Saturday, 27 August 2011

Language teaching history - ancient times

Many of the current issues in language teaching have been considered off and on throughout history.


Before speaking about different methods, approaches, techniques or styles of teaching and learning it is useful to make clear the notions used for their de¬scription.

It is necessary to understand that an approach is general (eg. Cognitive, Situational, etc.), that a method is a specific set of procedures more or less com¬patible with an approach (eg. Silent Way, Total Physical Response, etc.), and a technique is a very specific type of learning activity used in one or more methods (eg. Using rods to cue and facilitate language practice). So, we can find two or three methods that can be classified to a certain approach to teaching a foreign language; we can give the example of two or three techniques used in a certain method or methods.

Methods of language teaching should be based on at least three corner¬stones: 1) what is known about the nature of the language (linguistics); 2) what is known about the nature of the learner (psychology); 3) the aims of instruction.

Ancient times.

The history of foreign language teaching goes back at least to the ancient Greeks. They were interested in what they could learn about the mind and the will through language learning. The classical languages, first Greek and then Latin, were used as lingua francas. Higher learning was given only in these lan¬guages all over Europe. They were also used very widely in Philosophy or relig¬ion, politics and business. Thus the educated elite became fluent speakers, read¬ers, and writers of the appropriate classical language.

The Romans were probably the first to study a foreign language formally. They studied Greek, taught by Greek tutors and slaves. Their approach was less philosophical and more practical than that of the Greeks. We can assume that the teachers or tutors used informal and direct approaches to convey the form and meaning of the language they were teaching, and that they used aural (oral) techniques with no language textbooks, but rather a small stock of hand copied writ¬ten manuscripts of some sort, perhaps a few texts in the target language, or crude dictionaries that listed equivalent words in two or more languages side by side.