Language 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. As a language learner, training manager, or teacher, it is important to understand the various methods and techniques so that 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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  • Jiao Yang Wang

    which method is easy to teach for a new teacher?

    • Alex Taylor – TJ Taylor

      I wouldn’t approach this based on which method is the easiest, but rather which one is best for our students.
      The Principled Eclecticism approach mentioned above is actually the most difficult, as the teacher needs to have a good understanding of all the various methodologies, their pros and cons, and how and when to apply each technique.
      The table above is a good start, however, and I’d recommend clicking through to read more about each method.

  • Jiao Yang Wang

    Thanks for your answer, I don’t know why you say that audio-lingualism is the “first modern methodology” ?

  • Hayman

    I am confused by the terms – ‘methodology’ and ‘approach’. Don’t they have the same meaning? Could u explain the difference?

    • Alex Taylor – TJ Taylor

      There is a difference between the 2 terms, though I admit the article doesn’t always use them well or clearly.
      There can be many methods under the umbrella of an approach.
      An approach is an idea or a concept, whereas a method is the procedures to turn that idea into reality in the classroom.
      A good example is the humanistic approach, an idea, which gave rise to various methods (4 of the most common are listed above).
      I hope that’s clearer.

  • Paul Hudson

    “According to academic research, linguists have demonstrated that there is not one single best method for everyone in all contexts.”

    In other words, data has shown that it’s random. There is no superior method. Then what’s the point of the Principled Eclecticism method if it only tells us to use a method we thing might work best. I bet that research into the effectiveness of Principled Eclecticism is bound to show no correlation with improved learning too.

    The newer approaches and methods have tried to accommodate learning styles and personalities, but the amount of time or exposure to productive and receptive skills of a language will always be varied for each learner.

    From my experience, the amount of time learners have seems to be the only true factor in language acquisition. We already know through research that it takes 8-9 years of English studies for students to become academic proficient. The difference between a native language speaker and second language learner is time. The difference between an elementary and a pre-intermediate learner is the amount of quality time spent on learning English.

    To give some perspective, given enough time, or an infinite amount of time, a monkey that is randomly typing on a typewrite will write all of Shakespeare’s 38 plays and 154 sonnets, word for word!

    • Alex Taylor – TJ Taylor

      “Not one single best method for everyone” is not the same as “it’s random” – it means that we can’t use the same method for everyone and expect excellent results.

      Instead, we need to personalise how we teach based on the student’s stage of life, objectives, motivation and aptitude for languages, their native language, personality – and yes – how much time they’ve spent learning English.

      Because ‘time studying’ is easier to quantify than aptitude or personality doesn’t mean that it’s the only factor, though I agree that the quality and frequency of time spent studying is incredibly important.

      Principled Eclecticism isn’t included in the table of methods above – this is because it’s an approach rather than a method (something I’ve talked about more in another comment here).

      It takes pieces and techniques from the various methods, which are then applied based on the teacher’s judgement.

      For example, young learners normally learn best with the Total Physical Response method; in my experience absolute beginners who need survival English and can’t do an intensive course benefit most from the Audio-Lingual method mixed with a Lexical approach, but only until they reach an A2 level; for extrovert personalities we borrow many of the techniques from the Communicative method, etc..

      This Principled Eclecticism approach does have disadvantages of course, mostly because it’s not ‘standardised’ and relies on each teacher’s judgement and their evaluation of each student. And that’s before we consider large groups of students with different needs.

      However, being difficult doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do it – after all, we owe it to our students.

      • Paul Hudson

        ‘it means that we can’t use the same method for everyone and expect excellent results.” – I hope that this has long been the case, which aided the development of new or alternative approaches and methods.

        It has long been understood in academia that teachers should carter to learner styles, especially is our modern fast-paste societies with students that have short attention spans. Every communicative method course that I have studied instruct ESL teachers to adopt their learner styles and ages. Therefore, after learning that studies have shown that there is no difference in increase learning in comparing older methods to newer ones is quiet surprising.

        • Alex Taylor – TJ Taylor

          I’m not entirely sure I’ve understood your comment, but that newer methods are necessarily more effective than older methods is still not the exact meaning of that quote.

          Unfortunately catering to the individual and adapting teaching style accordingly is, sadly, a relatively new concept – just think of the many ‘method’ schools with a one-size-fits-all approach.

          Everyone is looking for the best method to learn English, and the simple answer is that there is no simple answer. At least not one that is universal and applicable to everyone. This is the core message of this article.

          • Markwin van Rijnberk

            Personalised learning – or should I say teaching – is easier said than done. As a secondary school teacher I have around 30 students in one class, teaching around 240 students in total. Discovering their level and learning preferences for the 4 language skills – reading, listening, speaking and writing – is difficult enough in itself. But where do I find materials that cater for these different levels for the different skills, let alone materials that also cater for different learning preferences? Most publishers’ classroom books I know don’t come close.

          • Alex Taylor – TJ Taylor

            You’ve brought up a good point.
            My world is corporate training, so we’re lucky to have small group or individual courses where we can personalise learning more easily.
            However, it’s also possible to do the same with large groups and in the state school system. I think it’s an anachronism and a mistake to consider a book as a starting point, as they are inherently generic and one-size-fits-all by necessity.
            Instead we should be looking to technology to help us – not just to evaluate hundreds or thousands of students without drowning in marking or paper, but also to deliver the right exercise at the right level to the right student at the right time.
            It has become a bit of a buzzword, but this is the promise of adaptive learning software, and I’ve seen it work well.
            I’m a big fan of Knewton, which is one of the companies that have made this a reality and raised awareness of adaptive learning, and I’m seeing some of the traditional publishers coming out with their own software and systems.
            Even if your budget doesn’t stretch quite that far, I’d recommend looking into the flipped classroom movement. There are a lot of techniques to draw on and materials you can use, such as the Khan Academy.

  • Novia Riski

    could you give me a spesific example of suggestopedia method in teaching english?

    • Alex Taylor – TJ Taylor

      There’s more information on Suggestopedia in the second part of this page: though it has since morphed into a larger movement that’s wider than language learning.

  • Amanda

    Dear Alex, I am writint a paper about english teaching methogs, trying to find free book online which I can use as a base, but no luck, could you please recommend me where to look and what to search for? I need to have the base from books, than I can cite some internet pages. Thank you, Klara Czech Republic

    • Alex Taylor – TJ Taylor

      The book cited as the source for the summary above is very good, ‘Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching’ by Larsen-Freeman and Anderson.

      There’s also ‘How Languages are Learned’ by Lightbown and Spada which I can recommend, but my favourite is ‘Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching’ by Richards and Rogers.

      I don’t know of any free books, but some of the ones above might be available as ebooks or with free extracts, it’s worth checking. I hope that helps!

  • leyla

    Great! Thank you.

  • Yuuta Kei

    thank you, this is really helping

  • Gabbiacci_707

    I have read the article “Language Teaching Methods: An Overview” by TJ Taylor. Learning language is not easy process. This process demands so much energy, patience and challenge. That’s I agree with you. We have a lot of types of Language Teaching Methods. But I think we should use very interesting, useful and easily. I like Direct method. Because we speak in foreing landuage everyday. It helps us to speak free in another language. I will produce my own r methods of teaching in my future job. Firstly, I will try to understand my students ( What they want?). In additionally, I want to say from my experiences we should improve our knowledge. In conclusion, thanks for your information.

  • Rina

    It’s a very good notice Mr. Taylor,
    Would you please give me an advice, whichone is the most suitable method and technique for teaching Grammar ?

  • Maganga S Ngassa

    Most teachers use too much Grammar translation method during teaching English what are effects toward to the learners?

    • Alex Taylor – TJ Taylor

      Indeed, it’s surprisingly common, especially in the state school system. There are more details on this page if you’re interested:

      • Maganga S Ngassa

        Mr Alex thank you too i have got the answer from your replay. Also would like to be assisted on this so that i can get enogh materials on this title: THE PERCEPTIONS ABOUT THE USE ENGLISH AS A MEDIUM INSTRUCTION IN SECONDARY SCHOOLS IN TANZANIA.

  • Marie Valladares

    Hello Mr. Taylor,
    Could you tell me or give me some references about those academic research, linguists have demonstrated that there is not one single best method? It is very helpful for me.

    I will really appreciate it!

  • Kelly Melly

    Hello. Hope I can get some help.
    I’m doing an Assignment on what two methods are best used in teaching english.
    I’ve choosen Direct Method and Audio-Lingual method…Reason for that is because both doesn’t encourage the use of Native Language in their classroom and both somewhat uses “habit formation” so that the Target Language seems natural to the students.
    But I don’t get the grammar aspect of these two methods…do they teach grammar in these two methods?? How do they teach grammar in these two methods??

    • Alex Taylor – TJ Taylor

      Hi Kelly – both of these methods handle grammar in a somewhat similar way. They rely on teaching grammar inductively, with no explicit grammar explanation.
      The Direct method was partly a backlash to the Grammar Translation method, and was more focussed on vocabulary than the Audio-Lingual method. It relied on students figuring out the underlying grammar from the presentation of lots of examples.
      The Audio-Lingual was about teaching the basic grammar structures through patterns and habit forming drills, and less on vocabulary. It used various examples of the grammar to learn, and hoped that the student came to understand the form implicitly. However, I’ve also seen in the past a less pure form of this method include an explicit explanation of the grammar in the students’ native language.

  • bridge2english

    All methods of teaching English, discussed in the review, have a common feature – they teach English skills such as reading, listening, speaking, grammar, writing, and pronunciation separately. That is why all conventional methods could be classified as Passive Learning. According to the Learning Pyramid, we remember about 10% of what we read and only about 20% of what we hear.

    Another common feature of the conventional methods – they can’t teach learners to think in English. It is a bold claim, but I think it is one that I can justify during the demonstration of new method called Active Learning of English skills. To speak fluent English learners need to create the English mind, i.e. ability to think in English. In Passive Learning students continue to think in their native language, and then try to translate it into English: it is a stressful and a very slow process that explains low success rate of all described in the review methods.

    Active Learning of English skills is in sharp contrast with the Passive Learning English as information to be remembered. Active Learning is subconscious training and is faster than conscious learning. It is protected by three patents: one issued and two pending – in the USA and in China. In Active Learning the learner trains all English skills simultaneously: reading, speaking, writing, grammar, and pronunciation while re-experiencing familiar situations in English. All situations are familiar since support in mother tongue is a part of the mobile application. Each learner speaks 80% of the time, using mobile devices with earphones and understandable input, irrespective of the number of students in the class.

  • Saud Sallam

    I think a true teacher is unable to have all those teaching approaches in mind all the time when teaching. He would rather use his innate abilitied in stead.

    • zaibun nisa

      no i disagree to u because a true teacher is able to have as a good teacher is a teacher of himself first and then a teacher of his students if he will have command on all or somewhat on a few approaches he can and he will surely impliment them in class for better teaching and learning of students

    • Aby Hamzaoui

      you are absolutely right, Saud Sallam; but with experience a teacher will be able to tap from, not necessarily the methods in the theoretical sense, but the constantly improving skills he or she acquires as well as from the various activities and learning experiences one encounters in class. For this reason, today, we talk about a post-method era, or the ecclectic principled teaching, rather than the use of one method!

  • Alex Taylor – TJ Taylor

    I appreciate your wanting to help others in your area, but I’m afraid we don’t do any training in person in Asia.
    However, our intensive English courses in Ireland and the UK are open to professionals and companies based in Asia, including Pakistan – we’ve had quite a few learners come from China, Japan, India and Korea.
    If you’re interested, there are more details and prices here:

  • Jelliane Villacuatro

    Thank you for these Mr. Taylor. Finding it very helpful for my ESL Approaches and Students’ Linguistic Proficiency research. Hopeful that you could also do an article on the most prevalent ESL Approaches. =D

  • Imene

    is the terms “method” and “methodology” mean the same ?

  • samiha banchouri

    Allwright and Bailey said that in order to help our learners learn, it is not the latest method that we need but rather a fuller understanding of the language classroom and what goes on here. would you explain it to me ?

  • benhizia hanaa

    Allwright and Bailey said that in order to help our learners learn, it
    is not the latest method that we need but rather a fuller understanding
    of the language classroom and what goes on here. would you explain it

  • bridge2english


    Advice of a fuller understanding of the language classroom will not change the current situation with a very high failure rate of learning English!

    Currently, the reading, listening, and speaking, and grammar, and pronunciation are taught separately as different English components. According to the Learning Pyramid, this represents Passive Learning.

    The greatest disadvantage of Passive Learning: learners can’t communicate in English because they can’t think in English. They think in their native language, and then try to translate it into English fast enough so it would be close to the regular speech speed; it is a stressful and a very slow process.

    In a new method of learning English, called Active Training of English skills, reading, listening, and speaking are performed simultaneously. In Active Training the learner starts speaking actively before he or she remembered the grammar rules or vocabulary lists. Active Training engages all the senses, not just listening, and activates more areas of your brain so that the learner subconsciously retains more of what he or she is doing.

  • Rud IE SkyMàx

    does anyone have a personalized approach and wants to share it ?