The neurolinguistic approach (NLA) is a new paradigm for the teaching and learning of languages developed by Joan Netten, Ph.D. (retired professor from Newfoundland and Labrador’s Memorial University) and Claude Germain, Ph.D. (professor emeritus at Université du Québec à Montréal).

Unveiled in 2010 and explained in an article published two years later (Netten and Germain, 2012), the approach stems from research carried out by the authors to explain the success of Intensive French. The pilot program, conducted in Newfoundland and Labrador for an initial three-year period starting in 1998, was driven by teachers of Core French (also called Basic French in other provinces) who wanted their students to be able to spontaneously communicate in French by the end of high school (Grade 12).

As we know, French is one of Canada’s two official languages and, by extension, of critical importance in our country. Because most youth do not have the opportunity to attend a French Immersion program, the majority of students do not have the chance to achieve this level of communication. This was evidenced in the results of oral competency interviews, notably in research conducted by Harley et al. (1991) and Ellis (1997).

After a study of existing research in neurolinguistics (especially the work of Paradis [2004]) and in other areas, Netten and Germain (2012) established the principles of what would become the “neurolinguistic approach.”


The NLA rests on five principles, also referred to as fundamental characteristics, that have a significant impact on second language pedagogy:

  1. Acquisition of internal grammar (i.e., an implicit competence, such as that which children acquire in their dominant language).
  2. Teaching according to a literacy-based perspective (where literacy is understood as the ability to use a language to communicate, whether it be through words, symbols, illustrations, or other types of representation).
  3. Teaching according to a project-based approach (to favour the learner’s cognitive involvement).
  4. Authenticity (process based on student experiences).
  5. Interactive teaching strategies (to motivate students by providing authentic scenarios for communicating; one learns by doing, and one becomes a speaker by using a language).


The NLA has been used in a variety of settings since 2010, including schools, adult learning classes, universities, and classes for schooled and unschooled immigrants. The approach has also been used in numerous countries, including Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Iran, Mexico, Taiwan, and more.

The approach is applied to intensive programs (e.g., immersion programs, courses for adults comprising 15 to 20 hours a week) and in what some countries refer to as extensive programs (fewer than 15 hours a week). The NLA is used in the teaching and learning of the following languages: English, Spanish, French, Japanese, Portuguese, and a number of Indigenous languages in Canada.

NLA courses are given by certified facilitators. CASLT also offers an introductory course on the NLA in its Learning Centre.


Ellis, R. (1997). SLA Research and Language Teaching. Oxford, United Kingdom. Oxford University Press.

Harley, B., Hart, D., Lapkin, S. & Scane, J. (1991). Baseline Data for OAC Performance in Core French. (unpublished text) Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, Modern Languages Centre, University of Toronto, Canada.

Netten, J. & Germain, C. (2012). A new paradigm for the learning of a second or foreign language: The neurolinguistic approach. Neuroeducation, 1(1), 85-114.

Netten, J. & Germain, C. (2012). Un nouveau paradigme pour l’apprentissage d’une langue seconde ou étrangère : l’approche neurolinguistique. [French translation of an article published in English in the magazine Neuroeducation.]

Paradis, M. (2004). A Neurolinguistic Theory of Bilingualism. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing.



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