The very best language educators can often be identified by their commitment to creative and innovative classroom teaching strategies. They’re constantly trying new language teaching strategies to engage their students and experimenting with new language learning activities and teaching tools to improve learning outcomes.
These great language teachers understand that there’s no quick fix that they can deploy to help students quickly become fluent in their target language. Instead there are some common, evidence-based language teaching approaches which can help make a difference. As our language teaching software tools here at Sanako are designed to allow teachers to use which ever pedagogical method they wish, we thought it would be valuable for our customers and blog readers to have a good overview of different teaching approaches. This blog post therefore summarises 10 of the most notable approaches to language teaching. We hope that they will support language educators looking for some inspiration to improve their teaching practice.
It’s worth noting that none of these approaches should be considered “the best” since every classroom, educator and student is different. Our advice is rather that educators should try them out, tailoring them to their specific context and reviewing the impact they have. Keep also in mind that these strategies can be adapted and combined in various ways to suit different learners, contexts, and educational goals. The most effective language teaching approach is often a mix of several strategies tailored to the needs of individual learners.
1. Communicative language teaching (CLT)
This approach is probably now the most popular teaching model for English language teaching globally. In part because it aims to put students in a variety of real-life situations, so that they can learn how to use their language skills to communicate in the real world. Educators therefore tend to focus on fluency of communication rather than accuracy and lessons are more hands-on than theoretical.
Interactive and relevant classroom activities characterise this approach along with the use of authentic source materials. Teachers are encouraged to provide the students with as much opportunity to give and receive meaningful communication as possible. The use of personal experience is also common in CLT classrooms.
To learn more about this approach see our dedicated CLT blog post here.
2. Task-based language teaching (TBLT)
The focus of TBLT teaching is solely on the completion of a detailed task which interests and engages the learners. Learners use the language skills that they already have to complete the task and work through three distinct phases – a pre-task, the task itself and post-task.
Students might, for example, be asked to deliver a presentation about an important environmental issue. In order to complete it, they will need to read / listen to source material, conduct internet research, as well as writing and delivering the presentation itself. Research suggests that students in TBLT classes are empowered and motivated because they ‘own’ the language and can control the nature of the task response.
To learn more about this approach see our dedicated blog posts here and here.
3. Content and language integrated learning (CLIL)
The CLIL approach principally involves studying one subject (for example, biology, science or history) and learning a language, such as English, at the same time — effectively integrating the two subjects.
The language teaching is organized around the demands of the first subject rather than that of the target language. So it’s critically important to make sure that the integration is clear and that students are engaged. Having said that, the CLIL approach does create significant opportunities for cross-curricular working; it opens up language learning to a wider context and can be used to re-engage previously demotivated students.
To learn more about this approach see our dedicated blog posts here and here.
4. Cooperative Language Learning (CLL)
Cooperative Language Learning or CLL forms part of a wider teaching approach known as Collaborative or Community Learning (CL). CLL seeks to make the maximum use of cooperative activities involving pairs and small groups of learners in the classroom. As such, it is a student-centered, rather than a teacher-centered, approach to language teaching.
In the CLL classroom, all of the language learning activities are deliberately designed to maximise opportunities for social interactions. Students should accomplish tasks by interacting between themselves and talking / working together. The teacher’s role is to act as a facilitator of and a participant in the learning tasks.
5. The Direct Method
In this language teaching approach, all teaching happens in the target language, forcing the learner to think and speak in that language. The learner does not use their native language in the classroom at all!
As a result, students work out key grammar concepts by practicing the language and by building up their exposure to it. Standard classroom techniques for this approach include Q+As, conversation, reading aloud, writing and student self-correction.
This is a very traditional teaching approach which prioritises translation from the students’ mother tongue into the target language and vice versa. To succeed in this approach, students need to memorize long lists of vocabulary and detailed grammar formats and rules.
The approach favours accuracy over fluency and tends to favour the development of reading and writing skills instead of speaking skills. The downside of this approach is that it does not prepare students with spontaneous communication skills. Classroom activities therefore usually include grammar drills, vocab tests and encouraging students to incorporate new grammar concepts in standardised writing tasks.
This way of teaching was developed in response to some of the problems associated with Grammar-Translation. As a result, classes are usually held in the target language as this approach deliberately seeks to prioritise speaking and listening skills.
Activities typically involve students repeating the teacher’s words (either face-to-face or through headphones in a language lab) until they get the pronunciations and rhythm right. Good work is rewarded by the educator and mistakes are quickly corrected.
8. Total Physical Response
Total Physical Response or TPR is a way of language teaching in which the teacher presents language objects as instructions and the students have to do exactly what the teacher tells them. Students might therefore be asked to sit down, stand up, point to the clock or walk to the front of the class.
As students improve, such instructions can become more detailed including additional elements for language comprehension, including adverbs (e.g. talk quickly), adjectives (e.g put on your red jumper) and prepositions (e.g stand in front of the teacher).
9. The Silent Way
It’s perhaps hard to imagine a language classroom where the teacher doesn’t actually say much, but that’s the principle at the heart of this approach. As with CLL above, this approach deliberately shifts the focus from the teacher’s teaching to the student’s learning.
Evidently, the Silent Way uses silence as a teaching tool. It encourages students to be more independent and to discover the target language for themselves. Teachers need to employ the widest possible range of gestures and facial expressions to communicate. Props might also be useful and of course, make sure that you explain the whole process to the class first!
10. The Natural approach
Adherents of this approach characterise it as recognising and highlighting the difference between learning and acquiring a language. For them, learning a language requires structure, textbooks, resources and memorising grammar rules or vocabulary lists. Whereas acquiring a language only needs teachers to create an environment which immerses students in the repetition, correction and recall of their target language.
Primarily intended to be used with beginner learners, teachers emphasize interesting, comprehensible input (CI) and create low-anxiety situations. As such, lessons delivered using the natural approach focus on understanding messages in the foreign language, and place little or no importance on error correction, drilling or on conscious learning of grammar rules.
Does it matter which language you are teaching?
While the core principles of effective language teaching apply to teaching any modern language, including English, Spanish, French, Japanese or Mandarin, there may be some differences in emphasis or approach depending on the specific language being taught. However, these differences are generally minor, and the most effective teaching methods can be adapted to suit any language.
For example, Communicative Language Teaching (CLT), Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT), and Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) are all highly effective for teaching any language. These methods prioritize authentic communication, meaningful tasks, and contextual learning, which are essential for successful language acquisition regardless of the target language.
However, certain aspects of a language might require more specific attention or focus. For instance, English has a more complex phonology and a larger vocabulary compared to some other languages, which may require additional emphasis on pronunciation and vocabulary building. Spanish and French have grammatical gender and more verb conjugations than English, which may necessitate a more structured approach to teaching grammar.
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This blog post was last updated 22 May, 2023.