Language teaching methods

Listed below are brief summaries of some of the more popular second language teaching methods of the last half century.


Some people learn a new language the natural way. For example, by simply living and working among native speakers of that new language. But many wish to optimise this process by taking language lessons. And others have no choice, since learning a new language is a requirement in most secondary schools.

The burgeoning of explicit foreign language teaching over the last several decades, both in and out of school, has been accompanied by a profusion of language teaching methodologies. Some of the more popular of these methodologies are briefly summarised below.

The Direct Method

In this method the teaching is done entirely in the target language. The learner is not allowed to use his or her mother tongue. Grammar rules are avoided and there is emphasis on good pronunciation. [ More ]


Learning is largely by translation to and from the target language. Grammar rules are to be memorized and long lists of vocabulary learned by heart. There is little or no emphasis placed on developing oral ability. [ More ]


The theory behind this method is that learning a language means acquiring habits. There is much practice of dialogues of every situations. New language is first heard and extensively drilled before being seen in its written form. This is one of the so-called structural approaches, along with Grammar-translation [ More ]


The theory underlying this method is that a language can be acquired only when the learner is receptive and has no mental blocks. By various methods it is suggested to the student that the language is easy - and in this way the mental blocks to learning are removed. [ More ]

Total Physical Response (TPR)

TPR works by having the learner respond to simple commands such as "Standup", "Close your book", "Go to the window and open it." The method stresses the importance of aural comprehension. [ More ]

Communicative language teaching (CLT)

The focus of this method is to enable the learner to communicate effectively and appropriately in the various situations she would be likely to find herself in. The content of CLT courses are functions such as inviting, suggesting, complaining or notions such as the expression of time, quantity, location. [ More ]

The Silent Way

This is so called because the aim of the teacher is to say as little as possible in order that the learner can be in control of what he wants to say. No use is made of the mother tongue. [ More ]

Community Language Learning

In this method attempts are made to build strong personal links between the teacher and student so that there are no blocks to learning. There is much talk in the mother tongue which is translated by the teacher for repetition by the student. [ More ]


Students are immersed in the new language for the whole of the school day. They learn it naturally by attending mathematics, science and other classes together with native speakers of that language.

Immigrant students who attend local schools find themselves in an immersion situation. For example, refugee children from Syria attending German schools, or Puerto Ricans in American schools. [ More ]

Task-based language learning

The focus of the teaching is on the completion of a task which in itself is interesting to the learners. Learners use the language they already have to complete the task and there is little correction of errors.

The tasks are subsumed in a major topic that is studied for a number of weeks. In the topic of ecology. For example, students are engaged in a number of tasks culminating in a poster presentation to the rest of the class. The tasks include reading, searching the internet, watching YouTube videos, selecting important vocabulary to teach other students etc. [ More ]

The Natural Approach

This approach, propounded by Professor S. Krashen, stresses the similarities between learning the first and second languages. There is no correction of mistakes. Learning takes place by the students being exposed to language that is comprehensible or made comprehensible to them. [ More ]

The Lexical Approach

This approach is based on a computer analysis of language which identifies the most common (and hence most useful) words in the language and their various uses. The syllabus teaches these words in broadly the order of their frequency, and great emphasis is placed on the use of authentic materials. [ More ]

Content and Integrated Language Learning (CLIL)

This modern approach is a response to one aspect of globalisation. Namely, the significant increase in schools and colleges of students who are learning subject content in their second or subsequent language.

The CLIL teacher has the dual responsibility of developing the students' proficiency in the target language, at the same time as ensuring access to the curriculum followed by native speakers of that language in the institution. [ More ]


An obvious question to pose in the light of all these different methodologies, and many more not mentioned here, is:

What is the best way to teach a second language?

Of course, there is no simple answer to this question. It depends on a multitude of institutional, teacher and learner variables. In my opinion, an eclectic mix of methods This approach is often called postmethod (See Kumaravadivelu, 1994). based on the needs of the learners in the class is the best approach.

Finally, note that the above methodologies can be applied in both of the two major types of English language teaching:

  • English as foreign language (EFL)
  • English as a second language (ESL)

There is more on the differences between EFL and ESL on the Parents subsite.

Further reading

For a detailed analysis of the different methods briefly summarised above, see:

  • ^ 54 ^

Wikipedia's language pedagogy is a useful overview, and includes methods that are not listed here.