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Most schools around the world teach at least one foreign language. By 1998 nearly all pupils in Europe studied at least one foreign language as part of their compulsory education, the only exception being Ireland, where primary and secondary schoolchildren learn both Irish and English, but neither is considered a foreign language. On average in Europe, at the start of foreign language teaching, learners have lessons for three to four hours a week. Compulsory lessons in a foreign language normally start at the end of primary school or the start of secondary school. In Luxembourg, Norway and Malta, however, the first foreign language is studied at age six, and in Flanders at age 10[1].

In some countries, learners have lessons taken entirely in a foreign language: for example, more than half of European countries with a minority/regional language community use partial immersion to teach both the minority and the state language.

Approaches to foreign language education[edit | edit source]

Methods of teaching foreign languages[edit | edit source]

There are many methods of teaching languages. Some have had their heyday and have fallen into relative obscurity; others are widely used now; still others have a small following, but contribute insights that may be absorbed into the generally accepted mix.

The grammar translation method[edit | edit source]

The grammar translation method instructs students in grammar, and provides vocabulary with direct translations to memorize. It was the predominant method in Europe in the 19th century. Most instructors now acknowledge that this method is ineffective by itself. It is used by many Latin teachers, allegedly because a dead language is usually only written. However, this method is ineffective for written languages too, and Latin only became dead after the grammar translation method was introduced. Up to the 17th century, when Latin was spoken, it was not taught like this. Recent experiments in the University of Cadiz, in which Latin is taught as if it were a living language, have proved to be as effective with Latin as with any other language.[How to reference and link to summary or text] (All languages that are not dead are considered modern languages.)

At school, the teaching of grammar consists of a process of training in the rules of a language which must make it possible to all the students to correctly express their opinion, to understand the remarks which are addressed to them and to analyze the texts which they read. The objective is that by the time they leave college, the pupil controls the tools of the language which are the vocabulary, grammar and the orthography, to be able to read, understand and write texts in various contexts. The teaching of grammar examines the texts, and develops awareness that language constitutes a system which can be analyzed. This knowledge is acquired gradually, by traversing the facts of language and the syntactic mechanisms, going from simplest to the most complex. The exercises according to the program of the course must untiringly be practised to allow the assimilation of the rules stated in the course. [How to reference and link to summary or text] That supposes that the teacher corrects the exercises. The pupil can follow his progress in practicing the language by comparing his results. Thus can he adapt the grammatical rules and control little by little the internal logic of the syntactic system. The grammatical analysis of sentences constitutes the objective of the teaching of grammar at the school. Its practice makes it possible to recognize a text as a coherent whole and conditions the training of a foreign language. Grammatical terminology serves this objective. Grammar makes it possible for each one to understand how the mother tongue functions, in order to give him the capacity to communicate its thought.

The direct method[edit | edit source]

The direct method, sometimes also called natural method, is a method that refrains from using the learners' native language and just uses the target language. It was established in Germany and France around 1900. The direct method operates on the idea that second language learning must be an imitation of first language learning, as this is the natural way humans learn any language - a child never relies on another language to learn its first language, and thus the mother tongue is not necessary to learn a foreign language. This method places great stress on correct pronunciation and the target language from outset. It advocates teaching of oral skills at the expense of every traditional aim of language teaching.

According to this method, printed language and text must be kept away from second language learner for as long as possible, just as a first language learner does not use printed word until he has good grasp of speech. Learning of writing and spelling should be delayed until after the printed word has been introduced, and grammar and translation should also be avoided because this would involve the application of the learner's first language. All above items must be avoided because they hinder the acquisition of a good oral proficiency.

The audio-lingual method[edit | edit source]

The audio-lingual method has students listen to or view tapes of language models acting in situations. Students practice with a variety of drills, and the instructor emphasizes the use of the target language at all times. The audio-lingual method was used by the United States Army for "crash" instruction in foreign languages during World War II. Despite the documented success of these programs, audio-lingual methods are no longer common.

Communicative language teaching[edit | edit source]

Communicative language teaching (CLT) is an approach to the teaching of languages that emphasizes interaction as both the means and the ultimate goal of learning a language. Despite a number of criticisms, it continues to be popular, particularly in Europe, where constructivist views on language learning and education in general dominate academic discourse.

Language immersion[edit | edit source]

Language immersion puts students in a situation where they must use a foreign language, whether or not they know it. This creates fluency, but not accuracy of usage. French-language immersion programs are common in Canada in the state school system as part of the drive towards bilingualism.In addition , this approach enables students to use language better .

Minimalist/methodist[edit | edit source]

[Paul Rowe's minimalist/methodist approach.] This new approach is underpinned with Paul Nation's three actions of successful ESL teachers. Initially it was written specifically for unqualified, inexperienced people teaching in EFL situations. However, experienced language teachers are also responding positively to its simplicity. Language items are usually provided using flashcards. There is a focus on language-in-context and multi-functional practices.

Directed practice[edit | edit source]

Directed practice has students repeat phrases. This method is used by U.S. diplomatic courses. It can quickly provide a phrasebook-type knowledge of the language. Within these limits, the student's usage is accurate and precise. However the student's choice of what to say is not flexible.

Learning by teaching (LdL)[edit | edit source]

Main article: Learning by teaching

Learning by teaching is a widespread method in Germany (Jean-Pol Martin). The students take the teacher's role and teach their peers. An important target is developing websensibility.

Other methods[edit | edit source]

Pimsleur language learning system is based on the research of and model programs developed by American language teacher Paul Pimsleur. Over a dozen audio-tape programs now exist to teach various languages using the Pimsleur Method.

Michel Thomas Method is an audio-based teaching system developed by Michel Thomas. Mr. Thomas became famous in the United States by teaching spoken proficiency in French, Spanish, German and Italian as well as English for speakers of these languages using an approach that required no homework, memorization or practise. Up until his death in January, 2005, at the age of 90 over 8,000 students studied with him. He taught many well-known people including Grace Kelly (French) and Woody Allen (Spanish).

Following a documentary, The language master, in 1997 which was shown on BBC2 he became well-known in the UK. This led to the release of CDs of him teaching. After his death, more CDs were issued using his method to teach Arabic, Russian and Mandarin Chinese. These CDs were produced by Hodder, the UK publisher which had originally issued his CDs.

The documentary demonstrated him teaching French to a group of London students who had previously done poorly in language studies. After a week of learning with him they were able to converse in French. This generated much positive interest in the UK.

Two teachers who worked with Mr. Thomas, Rose Lee Hayden and Harold Goodman, worked on production of the CDs following his death. Dr. Hayden taught Phase II courses which consisted of practise in speaking following the Phase I sessions with Mr. Thomas in which students were given the foundation of the language.

Dr. Goodman was the only person to have formally been trained by Michel Thomas in his approach to teaching and learning. This took place between 1995 until shortly before his death in 2005. He is the author of the Michel Thomas Mandarin Foundation and Advanced Courses ( Hodder, UK).

The above mentioned courses are published by McGraw-Hill in the USA.

Several methodologies that emphasise understanding language in order to learn, rather than producing it, exist as varieties of the comprehension approach. These include Total Physical Response and the natural approach of Stephen Krashen and Tracy D. Terrell.

Silent Way[edit | edit source]

The Silent Way is a discovery learning approach, invented by Caleb Gattegno in the 50s. It is often considered to be one of the humanistic approaches. It is called The Silent Way because the teacher is usually silent, leaving room for the students to talk and explore the language. It is often associated with Cuisenaire rods and wall charts where words are colour-coded; each phoneme a different colour as in this Example of a word chart [How to reference and link to summary or text]

Learning strategies[edit | edit source]

Code switching[edit | edit source]

Code switching, that is, changing between languages at some point in a sentence or utterance, is a commonly used communication strategy among language learners and bilinguals. While traditional methods of formal instruction often discourage code switching, students, especially those placed in a language immersion situation, often use it. If viewed as a learning strategy, wherein the student uses the target language as much as possible but reverts to their native language for any element of an utterance that they are unable to produce in the target language, then it has the advantages that it encourages fluency development and motivation and a sense of accomplishment by enabling the student to discuss topics of interest to him or her early in the learning process -- before requisite vocabulary has been memorized. It is particularly effective for students whose native language is English, due to the high probability of a simple English word or short phrase being understood by the conversational partner.

Blended learning[edit | edit source]

Blended learning combines face-to-face teaching with distance education, frequently electronic, either computer-based or web-based. It has been a major growth point in the ELT (English Language Teaching) industry over the last ten years.

Some people, though, use the phrase 'Blended Learning' to refer to learning taking place while the focus is on other activities. For example, playing a card game that requires calling for cards may allow blended learning of numbers (1 to 10).

Private tutoring[edit | edit source]

Tutoring by a native speaker can be one of the most effective ways of learning. However, it requires a skilled, motivated native tutor, which can be a rare, expensive commodity. That tutor may draw on one or several of the above methods.

Language education by region[edit | edit source]

Europe[edit | edit source]

Foreign language education[edit | edit source]

1995 European Commission’s White Paper "Teaching and learning – Towards the learning society", stated that "upon completing initial training, everyone should be proficient in two Community foreign languages". The Lisbon Summit of 2000 defined languages as one of the five key skills.

In fact, even in 1974, at least one foreign language was compulsory in all but two European countries (Ireland and the United Kingdom, apart from Scotland). By 1998 nearly all pupils in Europe studied at least one foreign language as part of their compulsory education, the only exception being the Republic of Ireland, where primary and secondary schoolchildren learn both Irish and English, but neither is considered a foreign language. Pupils in upper secondary education learn at least two foreign languages in Belgium's Flemish community, Denmark, Netherlands, Germany, Luxembourg, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, Greece, Cyprus, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia and Slovakia.

On average in Europe, at the start of foreign language teaching, pupils have lessons for three to four hours a week. Compulsory lessons in a foreign language normally start at the end of primary school or the start of secondary school. In Luxembourg, Norway, Italy and Malta, however, the first foreign language starts at age six, and in Belgium's Flemish community at age 10. About half of the EU's primary school pupils learn a foreign language.

English is the language taught most often at lower secondary level in the EU. 93% of children there learn English. At upper secondary level, English is even more widely taught. French is taught at lower secondary level in all EU countries except Slovenia. A total of 33% of European Union pupils learn French at this level. At upper secondary level the figure drops slightly to 28%. German is taught in nearly all EU countries. A total of 13% of pupils in the European Union learn German in lower secondary education, and 20% learn it at an upper secondary level.

Many Europeans learn foreign languages at a much faster rate than American students because their language education is more intensive and may start at a younger age.

Despite the high rate of foreign language teaching in schools, the number of adults claiming to speak a foreign language is generally lower than might be expected. This is particularly true of native English speakers: in 2004 a British survey showed that only one in 10 UK workers could speak a foreign language. Less than 5% could count to 20 in a second language, for example. 80% said they could work abroad anyway, because "everyone speaks English." In 2001, a European Commission survey found that 65.9% of people in the UK spoke only their native tongue.

Since the 1990s, the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages has tried to standardize the learning of languages across Europe (one of the first results being UNIcert).

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Children in the Flemish Community of Belgium start learning French at age 10, English at 12 or 13 and, if chosen so, mostly German or Spanish at age 15 or 16, but with only the first two being obligatory. In the Brussels Capital Region, however, French is taught starting at age 8.
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