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Book review: Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching (2011)

As part of our research for the handbook project I have been reading a range of books from the field of second language learning and teaching. The latest one I've been reading is by Diane Larsen-Freeman and Marti Anderson, two leading researchers and writers in the field. It's called Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching. It is aimed at trainee teachers and teachers in general, rather than academics.

The approach of this book is to go through a good number of language teaching methods and to analyse, quite closely, the principles and practice associated with them. It's not particularly easy to divide methodologies up in this way; different writers classify them in various ways. For example, the whole area of "direct method" gets complicated and overlaps with aspects of audio-lingualism and the communicative approach.

Anyway, Diane and Marti, after a preface looking at why teachers might be interested in methods, examine in turn grammar-translation, the Direct Method, audio-lingualism, the Silent Way, Desuggestopedia, community language Llarning, Total Physical Response,  communicative language teaching, content-based instruction, task-based teaching, political aspects of methods, learning strategies and the use of technology. Each chapter has an accompanying list of references and additional resources to follow up.

The format of chapters is similar: firstly, an introduction, then a look at the actual classroom experience of the method, a review of the experience, an analysis of the principles behind the method, then a review of the principles and techniques, and finally a conclusion. The chapters end with activities (questions to consider) for the teacher. The coverage is clear, fair and quite comprehensive.

Readers will find, as is is often the case with books written by academics, that there is a dearth of very specific classroom ideas, activities and lesson plans, the emphasis being rather on principles and general descriptions of interaction types. That is not a complaint, by the way. Readers may also find it interesting to consider one or two of the more outlandish approaches such total physical response, the Silent Way and Desuggestopedia. How many teachers actually use these?

Desuggestopedia, for the record, was invented by Georgi Lozanov, who reckoned that language learning can be greatly accelerated by breaking down some of the psychological barriers which impede it.  Lessons might involve background music, playing musical instruments, singing, looking at artworks and role playing as a different persona. Classrooms are bright and colourful, with posters being a subtle stimulus to learning ("peripheral learning"), students adopt new identities for fun and to lower anxiety, songs are used to "free speech muscles", dramatisation features significantly and routine tasks are avoided. You might detect the faint whiff of snake oil here, but actually what I have read about Desuggestopedia suggests it is not crazy; it just places a greater emphasis on role playing, varied, fun activity and, essentially, making students feel relaxed and comfortable. In some contexts it may be fine, and there are bits and pieces you could incorporate into lessons, but you may not want to swallow the method whole.

This is another of those books I would put in a departmental library of methodology handbooks and makes very useful reading for teachers learning the craft. As the writers point out, two of several uses for studying methodology are to broaden your range of tools and question the way you were taught yourself. this book helps with that task.


  1. Thank you for this review Steve. Very intersesting as I am beginning a journey into learning methodologies and I am very grateful for a useful headstart.

  2. Thank you for this review Steve. Very intersesting as I am beginning a journey into learning methodologies and I am very grateful for a useful headstart.

  3. Glad it was useful. Thanks for leaving a comment.

  4. Thank you for the review Steve. Though i have been teaching a while, I am constantly looking for ways to make my teaching more "effective'" and "productive" . The book seems worth a read.


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