Approach to Language Learning: Ornamental or Instrumental?

Approach to Language Learning: Ornamental or Instrumental?

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8220-5.ch001


The idea of approach to language learning has been long developed in linguistic education. The evolution of the concept has resulted in a variety of conceptualized formations acquired or approved by the language teaching community. Being a conventional methodological category, approach is nevertheless subject to equivocal interpretation. The overemphasis of the theoretical significance of the concept entails its estrangement from the procedural dimensions of an instruction system and causes the loss of explicit links connecting approach with subordinate notions of lower hierarchical levels. Further research of the concept implies the development of a well-grounded conception of an integrative type. The main issues considered include established definitions of approach and the contiguous notions of method and technique, the problem of denomination (terminological accuracy), a historical survey of approaches in use, the category of approach in the post-method era, strengths and weaknesses of the state-of-the-art accomplishments, and comprehensiveness or one-sided emphasis (what the concept lacks).
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Contemporary research of language study focused on the advance of language learning and teaching generally involves the development of a functional model adequate to actual foreign language acquisition. The basic benchmark for the model pertinence to real efficient training is its conclusive relevance to underlying theoretical statements describing the entire complexity of a language learning process. Furthermore, a model initiated is to provide for a simplified account of varied axiomatic and procedural constituents involved without prejudice against fundamental theoretical principles and contradictions to empirical data. It is obvious that a workable solution to a problem of that scale is to be searched through a didactic category of a coterminous caliber, with one of which being traditionally called approach. The vast majority of research theorists and practical teachers repeatedly refer to a certain approach or approaches to language learning, teaching or acquisition. Even a cursory comparative investigation convincingly shows that the word approach used in research publications has various meanings.

The variety of the concept meanings is of a dual-focus type.

  • 1.

    One usage implies a number of senses ranging from narrow to broad understanding of the idea of approach. In particular, a way of pronunciation teaching can be referred to as approach while being applied actually to a set of classroom techniques (Hashemian & Fadaei, 2011). On the other hand, the term approach might be used in its broadest sense, being named ‘inductive’ or ‘deductive’ and thus embracing the full extent of learning issues (Gower, Phillips & Walters, 2006).

  • 2.

    The other usage deals with the way the term is used in the research and academic literature. It is often employed as a synonymous substitute for assumption, method, conception, learning type, instructional type, way of learning, strategy, technology, perspective, presentation, and even technique. This particular feature of the term is especially noticeable in article discourse analysis when it concerns papers with the word approach in their titles. Thus, the heading ‘Approaches to Language Teaching and Learning’ (Zhou & Niu, 2015) means, presumably, that the paper deals with the idea designated. Nevertheless, the total number of method uses, which are meant to be approach substitutes, exceeds the latter by a factor of four throughout the text. Besides, the authors indicate that “compared with the traditional grammar-translation method, the communicative language teaching approach emphasizes exposure to authentic materials and contexts” (p. 801). Thus, method is directly compared with approach which, as is known, implies the sameness of the objects contrasted.

This is only one of many examples demonstrating little accountability in using the term approach on the part of some writers, who are more liable to apply it in an ordinary sense rather than as a strictly specified language learning term.

Another common format of dealing with the category of approach implies its title declaration, with various language learning parameters being considered and the expediency of their emphasis being assessed. As a matter of fact, the connection between the approach stated and the entities under consideration is not established or explicated and there are only a few direct references to the term under consideration in the discourse itself. An article design like that is often stimulated by the author’s aspiration to deal with notions “under the overarching umbrella’ (Tyler & Ortega, 2016) of a certain approach to language. In the framework of usage-based approaches to language learning, Tyler & Ortega provide an overview of a number of performance features, such as frequency effects in the language input, language meaning and language constraints (p.336-342). Nevertheless, although the cutting-edge contributions presented allude to a particular type of approach and postulate their being part of it, the idea of the approach itself remains undiscovered.

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