Topic 1 – Didactic evolution of languages. current tendencies in the didactic of english as a foreign language. Communicative approaches

Topic 1 – Didactic evolution of languages. current tendencies in the didactic of english as a foreign language. Communicative approaches



1.1. Aims of the unit.

1.2. Notes on bibliography.



3.1. Key issues: approaches vs. methods.

3.2. Up to the eighteenth century: The spread of English language teaching in Europe.

3.2.1. Ancient Times.

3.2.2. Europe in Early Times. The decline of Latin.

3.3. The nineteenth century: Approaches and Methods on language teaching.

3.3.1. The Grammar-Translation method.

3.3.2. Individual reformers: Marcel, Prendergast and Gouin.

3.3.3. The Reform Movement: Sweet, Viëtor and Passy. The role of phonetics.

3.3.4. The Direct Method. Natural methods from Montaigne to Berlitz.

3.4. The twentieth century: A communicative approach.

3.4.1. The Communicative Language Teaching Approach.

3.4.2. The influence of sociology and psychology on language teaching.

3.4.3. Approaches and theories of language and language learning. Approaches of language and language learning. Influential theories on language learning.

3.4.4. Language teaching methods. The Oral Approach and Situational Language teaching method. The Audiolingual method. Total Physical Response. The Silent Way. Community Language Learning. Suggestopedia.





1.1. Aims of the unit.

The present work aims to provide a detailed account of the evolution of language from its origins, as an object of study, to a theory of language teaching . As Albert C. Baugh (1993) states, the basis for an understanding of present-day English and for an enlightened attitude towards questions affecting the language today is a knowledge of its origins.

A historical and cultural setting links the nature of language to a theory of language teaching and a tradition in teaching English as a foreign language from ancient roots to present-day trends. In order to do so, subsequent sections will enable us to become better informed about the different methods, approaches and language acquisition theories on English teaching as a foreign language at different periods, where special attention is paid to present-day communicative approaches. For extensive comments, within the framework of different research fields, new directions on language teaching are offered to reflect the learner’s need within the current educational system. In a final section, a conclusion examines the strengths and weaknesses of methods and approaches from a broad perspective.

1.2. Notes on bibliography.

Numerous sources have contributed to provide an overall basis for the development of the unit. A valuable introduction to the study of language is given by Otto Jespersen, Language: Its Nature, Development and Origin (1922); David Crystal, Linguistics (1985); and Baugh and Cable, A History of the English Language (1993). For a historical overview of the tradition of language teaching, see Jack C. Richards and Theodore S. Rodgers, Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching (1992) and Howatt, A History of English Language Teaching (1984). Among the many general works that incorporate the teaching of English as a foreign language, see especially and Wilga M. Rivers, Teaching Foreign-Language Skills (1981) and on theories of language acquisition, see Krashen, S. D., and T. D. Terrell, The Natural Approach: Language Acquisition in the Classroom (1983). The most complete record of current publications on new directions in language teaching is published by Asociación Española de Lingüística Aplicada (AESLA) and its annual supplements. For a comprehensive overview, see the following collections: Universidad de Alcalá, La Lingüística Aplicada a finales del Siglo XX. Ensayos y propuestas (2001); Universidad de Barcelona, Trabajos en Lingüística Aplicada (2001); and Universidad de León, Perspectivas Recientes sobre el Discurso (2001). Bibliography is fully presented at the end of this work.


It was around the fifth century B.C that in ancient India the early states of language were written down as a set of rules. This was, in fact, a grammar of Sanskrit whose effects went far beyond the original intentions of the authors. According to Howatt (1984), a thorough education consists not  only of the acquisition of knowledge, but the phys ical, mental, emotional, moral, and social development of the individual. Hence, the early Greek aim was to prepare intellectually young people to take leading roles in the activities of the state and of society, and Romans considered the teaching of rhetoric and oratory important, with particular attention to the development of character.

In the seventeenth century, Jan Amos Komensky (1592-1670), commonly known as Comenius, is often said to be the founder of the Didactics of Language; for him, the word “didactics” means “the art of teaching”. Language study and therefore, language teaching was to be promoted insubsequent centuries through the fields of philosophy, logic, rhetoric, sociology, and religion, among others, providing the framework for the main task of linguistic scholars. This was basically to study and understand the general principles upon which all languages are built and in doing so, teach them better. Some of those methodological and theoretical principles and ideas are still used in modern linguistics nowadays.


3.1. Key issues: approaches vs. methods.

The extent and importance of the evolution of language teaching, and therefore, the teaching of English as a foreign language, make it reasonable to define some key concepts within this issue.

Many theories about the learning and teaching of languages have been proposed from a historical perspective and many changes in language teaching methods have occurred as well as changes in the kind of learners’ need. Developments in other fields such as linguistics, psychology, anthropology, and sociology have been the source of many methods and approaches which searched continuously the most effective method for students to learn a new language. The study of these theories is called today applied linguistics.

A central concept to this process was that of method and was defined by Howatt (1984) as “the notion of a systematic set of teaching practices based on a particular theory of language and language learning”. The search for innovations to find more efficient and effective ways of teaching languages preoccupied teachers and applied linguistics throughout the 20th century.

Approaches are language teaching philosophies that might be interpreted and applied in a variety of different ways in the classroom. Both methods and approaches are linked, in turn, to a set ofdesign features which describes the underlying nature of language teaching methodology, for instance, learning objectives, syllabus specifications, types of activities, roles of teachers, learners, materials, procedures and techniques used. The proliferation of approaches and methods is a relevant characteristic of contemporary second and foreign language teaching.

3.2. Up to the eighteenth century: The spread of English language teaching in Europe.

3.2.1. Ancient Times.

As we have stated previously, language teaching traces back to ancient civilizations. As Richards & Rodgers (1992) state, the function of the earliest educational systems was primarily to teach religion and to promote the traditions of the people. Thus, in the Old Testament, one of the aims and methods of education among the ancient Jewish traditions was to teach their children a foreign language.

During the Middle Ages (15th-16th century), the early educational systems of the nations of the Western world emanated from the Judea-Christian religious traditions, which were combined with traditions derived from ancient Greece philosophers like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. According to Howatt (1984), Christianity in the Middle Ages became a powerful force in the countries of the Mediterranean region and other areas in Europe. Many monastic schools, as well as municipal and cathedral schools, were founded during the centuries of early Christian influence. Teachings, then,

centered on grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music, and the chief storehouse of learning were the monasteries, which maintained archives that preserved many manuscripts of the preceding classical culture, and during this period universities were established in several countries, such as Italy, Spain, France and England. Medieval education also took the form of apprenticeship training in some craft or service. As a rule, however, education was the privilege of the upper classes, and most members of the lower classes had no opportunity for formal learning.

3.2.2. Europe in Early Modern Times. The decline of Latin.

During the Renaissance period educators emphasized such subjects as history, geography, music, and physical training, and taught mostly in Latin grammar schools. Montaigne, among others, in the sixteenth century and Comenius and John Locke in the seventeenth century, promoted alternative approaches to education, making specific proposals for curriculum reform and for changes in the way Latin was taught (Howatt 1984), but since Latin had for so long been regarded as the classical and therefore most ideal form of language, the role of language study in the curriculum reflected the long-established status of Latin.

Beginning around the 16th century, French, Italian, and English gained in importance as a result of political changes in Europe, and Latin gradually became displaced as a language of spoken and written communication.

During the 17th century there was a rapid growth of scientific knowledge, which gave rise to its inclusion in courses in the universities of the European countries and led to the exchange and spread of scientific and cultural ideas throughout Europe. Children entering “grammar school” in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries in England were initially given a rigorous introduction to Latin grammar (Howatt 1984) and were often met with brutal punishment. Latin was said to develop intellectual abilities, and the study of Latin grammar became an end in itself.

3.3. The nineteenth century: Approaches and methods on language teaching.

3.3.1. The Grammar-Translation Method.

As modern languages began to enter the curriculum of European schools in the eighteenth century, they were taught using the same basic procedures that were used for teaching Latin. Emphasis was on learning grammar rules, lists of vocabulary, and sentences for translation which  usually had little relationship to the real world. Speaking the foreign language was not the goal, and oral practice was limited to students reading aloud the sentences they had translated. This method came to be known as the grammar-translation method and was the offspring of German scholarship.

The grammar-translation method was the dominant foreign language teaching method in Europe from the 1840s to the 1940s, and a version of it continues to be widely used in some parts of the world. As Richards & Rodgers (1992) points out, it is still used nowadays where understanding literary texts is the primary focus of foreign language study. However, there is no literature that offers a rationale or justification for it or that attempts to relate it to issues in linguistics, psychology, or educational theory. Consequently, it has no advocates, as it is a method for which there is no theory.

The main failures of the method are that it does not sound natural to a native speaker; produces difficult mistakes to eradicate; tedious experience of memorizing endless lists of unusable grammar rules and vocabulary; and little stress on accurate pronunciation; and often creates frustration for


3.3.2. Individual reformers: Marcel, Prendergast and Gouin.

In the mid-late nineteenth century, increased opportunities for communication among Europeans created a demand for oral proficiency in foreign languages. The Grammar Translation method was challenged by new approaches to language teaching developed by individual language teaching specialists in several European countries. Some of these specialists, like C. Marcel, T. Prendergast, and F. Gouin, did not manage, according to Richards & Rodgers (1992), to achieve any lasting impact, though their ideas are of historical interest. It was difficult to overcome the attitude that Classical Latin was the most ideal for the way language should be taught. (Howatt 1984).

The Frenchman Claude Marcel (1793-1896) emphasized the importance of meaning in learning, proposing a rational method, and referring to child language learning as a model for language teaching. The Englishman Thomas Prendergast (1806-1886) created a mastery system on a structural syllabus to work on basic structural patterns occurring in the language. He was one of the first to record the observation of children in speaking. The Frenchman François Gouin is perhaps the best known of these reformers.

Gouin’s approach to teaching was based on his observations of children’s use of language. They recognized the need for speaking proficie ncy rather than reading or writing, and there was an interest in how children learn languages. Attempts to develop teaching principles from observation of child language learning were made but these new ideas did not develop into an educational movement as there was not sufficient organizational structure in the language teaching profession (i.e., in the form of professional associations, journals, and conferences). However, this would change toward the end of the ninete nth century, when a more concerted effort arose in which the interests of reform-minded language teachers, and linguists, coincided.

3.3.3. The Reform Movement: Sweet, Viëtor and Passy. The role of phonetics.

As the names of some of its leading exponents suggest (C. Marcel, T. Prendergast, and F. Gouin), the Grammar Translation method was challenged, and eventually, with no success due to a lack of the means for wider dissemination, acceptance and implementation of their new ideas on language teaching. However, toward the end of the nineteenth century, teachers and linguists began to write about the need for new approaches to language teaching, and through their pamphlets, books, speeches, and articles, the foundation for more widesprea d pedagogical reforms was set up. This Reform Movement, as it is known, laid the foundations for the development of new ways of teaching languages within the Direct Method and raised controversies that have continued to the present day.

From the 1880s, an intellectual leadership gave greater credibility and acceptance to reformist ideas thanks to linguists like Henry Sweet (1845-1912) in England, Wilhelm Viëtor (1850-1918) in Germany, and Paul Passy in France. Among the earliest goals of the association, we find the

leading role of phonetics within the teaching of modern languages; Sweet (1899) set forth principles for the development of teaching methods based on sound methodological principles (an applied linguistic approach). For Viëtor, whose name is directly associated with a phonetic method, speech patterns were the fundamental elements of language, stressing the value of training teachers in the new science of phonetics . In general the reformers believed that grammar had to be taught inductively, translation avoided, and a language learning based on hearing the language first, before seeing it in written forms.

These principles provided the theoretical foundations for a principled approach to language teaching, one based on a scientific approach to the study of language. However, none of these proposals assumed the status of a method. They reflect the beginnings of the discipline of applied linguistics. Parallel to the ideas put forward by members of the Reform Movement was an interest in developing principles for language teaching out of naturalistic principles of language learning, such as are seen in first language acquisition. According to Rivers (1981), this led to natural methods and ultimately led to the development of what we know as the Direct Method.

3.3.4. The Direct Method. Natural methods from Montaigne to Berlitz.

As we have stated before, these early reformers, who included Henry Sweet of England, Wilhelm Viëtor of Germany, and Paul Passy of France, believed that language teaching should be based on scientific knowledge about language, that it should begin with speaking and expand to other skills, that words and sentences should be presented in context, that grammar should be taught inductively, and that translation should, for the most part, be avoided. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, linguists became interested in the problem of the best way to teach languages. An increasing attention to naturalistic principles of language learning was given by other reformers, and for this reason they are sometimes called advocates of a “natural” ethod.

In fact several attempts to make second language learning more like first language learning had been made throughout the history of language teaching. For instance, if we trace back to the sixteenth century, we find out that the Frenchman Montaigne described his own experience on learning Latin for the first years of his life as a process where he was exclusively addressed in Latin by a German tutor.

These ideas spread, and these natural language learning principles consolidated in what became known as the Direct Method, the first of the “natural methods”, both in Europe and in the United States. It was quite successful in private language schools, and difficult to implement in public secondary school education. Among those who tried to apply natural principles to language classes in America were L. Sauveur (1826-1907) and Maximiliam Berlitz who promoted the use of intensive oral interaction in the target language. Saveur’s method became known as the Natural Method and was seriously considered in language teaching. In his book “An Introduction to the Teaching of Living Languages without Grammar or Dictionary” (1874), Saveur described how their students learnt to speak after a month on intensive oral work in class, avoiding the use of the mother tongue, even for grammar explanations. Berlitz, however, never used the term “natural” and named his method “the Berlitz method” (1878), and it was known for being taught in private language schools, high-motivated clients, the use of native-speaking teachers, and no translation under any circumstances. In spite of his succes s, this method lacked a basis in applied linguistic theory, and failed to consider the practical realities of the classroom.

In Europe, one of the best known representatives of language teaching was Gouin who, in 1880 attempted to build a methodology around observation of child language learning when publishing L’art d’enseigner et d’étudier les langues. He developed this technique after a long struggle trying to learn to speak and understand German through formal grammar-based methods. However, their total failure and his turning to observations of how children learn a second language is one of the most impressive personal testimonials in the recorded annals of language learning. According to Richards & Rodgers (1992), although the Direct Method enjoyed popularity in Europe, not everyone had embraced it enthusiastically. In the 1920s and 1930s, the British applied linguist Henry Sweet and other linguists ecognized its limitations. They argued for the development of sound methodological principles as the basis for teaching techniques. These

linguists systematized the principles stated earlier by t he Reform Movement and so laid the foundations for what developed into the British approach to teaching English as a foreign language. This would led to Audiolingualism in the United States and the Oral Approach or Situational Language Teaching in Britain. These models are the aim of next sections.

3.4. The twentieth century: A communicative approach.

In this section we offer an overview of English language teaching since 1900, and specially of the teaching of English as a foreign or second language. Since language is a part of society, and a part of ourselves, we find a relationship between linguistics and other fields of study that shed light on the old patterns and new directions in language teaching. During the twentieth century, different methods have resulted from different approaches to language and language learning, and also to the influence of fields such as sociology and psychology on the study of language. Let us now turn to the major approaches, teaching methods and theories on anguage acquisition that are in use today and examine them according to how they reflect their methodology.

3.4.1. The Communicative Language Teaching Approach.

Communicative Language Teaching has its origins in two sources. First, the changes in the British and American linguistic theory in the mid-late sixties and secondly, changes in the educational realities in Europe. Therefore teaching traditions until then, such as Situational Language Teaching in Britain and Audiolingualism in the United States started to be questioned by applied linguists who saw the need to focus in language teaching on communicative proficiency rather than on mere mastery of structures. Meanwhile, the role of the European Common Market and the Council of Europe had a significant impact on the development of Communicative language teaching since there was an increasing need to teach adults the major languages for a better educational cooperation. In 1971 a system in which learning tasks are broken down into “units” is launched into the market by a British linguist, D.A. ilkins. It attempts to demonstrate the systems of meanings that a language learner needs to understand and express within two types: notional categories (time, sequence, quantity or frequency) and categories of communicative function (requests, offers, complaints). The rapid application of these ideas by textbook writers and its acceptance by teaching specialists gave prominence to what became the Communicative Approach or simply Communicative Language Teaching.

Beginning in the mid-1960s, there has been a variety of theoretical challenges to the audio-lingual method. Scholars such as Halliday, Hymes, Labov and the American linguist Noam Chomsky challenged previous assumptions about language structure and language learning, taking the position that language is creative (not memorized by repetition and imitation) and rule governed (not based on habits). For Hymes (1972), the goal of language teaching is to develop a “communicative competence”, that is, the knowledge and ability a learner needs to be communicatively competent in a speech community. Halliday (1970) elaborated a functional theory of the functions of language, and Canale and Swain (1980) identified four dimensions of communicative competence: grammatical, sociolinguistic, discourse and strategic competence.

Chomsky leveled some criticisms at structural linguistic theory in his book Syntactic Structures (1957). He demonstrated that the fundamental characteristics of language –creativity and uniqueness of individual sentences- were not part of the structural theories of language. This communicative view is considered an approach rather than a method which provides a humanistic approach to teaching where interactive processes of communication receive priority. Its rapid adoption and implementation resulted from a strong support of leading British applied linguists and language specialist, as well as institutions, such as the British Council. However, some of the claims are still being looked at more critically as this approach raises important issues for teacher training, materials development, and testing and evaluation (Richards & Rodgers 1992).

3.4.2. The influence of sociology and psychology on language teaching.

Since language is not an isolated phenomenon, we are committed to relate it to other aspects of society, behavior and experience through the development of a theory between linguistics and other fields of study, such as sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, philosophical linguistics, biological linguistics, and mathematical linguistics. Among all the interdisciplinary subjects, two of them have strongly contributed to the development of the study of language teaching, thus, sociology and psychology. The former, sociolinguistics studies the ways in which language interacts with society in relation to race, nationality, regional, social and political grou s, and the interactions of individuals within groups. The latter, psycholinguistics , focuses on how language is influenced by memory, attention, recall and constraints on perception, and the extent to which language has a central role to play in the understanding of human development. Main researchers on the field of sociolinguistics are the American linguists Edwar Sapir and Leonard Bloomfield within a tradition on Structuralism although they follow different lines. These grammarians claimed that every language consists of a series of unique structures and that the construction of sentences follows certain regular patterns. However, Sapir points out how linguistics and anthropology reflects the social aspect of language when dealing with race, culture and language, whereas Bloomfield’s contribution is more scientific, clearly influenced by psychology theories.

In the field of psychology, behaviorism has had a great effect on language teaching as various scientists in the early to mid-1900s did experiments with animals, trying to understand how animals behaved under certain stimulus. Theorists as Ivan Pavlov and Skinner, believed that languages were made up of a series of habits, and that if learners could develop all these habits, they would speak the language well. Also, they believed that a contrastive analysis of languages would be invaluable in teaching languages, and from these theories arose the audio-lingual method, examined in the following sections.

Another interdisciplinary overlap, as Crystal (1985) states is psycholinguistics. It is a distinct area of interest developed in the early sixties and in its early form covered from acoustic phonetics to language pathology. Most of its researchers have been influenced by the development of generative theory where the most important area is the investigation of the acquisition of language by children. Linguists such as R. Ellis or Stephen Krashen and Tracy Terrell’s contribution show an approach focusing on teaching communicative abilities and emphasizing the primacy of meaning when second language acquisition is on study. Chomsky’s view of linguistics is another important contribution to the study of the human mind, as a branch of cognitive psychology, apart from showing the weaknesses of structural grammar. Regarding the teaching of languages, the psychological approach is related to questions such as when and how children develop their ability to ask questions syntactically, or when they learn the inflectional systems of their language.

3.4.3. Approaches and theories of language and language learning. Approaches of language and language learning.

We saw in the preceding sections the relationship between method and approach. Within the study of language different methods resulted from different approaches as responses to a variety of historical issues and circumstances. Since ancient times, linguists and language specialists sought to improve the quality of language teaching, elaborating principles and theories that came into force from the nineteenth century on. Linguists such as Palmer, Skinner, Chomsky, and Krashen among others, have contributed to this development of present-day approaches which developed in current methods. Following Richards & Rodgers (1992), theories about the nature of language and of language le arning are the source of principles in language teaching. Within a theory of language, at least three different theoretical views provide current approaches and methods in language teaching. The first, the structural view, is the most traditional of the three. Within its theory, language is a system of structurally related elements for the coding of meaning, and is defined in terms of phonological and grammatical units, grammatical operations and lexical items. Some methods have embodied this particular view of language over the years. Thus Audiolingualism, and contemporary methods as Total Physical Response and the Silent Way, share this view of language. Supporters of this view are linguists such as Edwar Sapir and Leonard Bloomfield within a tradition on Structuralism although they follow different lines, thus anthropological and linguistic respectively.

From the second, the functional view, language is seen as a vehicle for the expression of functional meaning. A main tenet within this view is the notion of communication within a theory that emphasizes the semantic and communicative dimension rather than merely the grammatical characteristics of language. Content is also organized by categories of meaning and function rather than by elements of structure and grammar.

The third, the interactional view, sees language as a vehicle for the realization of interpersonal relations and for the performance of social transactions between individuals. Its main tenet is the creation and maintenance of social relations focusing on the patterns of moves, acts, negotiation, and interaction found in conversational exchanges. In the words of Rivers (1981), the eclectic approach must be included on language teaching theory due to its prominence on our present educational system. For her, some teachers experiment with novel techniques for more successful teaching, retaining what they know from experience to be effective. This approach is supported by an honorable ancestry, thus Henry Sweet and Harold Palmer. Its main tenets seek the balanced development of all four skills at all stages, while retaining an emphasis on the early development of aural-oral skills. Their methods are also adapted to the changing objectives of the day and to the types of students who pass through their classes. Moreover, to be successful, an eclectic teacher needs to be imaginative, energetic and willing to experiment. This approach is being currently applied to language teaching as part of our presenteducational system, LOGSE, based on communicative methods. Influential theories on language learning.

The four theories of language provide a theoretical framework to any particular teaching method from a structural, functional, interactional and eclectic point of view. However, we must bear in mind that they are incomplete in themselves and need to be complemented by theories of language learning. It is to this dimension that we now turn. A theory of language learning needs a psycholinguistic and cognitive approach to learning processes, such as habit formation, induction, inferencing, hypothesis testing, and generalization. Most of its researchers have been influenced by the development of generative theory where the most important area is the investigation of the acquisition of language by children. The most prominent figures in this field are, among others, Stephen Krashen, Tracy D. Terrell and Noam Chomsky. Stephen D. Krashen developed a second language acquisition research as a source for learning theories. He distinguishes two concepts here, acquisition and learning , where acquisition is seen as the basic process involved in developing language proficiency. For him, it is the unconscious development of the target language system as a result of using the language for real communication. Learning would be related to the conscious representation of grammatical knowledge and non spontaneous processes. He developed the Monitor Model on which the Natural method was built. Another theorist, Tracy D. Terrell is closely related to Krashen, since they both wrote a book named The Natural Approach (1983), and their theories emphasize the nature of the human and physical context in which language learning takes place. Their learning theory is supported by three main principles. Firstly, they claim that comprehension precedes production (commonly known as ‘input’); secondly, they state that produ ction may emerge in stages and students are not forced to speak before they are ready; and thirdly the fact that the course syllabus consists of communicative goals, thus classroom activities are organized, by topic, not grammar (Krashen & Terrell 1983).

Chomsky’s view of linguistics is another important contribution to the study of the human mind, as a branch of cognitive psychology. Apart from showing the weaknesses of structural grammar, Chomsky demonstrated that creativity and individual sentences’ formation were fundamental characteristics of language, not part of the structural theories of language. His approach provides a humanistic view of teaching where priority is given to interactive processes of communication.

We also find other less influential theories reflected on methods, thus the Counseling-Learning and Silent Way method which focus on the conditions to be held for successful learning without specifying the learning processes. James Asher’s Total Physical Response (1977) centers on both processes and conditions aspects of learning. Thus coordinating language production with body movement and physical actions is believed to provide the conditions for success in language learning. Charles A. Curran’s approach, the Counseling-Learning (1972), focused mainly on creating the conditions necessary for successful learning, such as a good atmosphere of the classroom, where intimacy and security are a crucial factor together for students when producing language. The Silent Way method, developed by Caleb Gattegno , is also built on a conscious control of learning to heighten learning potential. We also observe some fringe methodologies sharing certain theories of language and theories of language learning. For instance, the linking of structuralism and behaviorism which produced Audiolingualism.

3.4.4. Language teaching methods. The Oral Approach and Situational Language teaching method.

This approach dates back to the 1920s and 1930s and develops a more scientific foundation for an oral approach than the one evidenced in the Direct Method. Its most prominent figures are the British applied linguists Harold Palmer and A.S. Hornby, who developed the basis for a principled approach to methodology in language teaching. The terms Oral Approach or Situational Language Teaching are not commonly used today, but the impact of the Oral Approach has been long lasting, and it has shaped the design of many widely used textbooks and courses, including many still being used today.

Therefore it is important to understand the principles and practices of this oral approach which resulted from a systematic study of the lexical and grammatical content of a language course. This approach involved principles of selection, organization and presentation of the material based on applied linguistic theory and practice. Thus, the role of vocabulary was seen as an essential component of reading proficiency, and parallel to this syllabus design was a focus on the grammatical content, viewed by Palmer as the underlying sentence patterns of the spoken language. This classification of English sentence patterns was incorporated into the first dictionary for students of English as a foreign language, and some grammatical guides which became a standard reference source for textbook writers.

The Oral Approach was the accepted British approach to English language teaching by the 1950s, but in the sixties, another active proposal from Australia and termed situational, entered this approach developing an influential set of teaching materials based on the notion of “situation”, linking structures to situations. Its main leader was George Pittman, and its main characteristics were as follows: material is taught orally before it is presented in written form; introduced and practiced situationally; and reading and writing are introduced only when sufficient lexical and grammatical basis is established. The skills are approached through structure.

This third principle became a key feature characterized as a type of British “structuralism”, in which speech was regarded as the basis of language, and structure was viewed as being at the heart of speaking ability. In the words of Richards & Roberts (1992), this theory that knowledge of structures must be linked to situations has been supported by British linguists, giving a prominent place to meaning, context, and situation. Prominent figures such as M.A.K. Halliday and Palmer emphasized the close relationship between the structure of language and the context and situations in which language is used. The Audiolingual method.

The origins of this method trace back to the entry of the United States into World War II since the government aimed to teach foreign languages to avoid Americans becoming isolated from scientific advances in other countries. The National Defense Education Act (1958) provided funds for the study and analysis of modern languages based on the earlier experience of the army programs such as the so-called ASTP (Army Specialized Training Program). This program was established for military personnel in 1942 in American universities, and its main objective was for students to attain conversational proficiency in different foreign languages through significant drills.

This fact had a significant effect on language teaching in America, and in fact, new approaches on language teaching were soon developed, and toward the end of the 1950s a new approach emerged under the name of Audiolingualism (term coined by Professor Nelson Brooks in 1964. It is based in structural linguistics (structuralism) and behavioristic psychology (Skinner’s behaviorism).

Therefore, it is primarily an oral approach to language teaching and there is little provision for grammatical explanation or talking about the language. The audio-lingual method aims at teaching the language skills in the order of listening, speaking, reading, and writing, and is based on using drills for the formation of good language habits. Thus students are given a stimulus, which they respond to. If their response is correct, it is rewarded, so the habit will be formed; if it is incorrect, it is corrected, so that it will be suppressed. As Rivers (1981) states, material is presented in spoken form, and the emphasis in the early years is on the language as it is spoken in everyday situations.

It was a methodological innovation which combined structural linguistic theory, contrastive analysis, aural-oral procedures, and behaviorist psychology. Therefore linguists such as Leonard Bloomfield, developed training programs within an anthropological and linguistic tradition. The best known of these programs was the “informant method”, based on a strict timetable (ten hours a day during six days a week), fifteen hours drill with native speakers and almost thirty hours of private study over nearly three six-week sessions. Statistics show that excellent results were often achieved in small classes of mature and highly motivated students. Total Physical Response.

Total Physical Response is linked to several traditions, such as psychology, learning theory, and humanistic pedagogy. This method is built around the combination of speech and action and was developed by James Asher, a professor of psychology. For him, including movements within the linguistic production reduces learner stress, creating a positive mood which facilitates learning.

This emphasis on comprehension and the use of physical actions to teach a foreign language is not new. In the nineteenth century, Gouin acknowledged a situationally based teaching strategy in which action verbs served as a basis for practicing new language items. This method owes much to structuralist or grammar-based views of language as most of vocabulary items and grammatical structures are learned through an instructor. Asher still sees a stimulusresponse view as reminiscences of the views of behavioral psychologists, directed to right-brain learning. The main goal is to teach oral proficiency at a beginning level through the use of actionbased drills in the imperative form.

This method is updated with references to more recent psychological theories and supported by prominent theorists as Krashen because of its emphasis on the role of comprehension in second language acquisition. However, Asher himself, points out the need for this method to be used in association with other methods to be fully successful. The Silent Way.

Caleb Gattegno introduced this classroom technique wherein the teacher remains silent while pupils output the language through simulated experiences using tokens and picture charts as central elements. For instance, a color-coded phonics (sound) chart called a fidel, with both vowel and consonant clusters on it, is projected onto a screen to be used simultaneously with a pointer, thus permitting the pupil to output continually the target language in a sequence of phonemes.

Brightly coloured rods are integrated into this method for pupils to learn spatial relationships, prepositions, colors, gender and number concepts, and to create multiple artificial settings through their physical placement.

This method works effectively to promote small group discussion. Students are encouraged to produce as much language as possible and to self-correct their pronunciation errors through manual gesticulation on the part of the instructor. The greatest strength of this method lies in its ability to draw students out orally, while the teacher listens. This inner criteria allow learners to monitor and self-correct their own production. It is here where this method differs notably from other ways of language learning. Community Language Learning.

As the name indicates, this method follows a “humanistic” approach which was supported by Charles A. Curran, a specialist in counseling and a professor of psychology at Chicago University.

His method is known as Counseling-Learning, and it redefines the roles of the teacher (counselor) and learners (the clients) in the language classroom.

He developed a holistic approach to language learning, since human learning is both cognitive and affective. For him, learning takes place in a communicative situation where teachers and learners are involved in an interaction. One of its main tenets is for the student to develop his relationship with the teacher.

This process is divided into five stages and compared to the ontogenetic development of the child.

Thus, feelings of security are established; achievement of independence from the teacher; the learner starts speaking independently; a sense of criticism is developed; and finally, the learner improves style and knowledge of linguistic appropriateness.

Curran wrote little about his theory which was to be developed by his student, La Forge. He built a theory on “basic sound and grammatical patterns” which started with criteria for sound features, the sentence, and abstract models of language in order to construct a basic grammar of the foreign anguage. Since these humanistic technique of counseling students engage the whole person, including the emotions and feelings (affective part) as well as linguistic knowledge and behavioral skills, this method has been linked to bilingual and adult education programs. Suggestopedia.

In the 1980s and 1990s, an extremely esoteric method was developed by a Bulgarian psychiatristeducator called Georgi Lozanov. The most outstanding features of this mystical method are, according to Rivers (1981), its arcane terminology and neologisms, and secondly, the arrangement of the classroom to create an optimal atmosphere to learning, by means of decoration, furniture, the authoritative behavior of the teacher and specially, through the use of music. Therapy theories are the reason of using music in the classroom as Lozanov calls upon in his use to relax learners as well as to structure, pace, and punctuate the presentation of linguistic material.

Lozanov acknowledges following a tradition on yoga and Soviet psychology, borrowing techniques for altering states of consciousness and concentration, and the use of rhythmic breathing. In fact, teachers are trained in a special way to read dialogues, using voice quality, intonation, and timing.

Lozanov also claims that his method works equally well whether or not students spend time on outside study and promises success to the academically gifted and ungifted alike.

In the own words of Lozanov (1978), Suggestopedia prepares students for success by means of yoga, hypnosis, biofeeback or experimental science. Its main features such as scholarly citations, terminological jargon, and experimental data have received both support and criticisms. However, Suggestopedia is acknowledged to appear effective and harmonize with other successful techniques in language teaching methodology.


What’s now, what’s next? The future is always uncertain when anticipating methodological directions in second language teaching, although applied linguistic journals assume the carrying on and refinement of current trends within a communicative approach. They are linked to present concerns on education, and they reflect current trends of language curriculum development at the level of cognitive strategies, literature, grammar, phonetics or technological innovative methods. The Internet Age anticipates the development of teaching and learning in instructional settings by means of an on-line collaboration system, perhaps via on-line computer networks or other technological resources.

A critical question for language educators is about “what content” and “how much content” best supports language learning. The goal is to best match learner needs and interests and to promote optimal development of second language competence. The natural content for language educators is literature and language itself, and we are beginning to see a resurgence of interest in literature and in discourse and genre analysis , schema theory, pragmatics, and functional grammar propose an interest in functionally based approaches to language teaching.

Also, “Learning to Learn” is the key theme in an instructional focus on language learning strategies. Such strategies include, at the most basic level, memory tricks, and at higher levels, cognitive and metacognitive strategies for learning, thinking, planning, and self-monitoring.

Research findings suggest that strategies can indeed be taught to language learners, that learners will apply these strategies in language learning tasks. Simple and yet highly effective strategies, such as those that help learners remember and access new second language vocabulary items, will attract considerable instructional interest.


On revising the literature on language teaching theories, it is possible to get a sense of the wide range of proposals from the 1700’s to the present, with their weaknesses and strengths, from grammar-based methods to more natural approaches. There is still present a constant preoccupation for teachers and linguists to find more efficient and effective ways of teaching languages. This proliferation of approaches and methods is a relevant characteristic of contemporary second and foreign language teaching, and is only understood when the learner’s need is approached from and educational perspective. These approaches have been called natural, psychological, phonetic, new, reform, and direct, among others.

In the middle -methods period, a variety of methods were proclaimed as successors to the then prevailing Situational Language Teaching and Audio-Lingual methods. These alternatives were promoted under such titles as Silent Way, Suggestopedia, Community Language Learning, and Total Physical Response. In the 1980s, these methods in turn came to be overshadowed by more interactive views of language teaching, which collectively came to be known as Communicative Language Teaching. These CLT approaches include The Natural Approach and Community Language Learning.

Special attention has also been paid to the role of the teacher as a commander of classroom activity (e.g., Audio-Lingual Method, Natural Approach, Suggestopedia, Total Physical Response) whereas others see the teacher as background facilitator and classroom colleague to the learners (e.g., Communicative Language Teaching, Cooperative Language Learning). Language learning theories have approached second language learning on adults and children around first language acquisition model. Schools such as Total Physical Response and Natural Approach claim that second language learning must be developed in the same way as first language acquisition although this is not the only model of language learning we have. However, the Silent Way and Suggestopedia schools claim that adult classroom learning must be developed in a different way children do, due to different cognitive and psychological features.

Bibliography, in a final section, will provide a source for readers to detail differences and imilarities among the many different approaches and methods that have been proposed


Introduction to the study of language

– Jespersen, O. 1922. Language: Its Nature, Development and Origin . London: Allen and Unwin.

– Crystal, D. 1985. Linguistics. Harmondsworth, England. Penguin Books.

– Baugh, A. & Cable, T. 1993. A History of the English Language. Prentice-Hall Editions.

On origins and evolution of language teaching

– Richards, J., & Rodgers, T. 1992. Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching (2nd ed.).Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

– Howatt, A. (1984). A history of English Language teaching . Oxford: Oxford University Press.

On approaches to language teaching and the teaching of English as a foreign language

– Rivers, W. 1981. Teaching Foreign-Language Skills. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

– Krashen, S. D., and Terrell, T. D. 1983. The Natural Approach: Language Acquisition in the Classroom. Oxford: Pergamon.

New directions in language teaching

– Revistas de la Asociación Española de Lingüística Aplicada (AESLA): De la Cruz, Isabel; Santamaría, Carmen; Tejedor, Cristina y Valero, Carmen. 2001. La Lingüística Aplicada a finales del Siglo XX. Ensayos y propuestas. Universidad de Alcalá.

– Celaya, Mª Luz; Fernández-Villanueva, Marta; Naves, Teresa; Strunk, Oliver y Tragant, Elsa. 2001. Trabajos en Lingüística Aplicada . Universidad de Barcelona.

– Moreno, Ana I. & Colwell, Vera. 2001. Perspectivas Recientes sobre el Discurso. Universidad de León.