The most commonly used methods of efl teaching

Over the short history of the ESL/ EFL field various methods have been proposed. Each method has in turn fallen out of favor and has been replaced with a new one. Since no method has been proven to be more effective than another, many teachers have jumped on the "eclectic" bandwagon, that is why to say, following the fashion and choosing the newest popular one. Trying to find out the most effective one I will firstly give a description of the most popular methods and approaches for the last century.

Classical Method is considered to be one of the oldest methods and approaches in English language teaching. It is also known as the Grammar Translation Method (GMT) because it teaches grammar as a means to translate text from one language to the other. Grammar Translation classes are taught in the students’ native language, and they require students to memorize long lists of vocabulary and grammar rules, and to translate classical texts and other arbitrary sentences. This method is used to teach dead languages like Latin.

The skills practiced were only reading and writing. It is general knowledge that it is necessary to practice all four skills (reading, writing, listening and speaking) in order to have students who take active part in the process of communication.

The Direct Method, developed by Maximilian Berlitz around the 1880s, is based on the premise that a second language should be learned more like the first language. It uses a slow build-up of skills paired with a lot of vocabulary repetition in context to help students learn to communicate from the beginning.

The Direct Method uses only the target language for instruction and builds up everyday vocabulary and sentences quickly without teaching grammar explicitly. The teacher teaches vocabulary through pictures, objects and elaborate pantomime. The students figure out the grammar as they go, partially through imitation and partially by trial and error.

With the outbreak of World War II, the found itself all over the map, no longer linguistically isolated as it had previously been. The need arose for military personnel to be able to communicate with both their allies and their enemies. Then, structural linguists, teaching methodologists and behavioristic psychologists collaborated for the first time to produce the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP), also known as the Army Method and later on, the Audiolingual Method (ALM).

The ALM teaches grammatical structure patterns and vocabulary through the repetition and memorization of set phrases or dialogues. Once students have mastered a dialogue, the teacher introduces new vocabulary, which the students will then substitute for another word in the dialogue.

Following the relative success of the ALM, researchers began to look more deeply into the structure of language itself and into the psychological factors that go along with language learning success and failure. The teaching methods that developed out of this research hinged largely on making the students feel less anxious about the whole ordeal of learning a new language. Gone were the days of drilling. Language classes of the ‘70s were all about comfort.

So, one of them was Total Physical Response (TPR). It involves the teacher giving more and more complex orders to the students, who then respond with an action. The students then get to order each other and the teacher around for speaking practice.

The Total Physical Response method is based on James J. Asher’s idea that the more active learning is, the more effective it becomes. Asher saw successful adult second language learning as a parallel process to child first language acquisition.

Another method of this branch is Suggestopedia which is a pretty run-of-the-mill language class, only the majority of the activities take place with Baroque music playing in the background. The idea is that the music will relax the mind so that it can retain more material.

Community Language Learning is sort of like group therapy. Everyone sits in a circle to have a conversation, and the "counselor" (teacher) assists the "clients" (students) by "mediating." In the beginning, this means that the teacher translates whatever the students wish to say, and then the students repeat their message in the target language. Gradually, the students need the teacher less and less for mediation and can converse fluently on their own.

The Silent Way is a method in which the teacher is very hands-off, providing only props, charts and minimal spoken information and then backing off to allow the students to work together to solve language problems.

Task-based language teaching (TBL) was developed by Dave and Jane Willis and “it is based on the use of tasks as the core unit of planning and instruction in language teaching” (7). Willis presents it as a logical development of Communicative language teaching as it draws of some of its principles: activities that involve real communication are essential for language learning, activities in which language is used for carrying out meaningful tasks promote learning, language that is meaningful to the learner supports the learning process (7). In TBL learning is promoted by giving students tasks to complete while using the target language (4).“Tasks are believed to foster processes of negotiation, modification, rephrasing, and experimentation that are at the heart of second language learning” (7). According to Hanušová the typology of the TBL can be the following:

  1. ordering;
  2. sorting/ classifying;
  3. listing;
  4. comparing/ matching;
  5. problem solving;
  6. creative tasks/ projects;
  7. sharing personal experience/ anecdote telling

There are a lot of origins of Communicative approach (CA). It could be said that it is the product of educators and linguists who had not been satisfied with the ALM and the GMT (6). Lindsay and Knight said that these methods put little, if any, emphasis on the ability to communicate or interact. Communicative language teaching was also influenced by developments in the way the language was described taking into account the communicative function of language. If we want to characterize the pedagogy of the last fifteen to twenty years in one word it would definitely be “communicative”. Widow son said that it is of course the CA which is in current fashion in methodology. He continued his description of the CA as following: … it concentrates on getting learners to do things with language, to express concepts and to carry out communicative acts of various kinds. The content of a language course is now defined not in terms of forms, words and sentence patterns, but in terms of concepts, or notions, which such forms are used to express, and the communicative functions which they are used to perform (9).

One more approach that needs to be mentioned is Multiple Intelligences. As a teacher I have experienced that students have different strengths. In other words, they have different cognitive styles, and the result of the learning process fully depends on the teacher’s choice of the approach.

Related work by psychologist Howard Gardner (1983) on multiple intelligences has been influential in language teaching circles. Teachers who recognize the multiple intelligences of their students acknowledge that students bring with them specific and unique strengths, which are often not taken into account in classroom situations. Gardner has theorized that individuals have at least seven distinct intelligences that can be developed over a lifetime (1). The seven are:

Logical / mathematical the ability to use numbers effectively, to see abstract patterns, and to reason well

Visual / spatial the ability to orient oneself in the environment, to create mental images, and a sensitivity to shape, size, color

Body / kinesthetic the ability to use one’s body to express oneself and to solve problems

Musical / rhythmic an ability to recognize tonal patterns and a sensitivity to rhythm, pitch, melody

Interpersonal the ability to understand another person’s moods, feelings, motivations, and intentions

Intrapersonal the ability to understand oneself and to practice selfdiscipline

Verbal / linguistic-the ability to use language effectively and creatively.

While everyone might possess these seven intelligences, they are not equally developed in any one individual. Some teachers feel that they need to create activities that draw on all seven, not only to facilitate language acquisition among diverse students, but also to help them realize their full potential with all seven. One way of doing so is to think about the activities that are frequently used in the classroom and to categorize them according to intelligence type. By being aware of which type of intelligence is being tapped by a particular activity, teachers can keep track of which type they are emphasizing or neglecting in the classroom and aim for a different representation if they so choose. Christison (1996) and Armstrong (1994) give us examples of activities that fit each type of intelligence (1):

Logical/ mathematical-puzzles and games, logical, sequential presentations, classifications and categorizations

Visual/ spatial-charts and grids, videos, drawing

Body/ kinesthetic-hands-on activities, field trips, pantomime

Musical/ rhythmic-singing, playing music, jazz chants

Interpersonal pair work, project work, group problem-solving

Intrapersonal self-evaluation, journal keeping, options for homework

Verbal/linguistic-note-taking, storytelling, debates.

The result of the learning process depends also on the approach of planning the lesson. There are 3 of them which are used in the modern methodology.

1. The "Three Ps" approach to language teaching is the most common modern methodology employed by professional schools around the world. It is a strong feature of the renowned CELTA certification and other TEFL qualifications offered especially in the United Kingdom (4). Presentation, Practice, Production works through the progression of three sequential stages. On the first stage the teacher presents new words or structures, gives examples, writes them on the board, etc. On the second one students practice using words or structures in a controlled way, e.g. making sentences form prompts, asking and answering questions, giving sentences based on a picture. Practice can be oral or written. On the third stage students use language they have learnt to express themselves more freely, to talk or write about their own lives and interests, to express opinions, or imagine themselves in different situations. Like practice, production can be oral or written (2).

The Test-Teach-Test (TTT) approach is useful when the teacher is not sure whether the learners are familiar with a particular item of language (4). The structure is a PPP approach the other way round and it basically reflects the one of TBL, where students have to perform a task. For example, the class is asked to work in pairs and arrange an appointment with a doctor according to their diaries. The teacher monitors students' work and only when the activity is finished either gives a feedback or asks students to report about their results.

The Exploration, Explanation, Expression approach (EEE) mainly used in teaching grammar is a slightly modified form of PPP. In Exploration stage students are given sentences illustrating a certain grammar rule and are asked to find the pattern, and with the help of the teacher to formulate the rule. This stage uses so called 'inductive learning' (8). The other two stages are the same as Presentation and Production stages in PPP approach.

When we take all the information from previous description of famous approaches into consideration, there is no perfect and only method suitable for every student. Students are individuals and as individuals they prefer various approaches and methods. When teachers take students’ interests and experiences into account, students do not concentrate on the method the teacher uses as long as it has an effect on his/her level of English.

We could compare eight factors which might have influence on teachers’ choice of methods and methods for lesson structure. These are:

  1. state or private language school;
  2. native or non-native speaker;
  3. years of teaching practice;
  4. number of lessons taught a week;
  5. age;
  6. type of pedagogical education;
  7. internet use;
  8. attendance to seminars.

Among textbooks that teachers use as their main teaching material are six textbooks mentioned the most often. I will list them from the most frequently used one to the least.

  1. New English File
  2. Cutting Edge
  3. Expert (FCE and CAE)
  4. Inside Out
  5. Maturita Solutions
  6. Face to Face

Other teaching materials stated are Clockwise, New Headway, In Company, Instant PET, Objective PET and Straightforward. The most common additional material is Grammar in Use series. Other materials are resource packs of Reward, Cutting Edge, New Headway and New English File, Vocabulary in Use, Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing Extra and Way with Words.

As the most widely used approach to teaching adults is CA and the most common approach to lesson planning is PPP; it seems nearly impossible not to see the connection between these two approaches even though Lindsay and Knight claim that PPP no longer represents CA as the only teaching model. Also the relative frequency of usage of GTM supports the PPP system more than any other, as it offers the opportunity for the teachers to use the native language and to order their activities from more controlled to less controlled ones. This would hardly be possible while using the TBL system of lesson planning as there is no space for those ‘fill-in’ or ‘translate’ activities.

So, there are many factors which influence the teacher’s approach. The main task for the teacher is to analyze the environment around him/her and choose the most appropriate one. I believe, there are no bad or good methods, it is possible to put each method in practice at different time in a different situation.



  1. Diane Larsen-Freeman «Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching» Second Edition, Oxford University Press. 2000.
  2. Doff, Adrian. Teach English. Glasgow: Cambridge UP, 1988. Print.
  3. Hanušová, Světlana. “The Task Based Method”. Methodology lecture. Faculty of Education, Brno. 23 Nov 2004.
  4. Lindsay, Cora, and Paul Knight. Learning and Teaching English. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2006. Print.
  5. Ludescher, Franz. „The PPP Approach to Communicative Language Teaching“. Vobs. Web.16 Feb 2009.
  6. Morea, Lucas. The Communicative Approach in English as a Foreign Language Teaching. 1 Nov 2007. Monographias. Web. 12 Feb 2009.
  7. Richards, Jack C.and Theodore S. Rogers. Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching. 2nded. New York: Cambridge UP, 2001.Print.
  8. Sysoyev, Pavel V. “Integrative L2 Grammar Teaching: Exploration, Explanation and Expression.” The Internet TESL Journal.Vol.V., No.6 (June 1999). Web.14 Jan 2009.
  9. Widdowson, H.G. Aspects of Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1990. Print.
Year: 2013
City: Almaty
Category: Philology