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Review of  Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching, Third Edition

Reviewer: Elizabeth Maria Kissling
Book Title: Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching, Third Edition
Book Author: Diane Larsen-Freeman Marti Anderson
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Issue Number: 23.2741

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AUTHOR: Diane Larsen-Freeman and Marti Anderson
TITLE: Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching
YEAR: 2011

Elizabeth M. Kissling, Department of Foreign Languages, Literatures, and
Cultures, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA


The intended audience of this volume is a “teacher educator” interested in
developing a repertoire of language teaching methods. The preface argues that
training in methodologies, though certainly not without its critics (e.g.
Hinkel, 2006; Rajagopalan, 2007), is useful to language teachers. The authors
define the “techniques” in the volume’s title as the methods or actions teachers
carry out in the classroom, and the “principles” as the thoughts (beliefs,
attitudes, values, and awareness) of teachers that guide those actions. The
techniques and principles must be connected and coherent for a language teacher
to be successful.

The first eleven main chapters cover the following methods: The
Grammar-Translation Method, The Direct Method, The Audio-Lingual Method, The
Silent Way, Desuggestopedia, Community Language Learning, Total Physical
Response, Communicative Language Teaching, Content-based Instruction, Task-based
Language Teaching, and The Participatory Approach. This third edition contains
a total of three new chapters; the chapter on “Content-based, Task-based and
Participatory Approaches” in the second edition (2000) was broken into three
chapters here so that each topic could be dealt with separately, and a final
chapter on emergent technologies was also added.

Most of the main chapters follow a standard format. First, a brief introduction
serves to contextualize the emergence of the method as part of larger trends in
education and related fields, or to address the failings of earlier methods.
Next, the “Experience” section provides a detailed observation report of a class
in which a teacher employs the method. The context of the class varies across
the chapters, from young children to adults, from English as a foreign language
(EFL) to English as a second language (ESL), and from novice to advanced
proficiency levels. The next section, titled “Thinking About the Experience,”
provides a bullet-point list of teacher behaviors observed in the class, each
paired with a guiding principle that motivated the observed behavior. These
principles are expounded upon further in the following section, titled
“Reviewing the Principles.” This section poses and answers a series of questions:

What are the goals of the teachers who use this method?
What is the role of the teacher? What is the role of the students?
What are some characteristics of the teaching/learning process?
What is the nature of student-teacher interaction? What is the nature of
student-student interaction?
How are the feelings of the students dealt with?
How is language viewed? How is culture viewed?
What areas of language are emphasized? What language skills are emphasized?
What is the role of the students’ native language?
How is evaluation accomplished?
How does the teacher respond to student errors?

A “Reviewing the Techniques” section provides an expanded explanation of several
of the techniques most commonly associated with the methods, along with
suggestions of how to implement the techniques in the classroom. A brief
conclusion follows with exercises to check comprehension of the chapter and
questions designed to help the reader make connections between the method and
his/her own beliefs and behaviors.

The last two main chapters do not present particular methods but rather treat
ancillary topics that complement the other methods. Chapter 13 first discusses
the teaching of learning strategies and cooperative learning techniques,
providing an illustrative classroom observation report for each. This chapter
also discusses multiple intelligences (e.g. logical, spatial, kinesthetic,
verbal, etc.), drawing on the research of Armstrong (1994), Christison (2005),
and Gardner (e.g. 2006, 2007) and provides several examples of classroom
activities that fit each intelligence. Chapter 14 discusses emerging uses of
language teaching and learning technologies, noting that technology can provide
both teaching resources and enhanced learning experiences. The technologies
highlighted are blogs, social networking, youtube, wiki, and electronic text

The concluding chapter points out some salient similarities among many of the
methods, including the main goal of having students communicate in the target
language, reliance on a synthetic or analytic syllabus (see Wilkins, 1976), and
orthogonal treatment of culture. The concluding chapter also points out some
salient differences between methods, both complementary (e.g. emphasis on one
particular aspect of the language learning process) and contradictory (e.g. role
of the first language, treatment of learner errors, and amount of control given
to learners). The volume concludes with a discussion about how teachers should
go about selecting the methods that are most coherent with their own beliefs,
teaching context, and learners, even if the result is a sort of “principled
eclecticism.” The authors note that learning to teach is a mutable process of
self discovery.


The introduction to each chapter is useful as a succinct explanation of when,
how, and why each method developed in order to address the perceived
shortcomings of previous methods. The introductory discussions of the later
chapters are particularly illuminating, explaining how, for instance,
communicative language teaching (CLT) is “fuzzy” in teachers’ understanding and
how “this fuzziness has given CLT a flexibility which has allowed it to endure
for thirty years” but also makes it harder to define as a set of particular
techniques (p. 115), and how content-based and task-based language teaching
(TBLT) are in essence “strong versions” of CLT and thus can look similar on the
surface but in fact represent distinctive scopes and foci.

The classroom observation sections are particularly useful to those readers who
have not experienced certain methods first hand because they are contextualized
and detailed enough to give the reader a sense of truly having observed a class.
The observations detail, among other things, the physical arrangement of the
classroom and participants, the instructors’ use of teaching materials,
management of student participation in the classroom interaction, and what is
planned for subsequent class meetings. Each moment of the lesson is described in
great detail.

The authors succinctly capture the essence of each method’s guiding principles
and perspective on the larger question of how languages are learned. The
question-answer format makes it easy to compare various methods with regards to
important considerations such as: “What is the role of the teacher?,” i.e., is
s/he an authority in the classroom (desuggestopedia), director of all student
behavior (total physical response) or a counselor (community language
learning)?; “What are the goals?,” i.e., are they to enable students to
communicate in the target language (CLT), to master both language and content
(content-based instruction), or to teach language that is meaningful and to
raise the political consciousness of students (the participatory approach)?; and
“How is language viewed?,” i.e., is language seen as primarily spoken but not
written (the direct method) or is language for “doing” (TBLT)? Unfortunately,
because these “Reviews of the Principles” present many of the same ideas as
those in the “Thinking About the Experience” sections, and often use identical
wording, these sections come across as unnecessarily repetitive.

Many of the techniques presented in connection with each method are supplemented
with a concise, practical step-by-step guide for how to implement the technique
in class, as well as its pedagogical rationale. The presentation of the
dictogloss is a good example:

In a dictogloss (Wajnryb, 1990), students listen twice to a short talk or a
reading on appropriate content. The first time through, students listen for the
main idea, and then the second time they listen for details. Next, students
write down what they have remembered from the talk or reading. Some teachers
have their students take notes while listening. The students then use their
notes to reformulate what has been read. Students get practice in note-taking in
this way. Next, they work with a partner or in a small group to construct
together the best version of what they have heard. What they write is shared
with the whole class for a peer-editing session. Through these processes,
students become familiar with the organization of a variety of texts within a
content area (p. 142).

However, some of the techniques are given much more superficial treatment. For
example, the information-gap task is explained merely as “the exchange of
information among participants in order to complete a task” (p. 158). This could
have been supplemented with explanation about how information-gap tasks are
purported to promote negotiation of meaning, how changing the dimensions and
conditions of a task can promote more or less negotiation of meaning, or why
negotiation of meaning in interaction is thought to be beneficial for language
learning (see for example Van den Branden, Bygate, & Norris, 2009). Also, only
two to eight techniques are reviewed in each chapter, so teachers might desire a
more exhaustive list.

The chapters are presented in a roughly chronological order, and the later
chapters are relatively more comprehensive in their coverage than the earlier
chapters, particularly in terms of their recognition of related pedagogical
practices and considerations. For instance, the whole language approach is
discussed in connection with content-based instruction, and project work is
discussed in connection with TBLT. In connection with the participatory
approach, a range of subjects is broached, including which English should be
taught, critical discourse analysis, non-native speakers as teachers, and hidden
curriculum. This difference in coverage could give the impression that recent
methodological developments have greater theoretical or empirical evidence for
their efficacy than methods developed earlier, though the authors claim to have
an “agnostic stance,” advocating for no one method over another.

The later chapters also are lacking in practical suggestions for the language
teacher. In connection with the participatory approach, only two specific
techniques are mentioned, dialoguing and problem posing, and both could have
benefited from much more explanation about how to implement those techniques
successfully in the classroom. The same criticism could be made of the chapter
on emergent technologies, which would have been improved by suggestions for
implementation, along the lines of how to balance communicative skills (rather
than overly relying on written texts), negotiate issues of online safety, or
create cohesive lessons. The review of the techniques in the technologies
chapter will likely be of use only to the internet neophyte. Most teachers would
benefit from advice on how to create and use wikis successfully in their
language teaching more than an explanation of what Wikipedia contains.

In sum, this volume is a clearly written introduction to language teaching
methods that includes many concrete examples and practical advice for teachers.
The jargon-free writing style, avoidance of prescriptivism, and emphasis on
self-reflection while selecting teaching methods makes it especially suited to
novice language teachers.


Armstrong, T. (1994). Seven Kinds of Smart: Discovering and Using your Natural
Intelligences. New York: Plume/Penguin.

Christison, M. (2005). Multiple Intelligences and Language Learning: A Guidebook
of Theory, Activities, Inventories, and Resources. San Francisco, CA: Alta Bank
Center Publishers.

Gardner, H. (2007). Five Minds for the Future. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business
School Press.

Gardner, H. (2006). Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons in Theory and Practice.
New York: Basic Books.

Hinkel, E. (2006). Current perspectives on teaching the four skills. TESOL
Quarterly, 40(1), 109-131.

Rajagopalan, K. (2007). From madness in method to method in madness. ELT
Journal, 62(1), 84-85.

Van den Branden, K., Bygate, M., & Norris, J.M. (2009). Task-Based Language
Teaching: A reader. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Wajnryb, R. (1990). Grammar Dictation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wilkins, D. (1976). Notional Syllabuses. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Elizabeth Kissling is an Assistant Professor of Spanish at James Madison University. She holds a PhD in Linguistics and an MA in Hispanic Literature. She specializes in second language acquisition, working most closely with populations of Spanish, English, and Arabic learners. Her current lines of research include best practices of FL teaching, phonetics and pronunciation instruction, interaction in study abroad, and the interplay of L1, L2, and memory.

Format: Paperback
ISBN: 0194423603
ISBN-13: 9780194423601
Pages: 272
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