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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.
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 physical, 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 in subsequent 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.
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 of design 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.
2.2.1. 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, centred 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.
2.2.2. 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
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.
2.3.1. 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 students.
2.3.2. 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 proficiency 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 nineteenth century, when a more
concerted effort arose in which the interests of reform-minded language teachers, and linguists, coincided.
2.3.3. 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
widespread 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.
2.3.4. 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” method.
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. Sauveur’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), Sauveur 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 success,
this method lacked a basis in applied linguistic theory, and failed to consider the practical realities of the
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 recognized 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 the Reform Movement and so laid the foundations for what developed into the British approach
to teaching English as a foreign language. This would lead to Audiolingualism in the United States and the Oral
Approach or Situational Language Teaching in Britain. These models are the aim of next sections.
In this section we offer an overview of English language teaching since 1900, and especially 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
language acquisition that are in use today and examine them according to how they reflect their methodology.
2.4.1. 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. Wilkins. 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 levelled 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).
2.4.2. 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,
behaviour 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 groups, 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 Edward 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, behaviourism 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 arouse 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.
2.4.3. 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 learning 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 Edward 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 honourable 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
present educational system 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 production 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 Counselling-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) centres 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 Counselling-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 behaviourism which produced
2.4.4. 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 Defence 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 behaviouristic psychology (Skinner’s behaviourism).
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 behaviourist 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.
SECUNDARIA INGLÉS. TEMA 1. PÁG. 11 DE 14. 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 stimulus-response view as reminiscences of the views of behavioural psychologists, directed to
right-brain learning. The main goal is to teach oral proficiency at a beginning level through the use of action-based
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, colours, 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. These 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 counselling and a professor of psychology at Chicago University.
His method is known as Counselling-Learning, and it redefines the roles of the teacher (counsellor) 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 language. Since these
humanistic techniques of counselling students engage the whole person, including the emotions and feelings
(affective part) as well as linguistic knowledge and behavioural 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 psychiatrist-
educator 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 behaviour 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, biofeedback 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
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
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
To conclude with, it is important to say that 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
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 similarities
among the many different approaches and methods that have been proposed
Introduction to the study of language
Baugh, A. & Cable, T. 1993. A History of the English Language. Prentice-Hall Editions.
Crystal, D. 1985. Linguistics. Harmondsworth, England. Penguin Books.
Jespersen, O. 1922. Language: Its Nature, Development and Origin . London: Allen and Unwin.
On origins and evolution of language teaching
Howatt, A. (1984). A history of English Language teaching . Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Richards, J., & Rodgers, T. 1992. Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching (2nd ed.).Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.
On approaches to language teaching and the teaching of English as a foreign language
Krashen, S. D., and Terrell, T. D. 1983. The Natural Approach: Language Acquisition in the Classroom. Oxford:
Rivers, W. 1981. Teaching Foreign-Language Skills. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
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.