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Exploring the Dogme Approach to Language Teaching: Key Principles and Criticisms

Teaching unplugged (Dogme Approach to Language Teaching)


Welcome to our comprehensive guide on Dogme language teaching! This article explores the concept of the Dogme Approach to language teaching, its origins, key principles, and its impact on language education. This guide is for both new teachers and experienced language veterans who want to experiment with innovative teaching methodologies in their teaching practices.

What is Dogme Language Teaching?

Teaching unplugged (Dogme Approach to Language Teaching)
Teaching Unplugged (Dogme Approach to Language Teaching)

The Dogme approach to language teaching, also known as Dogme ELT, is an approach to language teaching that emphasizes communication and interaction over the use of textbooks and other materials. The term “Dogme” comes from the Danish film movement of the same name, which advocated for a more naturalistic approach to filmmaking.

The principles of the Dogme approach to language teaching were first articulated by Scott Thornbury and Luke Meddings in a 1999 article entitled “The Dogme Movement: A Manifesto for English Language Teaching.” The article argued that traditional language teaching methods relied too heavily on pre-packaged materials and failed to engage students in authentic communication.

As with all approaches, Dogme is informed by both theories of language and learning.

Theory of language

Scott Thornbury suggests that the theory of language posited by this approach is one that considers language to be functional, situated, and predominantly realized as text. Consequently, the capacity to understand and produce isolated sentences is of limited relevance to the practical use of language in everyday life (Meddings & Thornbury, 2009, p. 9).

Theory of learning

As for its theory of learning, it takes an experiential and holistic stance, seeing language acquisition as an emergent, jointly-constructed, and socially-constituted process, driven by both communal and communicative needs (op.cit p. 18).

What are the 10 Key Principles of the Dogme Approach

1. Interactivity: Enhancing the Learning Process

Language learning is a social phenomenon. The principle of interactivity recognizes the importance of interaction between teachers and students, as well as among students themselves. When learners are engaged in meaningful and relevant interactions, they learn more effectively. By communicating with others, learners can practice using the language in a realistic and practical setting.

2. Engagement: Ownership Over the Learning Process

The principle of engagement emphasizes the importance of involving students in creating content themselves. Language learning is most effective when learners are actively engaged in the learning process. Once they feel they have a sense of ownership over what they are learning, they can create their own content (e.g., writing stories, making videos, or presenting ideas.)

3. Dialogic Processes: Co-Constructing Knowledge

Language learning is a social and dialogic process where knowledge is co-constructed through conversation and interaction. By working together, learners and teachers can create meaning and optimize the learning process. Opportunities for interaction and conversation can lead to a better understanding of language structures and increase fluency in communication.

4. Scaffolded Conversations: Supportive Learning Environment

The principle of scaffolded conversations recognizes that learning takes place through conversations where the teacher and learner work together to co-construct knowledge and skills. It is crucial that teachers provide learners with the necessary support and guidance to engage in productive and meaningful conversations. This can be achieved by providing prompts or questions that guide learners to communicate effectively and construct knowledge.

5. Emergence: Letting Learning Occur Naturally

The principle of emergence recognizes that language and grammar emerge from the learning process, rather than being explicitly taught or acquired. When learners are provided with opportunities to engage in authentic communication and interaction, and teachers direct attention to emergent language, they learn more effectively. This means that teachers should focus on language that naturally emerges during communication rather than trying to force specific grammatical structures.

6. Affordances: Creating Optimal Learning Environment

The principle of affordances recognizes that teachers can optimize language learning by directing attention to emergent language and providing a variety of input, including authentic materials, rich conversation, and feedback from the teacher. By creating an optimal learning environment, learners can develop their language skills more effectively.

7. Voice: Recognizing the Learner’s Voice

The principle of voice emphasizes the importance of recognizing the learner’s voice, beliefs, and knowledge. Learners should be given opportunities to express themselves and to participate actively in the learning process. By recognizing the unique voice of each learner, teachers can tailor their instruction to meet individual needs and preferences.

8. Empowerment: Giving Students Control Over Learning

The principle of empowerment recognizes that students and teachers can be empowered by freeing the classroom of published materials and textbooks. By giving learners a sense of ownership over their learning and opportunities to create their own content, they become more motivated and engaged. This principle encourages a learner-centered approach where students have control over their learning.

9. Relevance: Making Learning Practical

The principle of relevance stresses that materials used in the classroom should be relevant to the learners. Applied linguists recognize that learners are more motivated and engaged when they can see the practical value of what they are learning. By selecting materials that are relevant to learners’ interests and needs, teachers can create a more engaging and effective learning environment.

10. Critical Use: Analyzing and Questioning Materials

The principle of critical use recognizes that teachers and students should use published materials and textbooks in a critical way that recognizes their cultural and ideological biases. Language learning should be seen as a critical process that involves questioning and analyzing the language and materials being used. Language is not neutral and the materials used in language learning can reflect societal values and biases. Therefore, teachers and students should critically examine the language and content presented in published materials and textbooks to promote a deeper understanding of the cultural and societal influences on language use.

The Dogme approach in practice

Practically, examples of the key features of the Dogme approach are as follows:

  • Dogme has its roots in communicative language teaching
  • Conversations are seen as central to language learning.
  • Dogme also places more emphasis on a discourse-level (rather than sentence-level) approach to language.
  • Dogme considers that the learning of a skill is co-constructed within the interaction between the learner and the teacher.
  • The Dogme approach considers that student-produced material is preferable to published materials and textbooks, to the extent of inviting teachers to take a “vow of chastity” and not use textbooks.
  • Teaching should focus on real-life communication and language use, rather than textbooks and other pre-packaged materials.
  • Like the task-based approach, the Dogme approach considers language learning to be a process where language emerges rather than one where it is acquired.
  • Scaffolded learning where learning is assisted by the teacher through conversations makes it possible for effective learning to take place.
  • The teacher’s role is to optimize language learning affordances, the environment where learners can potentially learn and direct their attention to emergent language.
  • The learner’s voice, beliefs, and knowledge are accepted.
  • Judicious use of technology is encouraged. Face-to-face interaction is, however, favored.
  • Because language learning is viewed as a social activity, teachers should encourage students to interact with one another in meaningful ways.

The Impact of Dogme Language Teaching:

Since its introduction in 1999, Dogme language teaching has had a significant impact on the field of language education. Teachers have embraced the approach. Many of these teachers report increased engagement, motivation, and satisfaction with the learning process.

Dogme teaching has also sparked a wider conversation about the role of technology in language education. One of the criticisms addressed to the approach is that its focus on face-to-face interaction. Others, however, have expressed enthusiasm toward the approach. They have argued that it represents a welcome shift away from over-reliance on textbooks.

Advantages of the approach

  • A more personalized and meaningful approach to language learning: At the heart of the Dogme approach is the belief that language learning should be driven by the learners’ needs and interests. This means that teachers should focus on facilitating communication and interaction among learners, rather than relying on pre-determined lesson plans and materials. Authenticity is key to this approach. It enables learners to engage with real-world language use and gain the skills needed for effective communication in the target language.
  • The opportunity for students to use the language in a more authentic way: The use of authentic materials, such as videos, articles, and podcasts, is central to the Dogme approach. By exposing learners to genuine language use, teachers can help them develop the ability to comprehend and produce language in a variety of contexts. The approach also emphasizes the importance of teaching language forms in context, rather than as isolated rules or structures.
  • Increased engagement and motivation for language learners: One of the strengths of the Dogme approach is its ability to create a dynamic and engaging classroom environment. It allows learners to take the lead in their own learning. Teachers can thus foster a sense of ownership and autonomy among their students. This can lead to increased motivation and a more positive attitude toward language learning.

Disadvantages of the Dogme approach

However, it is important to note that implementing the Dogme approach can also present challenges.

  • Teachers may find it difficult to strike a balance between structure and flexibility in their lessons. They may need to be more creative in their use of materials and activities.
  • In addition, assessing student learning can be more challenging in the context of the Dogme approach, as there is no set syllabus or curriculum to follow.
  • The approach may lack structure and organization. This may create difficulties for some learners. for
  • The approach may also have the drawback of students potentially missing out on important language concepts and structures that may not naturally emerge during conversation.

Despite these challenges, the benefits of the Dogme approach are obvious. By prioritizing authenticity and student-centeredness, teachers can create a learning environment that is both engaging and effective. Once learners become more confident and competent, they become autonomous. They are better equipped to deal with real-world situations and communicate with fluency and accuracy.


Dogme language teaching is a powerful and innovative approach to language education that prioritizes communication, interaction, and authentic learning experiences. As a teacher who wants to experiment with innovative methodology, you may gain some insight if you apply the Dogme approach in your classroom.

Give it a try!

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