Teaching language skills

Authored by: Jonathan Newton

The Routledge Handbook of English Language Teaching

Print publication date:  May  2016
Online publication date:  May  2016

Print ISBN: 9780415747394
eBook ISBN: 9781315676203
Adobe ISBN: 9781317384472


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Over the past century, language teaching methods have tended to emphasise certain of the four skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing while downplaying the role of others. For instance, the grammar-translation method, popular in Western language education during the early twentieth century, placed great importance on reading and writing, with a focus on sentence level grammar and translation practice. In contrast, the direct method emphasised learning through oral communication, typically in the form of teacher-directed question-and-answer dialogues. The audiolingual method, which emerged in the mid-twentieth century, focused on carefully controlled speaking practice via drills and scripted dialogues; the role of listening was primarily to provide a model for speaking. In a dramatic contrast, comprehension-based approaches inspired largely by Krashen’s influential monitor hypothesis (Krashen, 1982) insisted on the necessity and sufficiency of understanding input (i.e. listening and reading for meaning) for acquiring a second language. Consequently, speaking and writing were relegated to secondary roles. Summing up these pendulum swings, Celce-Murcia (2001: 3) comments that “language teaching is a field in which fads and heroes have come and gone in a manner fairly consistent with the kinds of changes that occur in youth culture”. Adamson (2006: 615) argues, however, that language teaching fashions are not random but “mirrors of the contemporary sociocultural climate”. (See Hall, this volume, ch. 15 for further discussion of language teaching methods and language teaching ‘fashions’.)

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