The Humanistic Approaches to Learning

An explosion of new and radical approaches to learning a language came to light in the 1970s. These approaches are often grouped under the title of Humanistic Approaches due to their method of concentration, touching on the innate ability and capacity that all learners are presumed to possess.

Timeline showing the popularity of the Humanistic approaches
View large version with all methods


This method is based on the idea that the mind has great potential and can retain information by the power of suggestion. This teaching method uses relaxation as a means of retaining new knowledge.

In their initial lessons learners receive large quantities of information in the new language. The text is translated and then read aloud with classical music in the background.

The scope is to supply an atmosphere of total relaxation where understanding is purely accidental and subliminal. Using large quantities of linguistic material introduces the idea that language understanding is easy and natural.

In the following lesson, learners use the material in a variety of communication activities. The original learning techniques and theory developed by Georgi Lozanov have since developed into the Accelerated Learning movement.

When – 1970s to 1980s
Focus – Meaningful texts and vocabulary
Characteristics – Relaxed atmosphere, with music; encourage subliminal learning of English
Supporters – Georgi Lozanov

Total Physical Response (TPR)

Allow students to produce when they are ‘ready’. Improvement comes from supplying communicative input, not from forcing production.
– Dr Stephen Krashen

This method draws on the basic principles of how young children learn their first language. Developed by James Asher, this teaching method involves a wide range of physical activities and a lot of listening and comprehension, as well as an emphasis on learning as fun and stimulating.

Total Physical Response has limitations, especially when teaching abstract language and tasks, but is widely considered to be effective for beginners and is still the standard approach for young learners.

When – 1970s, widely used today for young leaners
Focus – Listening comprehension
Characteristics – English speaking delayed until students are ready; meaning clarified through actions and visuals
Supporters – James Asher

The Silent Way

Another example of a method categorized under the Humanistic Approaches, with this technique the teacher is supposed to be practically silent – hence the name of the method – and avoids explaining everything to the students.

This method is based on a problem-solving approach to learning, whereby the students’ learning becomes autonomous and co-operative.

The scope is to help students select the appropriate phrases and know how to control them, with good intonation and rhythm. The teacher does not repeat the material nor supplies the phrases that the student has to imitate, and there is no use of the learner’s native language.

Patterns contain vocabulary, and coloured guides for pronunciation are used to assist the teacher in guiding the students’ understanding while saying the least amount possible.

When – 1970s
Focus – Student interaction rather than teacher interaction
Characteristics – Teacher is silent to allow student awareness of how English works
Supporters – Caleb Gattegno

Community Language Learning

Also sharing many of the same principles as the Silent Way, this technique was relatively short-lived. Seeing the student as a ‘whole’ person, the method involved students sitting in a circle and encouraging them to use their feelings, intellect, relationships and reactions.

When – 1970s
Focus – Student interaction
Characteristics – Understanding of English through active student interaction
Supporters – Charles Arthur Curran


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  • cna

    Thank you so much for such clarifying chart of the history of all teaching methods.
    It’s been really helpful, yet I haven’t seen any reference to the natural approach or Krashen’s monitor model, is there a reason to it?
    Thanks again

    • Alex Taylor – TJ Taylor

      The chart with the timeline of teaching methods, and the overview of methods here , focus on the more commonly used methods over the years – otherwise the chart would quickly become unwieldy and less useful.
      The Natural approach, however, was always interesting (even if it was often confused with the Natural method, which is another commonly used name for the Direct method).