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The Most Common Methods that Have Influenced Teaching English as a Foreign Language

written by: Larry M. Lynch • edited by: Tricia Goss • updated: 1/4/2012

Of the numerous language learning methods that have come, stayed and then gone, several have exerted an outstanding influence on current TEFL practices. Here are four of those which have been highly influential in teaching English as a foreign language up until our day and are still going strong.

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    Looking back at more than 150 years of development in teaching practices, there have been a few methods that have heavily influenced current TEFL practices. Early in the 20th century, language study was deeply ingrained in analysis of the grammar of language. Franz Boas and Otto Jespersen were instrumental in producing academic work in descriptive grammar study. Most grammar study evolved around extensive analysis or written work in the target language. Later however, linguists like Jespersen postulated that study of language should be communicative, or in context. Several contextual language study methods have since emerged as being instrumental in current TEFL practices. The most common four methods that have influenced TEFL practices include the following.

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    Grammar Translation Method

    The earliest formal language study was principally through the Grammar Translation method. The Grammar Translation method was originally known as the “Prussian Method” and published in 1845 primarily for the study of Latin. The focus of this approach is based on reading, writing and grammar rules rather than spoken or communicative skills. Rules of grammar are learned and analyzed through readings and extensive vocabulary lists. Certainly, at some point you have come across a language study book that included grammar explanations and word lists taken directly from a reading. This method was heavily in use up until the early to mid-1960s in many regions of the world. In some areas, it is still used in part. This method fell out of favor due to its lack of focus in producing communicative skills, but still has effectiveness for studying translation and interpreting.

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    European Direct Method

    The European Direct method or Direct Method introduced a lesson planning model known as PPP, or Presentation, Practice, Production which allowed for a simple, straight-forward manner to teach a foreign language, especially English, without the use of the foreign language learner’s first language or L1. Although the current use of the PPP lesson plan model has diminished due to the increased popularity of two other lesson planning and foreign language teaching models, ARC and ESA, nonetheless the PPP lesson planning and teaching model is still in regular use in some countries. The Direct method allows for a foreign language to be taught by conveying meaning through actions, imagery and demonstration rather than translation or other use of the language learner’s first language according to L. Sauveur (1826 – 1907) for whom the method was ultimately attributed.

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    Natural Approach

    Applied linguistics researcher Stephen D. Krashen (Krashen 1981, 1982) and Tracy Terrell, a second language acquisition specialist in the Spanish language (Terrell, 1977) published their combined work on the Natural Approach to second language acquisition (Krashen, Terrell, 1983) which is further broken down into five specific hypotheses, which will be discussed in more detail later in this series.

    · The Input Hypotheses

    · The Affective Filter Hypothesis

    · The Acquisition / Learning Hypothesis

    · The Monitor Hypothesis

    · The Natural Order Hypothesis

    The Natural Approach of Krashen – Terrell views communication as the primary role of language and their approach is focused on teaching communicative skills. This methodology has in turn heavily impacted TEFL practices worldwide in a number of languages due to its expansive approach in addressing manners in which learners learn or acquire a second or foreign language.

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    The Multiple Intelligences

    Developed from theoretical studies by Prof. Howard Gardner of Harvard University, his Multiple Intelligences theory states that we each are “smart” in nine distinctive categories of brain function, although each of us has developed each at different levels and degrees making us unique individuals. Gardner’s theory is concurrent with another developed by Dr. Paul McClean, the theory of Dual Psychology, which states that the two hemispheres of the brain house particular functions and abilities in each of us. The right brain houses colors, artistic ability, emotions and music awareness. While the left brain is the seat of language, numbers and logical thinking. The nine multiple intelligences expounded on via Gardner’s theory currently include:

    · Visual – Spatial intelligence allows learners to visualize lexis and concepts in colors and in three dimensions

    · Verbal – Linguistic intelligence allows learners to verbalize concepts and use both written and spoken language to its best advantage

    · Logical – Mathematical intelligence is a means through which learners categorize, organize and logically process and internalize information

    · Bodily – Kinesthetic intelligence allows for the incorporation of movement as an aid to processing and storing information and concepts especially physically oriented data

    · Musical – Rhythmic intelligence is strongest in those whose principal medium is rhyme, rhythm, tones and other musical elements. This intelligence allows learners to convert what they learn into rhyming or rhythmic elements

    · Intra-Personal intelligence a means through which learners interact through social media and with others

    · Inter-Personal intelligence exists most strongly in those whose strengths lie in self-reflection and personal intent of purpose

    · Naturalist intelligence impulses learners to apply concepts in the natural environment. They often are environmentalists, animal caretakers or nature-based activists

    · Spiritual intelligence is a means through which our quests and need to interact which a higher power is engaged

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    Other Methods

    These four methods have influenced current TEFL practices but are by no means the only ones that have done so. Other TEFL practitioners may well opt for another four methods that have influenced current TEFL practice, although most will certainly agree that these and other methods have also exerted their particular influence. A discussion of some of these other methods and their influence on current TEFL practices will be the topics of additional articles in this series.