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3. Integration not eclecticism: a brief history of language teaching, 1853 – 2003
Abstract The purpose of this article is to give some context to the current discussions abounding in language teaching classrooms around the world. I think it is essential to judge the most recently marketed approaches in the light of what has gone before. And following Thomas Kuhn, who wrote the seminal TheStructure of Scientific Revolutions, my suggestion is that we integrate and account for, rather than sweep away, past approaches. Introduction Below is a potted history of the most well-known approaches and attitudes to language in the second language classroom over the last hundred years or so. As you will notice, many of the themes get recycled in different forms, but each time a ‘new’ approachdevelops it adds a slightly different perspective and expands our understanding. All of these approaches were seen to work at some point, and so none can be discounted. It is my absolute conviction that every one still has its place in the grand pantheon of language-teaching approaches, and that aware experienced teachers will be able to utilise all of them in an intuitive, and yet consciouslyintegrated way, in their classrooms. 1850s – 1950s: Grammar Translation How language was taught in most schools; grammar was taught as a set of rules (e.g. verb conjugations) after the classical languages, Latin and Greek; practice was done through written exercises; the medium of instruction was the mother tongue; vocabulary was learnt via translated lists, often related to the comprehension of writtentexts; written text was seen as the ‘real’ language, superior to the spoken version; written texts were translated and composition in L2 was regarded as the apex of language ability; speaking and listening were seen as less important, and mediated via ‘conversation classes’ which were tagged on as extras to the main course. 1890s – now: Direct Method Specific to the Berlitz chain of schools, startedin the USA; the brainchild of the entrepreneur himself; speaking and listening were the most important skills; the medium of instruction was English; students learnt sequences of strictly-chosen (i.e. centrally-scripted) grammatical phrases by listening and repetition; grammar ‘rules’ were avoided, and replaced by phrases (which of course had grammar disguised in them); vocabulary was learnteither incidentally, as part of the phrases being taught, or via lists grouped under types of situation; its modern incarnation survives in the omnipresent language phrasebooks, and the method is still the basis of lower-level teaching in Berlitz’s ubiquitous and successful language schools. 1960s – 1970s (USA): Audio-lingual method + Structuralist view of language A ‘scientificised’ version of thedirect method; the new science of linguistics suggested that language was a set of ‘structures’ (e.g. ‘this shirt needs + washing, mending, ironing, etc’; ‘he has + washed, ironed, folded, etc the clothes’); grammar rules were an illusion, so it was more important to focus on these ‘structures’; vocabulary was seen as an adjunct to the structures; speaking and listening were the most importantskills; the learning method was based on behaviourist psychology – stimulus-response learning; language exercises for speaking were 1
© Charles Lowe 2003

mostly listen and repeat (i.e. drilling), and repeat and extend; language exercises for writing were multiple choice and gapfill; thinking was discouraged, automaticity of response was favoured; the language laboratory epitomised theaudio-lingual approach and was meant to revolutionise language teaching – the reason that it did not do so was simply, as with computers nowadays, that most learners need people as teachers, not machines; a lasting legacy of this approach is the muchloved substitution table. 1960s –1980s (UK): Structural-situational method (aka PPP) This was a pragmatic (i.e. UK) version of audio-lingualism; the key...
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