Will Mitchell

My teaching approach

Will Mitchell – Oxbridge TEFL student – 04/02/12


Teaching Methodologies – A brief analysis by comparison


Teaching methodologies have evolved significantly over the past century in response to the changing requirements of second language learners, and an increasingly complex understanding of linguistics and second language acquisition. This short essay will briefly analyze and compare the three methods of second language acquisition with particular focus on the intended goal, the roles of the teacher and student, and the form of the input, output and delivery.



Brief History of Language Acquisition

Historically the need for language acquisition dates back as far as human history itself with communication having always been a basic requirement for trade and survival. The known origins of modern language education in the western world can be found at the end of the 16th Century, when commonly spoken Latin was displacement by the modern European languages and Latin was then taught as a means of understanding classical literature, with classes placing a high emphasis on grammar and reading.


During the 18th and 19th Centuries, language acquisition was used as a means of sharpening the mind through studying rather than a tool for communicating and translating speech. A key area of interest during this period was the study of ancient and classical literature, and at this time language acquisition was solely focused on the understanding of grammar for the purpose of accurately translating texts. The technique of language teaching during this period is seen as the first commonly recognized modern methodology and is now described as the grammar translation method or GTM.




Recent Developments  

Recent developments in modern language teaching methodologies have been informed by a growing abundance of research material from the 20th century, and from increasingly complex scientific/linguistic studies aimed at understanding language acquisition by the human brain. This increase in linguistic understanding has provided valuable insight into areas of difficulty experienced in second language acquisition, and has subsequently led to the emergence of a variety of theories and improved teaching techniques, many of which are found in practice around the world today.


Language usage very loosely brakes down into two elements; understanding, as defined by the input of language into a subject (reading and listening) and production, which is the means of expressing language trough writing and speaking.

Different methodologies place emphasis on different areas of study and employ various methods of delivery, with the key differences being:


  • The desired goal, or the reason for leaning and desired outcome of learning.
  • The methods of input, output and delivery of the material,
  • The organization of the syllabus;
  • The role of the teacher in the classroom,
  • The approach to errors and the correction of learners.
  • ‘Affective factors’ how much stress is placed on the student.

Stephen Krashnen’s ‘Acquisition/Learning Hypothesis’ states that adults have two different ways to develop competence in a language: ‘Language acquisition’ is a subconscious process not unlike the way a child learns language. Language acquirers are not consciously aware of the grammatical rules of the language but rather develop a feel for correctness. ‘Acquisition’ is the picking-up of a language. ‘Language learning’ on the other hand refers to the conscious knowledge of a second language, knowing the rules, being aware of them, and being able to talk about them. The acquisition-learning distinction hypothesis claims that adults do not lose the ability to acquire languages the way that children do. Just as research shows that error correction has little effect on children learning a first language, so too error correction has little affect on language acquisition.

Many of the teaching methodologies used today are based either on ‘acquisition’ by communicative means, or by ‘learning’ through traditional means such as GTM.




The Grammar Translation Method (GTM) is the traditional form of teaching language based on ‘Language Learning’. GTM was first used in the 18th and 19th Century’s, and was based on grammar rules and reading. The goal was not communication, but instead to teach the litery form of the language with a high emphasis on accuracy. Speaking, listening and pronunciation were largely ignored and in most cases omitted from syllabuses, which were based around sequenced questions for reading comprehension.


A typical class would consist of; explanation of a grammatical rule with the inclusion of some example sentences, a bilingual vocabulary list, and a reading section exemplifying the grammatical rule and incorporating the vocabulary; followed by various exercises to practice using the grammar and vocabulary.


The grammar translation method taught about the target language, but not how to use it, with classes taught in the student's first language and with the teacher seen as the authoritive figure of the classroom. The method was still widely in use until recently, being fast and relatively easy for the institution and teacher (due to it being delivered in the native language) and is still used in certain areas of the world where correctness is preferred to spoken fluency.


The grammar-translation method provides little opportunity for acquisition by listening or practicing pronunciation, and relies heavily on sequenced learning.


Communicative Approaches ‘by Acquisition’


The Audio Lingual Method

The Audio lingual method, otherwise known as the ‘Army Method’ is a communicative approach to learning by ‘acquisition’ and was introduced prior to the Second World War when there was a direct need for soldiers to learn sentence structures quickly for use in action zones. The audio lingual method is based on psychology and grammar structures, and involves the repetitive drilling of students with grammatical sentence patterns, with noun and verb replacements offering some scope for variation. The learning process is one of ‘habit formation’ and the role of the teacher is to model the language pattern through speech by of ‘drilling’.

Focus is given to psychological absorbsion and the intended goal is communication rather than reading or writing. Structured grammatical patterns are not provided but are implied by the teacher and learnt through acquisition with vocabulary added afterwards. A high emphasis is placed on error correction.   

The Audio-lingual method is in use today and a typical lesson would usually begin with a dialogue containing the grammar and vocabulary to be focused on in the lesson. The students mimic the dialogue and eventually memorize it. After the dialogue comes pattern drills, in which the grammatical structure introduced in the dialogue is reinforced, with these drills focusing on simple repetition, substitution, transformation, and translation.

Whilst the audio-lingual method provides opportunity for some acquisition to occur, it relies on the sequenced learning of structures and vocabulary and provides little or no scope for creative adaption of output by students, and is limited in this sense.


The Direct Method or ‘Berlitz Method’

The Berlitz method is an early form of teaching by ‘Language Acquisition’. First introduced in at the beginning of the 20th Century, it is an example of a direct communicative approach to teaching, with vocabulary and speaking emphasized over grammar. The majority of successful modern TEFL teaching is based on communicative/acquisition methods and many teaching methodologies use the basic principles of the Direct/Berlitz method.


Classes using the ‘direct method’ are taught entirely in the target language, students should be speaking 80% of the time during class and translation from/to the native language is actively discouraged throughout by the teacher. The primary concerns of the direct methods are speaking and listening, and the intended goal is for students to begin constructing and adapting sentences through practice.   


Interaction between the students and the teacher form the basis of the syllabus, which is centered on real life situations, topics covering realistic needs and short grammar and vocabulary exercises. The Direct methods highlight the purpose of language as communication, although writing and reading are also encouraged outside of class from the onset.

A typical class involves discussion entirely in the target language with the teacher using examples of language in order to inductively teach grammar; students are to try to guess the rules of the language by the examples provided and by the use of ‘realia’ (objects, props and pictures). The teacher’s role is to demonstrate and interact with the students throughout the course of a class, asking questions about relevant topics and trying to use the grammatical structure of the day in the conversation. Accuracy is sought but not insisted upon, and errors are corrected through practice where this is not disruptive to learning or student confidence.

The direct methods provide more a far more comprehensible input than the grammar translation and audio lingual methods previously discussed, whilst retaining a focusing on grammar patterns, vocabulary and pronunciation are emphasized through practice in realistic situations.


"What theory implies, quite simply, is that language acquisition, first or second, occurs when comprehension of real messages occurs, and when the acquirer is not 'on the defensive'... Language acquisition does not require extensive use of conscious grammatical rules, and does not require tedious drill. It does not occur overnight, however. Real language acquisition develops slowly, and speaking skills emerge significantly later than listening skills, even when conditions are perfect. The best methods are therefore those that supply 'comprehensible input' in low anxiety situations, containing messages that students really want to hear. These methods do not force early production in the second language, but allow students to produce when they are 'ready', recognizing that improvement comes from supplying communicative and comprehensible input, and not from forcing and correcting production."

Krashen, Stephen D. 1981. Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition. (6-7)

Research unanimously indicates that learning a second language by ‘communicative’ or ‘acquisition’ methods in low anxiety environments consistently produces better results than those based on the traditional sequenced learning of grammar using textbooks or drilling techniques. Many successful teaching methodologies have combined all the above, with elements of both ‘language learning’ and ‘language acquisition’ although those based on the communicative methods are more widely recognized.


The most effective teaching methodologies are currently based on the principles of the direct method, focusing on the communicative approach to use language in real contexts.

Grammar and vocabulary are learnt through function and form exercises through which structures appear in realistic settings. Students learn through practice and are encouraged in natural use of the language through which they complete tasks. These methods encourage a high degree of interactive student acquisition; make best use of classroom time, whilst delivering practical language skills in an interesting and fun way.








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