Contemporary English Language Teaching is going through a period of change. This is just as true of university language teaching as it is of teaching in other contexts. By looking at language and learning theories alongside the development of both applied linguistics and language teaching in the twentieth century, a clear progression can be seen as one approach takes over from its forerunner, assimilating effective teaching practices and eschewing ineffective ones as it goes. The process, however, is not linear and the situation today reflects that. At this point in time languages are being taught in many different ways, in many different contexts. The specific context of foreign language learning in universities is only one example of these, but as far as methodology is concerned it reflects the trend towards developing autonomous learning, and the move towards creating learner-centred classrooms. These are trends that can be seen fairly generally in language teaching as a whole at this time. In this discussion the aim is to assess the development of classroom practices that are currently in use, to look at their development throughout the history of foreign language teaching from the nineteenth century to the present and to see how the way forward in teaching is moving towards a mixed syllabus focus, where both structural grammar and lexical grammar have their roles, as well as the development of skills and communicative competence. This will be examined in the light of language and learner theories, and current research in the field of language acquisition. Finally, the particular context of university language teaching in Italian university language centres will be considered and ways in which learner autonomy can be implemented successfully in this context will be examined. A blended approach would seem to be the answer, where learner-centred classroom work is combined with autonomous work, and where a balance is achieved between the communicative use of language, on the one hand, and the cognitive analysis of how language works on the other. The roles of both teacher and learner are also discussed as these too have changed over the years, as a result of research findings.
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