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Essential TEFL Books – ‘How Languages are Learned’

As part of the preparation for taking my DELTA, I will be reviewing certain TEFL books in the hope of helping other teachers sieve through the huge amount of literature on the market. These are not just recommended books, these are the ones I’ve been recommended that deserve to be seen as essential reading. All the books in this series have helped me in a significant way to better understand teaching English. I’m sure they can do the same for you!

– Anthony

How Languages are Learned – Patsy M. Lightbrown and Nina Spada

As teachers we are often seen as the experts of our profession in the eyes of both students and academic managers. There are certain truths to teaching that we’ve come to understand. Most of the time these come from our own experiences, but many have been engrained in us since our initial training course and have shaped the way we manage our classrooms ever since.

For example, is it more effective to explain a grammar concept to a learner, or is it better to show them? Should we simply give a text to a student and a set of questions for them to complete, or must we first build up a context around it and introduce the topic organically? Are adults as adept at language learning as children?

I’m certain that most teachers will answer the same way to these questions. However, are we answering from experience and research or because that’s how we were trained?

What’s it about?

‘How Languages are Learned’ by Patsy M. Lightbrown and Nina Spada is the book that will help you bridge the gap between your own experiences and the research of those that came before you. The book contains summaries of all the research into second language acquisition that shapes the way we teach today and why we we hold these beliefs.

As well as a solid outline of all the major theories of second language acquisition both past and present,  the book’s real strength lies in its collection of case studies. These summaries provide the evidence behind the very cornerstones of modern language teaching that we use every day.

Who’s it for?

Will this book improve your teaching? Possibly, although most of the research here gives us the answers that we probably already learnt on our initial teacher training courses. However the aim of the book is not to necessarily make you a better teacher. How Languages are Learned aims to give you the evidence that supports your existing language beliefs and enable you to make better decisions on how you organise your classroom.

In summary there is really nothing else like this book on the market. If you’re serious about how languages are best taught, you should definitely read about how they are most effectively learned.

Useful Links

How Languages are Learned from Oxford University Press

How Language are Learned from Amazon UK