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İbrahim Çelik 1668243 Middle East Technical University

A BRIEF HISTORY OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE


TEACHING

Learning another language apart from the mother tongue has always been important
for people, because of the reasons such as knowing other cultures, travelling, trade, religion
and even need of being a spy in the others. If we examine where and when second language
education started, we cannot give a precise answer; however, it is a fact that bilingualism has
always been the norm instead of monolingualism. Another point is that this second language
education has changed through languages. Romans were trying to learn Greek, and then Latin
became popular. Finally, English has the importance now. So, we know why people want to
learn other languages, but the question is this. How can they learn these languages? This
question has always got the attention of pedagogues, linguists and scientists. The answer to
this question has also changed according to reasons why people want to learn languages and
what the pedagogues, linguists and scientists understand from teaching language. For
example, we can see a trend from written language to oral language. Furthermore, many
approaches methods, and techniques have been developed for the needs of language teaching.
When we look at them, we can divide the second language teaching to four periods. Although
there are not exact names of these periods, we will call them as Classical Period, Alternative
Period, Current Communicative Period, and Post-method Era.

The first era is the Classical Period as we mentioned above. If we want to understand
what happened in the Classical Period, we must look at the historical background of it. While
Latin was the popular language in Europe in the 16th century, main objectives of learning it
were to understand the classical text, grammar of Latin and translation. In addition, Latin was
believed to develop intellectual abilities. Then Latin turned into a “dead” language from a
spoken language and English got the popularity. Although it got the popularity, the same way
to teach Latin was used to teach English. This is how the Grammar Translation Method
emerged. It is not true to say when it was used, because it can be still used somewhere.
However, we can say it was the trend between 1840s and 1940s. As it emerged from the
teaching of Latin, it focused on the teaching of the grammar of English, too. Reading and
writing were more important than listening and speaking. Maybe the only listening-speaking
activity was reading sentences aloud that would be translated. Memorization of the words was
very important. The aim is to learn a language to learn its literature or to benefit from the
mental discipline and intellectual development which result from foreign language study. It

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İbrahim Çelik 1668243 Middle East Technical University

was not a method to teach the language, as William H.D. Rouse said it was “to know
everything about something rather than itself 1. As it is the first method of the language
teaching, it has many inefficient sides. For example, it doesn’t give importance to oral
communication. However, oral communication is as important as written language. Even it
can be said that oral communication is more important than written language communication.
So, classical period passed with its only method which was very inadequate.

Because of the failure in educational system in public schools and some other factors,
validity of the Grammar Translation Method was started to be questioned. Moreover, interest
in language teaching started to move toward oral proficiency. Some individual specialists
such as C. Marcel, T. Prendergast, and F. Gouin tried to find some ways of language teaching.
The Frenchman C. Marcel focused on the connection between child learning his/her language
and foreign language. He emphasized the importance of reading and believed reading must be
taught before other skills. The Englishman T. Prendergast made the observation that children
use contextual and situational cues to interpret utterances and he proposed the first “structural
syllabus”. The Frenchman F. Gouin emphasized that teaching new items in a context that
made meaning clear is important. Because of the fact that there was no organizational
structure in language teaching, their attempts couldn’t be successful.

This situation began to change toward the end of the 19th century. Linguistics was
revitalized as a branch of science. Linguists such as Henry Sweet, Wilhelm Viëtor and Paul
Passy led reformist ideas. There were some common beliefs that all reformers defend like
spoken language is primary, translation should be avoided, help of phonetics can be taken and
grammar should be taught inductively. But apart from these beliefs put forward by reformists,
there was an interest in developing principles for language teaching out of the naturalistic
principles of language learning such as which are seen in the first language acquisition. This
was the beginning of the Natural Approach and Direct Method. This method was introduced
in the United States by Savuer and Maximilian Berlitz and they became very successful in
their commercial schools. Direct method has some opposite ideas to Grammar Translation
Method apart from its new ideas. For example, grammar is taught inductively, target language
is the medium of classroom interaction, and accuracy in grammar and pronunciation is
emphasized. Direct Method is, of course, better than Grammar
Translation Method. At least, it gives more importance to oral communication, and the usage
of objects and realia in the class was a good progress for language teaching. However,
obsession with the accuracy of pronunciation is seemed to be a handicap for learners, because

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İbrahim Çelik 1668243 Middle East Technical University

learning process must be natural and fluent. It can be said that Alternative Period was like a
passage from Grammar Translation to more influential approaches and methods.

As we started to our essay, we mentioned that learning a language has many purposes.
When the U.S. entered to World War II, they needed to have personnel who had fluency and
accuracy in other languages than English. It was necessary to establish special language
training programs. So the Audio-Lingual Method came into being. We can say for ALM that
it requires drill, drill and drill and only vocabulary to make such drills possible.2It was
affected by behaviorism. For example, structural patterns were taught by using drills and
successful responses were reinforced. Then, for some reasons like students’ being unable to
transfer skills acquired to real communication outside the classroom and procedure’s being
boring and unsatisfying, ALM lost its reputation. In addition to ALM, we have
Communicative Language Teaching in the current communicative period. It takes its origin
from the British language teaching tradition. It has some principles such as language is for
expression of meaning and its primary function is interaction and communication. Although
we can count principles of it, there are many interpretations of what CLT actually means and
involves. In communicative period, there has been development in various ways such as
emphasis on individualized instruction, humanistic approaches to language learning, greater
focus on the communication, in contrast to linguistic and competence. The silent way is the
method devised by Caleb Cattegno. In this method, sounds are coded to colors. Maybe, the
most important feature of this method is the teacher’s silence. Although it can be useful
sometimes, teacher’s silence is not always an effective way. It can be disturbing or confusing
for learners. Another method in this period is community language learning. It uses the
counseling-learning theory to teach English. Teacher is more like a guide-counselor than
authority to students.

Furthermore, we have the method of Bulgarian psychiatrist-educator Georgi


Lozanov’s Suggestopedia. The decoration of the class, furniture, the use of music and the
authoritative behaviors of teacher are the main characteristics of Suggestopedia. Peripheral
learning is a very original idea in the language teaching. While approaching to post method
era, we have Task-Based Language Teaching and Content-based Instruction. In TB language
teaching, aim is to teach language by giving a task that will urge students to communicate in
the target language while dealing with it. As for the CBI, it is the main goal that teaching
something in the target language rather than teaching the language. However, this method can
only be used with learners who have high level of proficiency in the target language. Another
method that we mustn’t forget is the Multiple Intelligence method. It has a very different way

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İbrahim Çelik 1668243 Middle East Technical University

of looking to human intelligence. It aims to teach language by using every person’s dominant
intelligence. As you see, most of the methods and approaches is in the current communicative
period. We can say that there was a fight of showing who has the best way of teaching
language. It was like a brain-storming of language teaching history.

After all of these searches for best method, some questions like why we are always
bound to only a method have aroused. Then a scientist called Kumaravadivelu came up with
the idea that “as long as we caught up in the web of method, we will continue to get entangled
in an unending search for an unavailable solution.” He suggests that we must find “an
alternative to method, rather than finding and alternative method.” If we think in the same
way with Kumaravadivelu eclecticism may be the answer or result of these ideas. It claims
that we must use every useful element of the methods and approach rather than obsession with
one of them. So, the post method era is a very different way in language teaching in terms of
its looking to methods.

In conclusion, we tried to give a brief history of English language teaching. Each of


the methods we examine above is another step in language teaching. Even though some of
them are less important than others, each of them is important to understand the difficulties
and problems of teaching another language. It can be said that it is better to benefit from every
method, approach and technique when it is necessary rather than being stuck on one of them.
More flexible you are, more efficient is your teaching.

REFERENCES
1
Approach and Methods in Language Teaching” by Jack Richards and Theodore S. Rodgers

2
Hockett, 1959

How did the English language teaching methodology develop? by Mihajlo Ravić

http://www.asian-efl-journal.com/March_06_masn.php