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Review of  Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching

Reviewer: P. Ilangovan
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: 13.1434

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Date: Thu, 16 May 2002 23:21:11 +0530
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.

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 language vocabulary lists are some of the key techniques used in the Method.

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 students 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 Kingdom.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER 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.