Methodology in Language Teaching

Title: Methodology in Language Teaching - An Anthology of Current Practice
Authors: Various
Editors: Jack C. Richards, Willy A. Renadya
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Consists of: Articles detailing current methodological perspectives in all areas of EFL
Summary: A reasonable book for those seeking a broad overview of current EFL methodology
Reviewed by: Christian Jones
Review date: March 2003

This book offers a comprehensive overview of current methodological perspectives in EFL. It is divided into several sections that cover all systems and skills, and other areas such as classroom dynamics and lesson planning. Each section includes several articles by influential figures in EFL. Each section begins with an introduction to the topic by the editors and before/after reading discussion questions. Almost all the articles are followed by an extensive bibliography indicating possible further reading.

The best articles about EFL are always ones that plant a new thought in your mind- a thought that stays with you and helps you make a change in your teaching. For this reason I probably enjoyed Michael Swan's Seven Bad Reasons for teaching grammar-and Two Good Ones the most. Many books have been written recently which (rightly) suggest that grammar is often overtaught at the expense of other essential skills and systems. Swan manages to avoid simply repeating this and instead has a succinct look at why we often teach too much of it while also suggesting that we do need to teach at least some of it.

I also enjoyed Paul Nation's Best Practice in Vocabulary Teaching and Learning. Again, there has been an awful lot written about vocabulary recently. The idea that we need to pay more attention to it has been fairly well established. Nation's article is useful because it gives some refreshing ideas of how to effect student learning of vocabulary both though input and output. He suggests that reading graded texts may need to be combined with explicit teaching/highlighting of vocabulary from the reader in order to better aid acquisition. It may not be enough to suggest that if students read a lot of graded material they will simply acquire more vocabulary.

The weak points of a book like this are twofold:

  1. The quality of the articles varies widely.
  2. With the time gap between writing and publication, it cannot fully reflect what is "current".

And so it is here.

Many of the articles contain interesting ideas but lack practical suggestions for implementing them. Several are full of practical suggestions but woefully short of theoretical backing. The worst articles offer a better-articulated version of something that is plainly obvious. I was left to wonder after reading an article about professional development if it is really essential for someone to tell teachers that they can investigate their own teaching by tape recording themselves. For busy teachers, these kinds of articles can make for very frustrating reading. Similarly, it is frustrating that in a book that seeks to reflect current methodological practice, several strands of current thinking are not represented. There is nothing on the use of electronic corpora in syllabus design or the teaching of lexical chunks for example. The book may have benefited from reducing the length of some sections and the inclusion of areas such as these.

The book seems aimed at groups taking a DELTA or Master's course in EFL and would probably be of most benefit to that audience. Articles could be thought about, read and then discussed in class as they relate to a particular point in the course. Having said that, the book may be of interest to individuals who want a broad overview of current EFL methodology, particularly if they are thinking of pursuing further study in EFL or simply want to update their knowledge. ESL Reviews & ArticlesChristian Jones is a teacher at the British Council in Tokyo. He is currently studying for an MA in Applied Linguistics/ELT from the University of Nottingham.