Published 21st August 2017

Last Updated on

Grammar-Translation. The Communicative Approach. The Audio-lingual Method. You’re probably aware of these teaching methods and approaches from your TEFL course. These days not many EFL teachers would argue against the Communicative Approach, while not many would propose Grammar-Translation or the Audio-lingual Approach, but the thing about teaching methods and approaches in TEFL is that is always going to be a controversial issue.

Throughout the history there have been many different ideas for the best ways to teach English as a Foreign Language. Some theories were dismissed quite quickly (usually for good reason) while others found their way into popular teaching methodology (sometimes without good reason!). However, even the seemingly crazy theories needn’t be dismissed outright and might actually contain a few techniques which could help you in the classroom.

For this reason, let us look at a few theories you may not have learnt about but which may offer you more help than you initially realise.

The Silent Way

The Silent Way is a method proposed by Caleb Gattegno in the 1960s. As the name suggests, this method makes use of extensive silence during English instruction. More specifically, the teacher doesn’t speak very much and instead uses gestures to encourage students to respond and produce language. Using gesture, cuisenaire rods and colour charts the teacher is able to draw students’ attention to particular language structures, meaning and even pronunciation.

Using the Silent Way results in a surprisingly interactive classroom. Students learn they need to participate in the lesson or else the lesson won’t be able to move forward. The learners learn to not be afraid to make mistakes and help each other problem solve.

Community Language Learning

Community Language Learning was developed by a priest, Charles Curran, in the 1970s. Based on counselling and encouraging a sense of community between learners, Community Language Learning basically allows for the learners to dictate what is to be learnt while the teacher acts as a facilitator.

In practice, a small group of learners sit in a circle with a recording device on the table in the middle and the teacher standing outside the circle. One learner decides what they want to say and whispers it to the teacher in their first language. The teacher then translates and whispers it back to the learner, who then repeats it to the group. Another student will then respond. This will continue until a dialogue has been recorded. Finally, the teacher will board the dialogue and answer any questions or clarify any problems.

While the procedure may seem long and complicated Community Language Learning is a firm proponent of giving the learners the power to communicate what they want. In other words, the content of the lesson will always be relevant to the learners and they will always have a vested interest in what they are learning.

Suggestopedia

Suggestopedia is based on the idea of the power of suggestion in learning. Georgi Lazanov introduced this theory in the 1970s by claiming that positive suggestion makes learners more receptive and thus open to learning, so this is what Suggestopedia tries to do – create a safe, positive environment which is optimal for learning.

The crucial element of Suggestopedia is music. Music is played while the teacher reads a text or dialogue along with the music. The learners are seated comfortably in big, soft chairs. Theoretically, the learners will absorb and internalise the language as they listen to it (and the music). Once this has been done a few times, the teacher will focus on the language is a more conventional way.

Though this may sound completely off-the-wall – and not many schools will tolerate listening to music for each and every lesson! – Suggestopedia reminds us of the importance of relaxation and lowering the affective filter in the learning process.

So even though some of the methods and approaches proposed in TEFL can seem a little off the wall, there can still be a few nuggets of good ideas hidden in them – so don’t dismiss them completely!