This is a short, adapted extract from our book The Language Teacher Toolkit.
"We could not possibly recommend a single overall method for second language teaching, but the growing body of research we now have points to certain provisional broad principles which might guide teachers. Canadian professors Patsy Lightbown and Nina Spada (2013), after reviewing a number of studies over the years to see whether it is better to just use meaning-based approaches or to include elements of explicit grammar teaching and practice, conclude:
Classroom data from a number of studies offer support for the view that form-focused instruction and corrective feedback provided within the context of communicative and content-based programmes are more effective in promoting second language learning than programmes that are limited to a virtually exclusive emphasis on comprehension.
As teachers Gianfranco and I would go along with that general view and would like to suggest our own set of general principles which are examined in detail in our book. We would put them as follows:
v Make sure students receive as much meaningful, stimulating target language input as possible. Place a high value, therefore, on interesting listening and reading, including extensive reading. As Lightbown and Spada (2013) put it: “Comprehension of meaningful language is the foundation of language acquisition.”
v Make sure students have lots of opportunities to practice orally, both in a tightly structured fashion led by the teacher and through communication with other students. Have them repeat and recycle language as much as possible.
v Use a balanced mixture of the four skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing.
v Promote independent learning outside the classroom.
v Select and sequence the vocabulary and grammar you expose students to. Do not overload them with too much new language at once. Focus on high frequency language.
v Be prepared to explain how the language works, but don’t spend too much time on this. Students need to use the language, not talk about it. Research provides some support for the explicit teaching and practice of rules.
v Aim to enhance proficiency – the ability to independently use the language promptly in real situations.
v Use listening and reading activities to model good language use rather than test; focus on the process, not the product.
v Be prepared to judiciously and sensitively correct students, and get them to respond to feedback.
v Translation (both ways) can play a useful role, but if you do too much you may neglect general language input.
v Make sensible and selective use of digital technology to enhance exposure and practice.
v Place a significant focus on the target language culture. This is one way of many to increase student motivation and broaden outlooks."
Reference: Lightbown, P.M. and Spada, N. (2013). How Languages are Learned (fourth edition). Oxford: Oxford University Press.