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Principles and actions that underpin effective teaching in languages

All language teachers need to be familiar with:

Ten principles for instructed second-language acquisition

Rod Ellis’s ten principles provide a strong research base for the planning and delivery of effective language teaching and learning programmes.

The ten principles

Note: L2 = second/additional language

  1. Instruction needs to ensure that learners develop both a rich repertoire of formulaic expressions and a rule-based competence.
  2. Instruction needs to ensure that learners focus predominantly on meaning.
  3. Instruction needs to ensure that learners also focus on form.
  4. Instruction needs to be predominantly directed at developing implicit knowledge of the L2 while not neglecting explicit knowledge.
  5. Instruction needs to take into account the learner’s ‘built-in syllabus’.
  6. Successful instructed language learning requires extensive L2 input.
  7. Successful instructed language learning also requires opportunities for output.
  8. The opportunity to interact in the L2 is central to developing L2 proficiency.
  9. Instruction needs to take account of individual differences in learners.
  10. In assessing learners’ L2 proficiency, it is important to examine free as well as controlled production.

These principles are explained and exemplified in Ellis's Instructed Second Language Acquisition: A Literature Review (Ministry of Education, 2005).

Language learning tasks

Ellis’s concept of a language learning task is relevant to all teachers of languages. In his discussion of principle 2, Ellis describes classroom ‘tasks’ as language learning activities that:

  • require the student to focus on meaning
  • include a ‘gap’ that students can close by communicating
  • require students to produce their own language structures
  • have a clear outcome.

Such tasks can be cross-curricular in nature and can provide students with rich opportunities to develop thinking and problem-solving skills as they engage in genuine social interactions.

Six principles for intercultural communicative language teaching

Language learning programmes that focus on intercultural competence integrate language and culture from the beginning. In such programmes, students build their awareness of language and culture, their language knowledge, their cultural knowledge, and positive attitudes towards themselves and others. Intercultural communicative language teaching (iCLT) encourages students to make comparisons and connections between languages and cultures. It also celebrates the uniqueness of every language and every culture.

Intercultural Language Learning: Implications for Effective Teaching and Learning (Ministry of Education, 2010) presents a framework of six principles for intercultural communicative language teaching. For a summary, see Intercultural Communicative Language Teaching: Implications for Effective Teaching and Learning.

The six principles

  1. iCLT integrates language and culture from the beginning.
  2. iCLT engages learners in genuine social interaction.
  3. iCLT encourages and develops an exploratory and reflective approach to culture and culture-in-language.
  4. iCLT fosters explicit comparisons and connections between languages and cultures.
  5. iCLT acknowledges and responds appropriately to diverse learners and learning contexts.
  6. iCLT emphasises intercultural communicative competence rather than native-speaker competence.

Teacher actions that promote student learning

The New Zealand Curriculum identifies seven teacher actions that consistently have a positive impact on student learning. These actions align closely with the ten principles of effective second language acquisition and the seven principles of intercultural language teaching.

Use the following links to learn more, and to find examples of classroom practice.

Note that the explanations in these sections are adapted from An introduction to the concept of intercultural communicative language teaching and learning: A summary for teachers (Ministry of Education, 2010).

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Last updated April 12, 2021