An Overview of Modern Approaches to Teaching and Practising Grammar Structures

In a previous article, we briefly described traditional approaches to teaching and practising grammar structures that have the same goal: teaching students how to communicate in the foreign language. However, when thoroughly considered, these methods reveal the fact that communication takes place in an environment controlled by the teacher, who directs the course of the actions either silently or interfering in the lesson, in order to obtain the results desired, but ignores the potential that lies in the pursuit.

Consequently, in the 1980s, research looked into more interactive methods of teaching concerned rather with the communicative functions of the language than with the studying and applying correctly rules of grammar solely. Speaking and grammar got mingled with the aim of producing meaningful instances of communication necessary in our daily life. A new approach to language teaching would spring out of that: the Communicative Approach.

Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) aims at reaching “communicative competence”, i.e., both knowledge and “ability for using knowledge”, determined as well by noncognitive factors, such as motivation (Hymes 283). The students’ desire to communicate a message is thus placed at the origin of the communicative act. Role-play, simulation language games and picture strip stories became very popular activities in CLT, as they involved students in situations they encountered in their everyday life.

The novelty brought by CLT into the Teaching of English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) is that it has made communication central in the foreign language class. The next approaches would elect to go even further than that. Whereas CLT centred on giving students opportunities to practise the language on the functional level, the approaches to follow would centre on the process of “using English to learn it” (Howatt 279). They were intended to rather teach through communication than to just make  communication the aim of the teaching process. This was a major shift in perspective, with the completion of the task being now seen as the ultimate aim of the language class, at the expense of the correctness of the language structures used in the process.

In the 1990s new approaches to language teaching, respectively language acquisition, emerged: Content-Based Instruction, Whole Language Approach, Task-Based Language Teaching, Cooperative Learning and Multiple Intelligences.

Content-Based Instruction (CBI) integrated the learning of language with learning of a different content or, in other words, with achieving content knowledge, while developing language skills. Such an approach agrees with Larsen-Freeman’s opinion that, “communicative competence involves more than using language conversationally. It also includes the ability to read, discuss and write about content from other fields” (Larsen- Freeman 141). The main advantage of CBI is that it makes foreign- language learning an interesting and motivating activity, upon having the language used to serve a real purpose. CBI is similar to CLT in that fluency is considered as prevailing over accuracy, since errors are a natural part of the language learning process.

In its turn, the Whole Language Approach has promoted the idea that the students learn best when confronted with whole texts, and not when they work with pieces of language separately. The philosophy behind this concept supports the idea that the language acquisition process is most effective when students are involved in using the language for a specific purpose, and not when the goal is the mere acquisition of linguistic forms. This method shares its perspective on instruction with CLT,  since “it emphasizes the importance of meaning and meaning making in teaching and learning” (Richards, Rogers 108).  The approach is definitely learner-centred and it aims at building the students’ fluency by addressing their own needs and real-life issues.

Task-based learning (TBL), popularized by N. Prabhu, can be considered as originating from CLT, as they both aim to achieve rather fluency in the target language than accuracy of language forms. As the name suggests, the core of the task-based is the task itself. The starting point is the assumption that, if attention is duly paid to form, the learners are distracted from the task to the detriment of fluency.

TBL is often considered as a kind of “deep-end” strategy, as Johnson called it in 1982 already, which is presenting and practising language which normally would be considered too advanced for the students’ level. In defining TBL, Jane Willis emphasizes the basic conditions for efficient acquisition of a language: exposure to the language, opportunities to use it and motivation to use it. Another desirable condition is instruction, the control of the language forms under the guidance of the teacher during the class (Willis, A Framework… 11).

Cooperative Language Learning is a learner-centred approach to teaching which  “makes maximum use of cooperative activities involving pairs and small groups of learners”, developed from CLT and promoting communicative interaction in the classroom (Richards, Rogers 192). The approach is based on the idea that second-language learning is best done when students work together in heterogeneous groups and focus their attention on “particular lexical items, language structures and communicative functions through the use of interactive tasks” (Richards, Rogers 193).

The Multiple Intelligences Approach originated in Howard Garner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences, who suggested in his book Frames of Mind (1983) that people do possess all the types of intelligence (logical/ mathematical, visual/ spatial, body/ kinesthetic, musical/ rhythmic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, verbal/ linguistic, naturalistic), with one dominant type prevailing over the others.

If it is generally admitted that different types of intelligence predominate in different people, then different activities must be considered when planning the lessons, in order to suit all types of students, though it is rather impossible to address all needs. However, by just bearing in mind the fact that learners are different, uniqueness is acknowledged by instructor and justifies the diversity of teaching methods used in the class and the choice of materials and activities tailored to the individual students’ needs.

Howatt, Anthony, Philip Reid. „A History of English Language Teaching”. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984
Larsen-Freeman, Diane. “Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching”, Second Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000
Richards, Jack, and Rogers, Theodore. “Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching”, Second Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001
Willis, Jane. “A Framework for Task-Based Learning”, Longman, 1996

Articles in Print
Hymes, D.H. “On Communicative Competence” in Pride J.B. and Holmes J. (eds) Sociolinguistics. Selected Readings, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1972.

Articles in internet databases
Aldea, Simona-Dorina. “An Overview of Traditional Methods of Teaching and Practising Grammar Structures” in „EDICT – Revista educației” no.3 March 2018, Institutul de Ṣtiinṭe ale Educaṭiei, Centrul pentru Inovare în Educaţie, 2018,

prof. Simona-Dorina Aldea

Școala Gimnazială Aurel Mosora, Sighișoara (Mureş) , România
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