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Historia de la evolución de la didáctica de las lenguas extranjeras: de los métodos de gramática-traducción a los enfoques actuales.



 Autora: Raquel Martín Tena.


  1. Introduction.
  2. History of the evolution of language teaching.
  3. From the grammar-translation method to current approaches.
    1. Grammar-translation
    2. The Direct method
    3. The oral approach
    4. Audiolingual method
    5. Humanistic approaches
      1. Suggestopedia
      2. The silent way
      3. Communicative language learning
      4. Natural approach
      5. Language from within
      6. Delayed oral practice
      7. Total physical response


6. Communicative Language Teaching Approach

7. The eclectic approach.

8. Succesful language learning.

9. Content and language integrated learning (CLIL)

4. Teaching English with the New Technologies.

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography



1. Introduction

In the long search for the best way of teaching a foreign language, hundreds of different approaches, or methods, have been devised. 

Several classifications of teaching methods have been made, in an attempt to impose some degree of order on what is a highly diverse and idiosincratic field. Some analysts make use of the fundamental distinction between language structure (form) and language use (function). Under the first heading, they include those methods that focus on the teaching of formal rules and categories, and that emphasize the importance of accurate written translation and the understanding of literature. Under the second heading, they include methods that lay stress on the teaching of active participation in natural and realistic spoken language settings, and where the emphasis is on communicative success rather than on formal accuracy. Many approaches are biased in one or the other direction, though it is also common to find approaches that claim to integrate the strengths of both positions.

Since the 1940s, the definitive solution to successful ESL instruction has been discovered many times. There is always another tried-and-true methodology from yet another expert theorist who may or may not have had first-hand experience learning a second language.

In this unit we will see the history and evolution of different methods in language teaching and its main characteristics. We will focus in a deeper detail on the Communicative approach, the method that is being more used in teaching   foreign languages at the moment and we will see the importance of teaching English with the new technologies.



2. History of the evolution of language teaching

All the different methods used to teach languages have a solid linguistic support behind. Throughout the history language has been an object of fascination and a subject of serious enquiry for over 2,000 years.

During the Greek times, the focus was entirely on the written language. 

The Romans followed Greek precedents. However, they introduced the codification of Latin grammar under the headings of etymology, morphology and syntax. This model of grammatical description became the basis of language teaching in the middle ages and the Renaissance. In due course, this model became the ‘traditional’ approach to grammar.

Very little is known about the development of linguistic ideas in Europe during the ‘Dark Ages’ (The Middle Ages)



3. From the grammar-translation to the  communicative approach.

3.1. The grammar-translation method.

The grammar-translation method was the dominant foreign language teaching method in Europe from the 1840s to the 1940s.

Classes are taught in the mother tongue, with little active use of the target language.


3.2. The Direct method.

The Direct method, also called natural method, was established in Germany around 1900, and is best represented by the methods devised by Berlitz and Sauveur in America and by Gouin in Europe. It became very popular during the first quarter of 20th century. 


3.3. The Oral Approach or Situational Language Teaching (Britain)

The Oral approach may seem to be very similar to the Direct method in that the emphasis was on the spoken language, but it was based on a much more systematic view of language. In the approach, there have been attempts to analyse English and classify its major grammatical structures into sentence patterns. For example: 

   He          did  it         because  I wanted     him    to.

   She         sold it         because  he told        her     to.


3.4. The Audio-lingual method (United States)

The Audio-Lingual method was developed in the United States during World War II. At that time there was a need for people to learn foreign languages rapidly for military purposes. It flourished between about 1950 and 1965.


3.5. Humanistic approaches.

Since the 1960, several fresh approaches to FLL have been devised, aiming to provide a radical alternative to traditional methods. Cognitive psychologists and transformational-generative linguists argued that people cannot learn a language by repeating what they hear spoken around them.


3.5.1. Suggestopedia (Georgi Lozanov)

3.5.2. The silent way (Caleb Gattegno).

3.5.3. Community language learning (Charles A. Curran). 

3.5.4. Natural approach (Tracy D. Terrell 1983).

3.5.5. Language from within (Beverly Galyean).

3.5.6. Delayed oral practice (Valerian A. Postovsky)

3.5.7. Total physical response (James J. Asher)


3.6. The Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) or Communicative Approach.
According to Richards and Rodgers (1986), Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) starts with a theory of language as communication. The classroom goal of instruction is focused on developing learners’ communicative competence. Thus, learners are encouraged to communicate with target language through interaction from the beginning of instruction.


3.7. The eclectic approach.

In the words of Rivers (1981), the eclectic approach must be included on language teaching theory due to its prominence on our present educational system. For her, some teachers experiment with novel techniques for more successful teaching, retaining what they know from experience to be effective. 


3. 8. Succesful Language Learning.

There is as yet no single theory that can account for the diversity of FLL (Foreign Language Learning) behaviour, and explain why some learners succed in their task, whereas others fail. 


3.9 Content and language integrated learning (CLIL) 

Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) involves teaching a curricular subject through the medium of a language other than that normally used. The subject can be entirely unrelated to language learning, such as History or Science lessons being taught in English in a school in Spain, France…



4. Teaching english with the new technologies

As English teachers, we’re almost always on the lookout for new and interesting ways to stimulate our language learners. With the developing technologies in the first decade of the 21st century, internet has opened limitless possibilities for us to use it in education. New and different activities out of the norm,  allow improved learning on the part of students and also lower learner “affective filters”(Krashen-Terrel, 1983).With the internet, we  have gained an entry to  limitless storage of videos, music, slides related to English teaching (blogging, wikis, podcasting, digital storytelling etc.)



5. Conclusion

On revising the literature on language teaching theories, it is possible to get a sense of the wide range of proposals from the 1700’s to the present, with their weaknesses and strengths, from grammar-based methods to more natural approaches, including the Communicative approach. There is still present a constant preoccupation for teachers and linguists to find more efficient and effective ways of teaching languages. 

What’s now, what’s next? The future is always uncertain when anticipating methodological directions in second language teaching, although applied linguistic journals assume the carrying on and refinement of current trends within a communicative approach.  They are linked to present concerns on education, and they reflect current trends of language curriculum development at the level of cognitive strategies, literature, grammar, phonetics or technological innovative methods. The Internet Age anticipates the development of teaching and learning in instructional settings by means of an on-line collaboration system, perhaps via on-line computer networks or other technological resources. We have already seen how the use of ICT facilitates the teaching and learning of the second language.

The contemporary attitude is flexible and utilitarian: it is recognized that there are several ways of reaching the goal of FL competence, and that teachers need to be aware of a range of methods, in order to find the one most appropriate to the learner´s needs and circumstances, and to the objectives of the course. It is frequently necessary to introduce an eclectic approach, in which aspects of different methods are selected to meet the demands of particular teaching situations.

 As teachers, our primary responsability to our learners is to give them a new tool with which to communicate and to experience hitherto unknown areas of life. As Waldemar Marton (1987:15) says ‘we should also remember that in real life, where the time, energy, and finacial resources of our learners are limited, language teaching has to meet the criterion of efficiency’.

Finally, fostering intercultural communicative competence is one of the challenges facing education in the globalised world of the 21st century. The integrative nature of CLIL classes provides an opportunity for taking not only a dual-focussed but a triple-focussed approach: simultaneously combining foreign language learning, content subject learning and intercultural learning as described in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.




  • BOE, 1 de marzo de 2014,Real Decreto 126/2014, de 28 de febrero, por el que se establece el currículo básico de la Educación Primaria.
  • Gabriel Díaz Maggioli, M.A. 14th March 2009.
  • Comparison two method direct method and communicative approach…/comparison-two-meth 2009.
  • Chapelle, C. and Jamieson, J. (2008) Tips for teaching with CALL: Practical Approaches to Computer-Assisted Language Learning. White Plains, NY: Pearson Longman.
  • Dudeney, G. and Hockly, N. (2007) How to teach English with Technology. Harlow: Pearson Longman
  • Simkins, M., Cole, K., Tavalin, F. and Means, B. (2002) Increasing Student Learning with Multimedia Projects. Alexandria, VA: ASCD

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