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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


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