"Syllabus" is a word customarily used in the The
United Kingdom, identical to the concept of a
"curriculum" in the United States. A syllabus
outlines the sequence and content of a language
program, and how language learning is to be
"carried out". Syllabus and Curriculum are also
referred to as "designs" within a teaching
methodology - not a method unto themselves but
a kind of map of how the material is to be
delivered to the learners. They are seen as
embodying the general and specific objectives of
language learning course.
A syllabus/curriculum can be as simple as a
sequential order of textbooks to be studied, or it
can be more elaborate and include types of
testing, learning objectives according to level,
accompanying Phonics materials, teaching aids,
homework schedule and
assignments. Unfortunately, syllabus/curriculum
is all too often seen as a "progress indicator"
unto itself - that is, the ability and progress of
students are dictated by what "stage" in the
syllabus/curriculum they have reached or about
to advance to.
syllabus of this nature focuses on
grammatical features as the
"organizers" of a language learning
program. The linguistic elements that
are construed as being simpler/easier
come first, and are followed by a
sequence of language items that
become progressively harder/more
Methods that typically have a high emphasis on
form (note the Grammar Translation Method and
the Audiolingual Method) more than likely
sequence their language items according to this
model. A curriculum of this type may be quite
stringent, and its designers/advocates are likely
to resent any perceived "jumping ahead" to
more complex structures, even if it "fits in" with
the communicative needs/desires of the
students. As an example, a teacher instructing
students in the present simple tense would be
discouraged from teaching them past tense
forms (even if the students are attempting to
communicate about things they did
yesterday/last week), as this represents a "jump"
to a kind of linguistic structure the students are
not "ready" for.
These syllabuses began appearing in the 1970s,
and are also known as NFS. This kind of
syllabus moves away from grammatical form
and concentrates instead on "functions" and the
pragmatic purposes to which we apply
language. This might include such functions as
identification, asking permission, advice, offers,
invitations, apologies, etc as the "organizing"
elements of the syllabus. Textbooks that
advocate "communicative" language learning
are usually organized according to a NotionalFunctional Syllabus.
The next revolution in terms of language teaching
methodology coincided with World War II, when
America became aware that it needed people to
learn foreign languages very quickly as part of its
overall military operations. The "Army Method" was
suddenly developed to build communicative
competence in translators through very intensive
language courses focusing on aural/oral skills. This
in combination with some new ideas about language
learning coming from the disciplines of descriptive
linguistics and behavioral psychology went on to
become what is known as the Audiolingual Method
This new method incorporated many of the
features typical of the earlier Direct Method, but
the disciplines mentioned above added the
concepts of teaching linguistic patterns in
combination with something generally referred to
as "habit-forming". This method was one of the
first to have its roots "firmly grounded in
linguistic and psychological theory" (Brown
1994:57), which apparently added to its
credibility and probably had some influence in
the popularity it enjoyed over a long period of
It also had a major influence on the language
teaching methods that were to follow, and can
still be seen in major or minor manifestations of
language teaching methodology even to this
Another factor that accounted for the method's
popularity was the quick success it achieved in
leading learners towards communicative
Through extensive mimicry, memorization
and over-learning of language patterns
and forms, students and teachers were
able to see immediate results. This was
both its strength and its failure in the long
run, as critics began to point out that the
method did not deliver in terms of
producing long-term communicative ability.
The study of linguistics itself was to
change, and the area of second language
learning became a discipline in its own
right. Cognitive psychologists developed
new views on learning in general, arguing
that mimicry and rote learning could not
account for the fact that language learning
involved affective and interpersonal
factors, that learners were able to produce
language forms and patterns that they had
never heard before.
The idea that thinking processes
themselves led to the discovery of
independent language rule formation
(rather than "habit formation"), and a belief
that affective factors influenced their
application, paved the way toward the new
methods that were to follow the
The audio-lingual approach dominated foreign language
teaching in the 1950s and 1960s.
Its rise is partly due to the fact that because of the rapid
increase of international trade, travel, and commerce, ever
more people needed to learn English (the new lingua franca).
That includes „intellectually less gifted‟ people.
The major aim is to enable all learners to use English in
everyday oral communication. Speaking is put before and
The claim is that by the imitation of good examples and
the fast correction of errors everyone can learn a second
language. There is no need for abstract rule knowledge.
(“Englisch für alle”, 1964).
Pattern drills and the use of the language laboratory
are typical of the teaching methods used under the audiolingual approach.
Behaviouristic theories of learning, paired with a linguistic
approach that takes an interest in the surface structures of
language only, form the scientific background of the audiolingual approach.
The radical behaviourist position is that people are like
animals and learn „things‟ by trial-and-error and/or the
imitation of what others say/do, not by a creative (cognitive)
construction of phrases.
Behaviourists claim that all learning rests on an
association which is formed between a stimulus and a
response (S-R theories). Famous experiments to prove that
are Pavlov‟s experiments with dogs, and Thorndike‟s
experiments with pigeons and rats in mazes.
If learning rests on imitation then teachers must use English
only in class. And their English must be good (correct)
Behaviourists claim to have discovered „laws of learning‟.
The Law of Contiguity. The claim is that a condition for learning (=
the association of a specific stimulus with specific response) is that
there be a close temporal relationship between them. [Didactic
consequence: Use the language lab because it provides each
learner, and all the time, with instant feed-back on her/his
The Law of Frequency. The claim is that frequent repetition leads
to better learning. [The didactic consequence: Make the learners
say/practice the same „thing‟ over and over again (overlearning)].
The Law of Effect postulates that only those behavioural
responses that are closely followed by a satisfactory result (positive
reinforcement) are likely to lead to habit formation. [Didactic
consequence: Minimize a learner‟s „chances‟ of making errors
(guided teaching). Use „slot and filler‟ exercises (which critics call
„mechanical‟ and „stupid‟)].
The Transfer-of-Training Theory states that what is learned in one
sphere of activity 'transfers' to another sphere only when the two
spheres share common 'elements'. [Consequence: Present English
in contexts in which the learners will later want to use their English].