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According to Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics:

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approach n
in language teaching, the theory, philosophy and principles underlying a particular set of teaching practices.

Language teaching is sometimes discussed in terms of three related aspects: approach, method, and technique.

Different theories about the nature of language and how languages are learned (the approach) imply different ways of teaching language (the method), and different methods make use of different kinds of classroom activity (the technique).

Examples of different approaches are the aural–oral approach (see audiolingual method), the cognitive code approach, the communicative approach, etc. Examples of different methods which are based on a particular approach are the audiolingual method, the direct method, etc.

Examples of techniques used in particular methods are drills, dialogues, role-plays, sentence completion, etc.

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method n
(in language teaching) a way of teaching a language which is based on systematic principles and procedures, i.e. which is an application of views on how a language is best taught and learned and a particular theory of language and of language learning.

Different methods of language teaching such as the direct method, the audiolingual method, total physical response result from different views of: a the nature of language b the nature of second language learning c goals and objectives in teaching d the type of syllabus to use e the role of teachers, learners, and instructional materials f the activities, techniques and procedures to use.

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principles1 n
in teaching, beliefs and theories that teachers hold concerning effective approaches to teaching and learning and which serve as the basis for some of their decision-making.

For example,
Make the lesson learner-centered.
Every learner is a genius.
Provide opportunities for active learner participation.

Teachers’ principles are an important aspect of their belief systems and may be a result of teaching experience, training, or their own experiences as learners.

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technique n
in teaching, a specific procedure for carrying out a teaching activity, such as the ways a teacher corrects students’ errors or sets up group activities. see approach

I haven't understood these definitions.

They seemed to be recursive. For instance, APPROACH makes use of "principle" to define itself, on the other hand, PRINCIPLE makes use of "approach" to define itself.

Where can I find better definitions?

  • Are you studying to be a language teacher, or are you looking for how a non-specialist would understand these words. – James K Jan 12 at 15:07
  • @JamesK, which option would prompt you to post an answer to this question? – user366312 Jan 12 at 15:11
  • All those words are marketing. They simply refer to whatever activities the speaker wants to call systematic, and/or their application, and/or the arguments for them. There is no standard terminology in this case, any more than there is with any exaggerated claim. – John Lawler Jan 12 at 20:04
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I suspect you are studying that dictionary with a lot more precision than its authors expected! And I don’t think those particular definition were written with enough rigour to withstand the kind of (admirable) scrutiny you are giving them. Also, the concepts being discussed are simply not sufficiently clear to allow precise definitions to be constructed.

As a result, the bottom line is that I doubt you’re going to find anything else that is very much better than what you already have. So I’d suggest that rather than go on a hunt for better definitions, you just gather a few from some reasonable sources and then compare them. In doing that, if you retain what is common to all of them, and discard or at least pay less attention to the rest, you can converge on what the various authors are talking about.

I did a little bit of that, and from my quick survey I think it’s safe to say that of the four words you are mulling over —- principles, approaches, methods, and techniques —- only the first is problematic from a self-reference point of view (although the way the definition of approaches includes mini definitions of all three core terms is also confusing). By contrast, the other three seem to be the key concepts at play. They appear to be a classic “chunking”, each concept being a more abstract context or “container” for the one following it.

So: approaches are the highest, most abstract level. Any given approach then provides a context within which reside any number of methods. Finally, each method will be implemented in practice using one or more techniques.

If you really want to fit the less formal notion of principles into that pyramid, then I’d say it is a layer on top — i.e. it is the context for approaches. The fact that their definitions of approach and principle appear to refer to each other is, I’d guess, simple carelessness on their part. You are quite correct to notice the issue. However, as I said, I don’t think they’ll have been expecting such a precise reader. 🙂

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