English UK 2012 Teachers’ Conference #3: Chia Suan Chong on different teaching methodologies

English-UKI recently went to the English UK 2012 Teachers’ Conference. I attended Chia Suan Chong’s session and she talked about different different teaching methodologies. Chia questioned whether trainers, course book writers and teachers have taken sufficient notice of developments in second language acquisition theory over the years. I have attempted to list and in some cases embellish what she said (so all errors and over-simplifications are mine!).

Chia started by looking at the Classical or Grammar Translation Method. This approach was based on developing reading skills, primarily in Latin. Even when the use of Latin was waning, grammar translation was seen as a good way of developing mental dexterity in the educated classes. Learning this way involves texts, lists of vocabulary and an emphasis on grammar rules. Usually the content of what was being translated was far less important than the form so one could be asked to translate useful sentences such as : ‘The philosopher pulled the lower jaw of the hen.’! This method is still used in some countries and I remember elements of it being used in my secondary school French lessons.

Around the turn of the 20th century came the Direct or Natural Method. Instruction from the teacher is only given in the language being learnt. There is a lot of repetition and work on pronunciation. Visuals are used to teach vocabulary but grammar is learnt inductively i.e. not explicitly explained. In many ways it is an attempt to mimic how someone learns their mother tongue.

In the 1950′s came the Audio-lingual or Army Method. It was based on listening followed by grammar drills. The idea was that people would learn by reciting patterns without any formal analysis of them. This was often done in a language lab. Do you remember the reel-to-reel tape recorders?

Later, in the 60′s, Chomsky suggested that everyone has the innate ability or neural wiring to learn a language (this explained for him why children can learn a language so quickly). Krashen built on this idea to explain that for second language acquisition the language input for the student needs to be suitably graded (comprehensible) and that it’s important that their emotional attitude (affective filter) to learning is positive. This approach emphasises communication in the classroom and that subconscious acquisition should come before analytical learning if one wants to achieve good levels of naturalness and fluency.

Total Physical Response was also developed in the 60′s. Usually associated with teaching low-level learners, it tries to improve their memory by associating instructions with movement (a right-brain approach). Students are not required to speak until they are ready and they learn grammar/vocabulary inductively by listening to the teacher’s instructions and by (initially) observing the associated physical actions.

In the 70′s Lozanov developed Suggestopaedia. This approach uses long dialogues with integrated music in an atmosphere of relaxation and positivity between teacher and students.

Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) started to become fashionable in the late 70′s and the term is often used to today to describe what most ELT/TEFL/TESOL teachers are doing but with perhaps a slightly modified meaning. CLT is rather difficult to define but is sometimes contrasted with approaches that teach grammar in isolation or ones that involve only limited communication from the student. In the 70′s new coursebooks were written that tried to focus on what people did with language such as ‘suggesting’ or ‘apologising’ rather than on grammatical form. It was put forward as a new way to organise a syllabus.

More recently there has been interest in task-based learning (TBL). TBL is about engaging students in motivating interactive tasks e.g. making a video about something they are interested in. Larger projects often involve multiple steps and a number of micro tasks. Grammar and vocabulary is supplied or discovered in relation to the needs of the task in question. Students are very active participants in their own learning and teachers become facilitators rather than directors.

In conclusion Chia felt that teachers could learn something from all approaches and that the best teaching is likely to draw on a range of philosophies and techniques. In 2 words – it’s a matter of employing principled eclecticism.

  • Some of the issues teachers should perhaps bear in mind when considering the best way to teach their students (in no particular order) are:
  • motivating students
  • the importance of vocabulary for expressing meaning
  • making tasks/activities as meaningful or useful as possible
  • negotiation in terms of content, style and expectation
  • interaction between teacher and student (it’s a 2-way street)
  • removing unnecessary stress in the learning situation
  • the student taking responsibility for their learning
  • the place of grammatical explanation (beware too much)
  • not forcing the production of language until students are ready
  • the role of listening
  • exposure to a range of relevant contexts for speaking, listening, reading and writing
  • the use of repetition when learning structure
  • cultural barriers to communication (usually where L1 is very different from L2)

I think most of these ideas are applicable to 1-1 home tuition. It means working together with your student and continually adapting how and what you teach. Cherry picking all year round!


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One Response to English UK 2012 Teachers’ Conference #3: Chia Suan Chong on different teaching methodologies


  1. KelvinFowler says:

    Margaret C4 commented 15/02/2013

    “I began re-learning French about four years ago, inspired by the progress I saw in students learning English where I worked, and in the hope of understanding their learning process better. I’m not yet able to provide any theories on the usefulness of different teaching/learning methods that I’ve encountered as a student – nor have I made as much progress as I’d like!

    However, I’m very clear about the activities I enjoy doing (speaking) and what I dislike and resist doing (preparing presentations) and can’t help thinking that as a teacher you need to provide options and, regardless of the benefits of what we might think is useful, find out what the student enjoys as well as what they might need!”

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