2. Approaches and methods in language teaching
2.1 Approach and method
Jack Richards (1986) explains clearly the relationship between “approach” and “method”. Approach refers to theories about
the nature of language and language learning that serve as the source of practices and principles in language teaching. A method is theoretically related to an approach, is
organizationally determined by a design (the level in which objectives and syllabus are determined, and in which the roles of teachers, learners, and instructional materials are specified.), and is practically realized in procedure (implementation phase).
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Approach Design Procedure
2.2.1 Theory of language
Mainly three different theoretical views of language explicitly or implicitly inform current approaches and methods in language teaching.
； The most traditional of the three, is the structural view, the
view that language is a system of structurally related elements for the coding of meaning. The target of language learning is seen to be the mastery of elements of this system, which are generally defined in terms of phonological units (e.g., phonemes), grammatical units (e.g., clauses, phrases, sentences), grammatical operations (e.g., adding, shifting, joining, or transforming elements), and lexical items (e.g., function words and structure words). The Audiolingual Method embodies this particular view of language
； The second view of language is the functional view, the
view that language is a vehicle for the expression of functional meaning. The communicative movement in language teaching subscribes to this view of language. This theory emphasizes the semantic and communicative dimension rather than merely the grammatical charac-teristics of language, and leads to a specification and organization of language teaching content by categories of meaning and function rather than by elements of structure and grammar.
； The third view of language is the interactional view(交互语
言观) . It sees language as a vehicle for the realization of
interpersonal relations and for the performance of social
transactions between individuals. Language is seen as a
tool for the creation and maintenance of social relations. 2.2.2 Theory of language learning
A learning theory underlying an approach or method responds to two questions: (a) What are the psycholinguistic and cognitive processes involved in language learning? and (b) What are the conditions that need to be met in order for these learning processes to be activated?
; Process-oriented theories build on learning processes, such
as, habit formation, induction, inferencing, hypothesis
testing, and generalization.
; Condition-oriented theories emphasize the nature of the
human and physical context in which language learning takes
With respect to learning theory, we are concerned with an account of the central processes of learning and an account of the conditions believed to promote successful language learning.
Teachers may, for example, develop their own teaching procedures, informed by a particular view of language and a
particular theory of learning. They may constantly revise, vary, and modify teaching/learning procedures on the basis of the performance of the learners and their reactions to practice. A group of teachers holding similar beliefs about language and language learning (i.e., sharing a similar approach) may each implement these principles in different ways. Approach does not specify procedure. Theory does not dictate a particular set of teaching techniques and activities. What links theory with practice (or approach with procedure) is called design.
In order for an approach to lead to a method, it is necessary to develop a design. Design is the level of method analysis in which we consider (a) what the objectives of a method are; (b) how language content is selected and organized within the method, that is, the syllabus model; (c) the types of learning
the method advocates; (d) the roles tasks and teaching activities
of learners; (e) the roles of teachers; (f) the role of instructional materials (教学/指导材料).
Different theories of language and language learning influence the focus of a method; that is, they determine what a
method sets out to achieve. The specification of particular learning objectives is a product of design, not of approach.
Some methods focus primarily on oral skills and say that reading and writing skills are secondary and derive from transfer of oral skills. Some methods set out to teach general communication skills and give greater priority to the ability to express onesell meaningfully and to make oneself understood than to grammatical accuracy or perfect pronunciation. Others place a greater emphasis on accurate grammar and
pronunciation from the very beginning. Some methods set out to teach the basic grammar and vocabulary of a language. Gattegni writes, for example, "Learning is not seen as the means of accumulating knowledge but as the means of becoming a more proficient learner." (1972:89).
2.3.2 Content choice and organization: the syllabus 1) What is a syllabus?
A syllabus is an outline and summary of topics to be covered in course. A syllabus usually contains specific information about the course, such as information on how, where and when to contact the lecturer and teaching assistants or an outline of what will be covered in the course. The syllabus serves many purposes for the students and the teacher such as setting clear
expectations of material to be learned, behavior in the classroom, and effort on student's behalf to be put into the course, providing a roadmap of course organization/direction.
The syllabus defines linguistic content in terms of language elements, such as structures, topics, and functions and the goals for language learning in terms of speaking, listening, reading, or writing skills.
2) Choice of content
Decisions about the choice of language content relate both to subject matter and linguistic matter. ESP (English for specific purposes including technical English, scientific English, English for medical professionals, and English for tourism courses) are necessarily subject-matter focused. Structurally based methods, such as Situational Language Teaching and the Audiolingual Method, are necessarily linguistically focused.
Traditionally the term syllabus has been used to specify
linguistic content in a course or method. Syllabuses and syllabus principles for Audiolingual and Structural-Situational as well as in ESP (English for specific purpose) approaches to language program design can be readily seen. For example, the syllabus of the Situational and Audiolingual methods consists of a list of grammatical items and constructions, often together with an
associated list of vocabulary items. Notional-functional syllabuses specify the communicative content of a course in terms of functions, notions, topics, grammar, and vocabulary. Such syllabuses are usually determined in advance of teaching and for this reason have been referred to as "a priori syllabuses." 2.3.3 Types of learning and teaching activities
1) The role of learning and teaching activities
The objectives of a method are attained through the instructional process, through the organized and directed interaction of teachers, learners, and materials in the classroom. Differences among methods at the level of approach show themselves in the choice of different kinds of learning and teaching activities in the classroom. For example: Teaching activities that focus on grammatical accuracy may be quite different from those that focus on communicative skills.
The activity types that a method advocates often serve to distinguish methods. Audiolingualism, for example, uses dialogue and pattern practice extensively. Communicative language teaching advocates the use of tasks that involve an "information gap" and "information transfer"; that is, learners work on the same task, but each learner has different information needed to complete the task.
2) The types of activities
Different theories of approaches may be reflected both in the use of different kinds of activities and in different uses for the same activity types. For example, interactive games are often used in audiolingual courses for motivation and to provide a change of pace from pattern-practice drills. In communicative language teaching, the same games may be used to introduce or provide practice for particular types of interactive exchanges. Differences in activity types in methods may also involve different arrangements and groupings of learners. A method that stresses oral chorus drilling will require different groupings of learners in the classroom from a method that uses
information-exchange activities involving pair work. Activity types in methods thus include the primary categories of learning and teaching activity the method advocates, such as dialogue, responding to commands, group problem solving,
information-exchange activities, question and answer, or drills. 2.3.4 Learner roles
A method reflects the learners' contribution to the learning process. This is seen in the types of activities learners carry out, the degree of control learners have over the content of learning, the patterns of learner groupings adopted, the degree to which
learners influence the learning of others and the view of the learner as performer and problem solver.
Example: The criticism of Audiolingual method
The criticism of Audiolingual method came from the recognition of the very limited roles for learners. Learners were seen as stimulus-response mechanisms whose learning was a direct result of repetitive practice. Newer teaching methods often show more concern for learner roles and for variation among learners. Johnson and Paulston (1976) spell out learner roles in the following terms:
(a) Learners plan their own learning program and thus
ultimately assume responsibility for what they do in the
(b) Learners monitor and evaluate their own progress,
(c) Learners are members of a group and learn by interacting
(d) Learners help other learners,
(e) Learners learn from the teacher, from other students, and
from other teaching sources, such as books or tapes. Curran (1976) views learners as having roles that change developmentally, and uses metaphor to suggest this development. He divides the developmental process into five
stages, extending from total dependency on the teacher in stage 1 to total independence in stage 5. These learner stages Curran sees as parallel to the growth of a child from birth to independent adulthood passing through childhood and adolescence. 2.3.5 Teacher roles
； The teacher roles are closely linked to learner roles.
； Teacher roles are related to the approach.
； Teacher and learner roles define the type of interaction
characteristic of the class in which a particular method is
For example, some methods are totally dependent on the teacher as a source of knowledge and direction such as the Grammar-Translation method; others see the teacher's role as catalyst, consultant and guide for learning, such as Communicative Language Teaching.
Teacher roles in methods are related to the following aspects:
(a) the types of functions teachers are expected to fulfill, whether that of practice director, counselor, or model, for example; (b) the degree of control the teacher has over how learning takes place;
(c) the degree to which the teacher is responsible for determining