Communicative language teaching

Communicative language teaching

Communicative language teaching (CLT) is an approach to the teaching of second and foreign languages that emphasizes interaction as both the means and the ultimate goal of learning a language. It is also referred to as “communicative approach to the teaching of foreign languages” or simply the “communicative approach”.

Contents

Relationship with other methods and approaches

Historically, CLT has been seen as a response to the audio-lingual method (ALM), and as an extension or development of the notional-functional syllabus. Task-based language learning, a more recent refinement of CLT, has gained considerably in popularity.

The audio-lingual method

The audio-lingual method (ALM) arose as a direct result of the need for foreign language proficiency in listening and speaking skills during and after World War II. It is closely tied to behaviorism, and thus made drilling, repetition, and habit-formation central elements of instruction. Proponents of ALM felt that this emphasis on repetition needed a corollary emphasis on accuracy, claiming that continual repetition of errors would lead to the fixed acquisition of incorrect structures and non-standard pronunciation.

In the classroom, lessons were often organized by grammatical structure and presented through short dialogues. Often, students listened repeatedly to recordings of conversations (for example, in the language lab) and focused on accurately mimicking the pronunciation and grammatical structures in these dialogs.

Critics of ALM asserted that this over-emphasis on repetition and accuracy ultimately did not help students achieve communicative competence in the target language. Noam Chomsky argued "Language is not a habit structure. Ordinary linguistic behaviour characteristically involves innovation, formation of new sentences and patterns in accordance with rules of great abstractness and intricacy". They looked for new ways to present and organize language instruction, and advocated the notional functional syllabus, and eventually CLT as the most effective way to teach second and foreign languages. However, audio-lingual methodology is still prevalent in many text books and teaching materials. Moreover, advocates of audio-lingual methods point to their success in improving aspects of language that are habit driven, most notably pronunciation.

The notional-functional syllabus

A notional-functional syllabus is more a way of organizing a language learning curriculum than a method or an approach to teaching. In a notional-functional syllabus, instruction is organized not in terms of grammatical structure as had often been done with the ALM, but in terms of “notions” and “functions.” In this model, a “notion” is a particular context in which people communicate, and a “function” is a specific purpose for a speaker in a given context. As an example, the “notion” or context shopping requires numerous language functions including asking about prices or features of a product and bargaining. Similarly, the notion party would require numerous functions like introductions and greetings and discussing interests and hobbies. Proponents of the notional-functional syllabus claimed that it addressed the deficiencies they found in the ALM by helping students develop their ability to effectively communicate in a variety of real-life contexts.

Learning by teaching (LdL)

Learning by teaching is a widespread method in Germany (Jean-Pol Martin). The students take the teacher's role and teach their peers.

CLT is usually characterized as a broad approach to teaching, rather than as a teaching method with a clearly defined set of classroom practices. As such, it is most often defined as a list of general principles or features. One of the most recognized of these lists is David Nunan’s (1991) five features of CLT:

  1. An emphasis on learning to communicate through interaction in the target language.
  2. The introduction of authentic texts into the learning situation.
  3. The provision of opportunities for learners to focus, not only on language but also on the Learning Management process.
  4. An enhancement of the learner’s own personal experiences as important contributing elements to classroom learning.
  5. An attempt to link classroom language learning with language activities outside the classroom.

These five features are claimed by practitioners of CLT to show that they are very interested in the needs and desires of their learners as well as the connection between the language as it is taught in their class and as it used outside the classroom. Under this broad umbrella definition, any teaching practice that helps students develop their communicative competence in an authentic context is deemed an acceptable and beneficial form of instruction. Thus, in the classroom CLT often takes the form of pair and group work requiring negotiation and cooperation between learners, fluency-based activities that encourage learners to develop their confidence, role-plays in which students practise and develop language functions, as well as judicious use of grammar and pronunciation focused activities.

In the mid 1990s the Dogma 95 manifesto influenced language teaching through the Dogme language teaching movement, who proposed that published materials can stifle the communicative approach. As such the aim of the Dogme approach to language teaching is to focus on real conversations about real subjects so that communication is the engine of learning. This communication may lead to explanation, but that this in turn will lead to further communication.[1]

Classroom activities used in CLT

Example Activities

Role Play

Interviews

Information Gap

Games

Language Exchanges

Surveys

Pair Work

Learning by teaching

However, not all courses that utilize the Communicative Language approach will restrict their activities solely to these. Some courses will have the students take occasional grammar quizzes, or prepare at home using non-communicative drills, for instance.

Critiques of CLT

One of the most famous attacks on communicative language teaching was offered by Michael Swan in the English Language Teaching Journal in 1985.[2] Henry Widdowson responded in defense of CLT, also in the ELT Journal (1985 39(3):158-161). More recently other writers (e.g. Bax[3]) have critiqued CLT for paying insufficient attention to the context in which teaching and learning take place, though CLT has also been defended against this charge (e.g. Harmer 2003[4]).

Often, the communicative approach is deemed a success if the teacher understands the student. But, if the teacher is from the same region as the student, the teacher will understand errors resulting from an influence from their first language. Native speakers of the target language may still have difficulty understanding them. This observation may call for new thinking on and adaptation of the communicative approach. The adapted communicative approach should be a simulation where the teacher pretends to understand only what any regular speaker of the target language would and reacts accordingly (Hattum 2006[5]).

See also

References

  1. ^ Luke, Meddings (2004-03-26). "Throw away your textbooks". The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2004/mar/26/tefl.lukemeddings. Retrieved 2009-03-10. 
  2. ^ Swan, Michael (1985) in the English Language Teaching Journal 39(1):2-12, and 1985 39(2):76-87
  3. ^ Bax, S (2003) The end of CLT: a context approach to language teaching ELT J 2003 57: 278-287
  4. ^ Harmer, J. (2003) Popular culture, methods, and context ELT J 2003 57: 288-294
  5. ^ Hattum, Ton van (2006), The Communicative Approach Rethought, http://www.tonvanhattum.com.br/comreth.html, retrieved 2010-10-03 

About CLT (in Russian)


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