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Earl W. Stevick



Who is he?

Earl Wilson Stevick († 2013) was one of the central figures in the humanistic approach to language teaching. He was an author and language teacher,  who saw the student’s individuality and class interactions as central to the language learning process. This is encapsulated in his dictum that “success depends less on materials, techniques, and linguistic analysis, and more on what goes on inside and between the people in the classroom” (Teaching Languages, 1980). For Stevick, success in language learning, therefore, stems not from a particular teaching method, but from the ability of the teacher to identify the best approach for a particular group, while supporting the students to identify what strategies work best for them as individuals.

His pedagogic approach was influenced by his Christian faith, while he also drew upon and employed a variety of methods in his practice, such as the Silent Way, Community Language Learning, TPR, and Suggestopedia, which he also reviewed in a number of books and articles. However, his core interest remained the process of learning, rather than any specific methods, and he was particularly fascinated by the role of memory and mental imagery in this process.

Professional life

Stevick was no stranger to language learning himself and he spoke 14 languages, including several African languages. He taught missionaries at the Scarritt College for Christian Workers in Tennessee, U.S.A. in the 1950s and received a Ford Foundation fellowship to design language programmes that would help missionaries in Africa. He developed language courses for the Peace Corps and taught for several years in various countries, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Brazil, Iran, and Korea. From the 1960s to the mid-1980s, he worked for the US State Department’s Foreign Service Institute, where he was head of the African Languages Programme and developed textbooks on several African languages.

He co-founded the MA in Teaching at the School of International Training (SIT) in Vermont, U.S.A. in 1969 and received the Kenneth W. Mildenberger Prize from the Modern Language Association for Teaching Languages in 1980. The relevance of his work was also recognised in 2017 with the Stevick Award, held annually by the Christian English Language Educators Association (CELEA), which nominates a member of the English Language Teaching profession who embraces Stevick’s humanistic principles in their teaching and mentoring.

Biographical Sources

Autobiographical statement

Earl Stevick - Wikipedia

Stevick's Obituary in The Washington Post

Earl W. Stevick

Recommended books

Place in HLT

Earl Stevick is undoubtedly a key figure in the development of modern theory and practice in second language acquisition and teaching. He changed the focus in teacher education from teacher-centeredness to learner-centredness in work that combined elements of psychology, linguistics and communication.

His ideas were centred on humanism and harmony in the learning process. His focus on the importance of the student’s inner world, as well as the classroom as a microcosm of socio-didactic relationships, perfectly encapsulates the humanistic notion that the student is at the centre of the learning process, also anticipating the ‘social turn’ in language teaching and developing the communicative approach.

His interest in learner-centred methods like the Silent Way, Community Language Learning and Suggestopedia created new developments in ELT and inspired many leading professionals in the field.

As a person, Earl Stevick was remembered as “professional, sensitive, creative, imaginative, a maverick, a great educator, and a wonderful human being” (Bonnie Tsai), “whose books make you want to be a better person, student and teacher” (Tim Murphey), “– a great scholar, humanist and guide” (Scott Thornbury). He had a lasting influence on generations of ELT educators and received an unprecedented recognition in the foreign language profession in a book: Jane Arnold, Tim Murphey (eds.) Meaningful Action: Earl Stevick’s Influence on Language Teaching, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,  2013.

What others have said about him

  • Jane Arnold, Tim Murphey (eds.) 2013. Meaningful Action: Earl Stevick’s Influence on Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (source)
  • Various ELT Teachers, Trainers, Authors. February 2014. Remembering Earl Stevick. HLT Magazine. Year 16, Issue 1. 12 articles. (source)
  • Adam John Simpson. 2014. Earl Stevick. 1923-2013: The Continuing Relevance of Earl Stevick's Seven Learning Categories. HLT Magazine. Vol 16, No. 1. (source)
  • Scott Thornbury. 2010. S is for Earl Stevick. An A-Z of ELT. (source)
  • Carolyn Kristjánsson. 2015. Earl W. Stevick: Keeping the Faith in Theory and  Practice. Journal of Christianity and English Language Teaching. Vol. 2. pp. 62-66. (source)
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