Methods of Foreign Language Teaching in the 19th and 20th Century

Seminar Paper 2006 22 Pages

Didactics - English - Pedagogy, Literature Studies


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Characteristics of a Language Teaching Method

3. Teaching Methods and Approaches
3.1 Grammar-Translation Method (GT)
3.1.1 Central Characteristics
3.1.2 Effects of GT on the Learner
3.2 Quosque Tandem (reform methods)
3.2.1 Series Method – Central Characteristics
3.2.2 Direct Method – Central Characteristics
3.3 Audio-Lingualism (AL)
3.3.1 Central Characteristics
3.3.2 Effects of AL on the Learner
3.4 Situational and Audio-Visual Language Teaching
3.4.1 SLT and AV – Central Characteristics
3.5 The Language Acquisition Device and Foreign Language Teaching
3.5.1 Cognitive Anti-Method and Minimal Strategy – Central Characteristics
3.5.2 Bilingual Education – Central Characteristics
3.6 Communicative Language Teaching (CLT)
3.7 Humanistic Approaches
3.7.1 The Silent Way – Central Characteristics
3.7.2 Community Langage Learning – Central Characteristics
3.7.3 Total Physical Response – Central Characteristics
3.7.4 Suggestopedia – Central Characteristics

4. Conclusion


1. Introduction

During the history of foreign language teaching many methods and approaches have been developed to teach students language competence and performance. In this respect more or less successful techniques have been developed.

Literature often distinguishes between methods and approaches used in language teaching. Jack Richards and Theodore Rodgers “describe an approach as a set of beliefs and principles that can be used as the basis for teaching a language”.[1] They can be interpreted and applied individually and extended by new methods. According to Richards and Rodgers, methods are teaching systems that are specific about teaching techniques and the roles of learners and teachers. They do not allow interpretation and are acquired by the teachers through training.[2] In the following essay mainly teaching methods will be described.

Beginning with the Grammar Translation method and ending with Humanistic approaches, this essay will focus on a couple of the main foreign language teaching methods and approaches in the 19th and 20th century. First it will be described how language teaching approaches and method can be analysed. Then some techniques will be explained. Here the focus will be on the main principles of the techniques and their effect on the learner. From some minor methods and approaches only central aspects will be considered.

2. Characteristics of a Language Teaching Method

A language teaching method can be defined according to a couple of characteristics. Johnson gives “seven questions to ask about a method”[3] which are helpful to characterize and to identify a language teaching method.

First the basic ideas of a method should be found out. Then the theory behind the method has to be identified and “in an ideal world, [the method] would be supported by a view both of language and of language learning.”[4] The third question asks which role the mind plays. A behaviourist theory for instance, demands less engagement of the mind than a mentalist view does. It is also important to find out, if the approach is deductive or inductive. A deductive method gives the learner a rule first which is then demonstrated in examples. When the method is inductive the learners deduce the rule from examples they are given. In most cases the rule is stated at the end of the sequence but sometimes it is never given clearly. Johnson then suggests to investigate how much the native language (L1) is used in the classroom and if it is allowed at all. The sixth question is about, which skills are being developed. There are the spoken skills (listening, speaking) and the written skills (reading, writing). The last “question to ask about a method” is concerned with the authenticity of the target language. It has to be investigated if realistic language is used or if the student learns a language that will never enable him to communicate competently in the foreign language (L2).[5]

The investigation of the teaching methods in the following paragraphs will mainly rely on the points explained above. Sometimes other features will be added and some of the above ideas will not be considered.

3. Teaching Methods and Approaches

3.1 Grammar-Translation Method (GT)

The Grammar-Translation Method was developed in the early to mid nineteenth century. Karl Plötz and Heinrich Ollendorf are often associated with this method of foreign language teaching.[6]

3.1.1 Central Characteristics

GT consists of “a sequence of classroom activities”[7]. First a grammatical rule is explained and examples are given. Then the learners get a bilingual vocabulary list which they should learn by heart. The lists often contain complex constructions which also should be learned with their translations. These constructions can contain sentences like: I see myself, you see yourself, he sees himself etc. Afterwards translation exercises (sentences and whole passages) from L1 to L2 and vice versa are done.[8]

This method requires the engagement of mind very much. Compared to languages like Latin and Greek the study of modern languages at university was widely regared as the “soft option”[9]. To overcome that view and to demonstrate that modern languages also have intellectual value “one way […] was to make the explanations difficult”[10]. Because first the rules are stated and then examples are given the students learn the grammar deductively. These explanations are entirely given in the native language, hence L1 is very much used in the classroom. Besides that many translation tasks are given to the learner. In this method the foreign language (FL) is approached through L1. Another aspect of this method is that it mainly concentrates on written language. The reason for that is partly because Latin and Greek were not spoken and because written language seemed more suitable for acadamic use. One can also recognize that the language taught in this method is not very authentic because here the focus is on grammar and on written language, not on communication. Example sentences are used to demonstrate particular grammatical problems and not intended to be used in conversation, hence they are very unreal. The important role of “sentence-level-practice”[11] where whole passages often constist of question and answer sentences following each other led to “what Howatt […] calls ‘manic interrogation’ sequences”. An example for manic interrogation is the following:[12]

“I am ready, and you? Not yet, wait a moment, please. What do you study at school? I study history and geography, and my sisters study music and drawing. At what o’clock do you dine? Ordinarily we dine at five, but today we dine a little later, because we are waiting for our uncle, who will arrive from Naples. What do you admire in this landscape? I admire all in it. Do you play an instrument? I don’t play at all. Do your sisters sing? They sing a little. Why do you blame your school-fellows? Because they are not diligent at school. What does it matter to you, if they are diligent or not at school or elsewhere? Mind your own business.”

(example: Johnson, 166)

3.1.2 Effects of GT on the Learner

GT mainly concentrates on form not on meaning and the learners have to read and write a lot. The method is dominated by giving grammatical rules to the learner. The sentences and texts used in the lessons serve to demonstrate these rules. Hence the learners try to translate each single word and to figure out the grammatical problem without understanding the message of the text. Besides that, the selected passages often are boring for the students. This method also wants the learners to construct complete and correct sentences, which can raise the “anxiety level” for them and therefore it can block their thoughts.[13] In my opinion this can also lead to slow speech because the students have to think a lot about rules to avoid mistakes when producing sentences. Eventually the learners will not be able to enter a proper conversation in the foreign language, because they get ready-made chunks of language that represent grammatical rules and that are to be learned by heart. Hence it is difficult for them to build sentences freely. Besides that, there is payed to much attention to the written skills, in contrary to the spoken ones.


[1] Jack C. Richards and Theodore S. Rodgers, Approaches and Methods in Language

Teaching, 2nd ed. (New York: CUP, 2004), 244.

[2] See: Ibid., 244-245.

[3] Keith Johnson, An Introduction to Foreign Language Learning and Teaching (Edinburgh:

Pearson Education Limited, 2001), 162.

[4] Ibid., 162.

[5] See: Ibid., 162-163.

[6] See: Ibid., 164-165.

[7] Ibid., 164.

[8] See: Ibid., 164.

[9] Ibid., 165.

[10] Ibid., 165.

[11] Ibid., 165.

[12] See: Ibid., 165-166.

[13] See: Stephen D. Krashen, Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition (London:

Prentice-Hall International, 1987), 128-129.


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Methods Foreign Language Teaching Century Didactic Aspects Second Acqusition



Title: Methods of Foreign Language Teaching in the 19th and 20th Century