Friday, 28 February, 2020






Learning a second or a foreign language is more than learning a description of it. It is developing the ability to use the language on habit level. This is true of not only second language learning but also of first language learning. Fundamentally, all language learning involves the processes of listening, speaking, reading and writing. These processes involve both linguistic and psychological aspects. This leads us to understand that all language learning is based on certain well-defined principles derived from linguistic science as well as psychological science. In the following paras, these principles have been discussed.


(Principles Derived from the Linguistic Science.)

The modern approach to all language learning and teaching is the scientific one and is based on sound linguistic principles. The principles discussed below in no way claim finality : they are subject to change in the light of new facts exposed by linguists and language users. These principles are general principles and are applicable to English language.

Principle 1. Give Priority to Sounds: The sounds of English should receive priority. Sounds should be given their due place in the scheme of teaching. Sounds should not be presented in isolation. They should appear in proper expressions and sentences spoken with the intonation and rhythm which would be used by a native speaker.

Principle 2. Present Language in Basic Sentence Patterns: Present, and have the students memorise, basic sentence patterns used in day to day conversation. From small utterances the students can easily pass on to longer sentences. In case of learning mother-tongue, the student’s memory span can retain much longer sentences than those of a foreign language. The facility thus gained in a foreign language enables the learners expand the grasp of the language material in respect of sounds and vocabulary items.

Principle 3. Language Patterns as HabitsReal language ability is at the habit level. It does not just mean knowing about the language. Make language patterns as habit through intensive pattern practice in variety of situations. The students must be taught to use language patterns and sentence constructions with appropriate vocabulary at normal speed for communication. In fact the habitual use of the most frequently used patterns and items of language, should take precedence over the mere accumulation of words.

Principle 4. Imitation. Imitation is an important principle of language learning. No leaner by himself ever invented language. Good speech is the result of imitating good models. The model should be intelligible. Imitation followed by intensive practice helps in the mastery of the language system.

Principle 5. Controlled Vocabulary. Vocabulary should be kept under control. Vocabulary should be taught and practiced only in the context of real situations. This way, meaning will be clarified and reinforced.

Principle 6. Graded Patterns: “To teach a language is to impart a new system of complex habits, and habits are acquired slowly.” (R.Lado) So, language patterns should be taught gradually, in cumulative graded steps. This means, the teacher should go on adding each new element or pattern to previous ones. New patterns of language should be introduced and practised with vocabulary that students already know.

Principle 7. Selection and Gradation: Selection of the language material to be taught is the first requisite of good teaching. Selection should be done in respect of grammatical items and vocabulary and structures.

Selection of language items should involve

frequency     (how often a certain item or word is used)

range           (in what different contexts a word or an item can be used)

coverage      (how many different meanings a word or an item can convey)

availability (how far an item is convenient to teach)

learnability  (how far an item is easy to learn)

teachability  (how far and item is easy to teach – in the social context)

Gradation of the language material means placing the language items in an order. Grading involves grouping and sequence. Grouping concerns (i) the system of language, and (ii) its structures. Grouping the system of language means what sounds, words, phrases and meanings are to be taught.

Thus we have:


(i) Phonetic grouping, i.e. grouping according to sounds. For example, words having the same sound are placed in the one group as, cat, bat, mat, pat, fat, sat; it, bit, fit, hit, kit, it, etc.

(ii) Lexical grouping, i.e., grouping according to lexical situations. Example: school, teacher, headmaster, peon, class-room, library. All these words are grouped around “school.”

(iii) Grammatical grouping, i.e., grouping according to similar patterns as, my book/ his book, (pattern grouping): in the room, in the corner/ in the class/in the garden, etc. (phrase grouping)

(iv) Semantic grouping, i.e., grouping according to meaning. Example: school, college, university; bicycle, rickshaw, car, tango, train, aeroplane, etc,.

(v) Structure grouping, i.e., grouping in the structures means how the selected items fit one into the other-the sounds into the words, the words into phrases, the phrases into the clauses and sentences, and the sentences into the context.

Sequence meant what comes after what. Sequence should be there in the arrangement of sounds (phonetic sequence), phrases (grammatical sequence) words (lexical sequence) and in meaning (semantic sequence). Sequence of structures implies direction, expansion, variation and length of the structures.

Principle 8. The Oral WayExperts believe that the oral way is the surest way to language learning. Prof. Kittson rightly observes,. “Learning to speak a language is always the shortest road to learning to read and write it.” Prof Palmer also writes,. “We should refrain from reading and writing any given material until we have learnt to use its spoken form.”

Principle 9. Priorities of Language Skills: Listening (with understanding), speaking, reading and writing are the four fundamental skills. Listening and speaking are primary skills, while reading and writing are secondary skills. Reading and writing are reinforcement skills. They reinforce what has been learnt through understanding and speaking. In fact, understanding and speaking speed up the reading process. Writing should be introduced after reading.

Principle 10. Multiple Line of Approach: “The term multiple line implies that one is to proceed simultaneously from many different points towards the one and the same end. We should reject nothing except the useless material and should selected judiciously and without prejudice all that is likely to help in our work”. In teaching a language, it implies attacking the problem from all fronts. Say, for example, there is a lesson on ‘Holidays’ in the text book. The teacher can have a number of language activities connected with the topic such as oral drill, reading, sentence writing, composition, grammar, translation, language exercises etc.

Principle 11. Language Habit through Language Using: A language is best learnt through use in different contexts and situations. Prof. Eugene A. Nida rightly observes, “Language learning means plunging headlong into a series of completely different experiences. It means exposing oneself to situations where the use of language is required.” Another expert expresses a similar opinion by saying: “Learning a language means forming new habits through intensive practice in tearing and speaking. The emphasis should always be on language in actual use”.

Principle 12 Spiral Approach. The “spiral” approach to language learning should be followed. Previously taught vocabulary and structures should be reintroduced in subsequent units whenever logical or possible. This is “spiral approach.

Principle 13. Use Mother-tongue Sparingly. The mother-tongue should be sparingly and judiciously used during teaching English. Of course, at the early stage, some explanations will have to be given in pupil’s mother tongue. It is important that students do not use their mother-tongue in the classroom.



It will not be out of place to list down certain principles which have been derived from the science of psychology.

Principle 1. Motivation. Motivation is an important factor in language learning, particularly in learning a second language. It creates interest as well as the need to learn the language in hand. If the need for the language we use is felt, it is learnt easily. Pupils’ interest can be aroused in a number of ways, and language learning can be made increasingly interesting and attractive. It can be done with the help of pictures, charts, models, flash cards, black board sketches and similar other visual devices. The use of tape-recorder can be most effective in the teaching of pronunciation. The aim is to have the students maximally exposed to the target language in variety of contexts and situations, not in isolation. The teacher should prompt connections, feed back and correct errors, if any. The rule is teach, test, reteach, retest. The teacher should make continual and significant use of language material in class-room situations. Palmer suggests the following six factors which lead to motivate and create interest among children:


(i)   The limitation of bewilderment, that is, minimum of confusion;

(ii)  The sense of progress achieved;

(iii) Competitions;

(iv) Game-like exercises;

(v)  The right relation between teacher and student; and

(vi) Variety.

Principle 2. Immediate Correction. Do make corrections. Corrections make all the difference. They help in improving pupils’ responses. But remember, when corrections are made, they should be made immediately. Moreover, the corrections should be made in such a way as will bring about learning and not frustration or discouragement.

Principle 3. Reinforcement Immediate reinforcement is an important principle. It has been experimentally proved that reinforcement of correct responses helps in better learning. The student should be told his response is correct immediately after it is given by him.

Principle 4. Frequent Review. An important psychological principle is the principle of frequent review. Frequent review and re-entry of the same material is necessary for retention. During the process of reviewing, variations in material should be essentially be introduced and practised.

Principle 5. Correct Responses. It is an important psychological principle that classroom activities should strengthen the language skills. The techniques used by the teacher of English should encourage the maximum rate of correct responses. This will give children the feeling of success, achievement and assured progress.

Principle 6. Practice in Everyday Situations. A language is best learnt when its need is felt in everyday situations. So, English should be practiced in every day situations with which children can easily identify.

In short, the children, their environment and their experiences, should be the starting point. Let them recall (and, they should be helped, if they fail) something familiar which is related to or contrasts with a new language item to be learnt.

These are, then, some of the basic principles of language learning and teaching. These principles are in no way dictative: they are only suggestive.



Remember then.

(i)    Teach the language, not about the language.

(ii)   Teach the’ language, not its written system (at the start).

(iii)  Teach the language, as it is, not as any one thinks it to be.

(iv)   Teach the language, not its literature.

(v)    Teach the language as it is now, not in term of its history.

(vi)   Teach the language as a skill, not as an intellectual task.

(vii)  Teach the language in varied, interesting situations.

(viii) Give maximum exposure.

(ix)   Give vocabulary its due place.

(x)    Use mother-tongue as a tool, not a medium.

(xi)   Immediately reinforce correct response.
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