The Rational Learning of Foreign Languages


The Internet is a treasure trove of interesting articles and sources of information. Here is a wonderful article on the rational learning of foreign languages. It is written by Amorey Geithin, someone who has taught English as a foreign language for more than 35 years.

The the article begins by laying down the gauntlet. I love it.

Here’s what he says to get things rolling.

“In two previous editorial articles I have criticized the powerful vested interests of the global English-teaching industry (The Fraud of the Global English-Teaching Industry) and the false assumption that the various organizations and institutions associated with that industry ensure high standards of teaching (The Illusion of Global English-Teaching Standards). In this editorial I want to question in more detail some of the accepted beliefs about methods of teaching English (and other foreign languages).”

The Main sections of this article are as follows.


Research into foreign-language learning must always be defective Lessons should do what students cannot do by themselves
What can teachers do? Explain grammar? Explain words? Teachers should answer and ask questions; and ‘know their stuff’
‘Student participation’ The problem of exercises
Using a language does not teach it to you Other ways of wasting students’ time
Gaining confidence10 Notes


The article is full of common sense such as the following paragraphs.

“Let us consider realistically what a teacher can do, as a teacher of a class. She, or he, can explain rules of grammar. But she is unlikely to do this better than a reasonably well-thought-out grammar book. note 1  The author is likely to have worked out the explanations just as carefully as most teachers, if not more so. It is much better for the student to study the grammar by herself at home, where she can go at her own individual pace and think about problems at leisure. It is a terrible waste of time for the teacher to do this work in class, and any notes students make will probably mostly be inadequate at best. The only grammar that it is really worth a teacher talking about to a whole class is either points the teacher thinks are neglected or badly explained in the books the students are using, or questions on grammar raised by individual students.”

“It is difficult to believe that things like group and pair work and role play are really recommended because teachers truly think and have actually found that they are better and more effective ways of teaching languages. Reason, too, suggests that they are not sound methods.”

I recommend you read the article. Remember this is from a very experienced teacher of English as a foreign language.


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