Reflection on the difference between method, approach and technique

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Reflection on the difference between method, approach and technique

Enrique Arias Castaño

Teachers and researchers have approached language learning in many ways over the years. Different definitions and proposals about the functioning of a method have evolved along time. Indeed, it is difficult and I would say impossible to establish in the learning process a unique and generalizable method. That is why, the most common questions among teachers are: "What approach should I use" Or, "What method should I use? Above all, I consider relevant to explain and understand what these terms mean according to the definitions presented by the American applied linguist Edward Anthony.

The first of the three components is the approach, which consists of the views, ideas and beliefs related to the nature of language and language learning. In other words, it emphasizes on the theories about language in order to apply them practically to language learning and teaching. The second component is the method. This term refers to the overall plan for learning a second language, and it involves the design of a syllabus for the course and its learning objectives. Third, we find the term technique that embraces the classroom activities. There is often confusion among these three terms since they are extremely connected. Actually, they function as a continuum process which starts from a theory, a belief or an idea about language (approach), then one or more of these theories are selected and used to design a practical plan for teaching (method), and with the purpose of accomplishing this plan and its learning objectives, some specific activities are proposed to take place in the classroom (techniques).

If the theory tends to be confusing occasionally, putting into practice this theory may be a more complex task. In fact, teachers cannot forget that these definitions of approach, method and technique should be adjusted to their specific contexts. The learners’ context involves a wide variety of variables that should be taken into account. With respect to the awareness of the different audiences and contexts that practicing teachers might find in their career, I will present some teaching and learning strategies presented by Brown (1997) “Strategies-Based Instruction” is the name that the author gives to his method and it aims at providing three main tasks for the teachers: diagnosis, treatment and assessment. Through diagnosis, teachers will detect their students´ needs: background, specific purposes of learning a language, institutional constraints, the way the foreign language will be taught (language forms and functions), etc.

The treatment stage refers to the creation of a set of learning experiences that respond to the learners´ needs identified in the diagnosis phase. The idea is to develop appropriate courses of study that take into consideration the contextual variables given in a specific classroom. In the last stage, teachers will have to evaluate whether their established objectives were accomplished or not. In my opinion, this method developed by Brown could be helpful for teachers when searching for strategies in order to make their lessons more effective and appealing to their students. All the concerns teachers may have related to the learning process are well developed in this method. Each stage provides valuable information that I would like to present in this paper.

To begin with there is the relevance of the analysis stage. Nowadays, it is illogical to bring prepackaged lessons without knowing the audience in advance. It is vital for students when learning a foreign language that teachers are conscious of their needs. Indeed, teachers should know their audience first in order to prepare their activities in class. As a result, students will be exposed to activities that they will find enjoyable. Nevertheless, if teachers want to provide their students with a comfortable learning environment they must create a curriculum that satisfies the students´ expectations and purposes in their language learning. Even if this phase deals more with the theory, there is a great responsibility towards teachers since they have to evaluate which method will fit more effectively in their students according to their learning styles. There is no doubt that language learning experience will be more meaningful to students if teachers take their preferences into account.

With respect to treatment, the importance and success of this stage lies in the application of the methods. Teachers will put into practice what they consider relevant for the learning process. Students are supposed to do activities and make the most of them. In order to accomplish this objective, teachers will have to foster some skills in their students such as motivation, self-confidence, and cooperative learning. Actually, the learning success will depend enormously on learners´ performance; for this reason, they must be highly motivated and interested in the activities proposed by the teacher. Yet motivation and self-confidence is not only a learner issue. Most of the times, teachers study a wide variety of theories to acknowledge the different ways in which they can motivate their students, but they seldom pay attention to the importance of their own motivation and attitude in the classroom.

According to the treatment stage developed by Brown, teachers are recommended to present their technique in a positive and enthusiastic manner so the learners can be motivated as well. Being a teacher cannot be limited to do his/her duty and follow the curriculum imposed by the school without benefiting himself/herself and the learners. On the contrary, teachers must carry out the application of the chosen methods by asking themselves if they are really helping and motivating their students to learn a foreign language.

Last but not least, we find the assessment stage. Since this phase helps teachers evaluate the accomplishment of the curricular objectives, it is essential that they make use of this strategy. It may seem the less important stage, but I consider assessment to be the most important one. Actually, in the same way that students need feedback from the teacher in order to learn from their mistakes, teachers should take a time to evaluate if what they have taught went right or wrong. Revising the effectiveness of the material, curricula, lessons and activities that they put into practice will help them prepare and create better things for future learners. Teachers must recognize that they are not know-it-all people. There will be some situations that they won’t know how to handle. As Douglas says "teaching is not about bringing a 'suitcase of techniques' that works for all learners". Dealing with various types of language learning situations make teachers be exposed to different audiences and concerns in their teaching task. For this reason, evaluating and reflecting about their lessons is an excellent tactic to improve their teaching weaknesses.

To conclude, Brown presents a dynamic approach that will vary depending on particular classroom contexts and students´ needs. Giving the fact that an approach is dynamic itself, the interaction between the approach chosen by the teacher and the classroom practice cannot be static at all. Teachers must be able to take risks when planning the curriculum and create innovative activities during their language lessons. Strategies-Based Instruction (SBI) is an appropriate method that teachers should take into account when designing their syllabus not only because of its dynamic characteristic but also because of its cyclic nuance. Indeed, teachers are fated to think of an approach, propose a method, and apply a technique not only once but a million of times. In other words, teaching is a dynamic profession that requires constant modifications. It is a wise thing for teachers to believe that the learning process will demand continuous and endless changes. There will always be a better method to create and perform in order to achieve a successful learning process.


Mischler, J. (2002) Challenging ESL Teachers to Move beyond Methods. Firsthand Report on H. Douglas Brown's Recent Workshop. ESL conference. American English Institute. University of Oregon. Available on:

Mallikarjun, P. (2003). Second Language Learning Strategies / Annotated Bibliography. Central Institute of Indian Languages. Available on: .

Orwig, C (1999). Ways to Approach Language Learning. Language Learning. SIL International. Available on:

Brown, D. (1997). English Language Teaching in the « post method » era : Toward Better Diagnosis, treatment, and assessment.
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