language they need by the teacher as they ask for it; in the final phase, the students actually do the complete task and they ‘use’ the language they have asked for and been given. The best place to find a clear outline of this approach is Willis (1996); the best General English

textbook series using this approach is the ‘Cutting Edge Series’ by Peter Moor and Sarah Cunningham; in the Business English context, teachers tend to use the task-based approach as a matter of course, with telephone role-plays, meetings, negotiations, and presentations; a big question still being widely discussed is whether the students, on being ‘given’ the language they need for their task, then need some controlled practice so that it becomes more assimilated – in

other words, do students need some form of rapid PPP?; since it appears to have gained ideological popularity especially in the UK, there may be a danger that the task-based approach dominates teaching to the detriment of the other methodologies which have equal validity.

1990 – now: Lexical views of language

As early as the 1970s, academic linguists noticed that the language was full of set phrases (e.g. you don’t say!, onwards and upwards, a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, the knock-on effect of, it’s a good job (that) . . ., etc, etc); in 1986, a famous duo, Pawley and Syder (1983) showed that these set phrases are actually part of a memorised store of pre-fabricated ‘chunks’ which, once learnt, each native speaker has automatically at their disposal; when speaking, they said, we

appear to use these chunks like single vocabulary units; since then, notably through the writings of Michael Lewis in the early 1990s, the Lexical View of Language has become a central plank of both Business and General English teaching; it particularly affects what we teach – lexical chunks rather than single items of vocabulary, (e.g. to make an appointment, to do business with, to penetrate the market, market forces, healthy competition, an absolute disaster, etc) – and, some have argued, lexical chunks in place of grammar (e.g. should + infinitive is seen by some as a lexical chunk not as a piece of grammar); nowadays, it is normal to see lexical expressions as the main lexical content of a textbook unit; a big challenge which still remains is how to prevent the  lexical approach dominating teaching to the detriment of the other components of the language learning task, such as grammar, syntax, and phonology (see Article 7).

1995 – now: Output – Feedback

Again originating mainly in the Business English field, this is less an approach, more an attitude ofmind, based on the idea of an immersive bath of communication from which useful language focus then arises – if we simply set our students off in authentic communicative activities in the classroom, we can use the ensuing language ‘output’ as data for feedback (or ‘reformulation’); this feedback is one form of language focus, and can take many forms (see Article 4 on language focus) such as individualised feedback sheets, overhead slides full of errors for class discussion, full-scale remedial presentations, etc.

A really interesting extension of this idea is ‘Reformulate Output Lightly but Often’ – ROLO (Emmerson 1999); the teacher listens to the students discussing something, notes the problems down, and then goes through a sequence involving eliciting, concept questions, and guiding questions, so that the students come to a reformulated version of the selected language errors from their discussion; these corrected errors get recycled in a similar way, lightly but often, over the next few lessons.

1995 – now: Noticing (also known as ‘consciousness-raising’)

Some studies into the psychology of classroom language learning showed that there is little relationship between what the teacher teaches in one lesson and what students learn in that lesson  as conscious learning; at the same time, William Rutherford in the mid 80s put forward the idea of using the classroom to gradually raise students’ awareness about the target language rather than  imagine that teachers can teach it for active reproduction by endless practice; what this means is that when we do presentation and practice work with students on any language item, all we are actually doing is raising the noticeability of that language in the minds of the students; in other words, we are helping the student to notice it the next time and the next time, and little by little to take it on board in a process of ‘successive approximation’, or ‘layered noticing’; we are not teaching it for immediate active accurate production; this awareness-raising is therefore only the first stage of a series of stages by which the language item, and the language awareness surrounding it, passes into the unconscious of the student; the concept of ‘reformulation’  (reflective correction) is very much connected with the idea of raising noticeability; the process of assimilation by the student is an unknowable and invisible process, so we don’t need to concern ourselves with it; my thought on this is that PPP (i.e. one out of many types of accuracy work) has an important place in language teaching, not to teach language points but to raise their noticeability in the minds of the students.

As a matter of note, the place of fluency work (e.g. free role-play) in the noticing model has two functions (i) to provide free-speaking scenarios in which we can assess the students’ current state of progress and assimilation (ii) to show what language points still need more focus and practice i.e. language focus via reformulation (see Output-Feedback above); these activities are a form of informal testing; they do not function as the ‘production’ phase of a PPP approach, because that is by definition a semi-controlled, and therefore accuracy-oriented, phase. 

1999 – now: Grammaticisation

Recently, very much in the ‘noticing’ mould, there has been a growth of interest in classroom tasks  which help the student to see grammar in its global, and truly communicative context; some  modern academic linguists’ take the view that language is ‘grammaticalised lexis’ (rather than the view from the last 100 years that it is ‘lexicalised grammar’); using this principle for language syllabuses, some schools have dispensed with grammar, and give the title ‘lexis’ to many language ‘bits’ which once might have been called grammar; as for language exercises, we can use global text exercises (using semi-authentic and authentic texts) in which the ‘grammar’ has been taken out (i.e. the inflections, the articles, the infinitive markers, etc), and which the students have then to put back, e.g. “Federal Reserve Bank expect lower interest rate today eleven time this year, drive them low level four decade’; this is very motivating for the learners, it is very individualised, and it is very efficient for the teacher, who only has to spend time clarifying the language items which are causing problems; the ‘grammaticisation’ approach is becoming increasingly popular (see Thornbury 2001, for an extensive discussion of the idea), but it is important to keep it in perspective with the other approaches to teaching grammar, which all have their relevance  2002: The Modern Integrated Language Teacher

We use translation when it is quick and efficient to get across meaning; we still teach grammar, even though we no longer assume it to be a starting point, but more a reference point; we use  drilling (e.g. listen-repeat) when it is an efficient way for students to get their mouths round the  sounds and rhythm of a useful expression; we use practice exercises (e.g. gap-fills) to raise students’ awareness of common lexical expressions; we use focus on functional expressions when students listen to a tape model of a telephone call; we use information gaps almost all the time, in accuracy as well as fluency work; we use personalisaton all the time, whether the students are practising language, preparing for a role-play, or reading the newspaper; we use a task-based approach when students are set a discussion role-play and are required to prepare their positions in groups, asking for language help from the teacher as they go along; we use output- feedback when the teacher uses a conversation activity to produce student ‘output’, and then feeds  back on language errors; we use test-teach-test when students are set a short telephone-call role- play without time to prepare, and this is taped and followed up with focus on (i.e. introduction and  practice, or PP, of) telephone phrases, which is then followed by another telephone role-play (the  third P); we use noticing activities practically all the time, because any activity in which the students are being invited to put their attention on an aspect of language is a noticing activity; we  use grammaticisation activities when we want to see how each student’s individual internal grammar is progressing.

It has been a curious tendency in ELT for both the perpetrators of new ideas, and for many teachers, to want to dispense with the old to make way for the new. This cannot be right. The modern teacher is able to use any approach from the past as long as it is appropriate and useful.

You may have heard the term ‘principled eclecticism’. I prefer the term ‘principled integration’,  because ‘eclecticism’ suggests picking separate things from the selection available, whereas  ‘integration’ forces us to remember that everything has come from what has been before, and that  everything that has gone before remains relevant today.

1. A sweeping change

A number of years ago, FL teaching experienced a great change. Up to then, more grammatical approaches had been used, with word-lists and translation, and an emphasis on written language and skills. The critique against this approach started in the sixties when the communicative nature of language was stressed. Since then the movement became all encompassing, but few people here know the names and publications of the Europeans who did the groundwork for this sweeping change in the last two thirds of the 19th century. To cite a few:

In the 1860s (eighteen-sixties) the German Gottlieb Heness and the Frenchman Claude Marcel stressed natural communication as the core activity of language learning and the need to connect directly to the foreign language, thus avoiding the discursive detours of grammar and mother tongue.

In the 1870s (eighteen-seventies) the ideas of these and other pioneers caught on and we saw an international maturing of the conviction that something fundamentally different had to be done to improve language learning. In many countries, methods based on direct communication and on authentic input sprang up. Word-lists, grammar, and translation were ousted (started to be considered outdated). Some of the authors and scholars who belong to this period are: the Frenchman François Gouin and the German Wilhelm Viëtor.

During the 1880s and 1890s , this vast movement of change produced hundreds of studies and new textbooks published and appropriate media developed to back this direct way to teach languages.

This vast movement of change was called the Reform movement with the Direct Method as its main approach. Overall the principles were: immediate contact with the target language, lively interaction, no translation, no word-lists, inductive rule-formation for grammar, emphasis on oral use. All over the Western world ministries of education and professional organizations adopted these principles under various names and variants: reformed method, phonetic method, intuitive method, natural method… .

But then, in the early years of the 20th century, came the decline and death of the Direct Method, in spite of all the enthusiasm that it had engendered (created) in many countries.

There were two main reasons for it:

1. One was disappointment because the method failed in the setting of secondary school instruction, with many students per class. And the main reason for this failure was that the Direct Method did not include any sort of well-thought plan for teaching.

2. The second reason for the decline of the Direct Method (which lasted for about 30 years) has to do with intensive research in the field of language learning. Authors such as Otto Jespersen, How to teach a foreign language (1904) and Henry Sweet, The practical study of languages (1899) took into account aspects such as the peculiar learning situation in school environments, the psychological profile of the learner, the impact of grammatical notions, the application of frequency norms to ensure better progression, the dynamic relations between the skills, and so on. Though communication and functionality were kept as the main goals of language learning, the research led to a new era of well thought-out, balanced methods, which are often called the eclectic methods, and which would last through the first half of the 20th century.

We will now proceed to a quick overview of FL teaching trends in the 20th century. But first we will define a key word in this topic, and that is: What we understand by “method

1.2. Definition of method

A method is a teaching-learning model that emphasizes a core concept as the key solution to successful language learning.

It can be viewed on three levels:

– normal level: a specific method as a descriptive framework with its own name, such as Suggestopedia, Community Language Learning or Total Physical Response,

– smaller level: a specific textbook of such a method, which is more concrete as application, but may deviate more or less from the method it claims to follow;

– broader level: a grouping of specific methods that have a common emphasis or core idea, such as, in fact, the Direct Method which I mentioned in the introduction. The so-called communicative approach of the past 25 years is also a conglomerate of various specific methods. In that sense the word “approach” is better suited as it suggests a broader front in which specific methods can exist. Sometimes the term “methodology” is suggested as a grouping of similar methods.

2. Main trends in the 20th century

After the demise (end) of the Direct Method, the period between 1910 and 1940 was one of intense research and publication of important works. The methods from this period are called “eclectic methods”, and reflect a search for balance, and avoidance of extremes. There were many variants under various names, one of the most widely used being “the active method”. Indeed, these methods did not reject the good that the Reform Movement had stressed, namely communication as a vital aspect of language learning. Dialogues in daily situations remained the core material in most textbooks, but with careful gradation of content, and clear identification of new lexicon and grammar, with many appropriate exercises for correct integration, including translation exercises. On the other hand, one strategy was especially stressed: the importance of progressive reading in the foreign language. Intensive reading of graded readers was therefore strongly recommended, to the point that the 1930s are sometimes referred to as the period of the Reading Method.

By 1940 behaviorism and a view of language as habit-formation became the emerging trend. As the Second World War brought with it a sudden need to know foreign languages, in the U.S. the Army Method was developed. This was a very intense language program for intelligence officers. It was a rigid, drill and practice approach, but which still used translation for efficacy and some grammar to provide a framework. After the war, the method survived in a limited way. But overall the eclectic methods remained the most widely used until the end of the 1950s.

Then two historic events gave an incredible impetus to the methodology of behaviorist habit-formation.

(1) In the U.S. it was the Sputnik shock of 1957: the realization that the Russians were ahead in space spurred important reforms in education. For foreign languages a revised Army Method was launched. This was the audio-lingual method, also called the New Key. It stressed practice through drills. There was no translation, no grammar, and much emphasis on audio-oral habit-formation, in line with behaviorism. It made extensive use of the tape-recorder.

(2) In France it was the independence of the French colonies around 1960 that gave the impetus to profound reform. In order to keep these new states under French political influence, the French government made a massive effort to impose French as the lingua franca. A specific method, SGAV (“Structuro-global audio-visuel”), based on behaviorist principles with audio, pictures and slides, was adopted. It was launched with incredible means through newly created national agencies, such as L’Alliance Française, not only in all the ex-colonies, but also in almost every country in the world.

In many countries, the audio-revolution was imposed by the educational system and gratefully stimulated by the publishers and the sellers of tape recorders and language labs.

In the U.S., meanwhile, a “new” movement was growing, but this time outside the regular school system. Renewed attention was being paid to methods that could help adults gain a quick practical command of a language, geared to survival communication in business, diplomacy, and tourism. The movement downplayed grammar and stressed the immediate use of practical sentences. It received its academic impetus from research in second language acquisition by adults in immersion situations, of which Stephen Krashen is the most cited.

A similar development took place in Europe where the young European Community launched in the early 1970s a vast research movement around communicative needs for adults to foster professional exchanges between the member states. The new keywords were the keywords became “functions” and “notions”, and the concept of intercultural competence.

From these diverse, and often ill-defined tendencies emerged a movement called the communicative approach. The communicative approach includes many specific methods, some stressing the immediate production of language, others asking to postpone speaking in favor of a receptive phase, still others stressing the emotive aspects of language learning. But all have as their core concept practicality-in-action. The communicative approach lived its heydays in the 1980s.

Since the mid-1990s a growing current is separating itself under the name post-communicative language learning. It opposes the idea that language learners are just role players in a world of functions, directed by criteria of practicality, and that a method should take account of the way students learn. The post-communicative trend stresses the individual needs and learning styles of the student within a constructivist view of learning. These past few years eclectic approaches (or “revised” communicative approaches) are thus again emerging in various forms. In the present, concepts such as “learner-centered”, “collaborative learning”, “meaningful learning”, etc, have emerged.

And of course, we need to mention the internet, which has opened the possibility of web-based interactive programmes and activities that are very motivating for students. And we should mention also well-designed CD-roms for language learning which students also enjoy using.

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