Language education

Language education

Language education is the teaching and learning of a foreign or second language. Language education is a branch of applied linguistics.


Need for language education

People need to learn a second language because of globalization; connections are becoming inevitable among nations, states and organizations which create a huge need for knowing another language or more multilingualism. The uses of common languages are in areas such as trade, tourism, international relations between governments, technology, media and science. Therefore, many countries such as Japan (Kubota, 1998) and China (Kirkpatrick & Zhichang, 2002) frame education policies to teach at least one foreign language at primary and secondary school level. However, some countries such as India, Singapore, Malaysia, Pakistan and Philippines use a second official language in their governing system. According to GAO (2010) many Chinese people are giving enormous importance to foreign language learning, especially learning the English Language.

History of foreign language education

Ancient to medieval period

Although the need to learn foreign languages is almost as old as human history itself, the origins of modern language education are in the study and teaching of Latin in the 17th century. Latin had for many centuries been the dominant language of education, commerce, religion, and government in much of the Western world, but it was displaced by French, Italian, and English by the end of the 16th century. John Amos Comenius was one of many people who tried to reverse this trend. He composed a complete course for learning Latin, covering the entire school curriculum, culminating in his Opera Didactica Omnia, 1657.

In this work, Comenius also outlined his theory of language acquisition. He is one of the first theorists to write systematically about how languages are learned and about pedagogical methodology for language acquisition. He held that language acquisition must be allied with sensation and experience. Teaching must be oral. The schoolroom should have models of things, and failing that, pictures of them. As a result, he also published the world's first illustrated children's book, Orbis Sensualim Pictus. The study of Latin diminished from the study of a living language to be used in the real world to a subject in the school curriculum. Such decline brought about a new justification for its study. It was then claimed that its study developed intellectual abilities, and the study of Latin grammar became an end in and of itself.

"Grammar schools" from the 16th to 18th centuries focused on teaching the grammatical aspects of Classical Latin. Advanced students continued grammar study with the addition of rhetoric.[1]

18th century

The study of modern languages did not become part of the curriculum of European schools until the 18th century. Based on the purely academic study of Latin, students of modern languages did much of the same exercises, studying grammatical rules and translating abstract sentences. Oral work was minimal, and students were instead required to memorize grammatical rules and apply these to decode written texts in the target language. This tradition-inspired method became known as the 'grammar-translation method'.[1]

19th–20th century

Henry Sweet was a key figure in establishing the applied linguistics tradition in language teaching

Innovation in foreign language teaching began in the 19th century and became very rapid in the 20th century. It led to a number of different and sometimes conflicting methods, each trying to be a major improvement over the previous or contemporary methods. The earliest applied linguists included Jean Manesca, Heinrich Gottfried Ollendorff (1803–1865), Henry Sweet (1845–1912), Otto Jespersen (1860–1943), and Harold Palmer (1877–1949). They worked on setting language teaching principles and approaches based on linguistic and psychological theories, but they left many of the specific practical details for others to devise.[1]

Those looking at the history of foreign-language education in the 20th century and the methods of teaching (such as those related below) might be tempted to think that it is a history of failure. Very few students in U.S. universities who have a foreign language as a major manage to reach something called "minimum professional proficiency". Even the "reading knowledge" required for a PhD degree is comparable only to what second-year language students read and only very few researchers who are native English speakers can read and assess information written in languages other than English. Even a number of famous linguists are monolingual.[2]

However, anecdotal evidence for successful second or foreign language learning is easy to find, leading to a discrepancy between these cases and the failure of most language programs, which helps make the research of second language acquisition emotionally charged. Older methods and approaches such as the grammar translation method or the direct method are dismissed and even ridiculed as newer methods and approaches are invented and promoted as the only and complete solution to the problem of the high failure rates of foreign language students.

Most books on language teaching list the various methods that have been used in the past, often ending with the author's new method. These new methods are usually presented as coming only from the author's mind, as the authors generally give no credence to what was done before and do not explain how it relates to the new method. For example, descriptive linguists[who?] seem to claim unhesitatingly that there were no scientifically-based language teaching methods before their work (which led to the audio-lingual method developed for the U.S. Army in World War II). However, there is significant evidence to the contrary. It is also often inferred or even stated that older methods were completely ineffective or have died out completely when even the oldest methods are still used (e.g. the Berlitz version of the direct method). One reason for this situation is that proponents of new methods have been so sure that their ideas are so new and so correct that they could not conceive that the older ones have enough validity to cause controversy. This was in turn caused by emphasis on new scientific advances, which has tended to blind researchers to precedents in older work.[2](p. 5)

There have been two major branches in the field of language learning; the empirical and theoretical, and these have almost completely separate histories, with each gaining ground over the other at one point in time or another. Examples of researchers on the empiricist side are Jesperson, Palmer, and Leonard Bloomfield, who promote mimicry and memorization with pattern drills. These methods follow from the basic empiricist position that language acquisition basically results from habits formed by conditioning and drilling. In its most extreme form, language learning is seen as basically the same as any other learning in any other species, human language being essentially the same as communication behaviors seen in other species.

On the theoretical side are, for example, Francois Gouin, M.D. Berlitz, and Elime de Sauzé, whose rationalist theories of language acquisition dovetail with linguistic work done by Noam Chomsky and others. These have led to a wider variety of teaching methods ranging from the grammar-translation method to Gouin's "series method" to the direct methods of Berlitz and de Sauzé. With these methods, students generate original and meaningful sentences to gain a functional knowledge of the rules of grammar. This follows from the rationalist position that man is born to think and that language use is a uniquely human trait impossible in other species. Given that human languages share many common traits, the idea is that humans share a universal grammar which is built into our brain structure. This allows us to create sentences that we have never heard before but that can still be immediately understood by anyone who understands the specific language being spoken. The rivalry of the two camps is intense, with little communication or cooperation between them.[2]

Methods of teaching foreign languages

Language education may take place as a general school subject or in a specialized language school. There are many methods of teaching languages. Some have fallen into relative obscurity and others are widely used; still others have a small following, but offer useful insights.

While sometimes confused, the terms "approach", "method" and "technique" are hierarchical concepts. An approach is a set of correlative assumptions about the nature of language and language learning, but does not involve procedure or provide any details about how such assumptions should translate into the classroom setting. Such can be related to second language acquisition theory.

There are three principal views at this level:

  1. The structural view treats language as a system of structurally related elements to code meaning (e.g. grammar).
  2. The functional view sees language as a vehicle to express or accomplish a certain function, such as requesting something.
  3. The interactive view sees language as a vehicle for the creation and maintenance of social relations, focusing on patterns of moves, acts, negotiation and interaction found in conversational exchanges. This view has been fairly dominant since the 1980s.[1]

Examples of structural methods are grammar translation and the audio-lingual method. Examples of functional methods include the oral approach / situational language teaching. Examples of interactive methods include the direct method, the series method, communicative language teaching, language immersion, the proprioceptive language learning method, the Silent Way, Suggestopedia, the Natural Approach, Total Physical Response, Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling and Dogme language teaching.

A method is a plan for presenting the language material to be learned and should be based upon a selected approach. In order for an approach to be translated into a method, an instructional system must be designed considering the objectives of the teaching/learning, how the content is to be selected and organized, the types of tasks to be performed, the roles of students and the roles of teachers. A technique is a very specific, concrete stratagem or trick designed to accomplish an immediate objective. Such are derived from the controlling method, and less-directly, with the approach.[1]

Learning strategies

Code switching

Code switching, that is, changing between languages at some point in a sentence or utterance, is a commonly used communication strategy among language learners and bilinguals. While traditional methods of formal instruction often discourage code switching, students, especially those placed in a language immersion situation, often use it. If viewed as a learning strategy, wherein the student uses the target language as much as possible but reverts to their native language for any element of an utterance that they are unable to produce in the target language (as, e.g., in Wolfgang Butzkamm's concept of enlightened monolingualism), then it has the advantages that it encourages fluency development and motivation and a sense of accomplishment by enabling the student to discuss topics of interest to him or her early in the learning process—before requisite vocabulary has been memorized. It is particularly effective for students whose native language is English, due to the high probability of a simple English word or short phrase being understood by the conversational partner. [3]

Teaching strategies

Blended learning

Blended learning combines face-to-face teaching with distance education, frequently electronic, either computer-based or web-based. It has been a major growth point in the ELT (English Language Teaching) industry over the last ten years.

Some people, though, use the phrase 'Blended Learning' to refer to learning taking place while the focus is on other activities. For example, playing a card game that requires calling for cards may allow blended learning of numbers (1 to 10).

Skills teaching

When talking about language skills, the four basic ones are: listening, speaking, reading and writing. However, other, more socially-based skills have been identified more recently such as summarizing, describing, narrating etc. In addition, more general learning skills such as study skills and knowing how one learns have been applied to language classrooms.[4]

In the 1970s and 1980s, the four basic skills were generally taught in isolation in a very rigid order, such as listening before speaking. However, since then, it has been recognized that we generally use more than one skill at a time, leading to more integrated exercises.[4] Speaking is a skill that often is underrepresented in the traditional classroom. This could be due to the fact that it is considered a less-academic skill than writing, is transient and improvised (thus harder to assess and teach through rote imitation).

More recent textbooks stress the importance of students working with other students in pairs and groups, sometimes the entire class. Pair and group work give opportunities for more students to participate more actively. However, supervision of pairs and groups is important to make sure everyone participates as equally as possible. Such activities also provide opportunities for peer teaching, where weaker learners can find support from stronger classmates.[4]

Sandwich technique

In foreign language teaching, the sandwich technique is the oral insertion of an idiomatic translation in the mother tongue between an unknown phrase in the learned language and its repetition, in order to convey meaning as rapidly and completely as possible. The mother tongue equivalent can be given almost as an aside, with a slight break in the flow of speech to mark it as an intruder.

When modeling a dialogue sentence for students to repeat, the teacher not only gives an oral mother tongue equivalent for unknown words or phrases, but repeats the foreign language phrase before students imitate it: L2 => L1 => L2. For example, a German teacher of English might engage in the following exchange with the students:

Teacher: "Let me try - lass mich mal versuchen - let me try."
Students: "Let me try."

Mother tongue mirroring

Mother tongue mirroring is the adaptation of the time-honoured technique of literal translation or word-for word translation for pedagogical purposes. The aim is to make foreign constructions salient and transparent to learners and, in many cases, spare them the technical jargon of grammatical analysis. It differs from literal translation and interlinear text as used in the past since it takes the progress learners have made into account and only focuses upon a specific structure at a time. As a didactic device, it can only be used to the extent that it remains intelligible to the learner, unless it is combined with a normal idiomatic translation.


Back-chaining is a technique used in teaching oral language skills, especially with polysyllabic or difficult words.[5] The teacher pronounces the last syllable, the student repeats, and then the teacher continues, working backwards from the end of the word to the beginning.[6]

For example, to teach the name ‘Mussorgsky' a teacher will pronounce the last syllable: -sky, and have the student repeat it. Then the teacher will repeat it with -sorg- attached before: -sorg-sky, and all that remains is the first syllable: Mus-sorg-sky.

Language education by region

Practices in language education vary significantly by region. Firstly, the languages being learned differ; in the United States, Spanish is the most popular language to be learned, whereas the most popular language to be learned in Australia is Japanese. Also, teaching methods tend to differ by region. Language immersion is popular in some European countries, but is not used very much in the United States.

Language study holidays

An increasing number of people are now combining holidays with language study in the native country. This enables the student to experience the target culture by meeting local people. Such a holiday often combines formal lessons, cultural excursions, leisure activities, and a homestay, perhaps with time to travel in the country afterwards. Language study holidays are popular across Europe and Asia due to the ease of transportation and variety of nearby countries. These holidays have become increasingly more popular in Central and South America in such countries as Guatemala, Ecuador and Peru.

With the increasing prevalence of international business transactions, it is now important to have multiple languages at one's disposal. This is also evident in businesses outsourcing their departments to Eastern Europe.[citation needed]

Language education on the Internet

The Internet has emerged as a powerful medium to teach and learn foreign languages. Websites that provide language education on the Internet may be broadly classified under 3 categories:

  1. Language exchange websites
  2. Language portals
  3. Virtual online schools
  4. Support websites

Language exchange websites

Language exchange facilitates language learning by placing users with complementary language skills in contact with each other. For instance, User A is a native Spanish speaker and wants to learn English; User B is a native English speaker and wants to learn Spanish. Language exchange websites essentially treat knowledge of a language as a commodity, and provide a market like environment for the commodity to be exchanged. Users typically contact each other via text chat, voice-over-IP, or email.

Language exchanges have also been viewed as a helpful tool to aid language learning at language schools. Language exchanges tend to benefit oral proficiency, fluency, colloquial vocabulary acquisition, and vernacular usage, rather than formal grammar or writing skills.

Portals that provide language content

There are a number of Internet portals that offer language content, some in interactive form. Content typically includes phrases with translation in multiple languages, text to speech engines (TTS), learning activities such as quizzes or puzzles based on language concepts. While some of this content is free, a large fraction of the content on offer is available for a fee, especially where the content is tailored to the needs of language tests such as TOEFL, for the United States.

In general, language education on the Internet provides a good supplement to real world language schooling. However, the commercial nature of the Internet, including pop-up and occasionally irrelevant text or banner ads might be seen as a distraction from a good learning experience.

Virtual world-based language schools

These are schools operating online in MMOs and virtual worlds. Unlike other language education on the Internet, virtual world schools are usually designed as an alternative to physical schools. In 2005, the virtual world Second Life started to be used for foreign language tuition, sometimes with entire businesses being developed.[7][8]

Foreign language English has gained an online presence, with several schools operating entirely online. In addition, Spain’s language and cultural institute Instituto Cervantes has an "island" on Second Life. A list of educational projects (including some language schools) in Second Life can be found on the second life Educational wiki, or the SimTeach site.

Minority language education

Minority language education policy

The principle policy arguments in favor of promoting minority language education are the need for multilingual workforces, intellectual and cultural benefits and greater inclusion in global information society.[9] Access to education in a minority language is also seen as a human right as granted by the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and the UN Human Rights Committee.[10] Bilingual Education has been implemented in many countries including the United States, in order to promote both the use and appreciation of the minority language, as well as the majority language concerned.[11]

Materials and e-learning for minority language education

Suitable resources for teaching and learning minority languages can be difficult to find and access, which has led to calls for the increased development of materials for minority language teaching. The internet offers opportunities to access a wider range of texts, audios and videos.[12] Language learning 2.0 (the use of web 2.0 tools for language education)[13] offers opportunities for material development for lesser-taught languages and to bring together geographically dispersed teachers and learners.[14]

Acronyms and abbreviations

See also: English language learning and teaching for information on language teaching acronyms and abbreviations which are specific to English.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Richards, Jack C.; Theodore S. Rodgers (2001). Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching. Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-00843-3. 
  2. ^ a b c Diller, Karl Conrad (1978). The Language Teaching Controversy. Rowley, Massachusetts: Newbury House. ISBN 912066-22-9. 
  3. ^ Butzkamm, Wolfgang (1998). "Code-Switching in a Bilingual History Lesson: The Mother Tongue as a Conversational Lubricant". International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism 1:2, pp.81-99.
  4. ^ a b c Holden, Susan; Mickey Rodgers (1998). English language teaching. Mexico City: DELTI. ISBN 968-6820-12-4. 
  5. ^ "Backchaining." Glossary. Retrieved April 4, 2009, from
  6. ^ "Backchaining." Teaching English. Retrieved April 4, 2009, from
  7. ^ Dorveaux, Xavier (15 July 2007). "Apprendre une langue dans un monde virtuel". Le Monde.,1-0,36-935560,0.html. Retrieved 15 July 2007. 
  8. ^ Dorveaux, Xavier (15 July 2007). "Study and teach in Second Life". iT's Magazines. Retrieved 15 July 2007. 
  9. ^ Sachdev, I; McPake, J (2008). "Community Languages in Higher Education: Towards realising the potential". Routes into Languages. pp. 76. Retrieved 26 June 2009. 
  10. ^ de Varennes, Fernand (2004). "The right to education and minority language". EUMAP: EU Monitoring and Advocacy Program Online Journal. Retrieved 26 June 2009. [dead link]
  11. ^ National Center for Research on Cultural Diversity and Second Language Learning (1999-07). "Two-Way Bilingual Education Programs in Practice: A National and Local Perspective". Center for Applied Linguistics. Retrieved 26 June 2009. 
  12. ^ Sachdev, I; McPake, J (2008). "Community Languages in Higher Education: Towards realising the potential". Routes into Languages. pp. 61–62. Retrieved 26 June 2009. 
  13. ^ Diouri, Mourad (2009). "Language learning 2.0 in action: web .0 tools to enhance language learning". 4th Plymouth e-Learning Conference 2009. Retrieved 26 June 2009. [dead link]
  14. ^ Ikeda, A. Sho; Doty, Christopher (14 March 2009). "New Roles for Technology in Language Maintenance and Revitalization". 1st International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC). Retrieved 26 June 2009. 


  • Gao, Xuesong (Andy). (2010).Strategic Language Learning.Multilingual Matters:Canada, 2010
  • Kirkpatrick, A & Zhichang, X (2002).”Chinese pragmatic norms and “China English”. World Englishes. Vol. 21, pp. 269–279.
  • Kubota, K (1998) “Ideologies of English in Japan” World Englishes Vol.17, No.3, pp. 295–306.

Further reading

  • Bernhardt, E. B. (Ed.) (1992). Life in language immersion classrooms. Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters, Ltd.
  • Genesee, F. (1985). Second language learning through immersion: A review of U.S. programs. Review of Educational Research, 55(4), 541–561.
  • Genesee, F. (1987). Learning Through Two Languages: Studies of Immersion and Bilingual Education. Cambridge, Mass.: Newbury House Publishers.
  • Lindholm-Leary, K. (2001). Theoretical and conceptual foundations for dual language education programs. In K. Lindholm-Leary, Dual language education (pp. 39–58). Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters Ltd.
  • McKay, Sharon; Schaetzel, Kirsten, Facilitating Adult Learner Interactions to Build Listening and Speaking Skills, CAELA Network Briefs, CAELA and Center for Applied Linguistics
  • Meunier, Fanny; Granger, Sylviane, "Phraseology in foreign language learning and teaching", Amsterdam and Philadelphia : John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2008
  • Met, M., & Lorenz, E. (1997). Lessons from U.S. immersion programs: Two decades of experience. In R. Johnson & M. Swain (Eds.), Immersion education: International perspectives (pp. 243–264). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  • Swain, M. & Johnson, R. K. (1997). Immersion education: A category within bilingual education. In R. K. Johnson & M. Swain (Eds.), Immersion education: International perspectives (pp. 1–16). NY: Cambridge University Press.

External links