Currently I'm working on an extended paper on language teaching methodology, which will form part of an edited collection on applied linguistics topics, pitched at MA students.

Currently I'm working on an extended paper on language teaching methodology, which will form part of an edited collection on applied linguistics topics, pitched at MA students. The exercise is fascinating, if time-consuming. For a start, how do you package the the whole of methodology into 8000 words? The temptation is to tell the story as a kind of modernist narrative, where darkness gives way to light, although often according to the two-steps-forward-one-step-back principle: "Once upon a time there was grammar-translation (audience boos). Then along came the Reform Movement (mild cheers). The Direct Method transmogrified into Audiolingualism (boo) thanks to nasty Mr Skinner (more booing). Then along came Chomsky, who smote Skinner (cheers)...etc etc". However, the more you read on the subject, the more you realise that "what comes around, goes around", and that the history of methodology is more cyclical than linear. It's interesting to compare the writings of the leaders of the Reform Movement, such as Jespersen (1904), with those of the architects of the Communicative Approach in the mid-70s. Both movements arose as a reaction away from an orthodoxy perceived as being out of touch with learners’ needs, and out of synch with educational reality. Both invoked the notion of communication as not only the goal of language learning but also the means to achieving that goal: Jespersen (1904) wrote “Language is not an end in itself… it is a means of communication” (p. 4) and added, “we ought to learn a language through sensible communication” (op cit., p. 11). Seventy-five years later, Allwright (1979) was making the same point: “If communication is THE aim, then it should be THE major element in the process” (p. 167, emphasis in original). So, I'm trying to boil methodology down to a finite number of key options, or parameters, the different configurations of which differentiate the different historical methods, and which also might serve to identify the methodological bias of a coursebook or teacher's guide. It's not easy. It's taken me two months of fairly concentrated work so far. And what am I getting out of this? Two complimentary copies of the book when it is published!  


Dear Scott,

Your latest blog entry took me back to my initial elt days where I read about the historical evolution of methodologies. At that time I always wished how useful it would have been for beginners of elt to see lessons prepared according to different methods and approaches and then try to understand the features of specific methodologies. A few lessons I managed to see but not all. Then I left it to my imagination to make out how other lessons would look like.

Are there any papers or projects or books which talk about methodologies using coursebooks or lessons set according to the methodology? If there is any, I would like to have a look at it/them in order to transcend the distant feeling when I hear about audiolingualism or things like that? Also I would like to listen to your views on 'post-methods' and 'eclectic' approach. Thank you.

Hello Scott,

It seems like you are getting into blogging a bit lately.

Sounds like a very interesting paper...I wonder if you will mention the "Headway approach" that you have previously written about. I don't know that I would cheer for Chomsky by the way.

Good luck with the paper.



Hi Mike, in fact if you read the article that has just gone up on this site (Methods, post-Method, and Métodos) you will see that I talk about the "Soars and Soars Method".

And, no, I don't cheer for Chomsky, although I have a grudging respect for his (political) chutzpah. But the way he weights his arguments in favour of Universal Grammar make you suspect his sense of proportion in other areas. Michael Hoey has done a very nice critique of his (Chomsky's) rhetorical style in which he (Hoey) demonstrates how Chomsky "uses evaluation both as a running supportive commentary on his own arguments and as a device for cowing opposition". (Persuasive rhetoric in lingusitics: a stylistic study of some features of the language of Noam Chomsky, In Hunston, S. and Thompson, G. (Eds.) 2003. Evaluation in Text. OUP.)  It's a rhetorical style I've noticed recently in some of the broadsides levelled at the Dogme movement by the twittering classes!

Thanks for your post. The best book I know that describes different methods in action is Diane Larsen-Freeman's "Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching" (2nd edn. 2006, OUP)

Allegedly there is a film produced by the US State Dept for educational purposes that portrays different methods in action: anyone who has seen it remembers it well, but it's almost impossible to get hold of, unless you are in the Peace Corps. Has anyone else seen it? 

Thank you Scott fot the reference. I'll check.

There was a second part for my post which you didn't answer. Also can we see the references of the quotations you are making in the blog postings [Hope I'm not asking for more. There isn't even complementary books in return ;)].


I was dumbfounded to read that Chomsky sees no value in corpus linguistics. Perhaps I'm paraphrasing to broadly, but I recall the gist of his comments on the merits of corpora meaning as much to me as I read them.Btw, if you've ever seen a video (e.g. YouTube) of the Chomsky- Foucault debate on Dutch TV in 1971, you know that Chomsky doesn't do a good job of deflecting the penetrating arguments of Michel F.Rob

Sorry, Cherry - I should have included the refs:

Jespersen, O. 1904. How to teach a foreign language. London: Allen & Unwin (I have a nice copy of this I found in the Strand Bookstore in NY last year)

Allwright,  R. (1979). Language learning through communication practice. In Brumfit, C., and Johnson, K. (eds.) The Communicative Approach to Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

As for the second part of your question, my second artilce (which will be posted in a week or two) has more to say about post-method and critical pedagogy.  If not - ask me again!

I guess that Chomsky would say that corpora provide evidence of performance, not competence, and therefore are of little or no interest to the linguist who is looking for explanation rather than simply description. Widdowson, coming from another direction, takes a similar line: Corpora provide "third person facts of what people do, but not the facts of what people know, nor what they think they do: they come from the perspective of the observer looking on. not the introspective of the insider" (2000. On the limitations of linguistics applied. In Applied Linguistics, 21/1, p. 6).

The new usage-based and emergentist schools of psycholinguists, represented by the likes of Nick Ellis, along with corpus linguists like Michael Hoey, would say that corpora do indeed provide the facts about what people know, since what people know is the frequency-biased abstraction of the accummulated language exposures of their lifetime (of which corpora provide a tiny sample). I.e. they argue that performace (aka usage) IS competence.