Thursday, January 05, 2006

Past Trends in English Language Teaching: How We Got to Where We Are

Past Trends in English Language Teaching: How We Got to Where We Are

English Language Teaching and learning methodology and didactic approaches have been in an almost constant state of flux since the advent of the Grammar – Translation method documented by German-American anthropologist Franz Boas and the Danish linguist Otto Jespersen during the early 20th century. Each of the English language teaching and learning methodology and didactic approaches of past decades has contributed to the state of the art that now exists. Here are a few key contributors to ELT.

Past Trends in ELT

Approximately every decade a new approach or methodology comes into vogue. Audio-lingual method, TPR, Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP), Direct method, the Natural approach and the Communicative approach have all had their heydays. As elements of Computer-Aided Language Learning (CALL) began to grow, the very need for human teachers came briefly into question. Suddenly, everyone wanted to get “plugged in” like the hero in the movie “Matrix” and learn everything instantly. From Piaget to Pimsleur, ever widening facets of language and learning have been ladled upon our world. Many theorists, linguists, language researchers, educational psychologists and a sea of teachers have contributed to our knowledge and understanding of the language teaching and learning processes. A few of the many major theories, events and trends which shaped ELT during past decades include:

Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences opened the way to more diversity of activities focused on the students themselves and their innate skills, preferences and abilities.

Student-centered teaching and learning-based courses, texts and programs developed at an increased rate.

Noam Chomsky’s theory of Transformational Generative Grammar gave us greater insight into language learning vs. language acquisition and of structural linguistics.

Stephen Krashen et al provided us with five hypotheses to deepen our insight into language acquisition and learning

Psychologists Roger Sperry contributed the theory of Dual Psychology which explained our two innate brains and Paul MacLean’s Triune brain model postulated the three layers of depth to our thinking and actions

Hermann’s Brain Dominance Model allowed us improved understanding of how personality characteristics, learning styles and language learning integrate.

Several well-validated texts emerged in North America, Europe, Latin America and Asia as international and regional benchmarks for EFL curriculum.

The listings could easily go on and on as there are many significant contributions that could be noted here. Each of the English language teaching and learning methodology and didactic approaches of past decades has contributed in part to our understanding and applications of English as a foreign or second language. The Total Physical Response of Asher put movement and motion into language learning getting students out of their desks and into the flow, for example. The article “Predictions of Trends in ELT for 2006: What to Expect in the Upcoming Year” will discuss continuing developments we might expect.

Prof Larry M. Lynch is a certified English language teacher / trainer, bi-lingual copywriter, expert author and photographer specializing in business, travel, food and education-related writing in South America. His work has appeared in Transitions Abroad, South American Explorer, Escape From America, Mexico News and Brazil magazines. He teaches at a university in Cali, Colombia. To read more or get additional original, exclusive language education based articles and content for your newsletter, blog or website contact him at:

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