For centuries, foreign language teachers have argued about what was the “best” method for teaching and learning a language. Advocates of grammar-based approaches have repeatedly been at odds with those who supported a more “direct” approach based on more “naturalistic” assumptions about language learning.
It was not until the past few decades that the language teaching profession began to acknowledge the validity of multiple approaches to teaching and learning languages. Rivers (1981) and Grittner (1990), among others, have advocated an eclectic approach in which teachers draw upon techniques from a variety of methodologies. More recently, Tedick and Walker (1994) have cautioned against a “paralyzing focus on methodology” in language teacher education, affirming that any discussion of methods must attend to the underlying theory of language learning as well as to the social context and needs of the learners. A more radical approach is that of Kumaravadivelu (2003), who dismisses the concept of method entirely on the grounds that it is “too inadequate and too limited to satisfactorily explain the complexity of language teaching operations around the world” (p. 29).
Whatever one’s opinion of the notion of language teaching methods, the fact remains that classroom teachers must employ techniques or activities of some type, whether or not these techniques are part of a larger “method.” Furthermore, beginning teachers cannot be expected to invent an entire repertory of techniques from scratch; they must draw, at least in part, upon methods and techniques developed by others. Ideally, teachers’ decisions about which of these methods or techniques to use should be based on an understanding of language acquisition theory and on the needs of their students. It is our experience, however, that these decisions are more often based upon teachers’ familiarity with the methods or techniques in question, and that teachers tend to avoid using techniques that they have never seen demonstrated. It is, after all, somewhat challenging to implement a technique that one has only read about in a methods textbook.
Although a number of authors (e.g., Chastain, 1988; Hadley, 2001; Larsen-Freeman, 2000; Rivers, 1981; Richards & Rodgers, 2001; Shrum & Glisan, 2009) have provided a textual description of well-known language teaching methods, along with a discussion of their underlying theoretical foundations, there exist few opportunities for beginning teachers to actually witness these methods being applied in a classroom. In our own methods classes we have often lamented the lack of video resources demonstrating the methods discussed in the textbook. Moreover, we have often not felt competent to demonstrate methods in which we ourselves have not received training.
In an effort to remedy this situation, we set about filming a series of lessons illustrating methods that have been more or less widely used during the past half century, as taught by teachers who have made extensive use of these methods in their own classrooms. In selecting the methods to be included, we settled upon two criteria: (1) the practicality of the method’s application in a traditional classroom setting, and (2) the availability of a skilled teacher who could demonstrate the method.
With these criteria, we ended up including two methods that have been largely rejected by the profession: the Grammar Translation Method and the Audiolingual Method. We felt it important to include these methods because they were the principal approaches to language teaching in the not-too-distant past, and we wanted students to have an idea of what they looked like. Furthermore, we believe that these methods, like all methods, exhibit both strengths and weaknesses, and at their best were perhaps not as dreadful as they have sometimes been portrayed to be.
Conversely, we ended up excluding methods such as Suggestopedia, the Silent Way, and Community Language Learning/Counseling Learning, despite the fact that they are often mentioned in textbooks. Due to the highly specialized expertise that these methods require of instructors, we were unable to locate instructors who were qualified to demonstrate them. We feel somewhat justified in excluding these methods, however, on the grounds that their unusual nature poses significant challenges in applying them in traditional classroom settings in most educational institutions, and, to our knowledge, they have never been widely used in such settings.
To some extent, the methods included here represent a historical progression, demonstrating how ideas about language teaching and learning have evolved during the past half century. Although we have pointed out the reasons for the rejection of some methods by the language teaching profession, we prefer not to label any method as entirely “good” or “bad”; rather, we prefer to encourage users of the DVD to think critically about the relative advantages and disadvantages of each method. To aid in this process, we have included a separate “Questions for Observation and Thought” section.
For each method, we have provided a brief textual description of the historical background, the theories of language and language learning on which the method is based, and a sampling of representative classroom activities. We have also included a video demonstration of some of the most common teaching and learning activities associated with each method. Our intent is not to demonstrate the full range of possible activities, which would be impossible within the scope of this project; we simply hope to give teachers a feel for each method, along with suggested resources for those who want to study the method in more depth. We acknowledge that the lessons demonstrated in the videos may not correspond exactly with others’ conceptions of these methods, inasmuch as the actual application of a given method varies from teacher to teacher. This is especially true in the case of approaches, which are relatively nonprescriptive in terms of classroom activities, as opposed to methods, which dictate specific techniques and sequences to be followed. Our use of the terms approach and method (e.g., Cognitive Code Approach, Audiolingual Method) is intended to reflect this distinction.
To the extent possible, we have included a variety of languages (including English as a second language) and levels in the videos. Nevertheless, there exists a certain degree of overlap among some of the video demonstrations due to the fact that some methods draw upon others; for example, Total Physical Response and the Natural Approach are based on similar theories of language learning and often use similar learning activities; and many current methods, including Task-based Instruction and Content-based Language Learning, may be subsumed under a broader Communicative Approach. Furthermore, as Brown (1997) points out, “Generally, methods are quite distinctive at the early, beginning stages of a language course, and rather indistinguishable from each other at a later stage” (p. 3). Richards and Rodgers (2001) add that “it is perhaps for this reason that video samples of different approaches and methods typically demonstrate the first lesson (or an early lesson) of a foreign language class. There are no convincing video ‘demonstrations’ with intermediate or advanced learners, perhaps because, as Brown points out, at that level there is nothing distinctive to demonstrate” (p. 250). For this reason, many (though not all) of the videos were filmed in beginning-level classes.
It is our belief that a well-informed and judicious teacher can benefit from a familiarity with a wide variety of teaching methods, and that even methods that have fallen from favor may contain individual techniques that are worth knowing about. In this spirit, we express the hope that this DVD will aid language instructors in expanding their teaching repertory with activities that are congruent with their own beliefs, teaching styles, and personalities, as well as with the diverse learning styles, personalities, and needs of their students.
Blair Bateman and Baldomero Lago
Brown, H. D. (1997). English language teaching in the “post-method” era: Toward better diagnosis, treatment, and assessment. PASAA (Bangkok) 27: 1-10.
Chastain, K. (1988). Developing second-language skills: Theory and practice (3rd ed.). San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Grittner, F. M. (1990). Bandwagons revisited: A perspective on movements in foreign language education. In D. Birckbichler (Ed.), New perspectives and new directions in foreign language education (ACTFL Foreign Language Education Series, Vol. 21, pp. 9-43). Lincolnwood, IL: National Textbook.
Hadley, A. O. (2001). Teaching language in context (3rd ed.). Boston: Heinle & Heinle.
Kumaravadivelu, B. (2003). Beyond methods: Macrostrategies for language teaching. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Larson-Freeman, D. (2000). Techniques and principles in language teaching (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Richards, J. C., & Rodgers, T. S. (2001). Approaches and methods in language teaching (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Rivers, W. M. (1981). Teaching foreign-language skills (2nd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Shrum, J. L., & Glisan, E. W. (2009). Teacher’s handbook: Contextualized language instruction (4th ed.). Boston: Heinle.
Tedick, D. J., & Walker, C. L. (1994). Second language teacher education: The problems that plague us. Modern Language Journal, 78, 300-312.