Methods to Principles in Langauge Teaching


                          Methods to Principles in Language Teaching

     Dr. Bal Mukunda Bhandari

Associate Professor

Departement of English Education

Tribhuvan University


Twentieth century remained a century of methods and approaches in the field of language teaching. The applied linguists and language teaching experts in the name of reform in language pedagogy propounded new methods and approaches one after another pointing out the drawbacks of the existing methods and highlighting the merits of newly proposed ones. When English and other modern languages developed in Europe, people started studying them as second or foreign languages, the methods appeared in a “cyclical pattern in which a new paradigm of teaching methodology emerged about every quarter of a century with each new method breaking from the old but at the same time taking with it some of the positive aspects of the previous one” (Brown, 1994).

Methods Debate

Before the nineteenth century, formal language learners used to be scholars who studied foreign language consulting list of words in dictionaries. In the nineteenth century languages came into school curriculum and therefore something more was needed. This gave rise to grammar translation method (Harmer, 2008). This method as its name suggests made grammar rules as starting point followed by exercises involving translation into and out of the mother tongue. At the juncture of the twentieth century a reform movement came (Brown, 1994). This reform movement was the basis for the direct method which remained popular throughout the world in the last half of the 19th century and the quarter of the twentieth century. This method gave priority to oral skills. Writing was delayed and it rejected explicit grammar teaching (Thornbury, 1994:21). As Albert Marckwardt (Brown a99:14) sees this “changing winds and shifting sands”, the grammar was revived dropping out the translation from it. A method based on behaviorism in psychology and structuralism in linguistics was developed in the United States. (A similar method was developed in Britain at the same time which was popularly known as Oral Approach and Situational Language Teaching). This method bought grammar from Grammar Translation method and the philosophy that of the primacy o oral skills from the Direct method. The Audio-lingual method adopted drills,  and sought context for grammar teaching. It rejected translation particularly because it was not possible to use translation in the class where there were students from different linguistic background and because it was not possible to teach English by English native speakers unless they learnt students’ native language and again it was not possible to learn each student’s mother tongue by the teacher. Translation is still popularly used in countries where English is taught by nonnative English speakers.

The 1980s experienced an anti-grammar movement primarily influenced by Krashen’s idea that language can be naturally acquired from meaningful inputs and opportunities to interact in the classroom. Grammatical competence can develop in a fluency oriented environment without conscious focus on form (Hedge, 2000:144). In addition, Chomsky’s criticism on structuralism, Hymes proposal of communicative competence, notional syllabus by Wilkins, task- based syllabus by Prabhu, interactional syllabus by Widdowson, functional syllabus by Jupp and Hodlin (Richards and Rodges, 2000) gave rise to communicative Language Teaching which was later developed into communicative method. This method uses language through communicative activities. It teaches to communicate in English by communicating purposefully with authentic materials put in groupwork, pair work and role-play. At the end of the 20th century a good number of methods based on the principle of communicativeness appeared each claiming to be more communicative.


An approach as Anthony (1963 in Smolinski 1993) writes is a description of the nature of the subject matter to be taught. It states a point of view or a philosophy. The method  is an overall plan for the orderly presentation of language material. It is neither ‘approach’ nor ‘method’ which makes successful or unsuccessful teaching. No methods will work there. In such situation the teacher has to bear the principles of language teaching. IPA (International Phonetic Association) which was founded in 1886 declared following principles of L2 teaching (Stern, 1991:88).

  1. Foreign language study should begin with the spoken language of everyday life and not with the relatively archaic language of literature.
  2. The teacher’s first aim should be to thoroughly familiarize his pupils with the sounds of the foreign language.
  3. The teacher’s second aim should be to introduce his/her pupils the most common sentences and idiomatic expressions of the foreign language. The students should study dialogues, descriptions, and narratives which should as easy, natural and interesting as possible.
  4. In the early stages grammar should be taught inductively complementing and generalizing language facts observed during reading. A more systematic study of grammar should be postponed to the advanced stages of the course.
  5. As far as possible expressions in the foreign language should be related by the teacher directly to ideas and other expressions in the language, and not to the native language. The teacher should take every opportunity to replace translation by reference to read objects or pictures or by explanations given in the foreign language.
  6. At a later stage, when writing is introduced, such written work should be arranged in the following sequence: first reproduction of thoroughly familiar reading texts. Second: reproduction of narratives orally presented by the teacher; and third, free composition. Written translation from and into the foreign language are considered to be appropriate only at the most advanced stage of the course.
  7. At a later stage, when writing is introduced, such written work should be arranged in the following sequence: first reproduction of thoroughly familiar reading texts. Second: reproduction of narratives orally presented by the teacher; and third, free composition. Written translation from and into the foreign language are considered to be appropriate only at the most advanced stage of the course

Bailey (1996 in Richards and Rodgers, 2006) suggests the following principles for teaching a language.

–          Engage all learners in the lesson.

–          Make learners, and not the teacher, the focus of the lesson.

–          Provide maximum opportunities for the student participation.

–          Develop learner responsibility.

–          Be tolerant of learners’ confidence.

–          Teach learning strategies.

–          Respond to learners’ difficulties and build on them.

–          Use a maximum amount of student-to-student activities.

–          Promote both accuracy and fluency.

–          Address learners’ needs and interests.

 In addition to the above ones, some more principles are discussed below.

  1. Speech before writing: Language is primarily speech. Writing is imitation in some conventional symbols for the purpose preserving the language for later. In natural set up people use speech to communicate each other, and the natural fact is that every child acquires speech and only if taught children learn writing after they have acquired speech. Therefore the teaching of a foreign language should start with speech. It means that describing written materials without knowing the speech of the language is incomplete, imperfect and inefficient. The students once they recognize the script can do reading and writing themselves but they need to imitate the teacher to speak (Lado in Smolinski,1993).
  2. Focus on teaching: In L2 setting students learn language through reading. They get very little chance to listen to the target language. Their source is the textbook. They have to learn vocabulary, writing and even listening and speaking through reading. Therefore, a foreign language teacher’s due focus should be on reading.
  3. Basic sentence in conversation: The students need to learn basic sentences as a lexical unit because. Such sentences don’t give sense when each word is taught and try to derive the meaning in the ……………. For example.

A: How are you?

B: I’m fine. Thank you

A: How old are you?

B: I’m ten years old.

A: Where are you from?

B: I’m from Gulmi.

A: Are you a student?

B: Yes. I’m.

  1. Integration of language forms and skills: Language forms and skills cannot be separated though it has been suggested in ELT manuals. Studying a text, for instance, automatically involves all language skills and aspect. The students need to listen to the model, they need to know how a particular word is pronounced and what it means, their understanding is evaluated with what they respond orally and in writing. Thus all skills and aspects of language involve in teaching.
  2. Consideration of E-factor: The E (efficiency) factor includes economy, ease and efficiency. Language teaching has to be done as efficiently as possible. It should be economic in instruction, planning and resources. The technique which does not require much material is preferred to others. The efficacy of teaching can be measured in the degree of attention it arouses and the learning that the learners achieve (Thornbury, 1999).
  3. Consideration of A-factor: Appropriacy is one of the requirements of language teaching. An activity that is to one group of learners may not be the same for another. Various factors such as the age of the learners, their level and needs; the size of the group and its composition (e.g. monolingual or multilingual); the available materials and resources; and the educational context e.g. private school or public school or language institute (Thornbury, 1999).


There was showering of methods and approaches in the twentieth century. It was thought that the problems in language learning were caused by ‘methods’ and therefore the commonest solution to language teaching was to adopt a new teaching method or approach (Richards and Rodgers, 2006:244). Methods were adopted one after another but the problems remained in different manifestation. In fact methods become successful with the appropriate application of principles.


Bygate, m et al. (Ed) 1994. Grammar and the Language teacher. New York: prentice hall

Harmer, J. 2009. The practice of English Language Teaching. London. Longman

Harmer, J. 1992.  Teaching and learning Grammar. London. Longman

Thornbury, S. 1999. How to Teach Grammar. London. Longman

Stern. H.H. 1991. Fundamental concepts of Language Teaching. Oxford. OUP

Richards, J.C and Theodore S. Rodgers. 2006. Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching. Cambridge. CUP

Smolinski, F. 1993. Landmarks of American Languages. Washington: United States Information Agency.

Hedge,T. Teaching and Learning in the Classroom.Oxford:OUP.

Bhandari, B.M. 2009. On Teaching Grammar: A paper presented at NELTA conference.

Cowan, R. 2009. The Teacher’s Grammar of English. Cambridge. CUP.

Brown, D. 1991. Principles of Language Learning and Teaching. Eaglewood cliffs : prentice hall regents.

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