A New Language Teaching Method on the Occasion of the European Day of Languages

Posted by asecoli - September 26, 2011

September 26 is the European Day of Languages. It aims at celebrating the multilingualism of Europe, thus encouraging the multilingualism of Europeans. As the creator of Basic Global English, I would like to take the opportunity to remind readers that BGE is not a concept—in contrast to what some believe—that is conceived as making other languages dispensable. Just on the contrary, BGE is an element in my concept of global triglossia: Everyone should be competent in his mother tongue, Global English (successful global communication being the model), and at least one more language (a native variety of that language being the model). As a matter of fact, I have also said that it could be Europeans’ goal to be competent in even more languages. Since I could prove BGE to be an effective way to reach competence in global communication up to an intermediate level, I have tried to focus more on improving teaching other languages.

Based on my previous experiences in teaching and learning language I am suggesting a new language teaching method for beginners here, which I would like to call “language workout method”.

The starting-point are the advantages and disadvantages of the Michel Thomas Method, which I have experienced as a learner of Spanish (with some previous knowledge), Polish (without previous knowledge) and Japanese (without previous knowledge) and as a teacher of some lessons of Italian, Russian and Swedish.

The Michel Thomas Method follows the generative principle in that learners have to translate sentences that become more and more complex from their mother-tongue or a language they already know into the target language. Except for pure revision phases, each step combines old and new knowledge (old knowledge may also relate to knowledge in another language). The start of the course is around words that the foreign language shares with the learners’ mother-tongue or a language they already know. Let’s call this the bridge language. If English is the bridge language and learners want to acquire skills in Spanish, it could be pointed out that English words ending in -tion end in –ción in Spanish.

It is experienced as positive that each learner is given time to reflect, that each learner practically has to reflect (because everyone has to be prepared to give the answer, that learners are guided toward autocorrections, that learners are given mnemonics and that learners are (or should be) given understandable explanations of the structure, mostly ignoring classical technical terms and always using “literal translations”.

That using the learners’ mother-tongue or, more generally, a tongue they already know (a bridge language) in the form of a generative principle and in the form of literal translations to facilitate the access to the target language is also corroborated by Butzkamm. Literal translations have also been used by Birkenbihl (however, her literal translations are not always really literal).

The following things, however, seem debatable.

  • There is no use of written aids. Everything is spoken; the spelling is given only orally and only sometimes. This makes the acquisition of the pronunciation more difficult.
  • Pronunciation and sound-letter-equivalents are not explained as clearly and as comprehensively as the grammatical structures.
  • The method very dominantly aims for the acquisition of grammatical structure. Vocabulary expansion plays only a minor role. The mastering of communicative contexts (or coherent dialogs) plays no role at all. This disregards that learners master elements earlier if they feel an affection for them.
  • Not enough or not good enough mnemonics are used for languages that are very far apart from the language the bridge language (e.g. Polish, Japanese when English is used as a bridge language).
  • Some phenomena are given technical terms that are normally used for other phenomena (e.g. the term inflection is used to denote ‘intonation question’).

This leads me to revise the Michel Thomas Method and suggest the following principles as the Language Workout Method.

There should be translation and conversational phases. Translation phases include the following elements.

  • At the beginning word-types that the mother-tongue (or, more generally, a bridge language) and the unknown language share (internationalisms, loans), proper names and words from the core vocabulary are used to teach the pronunciation and the sound-letter-equivalents to the learners in a structured way. This includes the use of minimal pairs (embedded into sentences).
  • Presentations of grammatical structures includes the use of minimal pairs, the use of non-technical terms (which are only supplemented by technical terms if the learner group knows them or if they are common also in everyday language). If there are irregularities, they should be grouped according to similarities.
  • Conceptual fields and word-fields are included in a systematic way (using mnemonics). These need at least equally as many repetitions as grammatical structures. Explicit declarative knowledge is transferred into implicit procedural knowledge the best possible way (e.g. word-formational patterns, recurring semantic relations, phonetic motivations, activating collocations).
  • Communicatively relevant sentences and sentence-sequences are included. These need at least equally as many repetitions as grammatical structures. This aspect can be combined with the teaching of grammar and lexical sets, if a short conversational script is prepared, which includes a high number of (paradigmatically) variable bricks. Each step of the script is first presented monologically (with all new elements broken down), then pseudo-dialogically (regardless of the truth value), then truly dialogically (or polylogically) (respecting the truth value of an answer for each context). It is advisable that the first slots taught cover copy formulae and then complementary formulae or the pattern “declarative sentence > And you?” before the pattern “interrogative sentence > declarative sentence”. Grammar and vocabulary progression should be oriented towards situation: more learner-relevant situation-types should be trained before less learner-relevant stuation-types. This can refer to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.
  • On all levels (phonetic, grammatical, lexical and pragmatic level), explicit knowledge is to be turned into implicit knowledge by repetitions. In other words: Paradigmatic knowledge is to be turned into syntagmatic, collocational knowledge or into frame-elements. Here, as in all other areas of life, repetition is the key.
  • On all levels, new elements should be introduced through “plastic contrastive collocationing”, i.e. minimal differences are shown in concrete sentences (e.g., to train the difference between simple and long r: Sp. el carro es caro ‘the car is expensive’). New items are presented in oral as well as in written form. The text may just briefly be presented on the board, flipchart or on a presentation slide or the learner may be given a script. However, when sentences are asked for, learners must not read out the elements from any written source.
  • On all levels, new items are broken down into known elements. Large/complex items are broken down into small/simple items. Literal translations are given for sentences, words consisting of several meaningful elements (morphemes) and words that represent meaning changes in living polysemies.
  • As in the Michel Thomas Method, the last step is always the teacher’s “correct-solution echo”.

Conversational phases are largely free from the bridge language and work in a question-answer way (e.g. “How old are you? – I’m …”, “What is this? – This is a …”, “What is your phone number? – My phone number is …”). Answers should not be invented, but be truthful. If the truthful answer is not in the vocabulary already presented, the teacher gives the solution (as part of the learner’s individual, private vocabulary). The learner can ask for the item in a known language or paraphrase it or use pantomiming and drawings.

Roughly 10 minutes are used to introducing new items (in connection with old items), then a pure general revision phase is introduced. The revision phase normally starts at the beginning and picks out elements from all previous chapters. If the teacher finds out that a structure or a conceptual field is not mastered yet, more repititions are spent on the chapter. Thus the revision chapter takes as long as is needed. If a certain chapter has already been revised without any problem, it can be omitted.

It is also imaginable to exclude a source language and use only the target language—especially if the learner group is linguistically heterogeneous. Here, the use of pantomining and drawing is essential.

In line with the LdL concept, both translation and conversational phases can be prepared and led by learners, who thus become learner experts (or mini-teacher). Unprepared, spontaneous teacher-role rotations can also be inserted, but first experiences have shown that the sentences will stay quite simple.

This method is only used for the beginner’s levels. As soon as the language is commanded in a way that allows real conversations about topics the people want to talk about, this method is reduced (and thus also the portion of the bridge language is reduced).


Joachim Grzega

2 Antworten zu “A New Language Teaching Method on the Occasion of the European Day of Languages”

  1. Yes, today is the European Day of Languages. You may be interested to know that several British schools have introduced Esperanto in order to test its propaedeutic value. You can see details on

    The Council of Europe has also provided some phrases and expressions in Esperanto, which you can see here

    The Esperanto online course has 125 000 hits per day and Esperanto Wikipedia enjoys 400 000 hits per day. That can’t be bad 🙂

  2. asecoli said

    Thanks for the comment although I’m not quite sure in what way it relates to my method. Are you suggesting that I should offer my method to the Esperanto teachers? But what about the other two hints?

    By the way, since you are using the term _propaedeutic_ together with _Esperanto_. Such projects have been carried out successfully already since the 1970’s. They were once started in Germany by Frank & Lobin. Are the British classes related to these projects?

Kommentar verfassen

Bitte logge dich mit einer dieser Methoden ein, um deinen Kommentar zu veröffentlichen:

Du kommentierst mit Deinem Abmelden /  Ändern )


Du kommentierst mit Deinem Twitter-Konto. Abmelden /  Ändern )


Du kommentierst mit Deinem Facebook-Konto. Abmelden /  Ändern )

Verbinde mit %s

%d Bloggern gefällt das: