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Essential TEFL Books – Techniques and Principles in English Language Teaching

As part of the preparation for taking my DELTA, I will be reviewing certain TEFL books in the hope of helping other teachers to 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

Techniques and Principles in English Language Teaching – Diane Larsen-Freeman and Marti Anderson

This week I wanted to share another ‘classic’ TEFL book that crops up on countless reading lists. Techniques and Principles in ELT (TPELT from now on!) aims to give an overview all the influential teaching methods of the past hundred years or so in a concise, efficient volume.

What’s it about?

The book is essential a short, practical history of how we got here. When I say ‘here’, I’m referring to the current methods that we all use as teachers, i.e., the methods we learnt on CELTA or our original TEFL course.

The ‘communicative approach’ is a term banded around a lot, but really the way most modern language classes operate is by using a mix of various approaches rather than a stand-alone ‘method’. In this book you will get to read about those oft mocked methods such as ‘Grammar-Translation’, the ‘Audio-Lingual’ method and even ‘The Silent Way’.

Whilst it sounds a bit dry and heavy going, the book actually reads very logically. I was surprised to find that it is somewhat of a page-turner (as far as academic texts go) and the short, stand-alone chapters do a great job of breaking up the flow.

But those methods were all proved to be a bit crap weren’t they?

Well… yes and no.

The writers do a fantastic job of remaining completely neutral throughout their descriptions of the methods. They give you the theory behind it, how it works in practice and an example lesson observation. At the end of each chapter you get a short breakdown of the methodology used and are asked to question which parts you agree with or use in your own classrooms.

What was most surprising for me was that a lot of the methods we deride so freely today were actually created with the best intentions. Often they are also based on sound methodology that we still respect.

The main issue with most of them and the reason that we no longer subscribe to such methods (although many are still used in different parts of the world) is that they are mostly very restrictive. They follow their core belief almost obsessively and by rejecting other equally valid theories. This makes them ineffective for the majority of contexts and situations.

On the other hand, whilst alone they seem incredibly rigid and incompatible with what we know today, there is a lot to be learned from these old methods. It makes you question if the way we teach today will be looked upon in hindsight as dated and ineffective.

Who’s it for?

TPELT is for every teacher who wants to understand why we teach the way we do. Much like last week’s How Languages are Learned review, TPELT is essential for teachers who want to understand how we got here. If ‘How Languages are Learned’ shows us the theoretical studies that led us to the beliefs we have today, Techniques and Principles shows us the practical path we’ve taken.

So now, when a student asks you ‘what method do you use?’ and you have an opportunity to explain your approach, you’ll be in a real position to explain to them why you teach the way you do, why you use certain techniques and, most importantly why you don’t use use a ‘traditional method’.

A must read!

Useful Links

Techniques and Principles in ELT from Oxford University Press

Techniques and Principles in ELT from Amazon UK