Communicative Language Teaching‏‎

Hand made speech bubbles.Communicative Language Teaching (or CLT) is a popular approach to language teaching which emphasizes using language the same way it's used in real life.

In other words, you put your students in language situations which are as close to real life as possible.

Origins of CLT

Before the spread of communicative teaching, teachers tended to use traditional grammar translation‏‎ or audio-lingual methods of teaching.

In other words, they would give the class grammar rules and paradigms, drill the class in set phrases, have them recite verb conjugations‏‎ and learn word lists by heart.

Critics of these methods felt that students were not learning useful, functional English and once they were out of the classroom they were not fully prepared to deal in real English. Students, meanwhile, often found them boring and not always any use outside the classroom.

Communicative Language Teaching Overview

With CLT, you give your students language they need to deal with real situations. You place less importance on producing grammatically correct English but more importance on dealing effectively with the situation.

For example, you might give two students a role play where the goal is to arrange the time and place of a business appointment. They may well make grammatical errors (e.g. saying something like, "*I will meet you to the station.") but if they both end up knowing where and when the appointment is then the role play is a success.

In other words, CLT deals with communicative competence - the ability to communicate - rather than grammatical accuracy.

A popular definition of CLT comes from David Nunan‏‎ who uses this list to help explain 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.

As you can see, much emphasis is placed on giving the students useful, practical language so it is important to introduce a needs analysis‏‎ into the class early on to discover exactly the kind of English they need to know.

Students will often enjoy this kind of approach as it gives them useful and practical language which they can use straight away. However, some students who have learned languages in a more traditional manner can sometimes feel frustrated at not have a more rigid grammatical structure behind them.

Typical CLT Classroom Activities

CLT shares a number of teaching practices with other approaches, but you will find you often use activities like these:

  • role plays
  • interviews and information exchange
  • games
  • pair and group work
  • learning by teaching

In addition, you can emphasize an English Only‏‎ classroom to help here.

Typical Intermediate Activity

This is a typical intermediate activity. It is all about exchanging information.

You set up a role play where the first student takes the part of an airport official, the second student plays the part of a visitor.

The first student is given a form which they must complete:

First Name: __________
Family Name: __________ 
Home Address: __________
Nationality: __________
Occupation: __________
Reason for Visit: __________
Length of Visit: __________
Hotel Address: __________
Contact Number: __________

Meanwhile the second student is given this letter:

To Mr Hans Schmidt, 27 Kurt-Schumacher-Str, Bonn Germany

Dear Mr Schmidt,

I would like to confirm your visit to the Ford Car plant in Coventry from the 1st April to the 10th April. I have arranged a room at the City Plaza Hotel in Coventry for these dates. It's a small, comfortable hotel in Coventry and close to the car factory.

Our representative Mr Peter Smith will be there to meet you at Coventry airport when you arrive on the 1st April. I believe you have met before so you will have no problem in recognizing him. His contact number is 782 277 3718.

I hope you enjoy your stay and find it productive.

With regards,

Jane Roper,
pa to Mr Peter Smith

Once the students are familiar with their prompts, they "meet" at the airport desk where the official needs to get certain information from the visitor.

The rest of the class watch the exchange and they, too, may be asked to complete the form as well.

As you can see, this gives the students great practice in a language situation they may well meet outside the classroom. The next time the students travel by air, they're likely to use the language they've practiced.

See also

Task Based Language Learning‏‎

Communicative Language Teaching‏‎  

Image © Marc Wathieu
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