Monday, 21 February 2011


Learning another language apart from the mother tongue has always been important for people, because of the reasons such as knowing other cultures, travelling, trade, religion and even need of being a spy in the others. If we examine where and when second language education started, we cannot give a precise answer; however, it is a fact that bilingualism has always been the norm instead of monolingualism. Another point is that this second language education has changed through languages. Romans were trying to learn Greek, and then Latin became popular. Finally, English has the importance now. So, we know why people want to learn other languages, but the question is this. How can they learn these languages? This question has always got the attention of pedagogues, linguists and scientists. The answer to this question has also changed according to reasons why people want to learn languages and what the pedagogues, linguists and scientists understand from teaching language. For example, we can see a trend from written language to oral language. Furthermore, many approaches methods, and techniques have been developed for the needs of language teaching. When we look at them, we can divide the second language teaching to four periods. Although there are not exact names of these periods, we will call them as Classical Period, Alternative Period, Current Communicative Period, and Post-method Era.

The first era is the Classical Period as we mentioned above. If we want to understand what happened in the Classical Period, we must look at the historical background of it. While Latin was the popular language in Europe in the 16th century, main objectives of learning it were to understand the classical text, grammar of Latin and translation. In addition, Latin was believed to develop intellectual abilities. Then Latin turned into a “dead” language from a spoken language and English got the popularity. Although it got the popularity, the same way to teach Latin was used to teach English. This is how the Grammar Translation Method emerged. It is not true to say when it was used, because it can be still used somewhere. However, we can say it was the trend between 1840s and 1940s. As it emerged from the teaching of Latin, it focused on the teaching of the grammar of English, too. Reading and writing were more important than listening and speaking. Maybe the only listening-speaking activity was reading sentences aloud that would be translated. Memorization of the words was very important. The aim is to learn a language to learn its literature or to benefit from the mental discipline and intellectual development which result from foreign language study. It was not a method to teach the language, as William H.D. Rouse said it was “to know everything about something rather than itself 1. As it is the first method of the language teaching, it has many inefficient sides. For example, it doesn’t give importance to oral communication. However, oral communication is as important as written language. Even it can be said that oral communication is more important than written language communication. So, classical period passed with its only method which was very inadequate.
Because of the failure in educational system in public schools and some other factors, validity of the Grammar Translation Method was started to be questioned. Moreover, interest in language teaching started to move toward oral proficiency. Some individual specialists such as C. Marcel, T. Prendergast, and F. Gouin tried to find some ways of language teaching. The Frenchman C. Marcel focused on the connection between child learning his/her language and foreign language. He emphasized the importance of reading and believed reading must be taught before other skills. The Englishman T. Prendergast made the observation that children use contextual and situational cues to interpret utterances and he proposed the first “structural syllabus”. The Frenchman F. Gouin emphasized that teaching new items in a context that made meaning clear is important. Because of the fact that there was no organizational structure in language teaching, their attempts couldn’t be successful.
This situation began to change toward the end of the 19th century. Linguistics was revitalized as a branch of science. Linguists such as Henry Sweet, Wilhelm Viëtor and Paul Passy led reformist ideas. There were some common beliefs that all reformers defend like spoken language is primary, translation should be avoided, help of phonetics can be taken and grammar should be taught inductively. But apart from these beliefs put forward by reformists, there was an interest in developing principles for language teaching out of the naturalistic principles of language learning such as which are seen in the first language acquisition. This was the beginning of the Natural Approach and Direct Method. This method was introduced in the United States by Savuer and Maximilian Berlitz and they became very successful in their commercial schools. Direct method has some opposite ideas to Grammar Translation Method apart from its new ideas. For example, grammar is taught inductively, target language is the medium of classroom interaction, and accuracy in grammar and pronunciation is emphasized. Direct Method is, of course, better than Grammar
Translation Method. At least, it gives more importance to oral communication, and the usage of objects and realia in the class was a good progress for language teaching. However, obsession with the accuracy of pronunciation is seemed to be a handicap for learners, because learning process must be natural and fluent. It can be said that Alternative Period was like a passage from Grammar Translation to more influential approaches and methods.
As we started to our essay, we mentioned that learning a language has many purposes. When the U.S. entered to World War II, they needed to have personnel who had fluency and accuracy in other languages than English. It was necessary to establish special language training programs. So the Audio-Lingual Method came into being. We can say for ALM that it requires drill, drill and drill and only vocabulary to make such drills possible.2It was affected by behaviorism. For example, structural patterns were taught by using drills and successful responses were reinforced. Then, for some reasons like students’ being unable to transfer skills acquired to real communication outside the classroom and procedure’s being boring and unsatisfying, ALM lost its reputation. In addition to ALM, we have Communicative Language Teaching in the current communicative period. It takes its origin from the British language teaching tradition. It has some principles such as language is for expression of meaning and its primary function is interaction and communication. Although we can count principles of it, there are many interpretations of what CLT actually means and involves. In communicative period, there has been development in various ways such as emphasis on individualized instruction, humanistic approaches to language learning, greater focus on the communication, in contrast to linguistic and competence. The silent way is the method devised by Caleb Cattegno. In this method, sounds are coded to colors. Maybe, the most important feature of this method is the teacher’s silence. Although it can be useful sometimes, teacher’s silence is not always an effective way. It can be disturbing or confusing for learners. Another method in this period is community language learning. It uses the counseling-learning theory to teach English. Teacher is more like a guide-counselor than authority to students.
Furthermore, we have the method of Bulgarian psychiatrist-educator Georgi Lozanov’s Suggestopedia. The decoration of the class, furniture, the use of music and the authoritative behaviors of teacher are the main characteristics of Suggestopedia. Peripheral learning is a very original idea in the language teaching. While approaching to post method era, we have Task-Based Language Teaching and Content-based Instruction. In TB language teaching, aim is to teach language by giving a task that will urge students to communicate in the target language while dealing with it. As for the CBI, it is the main goal that teaching something in the target language rather than teaching the language. However, this method can only be used with learners who have high level of proficiency in the target language. Another method that we mustn’t forget is the Multiple Intelligence method. It has a very different way of looking to human intelligence. It aims to teach language by using every person’s dominant intelligence. As you see, most of the methods and approaches is in the current communicative period. We can say that there was a fight of showing who has the best way of teaching language. It was like a brain-storming of language teaching history.
After all of these searches for best method, some questions like why we are always bound to only a method have aroused. Then a scientist called Kumaravadivelu came up with the idea that “as long as we caught up in the web of method, we will continue to get entangled in an unending search for an unavailable solution.” He suggests that we must find “an alternative to method, rather than finding and alternative method.” If we think in the same way with Kumaravadivelu eclecticism may be the answer or result of these ideas. It claims that we must use every useful element of the methods and approach rather than obsession with one of them. So, the post method era is a very different way in language teaching in terms of its looking to methods.
In conclusion, we tried to give a brief history of English language teaching. Each of the methods we examine above is another step in language teaching. Even though some of them are less important than others, each of them is important to understand the difficulties and problems of teaching another language. It can be said that it is better to benefit from every method, approach and technique when it is necessary rather than being stuck on one of them. More flexible you are, more efficient is your teaching.
1 Approach and Methods in Language Teaching” by Jack Richards and Theodore S. Rodgers

2 Hockett, 1959

How did the English language teaching methodology develop? by Mihajlo Ravić


  1. Thanks for that. Currently doing a DELTA and the historical break down came in really handy. Cheers.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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