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Different language teaching methods

In a globalized society, mastering foreign languages is important to succeed economically and socially. Therefore, language teaching has become an academic topic highly focused on, and subjected to many studies and research highlighting diverse paradigms (cognitive, cultural, statistics, etc.). Ideological debates are intense and often heated. Since the end of World War II, several patterns have confronted and succeeded one another. To make it simpler, those methods can be classified in three categories:

  • grammar-translation
  • humanist
  • communicative (method applied at the AF de Nice)

The grammar-translation method

This method is classic and traditionally used for teaching languages such as Latin or Greek. The focus is set on translation (from and to the native language), grammar and vocabulary. Speaking and comprehension skills are set to the side. Explanations are often given in the student’s native language.

This method is still used in many countries, more particularly developing countries, as it is adequate in classrooms with several dozen students and teachers who do not always have the sufficient proficiency to teach the language in question.

If your language textbook’s cover mentions how many words you will learn,

If you regularly ask your teacher to translate an extract of a text for you, or why a given tense is used rather than another in a particular sentence,

If your teacher hogs more than 50% of the speaking time in the class,

… then you are learning a language based on the grammar-translation method.

One of the main problems of the grammar-translation method is that it does not take into account two key elements in the learning process: interest and motivation. However, for students who are strongly determined and good at studying on their own, it can allow them to quickly get good results on written tests. This is why many teachers, who are trained in different methods, do not understand when they see in their classrooms students who have been assessed a B1/B2 proficiency level after taking certified language tests but who are not able to express themselves when speaking.

Note: the grammar-translation method has developed in sub-categories:

  • The direct approach: a lesser use of the native language; pronunciation is taught before the language itself. It is more particularly the method Berlitz schools rely on.
  • The audio-lingual approach: assimilation of grammatical structures. This method is used by the army (influence of SKINNER and PAVLOV behavioral approach).
  • The cognitive approach: grammatical reasoning based on the use of the language in context.

The humanist method

This method, developed by James ASHER, is based on the idea that we are all naturally capable of learning languages since we can speak at least one language. The goal is to reproduce the way the native language has been taught. This method relies on the following:

  • Input is more important than output. Therefore, one needs to be in contact with the language taught as much as possible, just like a baby who hears his parents talking and cannot yet answer them. This led to the subliminal approach in which the learner listens to the studied language while he sleeps.
  • It is important to maintain a pleasant learning environment  (classes with music, outdoors…)
  • No use of the native language at all.
  • No exam.

This method, which was very popular in the 70s, is still frequently used by young learners.

© Plantu

© Mike Flanagan

Considering the large amount of students in the classroom, only a grammar-translation approach can be applied to language teaching.

For intensive courses taught to willing and motivated adults, the communicative approach (and its action-oriented transformation) is the most efficient because that is what it has been created for.

Jean-Pierre CUQ

President of the International Federation of Teachers of French

The communicative method (used at the AF de Nice)

This method is the current standard approach of language teaching. It is more particularly used by the British Councils, Goethe Institutes, Cervantes Institutes, Galileo Centers… and the network of Alliances françaises. The key elements of the communicative approach are:

Students should not be scared of making mistakes. They have to be invited to communicate as much as possible. Meaning is more important than perfect grammar.

  • Using the language is more important than studying it.
  • Understanding comes from classroom interactions in the studied language. Communication between students is essential.
  • Teachers provide students with clues to understand (without translating).
  • Using the language outside of the classroom must be supported (shopping, playing sports, going out with students).
  • Language patterns must not be studied on their own (no exercise based on pure grammar)

The action-oriented approach (also used at the AF de Nice)

Our method is also “action-oriented” as learners are working on concrete and genuine goals, directly relevant with the daily life, according to their proficiency level: shopping, organizing a visit, writing an email, giving an opinion, participating in a conversation or a debate, etc.

All our courses, with or without textbooks, are based on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CECRL). Consequently the goals set are compliant with the proficiency levels defined by the framework.

Goals are both practical and language-oriented. Our classes are balanced and diversified, and you will study grammar patterns and vocabulary relevant to the task in question. Classes are conducted in French: students are pushed to “discover” the grammatical rule on their own, to understand the meaning of words (no translation) through examples, and context.

Our classes are multicultural, with students from all nationalities. 90 different nationalities have entered the Alliance Française de Nice. Therefore, the only shared language that can be used in class, to promote language immersion, is French.

In respect of the philosophy of the Alliances françaises network around the world, you will also be immersed in French and Francophone cultures, as well as in the local culture of our beautiful region.

Themes studied in class illustrate the French contemporary society. Moreover, thanks to our event schedule, our conversation club, our movie club, our Resource Center, you will have several opportunities to practice what is learnt in class and to discover or improve your knowledge about these cultures. Welcome at the Alliance Française!

the 5 functional categories in the communicative approach


(social and professional relations)

(influence others)

(tell information)

(artistic and beauty expression)

the PPP Rule

(used by the teacher to work on the 5 functional categories)