How Language Teaching has Evolved

Over the past few weeks in my TESOL course we have learned about the different methods of language learning used throughout history. I will briefly explain three of the most widely used methods and reflect on each of them. I will then explain how they influenced the Communicative Language Teaching method (CLT) which is used today.

The Grammar Translation Method (GTM)


This method originated in Germany in the 19th century and dominated foreign language teaching from the 1840’s to the 1950’s. The aim of this method was to get the learner to read and write perfectly, with little room for mistakes. The focus was on perfecting the language and grammar and being able to read at a high level. Accuracy was crucial. Classes included detailed analysis of grammar, reading comprehension and translation exercises. There was little focus on speaking or listening and the main goal of this method was to ensure that the learner could read literature in the foreign language.

Reflection: The GTM has come under a lot of criticism. While there are some good points, such as a higher understanding of grammar, I think the criticism is justified. The method is tedious and only beneficial for reading, so the language learner will not be able to communicate effectively. The language is not used in an authentic way.

The Oral/ Direct Method exchange-of-ideas-222788_640

This method emerged in the late 1800’s. The aim of this method was to acquire knowledge by speaking and actively engaging with the language. Learners were encouraged to speak and listen to the language in realistic everyday situations, just like how a child picks up a language. There is not as much focus on accuracy or reading comprehension, but speaking is a priority.The idea is that the learner would then pick up grammatical skills by intuition or what sounds right.

Reflection: This method gets learners speaking the language from day 1, which is often recommended by language teachers.However there are limited or no materials used and the learner is expected to learn everything by speaking and listening alone. This method  does not suit everybody. There is also no grading system, no theoretical base and no metalanguage, so it can be difficult for students to learn by themselves.

The Audio Lingual Methodheadphones-690685_640

The Audio Lingual Method developed in the 1950’s in the US.The aims were listening and speaking.  There was a major focus on pronunciation. The PPP lesson model emerged from this method : Presentation, Practice, Production. The student’s target language was used at all times. Students worked in pairs to practice speaking and the language was introduced according to themes and topics, e.g colours, the family, business language etc. Drilling was also a key focus due to the belief that by repeating the language the student would learn to produce the language.

Reflection: I think it’s clear to see remnants of this language method in classrooms today, especially in relation to introducing the language according to themes and topics.While there is a larger emphasis on listening and speaking, other skills are also improved. This language method most closely resembles CLT, which is commonly used today.

Communicative Language Teaching Method

Communicative Language Teaching combines elements of these three methods to create the best possible learning environment for the student. It is heavily based on the audio lingual method. There is focus on the four language learning skills; reading, writing, listening and speaking.

A Youtube video outlining what CLT is can be found below. This video outlines the goals of CLT and how it is used in language learning. It also explains the roles of the teacher and learner and how students learn a language.

David Nunan (1991) defines the  five basic characteristics of Communicative Language Teaching as:

  1. An emphasis on learning to communicate through interaction in the target language.
  2. The introduction of authentic texts into the learning situation.
  3. The provision of opportunities for learners to focus, not only on the language but also on the learning process itself.
  4. An enhancement of the learner’s own personal experiences as important contributing elements to classroom learning.
  5. An attempt to link classroom language learning with language activation outside the classroom.


Communicative Language Teaching or the Communicative Approach teaches students by encouraging them to communicate. Using the language for communication is pivotal and risk taking is encouraged as learning is a process of trial and error. CLT is the most widely used method of language teaching today.

In my next blog post I will focus on some alternative methods of language teaching and reflect on what they have brought to world of language learning.

All images are from Pixabay and are free from copyright.



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