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My Methodology
by Costas Gabrielatos
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Originally published in IATEFL Issues 172, April 2003.
Points marked with an asterisk (*) were not included in the original article.


Much has been written in the ELT literature about the importance of a teacher's self-awareness, and the extent to which personal views and interpretations shape teaching. I for one am convinced that knowing why I teach the way I do gives me control over my teaching and development.

Prompted by an online discussion on ELT methodology1 I decided to draw a brief outline of my practices and the rationale behind them, as an exercise in self-awareness. I expected to end up with a short piece, but the more I thought about the 'what' and 'why' of my practice, the more I wrote. I apologise for the list format, but a proper text would defy the purpose of the exercise.

Of course this isn't a comprehensive account, and I would be surprised if it contained anything that hasn't already been said or done. Still, it's unique, because it's a subjective interpretation of thinking in ELT and its informing disciplines through an individual teacher's personal filters. I present it as an invitation to colleagues to share their own personal theories and methodologies.

How I see language

• Language was born, is used and develops in context; language out of context has only potential for meaning. Given a de-contextualised stretch of language, we automatically create a context in our heads.
• Language is social and personal; it embodies and expresses the world-view and experience of communities and individuals.
• Language is not only a means of communication, but also of getting things done (from declarations of love to political propaganda).
• Language not only expresses, but also creates realities (e.g. fiction and advertising).*
• Language is not uniform; it has different varieties according to the contexts of use, and so it characterises its users, in terms of socioeconomic class, education, culture, personality etc.
• Language use varies according to the interaction between medium (spoken or written) and context. There can be no safe generalisations about spoken and written language. For example, is the language of plays and comic books spoken or written?
• Language is organised - with the same level of success as human communities. It's imperfectly organised, not only because its creators aren't perfect, but also because it's always in the process of changing.
• Language is form and meaning. Meaning needs a body to become communicable (sounds and symbols). Form that hasn't been assigned a mutually agreed meaning, or form the meaning of which we don't know, is useless for communication. Form and meaning are two sides of the same coin.
• Presence or absence of form carries meaning (e.g. He's so shallow and boring! - Oh, come on, he's not shallow.). Selection between 'alternative' forms carries meaning - synonyms don't have exactly the same 'meaning'. Language meaning is layered - this is what makes metaphors possible.
• Language is greater than its parts - texts are much more than the words and structures in them.

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