It is said that all social animals are able to communicate with each other, whether you refer to insects, like ants or bees; birds, like pigeons or parrots; or mammals like dolphins, dogs or apes. They do it through a set of prearranged signals. Those signs or gestures do transmit certain information. But if we refer to communication as the sending or exchanging of thoughts and opinions by speech, writing or signs, then we are denoting human exchanges and pointing to an exclusively anthropological creation: language.
It is thought that men were using it a million years ago, although little we know about its origins and we probably never will. What we do know is that different human groups spoke diverse languages. The socialization process then made it necessary for some people to learn the language of others.
To learn the language of the parents and the own human group has always seemed to be a natural process that pretty much takes care of itself without requiring much science or methodological development. But learning a “foreign” language demanded extra effort and perhaps the elaboration of certain methods. It is interesting to mention that about five thousand languages are spoken in the world today, though they can be grouped in some 20 families.
Since then the humanity has been developing methods to learn and teach foreign languages. A. P. R. Howatt & Richard Smith make reference to the history of foreign language teaching as a rather lengthy and complex sequence of schemes, within which it seemed each one replaced the one before. They also mention “the large number of named ‘methods’ of language teaching that appear in some sources and the way in which they are sometimes strung together as in a necklace of beads.”
We have been following the Communicative Language Teaching Approach for over half a century now, although we can distinguish that the way this methodology was perceived in the 1960’s and 70’s is quite dissimilar to how we understand it today.
Linguists, psychologists and educators continue formulating theories and methods to improve the practices employed in the teaching of foreign languages. Our team of researchers has decided to take a look at which are today the most interesting and debatable issues in second or foreign language teaching. In our eagerness to deal with topics of relevance for our colleagues, we are beginning today a series of articles on The Hottest Issues of Language Learning.
Howatt , A & Richard Smith. 17 Sep 2014. The History of Teaching English as a Foreign Language, from a British and European Perspective. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1179/1759753614Z.00000000028.
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