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3A.

LANGUAGE TEACHING METHODOLOGIES

The new language teacher is presented with a bewildering array of methodologies, a general term which
includes a range of approaches, methods, techniques, procedures and models. If we are not careful we
can become bogged down in defining the definitions of these terms and lose sight of what actually takes
place in the classroom. The methodologies, in the widest sense of the word, have been developed in
response to theories about how second language learning takes place. The main areas of thinking are
outlined briefly below.

The Grammar Translation Method is one of the earliest methods and one which is still widely
used. It focuses on the learning of rules and the manipulation of language through the translation
of sentences into the target language or mother tongue. It relies heavily on reading and writing
and instruction is carried on in the mother tongue. Initially, it was the method developed for
studying dead languages such as Latin and Greek. This method is very much based on a
behaviourist approach to language acquisition.
The Direct Method is based on the principle of total immersion where the student is placed in
an environment where only the target language is spoken. Grammatical rules are not taught and
the student is expected to acquire the language through a process of assimilation in the same way
that children are supposed to learn their first language. This method is very much based on an
innatist theory of language acquisition.

The Audio-Lingual Approach was based on the work of the psychologist, Skinner, who
believed that language learning could be developed through a series of habit-forming exercises.
This approach relies on repetition and drilling, often in the confines of a language laboratory.
Students are motivated through a process of criticism and praise and the methodology is based
on the behaviourist approach to understanding language acquisition. The main criticism of this
approach is that it does not present language in meaningful contexts. It is very much based on an
behaviourist approach to language acquisition.

Humanistic Approaches. This general category is heavily influenced by a desire to pay


attention to the factors which influence social behaviour and encourage feelings of well-being.
A heavy emphasis is placed on the needs of the whole person.

The Silent Way. This approach is very much influenced by theories of how first
languages are acquired and relies heavily on a deductive approach where the student is
largely responsible for his / her own learning. It focuses heavily on cognitive principles in
language learning. There is clear understanding in this approach that the teacher should
stay out of the way as much as possible and, having set up activities, withdraw so that the
students can get on with the job of learning the language.

Total Physical Response. This approach relies heavily on studies of how young children
acquire languages and includes a heavy emphasis on listening and reading as a prelude to
speaking. A fundamental aspect of this approach is that memory is best aided by
association with motor activity. Learning should be fun and stress free and involve lots
of physical activity. It is highly regarded as being useful with beginners and a standard
requirement in the teaching of young learners.

Community Language Learning. This approach encourages the teacher to see his / her
students as whole persons and adopt an approach which addresses their feelings,
intellect, interpersonal relationships, protective reactions and desire to learn. Students
typically sit in a circle, with the teacher acting as counsellor operating outside the ring. If
the student wishes to say something s/he says it in her / his mother tongue and the teacher
translates. The approach aims to move from a teacher-dependent state to a state of
student independence.

Suggestopedia. This approach takes as its starting point the belief that lessons need to be
set up in such a way that the optimal conditions for learning are in evidence. The
approach involves the use of Baroque music, with a particular rhythm, being played
quietly in the background as a means of helping students to relax. There is also an

encouragement for the students to give over complete control to the teacher. In these
circumstances it is believed that students are in a position to absorb huge amounts of
information and to retain it.
The Communicative Approach focuses on language in real life situations and sees language
learning as something more than the mindless learning of rules in isolation from context. More
emphasis is placed on language functions than on grammar or vocabulary. The methodology
relies heavily on the innatist view of language acquisition, assuming that if students are exposed
to a rich variety of language contexts, they will automatically pick up the foreign language.
The emphasis is on communication rather than total accuracy and encourages the use of roleplays, discussions and real activities. The approach is generic in nature and can appear nonspecific at times in terms of what actually happens at various stages of a lesson.

The Presentation, Practice and Production (PPP) approach focuses on key stages necessary
for effective language acquisition and, essentially, fits into the category of procedure rather than
approach / methodology. Some would regard it as an off-shoot of the audio-lingual approach,
following the same principles but presenting the language content in more meaningful contexts.
Others would see it as a practical application of the Communicative approach. During the
presentation phase, vocabulary, chunks of language or grammar items are presented in
meaningful contexts which expose the student to the target language. Students are encouraged to
try out the language without any formal explanation of what is happening. Thereafter, the
teacher explores the target language with the students, drawing their attention to both the
function and the form. The practice phase sees students applying their new understanding in
controlled activities through the use of drills, gap-fills and repetition. Finally, during the
production phase, the students are encouraged to use their newly acquired language in
communication activities such as role plays, communication games or discussions.

Task Based Learning sees the task as the starting point and encourages the use of language
appropriate to the task without any initial analysis of the language itself and without focusing on
a single structure. Jane Willis (2000) describes this approach as being like a sort of PPP upside
down. She provides a model for this approach as follows:

Pre-task (Introduction to the topic and task)

Task Cycle (Task and Report planning)

Language Focus (Analysis and Practice)

The Natural Approach was developed by Stephen Krashen and Tracy Terrell in the early
eighties. The approach has much in common with the Total Physical Response approach and
emphasises the need for a focus on both language acquisition (unconscious) and language
learning (conscious learning of the rules). There is a belief that effective communicators in a
foreign language initiate their utterances from language they have acquired and then use their
conscious knowledge of the language to self-correct. This influences the focus of the lesson at
various stages in order to encourage this process. Krashen also emphasises the need for input to
be roughly tuned to the needs of the students rather than finely tuned and for the classroom
environment to be safe and relaxing.

The Lexical Approach places greater emphasis on chunks of language rather then on separate
vocabulary or grammatical items. The exponents of this approach suggest that the learning of
these pre-fabricated chunks of language, or lexical phrases, are the foundation of successful
language development. This approach tends to ignore the practical realisation of this in the
classroom and the need for students to understand the language system as well as chunks of
language.

The Eclectic Approach makes use of the best features of the above approaches and adapts them
according to the level, task and different learning styles of the students.

The methodological approach which is advocated by Via Lingua is underpinned by the


recognition that experiential learning is an effective means of acquiring and learning new skills
and that the active involvement of students in the learning process is essential. This approach
seeks to provide students with a range of experiences in which they can actively take part. They
are then encouraged to reflect on their experiences, draw conclusions and apply them in a variety
of new contexts. This process is based on a notion of incremental development where the
student is presented with activities and materials which are at a progressively higher level than

their current competence. The difference in level must be sufficient to provide a challenge but
not so great that it prevents success, thus eroding student confidence and motivation.

Linked with this is the need to promote both unconscious language acquisition and conscious
language learning and to ensure that the latter takes place by encouraging the students to reflect
on what the language they have been reading, listening to or using.

In addition, we seek to enable students to acquire competence in all four language skills
(listening, speaking, reading and writing).

Our approach fits most comfortably with the eclectic approach, drawing heavily on three of the
approaches outlined earlier: the Communicative approach, Task Based Learning and the
Presentation, Practice and Production model. We believe that students are more likely to acquire
a foreign language in situations where the main focus is on meaning and where the teacher
provides genuine opportunities for exposure to the target language and opportunities to use it in
real communicative tasks. We also believe that it is essential for the teacher to provide phases in
the lesson where aspects of the language structure they have been using are explored with
students.