Skip to main content

Book review: Scott Thornbury’s 30 Language Teaching Methods (2017)

This is the first book I have read by the well-known writer from the EFL world Scott Thornbury and I can recommend it as a concise introduction to a wide range of language teaching methods and approaches.


At only 130 pages you could read this volume in one or two sessions, or could dip into any of the short chapters which interest you most. The book is arranged in four parts, with Thornbury deciding to group each method into six general themes: natural, linguistic, communicative, “visionaries”, self-study methods and a final part entitled Beyond Methods. As the writer points out, this is a reminder that methods do not succeed each other in a historical sequence. However, this choice of structure does have its slight limitations as there are significant overlaps not only between methods within one theme, but across those from different themes. For example the Situational Method has a good deal in common with the Oral Method, and Communicative Language Teaching could easily be viewed as a natural type of approach. (Some writers, for example, combine the Oral and Situational Approaches.)

Each chapter is neatly divided into four sections:

1. The background (historical origins and theoretical underpinnings).

2. How does it work? - a description of the method.

3. Does it work? - what is the evidence for the method’s success?

4. What’s in it for us? - what aspects of the approach might be useful to teachers.

In Part Six Thornbury writes concisely about the principled eclecticism and what Kumaradavidelu has called the “post-method condition”. (See my recent posts on this.)

Readers will find lucid accounts of familiar approaches, for instance grammar-translation, the oral approach, direct methods, communicative and natural approaches, including TPRS. There are also descriptions and evaluations of some of the more exotic and unusual methods which have been tried out including Michel Thomas, The Silent Way, Suggestopedia and Dogme (developed by Thornbury himself and pretty well unknown to modern language teachers). Dogme, if you are interested, is an attempt to declutter the classroom of technology, books and other resources and to allow language learning to occur from somewhat improvised lessons led in part by the learners themselves.

In addition Thornbury devotes the fifth of the six parts to self-study methods, including programmed learning, such as used with Duolingo, the popular self-study app.

Thornbury goes out of his way to give a balanced and pragmatic account, with brief references to research and examples of further reading for those who would like to go into greater depth. Most trainee and practising teachers will learn something new and have their minds opened. Some readers, who take a more ideological standpoint, may be frustrated by Thornbury's reluctance to follow a single theoretical line. Teachers will also see that there is a good deal which different approaches have in common and that while a single method may work for some people in some circumstances, a wiser outlook may be to adapt, in a principled fashion, the best in various methods to one’s own circumstances. As Thornbury writes (p. 126):

“In the end all methods are eclectic, in the sense that they borrow from, build on, and recycle aspects of other methods. Our understanding of how and why this happens, and of how these same processes of appropriation and reconfiguration impact upon our own teaching, is part of our ongoing professional development.”

Scott Thornbury’s 30 Language Teaching Methods is available for around £10 or less from CUP, Amazon and other suppliers.





- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad





Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The latest research on teaching vocabulary

I've been dipping into The Routledge Handbook of Instructed Second Language Acquisition (2017) edited by Loewen and Sato. This blog is a succinct summary of Chapter 16 by Beatriz González-Fernández and Norbert Schmitt on the topic of teaching vocabulary. I hope you find it useful.

1.  Background

The authors begin by outlining the clear importance of vocabulary knowledge in language acquisition, stating that it's a key predictor of overall language proficiency (e.g. Alderson, 2007). Students often say that their lack of vocabulary is the main reason for their difficulty understanding and using the language (e.g. Nation, 2012). Historically vocabulary has been neglected when compared to grammar, notably in the grammar-translation and audio-lingual traditions as well as  communicative language teaching.

(My note: this is also true, to an extent, of the oral-situational approach which I was trained in where most vocabulary is learned incidentally as part of question-answer sequence…

Dissecting a lesson: using a set of PowerPoint slides

I was prompted to write this just having produced for frenchteacher.net three separate PowerPoint presentations using the same set of 20 pictures (sports). A very good way for you to save time is to reuse the same resource in a number of different ways.

I chose 20 clear, simple, clear and copyright-free images from pixabay.com to produce three presentations on present tense (beginners), near future (post beginner) and perfect tense (post-beginner/low intermediate). Here is one of them:





Below is how I would have taught using this presentation - it won't be everyone's cup of tea, especially of you are not big on choral repetition and PPP (Presentation-Practice-Production), but I'll justify my choice in the plan at each stage. For some readers this will be standard practice.

1. Explain in English that you are going to teach the class how to talk about and understand people talking about sport. By the end of the lesson they will be able to say and understand 20 different sport…

Designing a plan to improve listening skills

Read many books and articles about listening and you’ll see it described as the forgotten skill. It certainly seems to be the one which causes anxiety for both teachers and students. The reasons are clear: you only get a very few chances to hear the material, exercises feel like tests and listening is, well, hard. Just think of the complex processes involved: segmenting the sound stream, knowing lots of words and phrases, using grammatical knowledge to make meaning, coping with a new sound system and more. Add to this the fact that in England they have recently decided to make listening tests harder (too hard) and many teachers are wondering what else they can do to help their classes.

For students to become good listeners takes lots of time and practice, so there are no quick fixes. However, I’m going to suggest, very concisely, what principles could be the basis of an overall plan of action. These could be the basis of a useful departmental discussion or day-to-day chats about meth…

Delayed dictation

What is “delayed dictation”?

Instead of getting students to transcribe immediately what you say, or what a partner says, you can enforce a 10 second delay so that students have to keep running over in their heads what they have heard. Some teachers have even used the delay time to try to distract students with music.

It’s an added challenge for students but has significant value, I think. It reminds me of a phenomenon in music called audiation. I use it frequently as a singer and I bet you do too.

Audiation is thought to be the foundation of musicianship. It takes place when we hear and comprehend music for which the sound is no longer or may never have been present. You can audiate when listening to music, performing from notation, playing “by ear,” improvising, composing, or notating music. When we have a song going round in our mind we are audiating. When we are deliberately learning a song we are audiating.

In our language teaching case, though, the earworm is a word, chunk of l…

GCSE and IGCSE revision links 2018

It's coming up to that time of year again. In England and Wales. Here is a handy list of some good interactive revision links for this level. These links are also good for intermediate exams in Scotland, Ireland and other English-speaking countries. You could copy and paste this to print off for students.

Don't forget the GCSE revision material on frenchteacher.net of course! How could you?

As far as apps for students are concerned, I would suggest the Cramit one, Memrise and Learn French which is pretty good for vocabulary. For Android devices try the Learn French Vocabulary Free. For listening, you could suggest Coffee Break French from Radio Lingua Network (iTunes podcasts).

Listening
http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/french/ (Foundation/Higher) http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/french/ (Foundation/Higher)
http://www.audio-lingua.eu/spip.php?rubrique1&lang=fr (Foundation/Higher) http://www.ashcombe.surrey.sch.uk/07-langcoll/MFL-resources/french/fr-video-index.shtml