The Essentials of Language Teaching is a resource website for instructors in foreign language and second/additional language teaching contexts. The site seeks to provide a concise and accessible overview of the principles and practices that are currently regarded as most effective within the community of language teaching professionals.

The Essentials starts with the notion that the purpose of language is transmission of information and ideas. The goal of language learning and language teaching is therefore the ability to communicate, that is, to use the language. For this reason, the site promotes a learner-centered approach that uses meaningful tasks and guided discovery activities to develop communicative competence.

NOTE: As of November 2021, much of this site has been taken down for renovation. Please check back in early 2022 for updated content.


The Essentials of Language Teaching was originally developed for the National Capital Language Resource Center (NCLRC) to introduce college and university instructors and teaching assistants to the language teaching methods that are typically used in U.S. higher education. The site was designed for teachers of languages that are designated as  “foreign” in the United States, but teachers in second-language contexts, particularly teachers of English as an additional language, also reported finding it useful.

The site was created over several years (2003-2008) by Catharine Keatley and Deborah Kennedy under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, CFDA #84.015A. The content was based on the material in Modules for the Professional Preparation of Teaching Assistants in Foreign Languages (Grace Stovall Burkart, Ed.; Center for Applied Linguistics, 1998).

The site is now maintained by Deborah Kennedy, senior consultant at Key Words. The original content and organization have been updated with information on recent teaching insights and practices, as well as technology tools that have been developed since the site was originally created.

Comments and questions about the site can be submitted through the Contact page.


The images used on this website depict folded paper (origami) boats floating on a stream. These images represent central aspects of teacher professional development — what it is and how it works.

The water on which the boats are floating symbolizes the ongoing learning journey that defines the professional lives of dedicated teachers. Sometimes the water is calm and the boats drift peacefully. At other times the stream flows more quickly and the boats may tip precariously or even risk capsizing — but it’s those times that bring the greatest progress.

The boats themselves represent each teacher’s construction of the professional development process. A basic origami boat is not difficult to make; the internet is full of diagrams and instructions and how-to videos. However, to actually make an origami boat, you must get the paper and do the folding yourself. In the same way, you as a teacher can read the material on this website, and think about it, and talk about it with your colleagues, but it will not become real for you until you try it out in your own classroom.

We are grateful to Leyla Torres of Origami Spirit for permission to use her beautiful photos.