An ELT Glossary : Humanism in language learning

The Humanistic Movement in language teaching, at its height in the 1980s and now integrated into much of the mainstream Communicative Approach,  was strongly influenced by the work of psychologists such as Maslow and Rogers, who argued that learning success was dependent on the needs and condition of the whole person:  physical, emotional and social as well as intellectual. This was a reaction against the mechanistic view of learning  of behaviourism, which was the basis of audiolingualism. Rogers (1983 pp.270-271) describes the behaviouristic approach as the negation of freedom - behaviour is seen not as something decided by the individual based on internal needs and wants, but as an automatic response to external stimuli, outside the control of the individual. 

In the 1980s, several (fairly short lived) methods claimed to be based on these principles - Community Language Learning, Suggestopaedia and The Silent Way amongst them. And I would suggest that, more recently, Dogme reflects all of the main principles.  However, in mainstream CLT the effect of humanism can be seen in such features as

  • the emphasis on creating positive T/S and S/S rapport in which "learners are seen not so much as full time linguistic objects at whom language-teaching is aimed, but rather as human individuals whose personality, dignity and integrity, and the complexity of whose ideas, thoughts, needs and sentiments, should be respected" (Medgyes1986:109)
  • the use of personalisation activities to help develop this rapport and let the class see everyone as a fully-rounded human being 
  • the emphasis on helping learners to become autonomous
  • the use of needs analysis, a negotiated syllabus and learning contracts to involve the learner in decisions regarding course content and methodology.


Medgyes, P. 1986, "Queries from a Communicative teacher" ELTJ 40/2
Rogers, C. 1983, Freedom to learn for the 80's, Charles E. Merrill Publishing Co.
Stevick, E.W. 1990, Humanism in Language Teaching, OUP

Thornbury, S. 30 Language Teaching Methods, Cambridge