Foreign Language Instruction Essay

Cheap Custom Writing Service

According to Old Testament accounts, the building of the Tower of Babel was the first instance of multilingualism. If this is indeed the occasion when humans began using more than one language, then this must also be the beginning point for the need for foreign language instruction.

There are three terms used for language instruction. It is important to clarify the differences between bilingual education, second language instruction, and foreign language instruction. Bilingual education takes place in schools and requires that children be taught all subjects in two target languages, in order to allow each child to reach equal fluency in the languages. Although bilingual education is currently the focus of educators, it is not a new concept, as subjects other than language were taught in the student’s second language as early as the Middle Ages.

Second language instruction occurs when the learner must reach a high degree of fluency in a second language in order to be able to live for an extended period of time and conduct business in a region where that language is spoken. The goal of foreign language instruction is to allow basic communication in the target language and usually occurs outside the area where the target language is spoken, where there is neither direct daily contact nor imminent necessity to communicate in that language. Thus, foreign language instruction is mostly classroom based, while classroom-based second language instruction and bilingual education are often supplemented by daily activities and organizations outside the school setting, such as the home, community, and church.

Historical Trends

Throughout the centuries, there have been multiple methods of foreign language instruction, but all methods can be categorized under two headings. Methods are labeled inductive where there is no formal grammar instruction and students must figure out the grammar rules as they learn. Methods are labeled deductive where language rules are presented before practice and learning of the language takes place.

The popularity of inductive and deductive methodologies has shifted across centuries. The classical era focused on inductive instruction. In the fourth century, St. Augustine encouraged a focus on meaningful content. Medieval methods were generally deductive. With the introduction of grammatical theories by Erasmus and Comenius in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, classroom-based instruction, without the availability of access to authentic language situations, revolved primarily around grammar-based approaches to instruction using artificial contexts. Inductive methods were again popular during the Renaissance era, while methods in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were mostly deductive. The twentieth century began with an emphasis on deductive methods and ended with a shift to inductive instruction.

Foreign language instruction in the United States has generally followed methods used in other parts of the Western world. In the late eighteenth century, François Gouin introduced the natural method, so named because of its emphasis on learning the way a child learns his or her native language from family and environment, making use of mime and demonstration. The direct method added scientific rationale such as psychology, phonetics, dictionaries, and structural analysis to the natural method. Its purpose was to immerse students in the language with little to no explanation of grammar. There were many variations of the natural and direct methods: “the dramatization method,” “the object method,” “the indirect method,” “the direct constructive method,” “the theme method,” “the observation method,” “the pictorial method,” “the development method,” “the conversation method,” “the phonic method,” “the textbook method,” and “the laboratory method.”

The first half of the twentieth century saw the introduction of the grammar translation method in the United States. Using this method, students translated sentences from their first language to the target language or vice versa. These sentences reflected the particular grammar rule to be learned during that class period, often with no evident contextual purpose. The teacher taught in the student’s native language and communication in the target language was rarely practiced. In the 1950s, the audio lingual method (ALM) came into vogue. Using this method, students memorized dialogues and practiced substitution drills, all based on a particular grammatical element, often in language laboratories. Decontextualized speaking and listening was common.

During the second half of the twentieth century, the shift continued from a deductive approach to an inductive approach. Perhaps the greatest impetus to this shift came in 1965 when Noam Chomsky presented his theory of transformational-generative grammar. His theory distinguished between the competence of a native speaker and the performance of a nonnative speaker, thus, differentiating forms of language used by a native speaker from those used by a nonnative speaker. He concluded that language is not merely structures to be learned through habit, but is formed by creative and abstract principles, which are more complex than the mere learning of formulas and structures.

Current Practice

In 1980, Michael Canale and Merrill Swain developed a conceptual framework that formulated a theoretical design for communicative competence. This design breaks linguistic competence into four distinct components: grammatical competence (mastery of grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation), sociolinguistic competence (mastery of communicative genre such as narration, description, and persuasion), discourse competence (mastery of coherent discourse), and strategic competence (mastery of verbal and nonverbal communication).

This framework was further refined by Lyle Bachman, who divided language competence into two distinct components: organizational competence, which includes the structures of language (i.e., grammar, phonology, semantics) and pragmatic competence, which refers to the ability of the speaker to use organizational structures in contextual or culture specific situations. Based on this framework, pragmatic competence is considered equal to organizational competence in determining overall language competence.

With the new emphasis on competence versus performance, foreign language instruction in the early twenty-first century has shifted away from a deductive, grammar-based instruction to an inductive, communicative-based approach, which focuses on real-life situations and active language skills (i.e., speaking and listening), as opposed to decontextualized, passive skills (i.e., reading and writing). Formulaic instruction in grammar is reserved for situations where further communication is impossible without formal clarification. Most modern textbooks make use of a variation on communicative-based instruction, and foreign language teachers are encouraged to use grammar-based instruction only when necessary.


  1. Bachman, L. F. (1990). Fundamental considerations in language testing. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  2. Canale, M. (1983). From communicative competence to communicative language pedagogy. In J. Richards & R. Richards (Eds.), Language and communication (pp. 2–27). London: Longman.
  3. Canale, M., & Swain, M. (1980). Theoretical bases of communicative approaches to second language teaching and testing. Applied Linguistics, 1, 1–47.
  4. Chomsky, N. (1965). Aspects of the theory of syntax. Cambridge: MIT Press.
  5. Cook, V. (1999). Going beyond the native speaker in language teaching. TESOL Quarterly, 33(2), 185–332.
  6. Ellis, R. (1997). SLA research and language teaching. Hong Kong: Oxford University Press.
  7. Finegan, E. (1999). Language: Its structure and use. New York: Harcourt Brace.
  8. Hadley, A. O. (2001). Teaching language in context. Boston: Heinle & Heinle.
  9. Kelly, L. (1976). Twenty-five centuries of language teaching. Newbury, MA: Rowley House.

This example Foreign Language Instruction Essay is published for educational and informational purposes only. If you need a custom essay or research paper on this topic please use our writing services. offers reliable custom essay writing services that can help you to receive high grades and impress your professors with the quality of each essay or research paper you hand in.

See also:


Always on-time


100% Confidentiality

Special offer!