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What are the Different Techniques that Have Been Used to Teach Students a New Language?

What are the Different Techniques that Have Been Used to Teach Students a New Language? | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Throughout history, several different teaching approaches and methodologies have been tried and tested with some being more popular and effective than others.There are various teaching methods and techniques that are employed to help students learn a new language and this critique explains the advantages/disadvantages and effectiveness of some of the more important approaches.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Thomas C. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

Grammar Translation

The first technique (dominantly used ‘up to the 1960s’) (Lier and Lier, 2001) is the Grammar Translation (or Classical) method based on the translation of words/passages from the ‘students native language’ as ‘the medium of instruction’ (Richards & Rodgers, 2001) into the target language as a direct comparison. It is one of the oldest forms of Second-language acquisition. Students have explained the rules, syntax, and etymology in a more linguistic way than communicative with a focus on literary texts grammar rules. The major advantage of this method is that the student will understand the exact meaning of words translated into their native language, grammar is learned easily due to a direct comparison between languages. However, it requires the teacher to be skilled in both languages to communicate meanings/words and it is not always possible to directly translate especially if the native language structure is different. This approach could be ‘considered detrimental as it does not allow the achievement of fluency and foster communicative language use’ (Newson, 1998) so the language being learned may not be understood and spoken correctly.

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The Audio-Lingual Method

The Audio Lingual Method (or Army Method) was derived from wartime need, for personnel to achieve skill in foreign languages and is based on a theory that learning a new language is more successful via constant reinforcement and conditioning so that it becomes a habit. This method concentrates on repetitive, inflective and replacement drilling (including others forms) as the ‘primary objective is to attain oral proficiency’ (Mai, 2018).

This method helps the students learn and develop listening and speaking skills efficiently. New language is first heard and extensively drilled before being seen in its written form. Visual aids help in the enrichment of vocabulary. This method is convenient to teach large groups of students. Correct pronunciation and structures are learned easily.

Despite the advantages of this method, it does not help in increasing communication aptitude. The students’ exposure to a range of language remains quite restricted. This method does not encourage students to reflect on word meanings. Reading and writing skills can become neglected and the main focus is on the teacher rather than the students. (Bygate, 2001).


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The Structural Approach

As the name suggests, the method is all about structure. The theory is that any language is made up of complex grammar rules. According to this approach, these rules need to be learned in a particular sequence. The focus is teaching students to recognize word arrangements to form patterns and learn certain structures and therefore help the students to use the language more efficiently (Menon and Patel, 1971). This method stresses oral-aural learning, giving the students opportunities to hear and speak the language. The downside is each structure needs to be selected carefully and suitably graded for the correct age range/experience level which requires significant teacher input in lesson planning (Kagan, 1989).

These are the main teaching methods but there are also other types known as holistic/humanistic approaches to teaching:

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Developed in the 1970s by Lozanov, this method relies on positive thinking and allaying students’ fears about not being able to understand or learn something. It was theorized that by being positive, students retain up to 3 to 5 times more information compared to other teaching approaches. This requires students to be relaxed and confident in their capabilities (Lozanov, 1978).

Total Physical Response (TPR)

Total Physical Response is an approach that follows the idea of learning through action. Aural understanding is the most important skill in this method. Students learn through a sequence of repetitive actions such as in English “Stand up”, “Fold your arms” and “Sit Down.” This is meant to be interactive, fun and motivate students to pay attention and therefore retain more understanding of the lesson (Asher, 1969).

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The Silent Way

As the name suggests, the point of this method is to allow the students (not the teacher) to be responsible for their own learning and the teacher says as little as required. The idea is to let students learn and unlock the language for themselves. Thereby learning would be expedited and pronunciation improved. This technique makes use of ‘Coloured Cuisenaire Rods’ with each color representing a characteristic of the language such as an intonation or grammar point using phonemic charts as a reference. Unfortunately, teachers find the method unnatural compared to normal teaching practices (Yüksel and Caner, 2014).

planning lessons

Task-Based Language Learning

The main objective of this approach is task completion. Students are expected to build on their established understanding of English to complete the task set by the teacher to the best of their ability. A good teacher will set interesting and topic appropriate tasks to engage students (Kafipour, Mahmoudi and Khojasteh, 2018).

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The Lexical Approach

This methodology focuses less on grammatical structure and more on the grammar of specific words/phrases or ‘chunks’ for language attainment. ‘The Lexical Approach implies a decreased role for sentence grammar, at least until post-intermediate levels. In contrast, it involves an increased role for word grammar (collocation and cognates) and text grammar’ (Lewis, 1993). Students learn the most common words and their uses and then identify which words are linked and so build on their current knowledge of the language.

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All these methods have their uses and place in the classroom when teaching new languages. There are many different ways to teach language and these different approaches have come from varied needs over the years for a focus on a specific part of language be that pronunciation, punctuation, vocabulary, grammatical structure or other parts. Each methodology has been created to further develop student learning with each having its own advantages/disadvantages. Most of these techniques are still used in some form today and have evolved into the modern system of EFL teaching known as Engage, Study, and Activate (ESA).

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