LINGUIST List 13.1434

Wed May 22 2002

Review: Applied Linguistics: Larsen-Freeman (2000)

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  1. P. Ilangovan, Larsen-Freeman (2000) Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching

Message 1: Larsen-Freeman (2000) Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching

Date: Tue, 21 May 2002 17:26:22 +0000
From: P. Ilangovan <>
Subject: Larsen-Freeman (2000) Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching

Larsen-Freeman, Diane (2000)
Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching, 2nd ed.
Oxford University Press, xv+191pp, ISBN 0-19-435574-8,
Teaching Techniques in ESL series.
We have not yet received an announcement of this book from the publisher.

P. Ilangovan, Department of English, C.B.M. College (affiliated to
Bharathiar University), Coimbatore, India, and Co-ordinator of the
British Council-sponsored English for Science and Technology Project
in South India.

[For another review of this book see --Eds.]


This book is an overview of language teaching methods and the
principles underlying them that have been current at one time or
another, within the period of a 100 years or less (as Larsen-Freeman
says when introducing the Grammar- Translation Method, one of the
oldest language teaching methods to be reviewed in the book, "Earlier
in this century, this method was used for the purpose of helping
students read and appreciate foreign language literature"). Written
with the beginning teacher or a teacher who would like to move into
the area of TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language), or the
teacher educator in mind, the book introduces the idea that it would
be helpful to think about Methods and Principles as thoughts-in-action
links. The thoughts would correspond with Principles and action with
techniques. Larsen-Freeman also deals with how similar techniques can
get instantiated differently which would be due to the differences in
principles behind them.

She illustrates how a technique can lead students to very different
conclusions about their learning: when students have to look at a
picture and repeat after the teacher word for word and get everything
flawlessly, and when they look at the same picture and do not have to
strive to get the correct dialogue that their teacher modelled
earlier, and creating novel sentences along the way. But, whatever the
conclusions may be, Larsen-Freeman emphasizes that thoughts (which are
in essence Methods or Principles) lead to actions (which are
techniques) which in turn lead to learning outcomes in the
classroom. In addition, she hopes that her exposition of
thought-in-action links would persuade teachers to try and teach
differently from the way they had been taught: to try a different
technique in the classroom.

However, Larsen-Freeman 'warns' that such a rearrangement of one's
teaching styles, beliefs and attitudes towards teaching a particular
method may not be a simple matter at all. To explain how teachers
often resist change, she refers to the 'doubting game' and the
'believing game.' According to her, we are almost programmed to doubt
everything and anything, and that could be the reason that teachers do
not give new techniques a fair trial. In effect, she wants teachers to
give a chance to a new technique, all other things being equal.

Before we discuss each of the 12 chapters that the book consists of,
mention should be made of the way in which Larsen-Freeman has
presented the different sections while discussing each of the Methods
or Principles in each chapter. Each of the Methods is first of all
introduced in its historical context, immediately following which the
reader is taken into a "virtual classroom" where the Method in
question is being implemented (it has to be mentioned, of course, that
the author writes the 'Experience' section, to which this discussion
belongs, with the full knowledge that Methods rarely, if ever, get
implemented in their purest form. Other factors, such as the students'
personality and other social or educational events intrude [besides
sometimes having to teach to a test]). 'Thinking about the experience'
is the section that follows the 'Experience' section. In a very
accessible way the author presents the experiential information (what
the reader 'observed' in the classroom) as a table that has the
first column labelled 'Observations' and the second 'Principles.' This
organization allows us to see the author's logic behind this: the
observations equate with the actions that the reader observed and the
principles correspond with the thoughts underlying the actions. The
third section called 'Reviewing the Principles' presents the
principles that the reader is helped to abstract from the observation
of the lesson. To help the reader accomplish this, the author
discusses the observed teaching behaviours with reference to the goals
of the teacher using the Method, the roles of the teacher and the
student, the nature of interaction, students' feelings, the way(s) in
which language and culture are viewed, the language skills that the
Method emphasizes, the role of the students' mother tongue, the kind
of evaluation done and the treatment of students' errors.

The fourth section is called 'Reviewing the techniques' and it
discusses in detail the various techniques that the reader would have
observed during the lesson. The fifth section is Activities that does
two things: Firstly, it helps the reader check their understanding of
the main points of the chapter presented, and secondly, it provides
help to the reader to apply the Method/Principle/Technique in their
own classroom.


The fact that it was earlier called the Classical Method and the fact
that it was used to help students learn to read and appreciate foreign
language literature are presented as key points by the author to
discuss the Grammar-Translation Method, which is one of the methods
that was used earlier in the twentieth century. From the observation
session we understand that the skills of Reading and Writing are
emphasized at the expense of the other two skills, including
Pronunciation. Translating from English into students' native
language, presentation of grammar rules with examples and requiring
students to apply the rule to other situations once they become
familiar with the rule, and immediate correction of student error are
the central principles of the Method. Techniques include translation
of literary passages, reading comprehension questions,
fill-in-the-blank type exercises for the students to learn and
practice grammar rules and vocabulary and memorization of target lang!
uage vocabulary lists are some of the key techniques used in the


The Direct Method like the Grammar-Translation Method got its name
from the fact that meaning is expected to be conveyed directly in the
target language through the use of demonstrations and visual
aids. However, translation is not allowed. The goal of instruction is
learning how to use a foreign language to communicate. In this method,
opportunity is given to students to use language in real contexts:
they are given ample opportunities to think in the target language. In
the observation section, we see that the students are studying
Geography and cultural attitudes with the aid of realia and
pictures. The teacher avoids translation or explanation and grammar is
presented by way of examples and students asked to induce the
grammatical rule that the examples exemplify. In other words, grammar
is taught inductively. Also, teachers try to get students to
self-correct as much as possible. Vocabulary is emphasized over
grammar and speech is considered basic to the other skills. Conversation 
practice, map drawing, fill in the blanks, dictation and
paragraph writing are some of the techniques used in the method.


The Audio-lingual Method like the Direct Method is also an oral-based
approach. Using different kinds of drill, such as repetition drill,
backward build-up drill, chain drill, single-slot and multiple-slot
substitution drills, transformation drill, question and answer drill
and completing the dialogue, the teacher attempts to respond to the
chief principles that this Method has: Language learning is a process
of habit formation and so teachers need to provide students with a
good model to mimic. To this end, teachers try to help students to
avoid error, and when errors are committed they are corrected by the
teacher immediately. In this method, students learn structural
patterns first; vocabulary afterwards.


One of the basic principles of the method is to build on something
what the student knows and helped to move to the unknown. Silence is a
tool and it is used to foster learner autonomy. The teacher speaks
only when it is necessary. Students help each other and themselves,
and by remaining silent the teacher helps the students learn
co-operatively. Sound colour chart, Fidel chart, teacher' silence,
correction by peers, gestures that encourage students' self-correction
and word chart are some of the key techniques used in the method.


This method which was first presented by Georgi Lozanov shows respect
for students' feelings. Larsen-Freeman points out that the approach
deals with the psychological barriers that students set up when they
learn foreign languages, and it does its work by 'desuggesting' to the
students their limitations. In the 'Experience' section we witness a
very different class from the ones we have come across so far: the
teacher asks the students (Egyptian) to choose their own identities
with English names which is fun and lessens their anxiety. In fact,
this approach motivates the students to lower their anxiety and
interact with one another in cheerful and interesting ways. The
teacher uses songs, fantasy, dramatization, translation and gentle
correction when students make errors. The important element in the
approach is the teacher's role in the classroom. Because of her
attitude and gentleness in treating students' errors, she gains the
trust and respect of the students.


Based on Charles A. Curran's Counseling-Learning Approach, Community
Language Learning Method treats learners as 'whole persons.' The
author points out the key element of the approach: any learning
situation is threatening to students. In order to help students
overcome it the approach advocates that teachers become 'language
counselors.' The author says that the language counselor would not
behave like psychologists but as someone who understands the struggle
the learner would be going through when learning a foreign
language. The underlying principles of this approach are: keeping
students informed about the activity they would undertake helps them
feel more secure which in turn would lead to non-defensive learning on
the part of the learner.

Co-operation not competition is encouraged and students' errors are
treated by the teacher who repeats correctly what the students said
incorrectly, thereby applying the principle that errors need to be
corrected in a non-threatening way. The chief techniques are
encouraging students to generate their own syllabus and thus their own
learning materials: tape-recording students' conversation, translating
students' native language utterances into English, transcribing
students' recorded conversations and helping students to translate
their utterances into their native language; under each translation
the teacher provides the target language equivalent so that students
can study them later. Underlying these techniques is the students'
strong sense of community and their relationship with one another.


The 'Comprehension Approach' was the precursor to the Total Physical
Response (TPR) and other approaches such as Krashen and Terrell's
Natural Approach, Winitz and Reed's Self-Instructional Program and
Michael Lewis' the Lexical Approach. The basic principle underlying
these approaches is that students should first understand spoken
language before producing language on their own. The main principles
of TPR are: spoken language should be emphasized over written
language, and meaning can often be conveyed by actions and therefore
commands and instructions are used to direct student behaviour in the
class. Further, feelings of success at carrying out simple commands
issued by the teacher and low anxiety with a dose of fun (for example,
the teacher says, "Jump to the desk" and everybody laughs) added to
the activity facilitate learning in the students. As for student
errors, the teacher ignores the minor ones and corrects the major ones
at first, and later corrects minor ones.


In the 1970s it became apparent to educators that although students
were producing accurate language in the classroom, they were not
producing appropriate utterances including specific language functions
(such as 'apologizing,' 'inviting' or 'declining an invitation') when
they used the foreign language outside of it. It became clear that
students may know the rules but may not be communicatively competent
in the target language. The chief tenets of this approach are: using
'authentic' language, unravelling a speaker's or writer's intention,
working with language at the discourse level, playing games that
provide immediate feedback as to whether the students were successful
or not in the game; Errors are noted but the activity is allowed to go
on (the teacher will however return to the error later on), tasks that
encourage communicative interaction and co-operation among the
students are set up, and teacher acts as a facilitator and adviser to
students. Some techniques that are considered important in this
approach are: using authentic materials, unscrambling sentences and
working on strip stories, playing language games and role-play.


The main idea behind these approaches is to teach English through
communication rather than for it. Very similar to the 'language across
the curriculum' movement in England, the content-based approach
endeavours to teach a subject as well as English at the same
time. Important principles are: students know that language learning
is a means to an end and not an end in itself, learning authentic
subject matter, using language not only orally but also to read and
write about interesting and relevant content. On the other hand, the
task-based approach that Prabhu made use of did not, unlike the
communicative language teaching approach, focus on a single function
or form but on task completion which covered a wide variety of forms
and functions. As the main focus is on meaning, the teacher would
reformulate or recast learners' sentences containing error. Prabhu
made use of three types of task: information-gap activity,
reasoning-gap activity and opinion-gap activity. The Participatory
Approach based on the work of Paolo Freire has similarities with the
content-based approach. It however differs from it in meaningful ways:
students focus on content (not on subject matter content), that is
issues of real concern to students' lives (e.g., students get to
discuss their real-life problems and one student is observed
discussing the problems she is having with her landlord). The teacher
makes use of themes and topics that appear in students' discussions
which in turn forms the 'syllabus.'


On account of what 'good language learners' did while learning a
target language, people like Rubin postulated that they are willing
and accurate guessers who are willing to take the risk of appearing
foolish while communicating. The main tenet of this approach is that
the teacher's job is not only to teach language but also to teach
learning. Learners are encouraged to become self-regulated learners
and in the final analysis to become autonomous learners. The teacher
also helps them to transfer the training to different situations. In
cooperative learning, students learn to work cooperatively in groups
and even stay in groups for extended periods of time to learn how to
work in groups. This approach in addition to nurturing students' sense
of accountability and responsibility fosters interaction in the target
language. The third approach, Multiple Intelligences (MI), is based on
the fact that students have different strengths in language
learning. It is well known that stud! ents are differentiated on the
basis of their different learning and cognitive styles and MI based on
Gardner's work in Psychology specifies seven distinct intelligences:
Logical/mathematical, verbal/spatial, body/kinesthetic,
musical/rhythmic, interpersonal, intrapersonal and
verbal/linguistic. This approach attempts to use riddles or games that
include the deployment of a few or many of these intelligences to
solve them, and in the process language learning is facilitated.


In this chapter the author presents a summary chart that attempts,
quite successfully, to compare and contrast the approaches encountered
so far, in terms of key elements such as language/culture, language
learning and language teaching.


All said and done, the book stands as testimony to a teacher educator
who is passionate about dissecting and presenting for further analysis
and, if it is possible, synthesis to the new teacher and teachers who
would like to find out what it is that they are doing when they teach
in a particular way using particular techniques and teaching and
learning materials. It even tries to get the teacher to try and
implement an approach that is different from one's own and learn from
its implementation. In fact, a recurring theme in the book is
experimenting with new techniques.

Experimenting involves a willingness to think differently, and the
reader needs to be advised that in the try-out, in the locus of action
would the seeds of change be sown and differences become apparent as
Julian Edge (in press) points out, "The identification of the
discrepancy between action-as-plan and action-as-event as the
potentially catalytic location of creative approximations appears to
me to be a significant contribution to the theorisation of practice as
a counter-discourse to that of the application of theory."


Edge, Julian (in press). "Openings." Continuous Professional
Development, ed. Julian Edge. IATEFL, Whitstable, Kent, United


The reviewer is a teacher of English to college students, teacher
trainer, project co-ordinator, materials writer and curriculum
developer. He has also co-ordinated a four year-long British
council-sponsored English for Science and Technology Project in
Coimbatore, India.
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