An ELT Glossary : Product and Process Approaches in Language Teaching

What do we mean by product and process approaches in language teaching.? To start with a (gross) over-simplification :

  • Product approaches are those which emphasise what is to be learnt. Any course which has a predetermined (a-priori) syllabus - which probably means any coursebook you are currently using - can be said to be a product based approach.
  • Process approaches are those which focus on providing activities that ensure something will be learnt (because they set in motion the processes which promote language acquisition) - without worrying too much about what that might be. The syllabus is determined a-posteriori.

Obviously though, as I said , that is an oversimplification, and most methods include elements of both product and process. Any methodology which is based on a specific theory of learning will focus on process, as well as product. So, for example :

  • The Grammar Translation method saw the learning process as involving  understanding grammatical rules and  memorising vocabulary
  • The Direct Method saw it as a matter of direct association of words with their meanings, in the same way as children learn their L1
  • Audiolingualism was based on behaviourist theory, which saw learning as a matter of habit formation.

So, while all these methods were undoubtedly product based, they also incorporated process into the methodology. They had a view of how language was learnt, and used activity types which reflected that - the Direct Method using demonstration and verbal commentary to exemplify meaning, the Audiolingual method using drills to establish linguistic habits, and so on. In all these methods - as in the various forms of the communicative approach which have been used since the 1980s, including Task-based learning in its popularised form (as opposed to the "pure" procedural syllabus originally proposed by Prabhu),  product and process could be said to work hand in hand. The current theory of language (eg word classes and verb forms for the Grammar-Translation method, structuralism for the Audiolingual method, functional-notional descriptions of language for the early Communicative Approach) determined what should be taught, while the theory of learning currently in vogue determined how it should be taught.

Since the 1970s however, there have been a number of methods which have put the learning process at the centre of the approach, rather than seeing it as an equal or secondary partner. Suggestopedia and  Community Language Learning, were two early examples. In CLL, there was no predetermined syllabus - it was the learners who chose what language would be used in the lesson and what would be focused on and explained. In this respect, CLL was an early precursor of Dogme - probably the most commonly used "pure" process based approach nowadays.