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Review of  Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching

Reviewer: Jenifer Larson-Hall
Book Title: Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching
Book Author: Diane Larsen-Freeman
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 12.2605

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Larsen-Freeman, Diane (2000) Techniques and Principles in Language
Teaching, 2nd ed. Oxford University Press, paperback ISBN 0-19-435574-8,
xv+191pp (Teaching Techniques in English as a Second Language series).

Jenifer Larson-Hall, University of Pittsburgh.

This second edition of "Techniques and Principles" continues to
provide coverage of many diverse teaching methods in a condensed and
engaging style. The new edition updates information on some methods,
including new methods which have come into prominence since the first
edition (1986), and expands both the introduction and final summary into
full chapters. The concluding summary chapter now compares differences
in the methods and also provides some of Larsen-Freeman's personal
musings on choosing a teaching method.

The terms 'method', 'approach' and 'technique' are used in the same
way in this book as Anthony (1963) introduced them: ' . . . techniques
carry out a method which is consistent with an approach'. For the most
part, each method is reviewed in a separate chapter. The methods
surveyed are Grammar Translation Method, the Direct Method, the
Audio-Lingual Method, the Silent Way, Desuggestopedia (the name of this
method changed from Suggestopedia to Desuggestopedia to emphasize the
importance on desuggesting limitations on learning), Community Language
Learning, Total Physical Response, and Communicative Language Teaching.
Two chapters contain 3 methods apiece. Chapter 10 looks at Content-based,
Task-based and Participatory Approaches. These approaches are grouped
together as methods which make communication central, but which differ in
their focus. Larsen-Freeman points out that these 3 units of inquiry
might be called syllabus types by some people, but she feels that if a
method is 'a coherent set of thought-in-action links', then these 3 may
profitably be called methods. Chapter 11 examines Learning Strategy
Training, Cooperative Learning, and Multiple Intelligences. These
strategies for teaching all focus their main concern on the language
learner rather than the language. These are not comprehensive methods
but Larsen-Freeman feels they are interesting methodological practices.

Each chapter provides a brief introduction to the method, then
proceeds on with something like a transcript of an actual class where the
teacher uses the method. A section entitled "Thinking About the
Experience" sets out observations of teaching techniques, and states the
principles behind the use of these techniques. For example, for The
Direct Method, in the class the students read a passage aloud about U.S.
geography. The principle behind this is that reading should be taught
from the start, and that culture can be learned through such topics as
geography as well as the fine arts. In the next section, "Reviewing the
Principles", Larsen-Freeman gives the answer to 10 questions which are
used to summarize every method. This convention makes it easier to
compare the differing methods. The questions include such ones as, "What
are the goals of a teacher who uses this method?", "How is language
viewed? How is culture viewed?", and "What is the role of the students'
native language?". The following section, "Reviewing the Techniques",
provides an expanded list of techniques which a teacher could choose
from. For example, in The Direct Method chapter, techniques such as
"Getting students to self-correct" and "Dictation" are briefly
discussed. The "Conclusion" section for each chapter asks the reader to
consider whether she agrees with and might want to adopt certain
techniques of the method. An "Activities" section before the final
"References and Additional Resources" asks questions to check
understanding of the method and gives assignments to implement techniques
from the method.

The main audience for this book is language teachers. The clear
focus is for language teachers to evaluate the criteria behind their own
teaching philosophies and practices (which may differ), and to provide
some stimulus for thinking about other techniques and approaches which
may enrich the teacher's repertoire. Larsen-Freeman says we in the
academic world are very good at doubting, criticizing and pointing out
faults. However, she enjoins the reader to 'play the believing game'
(Elbow 1973) by exploring how we, as teachers, could find some good in
many kinds of methods and techniques. Her ultimate point, brought up in
the final chapter, is that learning is complex and that teachers should
be managers guided by values and a 'commitment to (particular) learning
outcomes', not to one particular teaching method. We should be willing
to entertain and use different ideas at different times and places. Her
book tries to provide the reader with the resources to do just that.

As an experienced TESL and TEFL teacher who has taken a course on
language teaching methodologies, I at first thought I would find this
book merely a review of what I already knew. However, as a professional
starting a job at a new university, preparing for classes with new groups
of students, I found "Techniques and Principles" a useful tool for
evaluating my teaching approach, and a practical tool as I thought about
what to say in my syllabus about course objectives and teaching
philosophies. Larsen-Freeman achieves her stated goal of the book, which
is NOT to convince anyone of the 'correctness' of any one method, but to
persuade the teacher that many techniques, even those found in methods
the teacher may dislike, may expand one's teaching repertoire and thus
enhance the teacher's effectiveness and the whole teaching process.

In a series editors' preface, Russell Campbell and William
Rutherford assert that Larsen-Freeman's book contains the qualities of
'enlightenment without condescension, comprehensiveness without tedium,
engagement without oversimplification'. On the whole I agree with
them. This book is a quick and enjoyable read, and not without merit for
even very experienced teachers. The use of a language class transcript
to illustrate how the method is carried out concretely in a classroom
seemed to me to be a key source to maintaining interest while also
informing. Each language lesson based on a different method is also
situated in a specific country and language learning setting (but all
learning English)--high school students learning through the Silent Way
in Brazil; adult Indonesian evening class students using Community
Language Learning; children in an elementary school in Sweden using Total
Physical Response. This realistic touch drew me into the example and
helped me feel like I was really there in the classroom, watching what
was happening.

My only disagreement with the series editors may be that the book
is comprehensive. At first reading this book seemed too light to serve
as a textbook in a TESL/TEFL methodology course. After all, the average
chapter is only about 20 pages long, and I seem to recall going into more
depth for each method in the TESL methodology course I took. On a second
perusal I decided that I might use this book in such a methodology
course, not for the comprehensive coverage, but more for the quick way it
reviews and summarizes the methods, giving the reader a chance to think
critically and also appreciatively about all the various techniques that
can be used in teaching, and also the chance to feel out what his or her
teaching philosophies really are. It could certainly be read in a week,
possibly at the beginning or end of the semester.

If a class about "Techniques and Procedures" were offered in
conjunction with a "Language Methodologies" course, this might be the
perfect text for the "Techniques and Procedures" class to quickly review
methodologies and launch into a forum on effective language teaching
techniques, regardless of method.

The only slightly annoying thing about this book is how
Larsen-Freeman maintains an almost complete agnosticism towards the value
of each method. Of course, this could be seen as a strength, for the
book will appeal to teachers grounded in a wide variety of methods.
Larsen-Freeman believes one of the problems with language teaching is not
the lack of commitment to methods, but rather over-reliance on only one
method with its attendant set of techniques. She does not overtly state
in the conclusion, but seems to imply, that a teacher who believes there
can be value to each method, that is, eclectic language teachers who have
a wide variety of techniques in their repertoire, are those who will be
the best teachers for their students in contexts and situations that are
always changing. And yet a little voice inside of me said, 'I really
want to know what *she* thinks is the best method'. Ah! the longing for
authority . . . In the end this agnosticism is probably the best
attitude to have, for it forces the reader to decide for herself and thus
confront her own philosophies.

Anthony, Edward. 1963. 'Approach, method and technique.' English
Language Teaching Journal 17: 63-7 reprinted in Allen, H. and R.
Campbell (eds.): Teaching English as a Second Language. (2nd ed.)
1972. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Elbow, Peter. 1973. Writing without Teachers. New York: Oxford
University Press.

Jenifer Larson-Hall will receive her Ph.D. in Linguistics at the
University of Pittsburgh in December, 2001. She is currently
employed as an associate professor teaching English at Kyushu
University in Fukuoka, Japan. Her main areas of research are second
language acquisition of phonology, the role of phonological theory in
predicting learners' errors, the Critical Period in phonology,
bilingualism and early language experience, and language attrition.