A Summary of the Best English Language Teaching Methods and Techniques

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Teaching Methods: An Overview

What is the best teaching method for learning English?

According to academic research, linguists have demonstrated that there is not one single best method for everyone in all contexts, and that no one teaching method is inherently superior to the others.

Also, it is not always possible - or appropriate - to apply the same methodology to all learners, who have different objectives, environments and learning needs.

"Applying the most appropriate method for that learner's specific objectives, learning style and context."

An experienced professional language teacher always adopts the Principled Eclecticism approach, deciding on the most suitable techniques and applying the most appropriate methodology for that learner's specific objectives, learning style and context.


Methods of teaching English have developed rapidly, especially in the previous 40 years. It is important that language learners and training managers, as well as teachers, understand the various methods and techniques so you are able to navigate the market, make educated choices, and boost your enjoyment of learning a language.

An Overview

Each teaching method is based on a particular vision of understanding the language or the learning process, often using specific techniques and materials used in a set sequence.

The main methodologies are listed below in the chronological order of their development:

  • Grammar Translation - the classical method
  • Direct Method - discovering the importance of speaking
  • Audio-lingualism - the first modern methodology
  • Humanistic Approaches - a range of holistic methods applied to language learning
  • Communicative Language Teaching - the modern standard method
  • Principled Eclecticism - fitting the method to the learner, not the learner to the method


Timeline showing the evolution of English teaching methods from 1900 to today

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What are the Differences?

Each method has a different focus or priority, so let's look at what this means in practical terms in the classroom.

The more common methods have a link to a separate page with more details and an explanation of how they work, including the most common method currently used - Communicative Language Teaching.


Method Focus Characteristics

Grammar Translation

Written literary texts

Translate from English into your native language

Direct Method (also called Natural Method)

Everyday spoken language

Student learns by associating meaning directly in English

Audio-Lingual Method

Sentence and sound patterns

Listening and speaking drills and pattern practice only in English

Cognitive Code Approach

Grammar rules

English grammar rules deduced and then understood in context

Humanistic Approaches - 4 popular examples:

- The Silent Way

Student interaction rather than teacher

Teacher is silent to allow student awareness of how English works

- Suggestopedia

Meaningful texts and vocabulary

Relaxed atmosphere, with music; encourages subliminal learning of English

- Community Language Learning

Student interaction

Understanding of English through active student interaction

- Comprehension Approach (Natural Approach, the Learnables, and Total Physical Response)

Listening comprehension

English speaking delayed until students are ready; meaning clarified through actions and visuals

Communicative Language Teaching

Interaction, authentic communication and negotiating meaning

Understanding of English through active student interaction; role play, games, information gaps

Content-based, Task-based, and Participatory Approaches

What is being communicated, not structure of English

Content based on relevance to students' lives: topics, tasks, problem-solving

Learning Strategy Training, Cooperative Learning, and Multiple Intelligences

How to learn

Teach learning strategies, cooperation; activities vary according to different intelligences

Based on Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching (Oxford University Press)

Modern Teaching Methods

As mentioned above, the modern language teacher doesn't follow one rigid method, but applies the Principled Eclecticism approach - fitting the method to the learner, not vice versa.

This means choosing the techniques and activities that are appropriate for each particular task, context and learner, with a focus on motivation and helping learners become independent and inspired to learn more.

The explanation of Principled Eclecticism also includes a useful ten-point guide for teachers and language students on the best teaching and learning techniques.

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