LINGUIST List 23.2741

Fri Jun 15 2012

Review: Applied Linguistics: Larsen-Freeman & Anderson (2011)

Editor for this issue: Rajiv Rao <>

Date: 15-Jun-2012
From: Elizabeth Kissling <>
Subject: Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching
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AUTHOR: Diane Larsen-Freeman and Marti AndersonTITLE: Techniques and Principles in Language TeachingPUBLISHER: OxfordYEAR: 2011

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


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

The first eleven main chapters cover the following methods: TheGrammar-Translation Method, The Direct Method, The Audio-Lingual Method, TheSilent Way, Desuggestopedia, Community Language Learning, Total PhysicalResponse, Communicative Language Teaching, Content-based Instruction, Task-basedLanguage Teaching, and The Participatory Approach. This third edition containsa total of three new chapters; the chapter on "Content-based, Task-based andParticipatory Approaches" in the second edition (2000) was broken into threechapters here so that each topic could be dealt with separately, and a finalchapter on emergent technologies was also added.

Most of the main chapters follow a standard format. First, a brief introductionserves to contextualize the emergence of the method as part of larger trends ineducation and related fields, or to address the failings of earlier methods.Next, the "Experience" section provides a detailed observation report of a classin which a teacher employs the method. The context of the class varies acrossthe chapters, from young children to adults, from English as a foreign language(EFL) to English as a second language (ESL), and from novice to advancedproficiency levels. The next section, titled "Thinking About the Experience,"provides a bullet-point list of teacher behaviors observed in the class, eachpaired with a guiding principle that motivated the observed behavior. Theseprinciples 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 ofstudent-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 severalof the techniques most commonly associated with the methods, along withsuggestions of how to implement the techniques in the classroom. A briefconclusion follows with exercises to check comprehension of the chapter andquestions designed to help the reader make connections between the method andhis/her own beliefs and behaviors.

The last two main chapters do not present particular methods but rather treatancillary topics that complement the other methods. Chapter 13 first discussesthe teaching of learning strategies and cooperative learning techniques,providing an illustrative classroom observation report for each. This chapteralso 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 classroomactivities that fit each intelligence. Chapter 14 discusses emerging uses oflanguage teaching and learning technologies, noting that technology can provideboth teaching resources and enhanced learning experiences. The technologieshighlighted are blogs, social networking, youtube, wiki, and electronic textcorpora.

The concluding chapter points out some salient similarities among many of themethods, including the main goal of having students communicate in the targetlanguage, reliance on a synthetic or analytic syllabus (see Wilkins, 1976), andorthogonal treatment of culture. The concluding chapter also points out somesalient differences between methods, both complementary (e.g. emphasis on oneparticular aspect of the language learning process) and contradictory (e.g. roleof the first language, treatment of learner errors, and amount of control givento learners). The volume concludes with a discussion about how teachers shouldgo about selecting the methods that are most coherent with their own beliefs,teaching context, and learners, even if the result is a sort of "principledeclecticism." The authors note that learning to teach is a mutable process ofself 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 perceivedshortcomings of previous methods. The introductory discussions of the laterchapters are particularly illuminating, explaining how, for instance,communicative language teaching (CLT) is "fuzzy" in teachers' understanding andhow "this fuzziness has given CLT a flexibility which has allowed it to endurefor thirty years" but also makes it harder to define as a set of particulartechniques (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 thesurface but in fact represent distinctive scopes and foci.

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

The authors succinctly capture the essence of each method's guiding principlesand perspective on the larger question of how languages are learned. Thequestion-answer format makes it easy to compare various methods with regards toimportant considerations such as: "What is the role of the teacher?," i.e., iss/he an authority in the classroom (desuggestopedia), director of all studentbehavior (total physical response) or a counselor (community languagelearning)?; "What are the goals?," i.e., are they to enable students tocommunicate in the target language (CLT), to master both language and content(content-based instruction), or to teach language that is meaningful and toraise the political consciousness of students (the participatory approach)?; and"How is language viewed?," i.e., is language seen as primarily spoken but notwritten (the direct method) or is language for "doing" (TBLT)? Unfortunately,because these "Reviews of the Principles" present many of the same ideas asthose in the "Thinking About the Experience" sections, and often use identicalwording, these sections come across as unnecessarily repetitive.

Many of the techniques presented in connection with each method are supplementedwith 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. Forexample, the information-gap task is explained merely as "the exchange ofinformation among participants in order to complete a task" (p. 158). This couldhave been supplemented with explanation about how information-gap tasks arepurported to promote negotiation of meaning, how changing the dimensions andconditions of a task can promote more or less negotiation of meaning, or whynegotiation of meaning in interaction is thought to be beneficial for languagelearning (see for example Van den Branden, Bygate, & Norris, 2009). Also, onlytwo to eight techniques are reviewed in each chapter, so teachers might desire amore exhaustive list.

The chapters are presented in a roughly chronological order, and the laterchapters are relatively more comprehensive in their coverage than the earlierchapters, particularly in terms of their recognition of related pedagogicalpractices and considerations. For instance, the whole language approach isdiscussed in connection with content-based instruction, and project work isdiscussed in connection with TBLT. In connection with the participatoryapproach, a range of subjects is broached, including which English should betaught, critical discourse analysis, non-native speakers as teachers, and hiddencurriculum. This difference in coverage could give the impression that recentmethodological developments have greater theoretical or empirical evidence fortheir efficacy than methods developed earlier, though the authors claim to havean "agnostic stance," advocating for no one method over another.

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

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


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

Christison, M. (2005). Multiple Intelligences and Language Learning: A Guidebookof Theory, Activities, Inventories, and Resources. San Francisco, CA: Alta BankCenter Publishers.

Gardner, H. (2007). Five Minds for the Future. Cambridge, MA: Harvard BusinessSchool 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. TESOLQuarterly, 40(1), 109-131.

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

Van den Branden, K., Bygate, M., & Norris, J.M. (2009). Task-Based LanguageTeaching: 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 MadisonUniversity. She holds a PhD in Linguistics and an MA in HispanicLiterature. She specializes in second language acquisition, working mostclosely with populations of Spanish, English, and Arabic learners. Hercurrent lines of research include best practices of FL teaching, phoneticsand pronunciation instruction, interaction in study abroad, and theinterplay of L1, L2, and memory.

Page Updated: 15-Jun-2012