Communicative Language Teaching

The Communicative Method is in reality an umbrella term – a broad approach rather than a specific teaching methodology, and has now become the accepted ‘standard’ in English language teaching.

Timeline showing the popularity of the Communicative method
View large version with all methods

 

Communicative Language Teaching is a natural follow-on from the reaction during the 70s against previous methods which over-focused on teaching grammatical structures and template sentences, and which gave little or no importance to how language is actually used practically.

Explanation

Emphasizes the ability to communicate the meaning of the message, instead of concentrating on grammatical perfection.

The Communicative approach emphasizes the ability to communicate the message in terms of its meaning, instead of concentrating exclusively on grammatical perfection or phonetics. Therefore, the understanding of the second language is evaluated in terms of how much the learners have developed their communicative abilities and competencies.

In essence, it considers using the language to be just as important as actually learning the language.

The Communicative Language Teaching method has various characteristics that distinguish it from previous methods:

  • Understanding occurs through active student interaction in the foreign language
  • Teaching occurs by using authentic English texts
  • Students not only learn the second language but they also learn strategies for understanding
  • Importance is given to learners’ personal experiences and situations, which are considered as an invaluable contribution to the content of the lessons
  • Using the new language in unrehearsed contexts creates learning opportunities outside the classroom

Misconceptions

As the method is a broad approach to teaching English, rather than a rigid series of activities, there are some popular misconceptions of what CLT involves.

Learning a language is interactive, co-operative, learner-centered and content-based, but the approach does not mean that learning a second language involves just ‘conversation‘.

Using the Method

The most common educational model applied in the context of the Communicative Method is the Functional-Notional approach, which emphasizes the organisation of the syllabus.

This breaks down the use of language into 5 functional categories that can be more easily analyzed: personal (feelings, etc.), interpersonal (social and working relationships), directive (influencing others), referential (reporting about things, events, people or language itself), and imaginative (creativity and artistic expression).

These 5 broad functions are then delivered by the teacher in the classroom using the ‘3 Ps’ teaching model, which stand for Presentation, Practice and Production.

Summary

When – 1980s to today
Focus – Interaction, authentic communication and negotiating meaning
Characteristics – Understanding of English through active student interaction; role play, games, information gaps
Supporters – David Nunan, D.A. Wilkins

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  • Tenzin Wangchuk

    Which theory is it based upon??

    • http://www.tjtaylor.net/english/ Alex Taylor – TJ Taylor

      Communicative language teaching is an approach that developed in part from Chomsky’s writings on the nature of language, but the most famous supporter in my opinion is D A Wilkins, who developed the Functional-Notional curriculum.
      As mentioned above, it has become an umbrella term because commercially it ‘sounds good’. In fact, many schools misuse the term, or use it without knowing much about it, simply because it’s easier to sell courses if you describe your approach as ‘communicative’.

      • john

        it’s really interesting to learn different methods but every method has its own constraints.can we arrive at a method that goes easy for all levels of people to learn english?

        • http://www.tjtaylor.net/english/ Alex Taylor – TJ Taylor

          Hi John – indeed, every method has its own constraints, and we need to take into account the learner, why and how they are learning English.

          I’d encourage you check out the section on Principled Eclecticism: http://blog.tjtaylor.net/method-principled-eclecticism/

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