English Language Teaching

A brief history of ELT

The adventure of English language teaching  is quite outstanding. From the early grammar translation method to the new trends focusing on communication, English language teaching has drawn from theories and approaches that have enriched the profession in so many ways. Teachers acquired some understanding of the nature of language and the best ways to teach it. They have become able, at least,  to ask the right questions about ELT, as  Brown (2000: ix) notes,

“Our research miscarriages are fewer as we have collectively learned how to conceive the right questions”.


A stockpile of research has created a bank of resources, methodologies, approaches and techniques. Tremendous changes occurred over centuries and teachers as well as learners were affected.

In the beginning, a number of methods capitalized on the importance of structure, vocabulary and memorization. Then as educators and linguists had grown dissatisfied with the those methods, they felt that teaching lacked a very essential element, namely communication. Students who were the product of  the structural approaches  found difficulties communicating outside the class

room.They were lost when trying to communicate in the target language culture.The communicative approach was born to redress this issue. It  is still the bandwagon for many teachers. But more profound insights have appeared recently. While there is still a concern about communication as the key element in English language teaching, focus has shifted to larger problems such as:

  • competencies,
  • multiple intelligences,
  • civic education,
  • using information and communication technologies,
  • lifelong learning,
  • job market skills and requirement,
  • project work,
  • alternative assessment,
  • The standards-based education, etc.

These are but some examples of the change known around the globe in the role of education in general and English language teaching in particular. The new trends in the profession don’t adopt one specific methodology. They state the standards,  the outcome to be achieved by all learners. It does not matter much which method, approach or technique you follow as long as you and your students meet the standards. The only things the educational system must adhere to are the  focus on the learner, authenticity of materials and activities, lifelong and study skills acquisition, preparing students for the job market, etc.

In this series of articles, I will review some of  the milestones of the ELT. The next article will be about the “Grammar Translation Method.”


Brown, H. D. (2000) Principles of Language Learning and Teaching. New York: Longman.

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